Braised Tofu Skin with Mushrooms

I am in love with tofu skin. It is such a versatile ingredient. I was actually planning to make Tofu Skin with Endamame (see previous post) tonight but when I got ready to cook, I realized that I didn’t have any Endamame in my freezer. Then, I remembered a dish I had eaten, a long time ago, at a vegetarian restaurant – Braised Tofu Skin with Mushrooms and I managed to re-create it here. It was delicious!

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Ingredients
3 fresh or dried tofu skins
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
half a cup of dried black wood ear (also known as black fungus)
1 bunch asparagus tips or any kind of vegetable like sugar peas
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small piece of crushed ginger
1 Tbsp rice wine
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp cooking oil

Corn starch mixture – stir together 1 tsp corn starch with 1 Tbsp water and 1 tsp sesame oil

Method
1. Soak the dried tofu skin for 15 mins in boiling water until it is soft. Drain and discard the soaking liquid. Skip this step if you are using fresh tofu skin.
2. Wash the shiitake mushrooms and black wood ear. Then soak them in water for half an hour. Drain and discard the water.
3. Simmer the shiitake mushrooms and black wood ear in a sauce pan with just enough water to cover it, for 10 mins. Drain and save the water which is used to simmer it.
4. Slice the tofu skin into 1 inch pieces. Slice the mushrooms and cut the black wood ear into bite size pieces.
5. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add in the crushed garlic and crushed ginger and stir fry 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add in the tofu skin, mushrooms, black wood ear and asparagus. Stir in the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce and some of the water used to simmer the mushrooms in step 3.
6. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes and add in the rest of the simmering liquid. Cover and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in gently corn starch mixture until the sauce is thickened.
7. Serve hot with rice.

Pork with Black Wood Ear

Black Wood Ear is a specialty product of Puli, Taiwan. Fresh black wood ear is smooth and wonderfully crunchy. It is available in the traditional street markets in Taiwan but you can also find dried ones in Asian supermarkets. IMG_6828

Black wood ear is sometimes called black fungus. If you buy the dried kind, just soak it in water for an hour to reconstitute it.  Then it can be used in a stir fry, add it to soups or even in salads. Its crunchy texture and dark, velvety color adds an unusual element to even the most basic dish. I like to use it in a stir fry with pork or steamed with chicken.  You can also make a vegetarian stir fry with olive oil, garlic, black wood ear, mushrooms and broccoli (or with celery, sweet peas, zucchini, cucumber etc… works with whatever vegetables you have on hand!).  By itself, it does not have any flavor but it takes on the fragrant flavor of garlic or the meat that you are cooking it with.

Black wood ear is actually very nutritious.  According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is especially beneficial for blood, as it can nourish the blood and prevent blood coagulation and frequent consumption of black wood ear prevents coronary heart disease. In addition, black wood ear supposedly counteracts high cholesterol, increases body fluids, and adds moisture to the lung – especially great for autumn when our throats/lungs get very dry.

180g pork, cut into 1 inch strips
half a cup of black wood ear
2 small Japanese cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2-4 tbsp water

Marinade for pork:
1/2 tsp sugar
1 and 1/2 tbsps light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp water
pinch of salt

  1. Marinate the pork for at least half an hour, with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, corn starch, salt and water.
  2. Prepare the black wood ear.  If using fresh wood ear, just rinse it, then parboil it for 5 mins, drain the water and set aside.  If using dried black wood ear, you need to soak it in water for an hour, rinse, then parboil for 5 mins, drain and set aside.  (It expands when fully reconstituted, so I often cut it into smaller pieces before stir frying)
  3. Heat the cooking oil, stir fry the garlic for a few seconds, then add in the pork and stir fry until light brown.
  4. Add in the cucumber, black wood ear, oyster sauce and stir fry together with the pork.  Add one or two tablespoons of water if it seems kind of dry. Stir fry for 5 mins or until the cucumber and pork are cooked.  Serve hot with rice. Enjoy!

Taiwanese Pickled Tomatoes

Last week I went to a wedding banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei and they served this simply lovely cold tomato appetizer. It was 89 degrees outside …  this was very refreshing indeed for a hot summer day!  A fellow guest gave me her recipe for it. I went home and tried it.  It was very easy and I must say pickling really improves the flavor of the tomatoes!

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dried plum
Dried Plums

1 cup of cherry tomatoes (washed and drained)
2/3 cup of water
2 tsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp dried plum (話梅) (about 4 whole dried plums)
1 cup of rice vinegar
3 small and fresh mint leaves (optional)

  1. Using a sharp knife, make a plus (+) score on the side of each tomato.
  2. Fill a pot half way with water and 1/3 cup of vinegar and bring to a boil.
  3. Put the tomatoes into the pot of hot water and let them sit for 5 seconds.
  4. Drain the water, remove the skins of the tomatoes and leave them in the refrigerator to chill.
  5. In a separate pot, heat up 1/3 cup of water, rice vinegar, brown sugar and dried plums and simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Allow the liquid to chill, then place the tomatoes in the liquid, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half a day.

Note:  I wanted to keep the tomato skins on, so I skipped steps 2,3 and 4

Chicken in Tofu Cheese

Tofu Cheese? It’s fermented tofu (腐乳 or “fu yu” in Cantonese), sold in little glass bottles in Asian grocery stores. It’s a form of preserved tofu, made from soybeans. The other ingredients on the bottle list salt, rice wine and sesame oil. There’s a regular version and a spicy version which has bits of chili in the brine.

Tofu cheese is commonly used as a condiment for porridge or to stir fry kangkong vegetables (空心菜 “kong xin cai”, water convolvulus) but it makes a delicious savory marinade for chicken.  It is unbelievably easy – just be sure to marinate the chicken with it long enough, so that the flavor gets into the meat.  Deep fried chicken wings marinated with tofu cheese are incredibly tasty too!

Chicken in Tofu Cheese
I don’t deep-fry (too lazy to clean!), so here’s the healthy pan-fried version. I used the regular version of Tofu Cheese. I realized the chicken came out a bit pale in the photo – I should have fried it a bit longer to give it a more golden color.

Ingredients:

Fermentedchilibeancurd
Tofu Cheese

2-3 cubes of Tofu Cheese (regular or spicy), mashed into a paste, using a fork
1 teaspoon of the brine from the Tofu Cheese bottle
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 pieces whole chicken legs
dash of salt (optional – Tofu Cheese is naturally salty)
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste (“belacan”) – optional

2-3 shallots, peeled and chopped, for frying
3 tablespoon cooking oil

1 stalk of spring onion, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces (for garnish)

Method:

1. Cut the chicken legs into smaller pieces, rinse and pat dry with a paper towel.

2. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl.  Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, thoroughly coat the chicken pieces with the marinade and let sit it for a few hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge.

3. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan. Fry the shallots for 1-2 minutes, then add in the chicken and stir fry until golden brown.

4. Dish up the chicken and garnish with spring onion. It goes really well with steam rice and vegetables.

(Tofu Cheese on spoon, photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fermentedchilibeancurd.jpg)

Pork and Bitter Gourd

Why would anyone want to eat a bitter vegetable? Bitter gourd is very bitter but someone in my family likes it so I have researched ways to make it less bitter and I think I have finally acquired the taste for this nutritious and unique vegetable. It is very low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fiber. It is even good for getting rid of acne.

Bitter gourd is often used in a stir fry with pork or beef with black beans, steamed with pork spare ribs or cooked in soup. It can even be served as an appetizer – very thinly sliced raw bitter gourd on a bed of shaved ice and eaten with honey as a dipping sauce – the cool, sweet taste makes it very refreshing.

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Here’s a tip to remove the bitter taste:

First, cut the bitter gourd into half (see photo) and slicIMG_6699e each half lengthwise. Then, using a tablespoon scoop out all the seeds and as much of the white pulp as possible. Next, slice it horizontally. Place the slices in a bowl and sprinkle 1 tsp salt over them and mix thoroughly. Let the slices sit for half an hour in the bowl. Lastly, squeeze out and discard as much of the juice as possible. This takes out most of the bitter taste.

1 bitter gourd, sliced and bitter taste removed
200 g (1/2 lb) pork, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp of light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water

1-2 tbsps cooking oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce + 1-2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar (optional)

Method:

1. Marinate the pork slices with light soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, corn starch and water for half an hour.
2. Blanch the bitter gourd in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and put aside.
3. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan, stir fry the minced garlic until fragrant (don’t let them turn brown), then add in the pork slices and stir fry until it is almost cooked.
4. Add in the blanched bitter gourd slices and stir fry together with the pork. Add in one tbsp of oyster sauce and 1-2 tbsp of water. If you find the bitter gourd is still too bitter for your taste buds, add in 1 tsp sugar. Stir fry until the water evaporates.
5. Serve with hot rice.

Tofu Skin with Edamame

One interesting thing about Taiwanese is – they love their small eats (小吃 or appetizers) and there are a lot of them. In practically every noodle or dumpling restaurant, there is a glass display case where patrons can choose their side dishes – pickled cucumbers, string beans, cabbage salad, braised wings, and a wide variety of tofu dishes like braised tofu, deep fried tofu, tofu skins etc. It is not surprising since tofu products are readily available in the local markets.

When I came across some amazingly beautiful, fresh tofu skins, I had the sudden urge to try my hand at making this healthy vegetarian dish. It turned out quite well. The tofu ribbons had a smooth, creamy texture. The edamame beans provided spots of color and bite, and the snow cabbage gave it a wonderful zest. It is light, yet packed with protein. It goes well with rice or it can be eaten like a pasta. This recipe is a keeper!

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Ingredients
3 sheets of fresh tofu skin (or similar amount of dried tofu skin)
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 -5 Tbsp preserved snow cabbage (雪菜)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup edamame (soy beans)
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tbsp oyster sauce

Method

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Fresh tofu skin

1. Rinse the fresh tofu skin. If you are using dried tofu skin, soak them in warm water for 30 mins, drain the water and rinse. Cut the tofu skins into ribbons and set aside.

2. Boil the frozen edamame beans for about 2 to 5 mins.

3. Heat the oil in a frying pan, using medium high heat. Add the preserved snow cabbage. Stir for 20 seconds.

4. Add 1/2 cup water and the tofu skin ribbons. Allow it to come to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add in the edamame beans, oyster sauce and cornstarch, stirring all the ingredients together until they are well mixed.

Fried Small Fish with Peanuts

It’s been one year since I moved to Taiwan. In a previous post, I promised I will write about my food adventures in Taiwan. Taiwanese cuisine is many things. It’s not just the ubiquitous beef noodle, or the fried oyster omelet, or the sweet and vinegary three cup chicken. It is also the sweetest mango shaved ice, the refreshing pearl milk tea and many more regional specialties.

One of my first meals in Taipei was at a restaurant that served classic Taiwanese food. The food was very good and the dishes were delicious. I loved this fried, small fish with peanuts best. It was good to eat alone or with rice or porridge. It was addictive! When I came across these small fish sold fresh at the local market, I just had to buy them to experiment how to make this dish at home.

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Ingredients
80 g (3 oz) tiny white fish
50 g (3.5 oz) peanuts
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 red chili, sliced into small slivers
1 stalk spring onion, chopped into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 tsp rice wine
Pinch salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar (optional)

Method

1. Heat 4 tbsp oil in a frying pan, and stir fry the fish for a few minutes, until it is cooked. Remove and drain.
2. Heat the frying pan, add about 2 tablespoons of the oil and stir fry the chili, garlic and rice wine for a minute. Add the fish, peanuts, salt, pepper and sugar (optional) and stir fry for 5 minutes.