Monday, December 17, 2007

CSA week four - stir fried hon tsai tai and a whole bunch of other stuff

[Edit: as this post is one of the top results for Googling "hon tsai tai", I'd like to add a few ideas I've picked up since I first posted this. First, hon tsai tai is tougher than it looks. Cut out the purple stems (the green ones are less woody) and slice the leaves into thin shreds before cooking them. If you're using them in a stir fry, add them early. Braising like collards would be a good application if you wanted to leave them whole. Or try them in the Brazilian kale recipes I made. I think they'd work well in those too. Also, they have a somwhat bitter taste when cooked. Consider sweet sauces or just adding a pinch of sugar for contrast. If you've got other suggestions, please leave them in the comments for other searchers to find. Thanks!]

I really only wanted to add a flavor or two to the recipe from this week's newsletter, but the dish kind of got away from me. To start, I had it in my head from somewhere that Chinese recipes sometimes season greens with dried scallops. I don't have any of those but I do have dried shrimp and I found a recipe in 1000 Chinese recipes pairing them with Chinese lettuce. I had some fresh scallops so I decided to throw those in too. Both that recipe and a spinach stir fry from later in the book used dried shiitakes so in those went. A variant of the lettuce recipe included bamboo shoots and I had some of those leftover. And while I was looking for those I found some leftover ground pork from Saturday's nachos that needed using up.

Now for a sauce. Nine hundred of those one thousand recipe all have the same sauce: soy sauce, sherry (or rice wine), a bit of salt and a bit of sugar. A bit of stock and cornstarch to thicken. Your generic Chinese brown sauce. Add some hot sauce and now you're talking.

Here's more or less how it worked out:

2 bunches hon tsai tai (1 lb?)
1 small handful dried shrimp
2 large or 4 small dried shiitake mushrooms
1/3 cup sliced bamboo shoots
18 or so bay scallops
1/4 lb ground pork
4 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine
1 t sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
hot sauce to taste
2 t corn starch

1. Soak shrimp and mushrooms separately in hot water. Slice mushrooms and reserve half cup of soaking water straining out the mushroom crud.

2. Chop hon tsai tai and separate out the stemmy chunks from the leafy ones.

3. Mix soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt and hot sauce.

4. Mix corn starch with 2 t water

5. Heat wok (or large cast iron pan) until it glows cherry red or the fire alarm goes off. Add 1 T of peanut oil and shrimp. Stir fry for a minute

6. Add hon tsai tai stems, mushrooms and bamboo shoots, a bit of salt and some garlic and ginger if you're not about to run out and are saving the last bits for another recipe. Stir fry 3 minutes.

7. Add pork. Stir fry 1 minute.

8. Add soy sauce mix and scallops. Stir fry one minute.

9. Add hon tsai tai leaves. Stir fry until they wilt. Then lower heat to medium. Cover and steam for 3 minutes.

10. Add mushroom soaking water. Mix, cover and steam for 3 minutes more.

11. Check stems for doneness. If they're still not tender, steam some more. But if they are, clear out a space in the middle of the pan for the sauce to puddle. Stir corn starch mixture and add to the puddle. When sauce thickens, stir the dish one more time, turn it out into a bowl and serve immediately.

I'm pretty happy with the end result even if my hon tsai tai stems were a bit undercooked and stringy (I added a couple minutes cooking time to the recipe to fix that). The sauce was flavorful, but didn't overwhelm the vegetables. The dried shrimp adds an interesting flavor and some nice texture, particularly if you don't soak them for a full hour. Nothing extraordinary, but a decent weeknight stir fry.

You'll notice that I treated the hon tsai tai like kale while the newsletter treated it like spinach. Maybe I misidentified the vegetable or maybe I just got an older tougher bunch, but I can't imagine the newsletter recipe coming close to working. Even if you trimmed off all the stems, which wouldn't leave much, you'd still be chewing those leaves for quite a while after only two minutes of steaming. Have any of you tried it?

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