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Feb 21, 2009 03:35 PM

Mystery ingredient in Szechuan long beans with minced pork?

I love this dish and I am getting pretty good at making it at home. But there is one ingredient I can't identify. It is kind of crunchy, pale, with a darker rind, and is sliced up into matchstick sized pieces. It is a little fermented, maybe. Can anyone tell me what this vegetable (?) is, and where I can get it?

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  1. could be preserved radish...what are the other ingredients you've identified so far?

    4 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      I thought bamboo shoots, but the "darker rind" eliminates that and, I think, preserved radish.

      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        i consider radish skin to be somewhat dark, don't you?

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          I was thinking of daikon. You're probaly right, however. I have no idea.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Thanks, preserved radish makes sense. I have never had it on its own or seen it in a shop, but I just googled it and it seems right. It seems to go by the name chai por and come in bags.
            Not all restaurants put it in the dish, but it is my favourite part. The other ingredients that I use are pretty simple - beans fried in a little oil until they start to brown and blister and a sauce made of soy sauce, scallions or shallots, chili oil, sesame oil and vinegar. I had it first at minimarket, now I try it from 'real' chinese places too.

      2. its probably char choy a Szechuan Preserved Vegetable

        7 Replies
        1. re: youdonut

          it's definitely this.

          Sun's Kitchen at pac mall serves a good zha cai and shredded pork noodle.

          1. re: aser

            In the past I've bought it canned. It keeps well in the fridge, so don't be afraid to buy some even if you only need a small amount in a recipe. Taste to judge how hot and salty it is.

            1. re: aser

              Preserved mustard green. Wikipedia there calls is Zha Cai but Fuchsia Dunlop in "The Land of Plenty" says it is 榨菜 or ya cai.

              1. re: scoopG

                It is probably Ya Cai 宜宾碎米芽菜,一 (but scoopG, your Chinese character still said Zha Cai). The one brand I've been able to get starting only a few years ago is this:


                I first come across this in Flushing, Queens, from a place that doesn't exist any more: This woman made the most incredible steamed buns using meat and this Ya Cai. It's a Szechuan steam bun totally different in taste from the now common veggie and pork bun fillings.

                宜宾碎米芽菜 :Yi bin crushed rice Ya Cai. The Szechuanese like to use toasted ground rice in many things like coating pork belly slices with it and then steaming it tender. Look for this in Asian stores. It's has a different smokiness from the usual Zha Cai.

                1. re: HLing

                  Thanks - I copied and pasted it wrong! I am a bit confused about any difference between the two, 芽菜 ya cai and 榨菜 zha cai and if there is a difference. Perhaps ya cai is preserved mustard green and zha cai is preserved mustard green packing some heat?

                  1. re: scoopG

                    Re-reading the OP's post it's probably 榨菜 Zha Cai, the one that's made from the Kohlrabi- like bulb of a type of mustard green. Zha Cai is much more accessible in the US and is known by most people for longer time. So even if a dish in Sichuan gets made with the Ya Cai, people in the US would probably substitute Zha Cai for it anyway.

                    Ya Cai 芽菜 on the other hand, is made from stems of this plant:

                    Yi Bin is the name of a city in Sichuan. I made a wrong assumption in my earlier post about the Sui Mi, (crushed rice) in that though They tend to use crushed rice a lot in their recipes, in this case (Yi Bin Sui MI Ya Cai) it's referring to the chopped-up, crushed rice-size version as opposed to the whole strips.

                    If i recall correctly, the dan dan noodles at the St.Mark location had specks of the Ya Cai 芽菜on it, which is different from the pickles used for the Zha Cai 榨菜pork noodle soup.

                    If you've had Mrs. Tan's 谭 (of the no longer Mai Xiang Tan麦香谭) special Ya cai steamed buns (芽菜肉包)you'll know the difference right away. Her food was way better than the Spicy and Tasty restaurant's version! But I digress.

                    1. re: HLing

                      you can find suimi yacai at the Hong Kong supermarket in east brunswick New jersey-product is made by sichuan yibin

          2. It's Szechuan pickled vegetable, which you can get jarred in any Asian market. The commercial ones are made from a green that I've never been able to find in the U.S. (my market produce woman told me she can't get them, but I'm not 100% sure we got around the language barrier). There are recipes online to make it from turnips, carrots and cabbage. I've tried that, and it's good -- but it's not terribly much like the bottled variety.

            3 Replies
            1. re: dmd_kc

              chinese groceries sell this in small plastic packs as well as in cans - look in the sidewalk bins - its really cheap and tastes great.

              1. re: dmd_kc

                It's made from a mustard root related to kohlrabi, if you want to make your own.

                1. re: trentyzan

                  And I think I'm going to try it with kohlrabi greens. Thanks!

                1. Is there any chance you will share your recipe with us, Colonel ?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sweetpotato

                    The Colonel has not weighed in on CH in about nine months. Here's a recipe for you ex Fuchsia Dunlop: