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Ugly Saturday supper: 蘸水儿菜

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Shelley

Looks lovely but what did it taste like??????? :)

 

Just something general ie was it cabbage like or broccoli etc.

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abcdefg

The vegetable was gentle and resembled Brussels sprouts in flavor. I only used a tiny bit of the dipping sauce; thought it was better without it.

 

(Thanks for pointing out this glaring omission, Shelley. I'll go back and fix it right now.)

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Luxi

The pictures were not too clear, so I searched for the botanical affiliation of this 拳头菜 to get a better idea. You could have blown me over! Is this it ? 

 

http://baike.baidu.com/view/2893196.htm

 

A fern of the genus Pteris ??? :shock: That is Bracken for you and me. I'm not sure you see much of it in Texas or London, but it's the only plant that grows happily in my wet, shady Welsh garden (together with brambles). There must be thousands of species all over the world, the plant is really very old, goes back to the Devonian, about 400 million years, it sure had time to spread far and wide.

 

The surprising thing is, I as most other westerners, always thought it was poisonous. I know farmers usually clear it out to prevent livestock falling ill from eating it. Another search proved we're all wrong, apparently it can be eaten --- with caution. I can't find any reference on which of the many types of bracken are safe, or if all are the same, it'll take me longer to find some reliable information, but this is really surprising:

 

http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/bracken-fern-zmaz79mazraw

 

Trust the Chinese to try it first.

 

Edited to add some references advising caution:  

 

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/sep/09/research.science  (Even so, no way I'm going to pull out the lovely ferns in my garden!)

http://honest-food.net/bracken-fern-edible/  

http://fat-of-the-land.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-bracken-fern.html  

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Shelley

In the UK it is very much a tradition to have Brussel sprouts at Christmas even if you never eat them at any other time of the year. Generally speaking I have never been a fan of them, too soggy or undercooked and bitter so I never ate them except for my obligatory 5 at Christmas.

 

This Christmas was different, I had purchased a set of steamers, I steamed the sprouts. WOW they were lovely, soft but not soggy, cooked through but not over cooked. 

 

I will be having sprouts again before next Christmas.

 

It just goes to show how you cook it can make all the difference.

 

Thank you for your flavour description :)

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abcdefg

Luxi -- Despite my saying that 拳头菜 was an alternate name, these photos and descriptions of bracken don't look at all like what I cooked yesterday. I recognize that fern; each stalk with a "knot" at the end. It's common here in the spring of the year, though I haven't ever tried making it at home. Friends have told me it can be quickly stir-fried with a few slivers of sausage or ham or scrambled with a couple eggs.

 

post-20301-0-39586300-1484427136_thumb.jpg

 

But wait, doesn't the picture look like "fiddlehead fern?" Figuring out the names of these locally-grown vegetables can really be a challenge. Even the common names, let alone the proper scientific names. The task has defeated me more than once. So I sincerely appreciate your help.

 

Here's another alternate name, given in some cooking sources which I found on line. And it looks much more like what I used yesterday. 抱子芥

 

http://baike.baidu.com/link?url=CDz8-1z3wyr0Tr1RZbTE9wyn2XdP5iyyqjvtGtKdIm3QcsqdGk2vx7mgqdTOw87CaOKTh9tEtncbkrJmT-2isTFtl_TUuw6v_g73nWfr6udLyZackfNd7OVQWmwEFPNl

 

post-20301-0-83452700-1484427588_thumb.jpg

 

Shelley -- Describing Chinese food presents a challenge sometimes. First of all, eating it involves evaluation of two or more distinct aspects. Those are 味道 (flavor and aroma) and 口感 (texture or literally "mouth feel.")

 

In this case, the vegetable I was working with yesterday had a flavor somewhat similar to Brussels sprouts, but without the slightest hint of their distinctive "bite." It's texture, however was totally different. And a third dimension is 后感, or what is left on the palate after the bite has been chewed and swallowed. The "aftertaste" of 儿菜 is quite different from Brussels sprouts. It's milder and ever so fainlty sweet. In Chinese, it is often just described as "fresh" 新鲜。

 

And comparing a local vegetable to something known in the West sometimes works, but very often doesn't. East and West don't translate one to one. It's a little like the famous story of the elephant and the blind men: "Oh," says one grasping the trunk or the tail, "It's a little like a snake." Another replies, grasping a leg, "Not at all. I'd say an elephant is much more like the trunk of a tree."

 

I know of nothing in the West that really is similar to 儿菜。It did, however remind me of 莴笋 (wo sun) in both flavor and texture. Sadly, this has no good English translation unless you like the ring of "asparagus lettuce" and more to the point, I don't think I've ever seen it overseas, at least in the US.

 

http://baike.baidu.com/link?url=HGkKiNN7_PAZeTk36vedcrORmhcheD2alBiVhaxPoPsj7dK_ZguQZ2tWOiRRamCijp207qrUrpZe94Y1W7IiKE5YbbsRckK9fY9KgmJC2iO

 

post-20301-0-73095700-1484428438_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-74383700-1484428451_thumb.jpg

 

Every time I think I'm getting a toehold and beginning to understand a little about the cuisine of this strange and very foreign province, I am humbled by the realization that I've barely scratched the surface and really only grasp a minute amount.

 

Even the average, non-enthusiast, non-hobbyist housewife, just making her family something to eat, puts me to shame and exposes my profound ignorance. So I must beg your indulgence for not knowing more than I do about these things and not being able to make more definitive pronouncements, not being able to provide more comprehensive and definite explanations. 

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Shelley

I understand that it is difficult to portray flavour on a computer :) It is also subjective  and we all have our likes and dislikes. A ballpark flavour is all I was expecting. 

 

Don't worry about not knowing everything, this is a journey of exploration and learning for all of us, just with you in the lead.

 

We are all capable of looking things up and finding things out, we can share what we learn and all of us we will be richer and wiser in the ways of the kitchen :)

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abcdefg

Thanks for your kind encouragement, Shelley. Sometimes projects like this leave me feeling more than a little inadequate.

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Luxi

abcdefg, I agree it's extremely difficult to pinpoint taxonomical affinities based on Chinese names. They seem to be somewhat blasee on taxonomy. Think about laoshu (mouse, rat, weasel, etc.) The pictures look like being from a variety of plants, but many are definitely fern shoots - you can't really tell them apart until the fronds have developed.

I'd be a bit careful about eating too many of them or too often. 

 

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abcdefg

>>"They seem to be somewhat blasee on taxonomy."

Agree, Luxi. That's probably an understatement.

 

To my surprise, they have now just about disappeared from the scene. Very few in the market, none on street carts or in stores. They had a total "life span" 上市 of only a little over two weeks! 

 

If one had procrastinated, he would have missed the boat. As it is, now that I've learned how to cook them, I must wait until they come back next winter to enjoy them again.

 

 

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Alex_Hart

I saw these for about a month here in Hangzhou as well. Silly me, I thought they were brussel sprouts the entire time - thought they were just on the stem still! I asked the seller to confirm, but couldn't understand her reply. Wonder if they can be baked the same way as brussel sprouts - not very 地道, but...

 

The amount of produce here is rather staggering - always find myself confused when I come home and discover something isn't what I expected it to be. Recently meant to buy cilantro (coriander), but was in a rush and went home with some other herb that I now assume to be celery leaf. It's become a nice alternative for parsley, but had never heard of buying just celery leaves back home in NYC before. Radishes are similar - I was under the impression one radish was horseradish, but the flavor wasn't anything like I expected it to be. Still unsure if we have it in the west.

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abcdefg
Quote

>>" Wonder if they can be baked the same way as brussel sprouts - not very 地道, but..."

 

Probably. But I don't have an oven. Do you have one in Hangzhou?

 

Cilantro is 香菜, not to be confused with 香草, which is vanilla. Celery comes in two main kinds here. One has a larger stalk and is similar to what is found in the US. This is called 西芹。The other, spindly looking celery, which is better for dumplings and things where it will be finely chopped, is just called 芹菜。It's usually less expensive and they sell it with the tops. I've used the tops quite a bit in soups. They have a slightly bitter edge, not at all unpleasant.

 

And, like you say, so many radishes. I've arrived at the point that I no longer ask, "What is this like in the west?" I just try and figure out its local name and local uses. So many food items have no sensible western equivalent. That's part of why so many Chinese recipes modified for use overseas are crap. Too much gets "lost in translation."

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Michaelyus

No. 1 rule: Brassica botany is in practice non-taxonomic. Forget clean lines of species descent.

 

Brussels sprouts are considered 荷兰进口的抱子芥, and the etymology of 儿菜 would also suggest a brassica selected for its young buds.

 

According to http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_501e41670102wvin.html, it's Brassica juncea var. gemmifera.

 

For reference, Chinese Wikipedia gives Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera for the 抱子甘蓝, which corresponds directly to the Brussels sprout.

 

 

 

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abcdefg

@Michaelyus -- Many thanks for clearing that up. And the sina.com blog article you quoted is an excellent source.

 

Quote

>>" ...and the etymology of 儿菜 would also suggest a brassica selected for its young buds."

 

Another article I found at the time talked about how these young buds sprung from joints in the plant. It used anatomical terms to describe how new sprouts emerged from existing "armpits." The anthropomorphic mental image that first conjured up was not particularly pretty: a Jolly Green Giant with exuberant axillary tumors. But it is understandable when confined to the plant kingdom.

 

58d084e27439e_jointsplantercai.thumb.JPG.17601d91e4db2bdf2c7e31d655be8bec.JPGSuch a fine vegetable, but now it's all gone until next year.

 

Appreciate your help!

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