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Vegetables: Unusual in the Western World

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Spring Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(1) page(s): 25 - 27 and 35

Many requests come to us for unusual vegetarian items. What follows are some of them; all making interesting dishes be they steamed, stir-fried, braised, or prepared in another way without a single an animal ingredient. Every region and every household probably has their own recipe made in a clay pot or in a similar item of culinary value. The ones below allow for imagination and can include any or all of them in any one dish.

Those not following a vegetarian diet, or the teachings of the Buddhist faith, can make a great dish on special occasions. Many Chinese would for the reunion Dinner which is on New Year’s Eve, or one for the first day of the New Year. Some d so on the first day of every lunar month. As for other commonly used vegetarian ingredients, what follows are some of the more popular ones and a recipe to prepare them. In fact, any vegetables can be included, eight are common in the Lo Han dish on page 27.

Use them in this dish or any other, in any combination, and in any amounts. What follows are the most requested Chinese vegetarian ingredietns best known to the Chinese.

BITTER MELON is ku gua, also known as liang gua in Chinese. It is actually a fruit growing on a vine, also known as balsam pear. Native to tropical Asia, this edible was touted as an herbal in a 15th century Chinese volume. Morordica charantica is its botanical name, and it is covered with bumps of assorted sizes. When ripe, the inside can be red, but only after it ages. As the name implies, it is bitter in taste. TCM practitioners tell us its nature is cool, and that it impacts the heart, liver, and lungs. They use it to treat heat strokes, neutralize and relieve many types of aches in or near the stomach. They also recommend eating some cooked both for these conditions and during hot weather. Some said to eat it simmered with tea leaves. When keeping it, this fruit will stay longer if kept cool and dry, in or out of the refrigeration, the former longer than the latter.

CHINESE CELERY is called qin cai in Chinese, and it is stronger in taste than any American variety, its stems thinner, too. It also has a stronger aroma than its western cousin, the stalks having distinct grooves , as well. In China, it is rarely eaten raw, and frequently used medicinally. TCM practitioners tell us its nature is cool and bitter sweet, and that it impacts the liver, settles inflamed ones, dispels wind, and moistens many internal organs. When keeping yours, never store it in plastic. Paper towels are fine or just put it in the refrigerator in the vegetable drawer.

CORIANDER the Chinese call yan sui or hu sui. It is said to bear fruit though we have never seen any. This herb is most often eaten raw in China, if put in a dish, that is done at the very last minute. Botanically known as Coriandrum sativum, TCM practitioners say its nature is pungent and warm, and that it impacts lungs and spleen and is known to many westerners as Chinese parsley or cilantro. Chinese practitioners recommend it to those with loss of appetite and for any who have difficulty swallowing. We recommend keeping yours as we keep ours, in a tall glass with one-inch of water in it. Do not refrigerate it, just keep it on the counter. One can do the same with scallions, parsley, and other herbs. This keeps them fresh longer than any other way.

FA CAI is Chinese for hair vegetables that looks like its other name, back moss. One needs to soak it, though not for very long before using it in warm water.

WOOD EARor cloud ears are often used in the same dish as tiger lily buds. These need to go with tiger lilies, which are known as golden needles, huang hua in Chinese, also called lily buds. Some are very young and a slightly different lily bulb species. Store them dry, as usually purchased and in a cool location. They are pictured and written about on page 27.

GARLAND CHRYSANTHEMUM are tong hao in Chinese, and botanically known as Chrysanthemum segetum. hey are also known as fluffy wormwood and cometimes called ‘chop suey greens.’ TCM medical folk tell us they are sweet and astringent in nature, warm too, and that they impact the kidneys and liver, relax the internal organs, improve i>qi. Control some usring issues, and if cooked with orane or tangerine peel, can reduce coughing with excessive phleg. We recommend them the same way one cooks and fresh greens. When fresh, keep then fo a short time as possible wrapped in paper towels in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

HOLLOW STEM VEGETABLE in Chinese is weng cai, and botanically known as Ipomoea aquatica. Some call this vegetable water spinach, hollow pot herb, or swamp cabbage. The latter is because it grows near the water. TCM practitoners say its nature is col, that it impacts the stomach ad the large intestines, moistens other internal organs, can stop bleeding, and they recommend it to treat headaches, put in the ears, and nose bleeds. When keeping yours, it needs to be stored in paper towels, and in the refrigerator, Do use it soon after purchasing it.

LILY BULBS are from actual day lilies from that or another species. However they are harvested at a different time in their growth cycle TCM practitioners tell us their nature is cool, the roots are bitter, their flowers sweet. They add, they impact the lungs, their roots affect the spleen, their flowers do likewise but of the large intestine. They recommend not using the flowers alone as medicines but they can be dipped in a thin batter and deep-fried with or without their stems.

WOLFBERRIES Are know better known by their Chinese name of the goji berry. Botanically they are Lycium chinese, and are exceptionally high in vitamin C. They grow on this stems and on shrubs that are often used as hedges around homes. Some know this plant as the matrimony vine; we know not why. Others tell us their stems are thorny though we have no problems picking them. Chinese TCM practitioners tells us they are they are cool in nature, bitter sweet in taste, and that they impact the liver, kidneys, and lower parts of the lung. When purchasing them, look for deep red ones, bot brownish ones, not too dry, and bigger is better. Store them in a cool dry place, a glass jar is a good container for them.

TIGER LILY BUDS are huang hua in Chinese and also called golden needles. Some call then lily stems but that they are not, they are immature lily flowers. There are several species, some eaten by aboriginal tribes on the Hokaido Islands. Botanically known as Hemerocallis, common species are citrina, auratum, cordifolium, and elegans. They are commonly used in Hot and Spur Soup. These are grayish-black and known as wood ear or cloud ear fungi. They are smooth on their outer sides, velvety underneath, and some say they can prevent heart diseases, but not all agree. When purchasing yours, look for those without dry ends and without yellowish coloring. Black, gray, and brown ones are best; and do store them in a cool dry place, and in a covered glass jar.

WOOD EAR FUNGI are technically not a vegetable but a fungus; though some do take issue with what mushrooms, also known as fungi, actually are. Botanically, they are Auricularia auricula, the Chinese call them muer and if black they are yun and if lighter, they are yun er. Their nature is sweet, and they are neither warm nor cool. Said to benefit ones qi, they nourish blood and ease pain. When my son lost his spleen in a sleigh-riding accident, a TCM practitioner friend told me to make some prepared with sugar, and see that he has some daily for the rest of his life. They prevent diarrhea and keep blood out of his stool. We did not follow through. Their nature is sweet and cool, and that they impact the spleen and the lungs, and now more than sixty, he is fine as best we can tell. Many recipes for these and other unusual Chinese vegetables have already been published in Flavor and Fortune so look for them consulting the index listings. They can be found in conjunction with meats, sea foods, in soups, and in other dishes.
Lo Han Clay Pot
1/2 pound fresh soft or firm bean curd cut into two-inch squares half-inch thick
2 cups vegetable oil
1/2 head Tianjin cabbage, cut into two-inch sections
3 ounces fresh golden mushrooms, each cut in half
10 fresh button mushrooms
10 medium Chinese black mushrooms, soaked stems discarded, and cut into quarters
1/4 cup dried wood ear fungi, soaked and then torn into pieces
2 or 3 white or snow fungi, prepared as the wood ear fungi
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
10 canned gingko nuts
20 goji berries
20 eaves from hollow stem vegetables 1 stalk celery, cut in half-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable stock of one cube vegetable bouillon with two cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1. In a wok or deep fry pan, fry the bean curd in hot oil for about four minutes or until golden, then drain it on paper towels and set it aside. reserving the oil for another use.
2. In the same wok or fry pan, mix the cabbage, all the mushrooms (and fungi) for one minute, then add the gingko nuts, stock, oyster sauce, salt, and the soy sauces, and simmer for thirty minutes. Serve now or put the soup in a tureen and reheat it and serve it at the table.
Golden Cup Lily Bowls
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 to 2 cups another oil for deep frying
2 fresh lily bulbs
1/2 red sweet pepper
1/2 cup green peas
10 canned gingko nuts
1 day lily stem
2 slices fresh ginger, minced
2 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked, stems discarded, and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 scallion, slivered
1. Heat oil for deep fryng.
2. Mix flour, cornstarch, corn oil, and half cup of water. Then did the outside of a metal cup or form into this until its top edge and deep fry in the hot oil until it falls off the cup or mold and fry until golden inside and out, then drain on paper towels making five to ten of these cups, then set all but one tablespoon of the oil aside for another use. 3. Heat the tablespoon of oil and add the lily bulb pieces, and fry one minute before adding all other solids and the sesame oil, and after two minues rmove to a glass or ceramic bowl then put some of these solids into every cup of fried batter, and serve.
Dinghu Temple Food
1/2 cup each of five or more different dried mushrooms, each soaked separately in half cup hot water
1/2 cup carrots, peeled, sliced, and simmered for three minutes, then drained and set aside
5 small Shanghai cabbages, each cut in half and boiled for two minutes, then drained
2 Tablespoons canned lotus seeds
20 canned gingko nuts
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts, tails removed and discarded
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1. Reserve the water from each rained mushroom batch, nd combine them. Put one cup in a pot and simmer for ten minutes, reserve the rest for other uses.
2. Put carrot slices around the outside of a platter, the mushrooms mixed and in the center of the platter.
3. Put the Shanghai cabbage, cut side down on the carrot slices.
4. Mix cornstarch with the cup of mushroom water and thicken, then pour over the items on the platter, and serve.
Lily Bulb Herbal Drink
1/4 cup dried lily bulbs, soaked overnight
1/4 cup fresh lily bulbs
1/2 cup glutinous rice
1/2 cup dry mung beans
1/2 cup tiger lily pieces, each one knotted
1 cup pitted red jujubes
1/2 cup dried bamboo, soaked overnight
1/2 cup brown sugar
1. Rinse dried and fresh ingredients, and put them into a three gallon stock pot.
2. Make two gallons of boiling water and pour this over the ingredients in the stock pot, bring almost to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer; then simmer covered for three hours, then turn off the heat.
Note: This beverage can be served hot, warm, or chilled.

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