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[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Probably every harried Chinese cook has made this dish on a busy weeknight. "Eggs stir-fried with tomatoes" is the actual name of the dish, there being no fancy or metaphorical significance involving mythical birds and emperors and whatnot. This is about as home-style and as humble as it gets. You will find the dish in home-style restaurants all across China and most homes, too.

Home-style in Chinese (jia-chang) connotes a certain ease and flexibility in cooking&mdash, though derivations always fall within the generally accepted idea of the dish.

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Such is the case for stir-fried eggs and tomatoes. You need 1) eggs and 2) tomatoes. The rest, to a certain extent, is up to the cook. But the general idea is this: fluffy eggs stir-fried until just cooked, mixed with tomatoes that under the heat of the wok will practically dissolve into a semi-tart, semi-sweet sauce. It is simple, and soothing, and goes perfectly with a bowl of rice. It is best eaten hot, but it also very good tepid, making it a nice choice for a lunchbox dish.

The recipe I've written is based on the version that my harried Chinese mother cooked for me on a busy weeknight. Now, I hate to be biased, but I really do believe that this is the best version of the dish I've tasted, in China or elsewhere.

Allow me this moment to defend this position. My mother's version has these three things going for it. First, a dash of Shaoxing rice wine into the egg mixture. The wine makes the eggs taste a little bit boozy, and any little amount of liquid makes the eggs fluffier when stir-fried very quickly, in a generous amount of oil. Second, a cornstarch slurry. Not enough cornstarch to make the dish gloopy, but just enough so that the tomatoes take on a velvety texture.

Third, and this is the clincher in my book: two spoonfuls of KETCHUP. We could go back and forth all day about whether or not ketchup oughta be a legitimate condiment in Chinese cuisine. Certainly, the condiment has wormed its way into many a dish in the Chinese-American repertoire: beef soup with ketchup, Salisbury-like beef patties with an oyster and ketchup sauce, to name a few.

My feeling about adding a spoonful or two of ketchup to the tomatoes when they are cooking down into a loose impromptu sauce, is that ketchup makes the tomatoes taste more like themselves. (This is of course because tomatoes, like you and me and a lot things on this planet, are composed mostly of water, and so when you start to cook a tomato it becomes quite watery and muted in flavor.) For the same reason you might add a bit of tomato purée into a fresh tomato sauce, the stir-fried tomatoes need a little help. In fact if you are completely averse to using ketchup, you can add tomato paste instead.

That's about it. Nothing else strikes me as particularly special about this version of stir-fried tomatoes with eggs. White pepper goes into the eggs; scallions are stir-fried in the oil before the eggs are added.

It's a pretty dish. Cheerful yellow with flecks of green; red streaks running throughout. During the summer months, you may be inclined to use some of those heirloom tomatoes you're growing or buying at the market, though regular Roma tomatoes will work just fine.

The basic principles of egg scrambling apply here: don't overcook, and keep the eggs moving in your vessel—in this case a wok—to ensure even cooking. The whole dish comes together in 20 minutes or less, and I can't think of a better use for two ingredients (three, if you count the ketchup) that are always lying around in the kitchen.

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Chinese Stir-fried Eggs and Tomatoes »

About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.

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