The following glossary provides basic information on the most commonly available vegetables offered at well-stocked supermarkets and at Asian markets.
* Bamboo shoots: Fresh bamboo shoots have just recently become available in this country; the canned version doesn't even begin to compare to the fresh. When using fresh bamboo shoots, peel off the skin and cook the shoot in boiling water for 20 minutes, then prepare as directed in the recipe.
When buying canned bamboo shoots, choose cans marked "winter" for superior quality. Always blanch canned bamboo shoots in boiling water for five seconds, then refresh in cold water before using.
* Bean sprouts: Most Americans are familiar with the standard bean sprouts that are grown from green mung beans. Mung bean sprouts may be served cooked in stir-fried dishes or uncooked in salads and cold platters. Select white, fresh-looking sprouts. Larger soybean sprouts are sold in Asian markets. They are used in soups, stir-fried dishes and stews.
* Chinese broccoli: This broccoli, with its slender stalks and white flowers, is more bitter than its American cousin. Still, it has a delightful flavor and is delicious stir-fried or blanched until tender in boiling water. When buying thicker, more mature stalks, remove the outer skin and trim the leaves.
* Chinese cabbage: Bok choy, baby hearts of cabbage, Napa and celery cabbage are all members of the extensive Chinese cabbage family. Napa, with its broad, leafy head, and slender celery cabbage are appropriate for dumpling fillings, soups, casseroles, pickles and stir-fried dishes. Bok choy, with its thicker stalk and leafy stems, is best in stir-fried dishes, soups and casseroles. Miniature hearts of baby cabbage are excellent stir-fried, in soups and casseroles.
* Chinese chives: Garlic chives, which are usually available in Asian markets, have slender, flat leaves and a pungent garlicky flavor. They are usually stir-fried, cooked in soups or minced and used in dumpling fillings.
* Cilantro or Chinese parsley: This flat-leafed parsley has a strong musky flavor and smell. Keep it refrigerated, its roots stored in water, and add it sparingly as a flavoring in soups, salads and on cold platters.
* Chinese eggplant: With its slender body and handsome purple or white skin, Chinese eggplant is sweeter and more tender than the larger Western variety. Select those with a plump, smooth skin. Steamed, stir-fried and deep-fried, this vegetable is usually delicious.
* Ginger root: There is no substitute for fresh ginger, a tuber rhizome sold in all supermarkets. A more delicate, tender "spring" version with transparent skin and pink tips is occasionally sold in markets. When buying the mature root, choose shiny, plump roots and store them unpeeled in a pot of sand.
* Chinese mushrooms: Fresh shiitake mushrooms, which have a delicate, smoky flavor, are delicious stir-fried and in soups. In their dried form, shiitake mushrooms take on a more pungent flavor and are often used as a seasoning in soups, stews and stir-fried dishes. You may not substitute fresh shiitakes for dried ones. Oyster mushrooms, which are thick, meaty and somewhat mild in flavor, are delicious in soups, stews and stir-fried dishes. Enokitake or golden needle mushrooms, with their pale, long stems and tiny caps, have a sweet flavor that taste best in salads, soups and stir-fried dishes.
* Daikon radish: With its long white body and green stem, daikon radish is relished in soups, salads, stir-fried dishes, stews and savory pastries.
* Yard-long string beans: Stir-fried, deep-fried or served in a salad, these long beans have a flavor that has been compared to French haricots verts.
* Water chestnuts: Like bamboo shoots, the flavor of fresh water chestnuts is far superior to that of the canned variety. The tough brown outer skin should be removed before cooking. For a savory dish, cook the water chestnuts for five minutes before using in a dish. Blanch the tinned chestnuts in boiling water briefly and refresh in cold water before adding to any dish.