Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chap Chye, or Chinese stir-fry mixed vegetables

Some families serve this during the Lunar New Year.
It's been harder than I expected, trying to document mom's recipes. Why? Very simple - she has no recipe! Everything is in her head. Portions and decisions are spontaneously made based on the 5 senses. Her constant response to my every question is - You have to see. Smell. Taste. Touch. Listen to the sizzle. She does not use a measuring spoon, or any spoon for that matter. Ingredients are added directly from bottles. So how would I know how much salt to add, mom? You have to taste. But what's the baseline? Open your eyes and see! Er...ok. But see what?

Since I first posted on her 10-minute whole fish dish, the response from friends and readers have been better than anticipated. A few friends have even tried making the dish and gave positive feedback, much to mom's delight.

OK, so here's the second - Chap Chye, very traditional Chinese home cooking. 100% vegetarian dish. And very easy to do. In case you're not familiar with the ingredients, I have a picture of the items here but I'm not too certain of their names in English. 

Ingredients (Clockwise from top right. You can get everything from the dry goods store in the wet market.)
1. One large Chinese cabbage
2. Tomato is optional and not traditionally added, but she thought I needed some colours for my photos!
3. Minced Garlic, to taste.  That looks like about 2-3 Tbsp
4. Dried, Sweetened Bean Curd (soak and cut into small rectangles as shown)
5. Black Fungus (soak in water)
6. Dried Shrimps (how much to add, mom? You must see!)
7. Chinese Mushrooms (soak with fungus)
8. A handful of Golden Needle Vegetable (Dried Lily Buds), knotted (soak for half hour). Supposed to be good brain food - read more about this ingredient here.
9. Vermicelli or Glass Noodles, 80-100g (buy the higher grade one made from beans, not flour. Soak to soften.)
10. Salt, 1.5 tsp
11. Fish Sauce, 3 Tbsp (but be careful as some brands are saltier than others. Add gradually and check taste as you go along).

Strictly no MSG. Also, no oyster sauce, no sesame oil, no soy sauce, no pepper.

Method - just mix one item at a time and keep stir-frying at high heat throughout. 

1. Heat oil in hot pan (we used duck fat today, so maybe I can call this Chap Chye Confit!)
2. Add garlic and stir till fragrant. Add dried shrimps and stir till fragrant. Add mushroom and fungus. Add salt to taste, about 1.5 tsp.
3. Add cut cabbage and stir till soft. Add golden needles. Add water and let it simmer.
4. Add fish sauce (I think she went 2 rounds round the wok LOL. Ok, about 2-3 Tbsp). Let simmer. Add bean curd and vermicelli. You don't want to add the vermicelli too soon or they break into pieces. Simmer till however soft you want your cabbage to be. Some people like them limp, some prefer a crunch. And you're done. Easy?

I share my mom's food philosophy that ingredients must be fresh, strictly no MSG, and flavour should come from your main ingredients.

So there, I've conquered another of her traditional dish. More to come, watch this space. 

And now, there's only one thing left to do - devour this baby! You must eat this with chopsticks, mom says. Ho-chiak!

Drop me a note to let me know if you are thinking of trying this out. 


  1. Nowadays modern people don't use MSG already. It's the era of chicken stock powder, bouillon cubes or canned broth, abalone sauce, oyster sauce and lots of other bla bla bla.
    I try not to use these if possible because, there are a lot of artificial flavour enhancers hidden inside these products. Once you start using these to cook and then decided to stop later, everybody starts complaining the food is no good.

  2. Wendy, I should be clearer when I write. These days, I use the term MSG in such a loose form to mean everything bad, including chicken powder, artificial flavour enhancers, etc...

    And thanks for the English name for golden needle! This ingredient has high nutritional content!


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