Smothered rainbow chard with garlic

Smothered rainbow chard with garlic

Men cai hong cai

By
From
Every Grain of Rice
Photographer
Chris Terry

For produce that needs deeper cooking than a simple stir-fry will offer, Chinese cooks often begin by stir-frying their aromatics and main ingredient, then adding a little liquid and covering the wok with a lid to allow the food to cook through. This covered cooking method is known in Chinese as men, which expresses it perfectly, because the Chinese character men consists of the sign for fire next to the sign that means ‘stuffy’, ‘stifling’ or ‘tightly covered’. The best English translation I’ve seen of this specialist cooking term is ‘smothered’, so I use it here.

Smothering is a very good way of cooking tougher greens such as rainbow chard, Swiss chard, kale and cavolo nero: you can moisten them with water for a peasant dish or add a little stock for something richer. It’s also a very good alternative to stir-frying if you want to make the most of Chinese seasonings without the heat and drama of a stir-fry. My friend Seema, for example, uses this method to cook spinach and other greens, stir-frying a little ginger or garlic (or both) in the bottom of a pan, then adding freshly washed leaves, covering the pan and smothering for a few minutes over a medium heat. The water that clings to the leaves (shaken gently after washing, but not spun) is usually enough to smother them: just keep an eye out to make sure they don’t start to catch and brown at the bottom of the pan, adding another tablespoon or so of hot water if necessary. Of course you don’t quite get the smoky fragrance of a stir-fry using this method – and the greens will end up softer and somewhat less vibrant in colour – but they will still be aromatic and quite juicily delicious. I’ve never seen rainbow chard in China, although Swiss chard is widely known, so I’ve no idea what it might be called in Chinese. I’ve translated the name of the dish literally, in the Chinese characters above, as ‘rainbow vegetable’.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
225g rainbow chard
2-3 tablespoons cooking oil
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
salt

Method

  1. Trim the chard stems and cut both leaves and stems into chopstickable lengths. Wash them well and shake dry in a colander.
  2. Pour the oil into a seasoned wok over a high flame, swirl it around, then add the garlic and sizzle for a few moments until fragrant but still white.
  3. Add the chard and stir-fry for a minute or two until the leaves are wilting, then season with salt to taste, cover with a lid and cook over a medium heat for five to 10 minutes, until even the stems are tender. (Stir them once or twice to make sure they don’t brown and add an extra tablespoonful or so of hot water if necessary to prevent catching.) Serve.
Tags:
Chinese
Sichuanese
Asian
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