Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gong Hei Fat Choy, Vegetarian-Style

Another has come and gone and we find ourselves in the Year of the Rabbit. The Lunar New Year is by far the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It's the time of year when everything shuts down for a few days, allowing everyone a chance to go home and visit family.

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While I'm not celebrating Chinese New Year's with my immediate family this year, they are keeping me company in form of food. My mom had brought me some turnip and taro puddings two weeks ago, traditional savoury puddings that are often pan-fried and consumed through the whole two weeks of celebration, along with an assortment of sweet puddings and fried snacks.

I'm also armed with a few of my mom's recipes so that I can recreate some of the traditional dishes she often served during Chinese New Year's. In my family, we always honoured the first day of Chinese New Year's with a vegetarian meal, the highlight (and my favourite) being braised Chinese vegetables with red fermented beancurd.

It requires a bit of prep work, so planning ahead and starting the prep work a day ahead will help cut down on the time when it comes to putting the whole dish together. It's a pretty organic recipe in that you can swap out various vegetables to your own liking: add dried lily flowers, straw mushrooms, snow peas, baby corn...the options are endless.

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This dish actually tastes better the day after, as it allows the vegetables to sit in the sauce overnight and soak up all that flavour from the fermented beancurd. So a Happy New Year to everyone, Gong Hei Fat Choy, and wishing you all yet another happy, healthy and prosperous year!

Braised Chinese Vegetables with Red Fermented Beancurd / 南乳齋煲
Serves 4 to 6

56 g dried shiitake mushrooms (about 8)
28 g dried wood and cloud ear (two types of black fungus)
56 g mungbean thread
112g bamboo shoot, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
8 tofu puffs, halved
8 medium napa cabbage leaves, chopped
2 rolls fresh beancurd sheets (optional)
3 slices ginger
3 tablespoons red fermented beancurd*
1 cup reserved mushroom water

For the mushrooms:
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cooking wine
1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Seasoning:
1 teaspoon cooking wine
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Wash and soak the mushrooms in cold water for at least 4 hours. Remove the mushrooms and squeeze any excess water from them. Reserve the mushroom water for a later use. Cut off the stalks and if the mushrooms are large, cut them in half. Marinate with a little salt, sugar, oil, cornstarch and cooking oil. Steam for 15 minutes, then set aside.

Soak the wood and cloud ears in boiling water for at least half an hour, or until softened. Drain and set aside.

Soak mungbean thread in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain, briefly run under cold water, and allow any excess water to drain. Set aside.

In a large wok or claypot, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the ginger slices and sauté until fragrant. Stir in the red fermented beancurd and using a wooden spoon, mash up the beancurd and stir constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, and then the napa cabbage, carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and cloud and wood ears. Add 1 cup of the reserved mushroom water and bring the pot to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tofu puffs and beancurd sheets and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add more mushroom water if the pot is drying out too fast.

Stir in the seasonings and the mungbean threads. Stir until well coated and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the threads are soft. Serve immediately. The dish can also be made a day ahead, refrigerated, and reheat the next day.

*Available at Asian grocers.

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