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Eating vegetables in Taiwan

Eating vegetables, especially the green ones, plays a fundamental role in the Chinese daily diet. In Taiwan, there are so many vegetables that you have probably never heard of before, such as water spinach, pak choi, young sprouts of sweet potatoes, sponge melon, bitter melon…  Those vegetables are often cooked, served hot or at room temperature, there are relatively fewer presented in salads.

If you are a newbie to Chinese cooking, visiting a local market and trying to buy some local vegetables could be quite confusing. I’m sharing here some very basic, popular and easy cooking vegetables with some useful cooking tips.

Pak choi, Qing Jiang Cai 青江菜

It’s a little green vegetable, a member of the cabbage family. The most popular way of cooking is cutting them into small pieces and stir-frying with some garlic and hot oil in a wok. Also, you can just boil them in salted water (1-2 minutes), to make a salad with a classic dressing sauce (recipe at the end of the article).

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Water spinach, Kong Xin Cai空心菜

This long stem green vegetable is usually stir-fried in a wok with chopped garlic and some red chili if you like it spicy. The cooking time,  for all the other green vegetables, is very short: around 2 minutes is enough.

Taiwanese round cabbage, Gao Li Cai 髙麗菜

This round Taiwanese cabbage, grown in high altitude, is extremely juicy and crunchy. The popular way to cook it is to tear the cabbage leaves into pieces by hand and then stir-fry it with garlic, and/or with some dried tiny shrimps (Sakura shrimps 樱花蝦).

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Chinese cabbage Pe Tsai  大白菜

A versatile vegetable that can be used for different types of cooking: stir-fried, stew, soup, salad, or can be fermented for kimchi.

Long aubergine, Qie Zi茄子

The long and thin shaped aubergine is a very appreciated vegetable in Chinese cooking. Due to its thin skin and tender flesh, it takes less time for cooking than the western classical aubergine.

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The most common way to cook it is stir-frying, with garlic, green onion and soy sauce. The cooked aubergine is juicy, tender and melts in the mouth. Accompanied by a bowl of plain rice, this makes a simple but delicious meal. 

How to cook the green leafy vegetables

In Asia, we are very fond of green leafy vegetables 绿葉菜 such as spinach, pak choi, water spinach, amaranth leaves, and sweet potato leaves.  After removing wilted or damaged leaves, we wash the vegetable briefly. Then we cut them by separating leaves and stems. We always add the stems in the wok at first since the leaves are getting cooked only for several seconds.

The cooking is extremely simple and quick by using a wok or a sauce pan. To make your dishes a success, remember to prepare all the ingredients in advance because once you turn on the heat, you will cook straight away and all the cooking will last for only 2 or 3 minutes, sometimes even less.

Cooking green leaves vegetable step by step:

  • Pre-cut the vegetable into pieces, separate the leaves and stems;
  • Chop the garlic, the green onion or the ginger;
  • Put all the ingredients within easy reach in front of you: soy sauce, oil, salt etc…
  • Preheat the wok without oil with high temperature, once the wok is hot, add the oil from the border;
  • Add the chopped garlic, keep cooking for 15-30 seconds, add the stems, going on for around 1 minute and put in the green leaves.
  • Once the leaves are getting soft (it takes only a few seconds), add a little bit of soy sauce, a small pinch of salt and some white pepper or some sesame oil for example.
  • Turn off the heat immediately.

The cooking temperature is generally high and the cooking duration is extremely short. If you want an even lighter meal, you can just boil the vegetable for 1-2 minutes and serve it like a warm salad with a classic dressing.

If you want an even lighter meal, you can just boil the vegetable for 1-2 minutes and serve it like a warm salad with a classic dressing.

Recipe of a basic dressing sauce:

For 4 portions
4 tsp of soy sauce
4 tsp of black vinegar
4 tsp of sesame oil (or olive oil if you don’t have sesame oil)
1-2 tsp of sugar or honey
Mix all the ingredients well and serve.

You can use this sauce for dumplings , dipping, salad or noodles with some sesame paste.
Margot Zhang
Instagram: margotzhang 

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