Posted by Móna Wise in Features.

Do you have the necessary sauces?

Learning how to use a wok and make excellent Chinese food is no easy feat. But it is, in our opinion, one of the most interesting cuisines to learn about. The biggest attraction being that several of the dishes we love are prepared and cooked in (sometimes) less than twenty minutes. A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of meeting up with a fellow food lover and blogger Julie O’Neil who writes recipes and stories over at

Julie’s blog was born as a way to keep her family connected as her daughter is now living in Australia and her son in China. Many of us can relate to this with family members scattered all over the globe. Together, the three of them cook and share recipes of what they eat each week and then Julie tells the stories of how their dishes work out—or sometimes don’t. Much to our delight Julie has shed light on a fact we already knew; Chinese food, when cooked at home using the freshest of ingredients, is good for you.

This week we are sharing three of our favourite appetiser recipes. The first one, Aubergines in a Shanghai sauce, although totally vegetarian, will appeal to everyone as the sauce, when reduced takes on a sweet and sticky soy flavour making this one we turn to again and again.

The second recipe is for Pork lettuce cups. This can be churned out in a few minutes with the cooking of the pork being the hardest part. While it is nice to turn this into a man course by adding rice or noodles on the side, we love how light and tasty these lettuce cups are and share this dish with friends all the time.

Our third recipe this week is for the fish lovers. The Queenie scallops we have access to are fished right off the coast of the Isle of Man. They are tiny little scallops packed with flavour and are sold already shelled at the market. We love the tender texture these offer and have even eaten them raw from time to time with just a drizzle of lime juice. Look for them next time you go to the market and give them a try. They take very little cooking and freeze well too.

We hope you are all settling in to the Christmas season and would like to invite you to join us at Hughes SuperValu on Saturday December 15th 2012 (11am) for a book signing and fundraiser for Lily-Mae. We will be donating €5 per every book sold on that day to the Lily-Mae foundation and hope you will join us to show your support.

Thanks for all the support,
Móna & Ron Wise

Aubergine in a Shanghai Sauce

(Appetizer—4 people)


Aubergines. Big or small they usually turn a few noses up around the table here. We have discovered through trial and error it has nothing to do with the taste and everything to do with the texture. This is a very simple and a traditional Shanghai dish and we find the addition of sugar to the sauce at the end helps turn the texture from (possible) mush into a sticky chewy one ensuring the kids keep coming back for more.

What you will need

  • 500g Aubergines, small
  • 5 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 large red chili, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 200ml water
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp water, extra

How to prepare it
Cut the aubergine into 5cm pieces (or leave whole if small). Heat the sesame oil in the wok until it shimmers then add the garlic and chili and cook for 1 minute. Remove them from the wok and set aside for later.

Add the aubergine and gently sauté. When they have soaked up the oil, add 1 tbsp of the water. Keep adding water, a tbsp at a time until eggplants are soft and you have used half of the water. Pour in dark soy sauce and the tablespoon of sugar sugar. Stir well and add the rest of the water. Cover with a lid and cook for one minute. Uncover, the liquid should have been absorbed. Return chili and garlic to the wok, toss for 30 seconds and serve immediately. These are also quite good eaten cold as a lunchtime snack at work.

Pork Lettuce Cups

(Appetizer—6 people)


When faced with hunger pangs but wanting to keep it light these lettuce cups are an excellent choice. Although iceberg lettuce does not have much nutritional content it is an excellent lettuce to use for this recipe as it retains is firm texture and shape when filled with the meat mixture. This is excellent as appetisers in smaller portions and can also be made into a main course. You could also try making this with minced turkey or chicken.

What you will need

  • 900g pork (minced)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 chili, sliced thinly
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 bsp rice wine vinegar
  • 4 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp oyster/fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 110g bamboo shoots (optional)
  • 3 tbsp coriander, chopped
  • 110g toasted cashew nuts
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce or 2 heads baby gem

How to prepare it
Peel and dice the onion and garlic and sauté it gently in a half tbsp of sesame oil then add in the chili and ginger. Remove these items from the wok and set aside for a few minutes.

Sauté the pork in the remaining sesame oil until it has browned. Remove meat from wok and drain of fat if necessary. Choose leaves towards the center of the head of lettuce and have it ready, if necessary; set aside to chill.

Return the onions, garlic, ginger and chili to the wok and add in the rice wine vinegar and pork and stir until the liquid reduces. Add hoisin, oyster and soy sauces, stirring to mix well. Stir in bamboo shoots, cashews and fresh coriander and heat through.

Spoon the meat mixture into the lettuce cups. Serve and eat immediately.

Queenie Scallops in a Blackbean Sauce

(Appetizer—4 people)


Queenie scallops have to be one of our favourite seafood finds at the fishmongers. Typically, they sell out before 10am at the Galway market, when they have them in stock, because everyone wants to enjoy these tiny treats. We keep a tub of dried fermented black beans on hand at all times and love how little you need to do with them to produce a delicious dish.

What you will need 

  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp minced fermented black beans
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 450g queenie scallops
  • 2 cups enoki mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter

How to prepare it
Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the black beans, garlic and scallion whites only. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until softened, about 1 minute. Add the scallops and sauté until the scallops are cooked approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the butter and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the scallion greens and enoki mushrooms and stir to combine. Transfer to four individual serving plates and serve with the rice on the side if desired.