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Cooking salad leaves in Chinese cuisine

… I know…:)) Yesterday’s recipe, stir-fried green salad leaves , sounds pretty strange. However, in Chinese cuisine, there are many dishes that involve cooking green leaves .

Stir-frying Bok choy , or choi sim (these are all cantonese pronunciations) sounds like a natural thing to do, and you can easily find many such dishes in restaurants. In contrast, stir-frying salad leaves , like lettuce, may sound a bit weird (well, I only just realized the weirdness of it when my husband pointed it out to me).

In Western countries, salad leaves (and also other salad vegetables like cucumber) are almost exclusively used for making salad, and they are never served hot. But in Chinese cuisine , cooking salad leaves is a very common thing to do.

For example, my grandma used to say that everything needed to be properly cooked, you should not eat anything raw or “cold”, it was not good for your stomach and body. I do remember, however, how much I enjoyed eating raw leaves, cucumber and reddish with soybean paste dip. I guess she meant “in general”, without mentioning the exceptions. :))

Anyway, what I want to say is that cooking salad leaves and serving them hot is actually very popular. There are normally two ways of making them, quick stir-fry and cooked in soup.

In northeast Chinese cuisine, salad leaves are normally stir-fried alone, never with other vegetables, You can have different tastes depending on your own preferences; for instance, spicy stir-fried lettuce , garlicky (chop plenty of garlic gloves, stir fry with leaves), with oyster sauce (not a typical northeast dish, but very popular in the past 20 years), or simply with oil and salt (very original indeed).

How to cook salad leaves

The only difference between stir-frying leaves and stir-frying other vegetables is in the cooking time — more precisely, the time that the leaves need to stay in the heated wok.

The best stir-fried leaves are those that stay fresh, juicy, and a little bit crunchy. However, leaves get soft very easily when they get in touch with salt and heated oil; so, the cooking time is definitely essential.

And the sauce should not be too strong or thick to mask the original freshness from the leaves. — Sounds like …you might ask, then why bother to cook them not just leave in salad? Personally, I think that, after cooking them briefly, the leaves absorb very well the seasonings and the salt (the taste of the seasonings goes into the leaves), while when prepared in salad, the taste of the seasonings stays on the surface of the leaves.

Cooking leaves in soup is also common in China. However, saying “cooking” probably is not very quite right — again, you don’t want to get it too soft, so I should say leaving the leaves in the soup briefly?

Sichuan Ma La Tang

The most popular dishes are hotpot, a spicy Sichuan soup (which you can find on the streets easily) called Ma La Tang , and spicy fish soup. In all the these dishes, the soup is well-cooked with full flavor, leaves are probably the last thing to put in to keep the freshness. But you have to be very careful when eating the leaves, because although the leaves themselves might not be very spicy or hot, after all, it is not in the soup for long, but they can carry all the spices on the surface, so when you swallow (the throat can feel it) and it might be too late to realize. :))

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