The day that Wendy launched her new book at Politics and Prose in DC, I was at home reading about her life. Normally I skip the preface of any book but this time I enjoyed reading Wendy’s journey into gardening, which began when she became a mother, and her parents’ journey from China to Maryland, resulting in a successful business and a large vegetable garden. The Chinese Kitchen Garden is Wendy’s first book, a sublime integration of gardening and Chinese cooking. Divided into the four seasons, her book melds her own gardening advice on growing Asian vegetables with her parent’s ability to incorporate such vegetables into classic Chinese cuisine.
Wendy features 38 vegetables that are either native to China, commonly thought of as Chinese, or play a role in China’s culinary world. Each plant is labeled with its common and botanical names, Chinese transliterations, and pronunciations in Cantonese and Mandarin. Wendy describes the plant’s general use in the kitchen such as side dishes, entrees, soups, and salads and gardening methods for this area. Throughout the book are 20 family recipes incorporating the vegetables grown in her and her parent’s garden. Published by Timber Press, this book has excellent graphic elements such as Chinese characters, plenty of colored photographs, and easy-to-read sidebars plus resources for recommended reading, websites for more information, and companies that sell plants and seeds.
The first chapter, Spring, provides instruction on improving the soil, Chinese intensive beds, raised garden beds, container gardening, composting, and seed sowing. Wendy provides information on growing and cooking bamboo shoots, garland chrysanthemum, garlic chives, a variety of peas, and watercress. Recipes include “Bamboo Shoots and Pork Belly Braised in Sweet Soy Sauce” and “Stir-fried Flowering Chive with Roasted Duck.”
Summer addresses the typical problems of pests, diseases, weeds, and the need to water. Wendy covers a variety of beans and greens, amaranth, bitter melon, bottle gourd, bunching onions, Chinese cucumbers, Chinese eggplants, Chinese peppers, daylily buds, fuzzy melon, and luffa gourd. Recipes include “Bottle Gourd and Chicken Stir-fry” and “Long Beans with Garlic and Preserved Olives.”
Fall involves succession planting, seed saving, food preservation, and cleanup chores. This chapter describes how to grow and cook with a choy, bok choy, choy sum, cilantro, gailan, ginger, kabocha, mustard greens, napa cabbage, radishes, stem lettuce, taro root, tatsoi, water chestnut, and winter melon. Recipes include “Kabocha with Ground Pork in Black Bean Sauce” and “Steamed Sea Bass with Cilantro, Ginger, and Scallions.” Several pages are devoted to her father’s signature dumplings with a recipe for “Crab, Pork and Napa Cabbage Dumplings.”
The story ends with Winter: techniques to extend the season, including cold frames, row covers, hoop houses, and cloches; growing cold-hardy vegetables; planning for the next year; and growing sprouts and microgreens indoors.
Throughout The Chinese Kitchen Garden, Wendy tells stories about her family: her husband and daughters, her father and mother, and her sister and her family. She has a very relaxed, easy-to-read style, as if she were chatting at the kitchen table, surrounded by her family. Those who are new to gardening will find this book to be a great introduction to growing Chinese vegetables in the Washington DC metropolitan area while those who are interested in cooking will be inspired to try the delicious recipes. Wendy provides more information on her website, wendykiangspray.com, her blog, greenishthumb.net, and on her Facebook page, The Chinese Kitchen Garden. This coming Saturday, February 18, Wendy will speak about her book at Rooting DC, an annual event in Washington DC.