Recently I was looking through my beginners Chinese textbook from Tunghai University in Taichung. I was doing a little reviewing on account that over the past couple years I have had little regular practice conversing in Mandarin and therefor last year’s trips to Taiwan were a bit of a wake up call. Though the review ended up being a bit of a nostalgia trap, oh the memories, those carefree days filled with studying and confusion.
However, in one of the chapters I had more or less forgotten about there was a list of Chinese dishes that the teachers at the Chinese Language Center, who also happen to write the textbooks, feel that it is compulsory to know. Such as Mapo Tofu and Kung Pao Chicken. Among the short list of dishes is one that is so common in Taiwan that you don’t even notice it after a while. In fact I make some version of it so often that I don’t even think about it. It is just there on the table next to rice and some sort of main dish. But like all supporting roles, a meal just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Of course I am referring to 開陽白菜 (kāi yáng bái cài) Chinese Cabbage with Dried Shrimp. That slightly homely, unassuming, ubiquitous vegetable dish that just happens to be at almost every meal, but I seem to have not bothered to write about. Because, you know, it will always be there. Well finally maybe I should bring it out into the spotlight.
Incidentally 開陽 (kāi yáng) refers to the dried shrimp (蝦米 xiā mi) in the dish that gives it a wonderful umami flavor that is quickly addictive. But the thing is I don’t understand this particular moniker for the dried shrimp or its etymology. I mean yes I can directly translate it (開陽 = open sun), but that does not make it make sense. Perhaps it is due to the color of the shrimp. Anyway if anyone wants to let me know, I am all ears.
- 21 oz. (600 g./about half a head) of Chinese/Napa Cabbage
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 T. dried shrimp 蝦米 (more or less depending on personal preference)
- 1 T. minced garlic
- 3/4 c. of chicken stock
- 1/2 t. of salt
- 1/4 t. of sugar
- 1 t. of corn starch mixed with 1 T. of cold water
- 1 t. of sesame oil
- Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms and the dried shrimp in warm water for about 30 minutes. Then slice the mushrooms and roughly chop the shrimp.
- Roughly chop the Chinese cabbage into bite size pieces, wash and drain.
- Heat a wok over medium high heat until hot. Add 2 T. of oil.
- To the hot wok add the garlic, sliced mushrooms and dried shrimp, stir fry until fragrant.
- Then add the chopped cabbage and chicken stock. Stir, cooking until the cabbage is just tender.
- Then add the salt, and sugar.
- Add the cornstarch and water mixture stirring a few times until the liquid thickens a little.
- Remove from heat and add the sesame oil.
- Place in a serving bowl and if you would like you can add some cilantro for garnish.