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Dried Ingredients in Chinese Cooking


David Ross
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About 15 years ago I started using dried ingredients in Chinese Cooking. Dried scallops mixed with Chinese sausage and sticky rice then wrapped in lotus leaves and steamed, dried shrimp stir-fried with minced pork and spooned over fried Chinese long beans are just two of my favorite dishes using dried ingredients.

Venturing into the kitchen with the thought of using dried ingredients can be pretty overwhelming without a bit of education. I took numerous trips to Asian markets and gradually built-up a small library of Chinese cookbooks before I felt comfortable that I had a basic knowledge of the different types of dried ingredients. While packaging today has come a long way by offering both Chinese and English labels, there are still plenty of little plastic bags that don't give you a written clue as to what's inside. Gnarly, dried shreds of what looks like something out of a sci-fi movie can be somewhat unappealing-yet once you get beyond the lack of visual attractiveness and start experimenting in the kitchen you find that dried ingredients add an incredible amount of texture and flavor to Chinese dishes.

One of the dishes I've somewhat mastered is a stir-fry of Scallops or Prawns with Wood Ear Fungus and Cucumber. Wood Ear Fungus, or Dried Black Fungus, sort of looks like bits of dried black leather before it's reconstituted in hot water.

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Like any dried fungus or mushroom, 30 minutes in hot water brings Wood Ear Fungus back to life. Cut into strips, it adds a bit of crisp texture and mild flavor to the dish. Fresh cucumber adds another layer of texture and a clean, fresh flavor which accents rich Sea Scallops. The sauce is a basic mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, ginger and clam juice thickened with cornstarch.

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Next week I'm going to try my first attempt using Dried Lily Bulb. Any ideas on what type of dish I should use them in?

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I purchased a big bag of the dried lily buds about 18 years ago and played with them. Not so much of a taste as a texture as I recall. I was enamored of the concept I think. I tossed them in everything from soups to marinades.

The wood ear mushrooms are essential in my Vietnamese fried spring rolls. One tip I can offer is to trim away the very woody base after soaking. Not something you want to bite down on.

I want to experiment more with dried shrimp and other seafoods. The shrimp comes up often in middle and south American cooking as well. I know quality is important so I am hesitant to just pick up the ones in the plastic bag that are in every major grocery chain with the budget spices. Dried squid is sold in the jerky aisle in all of my Asian markets and I have noted others mentioning toasting it over fire.

It is a fascinating facet of cooking to explore. I do recall that some of the dried items I have seen in the Chinatown markets that seem to specialize in the various dried goods were astonishingly expensive. Of course they are dried and not that heavy. The scallops come to mind as one of those items. That's before we even get to shark fin :shock:

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I use lily buds in my hot and sour soup as well. Do you tie a knot in your lily buds before adding to the soup? It keeps them from shredding.

There are actually two kinds of ear fungus - wood ear with the light colour on one side, and cloud ear which are more delicate and almost transluscent. The wood ear has more cruch, and the cloud ear, again a more delicate "crunch" A visiting professor from China came for supper at my house, and she brough a bag of cloud ear and was cooking it as a gift for her visit. She soaked it until softened, then stir-fried the lot with ginger and garlic. She said it was a very special dish...I was not too impressed with the lack of flavour but appreciated the gesture.

I use wood ear in hot and sour soup - can handle the cooking better. The cloud ear, I add to Budhha's Delight - a great dish for Chinese New Year, along with lotus root, gingko nuts, Chinese mushrooms, etc.

The dried lily bulb, I use in a savory soup

(say-may tong- four flavours - healthy soup) along with rehydrated lotus nuts, and other herbs. You can also use it in a sweet soup along with lotus nuts, peanuts, red beans, and sometimes thin vermecelli.

Fresh lily bulbs are incredible...touch of sweetness, good for the lungs. I usually make a savory soup with pork stock.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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The wood ear mushrooms are essential in my Vietnamese fried spring rolls. One tip I can offer is to trim away the very woody base after soaking. Not something you want to bite down on.

If you are really lazy, and I often am, you can buy the wood ear mushrooms already sliced into thin strips. No looking out for woody bases then.

I like the Lotus nuts. Put them into soups.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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Jo-mel,

These are fresh lily bulbs, not the buds. But I have been tempted to use the fresh lily buds from a friend's garden. She has a massive bed of them, and she's an organic gardener. Her +80 year old mother tends the beds lovingly, in that, she cuts the flowers off daily and lays them out to dry in a flat box in perfect rows. :smile: I always think about taking some home, then we'd get talking and I'd forget! My own garden...too many grand-dogs visiting... :rolleyes:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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What types of Lilies give the tastiest bulbs,please? As far as my limited knowledge goes, garden varieties of the true Lilies, LILIUM, most commonly are sold under the ASIATIC [upward facing, relatively scentless], ORIENTAL [tall, fragrant,trumpets] TURKS-CAP, Easter Lilies [potted, seasonal] and Species & Specialists types.

The ORANGE wild DAYLILIES [HEMEROCALLIS] are the ones for the buds in hot & sour soup, I think, the Golden Needles, although people say their emerging shoots etc. are good to eat, too.

Which of the true Lily bulbs have you found to be good? And how do you cook them? When are they best eaten? When the leaves are just emerging in spring, or at any time of the year? I read somewhere that Lilium pumilum bulbs are good eating! This is a beautiful red lily with SMALL bulbs; they also do not live long unlike the persistent Turks cap. I should hate to torment this lovely plant to get the tiniest mouthful of questionable taste!!!

Thanks!

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I'm not sure of the name of the lily that yields edible bulbs. After a most uncomfortable "accident" years ago, I don't eat the edible ones in my garden because they have cross-pollinated with other lilies in the garden. I always buy the bulbs in the Asian supermarket when I go into the city. The lilies are orange, upright. I have saved the inner sprout from the bulbs I buy and planted them because my Mom wanted me to. They do grow, so if you have an area far from other lilies, try growing your own. Mom said one has black "berries " on the stalk, the other variety doesn't, but I can't remembe which one is edible! Mom is gone now, so I can't even ask her. I might check with one of the "aunties" next time I visit their gardens.

The fresh lily bulbs, I use them for a savory soup. Boil the heck out of some pork neck bones for stock. Add the cleaned and separated bulb layers, then add seasoned, velveted pork slices. Bring to a boil and enjoy! You have to be careful not to over-cook them. The soup has a sweet flavour - not like candy tho', and you can really get the lily bulb flavour. I'm not sure how to describe it.

The same if you're making sweet dessert soup - add the fresh lily bulbs last as they are very tender.

You really have to separate the layers to clean them - lots of dirt wedged in. I found the best way is to trim off the bottom just enough to losen the layers. Separate them and soak them in a bowl of cold water. You may need to rinse a couple of times.

I suppose you could try them raw, in a salad? Never thought of that. I just do what my Mom did. :smile:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Do you tie a knot in your lily buds before adding to the soup? It keeps them from shredding.

I suggest: after soaking the dried lily buds, trim off the hard knobby end, then tie the bud into a knot. Someone told me the knots taste better. Not sure about that, but I like the texture of the knots better myself.

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The dried lily bulb, I use in a savory soup

(say-may tong- four flavours - healthy soup) along with rehydrated lotus nuts, and other herbs. You can also use it in a sweet soup along with lotus nuts, peanuts, red beans, and sometimes thin vermecelli.

Fresh lily bulbs are incredible...touch of sweetness, good for the lungs. I usually make a savory soup with pork stock.

Do you mean buds versus bulbs - as in the buds of the emerging flowers versus the bulb that is in the ground? Here is what I assume we are talking about. dcarch used the fresh flowers along with some buds in this post (scroll down to third, fourth and fifth images).

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I've been trying to use 'Mei Gan Cai' (a type of dried mustard) lately in 'Gan Bian Dou Jiao' (fried string beans) without much success. I've tried everything but the food processor to get this stuff soft enough to eat. Anyone have any pointers? Maybe I just need a different brand.

This is the Wikipedia link for 'Mei Gan Cai'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meigan_cai

Mei Gan Cai.jpg

Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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Not sure what to make of the explanation from Wiki.

If it is just dried bok choy - then I soak it over night to rehyrdate, then rub it between my fists like I was washing clothes the old-fashioned way to soften the stalks. Bring a pot of pork neckbones to boil for stock, then add the choi, Chinese date, Chinese almond, and waterchestnut to make a soup. Bring it all to a boil then simmer for a couple of hours. Season before serving.

If it is salted and fermented "mui choi", then I'd soak it for about half an hour, rinse off some of the saltbefore mincing it. Cut up some beef into strips, marinade it in some cornstarch, salt, oil and layer it losely in a wide bowl with a lip at least an inch deep. Layer the mui choi on top, add some thinly sliced chili peppers and mint leaves. Steam until the meat is done.

There is another one that is just salted and not fermented - ham choi - salted veg. It's more of a salted turnip, but I have recently found one made from dried bok choi and rolled up in little balls. I rehydrate them to flavour soups such as melon soup, lotus root soup. Again you have to rinse off much of the salt. A little goes a long ways.

These kinds of preserved vegetables will never be tender like the fresh ones. The joy of eating is the chewiness, the flavour...

These are all very tradional Chinese family fare. If it's not the kind of dried veg you're referring to...then I don't know what to tell you. :blink:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I've been trying to use 'Mei Gan Cai' (a type of dried mustard) lately in 'Gan Bian Dou Jiao' (fried string beans) without much success. I've tried everything but the food processor to get this stuff soft enough to eat. Anyone have any pointers? Maybe I just need a different brand.

For what it's worth, I think zha cai or ya cai are more common, at least in most versions of gan bian si ji dou and similar dishes that I've had.

I haven't cooked with mei gan cai myself, but my girlfriend's mom uses it sometimes. I think you soak it first, as Dejah suggests.

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Thank you so much for the lily bulb information. For the beginner, only trust the Chinese grocery, seems to be the best bet!!!!

As you mentioned, the BUD, the dry Golden Needles, definitely originate in the WILD ORANGE DAYLILY, HEMEROCALLIS. You can get this plant identified by your Park Ranger & take a start [hopefully] from a wild stand. Not the cultivated yellow or red ones. Why, don't ask me; received wisdom!

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I've been trying to use 'Mei Gan Cai' (a type of dried mustard) lately in 'Gan Bian Dou Jiao' (fried string beans) without much success. I've tried everything but the food processor to get this stuff soft enough to eat. Anyone have any pointers? Maybe I just need a different brand.

This is the Wikipedia link for 'Mei Gan Cai'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meigan_cai

Mei Gan Cai.jpg

I use this for red cooked pork. Soak it in warm water till softened, about 30 - 40 mins. Give it a good rinse, it might contain a bit of sand. Cut off any hard stalky bits (I forgot to do this once - it made for very interesting eating). Chop up and throw in braised or stewed dishes.

I think mei gan cai is a type of mustard. I've never had it in the fried green bean dish, it's usually zha cai (pickeled mustard?) that's used, as Will mentions.

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let's see....dried ingredients i commonly use:

besides seaweed (wakame and nori and etc) and wood ear mushrooms and lily buds...this stuff called bamboo fungus, yuba, dried lotus seeds, dried goji, dried shrimp and abalone, dried scallops, dried cuttlefish, dried chinese sausages, dried pork floss, dried fish floss, dried shiitakes of course, um....i'm sure i have plenty plenty more. there are times where dinner is more of a pantry affair.

goji + ginseng + cornish hen steamed was a popular thing my mother made in winter. as a kid it was too bitter but now i quite enjoy it.

mom also made cloud ear with red bean soup. personally i hated it----i thought the texture was like plastic.

oh, bird's nest. but that was mostly medicinal.

i still eat dried cuttlefish as a snack.

i eat dried pork and fish floss with congee, or with mantou, or sometimes with bagels. don't judge.

mom makes dried yuba, rehydrated, stir fried with celery.

bamboo fungus is amazing but traps a lot of dirt, so be careful.

my grandmother always ties lily buds and seaweeds into knots. sometimes you can find stuff pre-knotted.

my dad loves those dried plum candy things. you know, in the paper white and blue wrappers.

in college, dried chinese sausages and my rice cooker kept me from starvation and gaining the infamous freshmen 15.

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All of the above... :smile:

Lap cheung - Chinese sausage...When hubby and I were younge, we used to go on road trips, Chinese sausage and rice were the staples cooked on a Coleman camp stove. Cheap, kept well, and delcious in the fresh air! Lap yuk and salted eggs also served us well. Chinese beef jerky is better than sunflower seedswhile driving - less messy too!

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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No one uses that food of the gods, salted fish (especially threadfin!)? Mmmmm. . . salted fish fried rice is one of the best dishes ever! Brought one home from Thailand once. A whole salted fish, that is. Had to wrap it in several layers of aluminium foil (purchased just for that purpose) and a few plastic bags to help prevent the smell from escaping.

And dried mandarin orange peels. Those are awfully good, too.

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How could I have forgotten salted fish!

The best salted fish for fried rice is Sam gna wong. These are available from Sun Wah, Rona. I like big chunks steamed over pork with lots of ginger on top.

Chun pei - dried orange peel...

How about those peels cut into little bits - kids call them nose pickings... :wub:

Love fish maw soup or foo juk (dried bean curd sticks)soup with rehydrated oysters

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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How could I have forgotten salted fish!

The best salted fish for fried rice is Sam gna wong. These are available from Sun Wah, Rona. I like big chunks steamed over pork with lots of ginger on top.

Chun pei - dried orange peel...

How about those peels cut into little bits - kids call them nose pickings... :wub:

Love fish maw soup or foo juk (dried bean curd sticks)soup with rehydrated oysters

I've never been a fan of fish maw (just saw some yesterday at Young's and was remembering having to soak it for my dad). What does it taste like? Or is it eaten more for the texture than the flavour?

Do you know the characters of sam gna wong? Haven't been to Sun Wah in forever and a day (there's a new market open on south Pembina called Daily Mart or something like that, and another new market opening on Pembina just north of Bishop Grandin called ING--someone told my mother the characters were written the Taiwanese way), so I may have to make a trip out there to check it out!

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      Yet, in that quarter of a century, I've seldom seen a prawn cracker. And egg fried rice is usually eaten as a quick dish on its own, not usually as an accompaniment to main courses. Every menu featured a starter of prawn/shrimp toast which I have never seen in mainland China - just once in Hong Kong.

      But first, one myth needs to be dispelled. The starving Chinese! When I was a child I was encouraged to eat the particularly nasty bits on the plate by being told that the starving Chinese would lap them up. My suggestion that we could post it to them never went down too well. At that time (the late fifties) there was indeed a terrible famine in China (almost entirely manmade (Maomade)).

      When I first arrived in China, it was after having lived in Soviet Russia and I expected to see the same long lines of people queuing up to buy nothing very much in particular. Instead, on my first visit to a market (in Hunan Province), I was confronted with a wider range of vegetables, seafood, meat and assorted unidentified frying objects than I have ever seen anywhere else. And it was so cheap I couldn't convert to UK pounds or any other useful currency.
       
      I'm going to start with some of the simpler issues - later it may get ugly!

      1. Chinese people eat everything with chopsticks.
       

       
      No, they don't! Most things, yes, but spoons are also commonly used in informal situations. I recently had lunch in a university canteen. It has various stations selling different items. I found myself by the fried rice stall and ordered some Yangzhou fried rice. Nearly all the students and faculty sitting near me were having the same.

      I was using my chopsticks to shovel the food in, when I noticed that I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was using spoons. On investigating, I was told that the lunch break is so short at only two-and-a-half hours that everyone wants to eat quickly and rush off for their compulsory siesta.
       
      I've also seen claims that people eat soup with chopsticks. Nonsense. While people use chopsticks to pick out choice morsels from the broth, they will drink the soup by lifting their bowl to their mouths like cups. They ain't dumb!

      Anyway, with that very mild beginning, I'll head off and think which on my long list will be next.

      Thanks to @KennethT for advice re American-Chinese food.
       
       
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