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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Winter Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(4) pages: 7 to 9

This cultivar in the lettuce family has a one-inch round stem and many leaves at the top of its stem of about twelve to fifteen inches in height. In the US, called celtuce, a name given it in 1938 by the Atlas Burpee Company; the Chinese call it wo sun. Some countries call it stem lettuce, asparagus lettuce, Chinese lettuce, Irish lettuce, or ‘raw lettuce.’ Other Chinese call it pen-tsao. Many in both countries tell us they eat it raw with salt and vinegar or cooked with any sauce. We use it raw in salads and cooked as a leafy vegetable with sticks cut from its stem.

In the Latuca/i> family, botanists tell us there are more than one hundred species, some growing three to four feet tall. Nutritionists tell us it has many nutrients in small amounts, including vitamins A, C, and K, and the minerals calcium and potassium. The literature tell us their amounts are many, maybe because of the many species, so we offer none because we know not which is correct and for which cultivar.

Most popular in the Sichuan Province, there many hotels and restaurants serving the stalks sliced round or cut in thin sticks. The dark green leaves are often blanched then doused with sesame oil and vinegar. Found on banquet tables at almost every banquet or buffet restaurant in that province, it is popular there and in Chinese supermarkets everywhere.

Elders tell us they adore celtuce, younger folk seem less familiar, but when they get to know it, they learn to love its nutty, mildly sweet, and sometimes faintly sour stalks and its dark green leaves. Not everyone knows it, perhaps because this vegetable does not always travel well. We wonder if that is why they are not recognized cooked or fermented, and in hot soups or stir-fried dishes. This is a shame because if they were, more would order them made a myriad of ways. TCM practitioners tell us they give them often with many a medication to mask a bitter taste, still the Chinese do not always recognize them.

In China, their seeds are considered an aphrodisiac, and may be why they are so popular there. In India, known by their botanical name, Lactuca indica, many still do not knowing any of their species; is that because so many do look alike? Few seem to know where they originated even in that country and with that name.

In China, some elders tell us these vegetables are related to the deity Min, the god of fertility. Quite a few of them did know where they came from and do like them raw or cooked. Where some of their varieties did originate is not always clear, but what is known is that they went to Malaysia from China. They seem popular throughout Southeast Asia, but not as a plant, rather for the oil pressed from their seeds, and not for the seeds themselves.

In China, the stems are peeled, then sliced or made into sticks, then par-boiled or just blanched; and they are often stir-fried, put in boiled dishes, in soups. or quickly stir-fried. In China, we had some blanched, then served at room temperature. We were told this is important because they can harbor bacteria or viruses and we should not eat them raw. No place else did we hear this advice. This is not a problem if the stems are peeled and celtuce is cooked. We recommend that and suggest you do so before planning to eat them in a salad. The Chinese do use them in dozens of dishes; and once you try some, we bet you will, too.

Incidentally, the first recipe below the Chinese say looks like it has crab meat in it, but that is not true; so its name is not an oversight. Vegetarians love this dish for its taste, some for its name. You can decide after you adore it, as they do.

Mock Crab With Eggs

½ pound potatoes, peeled and diced
½ pound carrots, peeled and diced
½ pound celtuce stems peeled, sliced and cut in quarters
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
5 eggs, separated, and each beaten until thick
1 Tablespoon sesame oil


1. Peel, then blanch each vegetable stem separately for one minute. Then drain them one by one on paper towels before cutting them and mixing them together; one chap said this was to assure no uninvited guests in them.
2. Then, heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the ginger and the garlic, and stir for one minute before adding them one at a time and stir-frying them for up to one minute each; he said this provides many different textures of their stems.
3. Then add the egg whites, and stir-fry them and all the stems for one minute before adding the egg yolks and frying them for one more minute. Next add the sesame oil and fry this as a pancake on the first side until golden then turn it over and fry this pancake-like item on the second side, also for one minute on the second side. Now put it on a pre-heated plate, cut it into wedges, and serve immediately.

Celtuce, Scallions, and Oil

3 celtuce stems, peeled, thinly sliced, the slices slivered
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 scallion, green parts only, slivered
2 teaspoons powdered sugar


1. Mix celtuce strips and salt, then put in a colander or strainer and drain them for half an hour, then rinse and drain them.
2. Heat oil in a wok or fry pan, add the scallion slivers then the sugar, and toss well before mixing these with the celtuce strips and sir-frying them for one minute, and then remove all to a pre-heated plate or small platter, and serve.

Stir-fried Celtuce

2 celtuce stalks, peeled and angle sliced
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons sesame oil


1. Mix celtuce slices and half the oil and set aside in a small bowl.
2. Heat the rest of the vegetable oil and when hot, add celtuce pieces and their oil and stir-fry for two minutes.
3. Add the salt and sesame oil, and put everything in a pre-heated bowl, and serve.

Chicken Three Colors

2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into one-inch cubes
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon Chinese Shao Xing wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 celtuce stems, peeled and cut in to thin circles
1 carrot, peeled and cut at angles then into thin angle-shaped circles
1 green pepper, seeded and cut in diamond shapes
3 slices fresh ginger, minced cloves and the fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 scallion, angle-sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper


1. Mix chicken breast cubes with the egg white, cornstarch, wine, and salt and let rest for ten minutes.
2. Next, heat a wok or fry-pan, add the oil, and the marinated chicken cube mixture and stir-fry this for two minutes, then add the celtuce, green pepper and scallion pieces and stir-fry another minute or two.
3. Now add the ginger, garlic, sugar, and the ground pepper, and stir for two more minutes, then put everything in a pre-heated bowl and serve.

Song Dynasty Beef, Celery and Celtuce

½ pound beef steak, sliced thin
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons Shao Xing wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 stalks celtuce, peeled and angle sliced
3 stalks celery, strings removed, and angle sliced
2 scallions, minced
1 red chili pepper, seeded and thin sliced
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppers, mashed
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
1 Tablespoon sa cha sauce
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 scallion, angle sliced, separated by color
½ cup chicken stock


1. Marinate beef in a mixture of cornstarch, wine, and the salt for fifteen minutes.
2. Then heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the beef and stir-fry this for one minute, then remove it to a strainer set over a small bowl.
3. In remaining oil, fry the celtuce, celery, scallions, and the mashed chili pepper for one minute, then add both sauces and stir this twice, then add the white scallion pieces and stir-fry for two minutes.
4. Now add the chicken stock and beef pieces and stir three times before putting everything into a pre-heated bowl, sprinkle the green scallion pieces on top, and serve.

Garlic Chives, Broccoli, and Celtuce

3 broccoli stems, peeled and cut as matchsticks
3 stalks celtuce, peeled and cut as matchsticks
3 garlic chives, minced
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup cold chicken stock
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon coarse salt


1. Blanch the broccoli and celtuce separately, each for two minutes, then drain well.
2. Heat a wok, add the oil and fry each vegetable separately for two minutes, then drain each one and then toss them together.
3. Mix chicken stock with the cornstarch, then add the garlic chives and salt to this and bring to the boil until it thickens, then pour into individual pre-heated soup bowls, and serve.

Piquant Celtuce

2 celtuce stalks, peeled, the leaves saved for another use, the stalks sliced and cut into thin strips
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 red chili pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoons sesame oil


1. Mix celtuce strips and salt with one cup cold water for half an hour, then rinse and drain, and dry with paper towels.
2. Heat the oil in a wok or fry-pan. Add the Sichuan peppercorns, and stir-fry for one minute.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, and cook for one more minute, then turn off the heat and stir in the celtuce with the heat source turned off. Let this rest two minutes, then serve hot or warm.

Celtuce With Dried Shrimp

2 Tablespoons dried shrimp
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
3 stalks celtuce, stems peeled and slice thin
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons vegetable stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with same amount of cold water
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
3 sets of leaves from tops of celtuce, chopped


1. Mix shrimp, wine and celtuce stems with three tablespoons boiling water; set aside for half an hour.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil and then the shrimp mixture and stir-fry for two minutes, then add stock and cornstarch mixture and stir for one minute, then add the soy sauce and the celtuce leaves and stir-fry another two minutes, then serve in a preheated bowl.

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