5-A-Day: Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries

A whole bowl full of goodness: dark green Chinese broccoli, soft wolfberries, toothsome shiitake mushrooms, crisp slices of woodear fungus, carrot coins and fresh whole ears of sweet baby corn. A vegetarian’s delight that could make a believer of the heartiest carnivore!

The preparation could not be simpler. Fresh vegetables and rehydrated fungi are stir-fried together with a kiss of sesame oil, sugar and salt for a total cooking time of about 6 minutes!

Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, is a member of the mustard family (Brassica) along with all those other favorites: cabbage, broccoli, choi sum, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, and rapini. It can be confused with its cousin, choi sum, but there are a few cues in telling them apart. Like its more distant cousin, the Western broccoli, the sweetest part of the vegetable is actually its stem, though I suspect the leafy greens contain the best of its nutritional goodness. No matter, you’re going to enjoy the whole thing!

Wolfberries (lycium barbarum) are commercially marketed as “goji berries” and are available both in Chinese and Korean groceries, and in most health food stores. Some high end supermarkets may also carry them in the natural foods aisle. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), wolfberries are thought to strengthen, or tonify, the liver and kidneys, and Western science has shown that they contain nutritionally significant amounts of important nutrients including the anti-oxidants Vitamin C, linoleic acid, thiamine, beta-carotene, and riboflavin. In TCM, wolfberries are included in tonics to boost immune system function and for certain eye disorders, but most interestingly, it is also prescribed for the treatment of dry winter skin! We usually buy wolfberries in Chinese groceries (where it may often be sold by its pharmacological name, Fructus lycii), and all the packaging I’ve seen recommend that the berries be cooked before eating — so this is not something we eat out of hand either plain or in trail mix. We do, however, add them to cooked oatmeal, substitute them for raisins in oatmeal cookies, and throw them in to soups. When cooked or boiled, as in soup or oatmeal, the berries don’t really have a distinct flavor, but baked in the cookies they retain a mild tartness similar to cranberry.

Woodear, or black, fungus (might also be labelled as mok-yee) is most often sold dried. Once rehydrated in cool or warm water for 20-30 minutes, the fungus swells to 2-3 times its dried size, so a little goes a long way. Woodear does not really have a distinctive flavor, but is mostly added for the pleasant crunch it adds to stir-fries and soups. TCM also recognizes that woodear is useful to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Together with fresh baby corn and carrots for additional sweetness and chew, these ingredients join for a dish as colorful as it is nutritious. And tasty!

(adapted from Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)

2-3 pieces of dried woodear
4-5 dried shiitake or other black mushroom
1 bundle of Chinese broccoli, about 1lb/450g
4-8oz. (113-226g) fresh baby corn, washed and cut in half
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup dried wolfberries
3-4 medium cloves of garlic, minced

Prepare the vegetables:
Soak shiitake and wood ear fungi in separate bowls for 45 minutes to an hour, or until all are fully re-hydrated (will depend on the size and thickness of the fungus).

Clean gai lan, baby corn and carrot using a mild vinegar solution. Peel and slice carrot crosswise, at a slight diagonal. Separate leaves of gai lan from stems, and cut thicker stem pieces into 2” pieces.

I like to rinse the wolfberries, with a gentle rubbing action to loosen any grit that may have settled on them during processing.

Prepare the Sauce: