For years, Chinese foods and ingredients have been thought of as something exotic and a little intimidating. It wasn’t long ago that many people believed that dau fu or tofu was a kind of folding sofa bed and napa cabbage came from the California wine area. It seemed that every Chinese recipe had to have a little footnote that said: “Available in Chinese markets and specialty food-stores only.”
All that has changed as the world is gradually getting smaller and we are all becoming gastronomically more adventurous.
Good cooking depends on understanding, whether intellectually or intuitively, the nature of your ingredients and how to combine them to produce good flavour and nutrition. The Chinese have many wonderful ways of cooking vegetables. The Chinese approach can open new doors and, it is with this in mind, that I refer back to Martha Dahlen’s “A Cook’s Guide to Chinese Vegetables” again and again. It covers not only shopping and cooking but also assesses the nutritional value of each vegetable according to Chinese concepts. Throughout. the emphasis is on practical information. For the experimental cook and vegetable gourmet, Asian markets are treasure troves. The seasonal variety of greens, melons, fruits and roots amazes the eye, teases the palate, and could leave you bewildered. It must be edible, but what is it? How do I select a good one? How should it be prepared? Martha’s book, full of wonderful colour illustrations, will answer these questions clearly and concisely. The book is divided into eight sections: Condiments, Cabbages, Leafy Onions, Leafy Vegetables, Beans and Bean Curd, Melons, Miscellaneous Fruits, Flowers and Shoots and, finally, Underground and Underwater Vegetables. Each entry will show you an illustration, give you the English and Chinese names, (incl. the Chinese symbol) and describes the vegetable in great detail, including its uses and how to prepare and cook it.
“A Cook’s Guide to Chinese Vegetables” is published as part of the Odyssey Guides by the Guidebook Company Ltd. Hong Kong and the latest revision is dated 1995. This book isn’t easy to find, but it is available from some Chinese Bookstores.