Dumpster Diving for Radish Greens

Now that farmers’ market season is in full swing we are spoiled by an abundance of fresh produce. Lettuces, summer squashes and radishes cram the stalls of just about every green market. Sold in a variety of rainbow colors, radishes are especially plentiful, and they’re almost always sold with their greens attached. Most Americans, however, routinely ask the vendors to cut off the greens or they discard them at home. It’s unfortunate because these greens are delicious and nutritious. In northeastern China the slightly peppery leaves are used in many different ways, including in stir-fries, salads and steamed buns.

Poetically known as radish tassels (蘿蔔纓), radish greens are often grown with the intention of harvesting the young, tender leaves before the roots develop. Depending on the season, different varieties of young radish greens are available in markets throughout northern China. In the summer, small red globe radish greens are usually on offer, whereas daikon radish greens come to market during the autumn.

As in America, in China mature radishes are sold with greens attached. But, we almost always save the greens and cook them. A simple, popular preparation is stir-fried greens with garlic. Using the simple stir-fry technique start by frying chopped garlic in some vegetable oil for a few seconds then add radish greens and season with salt and ground white pepper. Stir-fry until they are just wilted. In less than a minute you end up with a deliciously simple vegetable dish.

In Shandong, on the northeast coast of China, a very popular way of using the radish greens is to fold them into steamed buns. When I was in Qingdao last November, these scrumptious little steamed buns were brought out piping hot towards the end of just about every meal. The filling was juicy and full of flavor. Perfect for rounding out the multitude of seafood dishes served during most meals in that region.

When I interviewed Chef Zhou Feng at Fuxin Hotel in Qingdao about the region’s cooking, I learned that the filling was simply made from chopped up blanched radish greens mixed with ground pork and dried shrimp. The mixture is then wrapped in basic yeasted dough and steamed. Following his instructions I developed the recipe below for steamed pork and radish greens buns (蘿蔔纓包子).

You can use greens from any type of radish, or you can also substitute with turnip greens, which are often available in regular supermarkets. In autumn months in New York’s Chinatown I can occasionally find the young tender daikon radish greens; if you find them, choose them. Whatever type of greens you use, select those that look tender with light green color lest they should be too fibrous.

All this to say, don’t discard radish greens anymore. Not only will they offer you nutritious food but they also help reduce waste while saving money. Think of eating radish greens as virtual dumpster diving.

  • Steamed Pork and Radish Greens Buns (蘿蔔纓包子)

    • Preparation time: 30 minutes
    • Slow cooking time: 30 minutes
    • Filling
    • 12 oz. radish greens or turnip greens (蘿蔔纓)
    • 8 oz. ground pork
    • 1 oz. finely chopped dried shrimp (蝦米)
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped scallion
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
    • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    • Dough
    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoon active dry yeast
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 3/4 cup warm water (75 to 80 degrees F)
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • Proof the yeast by adding the sugar and about three tablespoons of warm water. Let the mixture sit for about five minutes. Make sure bubbles form in the mixture. Add the flour, salt, vegetable oil and the rest of the water to the proven yeast. Knead the dough until smooth. Put the dough in a bowl that will contain double of its size. Cover with plastic wrap or a wet towel. Let the dough rise in a warm spot.
    • Wash and blanch the radish greens in hot water for about one minute or until just wilted. Drain and squeeze all excess water from the greens. Cut the radish greens into small pieces of about 1/8-inch wide. In a medium mixing bowl combine all the filling ingredients and set aside.
    • After about one hour, or when the dough has doubled in size punch it down and sprinkle it with the baking soda. Knead the dough for about three minutes or until the baking soda is evenly distributed.
    • Divide the dough into four equal portions. Roll one of the portions into a cylinder about six inches long. Cut the dough into six equal portions. Roll each piece into a ball with your hands. Flatten and roll each call into a five-inch diameter round using a rolling pin.
    • Put a dough round on one of your palms. Scoop about two tablespoonsful of the filling onto the center of the dough. With the other hand starting on one edge of the dough, use your thumb and index finger to pleat the dough as you turn the bun around in your palm.
    • Arrange the sealed buns in two twelve-inch diameter bamboo steamers lined with perforated wax paper or cheesecloth. Be sure the allow enough room between the buns for them to expand. Put the steamers over boiling water in a wok and steam for about ten minutes. Serve these buns piping hot.
This entry was posted in Pork, Steaming, Vegetables and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

16 Comments

  1. Posted July 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    This is such a great idea. I’ve stir-fried them but never thought of incorporating them into dumpling filling.

  2. Posted July 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    i had NO IDEA, kian! i keep the green tops and save them — along with other veggie scraps — for my goddaughter’s rabbit. i’ve always noticed that the rabbit does straight for the radish tops. now i know why. i buy radishes every week in the farmers market and can’t wait to cook them next weekend! thanks for this great post!

  3. Posted July 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    These are beautiful. I can imagine how the peppery greens would be perfect inside buns. Thanks for sharing, Kian!

  4. Posted July 20, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    Looks so interesting! I love stuffed buns. Should try this out

  5. Posted July 22, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    wouldn’t it be delicious if you put some carrots in it?

  6. Cindy
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting the great recipe! did you mean to type baking powder and not soda? when i made it with soda, the buns came out brown, which is apparently due to the alkalinity.

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Hi Cindy, I do mean baking soda and not baking powder. Baking soda contains one single alkaline ingredient of sodium bicarbonate. Traditionally Chinese yeast dough is made from a “mother sourdough,” which can be quite sour tasting. The baking soda neutralizes the acid from the yeast fermentation. Although modern recipes call for dry yeast and generally does not become too sour. This neutralizing process is still employed to minimize any sour taste. The key to preventing the dough from turning brown is to only mix the baking powder after the dough has risen. Once mixed the dough is immediately used for wrapping any filling and steamed. There is no second rising as in most western recipes. I hope this explains your problem with the brown dough.

  7. Ana
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    The NYT just ran an article about using greens from root to stem. I was reminded of your blog post. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/27/dining/thats-not-trash-thats-dinner.html?ref=dining

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Hi Ana, Thank you for alerting me of this article. I guess the Chinese have been much more conscious about not wasting food. I am glad Americans are beginning to appreciate the root to stem( and nose to tail for animal) eating.

  8. Teresa F.
    Posted July 31, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know about using turnip greens in boa filling either, but it makes sense. I’ve been cooking good radish tops we’d get with the radishes. Sometimes, they are too bruised up to use. It seems they are pretty delicate and are really best cleaned and cooked the day they are purchased. I employ the simple sautee with garlic. It’s a great green leafy veg, especially this time of year when they are cheap and plentifyl.

  9. Posted September 18, 2011 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    I’ve been wanting to make my own steamed buns, but my mom said that using all purpose flour would turn the buns color. I will try to follow your recipe and hope it will turn out.

  10. Nora
    Posted December 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    This looks like a quick and simple recipe for steamed bread. Love the idea of lots of greens, instead of all cabbage. Since I am only cooking for one, I would like to freeze them and use as needed. What is your experience with freezing steamed bread? It seems that freezing after they have been stuffed and pleated would be the way to go, then, thaw them before steaming. When do you suggest freezing them?

    Thanks for your ideas and your wonderful site.

    • Posted December 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Hi Nora, Yes, steamed buns can be frozen successfully. But you have to steam the buns first as instructed in the recipe. Then freeze them already cooked. Simply reheat the buns by steaming them for about 15 minutes straight from the freezer when you need them.

  11. Larry
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Hi,
    All the recipes and the photos that accompany them are great!
    But a question if you don’t mind. I am allergic to shellfish (crab, mollusk, etc) and was wondering what I could about substituting for some of these ingredients. Would anchovy paste work, or extra salt/soy?
    Thanks for you time and efforts,
    Larry

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Hi Larry, Any salted fish would do very well as substitute for dried shrimp. But be sure to adjust the seasonings. Chinese salted fish or bacalao would be fine. Use sparingly though.

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