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Sprigs of spring

By Pauline D. Loh | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-15 09:56

Sprigs of spring

Spring vegetables create edible art and the Chinese character "chun". Photos by Fan Zhen / China Daily

Green buds and shoots are the best indication that the earth is waking and warming up. For human omnivores, it is also time to enjoy the first spring greens. Pauline D. Loh presents a shopping guide, recipes and reasons why you should eat more baby vegetables.

Eat local? Reduce food miles? Grow your own sprouts and shoots. As long as you have a sunny window ledge that is bright and breezy, it's a piece of cake. Okay, to be accurate, it's a little patch of green.

The Californians started it, of course. The Beautiful People of the Sunshine Coast were the first to make it a momentary fad, as they have done with every little known and healthy plant, bud, fruit, nut and root ranging from alfalfa sprouts, inch-high coriander shoots to gingko nuts, Amazon acai berries, tropical noni juice to what they insist on calling Tibetan goji berries.

Thankfully, in China, fads are not as transient, and the markets are glowing with green as the thermometer gradually climbs higher and the snow patches melt into sparkling puddles in the sun.

Chinese chefs have always known the delights of shoots and sprouts. Mung bean sprouts are pretty indispensable in every Chinese kitchen, especially in the milder half of the country south of the Yangtze River, where they are added to stir-fries and noodles with equal abandon. Further south in Guangdong province, they are even more treasured.

The tender shoots of peas, sugar snaps, silky gourd and even pumpkins and bitter melons are often harvested and sold in little bundles as supplementary crops.

Back in the kitchen, home chefs would sizzle up some rendered chicken fat and toss the shoots over high heat - a technique so simple it takes years to master. The shoots must be cooked, but still be bright green, crunchy sweet and barely wilted.

And then, there is the uniquely Chinese toon shoots.

The Chinese toon is a towering tree that can be seen on almost every street corner from Beijing to Yunnan province.

In winter, it sheds its leaves but as soon as the sun gets it warmed up, it sends out bunches of deep maroon-tinged shoots which are quickly harvested by its eager human neighbors.

It's a wonder there are still toon trees around that are not permanently stunted by this springtime massacre.

Sprigs of spring

Special: 2013 Spring Festival 

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