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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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      A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.
       
      If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

      ‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

      Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

      In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.
       

      A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.
       
      But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.
       
      Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.
    • By liuzhou
      An eG member recently asked me by private message about mushrooms in China, so I thought I'd share some information here.

      This is what available in the markets and supermarkets in the winter months - i.e now. I'll update as the year goes by.
       
      FRESH FUNGI
       
      December sees the arrival of what most westerners deem to be the standard mushroom – the button mushroom (小蘑菇 xiǎo mó gū). Unlike in the west where they are available year round, here they only appear when in season, which is now. The season is relatively short, so I get stuck in.
       

       
      The standard mushroom for the locals is the one known in the west by its Japanese name, shiitake. They are available year round in the dried form, but for much of the year as fresh mushrooms. Known in Chinese as 香菇 (xiāng gū), which literally means “tasty mushroom”, these meaty babies are used in many dishes ranging from stir fries to hot pots.
       

       
      Second most common are the many varieties of oyster mushroom. The name comes from the majority of the species’ supposed resemblance to oysters, but as we are about to see the resemblance ain’t necessarily so.
       

       
      The picture above is of the common oyster mushroom, but the local shops aren’t common, so they have a couple of other similar but different varieties.
       
      Pleurotus geesteranus, 秀珍菇 (xiù zhēn gū) (below) are a particularly delicate version of the oyster mushroom family and usually used in soups and hot pots.
       

       
      凤尾菇 (fèng wěi gū), literally “Phoenix tail mushroom”, is a more robust, meaty variety which is more suitable for stir frying.
       

       
      Another member of the pleurotus family bears little resemblance to its cousins and even less to an oyster. This is pleurotus eryngii, known variously as king oyster mushroom, king trumpet mushroom or French horn mushroom or, in Chinese 杏鲍菇 (xìng bào gū). It is considerably larger and has little flavour or aroma when raw. When cooked, it develops typical mushroom flavours. This is one for longer cooking in hot pots or stews.
       

       
      One of my favourites, certainly for appearance are the clusters of shimeji mushrooms. Sometimes known in English as “brown beech mushrooms’ and in Chinese as 真姬菇 zhēn jī gū or 玉皇菇 yù huáng gū, these mushrooms should not be eaten raw as they have an unpleasantly bitter taste. This, however, largely disappears when they are cooked. They are used in stir fries and with seafood. Also, they can be used in soups and stews. When cooked alone, shimeji mushrooms can be sautéed whole, including the stem or stalk. There is also a white variety which is sometimes called 白玉 菇 bái yù gū.
       

       

       
      Next up we have the needle mushrooms. Known in Japanese as enoki, these are tiny headed, long stemmed mushrooms which come in two varieties – gold (金針菇 jīn zhēn gū) and silver (银针菇 yín zhēn gū)). They are very delicate, both in appearance and taste, and are usually added to hot pots.
       

       

       
      Then we have these fellows – tea tree mushrooms (茶树菇 chá shù gū). These I like. They take a bit of cooking as the stems are quite tough, so they are mainly used in stews and soups. But their meaty texture and distinct taste is excellent. These are also available dried.
       

       
      Then there are the delightfully named 鸡腿菇 jī tuǐ gū or “chicken leg mushrooms”. These are known in English as "shaggy ink caps". Only the very young, still white mushrooms are eaten, as mature specimens have a tendency to auto-deliquesce very rapidly, turning to black ‘ink’, hence the English name.
       

       
      Not in season now, but while I’m here, let me mention a couple of other mushrooms often found in the supermarkets. First, straw mushrooms (草菇 cǎo gū). Usually only found canned in western countries, they are available here fresh in the summer months. These are another favourite – usually braised with soy sauce – delicious! When out of season, they are also available canned here.
       

       
      Then there are the curiously named Pig Stomach Mushrooms (猪肚菇 zhū dù gū, Infundibulicybe gibba. These are another favourite. They make a lovely mushroom omelette. Also, a summer find.
       

       
      And finally, not a mushroom, but certainly a fungus and available fresh is the wood ear (木耳 mù ěr). It tastes of almost nothing, but is prized in Chinese cuisine for its crunchy texture. More usually sold dried, it is available fresh in the supermarkets now.
       

       
      Please note that where I have given Chinese names, these are the names most commonly around this part of China, but many variations do exist.
       
      Coming up next - the dried varieties available.
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