Stir-fried lettuce may not seem like much, but the Cantonese term for lettuce, “sang choi,” sounds like the Chinese words for “growing fortune.” Expect to see this humble dish on many tables during this the Year of the Dragon, which started on Monday.
You can feel lucky year-round with greens cooked the Chinese way: fast, simply, deliciously. And don’t forget the nutrients. Greens are good-for-you foods, especially when quick cooking locks in vitamins and nutrients.
Stir-frying is the technique that gives any greens, Eastern or Western, that sought-after Asian seared taste and aroma, says Grace Young, author of “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge” and other cookbooks.
“The magic is in the use of high heat, little oil and a few minutes cooking,” she says.
SIMPLE LETTUCE STIR-FRY
This recipe is so easy Grace Young dictated it over the telephone from New York City. She prefers romaine lettuce for this dish, believing it has more flavor, is more nutritious and has an innate sweetness. Many cooks use bite-sized pieces of iceberg lettuce for the crunch. Young’s recipe is a template for cooking all sorts of Chinese greens; adjust cooking times to reach proper doneness. Accent with dried shrimp, chilies, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce or grated ginger or bell peppers. Makes: 4 servings
Prep: Cut 1 medium head romaine lettuce into 1-inch wide bands to make about 10 cups, or tear into bite-sized pieces; wash, drain thoroughly. Heat wok over high heat.
Stir-fry: Swirl in 2 tablespoons oil. Stir-fry 3 smashed cloves garlic until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add romaine all at once. Sprinkle in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black or white pepper. Stir-fry until the leaves just begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon each: chicken broth, soy sauce, dry sherry. Stir-fry until lettuce is just wilted, 1 minute. Drizzle with 1 or 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil.
STIR-FRIED NAPA CABBAGE
This recipe from Kenneth Lo’s “The Top One Hundred Chinese Dishes” calls for dried shrimp, which add a pungently distinctive taste and texture; purchase at Asian groceries. You may substitute 3 or 4 small fresh shrimp (for color) and 1 tablespoon fish sauce (for salty pungency). Makes: 4-6 servings
Prep: Cut a 1-pound napa cabbage into 2-inch slices. Soak 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons dried shrimp in hot water, 10 minutes; drain. (Skip step if using fresh shrimp.)
Stir-fry: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a wok or large saucepan on medium heat. When hot, add a 1/2-inch piece ginger (shredded), shrimp (either dried or fresh) and the fish sauce, if using. Stir over medium heat 1 1/2 minutes. Add cabbage; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes. Add 4 teaspoons soy sauce; stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes.