The key to a great vegetable dish is great vegetables. I discovered a new source for vegetables used in Asian cuisine. The bodega-like Mien Hoa Market at 1108 W. Argyle is a find and a half. Not only does this family-run store have fresh vegetables that are hard to find elsewhere, but they are dirt cheap and near other markets where you can find the odd item Mien Hoa might not have.
This weekend, I shopped at Mien Hoa to prepare for cooking at a friend's apartment. Two out of three dishes worked very well. The third I messed up because I was impatient to get food on the table. We'll dispense with that one and concentrate on the winners which both derive from recipes found in Vegetarian Asian: The Essential Kitchen by Lynelle Scott Aitken, a skinny little cookbook I highly recommend.
The leafy green you see a picture of here is Shanghai bok-choy, a smaller and greener vegetable than regular bok choy, which usually has white stems. The specimen pictured is about the length of a large hand (fingertip to heel of hand)
Shanghai bok-choy is the star of the dish we'll do today:
The first thing we'll dispense with is the claypot. We used good a good old-fashioned Corningware casserole and this worked well. If you want to use a traditional Chinese claypot, soak the vessel for an hour before using it.
Soak 12 dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Cut into bite-sized pieces or just halve the tops.
Add the mushrooms to the casserole dish with:
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (our addition)
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half-moons (or wedges if you prefer)
2 teaspoons of Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons of brown sugar (you know it tastes so good)
1 cup clear vegetable stock (or cheat like we did and use regular veg stock)
2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (this is our change to the recipe. The original calls for vegetarian oyster (mushroom) sauce which was unlocatable. Fish sauce tastes great here and is cheap and readily available in most Southeast Asian markets.)
1 bunch bok choy or choy sum, quartered lengthwise
4 cups mixed fresh vegetables such as pumpkin, cauliflower, carrot, eggplant, baby corn, cut into 1 inch cubes. Find the baby corn. Even canned baby corn makes the dish.
steamed rice for serving
And now the incredibly difficult prep instructions:
Put everything but the rice in the casserole dish, cover, bake at 400 F for one hour. Eat.
The Shanghai bok choy displayed a remarkable property. If there is sauce on your plate with the bok choy, the bok choy will slowly but surely slurp up the sauce. I'm sure some brilliant biologist or physicist can tell me why a cooked vegetable would do that, but it was amusing. And delicious.
Our five-spice powder is misnamed. The ingredients listed are: Cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, ginger, licorice, szechwan peppercorns, and white pepper. It was also $1.65 at J.Toguri, a local gem at that specializes in Japanese goods including dry food goods.