Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fish-fragrant bean curd and dry-fried green beans (vegetarian)

In Chinese cuisine, even the vegetables are not vegetarian. I own three Chinese cookbooks, and the vegetable recipes are nearly always cooked with chicken broth (something vegetarians might want to be aware of when ordering in Chinese restaurants). I wondered what vegetarians in China do, particularly the millions of vegetarian Buddhists. I figured that a Western vegetable stock of carrots and potatoes wouldn't be quite appropriate.

Fuchsia Dunlop addresses this in one line of her Sichuanese cookbook, which says that Chinese vegetarians often make a broth out of bean sprouts, which they believe have a savory flavor. So when my vegetarian friend Margaret came to lunch last weekend, I experimented with this concept on her. And it worked! I don't even like bean sprouts, but a handful sauteed in peanut oil and then boiled in water creates an aromatic brown broth.

Vegetarian fish-fragrant bean curd (so called because this method of seasoning is traditionally used on fish):

1. Heat a bit of peanut oil in a big saucepot and stir-fry some bean sprouts. Add salt and water to cover, then simmer for 20 minutes or so. The bean curd calls for only 3/4 cup, but you can make more and use it for other recipes.

2. Meanwhile, mince a generous amount of garlic and ginger and slice a couple of scallions. Cut a block of tofu into squares and drain on paper towels.

3. Heat oil in a wok and stir-fry the garlic, ginger and scallions with 2 T. Sichuanese chilli bean paste. Add the tofu and stir-fry a bit more. Add 3/4 cup of the bean sprout stock, bring to a boil, and season with 1 tsp. sugar and 2 tsp. soy sauce. Mix well and simmer on low 10 minutes so the bean curd absorbs the sauce.

4. Dissolve 1 tsp. cornstarch in a little water and stir into the sauce to thicken. Serve with steamed rice.

Vegetarian dry-fried green beans (maybe even nicer than the traditional version made with chicken stock and pork):

1. Trim the ends of 10 to 12 ounces of green beans. Slice 2 scallions thinly at a steep angle. Mince 3 cloves of garlic and an equal amount of ginger. Snip 8 Sichuanese dried chillis in half.

2. Heat a little oil in a wok over a medium flame. Add the beans and stir-fry about 6-8 minutes until they are tender with slightly puckered skins. Remove and set aside.

3. Heat some fresh oil over a high flame. Add the chillis and 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry very briefly until they are fragrant but not burned. Quickly add the garlic, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry until they are all fragrant. Throw in the beans and toss. Remove from heat and stir in a bit of sesame oil.

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