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Guilt Free Buffet Dishes Chinese Style

Like the concept of French Californian cuisine, Chinese Californian cuisine means lighter versions or options of Chinese food.

This time of year food is the main attraction at holiday parties, but eating a lot this time of year doesn't have to mean eating unhealthy or fattening food. You can easily incorporate healthy Californian-styled Chinese food into a great buffet-style meal, but the trick is to make sure you pick the right dishes.

Here is a quick list of Chinese Californian dish options for your holiday party:

1. Stewed beef, called lu niu rou (滷牛肉) or lu niu jian (滷牛腱) in Mandarin. The beef dish comes from a stew with multiple mild spices, but you are supposed to eat it cold and in thin slices. It looks similar to roast beef but tastes more flavorful. Bonus: it is low-calorie, often listed on dieters' menus in my birthplace Taiwan.

This stewed beef is available at the deli sections of:

  • I.S. Stew House

The dish may appear as “beef shank” on the English menu you see because the Chinese usually use shank to make it based on a preference for meat with tendon, though the same cooking method can work for a roast as well.

2. Roast/smoked duck, kao ya (烤鴨) or xun ya (燻鴨) in Mandarin, available at the deli places named above. I would recommend duck instead of chicken because duck meat can help your throat and skin maintain moisture in a dry environment (created by your heater this time of year), according to some Chinese medicine practitioners I know. Ducks spend their life in water and are well-protected against the elements; the meat is moisturizing in turn.

Refrigerating whole roast/smoked duck is fine, but when fat congeals on sliced roast duck it is less than appealing. Duck looks better served with the skin on, but it's fatty so remove it before eating to avoid those extra calories.

3. Vegetables with oyster sauce (hao you  蠔油 ). Oyster sauce has only nine calories per tablespoon, and though soy sauce contains even fewer calories, oyster sauce carries a richer flavor to work as a salad dressing. It goes well with lettuce. You can also stir-fry asparagus with it. That is another dish that tastes great after cooling off, and thus works perfectly for a buffet without warming trays.

If you are a good cook, the first two dishes I've recommended may be homemade, too.

Cooking stewed beef usually entails watching the stew on low heat of the stove for longer than my patience, so I would use a crock pot instead to save the trouble. There's also no need to put all the spices in a gauze bag as Chinese cooks generally do; instead opt for spices in ground powder form that dissolve in liquid.

You don't necessarily have to search for multiple spices at a Chinese store. I often get my ground spices from mainstream markets.

Stewed beef's spices may include:

  • anise
  • cardamom
  • cinnamon (which is sometimes recommended for its fat burning properties)
  • clove
  • fennel
  • garlic
  • ginger

Just get the ones that appeal to you. How much of each spice to use depends on your preference, too. If you like them equally, a teaspoon of each will work.

You also need roughly half a shot of cooking wine and about three tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, perhaps a little more or less depending on the size of the beef roast (preferably organic) you've got.

Don't brown the defrosted roast with oil in a skillet—that's a pre-cooking procedure for roast beef. Instead, soak it in boiling water to rid it of blood and extra fat before cooking. This is one method that makes Chinese stewed beef lower-calorie than roast beef.

Follow your crock pot's instructions for roast beef to add water and set the cooking hours. The liquid should have shrunk significantly by the time the beef is done. You can save the little remaining as a sauce for noodles.

Chinese stewed beef is supposed to be served in thin slices without its stew liquid. It keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can make it a few days before your house party. Just remember it should be refrigerated as a whole chunk wrapped up in foil or clear plastic film like roast duck.

Whether you decide to cook or buy take-out, present the Chinese Californian dishes with healthful American buffet items such as shrimp cocktail, sweet potatoes (which are more nutritious than white potatoes), mixed beans, fresh fruit, and all-natural jello.

Your guests will thank you for alleviating the guilt they feel about the weight gain season while enjoying the meal!

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