A Variety of Unique Chinese Vegetables

From Bitter Melon to Silk Squash

Chinese Vegetables
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  • 01 of 19

    Unique in Appearance and Taste

    Chinese vegetables come in a variety of intriguing shapes, sizes, and textures, from a bumpy cucumber-like melon to a green colored bean that can be 1 foot long. Each has its own unique taste and is used in several types of traditional recipes. Learn how to select, cook, store, and prepare these interesting vegetables.

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  • 02 of 19

    Bamboo Shoots

    Bamboo shoots for sale at the morning market
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    As the name implies, bamboo shoots are the edible shoots of the bamboo plant, which is native to Asia. They are cut from the plant once they appear above the ground to preserve their tenderness and because if they are left to grow exposed, they will turn a green color. 

    Fresh bamboo shoots are available at Asian or Chinese markets, or you can find canned bamboo shoots at most local grocery stores. Fresh shoots need to be boiled until tender, then husked and cut into pieces. Canned bamboo shoots only need to be heated since they are pre-cooked.

    You may have eaten bamboo shoots at a Chinese restaurant as they are often part of a stir-fry. You can try them at home in almost any stir-fry dish, including stir-fry beef with bamboo shoots and stir-fry mushrooms and bamboo shoots.

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  • 03 of 19

    Bitter Melon

    Bitter gourd
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    Bitter melon is known for its unusual appearance and taste. This Chinese gourd resembles a cucumber with a dark green, bumpy, 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, such as Chinese pork with bitter melon, where it is frequently paired with other strong flavors, such as Chinese salted black beans.

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  • 04 of 19

    Bok Choy

    Chinese cabbage or Bok Choy (Brassica rapa)
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    China's most popular vegetable, bok choy, has a light, sweet flavor and crisp texture. It is a type of cabbage but instead of a tightly packed head the leaves are in a cluster, giving the vegetable a shape similar to celery.

    Bok choy (also called pak choi) is used to enhance everything from potstickers to soups to stir-fries. 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. It should be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3 to 4 days.

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  • 05 of 19

    Chinese Broccoli

    Broccolini
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    The Chinese version of broccoli is a leafy green plant with small white flowers. It has a thick stem with flat leaves and very small florets, giving it a different appearance from regular broccoli.

    Chinese broccoli, called gai lan, has a slightly bittersweet, earthy flavor that pairs nicely with strongly flavored ingredients such as oyster sauce, like in a Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce recipe and Chinese broccoli with chicken. It is best to saute, steam, or stir-fry this vegetable, as you would when using broccolini. Regular broccoli can usually be substituted in recipes calling for Chinese broccoli.

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  • 06 of 19

    Chinese Celery

    Chinese celery, close-up
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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 significant flavor that adds extra taste to soups and stir-fries. It is not recommended in raw salads though, as its strong flavor may overpower other ingredients; cooking this vegetable mellows the flavor.

    Chinese celery also has a more attractive appearance than regular celery, with thinner stalks and a color ranging from dark green to white. The stalks are thinner than the celery we are used to, but do need to be crushed slightly before adding to a recipe. This will improve their texture and flavor.

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  • 07 of 19

    Chinese Dried Mushrooms

    Dried mushrooms, Hong Kong, China
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    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. Although available fresh, these mushrooms are most often found dried to use in both cooking and natural medicine; practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe dried mushrooms can help lower blood pressure.

    Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted (soaked in water to soften) before using, and the soaking liquid is often used in place of water or chicken broth in a sauce. Stir-fried mushrooms and bamboo shoots as well as spicy hoisin stir-fried pork are both good recipes to try, as is a healthy spinach soup with tofu.

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  • 08 of 19

    Chinese Eggplant

    Close of Eggplants at Kashgar Xinjiang Province China
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    Also called aubergine, Chinese eggplant resembles more of a purple zucchini than an Italian eggplant, 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 disgorged before cooking. Popular Chinese dishes made with eggplant include Szechuan eggplant braised in garlic sauce and eggplant in garlic sauce

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  • 09 of 19

    Silk Squash

    Chinese Silk Squash
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    Silk squash, also called Chinese okra and angled luffa, is a long thin squash with sharp ridges. Only immature silk squash are eaten, as older silk squash have a bitter taste. 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, like in a stir-fried okra recipe, and to use okra as a substitute if silk squash is unavailable.

    When buying silk squash, look for young ones that are firm and have unblemished skin. Despite the sharp ridges, silk squash does not need to be peeled before using.

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  • 10 of 19

    Chinese White Radish (Daikon Radish)

    Radish; Chinese white winter
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    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 and added to soups. Shredded daikon radish is an ingredient in turnip cake, which is a popular dish during Chinese New Year season

    Nutritionally speaking, Chinese white radish is a good source of Vitamin C and is very low in calories.

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  • 11 of 19

    Flowering Chives

    Chinese chives in flower
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    Flowering chives, also called flowering Chinese chives or flowering leeks, 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. Try a simple stir-fried flowering chives or stir-fry beef with flowering chives and bean curd

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  • 12 of 19

    Fuzzy Melon (Mo Qua)

    fuzzy melon
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    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.

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  • 13 of 19

    Chinese Garlic Chives

    Garlic chives
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    Although both are members of the onion family, Chinese garlic chives are more attractive and more flavorful than regular chives. 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 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 and are included in a recipe for Cantonese spring rolls

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  • 14 of 19

    Chinese Leeks

    Wet leeks for sale in the market
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    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 a staple ingredient in northern Chinese cooking. Chinese leeks generally aren't available in North America, so regular leeks can be used as a substitute. Try a pork and leeks stir-fry using either Chinese or regular leeks.

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  • 15 of 19

    Chinese Longbeans

    Chinese long beans
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    You may have noticed this interesting looking vegetable in the produce section—looped bunches of long, light or dark green beans. Believed to have originated in China, long beans come by their name honestly as 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 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.

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  • 16 of 19

    Lotus Root

    Lotus root
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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, and lend itself to a stuffed recipe such as lotus root stuffed with sweet sticky rice.

    Lotus root adds a crisp texture and sweet flavor to Chinese stir-fries, soups, and salads, where they are often added raw. Red-cooked pork belly with lotus root and kinpira renkon (braised lotus root) are two recipes where the lotus root is cooked. 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.

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  • 17 of 19

    Mung Bean Sprouts

    Mung Bean Sprouts
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    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. Try mung bean sprouts in a simple Chinese mung bean sprout stir-fryshrimp and garlic noodle recipe, or Mongolian chicken with mung bean sprouts.

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  • 18 of 19

    Chinese Cabbage

    Chinese cabbage
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    There are hundreds of varieties of cabbage used in Asian cooking; the cabbage commonly known as Chinese cabbage is the large cabbage with the pale green leaves that you will often find next to the bok choy in the supermarket. You may also see 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, and 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 garlic and chili paste, or combining cabbage with Chinese sausageLion's head meatballs, a famous Chinese dish, features Napa cabbage as well.

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  • 19 of 19

    Snow Pea Shoots

    Snow pea shoots
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    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, simply sauteed, quickly cooked in stir-fries, or blanched and used in soups. Just keep in mind that their volume will decrease quite a bit (nearly 90 percent) when cooked, so you will need to use a lot more than you may think.