Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cooking with vegetables

Here is the much-promised post about my top 8 vegetarian dishes. Some of these involve optional bonito flakes, which are not strictly vegetarian because they involve fish product.

Some useful ingredients to have around the kitchen:
  • garlic (I keep both garlic cloves and minced garlic; I prefer using cloves but it is faster to just used the stuff in the jar)
  • hot sauces--I have chilli sauce (which is somewhat sweet), chilli sauce with black bean, and various other sauces
  • various peppers: we keep around various peppercorns, whole chillis (which we sometimes grind using a coffee grinder), and ground chillis
  • vinegar and rice vinegar
  • scallions (fresh--you cut them up with scissors when you need them)
  • packages of seitan/tofu for when you run out of fresh ingredients

Recipe sketches:
  1. Stir-fried greens. You can do this with bok choy, yu choy, spinach, brocolli rabe, watercress, and more. Peel apart vegetable leaves and wash thoroughly. If the leaves are large, chop them as necessary. Put oil into a shallow pan and stir fry on high heat until done. Hold off on salting until almost done; this optimizes the texture. For flavor, add some chopped garlic to the oil before adding the vegetables. For fun, I've also tried adding things like ground mustard, cayenne pepper, and anchovies. The only thing I really recommend against is adding acidic things (lemon, vinegar, etc.) because this wilts the vegetables and turns them yellow.
  2. Pickled radish. Prepare a sauce by putting in some amount of rice vinegar, soy sauce, and hot sauces into a bowl such that the total amount of resulting sauce is at least 1 inch deep. The vinegar and hot sauce should dominate the taste. Cut radishes into small pieces and brine in the sauce. Take them out when you've achieved a desirable flavor and serve.
  3. Stir-fried seitan. Prepare a sauce by adding a tablespoon of sweet potato or potato starch, 1/4 cup water, a dash of soy sauce, and optional hot sauce into a pan and bringing the sauce to a boil on low to medium heat. Cut scallions into pieces that are 2-3 inches long and cut seitan into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Stir-fry seitan and scallions together for 2-3 minutes on medium high heat; add sauce on top when done.
  4. Cucumber salad. Soften cucumbers by beating them with the side of a knife. Quarter cucumbes and cut into small pieces. Prepare a sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, and hot sauces. (Make enough sauce so that the bottom layer of cucumbers can be suitable coated by sitting in the sauce.) Put sauce onto cucumbers, mix, and serve.
  5. Bonito spinach. Stir-fry spinach, let cool. Prepare a sauce with soy sauce, hot sauce, and bonito flakes. (If you use bonito flakes, use enough to soak up the sauce.) Once spinach has cooled sufficiently, pour sauce over spinach. (The spinach absorbs sauce surprisingly well. Don't over-flavor it!)
  6. Brats and onions. You might think German cuisine is out-of-bounds, but you can almost have your cake and eat it too! Cut vegetarian brats (teehee) into 2-inch pieces and cut onions into rings. Heat a pan on medium heat and add plenty of oil (the onions absorb a ton of oil!) Add black peppercorns if you desire. One onions are almost all-the-way cooked, add brats. You may also enjoy heating sauerkraut in a different pan and serving it on the side.
  7. Noodle soup. Boil water. To prepare a broth, cut up an onion and a carrot (if you have one--if not, you can take the stems of bok choy or yu choy and use those) and put into the water. Add bonito flakes or dried shrimp if you want. When this had been boiling for a while, add your desired kind of noodles. I particularly enjoy soba noodles, thin egg noodles (which I buy fresh), and Shanghai fresh noodles. If you want, flavor the broth with chilli sauce. The noodle soup is good with stir-fried vegetables. If you eat eggs, you may also want to add a poached egg on top. (Ramen places also like to fry diced shallots in a deep-fry kind of way and put them in the bottom of soup to flavor them.)
  8. Stir-fried smoked tofu. Cut smoked tofu (xiang gan), Chinese leek (jiu cai), and Chinese preserved mustard plant (za cai) into strips about 2 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Stir-fry on high heat, adding the ingredients in the following order: za cai, tofu, leek (at end). (If you are not vegetarian, you may also enjoy this with strips of chicken. Chicken tip: pre-cook the chicken in boiling water for 1-2 minutes before cutting so you can cut smaller strips.)
Upon request I can follow up any of these recipes with more detailed information and photographs.

Other fast, easy, and tasty things to eat that are vegetarian are Tofurkey sausages (which require microwaving/heating in a pan--I enjoy the chorizo ones for breakfast) and sliced Tofurkey sandwiches. I am also very into yogurt: I enjoy eating plain yogurt with fruit or jam, Greek yogurt, and kefir, a cultured milk product.

When I went home for winter break my dad showed me his method of making both scallion pancakes and scallion rolls. It is quite delicious; I will post that (with pictures) sometime soon!