The International Vegetarian: Part 7, China

[This is the seventh post in a series on vegetarian dishes from around the world. Check out my previous posts on Ethiopia, India, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and Japan.]

Happy Moon Festival, everyone! I chose this weekend to celebrate Chinese cuisine because today is the Moon Festival, which commemorates the moon goddess Chang’e and her ascent to immortality. I’m kind of oversimplifying, but you can read more about the origins of the festival here. On this day, Chinese youngsters would usually light lanterns, eat moon cakes, and have fun. Moon cakes really are tasty (though perhaps not everyone would enjoy these red bean filled pastries), but part of their deliciousness is because they are also usually made with lard. Boo. I meant to look for vegetarian moon cakes at one or two local stores, but I just didn’t get to it. Life gets in the way sometimes.

Anyway, instead of moon cakes I decided to celebrate with another Chinese export: Tofu. This bean-curd substance is high in protein, low in fat, has been eaten in China for millennia… and it’s totally confusing to cook with. Texture-wise tofu is like a soft cheese, nutritionally it is used as a meat substitute, and its composition is vegetable in nature, but cooking with tofu is not like cooking with any of these things. For this reason, I know many people who hate tofu. If you’re one of them, though, I urge you to give it another try.

Love this pic from Rovio’s G+ page of Angry Birds celebrating the Moon Festival!

One key to making good tofu is marinating, and the other is dry frying. I followed the dry-frying technique described on this blog, and pressed the tofu between two paper-towel-lined cutting boards before frying. This did a great job of removing the moisture and browning the tofu. After that, I marinated the tofu for about an hour in a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and onion powder. The result was very firm, lightly toasted tofu with a strong flavor. Tofu doesn’t need to marinate long, which is a good thing for people like me who make kind of last-minute cooking decisions. The entire drying/dry-frying process took about half an hour, and a marinade can do its work in less than one hour if necessary.

While the tofu was marinating, I also whipped up some cong you bing or scallion pancakes. I love these as an appetizer at Chinese restaurants, but I’d never made them myself. It turns out, they’re quite easy and use simple ingredients: Flour, water, egg, scallions, and seasoning. If you’re tired of serving your stir-fry with rice, or if you have little people in your house who enjoy playing with their food, try making these sometime.

I finished off my stir-fry with the marinated tofu, carrots, water chestnuts, bell pepper, green onions, and snow pea pods. These veggies were cooked quickly in sesame oil and hoisin sauce–a soybean-based sauce popular in Cantonese cooking that is available in many U.S. supermarkets. The result was delicious. The tofu comes out looking a little black here because of the marinade, but only a few of the thinner pieces got overcooked. The rest were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, hearty, and filling.

 

Experimenting with new foods and cooking techniques is half the fun of being a home chef, so if you’ve been avoiding tofu check out the preparation methods discussed here. You may be pleasantly surprised!

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One thought on “The International Vegetarian: Part 7, China

  1. Pingback: The International Vegetarian: Part 8, Morocco « 31 to Life

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