Vegetable Dishes 38: Braised Fresh Water Caltrop

To braise fresh1 water caltrop,2 boil them in chicken broth. Before serving, remove half the broth. Only those that were see harvested from the pond are fresh and those only those that float on the surface of water are tender. Braise them soft with new chestnuts and ginko nuts for an especially good dish. One can also eat them with sugar or as a snack dish.3


1This implies that dried water caltrop fruits were also available
2The water caltrop (Trapa natans), sometimes mistakenly called “water chestnut” (for whatever reason). This plant’s fruits looks so strange and menacing that one of it’s common English names is “Devil Pod”.
3We did this as kids, dipping freshly boiled and shelled ones in granulated sugar.


Vegetable Dishes 37: Winter melon

There are numerous uses for winter melon. It can be combined with bird’s nest, fish, eel, rice eel, and ham. The Dinghui Monastery of Yangzhou prepares it particularly well. Their dish is red as blood amber and cooked without use of strong tasting “hun”1 broth.


1Hun, pronounced “hoon”, is a word indicating things that should not be consumed by Chinese Buddhists. This includes all animals and certain vegetables like onions, garlic, and garlic chives.
2Most likely a printer’s typo here, yangzhou zouhui an (揚州走慧庵) should be yangzhou dinghui an (揚州定慧庵). The former does not exist while the latter is a well know monastery.

Vegetable Dishes 36: Braised Wood Ear and Shitake

The Dinghui Monastery of Yangzhou knows how to braise wood ear until they double their thickness and braise shitake until they triple in thickness.1 Prepare a mushroom broth first to use as the cooking liquid in this recipe.


1Extra thick and extra big? Whenever I hear about how well someone is about to reconstitute some dried food item, a process which is referred in Chinese cuisine as fa (發), I can’t help but think they added something to the soaking liquid. One of the more popular agent’s used for “Fa”-ing meats and dried foods in modern Chinese cuisine is baking soda. A tiny pinch in chicken makes it tender and gives the meat a slight “bounce”, too much gives everything an odd flavour and texture. I’ve had chicken that is so over “fa”-ed that it has the texture of fish. Perhaps the monastery has added something to make their reconstituted wood ears and shitake so thick?

Vegetable Dishes 35: Calabash and Cucumbers

First, stir-fry slices of grass carp, then add the calabash and braise everything together in soy-sauce. Prepare cucumbers in the same manner.


1Huzi (瓠子) is the long calabash (Lagenaria siceraria var. Hispida)
2Huanggua (黃瓜), literally “yellow melon” is the common cucumber. The name comes from the colour of the mature cucumber fruit.

Vegetable Dishes 34: Lentil Pods

Gather freshly picked lentil pods1 and stir-fry with pork broth, removing any pork and keeping just the pods.2 If one is stir-frying it plain, then it is better to use more oil. Soft and fleshy ones are the best. Those that are coarse and thin were grown from poor soil and should not be eaten.


1Bian dou (扁豆) can either be the slightly poisonous hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) or the lentil (Lens culinaris). I am inclined to believe that this is the latter in pod form since lentils pods are prepared stir-fried with pork in Chinese cuisine even today. Furthermore, the former is not commonly consumed.

2Cooking the plant ingredients with meat for its fat and flavour and then discarding it. Wasteful, but not uncommon in the kitchens of the wealthy, then and now.

Vegetable Dishes 33: Tofu skin

Soak the tofu skin1 until supple, and mix with autumn sauce, vinegar, dried shrimp to make dish well suited for summer. The household of Jiang Shilang makes a nice dish by adding sea cucumbers to it. It is also good in a soup with laver and peeled shrimp. It can also be braised with mushrooms and bamboo shoots for a very good clear soup. Cook the tofu skin until soft.

Monk Jing Xiu of Wu Lake rolls the tofu skin into a cylinder, cuts them into segments, lightly browns them in oil, and braises them with mushroom for an excellent dish. Do not add chicken broth.


1 Tofu skin is not technically a tofu but rather made from the membrane of soy protein that forms on the surface of simmering soy milk. This is similar to what happens when one simmer cow’s milk on the stove. This thin membrane is lifted off the milk, folded, dried, and then shipped and sold everywhere you can buy Chinese dried goods. However, like many things, it is best to get them fresh. The Japanese make something more or less the same known as “yuba”.

Vegetable Dishes 32: Taro Geng

The texture of taro is soft, smooth, and dense, and quite suitable for cooking with strong-flavoured meat or in simple vegetable dishes. It can be chopped finely and made into duck geng1, braised with pork, or braised with tofu, soy-sauce, and water. The household of Official Xu Zhaohuang chooses small taro and braises them with tender chicken for a incredibly good soup. Sadly, the recipe for this has been lost. On the whole, one uses only seasonings for preparation of this dish and does not use of any water.


1 A geng is a soup made with rich broth thickened with starch. It is perhaps one of the most ancient Chinese dishes. Incidentally, many of the Chinese soups served today are technically geng.