Today begins my year of experiementation in pickling and preserving, Chinese style, beginning with one of the easiest preserving recipes you can imagine.
If preserving or pickling isn’t your thing, perhaps have a read of this exciting travel post on the terrifying Hanging Temple, or go and vote for Life on Nanchang Lu at the 2013 Bloggies. Have you voted yet? You have? I love you. (If you haven’t yet, it’s dead easy, I’m in the Best Asian Weblog category. Voting closes this Sunday and there’s a rumour of dumplings for everyone who submits a vote!)
China is an abundant Land of Plenty for pickle lovers, and just to be clear, we’re not talking about sweet vinegar flavoured cucumbers or cocktail onions. Chinese pickles are a different breed altogether, intensely savoury and salty, rarely sweet, eaten on their own or added to stir fries, soups and braised dishes as a punch of intense umami flavour and texture.
There’s nothing better than a bowl of steaming noodles with a handful of salty, sour, crunchy pickled green snake beans on top, or a spicy hot Sichuan soup without the balanced sour flavour of pickles. Every corner store sell in China sells tiny foil packets of preserved salted mustard greens with chili, or salt pickled mushrooms as snacks, and every supermarket and wet market has an extraordinary array of fresh pickles to choose from. I knew I had reached some kind of milestone in my love of Chinese food when I ate pickled greens straight from the foil pouch for an afternoon snack for the first time.
They do look rather intimidating at first, knobs of brown somethings and shreds of dark green somethings, and orange coloured strips of who knows what. But you just need to taste them, to realize how these intensely flavoured vegetables can become so deliciously addictive.
Typical supermarket display – forty kinds of pickled and preserved vegetables.
Before we all had refrigerators in our homes, surplus food from the harvest needed to be preserved in some way. Chinese cuisine has myriad ways of doing this – salting, drying, pickling, fermenting, all in the name of inhibiting bacterial growth and preserving food.
Today’s recipe is incredibly simple and gives beginners like me a taste of home preserving in the shortest time possible – two days. No need to wait months to see if you got it right, this is instant gratification – or as instant as it gets in the world of preserves!
Paocai 泡菜 Salt-Preserved Chrysanthemum Greens
Paocai 泡菜 (literally to steep or soak vegetables) is an all-encompassing term for vegetable pickles made. These are made with chrysanthemum greens (a different chrysanthemum species to the flowering variety), available fresh from Chinese markets. The leaves are light and feathery, as shown.
- One large bunch of chrysanthemum greens, 750g
- Table salt
Continue for about fifteen minutes until the stalks and leaves are completely softened and wilted, like cooked lettuce. There will be enough liquid now to cover the greens.
- Stir fry with garlic and finely sliced pork
- Add to congee
- Add to a clear soup made with chicken stock and cubes of silken tofu. Chop the greens finely and stir through before serving
- Stir fried with green beans and oyster sauce
- Soak half a cup dried soy beans in hot water for an hour until soft.
- Chop one cup of preserved chrysanthemum greens finely
- Finely slice one chili finely
- Finely chop one clove of garlic
- Add 1 tbsp vegetable oil to a hot wok
- Add garlic and sliced chili for a few seconds then add chopped preserved vegetable.
- Stir fry until quite dark green, about three minutes, turning frequently to prevent sticking.
- Add soybeans at the last minute and stir to combine.