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  1. If you are recently arrived in China, you may have discovered that the vegetable section of many restaurant menus features hearty combinations with stick-to-your-ribs portions of meat and potatoes that overshadow the lighter veggies in the dish. Furthermore, these often arrive at your table swimming in oil. If you are puzzled regarding how to get some simple fresh vegetables in a restaurant, three approaches can help you out. The first is to just order a vegetable stir-fried alone, such as 清炒菠菜。This would get you a plate of plain sautéed spinach. The waitress might ask if you wanted them to add garlic, 加蒜泥。 Another method is to order a clear soup made with a green leafy vegetable. Example of that would be 苦菜汤, the unfortunate translation of which is “bitter sow thistle.” It’s usually just the named vegetable and water, boiled till tender, with perhaps a dash of oil and a pinch of salt. The third approach is to order a 凉拌 or cold dish, made with a vegetable and an oil-vinegar dressing or sauce. Even though the name says “cold,” these are usually served at room temperature and take the place of salad in a western meal more or less. Today I’ll show you how to make one of my summer favorites: long green beans and king oyster mushrooms 四季豆杏鲍菇凉拌。Simple flavors with a pleasant crunch. I sometimes eat it by itself as a light lunch topped with a hard-boiled egg, but it can also be a side dish for your dumplings/jiaozi 饺子 and your lamb kebabs 羊肉串。 These 四季豆 beans go by several names, much as they do in English, and are easy to find in supermarkets here as well as closer to the source. They should be fairly stiff and not limp; color should be a vibrant deep green. I buy mine at the wet market, where a large bunch, enough for two generous meals, sells for 2 or 3 Yuan. They are traditionally paired with king oyster mushrooms 杏鲍菇,but if you can't find these, the dish will work with other mild-flavored mushrooms just about as well. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) King oyster mushrooms 杏鲍菇 are on the left. They often grow on the stumps of dead hardwood trees. They have an umami note as expected and a tender texture, often compared to abalone or ... well, better yet, about like oysters. Flavor is mild, sometimes with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Cut away and discard the base of any thick, woody stems. Brush off soil with a wet paper towel. It's not necessary to scrub or soak them. Chinese chefs find their texture is best if you tear them into strips or coarse shreds with your fingers instead of chopping them with a knife. This gives a more pleasant mouth feel 口感。 Wash the beans and cut off the stem end. These are about as long as my forearm, but they aren't tough or knobby. They don't have tough "strings" or "threads" on the margin like some other varieties.The peas inside the long pods are tender and immature. I slice them into 6 or 8 inch sections, cutting on a diagonal, but you could chop them straight across to save a few seconds if necessary. I've also finely chopped three or four cloves of garlic 大蒜 and a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger 生姜。Removed some of the seeds from three hot chilies and cut them into thin strips 切丝。 Blanch 焯 the mushrooms in a pot of lightly-salted boiling water for a minute or so. Lift them out with a strainer and drain their water 捞出、流干水粉。You will use the same pot of water in a minute to boil the beans, so don't discard it. Saute the chilies, garlic and ginger in a little oil. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry quickly, adding a conservative pinch of salt. They don't need to brown; you just want the flavor of the aromatics to develop and blend with that of the mushrooms. Scoop them out into a temporary holding pan 备用。 Boil the beans for 4 or 5 minutes, testing them frequently so as to stop the process when they just barely begin to get tender. Don't overcook them; better if they are al dente. Drain them and "shock" them quickly with ice water. This stops the cooking and also improves their color. Drain them well and toss them with the cooked mushrooms 拌匀。 Sauce the combined beans and mushrooms with 2 tablespoons of olive oil 橄榄油, 1 tablespoon of aged vinegar 老陈醋, 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽, half a teaspoon each of salt 食用盐 and sugar 白沙糖。 MSG 味精 1/4 teaspoon if you use it. (I do.) Toss everything together and allow the flavors to blend by putting it in the fridge for 20 or 30 minutes. It doesn't need to actually get cold. Best served at cool room temperature. It's easy to find this dish or some variation of it in simple neighborhood restaurants all over China. It's also pretty straight forward to make at home. Give it a try and see what you think. This kind of food works real well when the days are warm, such as now.
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