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Back to basics

15 February 2019

For this issue, Domestic Workers Corner’s founder, Lovely, shares the secrets of basic Chinese way of cooking vegetables, from stir-frying to blanching, to cooking in broth.

In all the recipes she shares, one will notice that basically the same ingredients and methods of cooking are used, with just a twist here and there.

To stir-fry, for example, garlic is a major ingredient. But how it’s prepared, whether minced, chopped or pressed, could altogether change the taste of the dish.

In blanching, the oyster sauce is king. But one still needs to know the right time to add it to get the best result.

For broth, meat or vegetable stock is the key to having a flavorful and satisfying dish. But there is also what is called a “superior stock”, which guarantees that you’ll have the tastiest soup this side of town, which can only be enhanced by the vegetables you add.

Aside from providing basic cooking tips for your veggies, Lovely also culled several recipes, including one usually prepared during the Lunar New Year, to better show what makes Chinese cuisine a universal favorite.

Method 1: Stir-Frying
The best greens for stir-frying: gai lan, choy sum, bok choy, yam leaves, napa cabbage, mustard greens, watercress, kale, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, frisée, turnip greens, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, regular broccoli.

My go-to method for cooking any greens, whether it’s an Asian or non-Asian green, is always stir-frying. When stir-frying greens, think about the type of green you have. Does it need to be cut? Long vegetables like Swiss chard will need to be chopped up before cooking. Hearty leaves can be roughly torn or chopped, while tender stems—like those you’d find on gai lan or bok choy—should be sliced into smaller pieces.

If you have even thicker stems, you’ll want to blanch them in salted boiling water for just a moment to tenderize them before they hit the wok.

The flavor of garlic can change depending on how you chop it.

You can stir-fry your vegetables plain with just a bit of salt, but if you want to add aromatics, you’ll have to choose whether you want them in larger chunks for milder flavor, or finely minced for stronger flavor that penetrates the dish. If you leave them large, add them to the wok before you add your greens so they have a chance to soften. If mincing, add them towards the end of cooking to keep the flavor stronger and prevent the smaller pieces from burning.

Method 2: Blanching with Oyster Sauce
The best greens for blanching: gai lan, choy sum, bok choy, mustard greens, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, broccoli rabe.

Since oyster sauce has a pretty bold flavor, this cooking preparation works best on heartier stem vegetables like bok choy and broccoli rabe, and crispy vegetables like iceberg and romaine lettuce. To poach greens, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the greens, and cook them, stirring occasionally with a metal spider, until they’re cooked just past al dente.

The most important step come after cooking: draining. You need to drain your greens very well, as any excess water will dilute the flavor of the oyster sauce. Pressing them with a spoon or spatula in a fine mesh strainer works, as does a heavy duty salad spinner. If you don’t have either, you can fish out the greens with a spider or pair of tongs, let them drip, then dry them thoroughly on a tray lined with paper towels or clean kitchen towels.

Once the oyster sauce is applied, I like to give them a bit of extra flavor with a sprinkle of fried garlic.

Method 3: in Broth
The best greens for serving in broth: choy sum, baby bok choy, red shen choy, yam leaves, snow pea shots, spinach, iceberg lettuce.

Although most greens are great stir-fried, I find tender leafy greens are best when they are served in broth. Broth is also a good showplace for slender stem greens like choy sum, flat stem greens like baby bok choy, and is especially good with snow pea shots and iceberg lettuce.

In most Chinese restaurants, greens will be cooked in “superior stock”, made from chicken, pork bones, and smoked ham. You can check out our recipe for wonton soup for a good version of superior stock. It’s a wonderful broth to have around for soups and greens. The only drawback? It takes a few hours to make. For everyday meals, chicken stock is a good stand-in.

To cook greens in broth, just bring your broth to a simmer (with or without aromatics like sliced garlic or ginger), season to taste with salt, and add your greens, cooking them just until tender. Photos:

Chinese New Year Specialty: Buddha’s Delight

For the sauce:
1/4 cup reserved shiitake mushroom water (see below)
1 medium clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce; see note)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the Stir-Fry:
1/4 pound Napa cabbage (about 4 leaves), cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 pound baby bok choy, large ones halved and small ones left whole
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in cold water overnight or hot water for at least 2 hours; mushrooms squeezed of excess liquic and soaking water strained and reserved
1 bean curd stick, soaked in cold water overnight or hot water for at least 2 hours (see note)
4 tofu puffs (see note)
1 3/4 ounces bean thread noodle, soaked in cold water overnight or hot water for at least 2 hours (1 small pack; see note)
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
5 ounces chai pow yu from 1 drained (10-ounce) can (Chinese braised gluten; see note)
Kosher salt
Cooked white rice, for serving

1. For the sauce: In a bowl, add reserved mushroom liquid, garlic, sesame oil, kecap manis, soy sauce, and cornstarch. Mix well and set aside.
2. For the Stir-Fry: Bring a wok or pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add Napa cabbage and baby bok chop and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold running water until chilled. Pat dry with towels.
3. Rinse rehydrated mushrooms under cold running water. Squeeze out excess water and slice thinly.

4. Drain beak curd stick. Using scissors, cut rehydrated bean curd stick into 1-inch pieces; cut those pieces in half. Cut tofu puffs in half, then cut those halves on a diagonal to form small triangles.
5. Drain rehydrated bean thread noodle and rinse under cold water. Using scissors, cut the bundle of noodles in half.

6. heat oil until lightly smoking. Add chai pow yu, mushrooms, tofu puffs, and bean curd stick. Season with salt and stir-fry until mushrooms are golden brown, about 4 minutes.
7. Add Napa cabbage and baby bok choy and stir-fry until vegetables are tender, 1 to 2 minutes.
8. Add bean thread noodles to the middle of the wok and cook, tossing and stirring, for 1 minute. Stir sauce and pour into wok. Cook, stirring to coat ingredients, until sauce thickens and the noodles and tofu puffs have absorbed some of it, about 3 minutes. Transfer to plate and serve immediately with rice alongside.

Stir fry shrimp with egg and chives

1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable or peanut oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided
4 l arge eggs
1 tablespoon milk
2 ounces Chinese chives, cut into 1-inch lengths (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1.In a medium bowl, cover shrimp with cold water and stir in baking soda. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Drain and rinse shrimp under cold running water; pat dry with paper towels. Transfer shrimp to small bowl and add 1 teaspoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the white pepper. Mix well.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 4 eggs with the milk, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over high heat until lightly smoking. Add shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add Chinese chives, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry until chives begin to wilt and shrimp are just cooked, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a plate.
5. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the wok over high heat until lightly smoking.
6. Add eggs, lower heat to medium, and cook without stirring until the bottom layer of egg has set, about 30 seconds.
7. Using a spatula, scrape eggs from sides in towards middle of wok. Continue to cook, scraping eggs from sides in towards the middle, until some large fluffy curds have formed and eggs are about halfway cooked.
8. Add shrimp and chives to eggs and gently stir until eggs are just slightly runny. Transfer to serving plate and serve immediately.

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