Oct 12, 2010 By Andrea Scarlatelli , eChinacities.com

One of the best things about living in China is the easy access you have to fresh, local vegetables. While the saran wrap variety is still available at big markets like Carrefour and City Shop, there's nothing better than strolling the local markets and sampling the exotic (well, exotic to us expats!) offerings. Of course, figuring out what to do with said vegetables can be a bit trickier. Below are some of the more common vegetables you'll find in Chinese markets and some tips on how to cook them. Your friends will definitely be impressed next time you cook at home!

Choy Sum (Cai Xin 菜心)
Choy Sum (Cai Xin 菜心)

Choy Sum (Cai Xin 菜心)
More commonly known by its Cantonese name, this leafy green literally means “heart of the vegetable.” It looks very similar to bok choy, but tends to have longer stems and more bitter leaves. This is a great vegetable for those who like to, ahem, indulge themselves a bit because it helps to detox the liver, has lots of fiber (which aids digestion), increases anti-carcinogenic proteins, and improves skin quality. It also has very high levels of vitamin C for improved immunity to colds and viruses.
In addition to its numerous health benefits, Cai Xin is also a very easy vegetable to handle. You can prepare it pretty much however you prefer, although in restaurants you're most likely to find it sauteed and covered with oyster sauce.
Sesame Choy Sum
Ingredients
1 bunch fresh choy sum
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
Directions
-
Wash the choy sum and trim the bottom.
-Bring a pot of water to boil and add the choy sum. Since the stems take longer to cook than the leaves, I actually cut the stems in half and added that to the pot first. About a minute or two later, I added the leaf sections.
-Boil the choy sum for about 3-4 minutes, then remove and drain well. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.
-Run cool water over the choy sum and squeeze out excess water. Place in a large bowl and add the sauces and oil. Mix well.
-Add sesame seeds and toss to combine. Let soak for 10 minutes.
To serve, squeeze excess sauce, plate, then drizzle sauce on top. Sprinkle more sesame seeds on top. (Recipe from http://en.petitchef.com).

 

Daikon (Bai Luo Bo 白萝卜)
Daikon (Bai Luo Bo 白萝卜)

Daikon (Bai Luo Bo 白萝卜)
One of the more unusual looking offerings, this long white tube is actually a radish. It's rumored to help get rid of colds if you eat it raw (keep that in mind during these upcoming winter months!), increase calcium absorption (which is particularly important for women living in China considering the lack of dairy used in everyday cooking), and reduce phlegm production.
But before you go biting into these things, beware that “raw” bai luo bo, which you'll sometimes find in salads, is actually cured first in a mixture of salt for a few days to soften its pungent flavor. It's particularly popular in soups or grated and fried.

Pan-Fried Daikon Cakes
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups grated daikon radish
2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Directions
-Place the daikon in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. -Drain daikon. Stir in the garlic, onion, egg, bread crumbs, pepper, paprika, and chili garlic sauce. Mix well. Form into 8, small round patties.
-Pour oil into a large skillet. Heat over medium heat. Fry patties in the hot oil until firm and nicely brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. (Recipe from www.allrecipes.com)
 

 

Lotus Root ( Ou 藕)
Lotus Root ( Ou 藕)

Lotus Root ( Ou 藕)

If you've lived in China for a while, chances are you've had lotus root, which is usually served under a syrupy sweet sauce that probably all but obliterates the natural health benefits of the root, which include reducing fever and reducing stomach bleeding due to ulcers (of course, if you're experiencing that symptom, you should probably just go to the doctor!).

Primarily a summer vegetable, lotus root retains its crunch no matter how you cook it, which makes it incredibly versatile. You can make it into chips (which are only slightly less satisfying than real potato chips but a whole lot healthier), pan fry it, deep fry it... well, you get the idea.
Caramelized Lotus Root
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups grated daikon radish
2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Directions
-Place the daikon in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-Drain daikon. Stir in the garlic, onion, egg, bread crumbs, pepper, paprika, and chili garlic sauce. Mix well. Form into 8, small round patties.
-Pour oil into a large skillet. Heat over medium heat. Fry patties in the hot oil until firm and nicely brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. (Recipe from www.lifestylefood.com.au )
 

 Winter Melon (Dong Gua 冬瓜)
Winter Melon (Dong Gua 冬瓜)
 

Winter Melon (Dong Gua 冬瓜)

Despite it's name and appearance, dong gua isn't actually a melon at all – it's a type of squash. The proteins found in this particular squash variety have a detoxifying effect, which is particularly useful when trying to lose weight.

Mild in both color and flavor, it's mainly a filler that picks up flavors from the other ingredients with which it's cooked. This makes it especially useful as an ingredient in soups. In fact, winter melon soup is one of the more popular dishes found in restaurants, especially during the cooler months.

Winter Melon Soup
Ingredients
1 cup winter melon (1/2 pound)
Water to boil winter melon
2 cups chicken broth
4 Chinese dried black mushrooms
2 - 3 slices ginger
1/4 cup cooked ham, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green onion, green part only, washed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces

Directions
-Wash the winter melon, remove the green skin, seeds, and the pulp. Cut into 2-inch pieces.
-Reconstitute the Chinese dried mushrooms by soaking in hot water for 20 - 30 minutes until softened. Squeeze out any excess water.
-Place the winter melon in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until the winter melon is tender.
-Add the chicken broth, mushrooms, ginger and cooked ham. Add seasonings as desired. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Add green onion for garnish. Serve hot. (Recipe from www.about.com)

 

Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan 芥蓝)
Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan 芥蓝)

Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan 芥蓝)
As its name suggests, gai lan is in the same family as Western broccoli and kale, but with a sweeter and more bitter flavor. This makes gai lan more interesting to cook with, and even healthier than its counterparts. A half cup serving provides twice the amount of vitamin C required for adults, and has as much calcium as a half cup of milk. It also aids digestion (because of the fiber) and has a decent amount of iron, which helps prevent anemia.
Gai lan's stronger flavor makes it ideal for stir-frying, which is usually how it's prepared in restaurants. Ginger and oyster sauces are typical in its preparation, although sauteeing it in garlic is a quick, easy side dish (and a personal favorite!).

Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Sauce
Ingredients
6 medium stalks Chinese broccoli (about 12 ounces)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 teaspoons rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon ginger juice
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 slices ginger
Directions
-Cut the broccoli stalks in half lengthwise if more than 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the stalks and leaves into 2-inch-long pieces, keeping the stalk ends separate from the leaves. In a small bowl combine the broth, rice wine, ginger juice, cornstarch, salt, and sugar.
-Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil, add the ginger, and stir-fry 10 seconds or until the ginger is fragrant. Add only the broccoli stalks and stir-fry 1 to 1-1/2 minutes until the stalks are bright green. Add the leaves and stir-fry 1 minute until the leaves are just limp. Stir the broth mixture and swirl it into the wok. Stir-fry 1 minute or until the sauce has thickened slightly and lightly coats the vegetables. (Recipe from http://splendidtable.publicradio.org)
 

Related links
How to Make the Most of Your Chinese Kitchen
Virtual Bite: Best Chinese Food Blogs
Intro to Chinese Manners at the Restaurant 101

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Keywords: chinese markets chinese cooking chinese vegetables

10 Comments Add your comment

1

Steve Antenucci
comment|7593|0

Great article. I have been eating all of these vegetables for over a year now and the extra information is appreciated. I would like to see more nutrition articles of various Chinese foods on this website. Thank you, Andrea.

Oct 14, 2010 21:55 Report Abuse

2

Anonymous
comment|7597|0

For the winter melon soup. Substitute the cooked ham with local bacon, chopped. Local bacon, sometimes referred to as Shanghai bacon, is really salty. It too salty to eat in slices, but perfect for flavoring soups and stews.

Oct 14, 2010 23:22 Report Abuse

3

Andrea Scarlatelli
comment|8306|0

Steve, thanks for your request for more nutrition articles - will definitely work on that!

Anonymous, great suggestion for the winter melon soup - I love Shanghai bacon but you’re right, its a bit too salty by itself (even though Im a big fan of salt!) :)

Nov 06, 2010 23:30 Report Abuse

4

Deepu
comment|10814|0

Andrea, Great article. I have only one question. Sesame Choy Sum preparation no salt was used. Was it because you have use oyster sauce and soy sauce? Thanks

Jan 19, 2011 08:30 Report Abuse

5

philip
comment|10817|0

i like reading your publications, they do help me a lot. thanks for the good work.i would like you people to tell me more about pimples and black spots on the body ,how to cure them easily. thanks

Jan 19, 2011 08:58 Report Abuse

6

David
comment|13559|0

Nice to know one of the Chinese veg. I began to loath the most ,Choy Sum. It's almost tasteless and served far to long, making it even more difficult to eat with chop sticks, as the last [ bottom] third is tough and indegestible. To be fair my Chinese wife loves it

Mar 26, 2011 19:27 Report Abuse

7

H
comment|18222|0

Oi, you've copied and pasted the Daikon recipe where the caramalised Lotus root recipe is meant to be. Thats the one i'm interested in!

Jul 17, 2011 18:26 Report Abuse

8

Steel Guns
comment|18435|42535

'saran wrap'. Isnt that a brand of cling film???

Jul 24, 2011 04:27 Report Abuse

9

Cynthia tam
comment|21338|0

Is there any bok choy or lettuce around here?

Nov 01, 2011 21:39 Report Abuse

10

MissIvez
comment|30587|0

Thank you for this informative article! I have become so jaded with the taste of foodstuffs in China, but this has inspired me to try a few new dishes.

Aug 20, 2012 00:43 Report Abuse