A Cook's Guide to Chinese Vegetables

Front Cover
askmar publishing, Jul 19, 2010 - Cooking
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 This electronic book is the sixth incarnation of my “vegetable book”. The very first version, covering 30 vegetables, was named A Guide to Chinese Market Vegetablesand appeared in 1980. It was extraordinarily popular (on the best seller list of the South China Morning Post for almost a year), so we did the obvious, producing its sequel, A Further Guide to Chinese Market Vegetables. In 1982, the two were combined in a single volume, A Popular Guide to Chinese Market Vegetables, which was sold internationally. After it went out of print, I updated the text and republished it as A Cook’s Guide to Chinese Vegetables (1992). In 1995, I revised the text substantially for a second edition.

This electronic book is essentially the same as the 1995 print edition, with the addition of two vegetables (chard, mitsuba) that had been only in the earliest editions. It differs from the original in that page numbers have been replaced by bi-directional hypertext links, and the illustrations have been moved to the beginning of each section.

The purpose of this book is to provide practical information for someone buying fresh produce in a Chinese or Asian market. The seasonal variety of roots, shoots, greens and melons can be fascinating but ultimately daunting. What is it? How do I choose a good one? Should it be green or yellow, soft or hard? Peeled or left whole? And then, how to serve it? Is that the flavor it should have, or have I done something wrong? The following pages attempt to answer these questions clearly and concisely. They also attempt to describe how the Chinese prepare vegetables that we consider “Western”. Vegetables do not, after all, owe allegiance to any one nation or culture; preparing the vegetable you know in ways you hadn’t though of can be an adventure too.

Thus, in the following pages, each vegetable’s description includes cooking advice for preparing it in both Western and Chinese styles. Many include recipes. For the Chinese comments, both advice and recipes come from Hong Kong cooks—friends, mothers, mothers of friends, and even vegetable vendors (in Hong Kong, it seems, everyone has a recipe!). Consequently the ‘recipes’ tend to be general guidelines rather than elaborate formulas. Good cooking comes from experience—both in choosing fresh produce, and in the actual preparation--plus good taste, and both develop over time.

In addition, each vegetable’s description includes brief comments on its nature in terms of Chinese concepts of nutrition. Following this Foreword, there is a brief section describing these concepts in more detail. The essential nature of the foodstuff and its effects on the body as an energy system are not only fundamental to Chinese cooking but also, simply, what every Cantonese housewife knows. How a vegetable or an ingredient acts in the body as it is digested influences what ingredients are cooked together, in what season they are served, and to whom they are served. These are principles of nutrition in dynamic, living systems that have been tested over centuries. Modern Western cuisine, it seems, has nothing comparable. Interestingly, applying these principles produces meals that are not only nutritious but also extraordinarily delicious. 

New to the 2010 Edition

This ePub book differs from the original in that page numbers have been replaced by bi-directional hypertext links, and the illustrations have been moved to the beginning of each section.

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About the author (2010)

 Martha Dahlen is a writer, gardener, and cook. She was born in Ohio; raised in Virginia; and received her BS degree at Purdue University (Indiana) in Horticulture.

She arrived in Hong Kong in 1977 where she lived for the following 21 years. Initially she worked in the Department of Botany at the University of Hong Kong as a teaching assistant, during which time she completed a Ph.D. in Botany on the taxonomy of the Fern Allies. For the next ten years, Dr. Dahlen worked at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, primarily as an editor. During her years in Hong Kong, she traveled extensively in Southeast Asia. Her most widely known book is “Popular Guide to Chinese Vegetables,” which is also illustrated by her long-time friend Karen Phillipps.

She currently lives in Campbell, CA with a Cantonese kungfu master where she bikes, hikes, knits, meditates, cogitates, and blogs.

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