I have 2 favorites to share with you today. First, this photo is one of my favorites in The Chinese Kitchen Garden. If you've been enjoying my posts about Asian vegetables, you'll really like my book, which is jam-packed with information about growing and cooking Chinese vegetables. It's also filled with gorgeous photos by Sarah Culver. I love this moody one with the basket of snow pea shoots on a plank over the creek that flows into my father's pond.
The second favorite to share is that my mom's favorite vegetable is "dau miu", or snow pea shoots. These are the delicate top several inches of pea plants, and the greens are tender and so good lightly stir fried with just some garlic. It's a delicious side dish. Recently, I've seen pea shoots grown as microgreens and atop dishes or salads at restaurants. Though they can be found at Asian supermarkets (at a steep price for greens), I've not yet seen them anywhere else. Of course, if you grow your own, you can have fresh shoots when you want them. Pea shoots wilt quickly, so fresh from your own garden is the best and most economical way to go!
Cilantro is probably my favorite smell in the world. Yes, I could probably happily clutch this jar of cilantro to my side all day long. Cilantro is an easy to grow herb - though it generally does better during the cooler months. It's possible to keep sowing cilantro for use throughout the year, just find a spot that has some shade so it can stay lush and fresh during the hottest summer months. Right under the asparagus, where tall ferns tend to cast some shade, is the best spot in my garden. What are your tips for growing cilantro?
Snow peas are always good and I've just realized why. While we put foods like corn, bamboo shoots, spring peas, and water chestnuts into cans, ruining the texture, flavor, and color, and essentially everything about the vegetable (if you've had peas straight from the garden and compare that to mushy yellow-green peas from a can, you know what I mean...), I've never seen a canned snow pea. Actually, the only places I've ever seen snow peas (aside from my own garden), are at our farmer's market or frozen in a "stir fry vegetables" mix at the supermarket.
Snow peas are not only easy-to-grow, but they're tasty, go with everything, and only require a few minutes of cooking to get to that tender-but-still-crisp texture. They're also great raw, either thrown in a salad whole or julienned. Plant them yourself for one of the best garden vegetables you can grow!
Garlic chives are among the easiest, worry-free, perennial plants to grow. In Chinese cuisine, it's eaten more like a vegetable than an herb. In the spring, the first couple flushes of garlic chives are mild and tender. In the photo, you see yellow garlic chives. Yellow chives (blanched by being deprived of light), are super tender. They're great raw or cooked briefly in any dish you want to impart a subtle garlic flavor to.
To take advantage of the fast and furious bamboo harvest season, we like to harvest all we can and dehydrate the shoots. These can be stored for about a year (or more) in a dry environment and to use, we just rehydrate what we need by soaking in water for about an hour or so.
To dehydrate bamboo shoots:
Here's the thing...the bamboo shoots you get in Chinese restaurants are gross. They're often the things you pick out onto your napkin, and honestly, there have been several occasions when the source of something funky can be atrributed to bamboo shoots.
What you see in the photo may as well be a completely different vegetable. There is simply no comparison between fresh bamboo shoots and what you get out of a can (which is what restaurants use). It's like comparing a fresh spring garden pea to a can of Green Giant, or sweet summer corn to a can of Del Monte. The difference might even be greater.
Here's my mom's bamboo shoots (and pork belly) cooked in a sweet soy sauce. The meat falls apart and makes your lips stick together and the sweet and savory sauce settles in the nooks of the shoots. I've captured the recipe in The Chinese Kitchen Garden book and I'll be referring to it this weekend!
Bamboo shoots emerge in a quick, short-lived, and intense flush every spring. Shoots harvested at this time are tender, sweet and mild. Here's a bucket full, freshly kicked down at ground level, about to be split in half and prepared for eating and preserving. If you click on the contact tab at the top of this website, you'll see a photo at the top of what the tender edible heart inside looks like when the shoot is split open (and you can contact me if you like!).
Keep in mind that bamboo shoots need to be boiled for about 45 minutes to an hour and then rinsed first before eating! This dispels toxins that can make you sick. Do not be afraid though. It's an easy process and seriously, there is no comparison between the shoots you get in a can and fresh shoots you've harvested yourself. There are a few other tips for foragers of bamboo in The Chinese Kitchen Garden book (as well as tips for growing and cooking bamboo).
In The Chinese Kitchen Garden, there is a recipe for a noodle dish featuring my favorite noodles - wide, flat, rice noodles. You can see how a finshed dish using these soft and chewy noodles looks in this post.
Unfortunately, I have never seen these noodles for sale anywhere except for in Asian supermarkets. They're often bagged like you see in the photo above, or on a styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic. They're usually found in the refrigerated section, or if they're fresh and meant to be sold daily, they can be found unrefrigerated like the noodles above. As you see in the photo, they're usually sold in sheets that have to be cut to size, separated, and then stir-fried. It's easy and SO YUMMY.
The other day, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jennifer Jewell of the Cultivating Place show on North State Public Radio. Here's a link to my segment. Catch Cultivating Place: Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden (is that the most amazing name or what?), live every Thursday on NSPR.
Watercress is at its best this time of year. This slightly peppery leafy green happily grows in dappled sunlight in the stream that gently flows into my father's pond. The only thing we have to be careful of is that the ducks don't get it all before we do!
Besides eating it in salads, I love the combination of watercress and beef. It's a classic one and is seen in dum sum restaurants and stir fries. My father makes dumplings year round, filling them according to what's in season but my favorite variety is the beef and watercress.
Watercress is fairly easy to grow and if you are situated near a stream, it grows perennially, nearly trouble-free. Learn more about how to grow and use watercress in The Chinese Kitchen Garden, available now from your favorite bookseller!
I'm Wendy Kiang-Spray, gardener, home cook, and author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden. Learn more about the book here. Enjoy the blog and be sure to like The Chinese Kitchen Garden Facebook page for notifications when there are new posts.