Despite its unfortunate English name, rape is a delicious vegetable. A member of the mustard family, it has dark green leaves and yellow, goldenrod-like flowers. The Chinese name for it, youcai, or “oil vegetable,” is far more appropriate, for its thick stems contain a considerable amount of oil. When cooked, rape has a slightly bitter, yet buttery, taste.
Rape was such a common vegetable in Szechwan that Mrs.
In this country, rape can be found in the produce section of Chinese grocery stores, tied up in bunches like broccoli. We eat it plain or fry it with noodles in chaomian (Fried Noodles) instead of Chinese cabbage.
Wash the rape well, rinsing it at least twice under running water. Tear the leaves, flowers, and thinner stems into pieces approximately 2 inches long. If the stems seem tough, peel off the outer layer of skin. Cut the outer skin off the thicker stalks, and slice them lengthwise into pieces about ½ inch wide. Then cut them into 2-inch lengths.
Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat the pan over a high flame for 15 seconds, then pour in the oil. It will be ready to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few wisps of smoke appear.
When the oil is hot, add the rape and stir-fry carefully, using your cooking shovel or spoon in a scooping motion to stir the vegetable up from the bottom of the pan and make sure that it all gets exposed to the hot oil.
After about 1 minute, add the salt, then continue to stir-fry the rape for an additional 30 seconds. Pour in the water. Wait for it to come to a boil, then cover the pan and let the rape cook over the same high heat for 5 or 6 minutes. Don’t lift the lid to peek at the vegetable or it will lose its bright green color.
(cornstarch and water)
Stir the cornstarch and water carefully to make sure they are well combined, then pour the mixture into the pan. Stir-fry everything for about 30 seconds longer, until the liquid in the pan turns clear again and thickens slightly. Serve immediately.
© 1976 Ellen Schrecker. All rights reserved.