Dehydrated, Cured and Preserved Ingredients

These ingredients below get me excited as soon as I see them. They add a delightful texture to our Chinese and Vietnamese recipes that cannot be found in many other cuisines. The best part is that a lot of these ingredients also have innately deep flavours so their culinary effects are twofold. To activate the dehydrated ingredients, simply soak them in cold or warm water over a few hours to soften.

There will be more recipes to come, so keep reading!

Dried Shiitake Mushroom

One of my favourite ingredients Grandma puts in her recipes is shiitake mushroom. You can buy them fresh or dehydrated, but I find that once you rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms, they impart an intense savoury flavour. Not only do they add flavour, these amazing mushrooms also absorb all the goodness of a broth or sauce that it's cooked in. That's why I especially love braised shiitake mushrooms.

Dried shiitake mushrooms come in sealed plastic bags and are easily obtainable at your local Asian supermarket.

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Steamed Chicken with Dried Lily Flower and Shiitake Mushrooms

Dried Wood Ear Mushroom

Dried Wood Ear Mushroom has an earthiness that reminds me a lot of shiitake mushrooms. The biggest difference is its texture. There is a whole load of crunch in wood ear mushroom that shiitake mushrooms don't have.

Depending on how it's cooked, the crunchy texture will remain but there are times when it softens to the point where it is slightly slimey. Sounds weird, I know, but you just have to try it to know if you like it!

I usually find dried wood ear next to the dried mushrooms in the Asian grocery store. They're also packaged similarly so it's hard to miss.

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Hot and Sour Soup

Steamed Chicken with Wood Ear Mushroom and Lily Flower

Black Moss (Fat Choy)

This is one of my favourites. Grandma doesn't often cook with black moss because few recipes use it, but when she does, boy does the dish taste amazing!

'Black moss' probably sounds like something to stay clear from if you've never encountered it before. Trust me, it's nowhere near as odd as it sounds. Black moss actually reminds me a lot of hair (not helping the cause, am I?), except that it's edible with that earthiness found in shiitake mushrooms. To get its complete flavour profile after it has soaked in all the sauce it was cooked in, you enjoy them in clumps. Eating one at a time will taste like nothing.

You can find black moss at a Chinese supermarkets packaged in plastic boxes of bags.

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Chinese New Year Braised Mushroom and Black Moss (髮菜蠔豉 )

Snow Fungus

Mum always told me of the benefits of having snow fungus as part of a dessert soup. According to Mum, it's great for making the skin silky smooth and to nourish your body. The result is that to this day, I cannot see snow fungus as anything but pure.

Grandma only adds snow fungus to dishes that are on the lighter side of the flavour palette because it's moreso the texture that gives it its appeal. It's fairly similar to wood ear except that it's transparent and has a milder taste.

Snow fungus can be picked up at your local Chinese grocery store.

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Papaya and Snow Fungus Dessert Soup

Snow Fungus and Apricot Kernel Soup

Dried Lily Flowers

Adding a floral taste to our family Chinese dishes makes every bite feel particularly special. When rehydrated, dried lily flowers add a homey sweet and fruity flavour to soups and are perfect for simple steamed dishes.

When preparing, we always cut the hard tips of them off so that our eating experience is much more enjoyable.

You can buy a bag of dried lily flowers from the nearest Chinese supermarket.

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Steamed Barramundi with Bean Threads and Lily Flower

Steamed Chicken with Wood Ear Mushroom and Lily Flower

Dried Longan

Longan is generally added to soup and desserts for a mecidinal and sweet taste. It comes from the fresh fruit longan, which bares similarities to the lychee. I personally prefer longan because it has a much subtler sweetness and the flesh is firmer.

Grab some dried longan from a Chinese or Vietnamese grocery store.

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Lotus Seed, Longan, Wakame Seaweed Sweet Dessert Soup (Ching Bo Leung)

Honey Dates

Growing up, I always wondered why Grandma's soups were always so sweet and fragrant. It wasn't until I started learning how to cook that I discovered sugar cured dried honey dates. She usually adds a few into a stock to give it that extra sweetness.

These will be easy to pick up from Chinese supermarkets and will store for years.

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Watercress and Pork Bone Soup

Dried Red Dates

Similar to honey dates, dried red dates are added to soups and desserts for their sweetness. Their taste differs in that red dates have an earthier flavour than honey dates. They're also a popular snack item that can be in packages similar to that of candy!

We get our dried red dates from the Chinese supermarket in the dried ingredients section.

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Papaya and Snow Fungus Dessert Soup

Snow Fungus Soup

Dried Goji Berry

Mum always used to tell me that goji berries were amazing for the health of the eyes. Whether it's an old wives' tale or not, we do like to add it into our cooking for mecidinal purposes and its mild sweetness.

You can find some dried goji berries alongside all the other dried ingredients at your local Chinese supermarket.

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Chinese Herbal Silkie Chicken Soup

Apricot Kernel

Light and crunchy tear-dropped apricot kernels add a delightful texture to any simple broth or dessert soup. It also has the added bonus of soothing the lungs for coughs (or so I've been told).

Apricot kernels can be purchased from any Chinese grocery shop.

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Snow Fungus and Apricot Kernel Soup

Dried Lotus Seed

While dried lotus seeds are hard and, well, dry, once you soften them in water and add them to a soup or dessert, they take on this surprisingly delicious creamy texture. I say 'surprising' because it's just not something you expect when you bite into it. Lotus seeds have a nuttiness to them that I love and are often added for an extra crunch.

They can be easily picked up when you walk through the dried ingredients section in your local Chinese store.

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Lotus Seed, Longan, Wakame Seaweed Sweet Dessert Soup (Ching Bo Leung)

Dried Chinese Yam

Grandma adds dried Chinese yam to her herbal soups to make sure that the family is nourished with all the right nutrients. In its dry form, Chinese yam reminds me of bark (strange, I know) but there is really not much taste to it.

You can find dried Chinese yam in packets in near the other dried ingredients.

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Herbal Chinese Yam Soup

Pickled Radish

Boy, do I love crunching on some pickled radish with my bowl of rice and side dish. Pickled radish has a slightly salty taste but has maintained its natural sweetness and crunch after pickling. It's usually cut into strips or finely diced to complement food. Pickled radish is also popular to have on its own with plain congee.

At our local Asian grocery store, we find pickled radish in large plastic buckets or boxes with lids. Sometimes the container will be sitting on the serving counter and sometimes it's on the floor near the other packaged products.

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Steamed Pork Cake with Pickled Radish

Fried Rice Cake

Preserved Mustard Greens

My mouth waters when I think of preserved mustard greens because it takes me to a place where Grandma is making her glorious Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens. On its own, preserved mustard greens are very salty. It's important to soak and wash them before cooking.

Grandma gets it from the nearest Chinese grocery store.

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Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens

Pickled Mustard Greens

If you love salty, tart and crunchy vegetables, this is the one for you! Mustard greens are able to retain their crunchiness through the pickling and add a tonne of flavour to any dish. I particularly love it cooked with thick sauces and loaded on top of some fried fish.

Pickled mustard greens can now be found packaged in plastic bags from Chinese and Vietnamese supermarkets.

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Fried Fish with Pickled Mustard Greens

Dried Lotus Leaf

Dried lotus leaves give off an amazing fragrance when steamed. It is always a good idea to wrap rice in leaves or to add some for their aromas, but one dim sum dish that springs to mind is the famous Steamed Chicken and Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf from yum cha restaurants. Nothing is more satisfying at yum cha restaurants than that aroma as you unfold it for the first time.

Dried lotus leaf is usually packaged in flat plastic bags and can be obtained from a Chinese gerocery.

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Steamed Chicken and Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf

Salted Egg Yolk

I grew up eating salted egg yolk in moon cakes, but it wasn't until I took an interest in cooking that Dad showed me how to cook with it. Imagine my surprise!

They're actually salted duck egg yolks and have a very rich orane colour to them as well as a salted creaminess that can be transferred to many dishes.

We source our salted egg yolks from a specialty Chinese dried meats store but they can also be found in airtight sealed plastic bags.

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Salted Egg Yolk Prawns

Century Egg

Ah, the one egg that people either love or never want to try. How about I bust a myth for you: no, they're no really a century old. Century eggs have black whites and grey yolks but trust me, if you can stomach it, the creaminess can't be found in any other egg.

Century eggs are easy to find at Chinese and Vietnamese supermarkets as they are quite the popular snack.

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Century Egg and Pork Congee

The Meats

An image that screams 'Hong Kong' to me is the one of the classic meat shop with dozens of different cured meats hanging from a metal bar. In Australia, we don't generally have those stalls and have to source them from our local Asian grocery. They often come in sealed airtight plastic bags and would have been brought over from China.

Chinese Sausage

What I enjoy most about Chinese sausages is that they're deliciously fatty and have sweetness that is much more prominent than their saltiness. They are a stand alone ingredient and will work marvelously with fragrant plain rice. Grandma would sometimes just cook white rice and place some Chinese sausages in for it to cook and add an extra layer of taste to the rice. Deeeelicious!

You can get Chinese sausages from a Chinese or Vietnamese supermarket. They're usually hanging in a plastic bag or some string of a Chinese specialty meats shop if made fresh.

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Chicken and Chinese Sausage Rice

Yang Zhou Fried Rice

Cured Pork Belly

If you enjoy the sweetness of Chinese sausages, you can't go wrong with cured pork belly. It's also on the sweeter side, but it has an intricate sweet-salty taste that is cured into the fatty pork belly. Once you cook it into your food, all that amazing flavour releases and leaves your dish unbelievably fragrant.

We get our cured pork belly from a specialty Chinese dried meats shop but it can be found in similar packaging near the Chinese sausage at your local Chinese supermarket.

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Chinese Sausage and Cured Pork Belly Claypot Rice

Dried Shrimp

If there one flavour that adds layers of savoury dimension to a dish, it's dried shrimp. Dried shrimp amplifies any umami flavour, giving cooked food an unforgettable essence that cannot be achieved by salt alone.

Grandma puts dried shrimp in 'weekend' broths that would benefit from a punch of flavour. Weekdays are reserved for simpler soups that go well with a full working day.

Dried shrimp is available at any Chinese or Vietnamese grocery store and can be found packaged in sealed plastic bags. It is seafood though, so it may be a little dear, but we definitely do not use much at a time.

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Wonton Skin Soup with Pork Ribs

Dried Scallop

Alongside dried shrimp, dried scallops also release profoundly rich umami flavours when cooked for long. I'll admit that I don't use it as often as I'd like because it is more on the expensive side, but it's well worth it when I do put a couple in.

You can find dried scallop near the dried shrimp section as they are usually used together for flavour boosts.

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Dried Scallop and Egg White Fried Rice

Stir Fried Bokchoy with Dried Scallops

Dried Flounder

This is the third ingredient that I would say adds a pleasant savouriness to a dish. Our family only uses it for Wonton Egg Noodle Soup, but we use quite a fair bit to maximise taste. I'd say it's so essential because our wontons and the broth would not be the same without it, really. I appreciate having dried flounder in the pantry to remind myself to make wontons again and again.

The best place to find dried flounder is at a Chinese grocery store. They're packaged in plastic bags and can be found hanging from a hook.

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Wonton Egg Noodle Soup

Salted Fish

This particular ingredient is one of those where a little goes a very long way. The fish is indeed salty and I would not eat it by itself unless there was a huge bowl of rice to go with it. We generally cook bits of it mixed in with other things so that the saltiness acts as a flavour enhancer rather than a milder base.

Grandma buys salted fish from the Chinese or Vietnamese supermarket where it's packaged airtight in a plastic sealed bag.

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Steamed Pork Cake with Salted Fish

Chicken and Salted Fish Fried Rice