Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lion's Head Faux Meatballs (素獅子頭)

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This is yet another classic Chinese dish made vegan for Chinese New Year. The traditional Lion's Head meatballs would be made of ground pork mixed with seasoning and water chestnuts for crunch. They would be pan fried gently and stewed with some napa cabbage until the meatballs soften and the flavors melt together. I took a very similar approach to these vegan meatballs. They turned out very nicely on the first day but were even better at day 2 and 3 because the napa cabbage had enough time to cook and release all its sweetness.

For this vegan Lion's Head meatballs recipe, you'll need:
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/4 cup wheat gluten
  • 1 large shallot, very finely chopped (preferably in the food processor)
  • 1 green onion, very finely chopped (preferably in the food processor)
  • 2 fresh shiitake mushrooms, very finely chopped (preferably in the food processor)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped water crestnuts
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 cup cold vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 medium head napa cabbage, chopped into 1-inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil, plus more for greasing
  • salt to taste
Finely mash cannellini beans. I passed them through my trusty food mill to ensure that they have a fine texture. Add chopped shallots, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, grated ginger, grated garlic, chopped water chestnuts, nutritional yeast, and wheat gluten. Mix well together. Stir in cold vegetable stock and soy sauce. Mix well. Knead lightly for 8 to 10 minutes. Then form into balls by hand. This mixture is not as firm as real meat. Generally, Lion's Head meatballs are fist-sized. But I find that it's difficult to retain the round shape in the cooking process at that size. So I made these meatballs a bit smaller.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line lightly greased baking dish with meatballs. Bake for 1 hour. Turn heat down to 350 degrees.

In a medium cast iron pot fitted with a lid, heat up 2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil until hot. Stir in napa cabbage. Season with salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Nestle cooked meatballs into the napa cabbage mixture. Transfer covered pot into the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Spicy Stewed Mock Beef

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    Happy Chinese New Year! On Sunday night, VB said that he wanted to have a proper Chinese New Year dinner banquet. I panicked a little on the inside. Chinese New Year dinner is like Thanksgiving dinner -- it often takes days of prep and should include traditional dishes. A typical Chinese New Year dinner should include a noodle dish for longevity, dumplings to symbolize wealth, fish for surplus, apples for peace and safety, and sweets. So, you can see why I panicked a little.

    I managed to make 3 dishes for Chinese New Year dinner, way short of the typical 8 to 10 course fare. I also didn't manage to make any of the typical dishes, except the dumplings. Well, at least it was Chinese food. I originally intended to put this spicy stewed mock beef over some noodles... then I got lazy and just decided rice will do.

    For this spicy stewed mock beef, you'll need:
    • 2 slices ginger
    • 1 black cardamom pod (草果) or 2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
    • 1 star anise pod
    • 2 Thai chilies (adjust for your heat level)
    • 3 tablespoons Szchuan chili paste in chili oil (I use LaoGanMa brand)
    • 1 teaspoon Szchuan peppercorn
    • 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
    • 1 cup water
    • 2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (black Chinese vinegar)
    • 1 1/2 cups Shaohsing rice wine
    • sliced green onion for garnish (optional)
    • 1 cup braising liquid reserved from seitan recipe, below
    • 1 portion seitan, recipe below
    For the seitan, you'll need:
    • 1 cup of wheat gluten
    • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon of ginger powder
    • 3/4 cup of ice water
    • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
    • 6 cups of water
    • 1/2 onion, sliced thin
    • 2 slices of ginger
    Mix wheat gluten with garlic powder and ginger powder. Mix 2 tablespoons of soy sauce with ice water. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Mix well. Knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes. In the meantime, boil water, remaining soy sauce, sliced onion and sliced ginger in a large pot. Allow seitan to rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then knead it a few more times. Tear seitan into small thumb-sized pieces. Seitan will swell to more than double its uncooked size, so take that into account when portioning seitan. Add seitan into the boiling water. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain cooked seitan and reserve 1 cup liquid.

    In a heavy non-stick medium pot fitted with a lid, heat up canola oil or peanut oil until hot. Stir in star anise pod, black cardamom, Thai chilies, ginger slices and Szchuan peppercorns. Fry until spices blacken lightly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in cooked seitan. Allow seitan to brown slightly on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not worry if seitan breaks apart slightly. De-glaze pot by adding cooking wine and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add braising liquid, water, soy sauce, and vinegar. Bring mixture to simmer. Cover with lid slightly ajar. Allow seitan to stew for 30 minutes. Serve over noodles or rice. Garnish with sliced green onions.

    I will feature other dishes that I made for Chinese New Year over the next few days, so come back for more!

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Mushroom Pot Pie

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    Hi! Long time no blog. VB and I took a trip to Taiwan. I don't have many pictures to share because we were too busy eating and couldn't spare the few moments to take pictures. So lazy, I know. Anyways, back to home cooking! I made a mushroom pot pie last night for dinner. It was a hit with VB! It was rich and creamy with a nice hearty crust and tons of veggies. Best of all, it is vegan! Definitely a good winter classic.

    For this mushroom pot pie, you will need:
    • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
    • 2 celery stalks, diced
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 8 ounces frozen peas
    • 1 pint cremini mushrooms, quartered
    • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons vegan butter substitute (I use Earth Balance)
    • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups vegetable stock
    • 1/2 cup soy milk
    • salt to taste
    • 1 portion pie crust, recipe below
    For the mushroom pot pie crust, you'll need:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup vegan cream cheese (I use Trader Joe's non-dairy spread), chilled
    • 5 tablespoons vegan butter substitute, chilled
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 pinch salt
    • 2 tablespoons ice cold water
    To prepare the crust, begin by pulsing together flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor. Add vegan cream cheese and butter substitute. Pulse until the mixture has a wet sand consistency. Slowly add ice water while pulsing. The dough should come together easily. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

    In a medium pot, heat up olive oil and butter substitute until fat shimmers. Add onion, celery and carrots. Sweat until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt. Mix in flour. Stir quickly to ensure that flour does not burn. Stir in mushroom and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add vegetable stock and soy milk. Stir. Turn heat to low and allow the mixture to come to gentle simmer. Stir frequently. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Turn off heat. Stir in frozen peas and chopped parsley. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart bakeware. Alternatively, you can pour mixture into individual ramekins. Set aside.

    Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

    Roll out the chilled crust to a size that would cover the bakeware or ramekins. Lay the crust on top of the bakeware. Make slits in the crust to allow steam to escape. Bake for 1 hour. Remove and allow pot pie to stand for 15 minutes before serving.