I marveled at the people on the TV screen, the viscera, and the beauty.
I was seven or eight years old, watching a PBS documentary on China with my parents. There was an episode about a rural village and another about big city life. The episode about the rural village revolved around an older woman diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked my parents. The way she sat in the doctor’s office, I could tell there was something wrong.
“She has cancer in her throat,” my dad answered.
After the news and discussion of treatment plan, she went ahead with surgery. At the end of the show, the surgeon thrust a white enameled tray to the camera, showing us the diseased part he’d removed, like some hollow, limp worm. I remember the diagnosis because of the visual rawness of it. The woman lived.
The other episode was all opulence. It showed a big city, maybe Shanghai, its flashing lights, markets, the bumper to bumper traffic with annoyed and bored drivers. The bright visuals of restaurants are what I remember most.
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked my parents. I watched as people groaned and laughed on the screen, holding their bellies.
“They had a large meal,” my mom answered, emphasis on the “large.”
I associated many a Chinese dinner after that with course after course of beautifully prepared food, restaurants glitzy in gold and red, and beautifully dressed young people sitting at wide round tables, wondering if they eventually developed cancer in the end.
Chinese food doesn’t have to be glitzy to be groan-worthy and definitely doesn’t cause rampant cancer. Sometimes it’s the simple that far outdoes the fancy. Sweet peanut soup finds its way into many Asian cuisines, almost as simple as you can get for a dessert. You need three ingredients: water, sugar, and peanuts. Red bean soup has similar ingredients and ease of preparation. The key is to cook the peanuts long enough to get a tender bite: not crunchy but not mushy or mealy.
For this recipe, you can cook for eight hours in a slow cooker or use the trendy Instant Pot multi-talented pressure cooker for about 45 minutes. I chose the latter most recently, though I have made it overnight in the slow cooker. Either method gives very similar results. When you serve this dessert, no one will ask what’s wrong with you. It’s all good.
One year ago: I was on an extended break — in part, because American politics is (still) a JOKE. Here are some random recipes that make me feel better: dress and shoe sugar cookies (and thoughts on gender politics), apple and red current pie (lovely flower cutouts), joe froggers (I need to make these cookies more often!), coconut cake with mango curd filling (This cake just makes me happy every time I see it. It looks like a gleeful shaggy animal.)
Two years ago: scrambled eggs with croutons
Three years ago: Is there a brownie or not? schrödinger’s brownie
Four years ago: tawa naan
Six years ago: crisp flatbread with za’atar
- 2 pounds of deskinned, good quality blanched whole peanuts
- enough water to cover peanuts
- sugar, to taste. For 2 pounds of peanuts, 1 cup is a fair amount.
- EDIT due to comments: Soak the peanuts 6-8 hours before cooking to get a softer result.
- IF USING A SLOW COOKER: Put water and soaked peanuts into cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Serve warm. EDITED TO ADD: I've had trouble with needing more time to cook the peanuts to doneness the older my slow cooker is. Covering the top with foil, then putting on the glass top helps keep the heat in and prevent evaporation.
- IF USING AN INSTANT POT: Put peanuts and enough water to submerge 1 cm in inner pot. Secure lid.
- CHOOSE YOUR PRESSURE - HIGH OR LOW: Set Manual mode to high pressure for 15 minutes. Vent when done but keep lid closed.
- OR: Set Manual mode to low pressure for 30 minutes. Vent when done. Open lid and add sugar. Stir to dissolve, then taste for sweetness. If you are not serving right away, set Instant Pot to Slow Cook mode until ready.
- Large batches freeze well.