Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, May 23 – Pandas aren’t the only ones who eat bamboo; most Asian people also enjoy it! Bamboo shoots are widely used in Asian cuisine. We have just recently started eating these at home. You can buy fresh bamboo shoots in the markets when they are in season, but, if you do, you have to know how to properly prepare them for cooking because they have toxins in their raw state. We buy them precooked and packaged, so all you need to do is rinse them and add to your dishes. We just add them to stir fries. You can buy different sizes and whole or sliced. When we visited the Shanghai area in April, the young shoots were in season, and some of the restaurants had special dishes. The lower right corner of the picture was a delicious soup made with young bamboo.
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, March 3 – Today we tried Monkey Head mushrooms by recommendation of my Chinese teacher. They can go by a lot of other names, but the Chinese name “hóu tóu gū 猴头菇” literally translates to “monkey head mushroom.” These are usually found in the dried mushroom section of the Chinese supermarket, and sometimes, if you are in China, you can find them fresh. As you can see by the picture, they look kind of “furry.” They are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, for many different benefits! My teacher suggested we try them in soup, so we did, but, I must admit, I wasn’t crazy about them! They had an unusual taste to them, somewhat bitter. Because they are dried, you are supposed to reconstitute them. I thought that since they were going to cook in the soup for a couple of hours that I didn’t need to … wrong! I read afterwards that soaking them, even overnight, can remove the bitterness. The texture was interesting, they were like sponges, holding a large amount of the soup broth. If you decide to stir fry them, be sure to squeeze all of the water from soaking out! We’ll try that next time! We looked at recipes and saw that they can be combined with numerous things, and are often used as a meat substitute. We made our soup with black silkie chicken, celtuce, carrots, some dried daylily buds, and the mushrooms.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 7 – Living in the USA, I only ever knew gingko as either the tree with the unique fan shaped leaves that turned such a pretty yellow in the fall, or the health supplement known to help with memory problems. Once moving to China, my first introduction to gingko seeds or gingko nuts, in Chinese called “white-fruits” 白果 (bai guo) or “silver apricots” 銀杏 , was as a dessert in a Chiuchow/Teochew cuisine restaurant; it was delicious and I ate way too much! Gingko nuts have hard shells, are yellow or green inside, and are toxic to eat without cooking (because of something called MPN). Even after cooking, you should limit the amount you eat to approximately 8 per day (Nobody told me this the first time I had them! But, luckily, I was fine!). Quite a bit of information says that children should avoid them altogether, or eat about half of the adult amount. If you have a gingko tree near you and decide to harvest your own, be careful because the pulp can irritate your skin. We buy them in the supermarket shelled and vacuum packed, I’m honestly not sure if they are cooked or not, but we always cook ours in some way before eating them, usually in stir-fries. I’m surprised that the package has no information at all about the “safe” way to consume them! They usually have a slightly sweet taste, but sometimes can be slightly bitter, and they are kind of soft and chewy. The Chinese use them mainly in rice porridge, sweet soups and other desserts. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are good for the lungs, kidneys, anti-aging, and are considered an aphrodisiac.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 30 – We eat much more pumpkin in China than I ever did in the USA, but, they don’t look anything like Jack-o-lantern type pumpkins, they look more like a butternut squash, only they taste much sweeter! I haven’t been able to find out what they actually are because all pumpkins in China are simply called “nan guo,” which means “south melon,” as they were supposedly first introduced from south Asia. I bake them, and do everything from eating them plain, or making soup, to using them in muffins and cookies. I also LOVE to put sloppy joes over the mashed pumpkin! In south China, pumpkin is quite popular and you can often order baked pumpkin, or a sweetened pumpkin pancake, made with rice, in Chinese restaurants. If anyone knows what type of squash or pumpkin these are, I’d love to know!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 6 – Today, I thought I’d share a picture of bananas growing. I’ve been reading about how bananas grow and did a little further research today. Bananas do not actually grow on trees, they are actually large herb plants! And, the fruit we eat, by botanical definition, should be classified as berries! Banana flowers, the large maroon/purple buds, also called blossoms or hearts, are also eaten; We have seen them in the fresh markets here and in the Philippines. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are considered a vegetable when eaten. One of the routes that I walk along the lake has some banana trees that I’ve been watching, but today when I went by, one of the blossoms I just photographed a couple of days ago was missing. I guess someone decided it was a free meal. There’s much more about these plants that I won’t attempt to explain here, but, the “petals” of the bud are called bracts, which lift up one by one, uncovering the delicate white flowers beneath, which eventually become the bananas. In my picture, you can see all the wasps enjoying the nectar in these! The flowers eventually dry and fall off and the black “bottom” of the banana is formed. I’m going to watch for a banana flower to buy and cook, I’ll keep you posted! Back on July 31, I posted a picture of the local banana farms. https://linda-walsh-n6tp.squarespace.com/config/pages/568757bdd8af102bf3da0525
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, September 7 – We are still working on our goal of trying all of the different greens available here, so, today we bought some red amaranth greens, called “hong xian cai.” There are also plain green ones (bai xian cai), but the red are so much prettier :-) Many people today know amaranth as a healthy gluten free grain. These are the nutritional leaves of the same plant, commonly available in Asia, but probably only in specialty stores in Western locations. The young leaves can be used in salads and I’m thinking may come in the mixed assortments you can buy in the USA (?) The leaves you buy in China are more mature and are best cooked. Fix it like you would spinach: stir fry, steam or put it in soup. The stems can be eaten if you want or you can just use the leaves. The reddish-purple color will bleed into any liquid you use. We just stir-fried ours, stems and leaves, with some garlic and a little seasoning. We probably could’ve used a little more seasoning than we did, but it was good, and considering its list of nutritional benefits, and low cost (less than 40 cents usd for the bunch!) I’ll eat it again :-)
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 30 – It’s interesting how many more varieties of mushrooms there are available here in south China compared to the USA. These are “cao gu” or straw mushrooms. They are named that because they grow on straw from rice paddies. We’ve had these before, and the other night we had them again at a Chinese restaurant, so I decided to look them up. They are interesting because when we buy them, they are like little oval balls with squishy tops. When we cut them open, then we see the more recognizable mushroom shape. In reading, I’ve learned that these are in what is called the “egg stage,” before full maturity, and are considered “unpeeled”. They supposedly have more amino acids in this state, so that is how they are preferred. Once they mature, the cap of the mushroom bursts through the “veil” and they look like other mushrooms, they are then considered “peeled” straw mushrooms. The unpeeled ones are supposed to have a much stronger taste also, and if cooked without being cut open, will retain the juices inside until you bite into them. Straw mushrooms are supposed to be available in the USA in Asian stores, either canned or dried, and the packages supposedly say if they are peeled or unpeeled, but as with most canned foods, they have a different taste. We have always mixed them with other foods and thought they were good, but they do supposedly have a unique “earthy” taste form the straw they grow in. Has anyone tried them?
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, June 17 – Today Leah and I spent the day in Shenzhen where we used to live. We saw quite a few friends and had a Chinese dinner with our friend Lydia before heading home. It was a pretty basic Chinese meal, but I thought I’d share it. Crispy pork belly (half eaten on the black platter), steamed egg in the bowl, and a vegetable mixture of black fungus, Chinese Yam, snow peas, lily bulb and a few carrot slices cut like butterflies. We also had some green beans and white radish slices as appetizers, tea to drink, and an assortment of fruit for dessert. Our friend always brings her own tea and the restaurant makes it for her! In nicer Chinese restaurants, the food is served family style instead of each person ordering individual meals.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, June 16 – There are a large variety of greens available here and I still don’t know what they all are or how to cook them! We decided to try one that is not always available, the “huang bi bai” or chrysanthemum greens, also called garland chrysanthemum, crown daisy and more. Chrysanthemum is known best in China for its flowers which are dried for tea and Traditional Chinese Medicine. If the plants are very young, the stems and leaves can be eaten raw in salads, but most you buy in the store are mature enough that they are better cooked. Warnings are to not overcook them though. We stir-fried ours with some garlic, onions, pork, and spinach. We cooked the pork, garlic and onions first, then added the 1 ½” stem pieces with the spinach, and put the leaves in last just for a couple of minutes. I can’t say that I noticed any distinct flavor, but it did give the overall dish a slightly different taste, and the stems added a slightly crunchy texture, which was nice. One more item you can look for to add to your cuisine!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 1 - How many years have I been looking at this in the markets and didn’t know what it was???? Well, I finally learned! Most commonly, it is called “celtuce” or “stem lettuce,” and “wosun” 莴笋 in Chinese. It is also called "asparagus lettuce".
I learned that the thick stems are peeled and then sliced or chopped for stir-fries (or steamed), and the leaves are good for soups. So, we did just that! A stir fry with pork, mushrooms, and celtuce, turned out very good… celtuce has a mild taste, somewhat like celery (I didn’t think it tasted like asparagus like some said), and it kept a nice firm, crispy texture. We added the leaves into vegetable beef soup, and although I can’t say they added much flavor, they added a nice dark green color. I read that they can be bitter. Supposedly, the young stems and leaves can also be used raw in salads. Found in most (southern) Chinese stores/markets with produce (not sure about other areas?). For those of you outside of China, check your Asian markets!