Oriental Shoots

Oriental Shoots

BAMBOO SHOOTS

In the Far East, edible bamboo shoots are sold fresh in the market. The young shoots are stripped of their brown outer skins and the insides are then eaten. Although fresh bamboo shoots can occasionally be found in oriental stores, the most readily available variety is sold in cans. The flavor is undoubtedly spoiled. Fresh bamboo shoots have a mild but distinct taste, faintly reminiscent of globe artichokes, while canned ones really taste of nothing at all. However, the texture, which, in Chinese cuisines particularly, is as important as the flavor, is not so impaired, and bamboo shoots have a pleasantly crunchy bite.

Preparing and Cooking : Peel away the outer skin and then cook in boiling water for about half an hour. They should feel firm, but not "rock" hard. Once cooked, slice thinly and serve by themselves as a side dish, with garlic butter or a sauce, or add to stir-fries, spring rolls or any oriental dish where you need a contrast of textures. Since canned bamboo shoots have been preserved in brine, always rinse well before using.

PALM HEARTS

Fresh palm hearts are the buds of cabbage palm trees and are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. They are available canned from oriental stores, but are most prized when fresh. These should be blanched before being cooked to eliminate any bitterness. They can be braised or sauteed and then served hot with a Hollandaise sauce, or cold with a simple vinaigrette.

WATER CHESTNUTS

Water chestnut is the common name for a number of aquatic herbs and their nut-like fruit, the best known and most popular variety being the Chinese water chestnut, sometimes known as the Chinese sedge. In China they are grown in exactly the same way as rice, the plants needing the same conditions of high temperatures, shallow water and good soil. In spring, the corms are planted in paddy fields which are then flooded to a depth of some 10 cm. These are drained in autumn, and the corms are harvested and stored over the winter. Water chestnuts are much used in Chinese cooking and have a sweet crunchy flavor with nutty overtones. They are edible cooked or raw and are excellent in all sorts of Chinese dishes.

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