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A simple winter supper with ercai 儿菜

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abcdefg

If the weather’s gray, I don’t have hot water. Solar heater on the roof 太阳能热水。This is a recipe I developed during one of those spells to avoid as much dish washing as possible. It came out so good that I have continued to make it even when the weather is fine.

 

It features er cai 儿菜, a popular winter vegetable I never met before moving here to Kunming but of which I have become very fond. Easy to use and plenty of flavor. Loaded with virtues; bursting with vitamins and minerals. It’s a member of the brassica family, and thus is related to cabbage, mustard and Brussels sprouts. One of those things your Mama would nag you to eat more of if she were here. It grows in much of China but is most plentiful in the south and southwest. Yunnan people can’t praise it enough.  (Please click the photos to enlarge them.)

 

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Today I bought a kilogram of the lovely stuff for under 5 Yuan. Saved part for tomorrow, washed the remainder, broke off six or eight “knobs” from which I pared away the damaged or tough outer leaves. Sliced them into thick pieces as shown. Bottom right photo shows what I mean. Knobs in the middle, trimmings on the right, slices on the left. The central heavy white stem I hold back and use later for soup.

 

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Thinly sliced the white part of one spring onion and one small sausage, about 50 grams. I buy top grade Guangdong style sausage for this kind of use. 特级广味香肠。This kind of sausage hasn’t been smoked and has a slightly sweet taste.

 

Meanwhile I have soaked my rice. Important step: takes 15 minutes and allows the rice grains to swell instead of burst when heat is applied. Assembled the ingredients, a pretty simple collection. My rice in my rice cooker takes about 30 minutes to get done.

 

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Although it doesn’t require military precision, my general game plan is to add the sausage after the rice has cooked alone for 10 minutes and add the ercai in a steamer basket on top when the whole works is 6 or 8 minutes from done.

 

Now that the rice is underway, lets make a dipping sauce, a zhanshui 蘸水。Here’s where you can use your imagination. My personal favorite is a tablespoon each of dark sesame oil 黑芝麻油, aged dark vinegar 老陈醋, and light soy sauce 生姜。Into these I mix a teaspoon of red chili oil 红油。You could use a store brand such as Old Grandmother 老干妈。It’s pretty good; but I use my own home made chili oil instead and I would modestly point out that it’s perfect. (Recipe here -- link.)

 

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After 10 minutes, quickly open the lid and add the sausage, more or less in one layer. Don’t dally; you want to minimize the escape of steam.  About 12 minutes later, add the steamer basket of ercai with the minced scallion sprinkled on top. Again, work fast when raising the lid.

 

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The rice cooker will beep when it’s done. It usually takes a few minutes more than the usual 30 because both sausage and the vegetable add some moisture.

Take the ercai out and add a sprinkling of salt and a dusting of white pepper. Serve it up 装盘。What I did here just to make it look nice was to put a scoop of rice in the middle with meat on top and vegetables around the side. Second helping less fancy. 

 

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Not a huge belt-buster feast; but still a well-balanced, relatively healthy dinner. Good tastes. Total cost for two people under two dollars; total time investment under an hour. Minimal cleanup. All in all, pretty sweet!  

 

(If you can't find ercai, you could use another vegetable such as Brussels sprouts or baby bokchoi 小白菜。) 

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Jim

Can't beat a brassica! Thanks for another great recipe write-up, love these and always learn something.

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abcdefg

@Jim -- I remember that you live in the outskirts of Beijing. Is this ercai 儿菜 something you or your wife run into frequently in the stores or markets? From what I have read, it's more popular south of the Yangtze. In the winter, it's everywhere you look here in Kunming.  

 

Any other Beijing-based forum members? @ChTTay , @DavyJonesLocker Have you guys seen it when out and about? 

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ChTTay

Pretty sure I’ve seen it in Beijing but never eaten it!

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Jim

Don't see it regularly here, we mostly go to the largish wet market in the next village which has a reasonable range but mainly local standards.

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abcdefg

Thanks, gentlemen. 

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Jim

I'll be seeking it out now!

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DavyJonesLocker

glad you mentioned it @abcdefg I picked up a pack just now! seen it before before never really paid much attention to it. Thanks for the reminder! Will give it a try tomorrow., my complex 大盘鸡 for tonight's menu:D

 

You can see the price in beijing, its 3 times what you paid but thats from a posh supermarket. Would be cheaper elsewhere no doubt. 

 

I see a few recipes that shallow fry 儿菜 and 腊肠 which might be nice too (bit like the 荷兰豆,盐,腊肠 dish) , although I never feel great about frying any vegetable 

 

Question on your 生抽。 I have that brand too the 180 and 360 day one, however I feel like the 360 day one is bordering on the 老抽 territory. I use it when a recipe calls for 老抽/ 生抽 mix

 

What's your reason for selecting the 360 day one above, As a dipping sauce?  

 

22 hours ago, abcdefg said:

add the ercai in a steamer basket on top when the whole works is 6 or 8 minutes from done.

 

great idea, i always forget to do this and a seperate steamer :conf 

 

儿菜.jpg

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abcdefg
3 minutes ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

I see a few recipes that shallow fry 儿菜 and 腊肠 which might be nice too (bit like the 荷兰豆,盐,腊肠 dish) , although I never feel great about frying any vegetable 

 

It's excellent like that! I often make that combo. 

 

On the soy sauce, I have the 280 days and 380 days. Of course there are really no rules about this, but I generally use the 280 when a recipe calls for "light soy sauce" or 生抽。I use a lot of that. The 380 is richer and more expensive. I save it for salad dressings and dipping sauce. 

 

Look forward to hearing about your 大盘鸡。I had a memorable introduction to that in Yinchuan, which is @ChTTay 老家。 

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mungouk

So what does 儿菜 taste like?

 

It looks a little bit like chicory/endive... does it have a flavour of its own?

 

 

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abcdefg
10 hours ago, mungouk said:

So what does 儿菜 taste like?

 

Good question, @mungouk -- Thanks for asking.

 

It has a fresh, bland flavor which is similar to young Brussels sprouts or Napa cabbage. Not bitter. It does best when combined with a meat which has lots of flavor. In Chinese cooking, it it usually stir-fried with a flavorful meat. Examples are sausage 香肠, smoked bacon 腊肉, and pork belly 五花肉。Here in Yunnan, it is often stir-fried with our famous slow-cured ham 云南火腿。My approach in the recipe above was to steam it in the rice cooker while making rice with sausage slices on top. Did it that way in the interest of efficiency and reducing the need for dishwashing/cleanup. 

 

Texture is tender after it's cooked. Could easily slice through a piece with the side of a fork. 

 

Around here, seeds for them are planted in September, seedlings are set out in October. Harvest is late December through mid February. It's a traditional food of winter; often associated with Spring Festival banquets in these parts. It's sometimes pickled, sometimes served room temperature as a 凉拌 (Chinese salad.)

 

10 hours ago, mungouk said:

It looks a little bit like chicory/endive...

 

It's actually quite different, in that it is mainly a tough, woody stalk 梗 about as big around as my arm. The most frequently eaten part is the "knees" or "knobs" that extend from that heavy main stalk. One of the stories about how the vegetable got its name is that these knobs are "sons" of the big mother -- 儿子。

 

It's hard to explain clearly, but these pictures might help. These first two show the big vegetable entire ("the mother.") I've split it down the middle to expose the tough woody interior. (I only use this part for soup.) 

 

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The tender parts which are most commonly eaten are the knobs growing from the sides of the main stalk. These are the "sons" -- the 儿子。You break them off with your fingers and slice them or quarter them before cooking. I marked them with arrows. 

 

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Upscale markets, such as @DavyJonesLocker is talking about in his reply, often sell the knobs alone, pre-trimmed and packaged. This makes for less labor and less waste. Below left is a picture of those. I've sometimes bought them like that, gladly paying more because I was in a hurry. Below right is a picture of the tough stalk, cut up and getting ready to become part of a slow-cooked pork bone 猪骨 winter soup. 

 

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