The first time I tried this wild vegetable which Taiwanese call Shan Su Cai (山稣菜) was in Hualien’s Taroko National Park. I was told it is rarely available because people have to climb up hilly slopes to harvest it in the wild. To my surprise, I found it in the local market this morning, so naturally, I had to buy 2 bundles (ntd 60 which is about usd 2) to try.
On Googling this vegetable’s Chinese name, I discovered its English name is Bird’s Nest Fern! Imagine that, eating a fern. I wonder if this is the same Bird’s Nest fern that is ubiquitous in South East Asia. It can be found growing on the trees by the roadside, or in forested areas in countries like Malaysia and Singapore where I come from…. Well, nobody I know in Singapore has ever bothered to harvest the Bird’s Nest fern to eat. I wonder if this Taiwanese Shan Shu vegetable is the edible kind and the Bird’s Nest Fern of my Singaporean childhood is the inedible kind.
In any case, they don’t know what they are missing – a delightfully crunchy vegetable stir fried with fresh cut chili and small fish, done in the Taiwanese way.
2 bundles of Bird’s Nest Fern – washed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 chili – cut into slivers
5 Tbsp small fish (anchovies or ikan bilis)
2 cloves garlic – peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp preserved black beans or garlic black bean sauce
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 -2 Tbsp cooking oil
1. Blanch the Bird’s Nest Fern in boiling water for 5 seconds, drain and keep aside.
2. Rinse and pat dry the small fish. Stir fry the small fish, chili, black beans and garlic in 1 to 2 Tbsp cooking oil, using low heat.
3. Add in the Bird’s Nest Fern. Mix in the oyster sauce. Stir fry quickly using high heat. Add a few tablespoons of water if it is dry. Do not overcook the Bird’s Nest Fern as it will turn brown.
4. Dish up and serve with rice.
See stunning pictures of Taroko National Park here:
Why would anyone want to eat a bitter vegetable? Bitter gourd is very bitter but someone in my family likes it so I have researched ways to make it less bitter and I think I have finally acquired the taste for this nutritious and unique vegetable. It is very low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fiber. It is even good for getting rid of acne.
Bitter gourd is often used in a stir fry with pork or beef with black beans, steamed with pork spare ribs or cooked in soup. It can even be served as an appetizer – very thinly sliced raw bitter gourd on a bed of shaved ice and eaten with honey as a dipping sauce – the cool, sweet taste makes it very refreshing.
Here’s a tip to remove the bitter taste:
First, cut the bitter gourd into half (see photo) and slice each half lengthwise. Then, using a tablespoon scoop out all the seeds and as much of the white pulp as possible. Next, slice it horizontally. Place the slices in a bowl and sprinkle 1 tsp salt over them and mix thoroughly. Let the slices sit for half an hour in the bowl. Lastly, squeeze out and discard as much of the juice as possible. This takes out most of the bitter taste.
1 bitter gourd, sliced and bitter taste removed
200 g (1/2 lb) pork, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp of light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
1-2 tbsps cooking oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce + 1-2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1. Marinate the pork slices with light soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, corn starch and water for half an hour.
2. Blanch the bitter gourd in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and put aside.
3. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan, stir fry the minced garlic until fragrant (don’t let them turn brown), then add in the pork slices and stir fry until it is almost cooked.
4. Add in the blanched bitter gourd slices and stir fry together with the pork. Add in one tbsp of oyster sauce and 1-2 tbsp of water. If you find the bitter gourd is still too bitter for your taste buds, add in 1 tsp sugar. Stir fry until the water evaporates.
5. Serve with hot rice.
Chinese long beans come in long bundles, each string is about 1 – 2 feet long. You can also use string beans for this recipe. I like to add a small portion of “zar choi” (Cantonese pronunciation) or “zha cai” (Mandarin pronunciation) to this recipe. Zha Cai can be bought at the Chinese market. It is actually some sort of pressed mustard that has been salted and preserved with chili paste, hence it can be kept refrigerated for up to a year or longer. You cut off a small piece whenever a recipe calls for it, wash off the chili paste and chop it up. It adds a nice zing of sweet, spicy, salty or sour to your dish.
1 bundle of long beans – cut into 2 inch pieces
4 oz or 120 g minced pork
1-2 Tbsp chopped pickled mustard “zha cai” (榨菜) – optional
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 – 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp cooking oil
Marinate for minced pork
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp water
1. Marinate the minced pork with soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, corn starch, sesame oil and water for at least half an hour before cooking. Stir in the zha cai.
2. Wash and cut up the long beans into 1 inch long pieces. Discard the pieces with black spots.
3. Blanch the long beans in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. This step cuts down on the amount of oil and cooking time you would need to cook the long beans during the stir fry step.
4. Drain the long beans.
5. Heat up 2 Tbsp cooking oil in a pan. Add the minced garlic and fry for 10 seconds, then add the blanched and drained long beans. Add 1/2 tsp salt to the long beans and stir fry for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the marinated minced pork mixture to the pan and fry together with the long beans. Add 1-2 Tbsp oyster sauce. Stir fry until the pork is done. If it looks a bit dry, add a bit of water so that it doesn’t stick to the pan.
7. Dish up and serve with rice.
A few days ago I made Lotus Root Soup but had bought too much lotus root so tonight I decided to cook the unused lotus root together with some sweet peas. An unusual combination but it turned out quite well – the lotus root added an interesting crunch and flavor to the dish. This is a really simple dish to prepare.
About 2 inches of lotus root, sliced thinly
1 packet of sweet peas, with the ends cut off and the veins along the sides stripped
1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
salt to taste
1. Blanch the sweet peas in a pot of boiling water for a minute.
2. Heat up 1 Tbsp of oil, stir fry the lotus root with a bit of salt, about 2 minutes.
3. Add in the blanched sweet pea and stir fry together. Stir in hoisin sauce and oyster sauce.