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Chinese Herbs and Spices


liuzhou
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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

My Yunnan friend...only knows one dish that uses it. 牛肉薄荷 - Beef mint!

Down the internet rabbit hole, I found this video which discusses/uses a handful of both herbs and spices.My Yunan fr

Some interesting commentary on technique also.      I like the idea of only partially cooking the "green stuff" and letting it wilt further from residual heat.

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9 hours ago, Margaret Pilgrim said:

I like the idea of only partially cooking the "green stuff" and letting it wilt further from residual heat.

 

Yes. I'd seen that video.

 

The residual heat technique is very common in many cuisines. I use it almost every day and did so long before I came to China.

 

I have expanded more on Dai culture in this new topic.

 

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5. Black Cardamom – 草果 (cǎo guǒ) - Lanxangia tsaoko (or, less often in China, Amomum subulatum)

 

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Only distantly related to the green cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), black cardamoms are the seed pods of a herbaceous plant in the ginger family. They are dried over an open fire, giving them a distinct, strong smoky flavour. Do not substitute them for green cardamom, which has a much milder flavour.

 

The are sometimes used in five-spice powders, few of which actually contain only five spices. Numbers are often only vague in the Chinese language.

More often they are added to hot pots, stews and braises. It is best to crack the pods before dropping them into your pan. They are usually removed before serving.

Pre-ground black cardamom is a good buy if you like throwing money away. Always buy the pods. They will last a year or longer in a cool, dark place.

 

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6. Pepper – 胡椒 (hú jiāo) - Piper nigrum


I suppose I should mention common pepper. Both black and white pepper are available. However, white pepper is by far the most commonly used in Chinese cuisine. The ‘hot’ in traditional ‘hot and sour soup’’ is from white pepper, not chilli. After all, chilli is a relatively new ingredient to Asia having been introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, but not immediately being adopted. That didn't happen until the 18th century. Pepper was introduced from Kerala, India to which it is native, over two millennia ago. The Chinese name 胡椒 (hú jiāo), literally means ‘foreign pepper’.

 

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White Pepper

 

白胡椒 (bái hú jiāo), white pepper, the dried ripe seed of the plant, is sold everywhere, either as whole seeds or, for the terminally lazy and clueless, pre-ground. It is the go-to pepper for all Chinese cuisine, being used in every part of China. That said, it isn’t added to every savoury dish to the extent we do in the west. It, too, is in many five-spice powders. You are never going to see salt and pepper on a Chinese dining table.

 

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Black pepper

 

黑胡椒 (hēi hú jiāo), black pepper, made from the cooked unripe fruit which is then dried, used to be rather difficult to source, but today it is in most larger supermarkets in the cities, again whole corns or pre-ground. In the countryside or small towns, forget about it. It is mainly used in foreign dishes and everyone knows that the only sauce foreigners know how to make is the black pepper sauce lathered over every steak – the only meat foreigners eat. They also pour the same sauce over pasta and call it Italian! Jars of the revolting concoction are available in some supermarkets.

 

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Criminal Offence!


Many years ago, I bought both types of pepper in these grinders. I've never bought them that way since. I just keep refilling them from small (30g / 1oz) bags which I buy regularly.

 

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Illegitimi non carborundum

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7 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Illegitimi non carborundum

Love it. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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7. 孜然 (zī rán) – Cumin – Cuminum cyminum

 

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These, the seeds of a herbaceous plant, are probably China’s most used spice. Apart from being a key ingredient of some five-spice powders, it is used in a variety of other ways.

 

Perhaps most famous are the lamb (and other meat) kebabs (羊肉串 - yáng ròu chuàn) from China’s far west. These are available, grilled over charcoal burners, in roadside night markets in almost every city. Small pieces of fatty lamb (or mutton) are threaded on to sticks and grilled. As they cook, the vendor lavishly sprinkles them with cumin and chilli.

 

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Another well known dish, available all over, is Hunan Cumin Beef (孜然牛肉 – zī rán niú ròu). This, I often make at home. It’s a simple dish of fried beef with cumin and copious amounts of green and red chillis. Not one for the chilli wimps.

 

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Cumin is sold here both as whole seeds and pre-ground. As always, I recommend buying the whole seeds, lightly roasting them in a dry wok immediately before using and grinding them yourself, either with a mortar and pestle, as I do, or in an electric grinder. The pre-ground stuff, if not already stale by the time you buy it, will lose its flavour very rapidly.

 

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8. 甘草 (gān cǎo) – Liquorice / Licorice – Glycyrrhiza glabra / Glycyrrhiza uralensis

 

647201440_Licorice.thumb.jpg.36973814f359bdf08e176ccc6ba7f100.jpg

 

甘草 (gān cǎo, literally 'sweet grass') is the root of a leguminous plant containing compounds similar in taste to anise although the two plants are only very distantly related. It is widely used in Chinese confectionery as an “artificial” sweetener. The sweetness comes from glycyrrhizic acid, which is between 30 and 50 times sweeter than sugar. Like most of the herbs and spices mentioned here it is also used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), particularly in the form of a 'tea' made from the root plus other strange roots and what not.


But it is its use in cooking that we are interested. These small slices of the root are often added to hot pot broths and to many noodles dishes, including the very popular Lanzhou beef noodles and Liuzhou's signature 螺蛳粉 (luó sī fěn - river snail noodles).

 

In case you get bored by the cross-sectional cuts, they sometimes slice it laterally.

 

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I rarely use it in my own cooking.

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On 8/21/2021 at 6:47 PM, shain said:

 

What other (non gimmicky) unique flavors are popular?

 

I'll answer that later elsewhere, if you don't mind. It will be off-topic here.

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1 hour ago, Tropicalsenior said:

Does it change color as it Cooks? Why are licorice products black?

 

No, it doesn't change colour.

 

Most licorice products contain other ingredients (actual licorice content can be a low as 3%). so those may determine the colour, but I really don't know.

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9. 陈皮 (chén pí) - Orange / Tangerine Peel

 

1198187017_chenpi.thumb.jpg.513311826928df9ebcdcefc015205876.jpg

 

 

You may not think of orange or tangerine peel as an ingredient in your dinner. You might not think of it as a spice. The Chinese disagree. Dried orange peel is a common ingredient in many dishes, used just like any other spice. When you think about it many other spices are the peel of something.

 

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Tangerine Peel Drying on my Balcony

 

I can buy dried peel in every supermarket and market, but more often I dry my own. It couldn’t be easier. As you peel your oranges or tangerines or satsumas etc, after the eating the fruit, scrape away as much of the pith as you can from the peel and then leave the peel in a sunny spot until it turns hard. You could, of course, dry it in a low oven I suppose, but we don’t have ovens here – high or low. Once dry and hard, stick it into a suitable airtight container and that’s it. It keeps for years. I have some here at home which is about 5 years old. I opened the container about 20 minutes ago and was hit by the scent of oranges. In fact, the older stuff is more valued in many dishes.

 

The peel is used in many hot pots and stews, but also in stir-fries. I used it last night in this dish. More on that here.

 

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There  is no need to soak the peel before adding to braises, but for stir fried a short soak in warm water will soften it in minutes. I normally remove it from braises before serving.

 

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10. 小茴香 (xiǎo huí xiāng) – Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare

 

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Fennel Seeds

 

Fennel is a flowering plant related to carrots and native to the Mediterranean region, but now grown worldwide. It has a fine anise flavour. The seeds, leaves and bulb are all eaten. Here, in China the seeds are ubiquitous and are a main ingredient in five-spice powder. Just as often, though, they are used on their own, featuring in many dishes. Again soups, braises and hot pots are likely to feature fennel seeds. Less oftem, stir-fries.

 

The leaves and bulbs are used in northern China, especially Shandong Province, but I’ve never seen them here in the south. I can buy them online, though.

 

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Fennel Leaf

 

Do you know the connection between fennel and marathon racing?

 

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11. (jiāng) – Ginger – Zingiber officinale

 

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Ginger

 

(jiāng) – Ginger is, of course, one of the Chinese holy trinity of seasonings alongside garlic and scallions, although here in the south, the third is more often chilli. But, this most common, important spice is complicated.

 

Fresh ginger (生姜 - shēng jiāng), pictured above, comes in three main forms and each has its own uses. All are the rhizome of the plant.

 

Apart from the regular ginger we all know and which is just called (jiāng), there is also 嫩姜 (nèn jiāng). This is often pickled and is the same as the pickled ginger often served in Japanese restaurants as a palate cleanser between sushi or sashimi items. It is also eaten raw, by some.

 

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Young ginger

 

老姜 (lǎo jiāng) is old ginger. It is spicier than regular ginger, leading to the Chinese idiom 姜还是老的 (jiāng hái shì lǎo de là), literally ‘old ginger is hotter than young ginger’ meaning ‘experience counts’. 老姜 (lǎo jiāng) is often used in hotpots ans braised dishes for it's stronger taste.

 

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Old ginger

 

Sliced ginger is also dried and sold as a spice for hot pots. It is known as 干姜 (gān jiāng). Contrary to what some websites say, ground ginger powder (生姜粉 - shēng jiāng fěn) is not used in Chinese cooking nor is it a good substitute for fresh. The only places I can buy it are specialist bakery supply stores and larger supermarkets.

 

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Then we come to 沙姜 (shā jiāng) or 'sand ginger', also known as 山奈 (shān nài), although the latter more correctly refers to the whole plant rather than the rhizome. This is actually Kaempferia galanga or lesser galangal, a close relation to true ginger and more often associated with Thai cuisine, although it is used throughout SE Asia and India, as well as southern China. It comes both fresh and dried. It has a peppery camphorous taste.It comes both fresh and dried, although the latter is more common. It is mainly used in hot pot spice mixes.

 

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Fresh sand ginger

 

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Dried sand ginger

True galangal, 高良姜 (gāo liáng jiāng), Alpinia galanga, is available, if I go hunting, but is not well-known.


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Galangal

 

 

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9 hours ago, liuzhou said:

Do you know the connection between fennel and marathon racing?

 

No, I do not. 

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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47 minutes ago, Anna N said:

No, I do not. 

 

Marathon, which gave it's name to the race, in Ancient Greek meant "the field of fennel". In Modern Greek fennel is μάραθο, pronounced 'maratho'.

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14 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

Marathon, which gave it's name to the race, in Ancient Greek meant "the field of fennel". In Modern Greek fennel is μάραθο, prounced 'maratho'.

Thanks. I should never have abandoned that Masters in Classics.  

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...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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12. 香叶 (xiāng yè) or 月桂叶 (yuè guì) – Bay leaf – Laurus Nobilis

 

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Not a lot to say about bay leaves that you don’t already know. They do grow here in Guangxi but I’ve only ever seen them on sale dried.

 

Pretty much essential in hot pots throughout China. Also in most braised dishes.

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13. 火锅料 (huǒ guō liào) – Hot Pot Material or Stuff

 

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If you are not a regular cook or spice user, there is no need to fret. You can still throw together a quick hot pot broth. Most supermarket sell something like this bag of hot pot ingredients, enough for just one or maybe two meals. 3 元 CNY is $0.46 USD, $0.59 CND, ₤0.34 GBP or €0.39 EUR, so not exactly bank-busting. Are these available in Chinese / Asian markets overseas?

This one from my local supermarket contains bay leaf, orange peel, star anise, fennel seeds, sand ginger, cassia bark, Sichuan peppercorns and black cardamom. All you need.

 

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