Spring in a bowl

12:54, April 02, 2011      

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Spring is definitely in the air and even the vegetables in the markets seem brighter and perkier. Pauline D. Loh has several suggestions on how best to enjoy it all.

This weekend marks Qingming, the "Bright and Clear" Festival when the Chinese traditionally visits ancestors' graves in remembrance. It is a day when the stoves are normally left cold, and fires will not be stoked until the day is gone.

Try some freshly made pickles instead.

That's not as much as an oxymoron as it sounds. Vegetables, lightly pickled with salt and vinegar, retain their freshness and their crunch as well as their color.

The variety is never better than in spring when even shoots and sprouts are tender and edible. In our garden, the toon trees are putting out purple shoots overnight, and since they needed to be trimmed to a more manageable height, we reluctantly plucked the shoots and made them into a cold salad with silken tofu.

The tomatoes are fleshy and juicy, bright red and sun-kissed. Their sweetness is tinged with just the right touch of tartness and they inspire the creation of a salsa with chopped coriander and little chili peppers.

Down at our village market, the piles of dark green spiky cucumbers stand out at the crowded vegetable stall. They are crisp and crunchy and so fragile that they will snap if they are handled too roughly.

They are at their best, and I will buy a pile for lunch and dinner. Cut into short batons, they are dipped into the Beijing bean paste and eaten as they are, or they can be cut into cubes and mixed into yogurt and seasoned with mint.

My brother David also shared a Japanese pickle recipe with me. The cucumbers are sliced into thin discs, salted to get rid of excess water and then squeezed dry in a towel. A little sugar, a touch of vinegar and they are ready.

I use the same pickling method on bitter melons, which are quite challenging to cook. These bitter gourds are again best in spring when they are still so plump and juicy and their flavors are still relatively mild.

Sliced into very thin strips, they are also salted to rid them of their bitter juices, then rinsed and squeezed dry. I flavor them with sesame oil, a sprinkle of chili flakes and just a light dusting of sugar to counter any remaining bitterness. Chilled and served as a side dish, I have watched them disappear very quickly.

You can also use fruit in pickles and I like using mangoes and pineapples - both of which are in season now in our Kunming home.

Mangoes little larger than big pebbles are common here, and they have seeds that are paper-thin. In spite of their size, they are fleshy and delicious, and abundant. I marinate them in lime and add a sprinkle of chopped mint and rosemary from my herb patch.

I am neither a vegetarian nor a raw food enthusiast, but there is something to be said for vegetables and fruits eaten when they are at their freshest, and best. Take a trip today to the market, and gather in your fresh harvest for the dinner table.


Recipe | CUCUMBER, MINT AND YOGURT PICKLE


Ingredient:

1 large young cucumber

1 teaspoon salt

1 bunch mint, finely chopped

1 small tub plain yogurt

Salt to season

Method:

1. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into strips. If there is too much burp, remove the centers. Dice the cucumber and sprinkle with the one teaspoon of salt. Set aside in a sieve or colander to drain.

2. Rinse the cucumber cubes and squeeze them dry.

3. Place cucumber in a large bowl, add the chopped mint and mix into the yogurt. Taste and season with salt.

4. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

 
 
     
 
 
 
     
 
 
 
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