Zha Cai - Sichuan Preserved Vegetable
Zha Cai – Sichuan Preserved Vegetable

Zha Cai, or Sichuan Preserved Vegetable, is a spicy Sichuanese specialty featuring a type of mustard stem pickled by packing it with salt, garlic and chili.  It is a very versatile pantry ingredient that packs a powerful flavor punch and can be added to soups and stews, as well as steamed or stir-fried dishes.


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Whole Dried Squid
Whole Dried Squid

Dried Squid and Octopus are common cookery ingredients in China and all across Asia. The flavor of both of these sea-creatures, as with many other food products, becomes concentrated and intensified by the drying process, and this allows them to act as flavor enhancers in all sorts of dishes.

If you are unfamiliar with these particular foodstuffs, the prospect of even purchasing them can be daunting, but if you would like to take advantage of the umami-boost they can give to your recipes, read on and learn how to prepare and use them in your own kitchen…


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Broccolini
Broccolini

Broccolini may very well look like some sort of ‘Baby Broccoli’, or perhaps regular Broccoli that shot up a little too quickly before the ‘flower’ top grew, but it is neither of these. There is a relationship, though, and the two vegetables are similar, but broccolini tends to be a bit more delicate in texture and flavor. Accordingly, it is even enjoyed by those who don’t much care for its better-known cousin…

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King Oyster Mushrooms
King Oyster Mushrooms

King Oyster Mushrooms (officially named Pleurotus eryngii) go by quite a lot of different names. You may well encounter them as ‘King Trumpets’, ‘Trumpet Royales’, or even ‘French Horn Mushrooms’, depending on where you live.

The flavor of this variety is not especially remarkable in that they have roughly the same fungi-umami taste you would get from, say, Portobello’s, fresh Shiitake, or even just the plain white Button variety. What is special about them is the texture, which is very meaty and chewy, much like the similar ‘Oyster Mushrooms’ (which are similar, but just haven’t been elevated to ‘royal’ status). They can be lovely in stews or braised dishes, but are also terrific when grilled or pan-fried by themselves with just a little seasoning…

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A Horseradish Root
A Horseradish Root

This rather gnarly looking object is not a withered old tree branch, but is actually a Horseradish Root, the source of that sharp, pungent white condiment usually only encountered in jars purchased at the supermarket. The purchased varieties are fine to use, as long as you don’t let them age too long, but there are some benefits to using the fresh article that are also worth investigating…

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A selection of dried shrimp
A selection of dried shrimp

Do you use dried shrimp in your own kitchen? If not, then you really should think about adding this very versatile foodstuff to your pantry. Like mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, or Conpoy, the drying process highly concentrates the flavors of shrimp and produces a tremendous umami-punch that makes them very useful indeed. If you would like to learn how to prepare and use dried shrimp in recipes, along with tips for buying and storing them, then read on…

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A package of Dried Scallops (Conpoy)
A package of Dried Scallops (Conpoy)

Dried Scallops are very often used in Chinese cookery, and it is a bit of a shame that relatively few western cooks know how to prepare and use them as they pack a unique flavor punch that is truly exquisite…

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A Fresh Octopus
A 2 Kg Octopus

Got an octopus to use and not sure what to do? Not to worry… Follow along here and learn how to prepare octopus by for use in all sorts of dishes.

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A Container of Gochujang
A Container of Gochujang

Gochujang is a chili paste made with red chili powder, glutinous rice flour, fermented soybeans (often in powdered form), and some sort of sweetener such as sugar, honey, or malted barley powder. It is an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine.

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