During China’s chaotic Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), 17 million young, privileged urbanites were “sent down” to the countryside to learn from the peasants. For most it was a disastrous interruption in their lives. Toiling on the communes was difficult and food seldom abundant, but those who experienced it learned to make do with what there was. From their rural hosts they learned to prepare remarkably tasty and healthy dishes with enough nourishment to get them through long, arduous days in the fields.
Living among the peasants, the “sent-down youth” learned to cook with the fresh, wholesome and seasonal foods of the countryside, to conserve fuel by flash-cooking and to improvise when ingredients were unavailable. They became frugal cooks who mastered the art of getting the peak flavors and maximum nourishment out of low-calorie foods, devoid of chemical preservatives, fresh from China’s fields, ponds and streams. These are their recipes – entirely authentic, and easy to prepare in a Western kitchen.