|Tania Nathan is a Chinese-Sri Lankan Malaysian who loves her food and is often to be found rummaging through a freezer somewhere in Hakaniemi. Come say hi!|
The weird and wonderful tastes of your local Asian grocery store.
Eat your greens! How many times have you heard that line? In Finland this may pose a two-fold problem: first of all you gotta find your greens, and, when faced with a mighty array at the Chinese market, the next question would be, ‘How?’ But, have no fear, for this month’s edition will take you through all things great and green.
Morning glory, also known as water convulvus or water morning glory
One of the cheapest and most common vegetables in South East Asia, Kangkung (as its commonly known in my neck of the woods) is an easy vegetable to prepare. Due to its porous stems, rinse well and separate leaves from stems. It eats well when lightly stir-fried and has nutty, grassy undertones with a mild mustard flavour and goes well with garlic, chilli paste and dried pounded shrimp.
Mustard greens, pak choy or buc choy
With its thick white stems and jade green leaves, this is another easy and common green in the Chinese kitchen repertoire. Again, separate the stems from the leaves, and cook very briefly in a hot wok with garlic and oyster sauce. Pak choy has a lovely bite to it and a mild peppery flavour. It comes in white stems, pale green and baby varieties too.
Kai-lan or Chinese broccoli
With shorter, thicker stems and denser leaves, kai-lan holds up well cooked for longer periods of time with, say, meat, or in stews. It has a nice broccoli flavour, albeit more bitter. Steam and stir-fry quickly. It’s not cheap, but it is good.
En choy, bayam merah or red spinach
Reddish round leaves and thin stemmed, this spinach variety is pretty to look at and good to eat! You can eat this raw in salads, but wash very, very well. It seems to hide a mother load of dirt, but tastes lovely, earthy and fresh and can also be eaten cooked with coconut milk. Do not overcook or it will turn slimy!
These little guys are not just for show, but add an important taste element to many noodle dishes. Diced fine and added at the last moment before serving, Chinese chives have a pronounced onion flavour and go well with rice noodles and all things porky.
Chinese celery or ‘oriental’ celery
Similar looking to a flat leafed parsley-coriander hybrid, this tastes a bit like celery, but more herbal and grassy. The stems and leaves are used in soups that accompany the classic Hainanese chicken rice and have quite a strong flavour! Do not overcook, the flavours wilt with heat, so add at the last moment right before plating and it will shine.
There you have it! Stay tuned; let’s see what we can find next month…