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Chinese vegetables come in a variety of intriguing shapes, sizes, and textures - from fuzzy melon(the gourd, not the drink) to the tender young shoots of the bamboo plant. Here are pictures of various types of Chinese vegetables, with links to more information including storage and preparation tips, and recipes.
As the name implies, bamboo shoots are the edible shoots of the bamboo plant, which is native to Asia. Fresh bamboo shoots are available at Asian/Chinese markets, or you can find canned bamboo shoots at most local grocery stores.Continue to 2 of 18 below.
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Bitter melon is known for its unusual appearance and taste. This Chinese gourd resembles a cucumber with a dark green, pockmarked skin. As the name implies, it has a rather bitter taste. However, this can be lessened by blanching or degorging the melon with salt. Bitter melon is a popular ingredient in stir-fries, where it is frequently paired with other strong flavors (such as Chinese salted black beans).Continue to 3 of 18 below.
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China's most popular vegetable, bok choy has a light, sweet flavor and crisp texture. Bok choy (also called pak choi) is used to enhance everything from soups to stir-fries: you can even deep-fry it! Nutritionally, like most leafy green vegetables, bok choy is a good source of iron. It is also high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and calcium.Continue to 4 of 18 below.
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The Chinese version of broccoli is a leafy green plant with small white flowers. Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan) has a slightly bittersweet flavor that pairs nicely with strongly flavored ingredients such as oyster sauce. However, regular broccoli can usually be substituted in recipes calling for Chinese broccoli.Continue to 5 of 18 below.
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Regular celery can seem a little boring once you've tried Chinese celery. Originating from a wild celery native to Asia, Chinese celery has a strong flavor that adds extra taste to soups and stir-fries. (Not salads though; its strong flavor may overpower other ingredients). It also has a more attractive appearance than regular celery, with thinner stalks and a color ranging from dark green to white.Continue to 6 of 18 below.
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Chinese Dried Mushrooms
Not to be confused with cloud ears, Chinese dried mushrooms impart a pungent flavor to Chinese dishes. They are also called Chinese black mushrooms, which is a bit misleading as the mushrooms can range in color from grey to light brown. Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted (soaked in water to soften) before using. The soaking liquid is often used in place of water or chicken broth in a sauce. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe dried mushrooms can help lower blood pressure.Continue to 7 of 18 below.
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Also called aubergine, Chinese eggplant resembles a purple zucchini, with its long thin shape and purple color that may be streaked with white. Eggplant is native to Asia, and Chinese eggplant is one of hundreds of varieties found there (another type of Southeast Asian eggplant, Thai eggplant, is small, round and green or white in color). Because it is smaller and thinner than the usual oblong shaped eggplant you find in the produce section of local supermarkets, Chinese eggplant is not normally salted and degorged before cooking. Popular Chinese dishes made with eggplant include Szechuan eggplant braised in garlic sauce.Continue to 8 of 18 below.
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A long thin squash with sharp ridges, silk squash is also called Chinese okra and angled luffa. Only immature silk squash are eaten, as older silk squash have a bitter taste. Like fuzzy melon, silk squash can be stuffed with pork and steamed. However, it is more commonly stir-fried or deep-fried. Feel free to substitute silk squash in recipes calling for cooked zucchini or okra, and to use okra as a substitute if silk squash is unavailable.
When buying Chinese okra, look for young ones that are firm and have an unblemished skin. Despite the sharp ridges, Chinese okra does not need to be peeled before using.Continue to 9 of 18 below.
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Chinese White Radish (Daikon Radish)
Resembling a large white carrot, Chinese white radish has a much stronger flavor than small, round red radishes. While Daikon is a popular salad ingredient in Japan, in China it is more commonly used in cooking, both in stir-frying and slow cooked dishes. It is also pickled. Turnip cake is a popular cake during Chinese New Year season.
Nutritionally speaking, Chinese white radish is a good source of Vitamin C and is very low in calories.Continue to 10 of 18 below.
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Flowering chives have a more delicate appearance but an even stronger flavor than regular Chinese garlic chives. Flowering chives are more frequently used in stir-fries, both because of their more attractive appearance and stronger flavor.Continue to 11 of 18 below.
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Fuzzy Melon (Mo Qua)
If Chinese eggplant looks like a large purple zucchini, fuzzy melon looks like a zucchini covered with fuzz. However, while zucchini is a type of squash, fuzzy melon is a gourd, related to winter melon. In Chinese cooking, fuzzy melon is used in a number of dishes such as soups and stir-fries. It can also be filled and steamed.
When choosing fuzzy melon, look for ones that are small and firm. Peel off the skin or scrub well to remove the "fuzz" before using.Continue to 12 of 18 below.
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Chinese Garlic Chives
Although both are members of the onion family, Chinese garlic chives are more attractive and more flavorful than regular chives. Regular Chinese garlic chives have a strong "garlicky" flavor, while yellow chives have a mild taste similar to onions. A third variety, flowering chives, have a more delicate appearance but an even stronger flavor than regular Chinese garlic chives.
You'll find regular Chinese garlic chives lending flavor to soups, stews and other slow-cooked dishes. (They're also a great way to add extra flavor to scrambled eggs). Flowering chives are more frequently used in stir-fries, both because of their more attractive appearance and stronger flavor. Another popular stir-fry combination pairs yellow chives and mung bean sprouts.Continue to 13 of 18 below.
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Leeks are a member of the onion family. Despite sometimes being called "a poor man's asparagus," the thick stalked European leeks commonly found in supermarkets have a mild sweet flavor. Chinese leeks, on the other hand, are smaller and thinner, resembling a thick scallion. Their more pungent flavor makes Chinese leeks are a staple ingredient in northern Chinese cooking. Chinese leeks generally aren't available in North America - regular leeks can be used as a substitute.Continue to 14 of 18 below.
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You may have noticed them in the produce section - looped bunches of light or dark green beans. Believed to have originated in China, long beans come by their name honestly - they can grow up to three feet long. Other common names for long beans include yard long beans, snake bean and Chinese pea (long beans are a member of the same family as black-eyed peas, also called cowpeas).
In cooking, long beans are the beans traditionally used to make Chinese green beans, a popular dish at Chinese buffets. They are also popular in Southern China, and in Cantonese cooks frequently pair long beans with salted black beans or fermented bean curd. Outside of China, long beans are used in Malaysian and Thai cooking.Continue to 15 of 18 below.
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A relative of the water lily, the lotus is an aquatic plant that grows in marshes and shallow ponds. The tuberous root of the plant is found in the mud below the surface. The exterior of the root is not particularly attractive, resembling a large, buff-colored link of sausages, with each link about 8 inches long. However, channels running through the root give cut slices a delicate, lacy appearance.
Lotus root adds a crisp texture and sweet flavor to Chinese stir-fries, soups, and salads, where they are often added raw. Deep-fried lotus root is a popular garnish. You'll frequently find candied lotus root in Chinese New Year Trays of Togetherness (also called Harmony Trays), as a symbol of abundance.Continue to 16 of 18 below.
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Mung Bean Sprouts
While sprouts of all types didn't become popular in North America until the 1960's health food craze, the Chinese have been sprouting mung beans for approximately 3,000 years. The Chinese name for the silver colored sprouts with the yellowish ends is nga choy or nga choi. Their crisp texture and sweet flavor are used in stir-fries and salads.
Nutritionally, mung bean sprouts are low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, and high in Vitamin C, and a good source of protein. Stir-frying the sprouts helps reduce the chance of food-borne illness. However, to preserve their crunchy texture, mung bean sprouts shouldn't be stir-fried for more than 30 seconds.Continue to 17 of 18 below.
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While there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage used in Chinese/Asian cooking (bok choy is a type of cabbage) the cabbage commonly known as Chinese cabbage is the large cabbage with the pale green leaves that are often placed next to the bok choy in the supermarket. You may also find it called by its Chinese name, sui choy.
Napa cabbage has a mild, sweet flavor that pairs nicely with more strong flavored foods. You'll find Napa Cabbage adding texture and flavor to stir-fried noodles, dumplings, soups and hot pot broth. It can be steamed, stir-fried, sauteed - the only thing to watch out for is not to overcook it. An eastern Chinese specialty, creamed cabbage, consists of leaves of shredded cabbage that are braised in a rich mixture of milk, chicken stock, rice wine, and seasonings. But Chinese cabbage doesn't need such extensive preparation to coax out its natural flavor - try stir-frying with a bit of ginger, salt, pepper and chicken broth for a simple side dish.Continue to 18 of 18 below.
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Snow Pea Shoots
Snow pea shoots are the delicate tips of the vines and the top set of leaves of the snow pea plant. Considered to be a delicacy in Chinese cooking, snow pea shoots can be served raw in salads, quickly cooked in stir-fries, or blanched and used in soups.