Over the years ACAI staff has contributed to and been featured in local, national and international publications including India Abroad Magazine, Asian Pages, Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Grollier's Americana Encyclopedia, Midwest Home & Garden, EatingWell Magazine, Global Gourmet, Vegetarian Times, and more.


The New Year Messenger

There is a lovely tradition around the Chinese New Year and that is to send the Kitchen God to heaven on the last day of the old year so that he may report to the Jade Emperor before the New Year begins. His job is to watch over all that goes on in the household during the year and, it is hoped, make a glowing report. Then he comes back to earth on New Year's Day to watch over the family for another year.

You may have seen this kindly fellow in Chinese restaurants with plates of oranges or other food offerings at his feet. Very clever people will offer him sticky rice cake so that he may not give a bad report to the Jade Emperor for his mouth will stick together and he cannot say anything at all.

Sharing culinary traditions based on Asian folk lore and legend is also part of ACAI's mission.


The delicious link between heaven and earth

It has been said that one day a great Chinese emporer was sitting in his garden sipping a cup of hot water when a leaf gently floated down from the tree above and landed in his cup. Thus, tea was born.

Legend or not tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. While all tea comes from the same type of plant, Camellia Sinensis, more than 3,000 varieties are created by their surroundings, climate, and the soil in which they are grown. Major tea producing countries are China, India, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and they export green, black, or oolong tea. Green tea leaves are allowed to whither slightly after they are picked and are then rapidly heated. Black tea is allowed to whither, is then oxidized to remove water from the leaves, and finally infused with oxygen that turns the leaves black. Oolong is partially oxidized to produce subtle flavors. Then there is a very special oolong, Puerh, the only tea that is deliberately aged. It is the strongest tea in the world and one batch sold at auction for more than $20,000 per pound.

Properly brewed, many teas emit aromas and flavors that reflect their source. Pi lo chun (Green Snail Spring), for example, is a green tea produced on a Chinese island that also grows fruit trees. This tea is very delicate with a hint of sweetness and blossoms. Lung Ching (Dragonwell), on the other hand, is a more robust green tea with a slight baked bean flavor. It comes from Suzhou and is one of China's most popular teas.

To learn more about tea visit The Tea Source website or stores.


Water Chestnuts

They came to the attention of American diners back in the 1950s when "exotic" foods were the latest food trend. Chinese and Japanese restaurants were mushrooming across the country and Americans looked for ways to use these foreign foods in their own cooking. Betty Crocker and Ann Pillsbury were teaching cooks how to use these new flavors including the water chestnut.

These easy-to-grow aquatic plants are found in fresh water ponds and slow moving streams in China and Southeast Asia, and are harvested in the late summer by scooping the plant's roots and tubers off the bottom with large forks. It is why the fresh water chestnuts sold in Asian grocers still have some mud stuck to them. While they resemble the tree-grown chestnut, they are not a nut, but retain their crunchy nut-like quality when cooked.

Fresh water chestnuts and canned water chestnuts are distinctively different, so whenever possible, fresh water chestnuts are best to use. The canned version, packed in water, has been peeled and left whole with about 25 ­ 30 per eight-ounce can. They are crunchy but have a slightly salty, bland, starchy flavor. Fresh water chestnuts need to be thoroughly washed, then peeled with a knife and have a slightly acidic, nutty flavor. Once peeled, they will keep in the refrigerator for a week in a container of water that is changed every day. Half a cup of water chestnuts has about 50 calories, no fat and 12 grams of carbohydrates. They also contain iron and vitamin C.

Take your time in selecting fresh water chestnuts. (It's a dirty job, but well worth the effort.) Squeeze each one and reject any that are soft or smell as if they are fermented. Look for full, solid water chestnuts, no matter how dirty they are. And beware of bags filled with perfectly formed, clean water chestnuts. They are commercially grown in a controlled environment and are as tasteless as the canned variety, but you do the peeling.

Fresh or canned, water chestnuts add a texture to dishes where crunch is important, and they do absorb the flavors and seasonings of sauces. There was a time when everyone's cocktail party included Rumaki and it is still a favorite of many. It is a great example of how the water chestnut adds texture and absorbs flavors. It is also easy, can be assembled in advance, then cooked just before serving.

(24 pieces)

12 fresh water chestnuts, cleaned, peeled and each cut in half creating two quarter-size pieces
12 ounces chicken livers — cut each liver in half for a total of 24 pieces
1 1/2 cups Teriyaki sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
12 slices bacon cut into 24 pieces

Marinate liver pieces and water chestnuts in Teriyaki sauce and ginger. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Place one piece of liver on one water chestnut coin and wrap with bacon. Secure with toothpick. (To hold for up to one hour, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.) Place rumaki on a broiling pan and broil 4 inches from heat for 5 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Serve immediately.

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