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A Simple Chinese Twist On Young Soybeans

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What comes to mind when you think of Chinese food? Is it takeout, thick sauces or deep-fried meat? Cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop wants to change that.

"Really, the traditional diet is all about vegetables," she says. "In the past, most people couldn't afford to eat much meat, so they had to concentrate on making their everyday vegetarian produce taste sensational."

Dunlop is from Oxford, England. She trained as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and has been traveling around China for the last two decades, collecting recipes and writing about food. Her latest book is Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking.

One of Dunlop's favorite Chinese vegetable dishes is xue cai mao dou or stir-fried snow vegetable with green soybeans. She shared a recipe for the dish for All Things Considered's Found Recipe series.

"Xue cai -- that means literally snow vegetable. It's a kind of pickled mustard green. Mao dou means hairy beans — or green soybeans," she says.

Green soybeans are most commonly known by their Japanese name, edamame. They can be dried and made into tofu, but when they're harvested early, you can eat them as a vegetable. Dunlop loves the flavor of the young beans. "They're a bit firmer than peas, and I think they're rather more delicious," she says.

Dunlop has had many versions of the stir-fried soybean dish in different parts of China. But her favorite was cooked by a grandmother who lived in the hills of southern Zhejian province, near Shanghai. She modeled her dish off that meal.

"I sometimes cook it just with the snow vegetable and the green soybeans. And sometimes I add a bit of chili and Sichuan pepper to give it a Sichuanese touch, a little bit of spicy pizzazz," she says. "Just have it with a bit of steamed rice — it's very satisfying."

The dish's appeal lies in its simplicity for Dunlop. She hopes it will change minds about what it means to cook Chinese food.

"I think people are often very intimidated by Chinese food, but of course lots of people in China are busy, they're just trying to make something satisfying for their family at the end of the day," she says. "This dish is just an example of how people rustle up a quick stir-fry for supper."


Recipe: Stir-Fried Green Soybeans With Snow Vegetable (Xue Cai Mao Dou)

You can add more or less snow vegetable as you please and you might like to pep it up with a little chili and Sichuan pepper, to give it a Sichuanese twist. Either version is great served either hot or cold. The same method can be used to cook peas or fava beans.

9 ounces fresh or defrosted frozen green soy beans (shelled weight)

2 tablespoons cooking oil

5 dried chilies (optional)

1/2 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper (optional)

2 ounces snow vegetable, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

If using fresh soybeans, bring a pan of water to a boil, add salt, then the beans. Return to a boil, then cook for about five minutes, until tender. Drain well. (Frozen soybeans are already cooked.)

Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the oil and swirl it around. If using the spices, add them now and sizzle them very briefly until you can smell their fragrances and the chilies are darkening but not burned. Then add the snow vegetable and stir-fry briefly until fragrant.

Add the beans and stir-fry briefly until everything is hot and delicious, seasoning with salt to taste. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.

Excerpted from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. Copyright 2013 by Fuchsia Dunlop. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Co.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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