RE: Chinese vegetables
Five-Spice Powder: Probably the most famous of all Chinese spices, this mixture of star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorns is ultra-pungent. It also adds a rich cinnamon and anise flavour to marinated meats, roasts, and barbecues. Legend has it that the Chinese invented the blend to capture all five taste elements—sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty. For home cooks, it's easy to find in most groceries. Store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in a cool, dry place, and it will keep for a year.
Ginger root: This knobby rhizome (it's not actually a root, but rather a funky, underground-growing stem) adds a sweet-and-spicy bite to meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, even candies and teas. Prep note: ginger roots need be peeled and finely sliced or chopped before use. Make sure to choose ginger that is hard, heavy and wrinkle-free.
Pepper Salt: This is a mixture of anise pepper powder with salt. Skip it on fried chicken, in favouring trying it on healthier meat, and fish.
Szechuan peppercorns: Native to the western area of Szechuan, these reddish-brown peppercorns are much more potent and fragrant than normal peppercorns. Toasted, they're added to stir-fries. Hint: when in doubt, look for them in most red-coloured dishes.
Star Anise: These star-shaped seed pods have a licorice-like smell similar to fennel. That sweet licorice flavour adds a punch to meats (especially pork) and poultry in barbecued dishes, as well as in stews. You can find whole and ground star in most stores. Sometimes it's also known as clove flowers or Chinese anise. Traditionally, it was used to aid digestion and sweeten breath—a bonus for every diner, at the end of a meal.