As a gardener, I love to check out other vegetable gardens. Outside the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, I stumbled up the Victory Garden, a re-creation of a WWII era vegetable and flower garden. In this lovingly-tended garden, I spotted the bright green mizuna.
Mizuna is a slightly bitter leafy green that is excellent this time of year and so easy to grow. Being a very early spring green, we're usually eating it before pests and garden insects become a problem. Mizuna is so good added to a spring greens mix for salads!
Here are some of my dad's steamed buns, in the steamer, just before cooking. He's a pro at making a dough that is just thick and sturdy enough to hold the filling and its juices together. A couple of these are great for a light lunch, and if there are leftovers, I love them just as much pan-fried.
These steamed buns are filled with shredded Napa cabbage, mung bean noodles, wood ear mushrooms, and a tiny bit of dried shrimp. If you're lucky, you'll get a little hunk of pork belly inside too. The high water content in the Napa cabbage makes this filling so juicy.
Natural sponges DO come from the sea. Yes.
But these long scrubber type sponges are actually the skeletons of fruiting vegetables you can grow yourself (and eat mid-summer!)! Here's an old blog post from my family/garden blog that tells all about it. Now is the time to put in your seed order if you want to plant luffa gourds to eat and then save to dry and use as sponges.
If you're going to grow luffas for use as sponges, look for "dishcloth" or "sponge" or "smooth" luffas. They are wider in circumference than the "angled" luffas used in Chinese cuisine. Many seed suppliers have luffa seeds, but my favorite company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, definitely carries a wide variety.
What do gardeners love?
Because it makes leafy plants big and green!
How do we get it?
That is right. The soybean, well-known in the food world by its Japanese name - edamame, is a legume that actually fixes nitrogen in soil. See the little tiny nodules found all over the roots of this pulled-out edamame plant? These nodules allow more nitrogen to be delivered to the soil for the next plants that go in that spot in the garden. This means you get to enjoy the easy-growing, nutty and delicious edamame AND make your garden better in the process. It’s a win-win situation.
Joy and jubilation! Today is the release of The Chinese Kitchen Garden, my family’s story and many years of work. Words cannot express my gratitude to Timber Press and all the individuals who have taken this project on. I’m so excited to dedicate this to my grandmother, who I did not get to know, but who inspired the book. I’m humbled to think that YOU may be reading about our story very soon!
Ask about The Chinese Kitchen Garden at any bookseller or buy it online at your favorite book selling site. If you have feedback, please reach out, I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Chinese New Year! It's the year of the rooster!
Want to know a sneaky trick? If you'd like to know how old someone is without offending, ask their Chinese zodiac sign. The Chinese zodiac works on a 12 year cycle (maybe one day I'll tell you the story my mom told me about why there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac). It is my husband's year. He is a rooster, which means, he is either 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, etc. years old this year.
Upon researching the zodiac, we learned there are 5 Chinese elements, and this is the year of the Fire Rooster. You're a Fire Rooster if you're born this year, or were born in 1909. My husband is an Earth Rooster. The characteristics of an Earth Rooster fit him well - Earth Roosters love to travel, are trustworthy and generous, and are popular among their friends.
We also learned that the year of your zodiac year can be unlucky. I think this is why according to my mom, you have to wear a red string around your wrist all year if it is your zodiac year. However, we also just learned that the color red, generally a auspicious color, is the unlucky color specifically for roosters. What to do?! We then tried to look up his lucky days, which are the 4th and 26th of each month. But...we're talking about 4th and 26th days on the lunar calendar, which is very different from the calendar that hangs on our fridge. This is getting even more difficult.
Anyway, dumplings are traditionally part of our Chinese New Year feast - along with many other symbolic foods and dishes. My father likes to add a couple of scrubbed-clean coins to his batch of dumplings. The person who finds the coin is said to be set on the path of good luck for the new lunar year. At least we can depend on this easy-to-understand game of good luck!
You know those sprouts you find stir-fried in noodle dishes, or maybe raw, by the lime wedges and sriracha sauce next to your bowl of pho? They're VERY nutritious, but don't last more than a couple days in the fridge. However, they ARE easy and fun to sprout yourself. All you need is a small handful of mung beans to produce what you see above. Here are directions for sprouting beans/seeds, posted on my family/gardening blog (directions are also in The Chinese Kitchen Garden book). Try it yourself - sprout your own mung bean, alfalfa, or other seeds and let me know how it goes!
My New Year’s resolutions historically include some item that has to do with being more healthy. This year, I’m going to take some hints from myself and add more of certain vegetables to my diet. One great vegetable I'm going to try to eat more of is Chinese mustard. It's not usually as hot as other mustards though some varieties are more pungent than others. The heirloom mustard my father grows is not hotter than chard and can be used any way that chard is.
Chinese mustards are believed to be anti-inflammatory, can lower cholesterol, and are packed with vitamins, including a phytonutrient that may have cancer-preventative qualities. Getting more greens in the diet is always a good thing, and adding variety makes the goal more interesting!
I'm really thrilled to announce that The Chinese Kitchen Garden book will be presented to the world from Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, DC on February 5th, 2017. The event will take place starting at 1pm and will be no doubt the most satisfying talk I've done, as I'll share about the writing of the book, my motivations and inspirations, and also answer your questions. There will be food samples to try and books to purchase as well! Please mark your calendars. Hope to see you there!
Now THIS is making me REALLY hungry. This fish fillet with XO sauce dish comes from one of our favorite local restaurants. I won’t complain about it at all, but I’ll say that if I were to make it, I’d go a lot heavier on the XO sauce, enough so that you could see the spicy, flavor-infused, dark red bits. A riff on the “XO” portion of a good cognac, XO sauce is made from equally fine ingredients including: dried scallop, very finely diced ham, and hot chili peppers. The combo ends up being oil-based condiment bursting with spice and umami-flavor that is good on everything - in a dish like this or served with my dad’s homemade noodles or dumplings. My mom’s recipe (and tips on growing hot chili peppers) will be found the book!
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.