May 22, 2021

Chinese Celtuce Vegetable Cold Dish 薑汁萵筍

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Recently we've been deep in the veggie zone, dipping through our cookbooks and trying out all kinds of Chinese ways of preparing vegetables,  a fabulously fun and delicious thing to do cuz Chinese cuisine kicks some serious veggie a**!   One treasure we discovered was this recipe that goes all the way back to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1368) when a hermit/poet named Lin Hong 林洪 compiled one of the earliest Chinese recipe books beautifully titled Simple Offerings of a Mountain Hermit 山家清供.  That makes this recipe around 800 years old!  This Chinese Celtuce Vegetable Cold Dish 薑汁萵筍 is a simple yet elegant salad cold dish featuring the unusual crisp yet tender jade hued celtuce vegetable drizzled with a tasty tart and gingery dressing.

Song Dynasty Elegant Gathering -painted by Emperor Huizong 1100-1125
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You might be scratching your head over the word "celtuce."  I know I did when I first read the recipe. What the heck was this weird looking vegetable with the even weirder name?  But with my food radar alerted I soon realized that the wet markets in HK did stock celtuce, it was just that I had never noticed it before.  (The HK wet markets have an amazing variety of vegetables, many new and exciting things to discover!)  

The photo above is celtuce 萵筍 (also known as 青笋) in all its leggy disheveled glory.  Looks rather like a lettuce plant that got ambitious and decided to try to become a tree.  The name celtuce is actually an amalgamation of the words "celery" and "lettuce".  Celtuce is also known as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce and Chinese lettuce.   The Chinese have long prized this vegetable for its translucent jade colored stem flesh.  The taste of celtuce is like a cross between cucumber and asparagus but superior in its clear veggie sweetness.  The texture is stellar, crisp and tender at the same time, regardless of if used raw or cooked.

You can find celtuce vegetable at wet markets and asian grocery stores.  It's on the radar as one of the new "it" veggies so it should not be the hard to find.  Look for celtuce that are heavy in weight and look fresh and perky.

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So easy to prepare!  Just pluck off the leafy bits (save for a stir fry with a bit of crushed garlic and salt) and then use a veggie peeler to peel off the gnarly skin until only stem heart is left.

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Here is the stem heart after the skin is removed.  The jade like translucent flesh is revealed...beautiful!

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After removal of skin the celtuce is cut into rectangular cubes.  Or cubes or diagonals or strips...whatever one fancies really.  The color and texture is the same all through this amazing veggie so you're free to slice into any shape your heart desires.  With a bit of work you could even make celtuce noodles!

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After the slicing there is a short marination with salt to draw a bit of the moisture out.   Dry with paper towels a bit then into the fridge to chill while you make the dressing.

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The dressing or sauce for the celtuce is an unusual one, a concoction of ginger juice, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar with an added drizzle of sesame oil*.  The vinegar and ginger juice both might seem a bit much but trust me it's really nice.  For the vinegar we used Zhenjiang vinegar 鎭江香醋, a Chinese black vinegar with a complex, fruity, smoky flavor but if you would like a lighter touch use rice vinegar (we really love this one).

*Buying Tip: When buying sesame oil be sure and check that it is a 100% sesame oil like this one.  Alot of sesame oils are mixed with other oils which dilutes the sesame fragrance to 'meh" status.  Get the full power of the sesame...buy wisely.


When you're ready to serve dinner get the celtuce out of the fridge and drizzle the sauce over.  One easy to make, elegant, light and cool veggie dish ready for dinner!  If you run across this new and interesting celtuce vegetable be sure to grab a stem and bring it home to try out this simple but very pleasing ancient Chinese recipe.   This refreshing cold veggie dish is just the thing for a long hot Hong Kong summer!

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Chinese Celtuce Salad with Ginger Soy Dressing   薑汁萵筍
(adapted from recipe in Hangzhou Cuisine by Chan's Kitchen)   Prep time: 10 mins  Cook time: 0 mins

2 celtuce stalks 萵筍
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp ginger juice
1 tbsp sesame oil

Note:  Try preparing this dish a bit early so that it has enough time to chill cuz it tastes best cold

Wash celtuce stalks.  Strip off leaves.  Use veggie peeler to peel the skin off the stalk until all fiberous material removed.  Cut stem into 2 inch lengths, then further slice into 1/2 inch lengths.  Place into strainer and add 1 tsp salt, turning gently with fingers to spread salt evenly.  Let sit for 10 mins.  Use paper towel to soak up water before placing onto serving dish.  Place celtuce in fridge while preparing the sauce.

To make the sauce, first finely grate a 2 inch piece of ginger into a dish.  The ginger will release its juice into the dish.  Continue to grate until the ginger becomes a mass of fibers in your hand.  Squeeze the fibers to release the rest of the ginger juice.  Discard fibers.  Add 1/2 tsp salt, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil into the ginger juice, stirring to combine.  When ready to serve, remove celtuce from fridge and drizzle sauce over.  Enjoy your veggies!

More Chill Vegetable Dishes at The Hong Kong Cookery:





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