Vegetable Dishes 29: Two Ways of Preparing Wheat Gluten

For the first method, fry the gluten with oil in a wok until toasted and dry, then braise them plain with chicken broth and mushrooms. For the next method do not toast them but rather soak them in water. Cut into slices and stir-fry with concentrated chicken extract, then add winter bamboo shoots and green onions. The household of examiner Zhang Huaishu prepares this extremely well. When plating, it is more suitable to roughly tear the gluten than slicing them. Stir-fry them with the soaking liquid of dried shrimp and sweet soy-sauce1 for an exceptionally good dish.


1Tianjiang (甜醬), is basically a sweet fermented sauce. The question though, is what is it. Is it sweet flour sauce (tianmian sauce)? Or is it sweet soy-sauce like in Taiwanese thick soysauce? Or is it a soy sauce with sugar added? I defer the interpretation to the rtrieader.
2Mianjin (麵筋), literally translated is “dough tendon”, which may sound odd but is arguably exactly what gluten does for a ball of dough.

How to make gluten for cuisine:
Making wheat gluten for dishes is easy. First, make a ball of dough that’s not too firm nor soft. Knead it until the gluten in the dough is well-formed then allow to rest. Next, take the ball of dough and soak it in a large bucket of water with a colander, while lightly rubbing, squeezing, and recollecting the ball of dough. The wheat starch will start washing out and the water will turn cloudy. Change the water and repeat. After a while, work the ball of dough harder and squeeze and fold it in the water. The dough will start feel more “gummy” than “doughy” and the rinsing liquid will become clearer as most of the starch has already been washed out. That ball by then would consist of almost all gluten.


Vegetable Dishes 23: Bok Choy

Bok Choy1 can be stir-fried, or braised with bamboo shoots. It can also be braised together with slices of dried-cured ham or chicken broth.


1 The names for the Chinese mustards are a fantastic mess be it in English or Chinese. When people people nowadays refer to baicai(白菜), they usually mean the “大白菜”, or Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis), which in the Suiyuan Shidan is referred to as huangyacai (黃芽菜). The “baicai” referred to here is probably a mustard with the green leaves and thick white stalks related to the Napa cabbage, and similar to what is commonly sold in North America under the name “bok choy” (B. rapa subsp. chinensis), hence the translation. Of course this assumes that the braising described in the recipe is short (a few minutes) since longer braising (>10 minutes) is usually done with chinenesis

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 8: Frozen Tofu

Freeze tofu for one night, cut into square pieces, and boil them to rid them of their bean-like smell. Add them to a mixture of chicken broth and extracts, ham extract, and pork extract and braise. When serving, remove the chicken and ham and the like, leaving only the shitake and the winter bamboo shoots.

When tofu has been braised for a long time its texture becomes spongy, with its surface becoming honey-combed like frozen tofu.1 For stir-frying use soft tofu, while braising should be done with firmer tofu.2 The household of Officer Jia Zhihua cooks tofu with mushrooms, even during the summer they follow the same recipe for frozen tofu, since it is very good. Do not use strong flavoured hun meat broths3 for this dish since doing so would destroy to delicate light flavours of this dish.


1I think Yuan Mei is trying to say normal tofu looking like frozen tofu after prolonged boiling.

2This feels slightly off on a tangent, and may not apply exclusively to frozen tofu. In fact, the rest of the paragraph goes on a tangent.

3Though the term hun 葷 (pronounced hoon) is commonly used to refer to any meat from any animal, this is clearly not the meaning here. When Yuan Mei say’s “葷湯”, or “hun soup”, he is not saying “animal broth” since there is already chicken and ham used to make this dish. Most likely he is referring to the stronger and richer tasting pork, and possibly beef broth, thus I translating it as such. It seems that every “vegetable” dish here is full of animal ingredients. This is still true for most Chinese vegetable dishes where lard and broth (or MSG) are “musts”.

Vegetable Dishes 6: Prefect Wang’s Babao Tofu

Take tender tofu, then slice and cut it until thoroughly pulverized. Add to it pulverized1 shitake, pulverized mushrooms, pulverized pine nuts, pulverized melon seeds, pulverized chicken, and pulverized dried-cured ham. Put everything into concentrated chicken extract, and boil2 the mixture until boiling, then plate and serve.3 One can also used douhua in place of the tofu. Eat this with a spoon and not with chopsticks.

Prefect Meng Ting recounted: “The recipe for this dish was bestowed by the Sagely Forefather4 to Minister Jian An. When the Minister went to acquire the recipe, the Imperial kitchens charged him one thousand taels of silver.”5 The Prefect’s ancestor was Master Lou Cun, who was born to the aformentioned Minister, which is how he got the recipe.


1I have translated xue 屑 as pulverized, which is not the best or most accurate translation. However, I feel it’s better than calling it “bits” or “crumbs”, since they have the same meaning of even fineness that one get by cutting in an orderly manner. The term “dice” would give the “orderly cut” meaning, but even if one said “dice finely” one still cannot describe the fineness required, thus we have “pulverized” until something better comes along.

2The actual term used here is chaogun 炒滾, which literally means “stir-fry until boiling”. Basically you boil this thick mixture at high heat and stir continuously, just like you are stir-frying food.

3This feels like a more tedious version of wensidofu 文思豆腐). While Wensi needs everything to be cut into fine threads, this require another set of cuts to “dice” all the ingredients into bits around <1mm cubed.

4The Qing Dynasty Sagely Forefather/Saintly Ancestor 聖祖 is none other than Emperor Kangxi.

5A recipe from the Qing Imperial kitchens, all the way back around 300 years ago!

6Babao 八寶 means “eight-treasure”. While I could translate it as such, I think it cheapens this otherwise culturally rich phrase. If interested, the reader should go figure it out for themselves what it’s all about.