Food & Drink

New cookbooks celebrate longtime SLO Chinese restaurant, local farmers markets

Kendra Aronson poses with her newly published book, “The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook.”
Kendra Aronson poses with her newly published book, “The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook.” jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Food lovers looking for local inspiration need look no further than a pair of cookbooks that offer a total of 80 delectable recipes. Check them out:

“The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook” by Kendra Aronson

Given the striking visuals of her 196-page “SLO Farmers’ Market Cookbook,” it’s hard to believe that — by her own admission — Kendra Aronson “was not a writer, photographer or graphic designer” when she started the project some three years ago.

“It was a passion project,” she said. “I wanted to do everything myself so I could have creative control.” To that end, she taught herself digital photography and how to use the software necessary to design and lay out the book for a commercial printer.

A vibrant celebration of the Central Coast’s food scene, “SLO Farmers’ Market Cookbook” offers 60 seasonal recipes divided into breakfast, light bites, lunch, dinner and dessert. All are accompanied with full-page photographs of the dishes, either shot at restaurants or in Aronson’s own kitchen.

As her website notes, “In the spirit of a creating a collaborative community-driven cookbook, the majority of the recipes are provided by the food growers and crafters themselves to showcase the true taste of the Central Coast.” Many of those contributors are featured in the book with short vignettes and photographs.

Aronson financed much of the first run of books through a Kickstarter campaign, and received her first shipment of the books just before Thanksgiving. Now she’s in the process of marketing the $35 cookbook, mainly through book-signing events listed on her website, slofarmersmarketcookbook.com. Some select local retailers — yet to be finalized — will also sell the cookbook, and it can be ordered via the website as well.

“Mee Heng Low Gin Family Cookbook”

What began as a labor of love for immediate family members ultimately turned into a tribute to a beloved local landmark and the community that supported it.

The Mee Heng Low restaurant in San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown was a touchstone for many local residents, as much for its food as for the Gin family that operated it from 1945 to 1988. In recent years, Mike Gin, who grew up working in the restaurant, began recognizing that the family’s culinary legacy could become lost to future generations. That realization gained greater urgency when his mother, Anna Gin, was diagnosed with lymphoma.

Thankfully, she has made a full recovery, and — because there were no written recipes from the restaurant — the family began videotaping her as she prepared and explained Mee Heng Low’s iconic dishes. Family members then spent two years transcribing her instructions and testing ingredients, measurements and techniques.

The resulting collection of recipes was originally just going to be for family and friends, but an experience with the Facebook page “You Grew Up in SLO If You Remember …” gave Mike Gin an idea. If members of the page agreed to donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, he would message them Mee Heng Low’s Egg Foo Yung recipe.

The overwhelming response told the Gin family they had a body of knowledge the community was hungry for, so the concept was expanded into a full-fledged cookbook. Mike Gin got his nephew on board, and Andrew Gin used his graphic design and communications skills to push the project to completion.

Graced with local artist John Ramos’ painting of the restaurant on its cover, the $25 cookbook has 20 Mee Heng Low recipes, including BBQ Pork Spareribs, Pineapple Chicken and its iconic Chop Suey. Only a limited number will be printed, and the Gin family is donating all net proceeds to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

“The SLO Farmers’ Market Cookbook”

Kendra Aronson

$35; purchase from Aronson at events listed on website, order from website (plus shipping), or buy from select retailers.

slofarmersmarketcookbook.com/shop

“Mee Heng Low Gin Family Cookbook”

$25 plus shipping

Advance order via Facebook page of the same name.

A very limited number may be at local retailers depending on availability.

Mee Heng Low’s Egg Foo Yung

This was one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, in part because of the gravy made with the drippings from the BBQ pork that slow-cooked in the oven for 1 to 1  1/2 hours. Here, it’s a quicker version of the gravy.

FOR THE EGG PATTIES:

Makes approximately nine patties

1 celery bunch

4-5 whole eggs

Vegetable oil

Grind one bunch of celery through a meat grinder (most of you will likely have to use a food processor — medium coarseness, not too fine). Squeeze out some moisture and let it sit in a colander.

After sitting in colander for about 30 minutes, squeeze as much liquid out of the celery as possible and put it in a large bowl. We used to use an old press at the restaurant, but since we don’t have that anymore, we just smash handfuls at a time. Should be just a little moisture left in the celery.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over medium heat (about  1/3 full)

Mix 4 whole eggs with the celery. Stir it gently and add a fifth egg if you want a creamier texture and slightly heavier patty.

Once the oil is hot, put approximately  1/3 cup of the mixture into the hot oil. Let it cook on one side and once it starts to firm up and/or turn brown, flip the patty. (Repeat for the remaining mixture to make the rest of the patties.) Remove the patties when brown on both sides and place on paper towels.

FOR THE GRAVY:

1 can chicken broth

2.5 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon

Salt

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons corn starch

Mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, and chicken bouillon and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in some salt.

While boiling, mix corn starch with about  1/4 cup water so it is a liquid and then add the corn starch mixture into the boiling sauce to help thicken it up. After about a minute, turn the heat down to low until it is ready to serve.

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