Monday, November 21, 2016

A Buddhist dish that's soft and sexy

Photo courtesy of Chowhound
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an amazingly erudite review of both All Under Heaven and The Dim Sum Field Guide last month, and my deepest gratitude goes out to the author, JBF winner Wendell Brock

He writes things that make me blush and also feel incredibly proud, like, "With All Under Heaven, Carolyn Phillips delivers a remarkable love letter to the infinite variety of Chinese cooking." And then he goes on to say about the Field Guide, "It is as erudite as it is darling." Such lovely words sure do my heart (and ego) good. Thanks, Wendell!

Photo courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly
Canada seems to be liking AUH too, as evidenced by this remarkable bit of news: It made the top five best-selling cookbooks in Quebec! Yay, and thanks to the Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore in Montreal for the shout out and high honors. (And what a great name for a cookbook store...)

Finally, Chowhound has given its considerable blessing to AUH by including it on its "Cookbook Gift Guide for the Holidays." Thank you, Chowhound! This is what the folks there had to say: "Wrap your head around all the varieties of Chinese food in this comprehensive, contemporary portrait of a country's culinary geography and the history that has shaped it." And not only did these fine folks somehow prop me up near the top of that list, but I also find myself surrounded by some of my favorite authors. A terrific honor, and I am both moved and grateful. 

Now, on to more food...

*  *  *

Simplicity doesn’t have to mean boring, at least when it comes to vegan dishes like this. In fact, this dish is not only simple to make, but also fast and delicious.

The main ingredient in this traditional Buddhist dish from the Yangtze area is soy skin (aka yuba in Japanese), which forms on soymilk when it is being simmered, sort of like the stuff that collects at the top of your cocoa when your great-aunt makes it. In other words, this is simply a thin layer of protein.

But unlike that chewy layer of milk – something that has never charmed me much, to tell you the truth – soy skin is terrific. It has a wonderful texture that changes depending up whether it was dried or bought fresh, and also alters even further if it is, say, deep-fried, braised, or steamed. Dim sum restaurants often wrap julienned vegetables in these soy sheets before either steaming or frying them.

The easy ingredients
If you are a meatless sort of person, soy skin is one ingredient you should get to know up close on a personal basis. It has a bit of a chameleon character due to its different guises. Vegetarian ham or chicken, for example, is made out of gently stewed soy skins that are wrapped up into tight balls and then steamed to set their shape. One of my favorite versions even smokes these grapefruit-sized spheres, and that gives them even more of a meaty texture and flavor.

Today, though, we are going to be looking at a recipe that really is effortless. You can make it with either fresh or dried soy skins. I happened to have a package of fresh ones in the fridge, so that’s what I went with, but honestly, the dried ones are good, too. They have more of a leathery character in this dish, and that is not bad at all, since vegan dishes often can use a bit more texture.

The other main component here are fresh soybeans, what the Chinese call máodòu 毛豆 and the Japanese refer to as edamame. They are available in most supermarket freezers nowadays – and are almost impossible to find fresh – so go the easy route here and have a bag of these shelled beans ready to go in your own freezer.

Rinse off the packaged water
I like to cook this delicious dish in a light braise that is packed with flavor. To do that, I first fry fresh ginger and green onions in some oil, and then add a good wallop of Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, and sugar. That’s pretty much it. Who says dinner has to be stressful? Serve over some rice with maybe a bit of greens on the side, and your work is done.

Red-braised soy skins
Hóngshāo fŭpí 紅燒腐皮
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
5 slices ginger
Braise the soy skins
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch / 2-cm lengths
5 ounces / 140 g fresh soy skins, or one large dried soy skin sheet
Warm water, as needed
6 tablespoons / 90 cc Shaoxing rice wine
¾ cup / 180 cc water
2 tablespoons / 30 cc regular soy sauce
Rock sugar about the size of a cherry, or agave syrup or white sugar to taste
¼ cup / 1½ ounces / 40 g shelled green soybeans (frozen is your best bet)

1. Set a wok over medium heat and then add the oil. Sprinkle in the ginger and green onions, and fry them until they are browned. You can remove them for more formal dinners, but for family meals feel free to leave them in.

2. While the ginger and onions are browning, work on preparing the soy skins. Fresh ones should be rinsed in warm water to remove any off flavors – I usually do this in a colander set in the sink. A dried sheet should be soaked in warm water until it is soft, then drained and rinsed. Tear the skin into pieces about the size of your hand and then drain.
Perfectly delicious

3. Add the rice wine, water, soy sauce, and sugar to the wok. Bring this to a boil and add the soy skins. When this comes to a boil once again, lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover the wok, and then stir the skins occasionally to ensure that they cook evenly. After about 40 minutes, most of the liquid should be gone. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then toss in the soybeans. Cover the pan and cook for another 5 minutes or so to simply heat them through, as the frozen beans have already been blanched. Remove the cover, raise the heat (if necessary) to boil down any extra sauce, and then serve immediately.

No comments:

Post a Comment