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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Vary your veggies

Try boiling or poaching your vegetables for variety
The Straits Times - April 5, 2012
By: Sylvia Tan
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Vary your veggies -- ST PHOTO: LIM WUI LIANG

My son has just married and, together with his wife, has begun cooking their own dinners and has been calling me for recipes.

'Mum, is there any other way we can cook vegetables aside from frying them with garlic and oyster sauce?'

My son is well-trained in the ethic of always having a plate of greens with the meal, an excellent way to add fibre and vitamins to one's diet.

But the problem now is how to vary that plate of greens?

Actually, there are many ways to serve green vegetables, including serving them uncooked in a salad.

Yes, even vegetables often used in Chinese cuisine can be eaten raw.

Indeed, I always serve my seared beef on a bed of raw puay leng (Chinese spinach), dang oh (chrysanthemum leaves) and Chinese lettuce tossed in chilli-flavoured oil.

But if you want them cooked, aside from frying them with garlic and oyster sauce, you can try this recipe that I like, stolen from the Italians.

They serve their spinach in flavoursome garlic oil, together with raisins and pine nuts. I substitute the raisins with red cranberries simply because they look prettier.

These days, I sometimes mix vegetables. My favourite combos are broccoli and pea shoots, green beans and a type of green leafy vegetable, or any two kinds of leafy vegetables such as puay leng and baby bok choy (long cabbage).

While these are often stir-fried, there are other ways to ring the changes.

You could fry bottled kana chye (black olive vegetables) with garlic and use that to top leafy greens or green beans. Or use chopped ginger, pee hee (browned crisp dried sole fish) or pounded dried prawns instead of garlic to flavour the oil.

You could also fry the vegetables Thai-style with salted soya beans, garlic, chilli and a touch of sugar.

The vegetables do not have to be fried. You could boil them and toss them with toasted shredded coconut, sliced chilli, fried shallots and shallot oil, following a South Indian recipe.

You could also poach them in stock, vegetable or chicken, and top them with shredded dried scallop browned in oil. Or boil the vegetables and dress them with cooked oil and light soya sauce.

As you can see, the variations are myriad and you can come up with your own favourite, provided you throw out your preconceived ideas of what goes with what.

Some tips bear repeating when stir-frying. They include making sure the pan and oil are hot, but not so hot as to burn the garlic or ginger that you have chosen to flavour the oil.

You also need to add enough salt to flavour the greens and toss them thoroughly.

I like to add a splash of wine to the pan as it adds good flavour.

While I like my vegetables crisp-fried, which calls for a hot pan and quick wrist action, you can cook your vegetables until they become softer, but you need an open pan and a keen eye to dish them out just before they turn a dreadful brown.

Or else, just choose those green vegetables that naturally become softer when cooked and I include lettuce, spinach and pea shoots among this lot.

So that plate of daily greens can actually be a daily highlight, as my son and his wife are finding out.

Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer


Stir-fried spinach and baby bok choy with dried cranberries and pine nuts

(Serves three to four)


1 bunch each of spinach and baby bok choy (long cabbage), washed and drained

2 tbs olive oil

1 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 tsp salt or to taste

1/4 cup white wine

1 tbs dried red cranberries

1 tbs pine nuts


Wash the green vegetables. Pluck off the shoots and the bigger leaves from the stems. Cut the longer stems into shorter lengths. Drain the water from the vegetables.

Heat the olive oil in a pan till it is hot. Add garlic, left either whole or chopped, and fry till the oil becomes fragrant.

Add the vegetables and season with salt. Add the white wine and bring it to the boil.

When the vegetables have wilted, toss in the cranberries and the pine nuts. Toss the ingredients well and serve the dish at once.


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