I love kabocha pumpkins, and definitely prefer them over any field or pie pumpkin. These smaller five-pounders are a perfect size and are drier and have a nuttier flavor. Because they have a great smooth texture, they're just superior and excellent in any recipe. They're delicious roasted or mashed, and can be used in savory recipes like my mom's kabocha with ground pork in black bean sauce (available in The Chinese Kitchen Garden book), or in sweet recipes such as a classic American pumpkin pie or in cakes and other treats. I've even made some flavorful and creamy ice cream with kabochas in the past. One of my favorite desserts is the Thai sankaya - made by filling the hollowed out Kabocha with a coconut custard and then steaming the whole thing. Delicious and so pretty when served in slices!
Kabochas are easy to grow as long as you have some space in the garden and can usually be found in Asian supermarkets as well. You'll be a kabocha convert the first time you try it!
These are the beauts responsible for the spicy "mala" (ma - numbing, la - spicy) flavor in the noodle soup I posted about a couple weeks ago. We call it "fa ziu" in Cantonese, meaning "flower pepper". It really has a great fruity spiciness that leaves a short-lasting tingle on your tongue. These seed husks can be ground and added to the famous five-spice powder popular in Chinese cooking, or can flavor an oil that can easily be found in Asian supermarkets as well. A bag of these peppercorn husks is pretty cheap and can be found among the many other bags of dried stuff at your local Asian supermarket.
Cross-posted from Greenish Thumb, my other blog - November, 2012
Have you ever seen such a thing?! This is a winter melon, aka wax gourd, next to a full-size basketball!! The wax coating will help keep this melon fresh for months. Winter melon is mild and really juicy - perfect for adding to a light and tasty soup. White inside, once it's cooked, the winter melon takes on a beautiful translucency and the flavor of whatever it is cooked in. This is the melon that banquet chefs will carve in a bas-relief fashion, pour soup into and steam whole for a pretty darn showy presentation. Honestly though, I'm not sure what kind of steamer this particular winter melon could be cooked in!
Is this seriously not the most gorgeous pot of noodle soup you've ever seen? This "mala noodle soup" is from a local hot pot restaurant called Little Dipper Hot Pot House. As you can guess from the photo, it's a spicy amalgamation of vegetables, tofu, broth, an egg, noodles, and mala spices. The Sichuan peppercorn creates that delicious flavor that is both "ma" meaning "numbing" and "la" meaning spicy.
Want to put something together like this? Be sure to include the thin slices of lotus root like you see at the left of the photo - the round sliced thing with holes throughout (created by the air chambers that run through the root of the lotus plant). It will take this visual feast over the top!
If i'm stuck eating some sort of meat and vegetables dish from a Chinese carry-out and it contains little slices of water chestnuts, the first thing i do is pick them all out. Yuck! But see above? These don't look like the nasty tasting things that add that weird crisp crunch to your stir fry, do they?
No, I do appreciate the crisp crunch, but I love them by themselves, pared like a hard fruit. I actually thing of them just that way - like nutty little apples.
While you might not mind them thrown in a stir fry, try them fresh if you ever get a chance. They'll surely make you rethink everything you knew about water chestnuts!
If you are able to find lotus root fresh at your international supermarket, it will look something like a giant string of sausages. The outside of the roots may look a bit banged up, but that usually ok as long as the roots still look fresh. Remember that the lotus root has been growing underwater, and if you purchase from the store, it has also been shipped via truck before sitting on the shelf! Still, if you take a look in the little holes, it should look clean, without mold.
Lotus root is generally prepared for cooking like you see in the photo above. Slice the root thinly and you will see those beautiful pattern of holes created by the air channels inside the root.
To prepare, peel the outside of the root using a vegetable peeler, then slice thinly. The thickness of the slice is mostly a personal preference, but lotus root is often cut into about 1/4"-1/3" slices. Lotus root should be cooked before eating. After slicing, you're ready to follow your favorite recipe!
It's the season for delicious fall greens! And today, I'm sharing with you the best secret ingredient to cooking up a delicious plate of Asian leafy greens. The savory - with a hint of sweet - oyster sauce gives any food a complex umami essence. Oyster extracts provide a mild hit of flavor. It can be added to stir fries or used to create a marinade or base for a sauce, but my favorite use is just plopped atop blanched greens. Add some fried garlic or shallots and your greens will be ready to serve!
*And for vegetarians, a vegetarian option is made with mushroom extracts.
When my sister comes to visit, my father always makes some type of vegetarian dumpling for her. The filling changes seasonally and depends on what's growing in the garden. While I am not a vegetarian, often I love the vegetarian dumplings just as much! I love the looser texture of the chopped vegetables along with julienned beancurd, coarsely chopped wood ear, and sometimes - but not in this picture - mung bean noodles. I especially love the generous drizzle of dark toasted sesame oil, minced ginger and chopped cilantro. You can't go wrong with all those delicious flavors! These dumplings are made with chopped garlic chives - an easy to grow perennial that is eaten like a vegetable (as opposed to an herb) in Chinese cuisine.
Everything noodle soup. Don't you think? Above, I see smooth white noodles in a savory broth, meaty shiitake mushrooms, floppy black wood ear, thinly sliced pork belly, yellow daylily buds, and fresh chopped cilantro.
Wait, what did I just say?! Yes, daylily buds. Those pretty summer garden fixtures, the yellow-orange common daylily, are a delicious and sweet edible flower. They're great fresh and lightly stir fried, but here, since they're a bit softer, I can tell they're rehydrated buds that we've dried in a food dehydrator in a previous summer. My father has a large planting of daylilies in his garden and though they bloom for a very long season, they grow in great profusion in the thick of the summer. To take advantage of the large number of blooms, we pick and dry them. They're perfect added to soups and noodle dishes through the fall and winter months. Try these fragrant edible flowers today - the Chinese Kitchen Garden book tells a lot more about how to grow and use these edible flowers.
In the past few years of speaking to groups about Asian vegetables, without fail, at least a few people in the group mention that they go to Asian or international supermarkets and want to try different vegetables but don’t know what the vegetables are or how to use them. Labels and signage can be misleading, the workers are generally not helpful, and people are stuck with – do I take a chance or not?
Even though The Chinese Kitchen Garden is a gardening book, it can also be a good resource for those of you who want to experiment, but are not sure where to begin. If you’ve wanted a handbook of sorts to carry with you through the market, to help you identify what the vegetable is, or how to use it, this is your book. You may see the crazy-looking taro root. You may have even had taro-flavored foods. But did you know taro root can be toxic and needs to be cooked first? After it's cooked, it’s right as rain and so yummy in a number of dishes – sweet and savory. You can learn all this and more in 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.