Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stem Lettuce: Stir-Fry and Salad

Stem lettuce is one of the vegetables that I wished to try this year. As I already tried arrowroot/arrowhead, chìh-gû 慈姑, so far I still have 3 more (from my list) to taste. However I know that there are many more local vegetables to discover as well as herbs and fruits {such as Chinese olives, myrobolan -also known as Indian gooseberry, etc.}

Stem lettuce is called wô-séun in Cantonese (莴笋).
Here how it looks like (see photo below.) As you can see the stem is light green, measures ~40-50cms and has long green leaves at the top. I asked the seller to cut the stem in half so the greens would not stick out of my shopping bag. 

In her book on local vegetables Martha explains that this vegetable is usually stir-fried with pork or chicken, peas and green onions. The leaves are also used in stir-fry or added in soups or congees.
I stir-fried the stem with chicken and peas but did not put green onions (I thought I had some...but could not find any in my fridge). Therefore I decided to add some slices of carrot to make it more colourful.

Stem Lettuce w/ Chicken Stir-Fry

Stem lettuce, peas, carrot & chicken stir-fry
  • ~ 600gr (1 catty) of stem lettuce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil  
  • 300gr chicken breast, sliced
  • 1 cup of frozen peas (or sugar peas)
  • A few slices of carrot
  • 2 slices of ginger, crushed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

  • 1 tsp rice wine
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dark soya sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • Salt & ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Prepare stem lettuce: Cut off the leaves of the tops of the stems (reserve them for another dish) and rinse the stem in cold water. Peel the skin off the stem and cut them into 2” sticks.
  2. Blanch peas and carrot in salted boiling water for 1 minute.
  3. In a large skillet over high heat, heat canola oil; add chicken, brown well on all sides. Remove from wok and set aside.
  4. In same skillet - add oil if necessary - add ginger and garlic to stir-fry for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add stem lettuce and seasoning.  
  6. Stir-fry for two minutes; add chicken and cook until done.
  7. Add peas, carrot and stem lettuce. Stir-fry until all vegetable are cooked.
  8. Season to taste.
  9. Transfer to serving dish. Grind some black pepper on top.

The raw stem is crispy and tastes like cucumber. The cooked stem's texture is smooth and has a mild flavour. I added extra ground black pepper before serving the stir-fry.
On the same day I stir-fried the leaves with garlic and ginger. They tasted like a-choy or leafy vegetable (yàuh-mahk-choi 油麦菜)but with a firmer texture.

This week I bought stem lettuce again but this time to make a salad.

Stem Lettuce Salad

Ingredients (for 2):
  • 1 stem lettuce
  • 1 tbsp sesame paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp soya sauce
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted

  1. Discard leaves (I made a soup with them).
  2. Wash stem lettuce. Peel skin. Cut stem into 2” sticks.
  3. Blanch 2 minutes in boiling water. Plunge the sticks into ice water to stop the cooking process.
  4. Drain and let cool down.
  5. Prepare dressing sauce with sesame paste, light soy, rice vinegar, and sugar.
  6. Serve stem lettuce cold with sesame dressing on the side and toasted white sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

On the same day I made a quick and easy soup with the leaves, soybean sticks  (fuh-jûk 腐竹), gingko nuts (baahk-gwó 白果), and bacon to flavour the broth.

Soybean sticks and bacon before cooking

Stem lettuce leaves with gingko nuts, bacon & soybean sticks soup

Out of the 4 dishes I did with stem lettuce my favourite was the cold salad. It was simply delicious!

By the way, I read that the stem can also be pickled!  

Thank you for reading & bon appétit!

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