Vegetarian Food Recipe

All about healthy food - vegetarian and vegan recipes.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Chinese Vegetarian Cooking.

An emphasis on fresh vegetables and protein rich foods make Chinese cuisine the perfect choice for anyone following a vegetarian diet

According to legend, in China the practice of foregoing meat dates back to ancient times. This means the Chinese have had centuries to perfect flavorful combinations found in vegetarian dishes, from sweet and sour to hot and spicy.  The mainstays of Chinese cuisine - noodles, rice, tofu, seasonings such as ginger and garlic and Chinese vegetables - are all present in vegetarian cooking. However, a steady diet of bok choy and steamed rice can soon lose its appeal!  The following ingredients will help add variety to your vegetarian dishes:   

  • Bean Curd Sheets 
    Like the more well known bean curd or tofu cakes found in the supermarket, these large dried sheets are made from soy beans.  You'll need to make a trip to an Asian grocery store to find them, but it's well worth the effort - they're easy to use and often featured in vegetarian dishes.  Normally the sheets are soaked in water before using.  However, this step is omitted if they are being cooked in sauce or the recipe calls for a crispy dish (as in the recipe for Fried Mock Oyster below).  In that case, just wipe the sheets with a damp cloth.  One tip: Exposing bean curd sheets to air too soon before cooking can cause them to become crinkly.  If that happens cover them with damp water and they will soften.  Bean curd sheets can be frozen.  
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Bean curd rolls with Seaweed, Fried Mock Oyster)

  • Toasted or Roasted Seaweed (Yakinori) 
    Yakinori, or roasted seaweed, is best known as a wrapping for Japanese sushi.  However, it also adds a sweet flavor to many Chinese vegetarian dishes.  There's no need to soak yakinori in water before use; in fact it is often enjoyed raw as a snack. Recipes normally call for it to be shredded unless the entire sheet is being used. 
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Bean curd rolls with Seaweed, Fried Mock Oyster)

  • Mushrooms
    Just because you're cooking Chinese food doesn't mean you must stick with dried black mushrooms.  Straw, abalone and even common button mushrooms all add flavor to Chinese dishes.  If you are using dried black mushrooms, soak them in warm water to soften.  A good tip is to save the soaking liquid - vegetarian recipes normally call for water instead of chicken broth, and the soaked mushroom liquid makes a more flavorful substitute. 
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Braised Fungus, Fried Mock Oyster, Vegetarian Eight Treasures)

  • Walnuts
    High in protein, walnuts make an excellent substitute for meat in vegetarian diets.  Also, there's some evidence that eating walnuts reduces the risk of heart disease.  It's best to boil walnuts before using, as walnut skin has a bitter flavor that comes out with stir-frying.
     (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Mock Crab Claws, Sweet and Sour Spareribs)

  • Gluten  
    Made from wheat flour, it's rich in protein and an excellent meat substitute.  
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Vegetarian Eight Treasures)  

  • Fungus
    Fungi used in cooking include black fungus, also known as wood fungus or cloud ears.  The name cloud ears comes from the fact that the fungus puffs up after soaking, forming large "clouds." Other types of edible fungi include white fungus (also called snow ears or silver ears) and golden fungus.  All of these dried fungi need to be reconstituted by soaking in warm water until softened.  After soaking, trim off the hard piece that was attached to the woody stem. 
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Braised Fungus, Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls)

  • Hair Moss (fat choy)
    Also known as hair vegetable, hair moss is one of the ingredients in Vegetarian New Years Casserole, a Buddhist dish traditionally served on the first day of the New Year.  It can be difficult to find at Asian markets during the rest of the year, not surprising since its normal home is the Gobi dessert. Like many of the other ingredients found here, hair moss must be softened in water before use. 
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls)

  • Water Chestnuts
    Water chestnuts are often used to give texture and sweetness to vegetarian dishes.  Although canned water chestnuts can be used, fresh is better.  Just be sure to buy extra - it can be difficult to tell whether or not a water chestnut has gone bad without peeling it. If you do find yourself a few short, try substituting whole bamboo shoots.  
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls, Vegetarian Eight Treasures) 

  • Bean Sprouts
    The crunchy texture and nutritional qualities of mung bean sprouts make them a popular addition in vegetarian dishes.
    (Recipes featuring this ingredient: Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls) 

It's important that Chinese vegetarian dishes display a harmonious balance of colors and textures as well as flavors.  Interestingly, you will frequently find dishes resembling a type of meat or seafood.  For example, in Fried Mock Oyster, mashed tofu pieces are shaped like an oyster.  


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