Chinese cuisine uses fruits and vegetables for color, flavor and texture. Fruits add sweetness and crunchy texture. Vegetables are the base for most dishes. Chinese cuisine is a mix of sweet and sour, mild and spicy. Gardeners in different parts of the country grow different fruits and vegetables for Chinese cuisine, but everyone can grow at least one to add home-grown flavor and quality to homemade dishes.
Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is native to Central and South America and the Caribbean and is a main ingredient in sweet and sour Chinese dishes. The plant grows from 3 to 6 feet tall and about the same in width. The plant produces long sword-like leaves growing in a spiral formation around a central stem. Leaves at the bottom of the stem are 2 inches long, and they grow progressively larger (up to 8 inches) at the top of young plants. When the plants are mature, the leaves grow as large as 5 feet long. The semi-rigid leaves help collect rain water around the base of the plant. A single cluster of 50 to 200 or more white to violet-blue flowers appears once the plant has produced between 70 and 89 leaves. A crown of as many as 150 short leaves develops at the top of the cluster. The fruit is created when the fruits of individual flowers fuse together and weighs up to 5 lbs. Pineapple is hardy in USDA Zones 10 and 11. Plant in full sun and a soil that is moist and well-drained.
Water chestnut (Pachira aquatica) is also known as Guiana chestnut, Malabar chestnut, money tree and saba nut. The plant is a tree that grows up to 60 feet tall with dark green, compound leaves from 8 to 10 inches long. Cream-white flowers develop from 14-inch long buds which give way to football-shaped woody seed pods up to 12 inches long and 5 inches in diameter that contain multiple nuts. Plant water chestnut in full sun or partial shade and a soil that is wet. The plant is hardy in USDA Zones 10 to 11.
Bok choy (Brassica campestris L) is also known as pak choi, Chinese mustard, celery mustard, pe-tsai, chongee and Japanese white celery mustard. The plant produces thick, white leafstalks and smooth, round, glossy dark-green leaves. The plant is a cool-season annual that grows when the temperatures range from 60 to 70 degrees F--spring in the north and fall or winter in the south.
Scallion (Allium fistulosum) is also known as green onion, bunching onion and ciboule. The plant is a perennial evergreen that grows up to 2 feet tall and 1 foot in diameter. Hollow, tube-like leaves grow from elongated bulbs. Flower stalks with small green flowers growing in round, umbrella-shaped clusters from 1 to 3 inches in diameter appear after a cold spell. Plant scallions in full sun or partial shade and a soil that is moist to dry. The plant is hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 9.