A couple of weeks ago while I was in Los Angeles, we went for lunch at the Beijing Pie House in Monterey Park (a Mecca for excellent Chinese food in America). My husband Rory and I started things off with silken tofu garnished with soy sauce and scallion and an order of celery with peanuts. On the face of things, these dishess may seem boring but in reality, they awaken your palate.
At a snack shop like Beijing Pie House, such side dishes prepare you for the onslaught of hearty dumplings, pan-fried meat pies, and noodle dishes. It was a hot afternoon and the savory smooth tofu and the delicately dressed crisp celery were perfect partners.
The tofu came out quickly but the kitchen took a while to make the celery salad. I wondered why didn’t they already have it done and ready to dish up? It was just blanched vegetables tossed in a few seasonings. The waiter explained that each order was made on the spot.
Aha! It’s a dead simple preparation, totally a la minute. So I gave it a whirl after we returned home and came up with my own rendition, spiked with nutty sesame oil and ground Sichuan peppercorn. Beijing Pie House used mostly celery and few pieces of carrot and some boiled peanuts, coating everything in a touch of sugar, salt, and vegetable oil. The peanuts didn’t add much so I upped the carrot. I also amped up the seasonings.