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Chefs lighten things up just in time for spring
By Ruby Gao

Spring is just around the corner. The season features plenty of produce — from fresh greens to crunchy vegetables, from aromatic tea leaves to seafood. Some hotel chefs combine these seasonal tastes in a show of respect for nature.

Bamboo shoots, asparagus and tea leaves are all excellent options in the spring, according to John Wang, executive chef at Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel.

Bamboo shoots, which grow mainly in eastern and southern China, are popular due to their distinctive crunchy texture and delicate flavor. The mild vegetable is known for its versatility. It goes well with various ingredients from pork to fish.

Bamboo shoots are also prized for the ability to absorb other flavors in sauces. Classic dishes include braised bamboo shoots with pork in soybean sauce, and stir-fried bamboo shoots with ji cai (shepherd’s purse, a wild green 荠菜).

Wild greens are also spring specialties. They range from xiang chun (Chinese toon 香椿) to ma lan tou (kalimeris 马兰头) and juhua ye (a type of chrysanthemum 菊花叶) to gouqi ye (boxthorn leaf 枸杞叶). Those that grow near rivers, mountains and on trees have an intense herbal or floral fragrance and slightly bitter flavor.

These greens are popular in both Shanghai and Jiangsu cuisines. Chefs often cook these wild greens with mild ingredients like bean curd to showcase the natural flavor. In some dishes, they also will use sauces to reduce the natural bitterness of the greens.

Asparagus, regarded as “the prince of vegetables,” is favored by many Western chefs due to its delicate freshness and high nutritional value. To highlight its natural flavor, some chefs prefer simply poaching asparagus and serving it either as an appetizer or as a side dish to cut through the fattiness of meat.

Seafood is also delicious in spring. Both fish and shrimp fatten up at this time of year as they prepare to spawn. Meanwhile, tea leaves are no longer just for beverages. They are appearing as a seasonal ingredient in more dishes.

“The leaves add aroma and color to a dish. They can balance creaminess in food and make each bite fresher,” Wang says.

Some Chinese chefs prefer stir-frying tea leaves with shrimp or making it into soup to poach with other ingredients. Some Asian-influenced French chefs make tea leaves into a jelly or foam to lighten up heavier flavors.

Chefs also try to fill spring menus with light and nutritious foods after many people eat lavishly during the Chinese New Year holiday, says Ulrich Jablonka, executive chef at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, who is also a certified dietician in Germany.

Check out the spring menus at these five star hotels. They include everything from light and healthy lunch sets to buffets launched by a Chinese chef influenced by French techniques.

Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel

A “spring corner” composed of four dishes is added to the hotel’s buffet to showcase seasonal greens, vegetables, tea and seafood. Chef Wang specializes in using Western culinary techniques to cook Chinese ingredients.

Poached salmon and spring bamboo shoot quiche are two highlights on the menu. Salmon is poached in tea and topped with mixed herbs, creating a tender texture and subtle lingering tea flavor. The herbs add aroma.

Wang’s quiche recipe is a winner. The bamboo shoots add crunchiness and freshness into each bite of quiche.

Price: 258 yuan+15% per person for the buffet beginning Saturday
Venue: Renaissance Brasserie, 2/F, 100 Changliu Rd, Pudong
Tel: 3871-4888 ext 6622

Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai

The Go Healthy lunch menu has been recently launched in celebration of spring. It comprises salads, sandwiches and soups that are low in sodium and fat.

“When designing the recipe, we tried to ensure each dish contained one or two ‘power foods’ to give customers enough energy and vitality,” says Jablonka.

For example, highly nutritious ingredients such as quinoa, fennel, capsicum and avocado appear in the five salads. There is a pure veggie option with the green salad while meat lovers may plump for the tandoori chicken breast salad.

Black bone chicken soup, white miso soup and celeriac veloute are served with a bread basket containing multigrain breads.

The signature sandwich, on freshly baked sour dough rye bread, is stuffed with tomato, cucumber, beetroot, carrot, avocado, lettuce and cress. A little dash of pesto makes this sandwich a winner.

Price: 88 yuan+15% for two dishes; 48 yuan+15% for one
Venue: Grand Tower Lounge, 1/F, Grand Tower, 33 Fucheng Rd, Pudong
Tel: 2828-6888

Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai

Chef Tony Lu launches his latest spring menu featuring both Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisines. The food of the two provinces bordering Shanghai are known for emphasizing what’s in season.
Lu’s dishes are both fresh and appealing.

Highlights include two nourishing soups, double-boiled pork with fresh Longjing tea and yan du xian (腌笃鲜), a pork broth enriched with bamboo shoots and dumplings. The red clam with minced chives is also recommended. For a light dessert, try the strawberry pomelo sago. It’s pink and refreshing.

The new menu is available from March 10 to May 30.

Venue: Yong Yi Ting, LG/F, 111 Pudong Rd S.
Tel: 2082-9978

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164