Leafy greens are one of the great unsung joys of Chinese eating. Often mentioned only as an afterthought on restaurant menus (usually as 'seasonal vegetable’), they are a vital and essential part of the Chinese diet and no supper table is complete without them. There are varieties for almost every season and every region, from the commonest spinach, pak choy and Chinese leaf cabbage to more exotic specialities such as garland chrysanthemum, wolfberry and purslane leaves. Many Chinese recipes for such vegetables are so delicious that for me they are often the highlight of the meal.
This dish of bright, fresh greens in a radiantly delicious dressing uses a common Cantonese flavouring method in which cooked ingredients are scattered with slivered ginger and spring onions, followed by a libation of hot oil and a sousing of soy sauce. The sizzling oil awakens the fragrances of the ginger and onion and the soy sauce gives the vegetables an umami richness.
The same method can be used with many kinds of vegetable, including spinach, lettuce, pak choy, broccoli, Chinese broccoli and purple-sprouting broccoli. Just adjust the blanching time according to your ingredients: you want them to be tender, but still fresh-tasting and a little crisp. At the Wei Zhuang restaurant in Hangzhou, I once had a beautiful starter in which four ingredients – water chestnuts, romaine-type lettuce hearts, peeled strips of cucumber and bundles of beansprouts – had been separately blanched, then bathed like this in hot oil and soy sauce.
300g choy sum, washed and trimmed
2 spring onions, cut into fine slivers
10g piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine slivers
a small strip of red chilli or red pepper for colour, cut into fine slivers (optional)
4 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp light soy sauce diluted with 2 tbsp hot water from the kettle
Bring a panful of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of the oil to the water, tip in the choy sum and blanch for a minute or so until it has just lost its rawness (the stems should still be a little crisp). Drain and shake dry in a colander.Pile the choy sum neatly on a serving dish and pile the spring onion, ginger and chilli or pepper slivers (if using) on top.Heat the remaining oil over a high flame. When the oil is hot, ladle it carefully over the spring onions, ginger and chilli. It should sizzle dramatically. (To make sure the oil is hot enough, try ladling a few drops on first, to check for the sizzle. As soon as you get a vigorous sizzle, pour over the rest of the oil.) Pour over the diluted soy sauce mixture, and serve.
Variation Purple-sprouting broccoli with sizzling oil Purple-sprouting broccoli is not a Chinese vegetable, but it tastes spectacular when given the sizzling oil treatment. Blanch 300g of broccoli as above, but add a few slices of peeled ginger and a couple of pinches of caster sugar to the salt and oil in the blanching water. Lay the drained broccoli on a plate and finish with three tablespoons of sizzling-hot oil and two tablespoons of diluted soy sauce, as in the main recipe.
by Fuchsia Dunlop http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/