One of the great joys of eating Chinese food is eating Chinese vegetables. Truly, there’s no better way that vegetables are served than those served in Chinese restaurants. They maintain, and enhance, their natural flavor. They retain all of their vitamins and nutritional goodness.
And with the different sauces and styles of how they’re prepared, there’s no end to the variety that you can enjoy. And variety IS the spice of life!! But, you don’t have to dine out to enjoy these delicious vegetables, you can also prepare them at home. This article details three methods to prepare Chinese vegetables at home so your family can enjoy them whenever they want.
Method 1: Stir-Frying
The best greens for stir-frying are 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, and regular broccoli.
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 (see Method #2) in salted boiling water for just a moment to tenderize them before they hit the wok.
Stir Frying Tips:
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 are gai lan, choy sum, bok choy, mustard greens, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, and 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 comes 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, you can give them a bit of extra flavor with a sprinkle of fried garlic.
Method 3: In Broth
The best greens for serving in broth are choy sum, baby bok choy, red shen choy, yam leaves, snow pea shots, spinach, and iceberg lettuce.
Although most greens are great stir-fried, 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 peas and iceberg lettuce.
In most Chinese restaurants, greens will be cooked in “superior stock”, made from chicken, pork bones, and smoked ham. The only drawback to doing this at home? It takes a few hours to make. For everyday meals, chicken stock is a good substitute.
In Broth Tips:
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.
So next time your mother says “eat your veggies”, you will gladly comply if they are prepared Chinese style!
Humbly submitted for your consumption,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)