Vegetable Dishes 15: Loosestrife Greens

The preparation is the same as chrysanthemum greens. They are produced in Xin’an county1 upstream of Changjiang.


1Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) is known in Chinese as “pearl greens”. Not sure why this is so.
2 Xin-an county is located in Luoyang City in Henan Province


Vegetable Dishes 14: Stone Hair

The preparation is the same as pearl algae. During summer, it is especially good mixed with sesame oil, vinegar, and autumn sauce.


1This is an algae Ulva compressa or Ulva intestinalis, found growing on the rocks and boulders on the sea side. I originally thought of this was another name for facai (髮菜, Nostoc flagelliforme) but in looking at a variety of ancient and old medical texts, we can see the ingredient is most likely that of genus Ulva.

Vegetable Dishes 12: Pearl Algae

Carefully pick through the pearl algae1 to clean them through. Boil them until they are somewhat soft then braise them in chicken and ham broth. When serving the dish, it is best when only the pearls are visible and not the chicken or the ham used in its preparation. The household of Tao Fangbo excels at preparing this dish.


1This is a type of cyanobacteria that forms jelly-like round colonies in the bottom of shallow freshwater ponds. The species are usually Nostoc commen v spheroides or Nostoc pruniforme. Still, their full scientific name or their terrible common names (mare’s egg, star jelly) don’t adequately describe how amazing these things look, so I’ve invented a better name: “Pearl Algae”.
Yes, I know they’re are not technically algae, but they look somewhat like them, and they are pearl-like. The Chinese name gexianme (葛仙米), translated badly as “pattern immortal’s rice”. To me,  the name pointed out its otherworldly appearance, but in actuality refers to the an ancient Chinese mystic, Ge Hong (葛洪, see Comments). IMHO these spherical algae-like objects are remarkably beautiful.
It’s relative, Nostoc flagelliforme is also commonly eaten and know as facai (髮菜), which literally translates as “hair vegetable” due to it’s stringy appearance. As with its hairy relative, pearl algae are usually sold dried in Chinese groceries.

Vegetable Dishes 11: Fiddleheads

When preparing fidddleheads1 one must not be frugal, first remove all the fern’s mature branches and leaves, keeping only the straight shoots.2 Rinse them until clean and simmer until soft,3 then braise them in chicken broth. One must use only the shortest and most tender specimens since these are the most plump.


1I was tempted to translated this as bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). However the last sentence says that the short tender shoots of the ferm should be used, which makes these fiddleheads (Canadian term for immature fernshoot tips) enough for me.

2Yuan Mei says zhigen 直根 here, which means “straight roots”. Although one might think this refers to the woody rhizomes, I believe that he is actually trying to say geng (莄or 梗) which sounds similar to gen (根) and refers instead to the straight peduncle-like leaf shoots that come out from the center of a fern. To this day, the leave shoots are the parts of the plant that are collected in many parts of Asian and the world as a vegetable, and never the roots or rhizome of the plant.

3This describes the important preboiling process to leach some of the noxious, and possibly carcinogenic substances out of the fern.

Vegetable Dishes 10: Chrysanthemum Greens

Sear the chrysanthemum greens tips in hot oil until they start shrivelling, than add them to chicken broth to boil. When ready to plate, add a hundred stalks of pine mushroom.1


1Search for the term songjun 松菌 or “Pine fungus” and two different types of mushrooms show up. First is the matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake), the other is red pine mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus). I believe that it is less likely to be the former, due to its large size and firm texture that is ill suited for a quick cooking described here. Furthurmore, matsutake is commonly referred as songrong 松茸. Still, I admit I may be wrong as such I’m doing a literal translation and let those curious refer to this note.

Vegetable Dishes 9: Shrimp-sauce Tofu

Use an aged shrimp-sauce to substitute for the light soy-sauce when stir-frying tofu. Both sides of the tofu should be pan-fried until golden brown. The wok must be hot. Cook with rendered lard, green onions, and Szechuan pepper.


1Xiayou 蝦油 (translated literally as “shrimp oil”), or shrimp-sauce, is a soy sauce that has been boiled and aged with shrimp, and probably much more umami and rich in taste than plain soy sauce. See the later section on Shrimp-sauce. In some Chinese communities, xiayou is sometimes used to describe an oil flavoured by frying shrimp heads and shells in vegetable oil. However, this is not the case here since Yuan Mei defines it in a later chapter and indicates it here that it substitutes regular light soy-sauce.