Jean Kwok


Searching for Sylvie Lee | Mambo in Chinatown | Girl in Translation


These are all dishes that I’ve enjoyed. I’m obviously not a cookbook author and these are homey dishes that have been passed onto me, so the recipes are written in the casual way my family and friends taught me. I can’t make any claims to authenticity because I always experiment and change recipes as I cook. I learned all of these dishes from real Asian people but some of them live in the west, so a few surprising ingredients may pop up. I really love everything here and hope you will too. Don’t panic if you can’t find all of the ingredients or don’t like some of them. Feel free to remove or replace – Chinese cooking is very flexible.

Vegetarians: I’ve kept the meat option in most dishes but they’ll be delicious as well if you remove the meat or use a meat substitute.

Download the RECIPES


Scallion pancakes

These are delicious, flaky, savory pancakes.
You can either serve them with the dipping sauce or with soup.

2.5 cups flour
1 cup boiling water
.5 cup sesame oil
1 cup scallions, green part only, chopped very fine
.5 tsp salt

Dipping sauce:
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp scallions, green part only, chopped
1 tbs sesame oil

Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour in the boiling water while stirring, until the dough clumps together. You might need to add a bit more water or flour until it clumps. Then knead the ball for about five minutes until it’s smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce by combining all of the sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Divide the pancake dough into four pieces. Make each piece into a ball. You’ll need to do the same thing to each ball. Lightly flour a flat working surface, then roll the ball out until it becomes a thin disk. Paint a light layer of sesame oil over the disk.

Now it gets interesting and trust me, if you don’t do the next part, the scallion pancakes won’t come out light and flakey. Roll the disk into a long cylinder, then curl the cylinder into a snail shell shape, like a jelly roll.  Do all of the rolling tightly. Now flatten the jelly roll with a rolling pin and roll it out until it’s a disk again. Paint lightly with sesame oil.

Sprinkle the disk with scallions, then repeat the jelly roll process. Roll up the disk with the scallions inside until it’s a long cylinder. Scroll the cylinder into a tight jelly roll shape. Flatten it and roll it out with the rolling pin until it becomes a thin disk again. That’s your scallion pancake.

Do the same thing to the other three balls of dough. If you pile the uncooked pancakes on top of each other, make sure to separate with parchment paper so they don’t stick.

Heat oil in a pan and cook the pancakes until they’re golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels, cut into wedges and serve with the dipping sauce.

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Jean’s Creative Soup

This is my Chinese version of the Indonesian soup, soto. Basically, you set a
pot of steaming broth in the middle of the table and arrange condiments all around it.
People add what they want to their bowls, then pour the hot broth over their ingredients.
It’s always so much fun for people to build their own soups and you can choose to make
this soup into whatever you like. Keep in mind that the condiments need to be cut into
small pieces, already cooked or able to be eaten raw. Here are some ideas.

Vegetarian/chicken/beef/fish broth, must be served hot
1 cup coconut milk (optional)

Possible condiments:
Rice, cooked (I like to use broth instead of water when cooking rice)
Noodles or vermicelli, cooked
Eggs, boiled and sliced into quarters
Meat or fish, cooked and cut into small pieces
Tofu, cut into small squares, uncooked or fried
Bean sprouts, uncooked
Cucumbers, cut into very thin strips
Corn, canned
Tomatoes, chopped
Mushrooms, cooked
Baby corn, canned
Bell peppers, uncooked
Coriander, fresh, leaves only
Scallions, green part only, chopped
Prawn crackers
Lime/lemon wedges
Fried onions (goreng bawang – if you can buy this, it’s Indonesian and delicious; otherwise, just fry your own)
Hot chili paste
Sesame oil
Soy sauce
Rice/white wine

Set a large pot of hot broth in the center of your table. Surround with the condiments. Let people build the ingredients for their own rich, fragrant soups and pour the broth over it. Enjoy!

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Five Spice Peanuts

Peanuts signify long life, so they’re a common snack food.

2 cups shelled peanuts (salted or unsalted is up to you)
1 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs butter
1 tbs five-spice powder

Melt the butter, then add the other ingredients. Stir the peanuts until they begin to turn golden brown. Remove from heat and spread them on a dish to cool.

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Hoisin Chicken Wings

These wings are a really delicious sweet/spicy snack and easy to make too.

16 chicken wings
2 tbs brown sugar
5 tbs hoisin sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sesame oil
3 tbs water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white pepper
1 tbs corn starch

Put all of the ingredients except for the corn starch into a bowl and allow the chicken wings to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Arrange the wings on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes on each side, until they’re cooked through. Keep the marinade so you can baste the wings when you remember. If you really want them to crisp, turn on the broiler for a few minutes at the end, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

For the dipping sauce, heat the remaining marinade with the corn starch until it comes to a boil. Serve with the wings.

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Main Courses

Silky Beef with Cashew Nuts

1 tbs cornstarch mixed with 2 tbs water
3 cloves of garlic, left whole but crushed with flat part of knife
2 large slices fresh ginger (powdered is okay)
500g/1 lb beef
1 broccoli (and/or whatever veggies you  like), cut into uniform pieces for stir fry
1.5 cups unsalted cashew nuts
1 cup scallions, green part only, chopped
2 tbs oyster sauce
2 tbs hoisin sauce (if can’t find, use 1 tbs sugar instead)
1 cup rice/white wine (shaoxing wine) or beef stock from a bouillon cube
1 tbs sesame oil
soy sauce

dried hot pepper
Szechuan peppercorns, ground (hua jiao)

Cut the beef into thin slices. Add soy sauce to the corn starch mixture until the paste is light brown. Add the beef to the paste and stir so that all pieces are coated. Set aside.

Add oil to the pan and heat it up. Add the ginger slices and garlic. If using powdered ginger, don’t do anything with it yet. This fresh ginger and garlic will be destroyed and removed, leaving their flavors in the oil.

After the ginger and garlic are brown, remove them and start frying the beef in small batches in the pan. Don’t overcook, you will return the beef to the pan later. The cornstarch coating will make the beef very smooth. Remove each batch as they’re done.

After the beef is done, add the vegetables to the pan and cook quickly. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary to help steam the vegetables.  When the vegetables are almost done, add the cooked beef back to the pan.

Add the scallions. Add the oyster sauce and hoisin sauce (or sugar). If you didn’t use fresh ginger, add a few shakes of powdered ginger now. If you like things spicy, add the dried hot pepper to taste. Splash the whole thing with white wine or beef broth and let it come to a boil. Don’t overcook the dish at this point. Keep the scallions bright green; many of the ingredients we’re adding at this point will lose their flavor if cooked for too long.

Add the cashew nuts. Adjust seasoning by adding more soy sauce if necessary. Turn off the heat and drizzle a bit of sesame oil over the dish. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

If you’re adventurous, add the ground Szechuan peppercorns at the very end. The peppercorns add a distinct, special taste to the dish and some people love it. Some don’t. Taste a bit separately first if you’re not sure how you feel about them.
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Mapo Tofu

mapo tofu

This is an awesome recipe if you’re pretty adventurous and like spicy tofu.
If not, I’d suggest passing on this one. Ideally, you would use smooth,
white fresh tofu, the type that’s sold in large tubs of water in Chinese grocery stores.

1 big block of tofu (preferably fresh)
.5 lb/250g ground pork or beef
1 small onion, chopped
3 large slices of fresh ginger
1 cup rice/white wine (Shaoxing wine) or chicken stock
1 tb fermented black bean sauce (douchi)
1-2tbs chili bean paste (doubanjiang), depending on how hot you like it
2 tsp sugar
1 cup scallions, green part only, chopped
1 tbs cornstarch mixed in 2 tbs water
1 tbs Szechuan peppercorns, ground (hua jiao)
1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp hot chili oil
soy sauce

Cut your block of tofu into large blocks and sniff to see if it’s fresh. Never cut soft tofu into very small blocks because it will disintegrate as you work with it. If it is fresh, set it aside.

If the tofu doesn’t smell fresh, put some water on the stove to boil. Boil the tofu very quickly in water, for about 30 seconds to a minute. Take the tofu out and set it aside.

Heat the oil in the pan and add the fresh ginger. Add the minced onion and meat. Remove and discard the ginger when the slices begin to darken. When the meat and onion start to become golden brown and crispy, add the wine, black bean sauce and chili bean paste, sugar and stir.

Add the tofu. You want to work quickly from this point on because you don’t want to overcook the tofu. You just want to warm up the tofu a bit. Add the scallions and the cornstarch mixture. Let the cornstarch come to a boil and adjust with wine or stock to get the sauce to the consistency you prefer.

Correct the seasoning with soy sauce if necessary. At the last moment, add the ground Szechuan peppercorns and stir. Drizzle with sesame oil and if you really like things spicy, add the hot chili oil.
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Lemon Chicken

I really love this dish and kids like it too.

1.5 lb/750g boneless chicken, cut into strips
2 tbs rice/white wine (Shaoxing wine) or chicken stock
1 tbs soy sauce
2 eggs
1 tsp lemon concentrate  or the juice of one lemon
2 tbs corn starch

1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp lemon concentrate or the juice of one lemon
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp ketchup
1 tbs sesame oil
pinch of white pepper
1 tbs corn starch

roasted sesame seeds for garnish

Take the chicken ingredients above and mix them all together. Let the chicken marinate in this mixture while you do the rest. You might need to adjust the amount of corn starch – the mixture should coat the chicken and stick to it.

Then combine the sauce ingredients separately. When you’ve assembled all of your ingredients for the sauce, deep fry the chicken in batches.

Take out the chicken and let drain on paper towels.

Pour the ingredients for the sauce into the pan and bring to a boil. Thicken the sauce as needed with corn starch. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Arrange the chicken on a dish, then pour the sauce over the chicken.

If you like, you can sprinkle roasted sesame seeds over it.
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Sweet & Sour Fish

This recipe can also easily be made with pork or kept vegetarian by removing the meat/fish.

Fish marinade:
1 lb/500g fish fillets, like cod or sea bass, cut into chunks
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tbs corn starch

2 large slices of fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic, left whole but crushed with flat part of knife
1 cup scallions, green part only, chopped
Snow peas
Bell peppers
Canned pineapple
Canned baby corn
Spring beans

.5 cup chicken broth
3 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
4 tbs sugar
2 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs Worchester sauce
1 tbs rice/white wine (Shaoxing wine)
1 tbs corn starch mixed in 2 tbs water

dried hot pepper

Pat the fish fillet pieces dry and add them to the marinade ingredients. Let this sit while you do the rest.

Mix together the sauce ingredients and cut the vegetables into the right sizes for stir fry. If you like, add the dried hot pepper to the sauce mix.

Deep fry the fish in batches, remove and let drain on paper towels.

Remove most of the oil from the pan and add the ginger and garlic. When the ginger and garlic start to become really brown, take them out and discard.

Stir fry the vegetables, beginning with the ones that will take longest to cook, like the carrots. Keep for last the bell peppers and canned pineapple, since these take the least amount of time.

Add the sauce and bring everything to a boil. Add the scallions. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Arrange the fish on a dish and cover with the sweet and sour sauce and vegetables.
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Chinese Eggs

This is a very simple dish that I make a lot.
Sometimes I’ll snip ham into it for the kids – not very Chinese but they like it!

6 eggs
1 cup scallions, green part only, chopped
Salt to taste, remembering you’ll drizzle soy sauce later
Soy sauce

Put the eggs, salt and scallions together and mix. Heat the oil in the pan, add the egg mixture.

Allow the eggs to solidify, checking underneath to see that it’s turning golden brown, then insert the spatula underneath the egg mixture and lift, so that you break the omelet into large pieces. 

Flip the pieces and gently stir fry. Be careful not to crumble the eggs. Remove and serve. Drizzle with soy sauce if desired.
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I’m usually pretty tired after cooking dinner so I mostly go with the philosophy that Chinese desserts are something you buy rather than something you make at home. For example, I don’t know anyone who makes the sweetened tofu pudding or fried dough crullers mentioned in Mambo in Chinatown – we buy them. However, for those who are brave and/or live far from Chinatown, here are a few desserts.

Egg cakes

For the full egg cakes effect, you need an egg waffle pan like this one.
However, I don’t own an egg waffle pan and I just make them in the waffle maker.
They’re still delicious and mostly taste like egg cakes. They’ll only look like waffles instead.
I serve my imitation egg cakes cut into little squares.

.75 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tbs evaporated milk
1 cup water

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and corn starch. Add the vanilla extract, vegetable oil, evaporated milk, water and eggs. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth.

Follow the directions for either your waffle maker or egg waffle pan to make the egg cakes. Don’t overfill because the batter will rise.
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Ice cream with fruit

Ice cream
Canned or fresh lichee nuts, pineapple, mango or any other fruit

Put a scoop of ice cream in a cute serving bowl/wineglass/champagne glass. Add fruit.

To those who find this too simple, I say, never underestimate the power of a cute serving bowl.

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