Fungus and soy, what would I do without them?
When it comes to substituting the meat ingredient in a dish, mushrooms and firm bean curds are my best bets. Take this braised dish that originally calls for pork belly for example, an important key to the flavor of the dish to me comes from chinese dried mushrooms and spices like cinnamon sticks and star anise pods. I will then alternate the rest of the ingredients mostly with soy products such as bean curd sheets and firm bean curds, sometimes with hard boiled egg and even bok choy, depending on my pantry stock, but never without the mushroom and spices.
The pork belly slices in this braised dish were meant eaten sandwiched in a special steamed bun known as 刈包 Gua Bao. So for my meatless version, I prepare this dish with a thicker gravy by adding black fungus, that will thicken up the dish when cooked over a long period. The white ones have a better thickening effect, but I prefer the black ones in this dish. This helps to mimic the soft texture of the pork fats in the braised dish that has been cooked over a long period. I also simmer the dish till the liquid has almost dried up to ensure that the ingredients fully absorb the aroma of the dark caramel soy sauce and spices.
I try out a different ingredient this time with this vegetarian chicken made of soybean. This looks like the ‘hundred layer tofu’ 百頁豆腐, another great soy product, that has an even firmer texture than firm tofu. I usually use this for stir fries.
I cut this hundred layer tofu into 8 slices, and after braising to coat them with the caramelized sauce, they looks pretty much like the real thing when wedged between the buns. However, I have to add that this tofu is too soft to produce any meaty bite compared to the braised mushrooms. So if you can’t find this item in your market, you can choose not to have it or simply use firm tofu slices instead. I always add tofu here to include plant protein in my diet.
VEGETARIAN CHINESE BRAISED MUSHROOM BUNS
8 small chinese dried mushrooms 3 large pieces of fried black fungus 3 slices of ginger 3 tablespoons sesame oil 1 tablespoon chinese cooking wine 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce 1 tablespoon light soy sauce handful of small lump sugar** 1/2 cinnamon stick 3 star anise pods 3 taupok 1 pack hundred layer tofu few stalks cilantro leaves 8 steamed 刈包 Gua Bao***
** I use this small pastille-sized lump sugar, not those in jagged larger rocks. You can also use white sugar instead, about 2 teaspoons, add to taste.
*** I bought ready ones from market, but someday, I want to make them from scratch like this.
Soak dried mushrooms in water till they soft. Squeezed them dry to remove as much water as possible and separate the stems from the caps. Reserve the water that the mushrooms have been soaked in, it is packed full of umami and I always use it in the dish that I am cooking the mushrooms with.
Soak black fungus till they are soft, wash to remove dirt and cut them into pieces about the size of the mushrooms caps. The water used to soak the fungus can be discarded.
Cut hundred layer tofu in 8 uniform slices.
In a heated pot, add sesame oil and fry the ginger slices till aromatic. Pour in the mushrooms, caps and stems, and stir fry till aromatic. Next, pour in the black fungus, stir around to cook.
Pour in wine, continue to stir fry till alcohol evaporates. Add dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sugar lumps and the reserved water from soaking mushrooms with. Add cinnamon and star anise next and allow the mixture to boil before adding the hundred layer tofu slices and tau pok, Pour just enough boiling hot water to top up the liquid to barely cover the ingredients and stir to mix.
Reduce heat to simmer till the liquid is reduced to a thicken gravy.
To assemble : Place a slice of hundred layer tofu, a mushroom cap, some black fungus and a generous topping of cilantro between the fold of the bun and eat immediately.