Vegetable Dishes 39: Cowpea

Stir-fry cowpea pods with pork. When the are about to be served, remove the meat and keep the cowpeas.1 Use the most tender parts of the pod and pull off any tough fibres.


1The pods of the cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is cooked very similarly to how lentil pods are cooked. You could probably do the same with green beans.

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 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.

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 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.

Vegetable Dishes 17: Garlic Chives

Garlic chives are a strong flavoured hun food.1 Reserve the white portions of garlic chives and stir-fry with dried shrimp for a great dish. They are also good stir-fried with fresh shrimp, clams, or pork.2


1In the Suiyuan Shidan, the term hun (葷) is used as an umbrella term in a few places not only for Chinese Buddhist vegetarian ideas of what are or are not forbidden foods, but also to note various assertive stenches or flavours. The former category consists of all animal based food as well as all plants form the garlic family, which are believed to disrupt one’s Buddhist practice. The latter, although less common in modern usage, nevertheless feels appropriate considering how delightfully sinful these strong flavours and smell are.

2Disappointingly little is said here about this very tasty and easy-to-grow vegetable, but perhaps it’s omitted because it’s considered common knowledge?

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”.