My choice of bedtime reading usually includes a cookbook. Rob actually reads novels. Books with chapters, a beginning, a middle and an end.
When we packed for Colombia, we debated how many books to bring. I typically read 1 book while on vacation: my travel guide. Rob was adamant that he would likely read a bunch of books. In the end, we brought 5 books, including the travel guide.
After 2 weeks, I had read the travel guide and 1 book. Rob had plowed through all the books.
While I don’t read many novels, I really enjoyed my book: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. It is a collection of short, thought-provoking essays about American culture through the eyes of Chinese food. Lee starts off by exploring people’s thoughts on fortune cookies after a national lottery gets pummeled with too many winners- they had all picked the same numbers from a fortune cookie. In a dizzying around-the-world tour-de-force, Lee visits the home of the real General Tso, puzzles together the origins of chop suey and the first fortune cookie and crowns the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant. This isn’t a flippant ready-for-the-masses book, though. It is smartly written in an accessible manner. Have you ever thought about the dangers of being a delivery person? Or the lives affected through human trafficking? Or why the Chinese food in the US cannot be found in China?
To be honest, I did not really like Chinese food take-out but as a child, we had the occasional visit to the local Chinese restaurant. I can see how Chinese food helped to embrace the worldly culinary culture we now have. With its emphasis on saccharine-sweet and cornstarch-goopy sauces, I haven’t been to a Chinese restaurant in ages, though. I have made a handful of Chinese meals at home, usually healthier vegetable stir-fries, where I can reduce the sauce myself without cornstarch and keep any sweeteners to a minimum.
For this month’s Random Recipes, we had to randomly pick a cookbook and cook the middle recipe. My chosen cookbook was Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health and at 348 pages, the middle page was 174. No recipe on that page. I rounded down to find the first recipe: Cabbage with Fermented Black Beans (page 171). No stranger to stir-fries with fermented black beans, I thought this looked like a great recipe to try. However, a meal it wasn’t, so I tweaked the recipe to include julienned five-spiced seitan, as a nod to my favourite Braised Cabbage with Chorizo Seitan Sausage.
I am really digging veggie-centric stir-fries lately, and this was no disappointment. Quick to put together, dinner was served in under 20 minutes. The fermented black beans add the depth of flavour ones expects from authentic Chinese food which is highlighted with rice vinegar and sake. The ginger and garlic add a nice hit of flavour and feel free to add Chinese chili paste if you want it hotter. The Chinese five-spiced seitan was a perfect complement to the wilted cabbage, conferring sustenance to the dish with a major protein component.
So, tell me. Did you grow up eating Chinese food? Do you still eat it? What is your favourite Chinese recipe?
Chinese Cabbage and Five-Spice Seitan with Fermented Black Beans
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health
2 tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed if you like
1/4 cup hot water
2 tbsp sake (or dry sherry)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or lemon juice)
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp pressed or minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
2 tsp grated peeled ginger
4 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (250g)
1 cup julienned seitan (I used one loaf of Five Spice Seitan from Vegan Eats World)
1. Prepare your black bean sauce by combining the fermented black beans, water, sake, sesame oil, and vinegar in a small bowl. Mash the beans with a fork. Set aside.
2. In a large non-stick wok, heat the oil on high. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and stir fry for 30 seconds to release their aroma. Add the cabbage and seitan and stir fry until the cabbage is tender-crisp, around 10 minutes, stirring often.
3. Pour the black bean sauce into the skillet and cook for 1 minute more, to combine the flavours without evaporating too much of the liquid. Season to taste (the fermented black beans can be very salty, so be mindful with extra salt). Serve immediately as is, or with brown rice, soba or udon noodles.