Chinese kale (jielan cai)

This is one of those mysterious vegetables that is everywhere in China and yet no one else in the world seems to eat it. It’s officially called gailan cai in Mandarin (芥蘭菜[兰]* gài lán cài, literally ‘mustard – orchid vegetable’) and in many dialects, but for some reason in colloquial Mandarin it’s more commonly known as jielan cai (the character 芥 can also be pronounced jiè when talking about mustard). The Latin is ‘Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra’ in Latin, and in English it’s also known as Chinese broccoli. Here are three ways to cook it:

Stir-fried Chinese Kale

Put oil and chopped garlic on a low heat in a wok, fry until the garlic is golden brown, throw in the Chinese kale (best if just the tops) then stir-fry until the colour slightly darkens. Add a pinch of salt. That’s it.

Blanched Chinese Kale (CC’s version)

  1. Separate stalks and leaves. Throw the leaves into boiling water, blanche (boil for just a minute or two at a high heat, 白灼 bái zhuó) until they turn a darker green. Lay the leaves on a plate.
  2. Blanche the stalks (芥蘭梗 gài lán gěng), lay on top of the leaves (all parallel, like a log pile). Sprinkle on light, salty soy sauce (生抽).
  3. Heat oil in a pan. If you have chunky garlic (smashed with a cleaver, then chopped into little bits) it can be thrown in with the oil and fried till just turning golden brown. If the garlic is mashed fine, then it can be place directly on the kale. Pour the hot oil over the top (this is known as 熗[炝] qiàng to boil food briefly then dress with soy etc).

Blanched Chinese Kale (He Suhui’s version)

He Suhui says: ‘Jielan is usually blanched (白灼), if the stalks are quite long or thick then separate them from the leafy sections and blanch separately.

  1. Boil water in a pot and throw the kale in, put the lid on then boil for about another two minutes, take out and put on one side.
  2. Heat oil in a wok, the throw in the kale and quick fry (爆 bào to quick fry or quick boil) and switch off the heat. Then add Thai fish sauce and oyster sauce to flavour (if you don’t have oyster sauce can also use (生抽) soy sauce.

Stir-fried Chinese Kale Stalks (He Suhui version)

  1. If the stalks are very old, can peel the skin off at the base. Cut diagonally into longish sections.
  2. Blanch (焯水 chāo shuǐ) in boiling water for a couple minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, put (生抽) soy sauce, salt, Thai fish sauce, white sugar, water and cornflour (生粉 shēng fěn, starch). Mix evenly.
  4. In a wok briefly fry the kale stalks, throw in the bowl of starch and flavouring, stir until the kale is coated, then serve.


Steamed Chinese Kale

Another way to do it is to steam them with oyster sauce (耗油), nice if you line them up on the plate then drip a bit of oyster sauce down the middle.

  • Note that “芥” is pronounced ‘gài‘ when referring to the green vegetable (芥蘭), but pronounced ‘jiè’ when referring to mustard (芥末 jiè mo), the stuff you use in mustard seeds as a condiment or to make wasabi. All of these, Chinese kale and mustard seeds, belong to the cabbage family Brassicaceae.

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