The only dish that I missed really badly? It is my late ah poh 阿婆 ( paternal grandma) Preserved Mustard Greens with Pork Belly, 梅菜扣肉. When the saltiness of the stew is tweaked over few decades to a state where our family could easily devour the dish alone, or ladle our second serving of rice porridge from the deep pot, at the corner of the dining table.
Today’s recipe is dedicated to my 101 year old late ah poh. This version of Preserved Mustard Greens she developed is atypical from the Hakka’s method. Steaming the mustard greens for hours took too much time for her even back in the old days. All she did was to soak off the salt from the mustard greens overnight, and slowly simmer them in marinate liquid for less than an hour.
Before she was barely mobile at the age of 95, she passed the ladle to my mother and taught her the cooking process. There was no handwritten recipe, just a few “watch and learn” sessions. Now that I’m living on my own, my mother uphold the tradition and I was taught by the same traditional approach.
This soulful stew has became part of my identity, and I’m going to share a vegetarian version by substituting pork belly with eggplant, or some may be more familiar with brinjal or aubergine. With a smooth and glossy skin, this member of the night shade family bears some resemblance to pork belly skin! When handled right, with a reasonable amount of oil, the eggplant’s texture ranges from tender and creamy, to silky and deep in flavour.
How to handle eggplant?
Eggplant is preloaded with water. When it’s full of moisture and cooked at a high temperature, water escapes, and soaks up the oils used when cooking like a sponge. So to prevent using more oil in cooking, we can remove moisture from eggplant by sweating them.
Sweating is a process whereby we sprinkle salt over sliced eggplant, let it sit for 15-30 minutes, for salt to draw water out from eggplant. Then rinse and pat dry with kitchen towel before cooking. Do cut eggplant in large chunks as it will shrink in size when most of the moisture is removed.
Sweating also tenderises eggplant and cut its bitterness.
How my grandma handled preserved mustard greens for the right amount of saltiness that never leaves me thirsty.
Purchase preserved mustard greens from the asian wet market
Submerge mustard greens in bowl of room temperature water, separate the leaves and stem, gently rub off salt in between them and twist them. It’s like doing a little hand washing of your clothes. Drain murky salt water, fill up the bowl and repeat the rubbing process.
Rinse mustard greens under running water, submerge them in a deep sauce pot filled with water. Put lid on. Drain and change water every two hours for two times. Leave it out in room temperature overnight. The water should be clearer each time when it has been drained.
VEGETARIAN MEI CAI KOU ROU (PRESERVED MUSTARD GREENS WITH PORK BELLY) | 素梅菜扣肉
Preparation Time: 40 mins
Cooking Time: 1 hour 10 mins
Diet Notes: Vegetarian, Vegan
I highly recommend to soaking mustard greens the night before cooking.
While slicing preserved mustard greens, separate stems and leaves for cooking
Slice eggplant in thick chunks, about 2 cm thickness as it will shrink overtime in the stew
Sweat the eggplants before cooking
Peel ginger skin by scarping with a teaspoon
You may refrigerate the stew for up to two nights. Please be sure to reheat stew and rice porridge till hot before enjoying them at best.
2 whole preserved mustard greens, remove bottom and slice remaining in small chunks (from the wet market)
1 eggplant (1.7kg), slice in thick chunks
1 thumb old ginger (70g), peeled and slice in thick chunks
1 tsp fine salt
4 tbsp olive oil (Naturel)
1.3 litre boiling filtered water
1 tbsp sesame oil, black (Chee Seng)
1½ tbsp thick dark soy sauce (Apple Brand)
1 tbsp light soy sauce (Tai Hua)
½ tsp white pepper
6 cloves, skin on & pounded
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 star anise
1 cup fragrance jasmine rice
1.5 litre filtered water
(Prepare this step the night before) Submerge mustard greens in bowl of room temperature water, separate the leaves and stem, and gently rub off salt in between them. Drain murky salt water, fill up the bowl and repeat the rubbing process. Rinse mustard greens under running water, submerge them in a deep sauce pot filled with water. Put lid on. Drain and change water every two hours for two times. Leave it out in room temperature overnight. The water should be clearer each time when it has been drained.
Sweat the eggplants with 1 tbsp sea salt for 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry eggplants. Pour marinade A into a bowl of eggplant. Stir and combine evenly. Cover eggplant with a cling foil, or a plate. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or longer for a richer flavour.
Heat a deep sauce pan with extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat, pour marinated eggplant and liquid into the pot. Sauté for 5 minutes, do not let them burn. Remove only eggplant, leave garlic cloves in the sauce pan. Set aside eggplant.
In the same sauce pan, add ginger slices to garlic cloves. Sauté for 1 minute till lightly browned. Add a handful of mustard green stems in batches and stir fry for 1 minute each time till they turn slightly soft. Then add mustard green leaves, cook for 5 minutes.
Add seasoning B to the mixture and fry for 1 minute. Pour boiling water into the pot, put lid on and let it simmer for 45 minutes under medium heat. Remove lid, add cooked eggplants into the stew, put lid back on and simmer for another 8 minutes until they are tender.
Serve the stew with rice porridge, rice or Asian steamed buns.
DIRECTIONS (FOR RICE PORRIDGE)
Soak rice in a bowl of water for 10 minutes to remove arsenic content. Drain rice water, rinse, and rub the rice grains. Fill up a pot with water, and cook rice grains for 18 minutes.
Arsenic is a metal element present in soil and water. Both organically- and conventionally-grown crops will contain arsenic. It is inorganic arsenic that is widely considered detrimental to health.
Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking-water and food, can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects. - Source, WHO
Lots of love,