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Manchurian wild rice stem salad 茭白凉拌

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Sunny and 28 Celsius outside; blue sky with a few puffy white clouds 蓝天白云。Kunming's well-deserved reputation for great weather is easy to appreciate today. But these recent balmy late spring temperatures have made me hanker for lighter fare; in particular, something that isn't fried.

 

The market had an abundance of a strange vegetable that I thought at first was a type of small bamboo shoot or maybe a variety of asparagus. A little snooping around revealed that it was really the peeled stems of the Manchurian wild rice plant, which in Chinese goes by several names: 茭白 jiao bai, 茭笋 jiao sun, and 茭瓜 jiao gua being the most common.

 

This vegetable was real big during the Tang Dynasty, and was even praised by the likes of Mencius 孟子 as being nearly indispensable centuries before. But today it's mainly grown in the region just below the Yangtze River 江南, as well as in parts of Yunnan. (Also some in Vietnam.) The plant is no longer cultivated for its grain, instead being raised for its stem instead. Here's what it looks like in the field, in the paddies where it thrives.

 

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It's a member of the grass family, and has two main growing seasons, one of which is now. Not expensive: I bought 400 grams for 7 Yuan. Got it home, washed it and cut it up. Took a bit of work to reduce it to thin matchsticks; made me wish my 菜刀 and my 刀法 (knife skills) were both of a higher order.

 

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I've had this vegetable in restaurants, stir-fried plain 清炒 as a side dish. It has a bland, rather neutral taste, and I found it kind of boring when just made solo. So today I combined it with carrots 胡萝卜。Then even added a can of tuna at the end to make it suitable to serve as a simple, one-dish, warm-weather meal.

 

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Open a can of chunk tuna 金枪鱼 and turn it out onto a plate. The kind I had on hand was packed in spring water 矿泉水浸 instead of oil. Not difficult to find. Adding the tuna to this dish makes it less typical of the cuisine of the region, therefore less authentic; turns it into more of a "fusion" project.

 

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Blanch 焯 the jiao bai for about a minute, in order to make it a bit more tender. Dredge it out 捞出来 and drop it briefly into a pan of ice water. Do the same for the carrots, except 30 seconds is enough. Fish them out and drain 沥干水分。Cooling them quickly like this prevents them from getting soggy; you want the vegetables to retain their crunch.

 

IMG_0464.thumb.JPG.62c91f6c4daa13dffe443038490eb520.JPGDress them with a tablespoon of light soy sauce 生油 and a tablespoon of sesame oil 香油。Sprinkle in a scant teaspoon of salt 食盐 and a similar amount of sugar 白砂糖。 Add a pinch of 味精 if you like. Toss it well, mixing in only a single clove of chopped garlic 蒜茸 that you previously prepared. This entire dish has gentle flavors, and you want them to stay in balance.

 

 

 

 

Shape it into a bird's nest 鸟巢 and put the tuna in the middle. Serve it up. Goes nicely with a glass of chilled white wine and some saltine crackers 苏打饼干。

 

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Alex_Hart

Looks great, abcd!
 

Just saw these for the first time today as I was buying some tomatoes - our weather is rather warmer than yours, so I may give this a try tomorrow if it's lighter fare. Wasn't sure quite what they were - also thought it was related to bamboo shoots or another veg that looks similar but is shaped more like a bamboo shoot. 

 

Do you know if it's traditionally prepared in other ways? I'll have to ask the 阿姨 who I buy veg from, but she almost always tells me to stir fry everything with a little bit of vinegar - she'll suggest adding an egg when she feels adventurous. Otherwise, everything is stewed with a meat. Zhejiang palates for you.

 

Found a new wet market today that is much nicer than my usual one - larger, cleaner, surprisingly air conditioned. The vegetables looked fresh while my wet market has grown more wilted as the weather grew warmer.  They had a mushroom lady and better selections for everything else. They had the野菜 you shared with us two or three weeks ago, but the price was a bit beyond a normal weeknight dinner. Forget exactly, but it was around 20 kuai for a small handful. Picked up some tiny asparagus, no wider than a chive, that I liked, although my girlfriend found them too bitter.

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abcdefg

Some of the articles I found on-line described this jiao bai vegetable as quintessential Zhejiang food, more widely used and appreciated there than anywhere else in China. I think the most common way to fix them is fried with sliced or slivered pork 茭白炒肉。

 

When I saw these in the market this morning, I didn't recognize them either. We have had loads of superb asparagus recently, white as well as green, and I thought they might be a variant. We also are getting into prime time for the small bamboo shoots that are about two thumbs long and about that big around.

 

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By all means give them a try. And I'm glad you found a better market.

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Alex_Hart

I believe we have those bamboo shoots, too. The old market only has 春笋 of the "typical" size, but the new one has five or six bamboo shoot varieties - shall need to explore them!

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abcdefg

I've used those small bamboo shoots in 凉拌 recipes nearly identical to this one here (but without the tuna.) The larger, more typical ones (thigh size) are better stir-fried or used in hearty soups. We also get some here that are of an in-between size. These are often steamed, peeled at the table and dipped in a spicy sauce.

 

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davoosh

I just thought I should say thank you for these recipes - I thoroughly enjoy reading them as I am a fan of cooking in general and Chinese culture, and they combine the two wonderfully. I really miss the variety of Chinese greens and wild vegetables, that variety just isn't easy to come by here. I especially like recipes which aren't too overpowering or complicated, but bring out the food's natural flavour and qualities. I think you manage to do this very well!

 

 

 

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abcdefg

Thank you, @davoosh -- Agree with you that the variety of fresh vegetables here is nothing short of amazing. Every time I go to the market I see new ones that I've never noticed before. It's always an adventure to learn how to use some of these strange items in my kitchen.

 

When something is in season and I see it being featured left and right, on sale for a low price in big heaps at the market, it makes me want to give it a whirl. An embarrassing confession is that I try six or eight or even ten new recipes for every one that I deem successful enough to post here for folks to see.

 

Appreciate your encouraging comments!

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