This is Elaine, a food blogger from China. After writing so many recipes, I found that there are lots of ingredients unfamiliar to the readers. I hope this can help you to know more detailed information about Chinese vegetables. We will have several sections here, leafy greens, root and tuberous vegetables, fruits,bulb and stem vegetables.
Bok Choy, possibly is the most popular leafy vegetable outside and in China. This is a group name (小白菜)with several varieties. You may encounter with ones with white stem and normal ones with green stem. Besides, there are baby bok choy and regular bok choy. The green bok choy is known as “上(shàng)海(hǎi)青(qīng)”, while white bok choy is known as “奶(nǎi)白(bái)菜(cài)”.The whole piece is edible but you will need to separate each leaf to wash in order to remove the sand contained. The most common and classic cooking way of bok choy is stir frying with garlic. Besides, there are lots of soups and noodles calls for baby bok choy.
Napa cabbage is named as ” 大(dà)白(bái)菜(cài)” in Chinese as a contrast to Bok Choy. They are usually with large stems and lightly green green leaves. The Chinese cabbage was principally grown in the Yangtze River Delta region, but now it is extremely popular across the country. In Northern China, people love to use napa cabbage to make Suan cai in winter which has been developed into kimchi in Korean later. Good quality Napa cabbage usually is quite firm and may feel really heavy. Napa cabbage is the ingredient for kimchi (not native to Chinese cuisine, but quite popular in China now). This vegetable goes extremely well with chow mein, lo mein or stir fried rice.
Water Spinach, also known as Chinese water spinach, rive spinach is the most popular leafy greens in hot summer days. It has long leaves and hollow stems so we name it “空(kōng)心(xīn)菜(cài)”, literally translated as hallow heart vegetable. It is grown in water or damp soil. The tender leave usually has a sweet and mild taste. Usually break the steam into 2 inch pieces along with the leaves. It can be used as a simple garlic stir fry or in stews and noodles.
Snow Pea Leaves
Yu Choy (菜心, Cantonese Vegetable hart)is also referred as Chinese oil vegetables or Cantonese Choy. It is extremely popular in Cantonese cuisine. They have very tender stem (the best part of the vegetable in my opion), but you will need to peel off the skin.
In other areas of China, vegetable hart may mean different plants.
Chinese broccoli is known as 芥(jiè)蓝(lán). Although it shares the same group of regular broccoli (known as 西兰花:xīlánhuā
). Chinese broccoli has long green stems and dark green leaves. It tastes slightly bitter so usually we rinse it in boiling water and stir fry with oyster sauce, which balance the taste with a slightly sweet.
Malabar Spinach “木(mù)耳(ěr)菜(cài)” is a love or hate leafy vegetables in China. There are lots of people do not like it. We used to grow several vines in our back yard. And it grows quickly in summer. It can be simply used in stir fries or in soups.
It is quite confusing when comes to the right English name. In Mandarin, we call it 莧菜: xiàncài. There are two main varieties: one is red and the other one is light green. Usually they contains lots of sands and need careful preparation. It tastes super good when simply stir fried with garlic and salt.
Watercress is a fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plant native to Europe and Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans.
Usually watercress has leaves in deep green and crisp stems. In Chinese, we call this type of leave veggie as西(xī)洋(yáng)菜(cài). I usually prepare small bunch of watercress during hot pot dinner. Watercress can be used in stir-fry recipe, soup recipe or salad. Besides, in the northern part of China, it is also used as the ingredients in dumpling or buns fillings.
The most popular leafy lettuce in China is romaine lettuce. We did not eat it 10 years ago but now it becomes extremely in Chinese market. According to wiki, China has been the largest producing country. It is widely used as a simple stir fry with garlic or sometimes with oyster sauce, in salad or as a ingredient for hot pot.
Wosun greens (Chinese Lettuce leaves)
This Youmai leaves are taste similar with Chinese lettuce leaves. In China, we call it 油麦尖 (yóu mài jiān). It tastes similar to Chinese Wosun lettuce leaves. We love to stir it with garlic or cook in soups.It has soft and tender long green colors. I am not sure about the exact English name, perhaps it is Indian Lettuce? This species of lettuce grows quite fast in garden. Usually you can
harvest tender leaves for soups, salad and stir fries 45 days after planting.