Vegetable Dishes 22: Taicai

Stir-fried taicai stem is quite smooth and dense in texture. Remove its outer skin, then add mushrooms and new bamboo shoots to make a soup. It is very good stir-fried with shelled shrimp.


1Taicai (台菜) is a rather confusing name since it could refer to many things, among them seaweed, a variety of mustard greens, or celtuse. The latter is now days more commonly known as wosun (窩筍) but also still occasionally referred to as taicai, though that is more commonly written as ”苔菜”. Adding to the utter confusion of things, taicai can also mean Taiwenese cuisine. However given that later in the chapter we have an entry for celtuce named using a more common name woju (萵苣), this recipe is likely not celtuce, but probably more a mustard green with thick stems such as “Choy Sum”, “Gailan” or one of the Western Mustards. Indeed there are soups of kailan stems when the tougher outer skin of the stem is removed. As well in the Pork Chapter, a recipe for Cauliflower refers to the mustard that produced the cauliflower as “taixincai” (台心菜), which points to the ingredient as the stem of cauliflower. Still, with the amount of ambiguity and the nagging suspicion that maybe this is still celtuce, I’ve decided to go by the pronunciation instead of listing out the vegetable’s name, and let the reader use their own judgement instead.

2To my knowledge nuo (糯) has two different meanings. The word is usually used with “rice” (米) to indicate sticky rice, or noumi (糯米). However, peeled mustard stem is not sticky, thus the word most likely refers to the dense smooth and fine-grained texture of the vegetable stem. Still, I will concede that there may be other meaning out there that I don’t know about.


Garden of Contentment is one of the year’s Best Cookbooks!

Last Sunday, my book Recipes from the Garden of Contentment was listed in the National Post as one of “14 best cookbooks of the year“!


Buy a copy ! Be amazed and awed by my “dedication to stress relief”! 😉

Vegetable Dishes 21: Green Vegetables

Green vegetables that are tender can be stir-fried with bamboo shoots. During the summer, dress it with ground mustard and a little vinegar to awaken one’s appetite. One can make a soup with it using dried-cured ham. One must look for those that have been freshly picked to ensure that they will be soft and tender.


1Qingcai (青菜) means literally “greenish-blue vegetable” and is used to describe a wide variety of different greenish vegetables, typically mustards (like Brassica rapa). The term is sometimes translated to “Chinese cabbage” or “Bok Choy”, but I went with the direct translation since these English names tend to be rather inaccurate. Besides, most of these qingcai plant varieties do not have good or consistent names in English. Come to think of it, the rather colloquial English term for vegetables: “greens“, may actually be a better translation than the more typical ones.

Vegetable Dishes 20: Jiaobai

Jiaobai1 can be stir-fried with pork or chicken. These shoots are very good when cut into pieces and grilled with soy-sauce and vinegar. They also very good when stir-fried over high heat with pork.2 Before cooking, the shoots must be sliced into inch long pieces for the best effect. The weak and thin shoots have no flavour.3


1Jiaobai (茭白) or jiaobaisun (茭白筍), is actually the pithy ligule and sheaths of an aquatics grass related to American wildrice (Zizania latifolia) that has been infected by the fungus Ustilago esculenta, the latter of which is closely related to the corn smut fungus (I’ve always been impressed how English can make so many foods sound unappetizing). When the thick infected sheaths has been peeled like bamboo shoots, they reveal a firm creamy-white plump centre “shoot”. When stir fried, this shoot-like food is delectably crisp in texture, refreshingly sweet, and utterly delicious.

2Found in the 2nd last recipe in the next chapter for dried jiaobai.

3This either means that thin weak specimens are not tasty, or if you slice it too thin it won’t taste good. Most likely the former though likely true for either.

Vegetable Dishes 19: Bean sprouts

I am rather fond of the soft, crisp textures of bean sprouts. When stir-fried, they must be cooked until completely done in order for the flavours from the seasonings to combine harmoniously with them.

Bean sprouts can be used with bird’s nest, with their soft textured and white colour matching each other well. Still, there are many who ridicule this recipe, since it pairs an incredibly cheap ingredient with an exceedingly expensive one. Clearly they do not understand that those such as Chao and Yu went on to respectively accompany Emperors Yao and Shun.1


1I cannot find anything on Chao and Yu and their exact relation to the two early Emperors, Yao and Shun. But from this example, they are probably from a lowly or a commoner background.

P.S. Been a bit negligent in posting over the last while. Been trying to catch up with everything in life since the sprint to the finish live with the book launch. Will be doing something thinking about how to post the rest of the Suiyuan Shidan translations, either in bulk or section by section as I have been doing. In any case, some exciting stuff will be coming to this blog. Stay tuned!

Book launched! (and we ate from the book)


This past Tuesday, we did the official launch my book “Recipes from the Garden of Contentment” at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Needless to say it was a blast and loads of fun; a truly intellectually stimulating and taste bud tantalizing event!

Starting things off, I spoke about the story of how this project started and what fun and fantastic stuff we all (scholars and enthusiasts alike) can learn from this fantastic book. There must be at least several talk to be had from the contents of the Suiyuan Shidan and at least one or two PhD degrees from studying and analyzing it. I hope with this translation English reading students from China studies departments will be able to delve in!

As well, we also heard the talks of the ever fantastic Carolyn Phillips and Nicole Mones, who brought to life the cuisine and region of the Suiyuan Shidan, and to Yuan Mei himself who is in many ways an iconoclast and rebel of his time. The talk from these ladies were phenomenal. Indeed, I have much to learn.

By: R. Halpern 2018
Braised quail. Firm textured and bursting with flavour! (By: R. Halpern 2018)

The highlight of the book launch event was no doubt the cooking provided by Chef Nick Liu of Dailo, who did his modern take on 5 of the dishes from the book:

  1. Imitation Pheasant (假野雞卷)
  2. Imitation crab(假蟹)
  3. Braised Quail (煨鵪鶉)
  4. Red Braised Pork Belly (紅煨肉)
  5. Radish Braised in Lard (豬油煮蘿蔔)
By: R. Halpern 2018
Nick Liu slicing red-braised pork belly. Melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness… (By: R. Halpern 2018)

For me, the most interesting out of all these dishes was the imitation crab, which Nick paired with wintermelon, no doubt echoing the classic pairing of crab with wintermelon as seen with dishes such as the renowned wintermelon smothered in crab (蟹肉扒冬瓜). But my favourite has to be the pork belly, which the chef expertly braised with a mix of white wine, Chinese Shaoxing jiu, and white port and coloured it with a touch of red yeast.

Imitation pheasant. Chicken croquettes, but for adults. (By: UTSC 2018)

Although I knew there was academic interested in the book, I was completely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and response to the book from everybody in the Toronto food community and beyound. And despite its textbook-level price, we actually finished off all our retail copies almost immediately and had to start selling by personal copies!

Winter melon with imitation crab. Luscious. (By: author 2018)
Winter melon with imitation crab. Luscious. (By: author 2018)

I want to thank and acknowledge Prof. Rick Halpern, Natalie Ramtahol, and Chef. Nick Liu of DaiLo, and all of Culinaria at UTSC for making this event possible.

And a thank you to all of those who attended! It was great meeting you all! And now…I’m going to go crash and not wake up until Monday.

Vegetable Dishes 18: Celery

Celery is a su vegetarian item.1 The plumper they are, the better they taste. Choose the white stalks to stir-fry, add bamboo shoots, and cook until done. People now like to stir-fry it with pork, confusing its flavour and rendering it largely unremarkable.2 When not fully cooked, celery is quite crisp but flavourless. When mixed raw with pheasant, it is quite dish to laud over.3


1Su 素 is basically the opposite of hun 葷, where there are no animal-based ingredients and only vegetables not of the allium family, which excludes garlic, onions, shallots, garlic chives, and the like.

2I would disagree here, the flavour of celery is strong enough to cut through any meat you can throw at it. I would argue that celery more often will take over any dish you add it to than not.

3The classic Chinese homestyle dish celery with chicken is more or less similar to this.