Garden On, Vashon

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Now that I’ve grown asian greens, how to cook them?

July 6th, 2013 at Sat, 6th, 2013 at 2:43 pm by Karen Dale


Tah Tsai is just one Asian green that my gardening partners and I have grown this spring. They’re all ready to harvest NOW. But how to make them delicious?

A taste memory I’ve wanted to replicate for years is a plate of Gailan I once ate at a dim sum house. The dark green stems in a garlicky broth was just right on a gray spring day—like a deep jolt of chlorophyll. So I took a Chinese path through two day’s worth of kitchen experiments, chasing that savory memory.


Glenn White, who hired me as his garden mentor, had a collection of asian seeds: choy sum, gailan, chin chiang, all kinds of mystery greens that we planted two months ago. The gailan, also known as Chinese kale, grew a 2′ dark green stem that’s supposedly tender if cooked like asparagus. Unfortunately, I harvested it when the plant had sent up slender flowering stems. THEY were tender given a minute-long bath in steaming chicken broth, but the rest of the stem? Even after a ten-minute braise (by now, asparagus would been limp) and the gailan chewed like a mouthful of broom straw. NOT my savory memory.


On to Chin Chiang, a dwarf pak choi under 8″ with chubby stems and big-spoon leaves that’s downright cute. The stems are cross-cut at a slant to make crescents with lots of surface, leaving the leafy parts intact for a last-minute steam on top of longer-cooking ingredients. I took this recipe from “Chinese Cooking”—lots of photos to see how to cut ingredients.

This uses classic chinese stir-fry technique: bits of pork and/or peeled shrimp, vegetables pieces of equal size: chin chiang, white onion, mushrooms, carrot slices (parboiled 1 minute to soften a bit), the Seasoning Triad of a green onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and an 1/8″ slice of ginger, all finely diced together. Have about 1/2 cup of chicken broth handy, plus thickener:  1 tbls cornstarch dissolved in 1/4″ COLD water.

In hot peanut soil, saute the shrimp quickly, add the veg and saute again until tender, put aside, throw in the seasoning triad in a splash more oil for one minute, add back the cooked stuff, throw in the chicken broth & thickener, stir until sauce thickens, and serve. (A splash of fish sauce gives it more savoriness if that’s a taste you like—could also give it some heat with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.)

This dish, while good, was too mild to match my taste memory. On to—


Bill Green and I grew this at GreenDale Garden, and we’ll be taking some to the Food Bank next week. Like Chin Chiang, this vegetable is best if the stems are cooked longer, the leaves held back for a quick steam. In this case, I planned to use the stems in a Har Gow dumping, one of the most popular dim sum appetizers (most commonly served with a filling of shrimp). You have to have some Asian flours—I used wheat starch & tapioca flour—so raid your local asian store or grocery section first. Here’s my recipe:

HAR GOW WRAPPER: 1 cup wheat starch, 1/2 cup tapioca flour, 1 cup boiling water, 1/2 teas. salt. Blend until dough comes into a ball, then knead until dough becomes elastic, smooth. You’ll notice the dough almost squeaks under the hand. Roll into a long tube shape 1″ across, and let rest for 10 minutes. (Gyoza or eggroll wrappers may also work, particularly if you’re going to fry rather than steam the dumplings.)

Meanwhile, make your filling. Chop the tah tsai stems into a 1/4 coarse dice and put over medium heat in a little chicken-broth, maybe 1/2 cup, and a tablespoon diced garlic. After 3 minutes, add in a diced mushroom, about a tablespoon of uncooked meat bits (pork, bacon, or shrimp), and a diced green onion. Let the broth simmer gently, tasting the mixture for tenderness. Then drain in a colander over a cookpot: you’ll want to capture this savory broth to steam the leafy greens in later.

Back at the dough station, cut off walnut-sized pieces, press into 3″ circle with a cleaver or pie roller, peel up with spatula and lay across your left fingers. Put about 1 tablespoon filling in its center, and pinch the edges of the wrapper together on top (I start in middle, then work out to ends.) Put on oiled steam tray and steam over boiling water for 15 minutes. Serve with oyster sauce, soy, or sesame oil dip.

Finally, that broth you held back is diluted with some water, another 3 garlic cloves are sliced and added to that broth, then put over medium heat and the rosette of leaves dropped in, stem-ends down. Steam for 3-4 minutes until the leaves just start to collapse into the liquid. Serve in a bowl as a savory broth with greens. 

THERE’s that Taste Memory!  And even better—my husband LIKED the Tah tsai dumplings. This recipe made 16-20 dumplings, enough for a meal for two people.




gardens on the south end of Vashon Island, on a sandy hilltop overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. "Garden On, Vashon" shares what the Island has to teach us about gardening HERE—from making soils to sowing seeds to raising plants to harvest, cooking, preserving, and designing new ways to cultivate your little chunk of Vashon Island. To contact me, email, or leave a comment.

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