Cook This: Three recipes from Asian Vegetables, including stuffed cabbage with teriyaki sauce

Make the Wang sisters’ lightly braised gai lan with miso and pancetta, steamed pork-stuffed Asian eggplant and glazed baluchoux with teriyaki sauce

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Our cookbook of the week is Asian Vegetables by the Wang sisters, farmer Stéphanie Wang, dietitian Caroline Wang and musician Patricia Ho-Yi Wang.

Jump to the recipes: lightly braised gai lan with miso and pancetta, steamed pork-stuffed Asian eggplant and glazed baluchoux with teriyaki sauce.

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Sisters Stéphanie Wang, Caroline Wang and Patricia Ho-Yi Wang — a farmer, dietitian and musician, respectively — bring different perspectives to their debut book, Asian Vegetables. Equal parts gardening guide, recipes and stories spanning three generations and as many countries (China, Madagascar and Canada), the cookbook is a unique exploration of family and the food of their Cantonese heritage.

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Asian Vegetables started with Le Rizen, Stéphanie’s organic farm in Frelighsburg, a village in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

Vegetables such as bok choy, napa cabbage and gai lan may be widely available in Canada today but many other Asian varieties are more elusive — even though, as the Wang sisters highlight, they are well-suited to our northern climate.

“It sounds revolutionary, incongruous, to think of growing Asian vegetables in Quebec, but it’s the same latitude as northern China,” says Patricia, a violinist, podorythmist and singer based in Rimouski.

At Le Rizen, which Stéphanie founded in 2016, they grow more than 40 varieties of Asian vegetables and plants, including luffa, mustard greens and shiso (which are among the 15 featured in the book), and make products such as kimchi, pesto and sambal.

“We’re pioneers and, sometimes, I think it’s challenging for us,” says Stéphanie. “It’s a nice challenge, and I really love research and development. While at the same time, we’re pushing the limits and being the first ones to introduce a lot of these vegetables to the public. So, we have to explain a lot. Education and introducing people to these vegetables — how to eat them, how to cook them, how to preserve them — it’s all part of what we do.”

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Left to right: Caroline Wang, Patricia Ho-Yi Wang and Stéphanie Wang
From left, Caroline Wang, Patricia Ho-Yi Wang and Stéphanie Wang. Photo by Virginie Gosselin

The idea for Asian Vegetables started with the newsletters Stéphanie and Gatineau-based Caroline collaborated on for customers who bought Le Rizen’s vegetable baskets. They then asked Patricia, who had been gathering family stories for a musical project, to get involved.

Narrowing her focus to food gave the work she had been doing new life, says Patricia. During interviews, family members opened up in ways they hadn’t before. “When I began asking questions about food, I realized I should have done that a long time ago,” she adds, laughing. “Because food is neutral and reaches so far in the memory. It’s just natural for people, I think, to talk about food.”

These stories — about Chinese culture and identity, family and origins — are a common thread through Asian Vegetables and Patricia’s musical practice. She mentions one of her recent projects, Lieues (Leagues), which blends traditional Chinese and Quebecois music. “It’s a narrative of those that are often seen as very far in our collective imagination, but they are not. They could be closer, and they can merge, even. My sisters and I are kind of an example in person — but in music, also, and just in general, why should we see Asia and the Occident as very far apart?”

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For Caroline, writing Asian Vegetables was a discovery of a different kind. Though she was familiar with many of the vegetables featured in the book, some were new to her. “Stéphanie is a source of inspiration for that. She always (has) a new Asian vegetable that she wants to grow. And so, we discover these vegetables with her.”

Caroline especially enjoyed developing recipes for edible chrysanthemum — a subtly bitter and fragrant green with lacy leaves that grows nicely in a window box or garden. Montreal chef Anita Feng, owner of lunch counter and grocery store J’ai Feng, contributed her recipe for chrysanthemum-stuffed bings. Caroline included two of her favourite ways with the vegetable: maple-sautéed chrysanthemum and chrysanthemum pesto noodles with edamame, which she created with Patricia.

“I really appreciate how beautiful it is, with little edges. It’s really neat. And also, I like the floral aroma and taste. It tastes like parsley or the leaves of celery. It was really fun to create recipes with that vegetable.”

The Wang sisters feature a range of vegetables in the book. Some are well-known, such as Asian eggplant, bok choy and napa cabbage. Others, such as Malabar spinach and edible chrysanthemum, are more obscure. Some thrive in cool weather, others in the heat. Ten are greens, four are fruit vegetables and one is an herb.

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Asian Vegetables by The Wang Sisters
The Wang sisters feature 15 Asian vegetables in their debut cookbook. Photo by House of Anansi Press

This diversity extends to the recipes. Local chefs and family members contributed some of the book’s 40 recipes, and the rest are their own creations. They represent a range of cooking techniques, level of difficulty and style. There are appetizers, main dishes, desserts and condiments, gluten-free and vegan options, as well as those with meat.

“Mainly, we wanted to get people inspired by these vegetables and see what they can offer us,” says Caroline.

Asian Vegetables unfolds with the seasons, starting with winter, when Stéphanie plans for the next year, and ending with fall, when she closes up the garden and preserves any leftover vegetables and herbs. Among the recipes, growing tips and family stories, the Wang sisters share thoughts on far-ranging topics, including how growing more Asian vegetables contributes to food sovereignty, resources for understanding Cantonese, and Stéphanie’s experience with burnout in Le Rizen’s early days, which other small-scale farmers have responded to.

“It was really important for me to share it and a lot of farmers who read it came back to me to say, ‘Thanks so much for writing this. We really felt the same at some point in this crazy work that we do.’ I think it’s important to talk about it, because there are a lot of success stories and it seems easy or it seems very profitable — and in reality, it’s not always the case.”

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After graduating with a master’s in the sociology of agriculture, Stéphanie worked for farmworker rights organizations such as Via Campesina, Union Paysanne and the National Farmers Union, in Canada and at the international level.

As much as she enjoyed it, “I wanted to really put my hands in the ground” — to apply her work in food sovereignty in a concrete way while bringing something different to the market. “At the time, and still right now, it was almost impossible to find the vegetables that I grow produced in an organic way and also produced locally. So I felt that there was a need for it, and I felt the call to jump in.”

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Her efforts have paid off. Stéphanie was named farm producer of the year for 2023 by Les Lauriers de la Gastronomie Québécoise. And since the French version of the book came out in 2022, she’s noticed that other farmers in southern Quebec have tried growing some new Asian vegetables.

Le Rizen could have worked elsewhere in the province, says Stéphanie, but she suspects it would have been more difficult or taken longer. “We call this area the Florida of Quebec, so we have a longer season. We can start early and finish late in the season, so it gives us more room to grow.”

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It’s also hilly, which suits different kinds of farming businesses, such as orchards, vegetable farms and vineyards — and is close to Montreal, where the Wang sisters were born and raised. Chefs from Montreal have relocated there and are opening restaurants, contributing to the dynamic food and farming community. People are open to trying new things and have been supportive of her groundbreaking offering.

“It’s a position that I find motivating, because pretty much most of what we do, we’re the first ones to do (it). So, it’s exciting. It’s really fun to bring new products to people and see their reaction and see how they love it and see that habits can change quite quickly over time,” says Stéphanie.

“We are in our eighth season. So, it’s really nice to see people that started buying our vegetables eight years ago, and now it’s part of their routine menu, and they really love it, and they talk about it to all their friends and family. It’s nice to create a movement and be part of it and see how it evolves.”

LIGHTLY BRAISED GAI LAN WITH MISO AND PANCETTA

Lightly braised gai lan with miso and pancetta
Lightly braised gai lan with miso and pancetta from Asian Vegetables. Photo by Virginie Gosselin

By Dana Cooper, owner of Fraîche! in Sutton, Que.

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Preparation: 5 minutes | Cooking: 10 minutes

Serves: 4

2 bunches of gai lan (14 oz/400 g)
1/4 cup (60 mL) pancetta, cut into small pieces (1/4 x 3/4 inch/0.5 x 2 cm)
1/3 cup (75 mL) water
4 tsp (20 mL) white miso paste
1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter (optional)

Step 1

In a frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the pancetta for about 3 minutes to render the fat. Add the gai lan and stir until well coated in fat.

Step 2

Add the water to the pan. Cover with the lid and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the gai lan is tender.

Step 3

Remove the lid. Gently stir the miso into the liquid at the bottom of the pan (if there is no liquid left, add a little water). Gently stir the gai lan until coated in sauce. For a slightly silkier sauce, stir in the butter (if using).

Notes and variations:

You can replace gai lan with choy sum, bok choy, Swiss chard or any other green. For a different flavour, add minced garlic in Step 1, taking care not to burn it. Dana uses pancetta because she loves the crispiness and the umami, but you can substitute bacon or a combination of smoked tofu and minced garlic.

STEAMED PORK-STUFFED ASIAN EGGPLANT

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Steamed pork-stuffed Asian eggplant
Steamed pork-stuffed Asian eggplant from Asian Vegetables. Photo by Virginie Gosselin

By Danielle Laou (the Wang sisters’ aunt)

Preparation: 40 minutes | Cooking: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

2 Asian eggplants
1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) fresh ginger, cut into fine sticks (a piece 1/2 to 1 inch/1 to 2 cm thick)
2 red Thai (bird’s eye) chilis, sliced
2 green onions, sliced
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced

For soaking:
1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar (to prevent the eggplant from turning black)
1 tsp (5 mL) salt (to reduce bitterness)

Stuffing:
8.5 oz (250 g) lean ground pork
3/4 tsp (3 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking powder
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) baking soda
1/4 cup (60 mL) water
1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

Sauce:
1 tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp (15 mL) oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp (7 mL) cornstarch
1 tsp (5 mL) sesame oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) granulated sugar
Ground black pepper, to taste

For the stuffing

Step 1

Put the pork in a bowl, and then add the remaining stuffing ingredients. Mix by hand, always in the same direction, until you obtain a homogenous, sticky texture.

Step 2

Throw the mixture against the bottom of the bowl five or six times to make it more elastic and smooth. Cover and set aside in the fridge.

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For the eggplants

Step 3

Rinse the eggplants, and then remove the ends. Cut into diagonal slices 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick. Score each slice, cut-side up, at the centre, two-thirds of the way through so you can garnish each slice like a sandwich.

Step 4

Add the vinegar and salt to a bowl of water. Soak the eggplants for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, then pat dry with a paper towel or a kitchen towel to absorb surplus liquid.

Step 5

Fill the eggplant slices with the stuffing. Put in a heat-proof container, and then sprinkle with ginger. Set aside.

Step 6

In a cooking pot, rest a metal support, then fill with water so that the water does not go higher than the support. Bring the water to a boil. Put the eggplant container on the support. Drape a tea towel under the lid of the cooking pot to avoid condensation falling on the eggplants. Steam-cook for 20 minutes. Transfer the eggplants to a serving dish.

Step 7

Pour the cooking juice from the eggplant container into a measuring cup and add water until you have 1 cup (250 mL). Set aside.

Step 8

Sprinkle the chilis and green onions over the eggplants.

For the sauce

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Step 9

In a bowl, whisk together the reserved cooking juice and ingredients for the sauce.

Step 10

In a small saucepan over medium heat, pour 2 tbsp (30 mL) of the olive oil. Stir-fry the garlic, and then add the sauce. Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the sauce thickens slightly. Pour over the eggplants. 
Bon appétit! Maann maann sik!

Notes and variations:

The eggplant can be replaced with green bell peppers chopped into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces, which you can top with the stuffing before steam-cooking.

The Thai (bird’s-eye) chilis can also be replaced by red bell pepper.

You can add roughly chopped fresh shrimp to the stuffing.

Instead of the sauce, you can simply drizzle the eggplants with soy sauce and sesame oil.

GLAZED BALUCHOUX WITH TERIYAKI SAUCE

Glazed baluchoux with teriyaki sauce
Glazed baluchoux with teriyaki sauce from Asian Vegetables. Photo by Virginie Gosselin

By Amandine Chen, 
with the support of Nirina Raharison (the Wang sisters’ cousins)

Preparation: 30 minutes | Cooking: 15 to 30 minutes

Makes: 12 baluchoux

12 napa cabbage leaves
Toasted sesame seeds, to taste

Stuffing:
2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped into small pieces
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh ginger (the equivalent of a 3/4-inch/2 cm thick slice)
1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar (white, cider or wine)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried seaweed (whole or flakes)
1 block (16 oz/450 g) firm tofu
1 medium potato, grated
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

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Teriyaki sauce:
1/2 cup (125 mL) soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh ginger (the equivalent of a 3/4-inch/2 cm thick slice)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp (45 mL) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) vinegar (white, cider or wine)

For the stuffing

Step 1

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and pour in the oil. Add the onion and ginger, and then brown for 1 minute, or until the onions are translucent. Add the vinegar, reduce the heat to minimum, and cook until the onions turn brown.

Step 2

Meanwhile, rehydrate the seaweed according to the package instructions. Drain, and then mince if not already in small pieces. Crumble the tofu by hand into a large bowl. Add the seaweed, potato and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Step 3

Add the tofu mixture to the frying pan. Increase the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking (if it is sticking too much, reduce the heat). When the potatoes are tender, turn off the heat.

For the cabbage

Step 4

Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. One by one, pull off 12 leaves from the base of the cabbage and rinse under cold water. Once the water is boiling, immerse the leaves. When the water returns to a boil, or when the thick part of the cabbage is tender, transfer the leaves to a colander and drain. If desired, plunge into ice water to preserve the leaves’ beautiful vibrant colour.

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For the teriyaki sauce

Step 5

Put all of the sauce ingredients in a frying pan or saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces and becomes syrupy. (Be careful not to burn it or let it overflow; reduce the heat if necessary.) Set aside.

Optional

Step 6

To enjoy the baluchoux hot, preheat the oven to 400F (200C).

To assemble

Step 7

Set a cabbage leaf on your work surface, stem toward you. Make sure it is very flat. Place 1/3 cup (75 mL) of the tofu mixture in the middle of it. Fold up the cabbage leaf to make a little bundle. First fold in each side of the leaf over the stuffing, and then fold up the stem and end by folding down the top large part of the leaf. Set on a serving plate or an oven dish seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining cabbage leaves.

Step 8

If desired, bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Step 9

Before serving, use a spoon or brush to glaze the baluchoux with the teriyaki sauce.

Step 10

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with rice.

The Wang sisters make baluchoux with their cousins, Amandine Chen and Nirina Raharison
The Wang sisters make baluchoux with their cousins, Amandine Chen and Nirina Raharison. Photo by Virginie Gosselin

Notes and variations:

Any seaweed can be used, but the flavour will be different depending on which kind you choose.

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The seaweed can be omitted and grated carrot added for colour, or shiitake mushrooms for texture. You can also add cilantro leaves or green onions to the cooked tofu mix.

The tofu can be replaced with ground meat, while the potato can be replaced with sticky or sushi rice (1 cup/250 mL uncooked rice).

To make folding easier, you can thin the thick part of the leaf with a knife prior to filling with the tofu mixture.

Recipes and images excerpted from Asian Vegetables by Stéphanie Wang, Caroline Wang and Patricia Ho-Yi Wang. Copyright ©Les éditions Parfum d’encre 2022. English translation copyright ©2023 J.C. Sutcliffe. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press.

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