Gai lan, also known as Chinese Broccoli (芥兰, or gàilán in Pinyin) is a leafy vegetable that tastes roughly like traditional broccoli despite being mostly leaves with minimal florets. It’s hard to find in American groceries but it’s a common staple in Chinese markets.
Gai lan will always have a special place in my heart: it was the topic of my first random, unscripted conversation in Chinese with a stranger. I got myself all courageous and then walked into the Golden Pacific Market at Broadway and Balmoral and asked if they had any gai lan and where I could find it. Against all odds the shopkeeper actually understood me; he then smiled a really big warm smile and then took me to where it was. I made my purchase and walked out feeling like a superhero.
This recipe is quite simple. The only hard part is getting the ingredients, but no worries, all will be available at your Chinese market. In addition to the gai lan, you’ll need doubanjiang (豆瓣酱, dòubànjiàng) which is a Sichuanese paste made of spicy beans and red chile peppers, and douchi (黑豆豆豉, hēidòu dòuchǐ) which are small fermented black beans that add a real depth of flavor and some saltiness to the dish.
For the gai lan:
- About 1 lb gai lan, chopped roughly into large bite-sized pieces, tasty stems included. (When you’re deciding how much to make, it’s helpful to know that gai lan shrinks when you cook it, but it doesn’t shrink as much as spinach.)
- Boiling water for blanching
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil for stir-frying
For the sauce:
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 inch ginger, minced
- 2 Tbsp shallots, sliced thin
- 1-2 Tbsp doubanjiang, depending on how spicy you want it
- 2 tsp douchi, chopped roughly
- Blanch the gai lan in boiling water for about 3 minutes, then drain in a colander. Run fresh cool water over it to keep it from cooking further. (Another way to cool it down is to drain it in the colander, return it to the pan, then fill the pan with cool water, and then drain again in the colander.)
- Heat your wok to the point where it barely begins to smoke, then add the peanut oil and swirl.
- Next, add the garlic, ginger, and shallots and stir-fry for about 15 seconds until fragrant. Then add the doubanjiang and the douchi and stir-fry for another 15 seconds. Manage the heat so that the doubanjiang doesn’t boil away; it should remain a sauce.
- Finally, add the gai lan and turn the mixture until everything is warm and coated with the seasonings. This will probably take just a minute or two.
Variation: If you want to make a more substantial sauce, you could dissolve half a teaspoon of potato flour in 2 Tbsp of vegetable broth and add this in step 4. This isn’t my taste, but you’re the master of your own kitchen, so play around and enjoy.
Serve with rice as a main dish or as a side dish to accompany a meal of contrasting tastes.