In our household Thanksgiving dinner is a sacred tradition. My partner Warren insists that we only serve his mother’s New England Thanksgiving dinner. For years I’ve not strayed from her traditional menu, which includes roast turkey with oyster stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, homemade pickles, creamed peas and onions, mashed Butternut squash and turnip, and mashed potato. For dessert we routinely serve apple and pumpkin pie. At the end of the meal there’s usually rarely any apple pie left but plenty of pumpkin pie. And there’s always uncooked pumpkin left from making the pie. This year I decided to use it to make a very traditional Chinese stir-fry.
A few days ago I received a bagful of freshly picked long beans (豇豆) from a friend’s rooftop garden. They were bi-color, crisp and just absolutely gorgeous. Legumes are at their peak during late summer, and I was once again reminded of how we’ve lost the custom of eating locally grown food in season.
Guess what I found when I was in New York’s Chinatown last week. This beautiful looking hulu! I’ve not seen them before in New York nor anywhere in the U.S. Hulu (葫蘆) is a bottle shaped gourd often seen in Chinese brush paintings. Sages or monks carrying hulu flask are common themes in Chinese art. But these sinuous shaped gourds are also delicious as vegetables.
Many Chinese vegetables are known to Americans as bok choy or simply Chinese cabbage. Although there is a wide variety of these “Chinese cabbages,” they all have a very similar, neutral, non-threatening taste recognizable to the American palate. But don’t be fooled, not all Chinese vegetables are bland and blah. There is also a large selection of mustard greens, not commonly known by Americans, that have much more distinct bitter and spicy flavors.
We take for granted that stir-frying is just combining a bunch of ingredients, frying them in a wok, and seasoning them appropriately; that is partially accurate. What is rarely understood is that there are variations in stir-frying technique. Broadly classified the variations are 1) plain stir-fry (清炒 or QingChao), 2) moist stir-fry (滑炒 or HuaChao) and 3) dry wok stir-fry (煸炒 or BianChao). In this third part of Stir-fry Fortnight series post let me show you how simple it is to make plain vegetable stir-fry.
Photography by Ron Boszko
When I was growing up I hated the smell and taste of chives, specifically Chinese chives. I remembered encountering Chinese chives in stir-fries with ground pork or shrimp, or sprinkled on top of steamed rice cake. I would always pick the chives off carefully before eating. I do not recall when it was that my palate changed and I began to enjoy Chinese chives. Now I don’t just enjoy them; I adore them.
Valentine’s Day is not a Chinese tradition, but young Chinese are taking in droves to emulate Western culture by celebrating love every year on the 14th of February. Yet the divorce rate in China is also rising precariously. Is there a correlation here? I will let the sociologist research this problem to their hearts content. I am however more interested in what are the options for a Chinese cook to celebrate this bourgeois decadent Western festival. Read what I’d serve for this Valentine’s Day.
I was in Chinatown last weekend shopping for Chinese provisions to bring back to Harlem. To my delight I noticed that dong sun (冬筍), or winter bamboo shoots, are in season. Winter bamboo shoots are one of the prized vegetables, along with dong gu mushrooms (冬菇 or winter mushroom) eagerly awaited in markets by shoppers in China during winter. They used to be two of the few fresh vegetables available during the harsh winter months. Therefore they are revered and commonly paired in winter dishes.