Thanks for all of the kind words for yesterday's post. I am so appreciative of the encouragement and will certainly keep that in mind whilst attempting to stick with my commitments for the month. :) Speaking of which, let us continue now to Day 2 of Vegan MoFo...
Asian cuisine is my comfort food. Admittedly, subjecting such a diverse area of the culinary realm into superficial categorization unjustly ignores the nuanced sensory experiences induced when exploring facets of it in more depth. Limitations of vague, arbitrary terms aside, the broadness of Asian cuisine is actually part of what makes it reliably enjoyable; the vast regional scope of it allows one to revel in a range of sensory experiences uniquely tied to specific dishes or physical locales, while still noticing the how similar flavors, smells, colors, and textures create a sense of cultural unity. Moreover, my Filipino-American heritage, a lifetime spent amongst the cultural medley that is California, and influences from my parents' own upbringing in Hawaii exposed me to various facets of Asian culinary traditions that, as an adult, I now embrace and appreciate. What my parents considered comfort food--snacks like inari-zushi and turon, mealtime staples like steamed rice--are comforting to me as well.
Despite my endless curiosity for exploring the food world, I still (and probably always will) consider myself a novice when it comes to firmly understanding the subtleties distinguishing regional cuisines from each other. I tend to assume that when someone insists that a certain dish is representative of a specific culinary tradition, it's a fair assessment, then allow those food-related experiences to eventually inspire my own edible interpretations. It seems that more often than not, I'm cooking and eating something Asian-inspired, and lately, the food has been more specifically influenced by Chinese-style cuisine. I know that Chinese food is so much more than take-out, but frankly, sometimes the only thing to quell a nostalgia-induced craving is with a bowl of white rice and stir-fried vegetables. Noodles also tend to do the job nicely, as does fried rice. I have not gotten around to cooking the latter, but definitely consumed my share of stir-fried veggies and noodles lately--thankfully, versions much lower in fat than what one typically finds from take-out establishments.
Sweet and savory gai lan
I had tasted a similar version of cooked gai lan (Chinese broccoli) several weeks ago but was rather unsure of how to appropriately mimic its flavors. Serendipitously, while sifting through household clutter, I spotted a long-forgotten booklet entitled, Eat Fruits & Vegetables Every Day, Stay Healthy All the Way! Healthy Chinese Cuisine Using Fruits and Vegetables, which I obtained at the weekday farmers' market over a year ago. It included an easy recipe for Chinese Broccoli with Wine and Sugar that required just one vegan alteration--replacing chicken broth with vegetable broth--and sounded simply tasty, so I decided to try it. Shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine), ginger, sugar, broth, and salt provide the seasoning for the steamed gai lan; I added garlic for an extra flavor boost. The near absence of added fat (I used even less than the suggested teaspoon of oil called for in the recipe) was of no issue, as the gai lan neither stuck to my nonstick pan, nor did it lack any flavor. This sweet and savory dish paired well with baked tofu and plain steamed rice. I also enjoyed it with a squirt of sriracha, because I like my food to have a bite. Yum.
Tofu and veggie rice bowl
This was one of those throw-together-on-a-whim dishes. There is something inherently enjoyable about eating food piled together in a bowl, especially if it involves a bed of steamed rice and a pair of chopsticks (I eat everything with them). A mixture of orange juice, shoyu, ginger, garlic, brown rice vinegar, sambal oelek, and water served as a marinade for the tofu and also as seasoning for the vegetables. After marinating firm tofu, I drained and reserved the liquid, then lightly pan-fried the tofu in a nonstick pan, until the pieces were golden brown, then put them aside. I likewise stir-fried green beans, carrot, onion, and garlic in the lightly-oiled pan, added some of the reserved tofu marinade for moisture and flavor, and cooked it all until tender. Steamed rice provided a plain, starchy contrast to the tofu and vegetables. The citrus provided the ideal sweet touch to the mostly savory and somewhat spicy dish.
Tofu veggie noodles
I am a sucker for noodles. During my high school and university days, I consumed pasta on a regular basis; it was a staple in my diet. When I used to eat horrifically unhealthy, take-out-style Chinese food, I rarely resisted the allure of a chow mein, and I'm sure my waistline suffered for those poor dietary choices. It's still true that I am a devotee of carbohydrate-laden fare, but at least now I am more conscious of my intake and try to limit my consumption. Stir-fried noodles are an occasional indulgence, and even so, my latest variation of it is hardly considered a stir-fry, given the very minimal amount of oil used (again, a light spray coating on a nonstick pan). I used more the orange-shoyu marinated tofu as well as the marinade itself, this time including Napa cabbage, broccoli florets, and cubed hubbard squash as the vegetable component to the dish. Again, I cooked the tofu in the same manner used for preparing the tofu and veggie rice bowl. In the meantime, I steamed the broccoli and squash before adding them to lightly sauteed onion and cabbage. After parboiling thick wheat noodles, I drained and added them to the veggies, added the tofu back to the pan, then seasoned and combined everything with the leftover orange-shoyu marinade. A splash of additional shoyu, drizzle of toasted sesame oil, and a few cracks of ground black pepper finished the dish. The flavors were similar to that of the tofu and veggies I had cooked earlier, but the different vegetable combination was a welcome change. The only issue with using so little oil in the dish was that the noodles began to clump together, but they were still tasty.
Happy Election Day, all. I'll be back with more food talk tomorrow...