Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chap Chai means Mixed Vegetables, Braised or Stewed

For WHB hosted by Anh this week, I'm sharing more about lily flowers/buds, and introducing (plus cooking) a mixed vegetable dish - Nyonya Chap Chai (Chap Chye), in which without fail, usually has lily buds, as one of the ingredients.

Dried or fresh, lily flowers/buds are used in various cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese; and are known as golden needles when in their fresh state due to golden needles stems. When dried, the flowers are unassumingly brown. Lily buds have an earthy and musky-sweet flavor.

Dried lily buds are soaked in warm water for about half an hour before use in cooking, and often tied in knots to keep them from unfurling. Due to their "golden" nature, this also explains why lily buds are usually found in the cooking for auspicious events and occasions, such as Chinese New Year.


Nyonya Chap Chai (Chap Chye) has always been one of my favourite dishes. Some Chinese families like to cook this dish for Chinese New Year Eve's reunion meals. Other than the "golden means auspicious" significance, a practical reason might be because this dish could be cooked 1-2 days in advance (then stored in the fridge for re-heating and later consumption) so that on the day of the reunion dinner itself, effort and time could be given to some other dishes such as steamed fish or roasted meats, that are preferably prepared fresh and consumed almost immediately after being cooked.

Chap Chai (Chap Chye) simply means mixed vegetables. What makes Nyonya Chap Chai (Chap Chye), Nyonya - I don't really know. Perhaps, it was "invented" by the Peranakans/Nyonyas. and thus allowed this dish to carry the name tag and tradition of Peranakan/Nyonya. This works almost exactly like a trademark (though we don't see the TM sign).

I could have Nyonya Chap Chai anytime. Simply love the natural sweetness of cabbage in this dish. Nyonya Chap Chai is typically a combination of vegetables - cabbage, lily buds, black fungus, mushrooms, bean vermicelli (glass or mung bean noodles, or known as tung hoon, in hokkien) stir fried, sometimes even braised, with fried beancurd sheets/sticks and fermented/ salted soy bean (豆 酱, dou jiang in Chinese). It's like a stewed mixed vegetable dish. Sometimes, red fermented beancurd is added.

Nyonya Chap Chai - Braised or Stewed Mixed Vegetables (serves 4-6)
Ingredients:
- 75g/3oz bean vermicelli (glass or mung bean noodles, tung hoon in hokkien)
- 1 head cabbage; washed and cut into chunky slices
- 8 caps fresh shitake mushrooms caps; cleaned with damp towel, cut into slices
- 5oz black fungus, cut to bite slices
- 1/2 cup dried lily buds (Note: read above for preparation instructions-soaking and knotting)
- 3oz fried beancurd sticks (soaked in water, then cut into finger-lengths)
- 1 tbsp salted soy beans (豆 酱, dou jiang in Chinese)
- 1tsp oyster sauce, to taste
- 1-2 pieces rock sugar (1 piece ~ half size of thumb)
- chicken broth/water

Method:
1. Heat up oil in wok, add in salted soy beans, smashing them while frying till fragrant
2. Add in cabbage and mix well for 5mins
3. Add in the rest of the vegetables (mushrooms, black fungus, lily buds, beancurd sticks) and mix well before adding enough water to cover them up. Add oyster sauce to taste and flavor.
4. Simmer on low heat, covered, for 10-15mins till all the vegetables soften
5. Next stir in bean vermicelli (glass or mung bean noodles), simmer for another 5-8mins (Note: vermicelli absorbs a lot of moisture, so you would not want to add this too early or the gravy/sauce would be reduced by too much)
6. Once the ingredients are cooked, dish up and serve. Good with rice or on its own!

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