Monday, July 9, 2018

A high summer appetizer from Hangzhou

It's mid-summer, and so nowadays my refrigerator always has celtuce in it. 

This southern Chinese vegetable is crisp and refreshing, but for some strange reason no one knows about it but the Chinese.

I have written about celtuce many times before on this blog, but no matter. 

Today’s recipe is so simple and so downright delicious that I really cannot wait to tell you about this cool appetizer seasoned with little more than ginger juice and balsamic vinegar. Refreshment on a plate.

Four fine candidates
First of all, find yourself a Chinese market. That is about the only place you’ll be able to hunt these down. 

This time of year is the perfect time for celtuce (pronounced SELL-tuss, since it’s a smashed-up contraction of celery + lettuce… don’t blame me, I didn’t name it) or stem lettuce (only slightly more helpful) or wōsŭn just in case you need to ask a clerk to direct you to the right bin.

Now pick them up and feel those stems. They should be heavy and firm, as that means they’re juicy. They shouldn’t have a huge scab on the cut end, because that shows you they are relatively fresh.

The next thing you do is check out the leaves. Most will probably have been removed, but you should still see some at the very top. The leaves should be green and energetic rather than yellow and floppy. 
Peel down til you see pure jade

Now look at the very center of the leaves. No flower stem? Perfect. If it’s starting to bolt, all the energy will be directed into those blossoms and the stem will in turn be tough and stringy, as well as hollow and dry.

When you get home, rinse the stems lightly and pack them in a plastic bag before refrigerating them, as this will help perk them up a bit. Consider them as nascent flowers at this point.

Celtuce is really good in stir-fries, but I adore it raw. Now that it’s so hot out, keep this recipe in mind for an easy side for dinner. And if you have a good bunch of celtuce leaves on hand, too, nothing is more delicious than this Sichuan-style salad. Nose-to-tail dining for the vegetarian set!

Briefly salt the celtuce

Hangzhou-style fresh celtuce stems
Jiāngzhī wōsŭn 薑汁萵筍
Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish

4 hefty celtuce stems
1 teaspoon sea salt

4 inches | 10 cm fresh ginger
2 tablespoons agave syrup or sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon sea salt

1. Cut off both ends of the stems and use a peeler to remove both the tough outer skin and the white webbing inside. Slice the stems into even batons of any size. Place them in a colander set in the sink and toss them with the salt. They will quickly look moist, which is a good thing. Let them sit there while you prepare the sauce.

2. Grate the ginger and use your fist to squeeze out all the juice. Mix this juice with the sweetener, vinegar, sesame oil, and salt.

3. Pat the celtuce dry with a paper towel and then arrange it on a rimmed plate. Pour the sauce around the celtuce so that the vegetables keep their beautiful jade color. And that’s it.

1 comment:

  1. I tried to grow this in my garden but sadly it grew not much wider than a chopstick before bolting.

    Is the balsamic a substitute for Chiangkiang vinegar or do you just prefer it?