May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, acknowledging the long and rich history of Asian Canadians and their contributions to Canada. Vancouver is blessed with a large, diverse, and vibrant Asian community; in fact, 20% of our population is Asian (Chinese, East Indian and Filipino making up most of that percentage). All this adds up to diverse communities, fascinating stories, fabulous festivals and fantastic food. Really. Vancouver has phenomenal Asian restaurants. You should come visit.
In my East Vancouver neighbourhood, many a garden is devoted to the production of vegetables. Many times, I can’t identify what exactly is growing, which is kind of cool. You think you’ve seen everything, and then someone’s growing luffas and it’s like, dude.
I’ve got a bit of a thing for growing unusual edibles (in fact, with the room my tomatillos, edamame, and saffron take up, I’m running out of room for oh, you know, peas and salad greens. Things I eat on a regular basis.) But combined with my fiance’s obsession with Asian food and cooking, it seems I’m just destined to grow Asian veggies.
My friend Emma, who is of Chinese heritage, has fond memories of her parents’ garden (read the extended entry for a handed-down recipe!). They grew basically all the family’s vegetables, including gai lan, kohlrabi, bok choy, long green beans, snow peas and snow pea shoots, winter melon (dong gua), fuzzy melon, cilantro, Chinese chives, “and some dark leafy green stuff that grew around the fence.” Says Emma, “I don’t know what it was called but we used it in a soup that called for liver too. Ew! But the soup was very tasty.”
Here in Vancouver, I could probably swap seeds with my neighbours or buy from the large selection of “oriental vegetables” West Coast Seeds carries. On the web, there’s the excellent Evergreen Seeds, carrying a wide variety of Asian edibles. Here are my picks, which meet my dual requirement of being tasty and pretty :
The Hyacinth (Lablab) Bean. Gorgeous, isn’t she?
This edible Amaranth (Yin Tsai or Chinese Spinich) looks like it could double as a foliage plant. This one is called ‘Red Stripe’ but check out ‘Asia Red’ as well.
I’ve only ever seen these Yardlong beans as the Spicy Beans at our local Szechuan restaurant. Tasty… These ones are called ‘Stickless Wonder’. Wonderful.
(All photos from Evergreen Seeds)
Emma’s Winter Melon Soup
It is customary to serve broth-like soup at every Chinese meal — no pop, milk or even water for us. It had to be hot soup or nothing! This one is my favourite soup. We grew tons of winter melon and had this soup about once a week. My mom always knew this soup would bring a smile to my face. She’d say, “Guess what I’m making?” and I’d know right away it was my favourite Winter Melon Soup. My mom made sure that I knew how to make three things before I moved out of the house: basic white rice, congee and winter melon soup.
1/2 lb winter melon (that has seeds, pulp, and skin removed), cut into matchbook size chunks) Hairy melon (also known as fuzzy melon) can be used interchangeably.
Large stock pot of water
2 cups homemade chicken broth
4 Chinese dried black mushrooms
3 slices ginger
1/4 cup cooked ham, diced
1/4 cup dried shrimp
Salt and pepper to taste
Simmer winter melon in a large stockpot of boiling water for about 20 mins. Add chicken broth (homemade), Chinese dried black mushrooms (that have been soaked in cold water until reconstituted), ginger, 1/4 cup dried shrimp, and cooked ham. Simmer at low heat for 20 – 30 mins.