Tastes like Home

These slender green stems are Gai Lan, also known as Chinese Broccoli or Chinese Kale. It is an upstanding green used in many Asian dishes, especially Cantonese ones.

Gai Lan has the slight bitterness and robustness of broccoli rabe or kale. Every culture has their greens that they come home to, be it rabe, rapini, mustard greens, collards, callaloo, dock, jute leaf, or beet leaf. These are all greens that cook quickly, go with everything, and are nourishing. After a hard day when the body or spirit is depleted, we have a natural craving for greens to go with that plate of rice, noodles, or potatoes.

Food cravings have been studied. For immediate gratification, we crave sweets and comfort food that may vary from chocolate, pudding, or melted cheese. Comfort food has been chronicled at length in our comfort-seeking nation. But tastes and smells of desired foods change around the world. One person’s Brie cheese (France) is another person’s Natto (Japan), Daal (India), or Beaver Tail pie (Canada). But for food that revives us, we need greens – everyone likes and needs greens. There may be some scientific olfactory reason for this. “The wonderful feelings of comfort and serenity that the scent of fresh, damp earth and moss invite after the rain is an example of how everyday scents can effect our emotional lives, trigger moods or emotional memories,” writes Rachel Herz in her book The Scent of Desire: Discovering our Enigmatic Sense of Smell.

PREPARATION: Wash and chop, and toss into a stir-fry – add a simple infusion of ginger or oyster sauce, and you have a quick home-cooked meal.

– Heidi Lewis

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