Also called Chinese white cabbage, this staple of the Chinese kitchen is a lovely, all-purpose vegetable. Of its many varieties the most frequently available kind has long white stems and large green corrugated leaves. Very small heads will be labeled baby bok choy. To prepare bok choy, separate the stems and rinse the vegetable well, or cut the cabbage as your recipe directs, wash and drain it well. Store bok choy well wrapped in paper towels in your refrigerator's vegetable crisper.
Sometimes called flowering cabbage for its relatively slender stalks and tiny yellow blooms, this Chinese cabbage has a particularly delicate taste. Wash the leaves well and prepare choy sum as you would bok choy.
This delectable Chinese cabbage is characterized by its curved, concave stems and smooth petal-like leaves. Small plants (about 6 inches long) are the most readily available in our markets. Prepare and store them as you would other bok choy varieties.
Known also as Peking cabbage, this barrel-shaped vegetable has a mild, non-mustardy taste. Its crinkly, tightly packed leaves are delightfully crisp. Buy firm, light colored heads. Well wrapped, the cabbage should last in the fridge for up to one month.
Used primarily in the preparation of dashi, the Japanese cooking stock, these pinkish flakes come from dried bonito. They also make a welcome sushi and sashimi seasoning. Buy them in bags or boxes in stores with a rapid turnover, because the flakes lose their flavor if held too long. Store in airtight containers.
Flat-leaved and with a garlicky pungency, green Chinese chives are widely available in Asian markets. They are sold in large bunches and are 10 to 14 inches long. They will last, well wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag, in the fridge for about two days. Do not confuse Chinese green chives with the yellow or hollow flowering variety (which are the stems of the same plant) or with garlic chives, the flowering stalks of the garlic plant, although any of these would be a good substitute for the regular kind.
Chinese long beans
Growing up to three feet in length, these beans are a long-favored Chinese vegetable. They lack sweetness, but have a subtle taste and pleasing crunchiness that make them a good addition to numerous dishes. Buy thin firm beans that are without dark discolorations, taking into account that the tips of the beans are usually black.
Chinese dried black mushrooms
Harvested from fallen trees, these highly esteemed fungi are never actually black, but light to dark brown in color. Their succulent texture and smoky flavor make them welcome in many savory dishes.
In the market, you'll find many dried black mushroom grades; the most popular (and expensive) are the large, light brown ones with cracked surfaces. Buy these, if your pocketbook permits-but moderately priced varieties are good, too. All grades need to be rinsed and then soaked, covered in warm water for approximately 20 minutes to rehydrate them. Once softened, remove their tough stems and use the caps only. Save the soaking water for other cooking.
Store dried mushrooms in a cool, dry place in an airtight container-or freeze them, if you don't use the mushrooms often.
An extraction made by seeping freshly grated coconut in boiling water or milk, coconut milk is available in Asian markets and many supermarkets. The milk is used in Southeast Asian rice desserts, curries, and shellfish recipes. Because coconut milk spoils quickly, it is wise to freeze any unused portion. Don't confuse coconut milk with the liquid found inside the coconut, which is insufficiently rich for most recipes that call for the milk. My favorite brand is Choo kah.
Shoots of the long white radish that is probably Japan's most fundamental vegetable, these are a popular garnish and salad ingredient. I like their tender freshness and spicyness and use them similarly. Buy the sprouts-sometimes labeled radish sprouts-in 4 ounce hinged plastic containers, alive in a growing medium.
Before refrigeration and other modern methods of preservation and fish and shellfish in China were commonly dried. Among these, scallops became an esteemed ingredient, sold in fine shops for high fees. Dried scallops (the species used is the sea scallop-like conpoy) are still in demand as a flavoring for soups, sauces, and other dishes, and are still relatively costly. As small quantity, however, goes a long way, because the scallops, once rehydrated, are shredded and used in small quantities. Buy dried scallops in a market that sells enough of them to ensure their "freshness," and store them in a covered jar on the shelf. If the scallops aren't available, you can substitute dried shrimp for them in most "dried scallop" recipes.
Why haven't people yet discovered these young soybeans in their fuzzy green pods? Available fresh in Asian markets, usually from June through October, the beans, taken straight from the pods, are great for munching, and much better for you than chips or other snack food. I like them best, however, cooked as you would fava beans to make luscious purees. When buying edamames (the name means "branch beans" in Japanese) look for firm, green pods. Frozen edamames are also available, and work well in purees.
One of the world's great eating experiences, foie gras is the fattened liver of ducks and geese. Fresh domestic foie gras, taken from ducks only, is now available and it is excellent. Most of us will have to order our foie gras, though specialty butchers often have it on hand or can get it for you. Packed in cryovac, the liver is usually sold whole, though now you can get it portioned or in thick slices. This luxurious treat is always expensive, but several grades are available, designated A,B, and C in descending order of quality. For the recipes in this book in which the liver is pureed to flavor and enrich sauces or stuffings, B and C grades are recommended.
Most of us are familiar with this fresh root (actually a rhizome), which is one of the primary and indispensable flavorings of Chinese cooking. Available in large "hands," or in smaller portions, fresh ginger should be firm and glossy-skinned, without wrinkles or fibrousness where the knobs have been broken. Store the root, wrapped in paper towels and within plastic bags, in the vegetable crisper of your fridge. Unless otherwise specified, the ginger called for in this book should always be peeled before using. Baby or young ginger, if available, is also excellent; it has a little less bite than the older variety.
Makrut lime leaves
The leaves of the Makrut lime tree, this Thai seasoning has a delightfully pungent limelike scent. Available fresh, frozen, or dried, in the order of desirability, the leaves are a welcome addition to a wide range of dishes. Remove the center rib if the leaf will be eaten.
The Chinese have made these dry, hard, definitely sweet sausages for millenia. Sold in strings of two, with each measuring about six inches long, la chang must be steamed or otherwise cooked to be palatable. Most la chang are made with pork and pork fat and this is the pork variety I have in mind for the recipes calling for this ingredient in the book. La chang will last in the fridge for weeks or, well wrapped, for months in the freezer.
Yellow green in color and resembling large scallions, lemongrass is a preeminent flavoring ingredient in Thai cuisine. I rely on its aromatic citrus taste in a wide range of dishes, from soups to desserts. Store fresh lemongrass in moist paper towels in the fridge, where it will keep for up to two weeks. In cooking, only the portion of the stalk from the base to the point at which the leaves branch is used.
This amber-colored honey is, as its name suggests, a product of lychee blossoms. It has a rich, deep honey flavor that'' particularly pleasing. Buy it in Asian markets; if unavailable, you may use any mildly flavored honey in its place.
Feathery leaved and green in color, this delightfully flavored, slightly tart lettuce is Asian in origin. If you can't find it in your market, substitute baby mustard greens or mache.
These buttery bread crumbs are used in Japanese cooking to coat foods for frying. Panko is available in cellophane packages, in which it lasts indefinitely if the packages are unopened. Once opened, freeze unused portions.
I call for rock shrimp often in my cooking. Firm in texture and with a delicious lobster-like flavor, these small shrimp are caught in Florida and then shipped nationwide. They arrive in the market headless and peeled because their shells are hard to remove. They work very well chopped or pureed to make shrimp toast and other hors d'oeuvres, or whole in noodle dishes.
A member of the mint family and resembling basil in taste and aroma, these leaves come in green and red varieties. The green is the most widely available and also the most fragrant. Shiso leaves are available stacked in packages and make a lovely garnish. Green shiso is also used in sushi.
A spicy lettuce with a mustardy taste, tatsoi has rounded leaves that are green rimmed. Its pungent flavor has made it a longtime Chinese favorite. If unavailable, substitute baby spinach leaves.
Oolong, jasmine, and black lychee. Tea, which is made from the leaves of an evergreen shrub, has been drunk for pleasure since the fifth or sixth century a.d.
Oolong tea leaves are partially fermented; this results in a tea that has the color, flavor, and aroma of fermented black tea and the green freshness of unfermented tea. Oolong tea leaves are widely available.
Jasmine tea leaves, which are green, are steamed and then scented with jasmine flowers. The tea made from them is delicately aromatic and makes a lovely dessert flavoring.
Black lychee tea leaves, which are fermented, produce a brisk (yes?) tea with an inherent sweetness. It's worth searching out this tea, particularly for summer enjoyment-it's incredibly good iced. Look for black lychee tea in Asian markets.
Small Japanese red chiles, these are available fresh or dried. The dried variety is also sold ground, which is the form of togarashi I generally use. Bottled ground togarashi is available in Japanese specialty markets and other Asian food stores.
An ancient Chinese and Japanese product, tofu is made from curdled soy bean milk. Depending on how much liquid remains after the curds are pressed into cakes, the resulting tofu can be custard-like or chewy, and may be labeled soft, medium, or firm. "Silken" tofu is the most delicate kind, even if labeled "firm." Tofu is nutritional powerhouse, protein-rich and also low in fat and cholesterol. It is sold packaged in water, vacuum-packed, and in bulk, and used in a wide variety of dishes, including sir-frys, salads, and soups. Tofu is extremely perishable. Refrigerate unused tofu promptly in its tub or pouch, or transfer it to water. Change the water daily.
One of the world great culinary luxuries, truffles, both black and white, have been prized since ancient times. All truffles are fungi that grow underground in symbiosis with the roots of certain trees; black truffles, which I use in my recipes, are harvested primarily in France, where they are traditionally sniffed out by pigs and dogs. Fresh black truffles are expensive-if you are going to make the investment, buy them only in season (December through March) and from a reputable source. Look for truffles that are firm to the touch and highly aromatic. Use them within three days of purchasing, and store them well wrapped in the fridge.
The dehydrated powder of the wasabi root which traditional grew only in Japan. It is now cultivated in Oregon. It has a spicy, pungent flavor, similar to horseradish and is pale green in color. It is traditionally served in paste form with sushi.
Available in Ming's Pantry
Prepared with flying fish roe, which is crunchy and has a definite but pleasing fish taste, this caviar is seasoned with wasabi. It has a nice kick, and makes a piquant garnishing ingredient.