Borsch is classic Ukranian soup which my family enjoys. It is perfect for a cold weather day, especially great for surviving this year’s deadly polar vortex in the U.S. It uses a lot of vegetables and it’s wonderfully satisfying. Every time I make Borsch I think of my father who used to take the family to Troika, a Russian restaurant in Singapore, when I was a child. In Hong Kong, it is a staple winter soup and it is called 羅宋湯 (“lor sung tong”) in Cantonese. In the Chinese version, there are no beets and sour cream is omitted. For a vegatarian option, this soup can be made without any meat. This is a really easy recipe – no skills required!
1/2 can sliced beets
1/2 head of cabbage
3 Tbsp tomato paste
180 g beef stew meat or oxtail
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Peel carrots and potato. wash then cut into chunks.
Wash the cabbage, tomatoes and onion, then cut into chunks.
Cut the beef stew meat into bite-sized pieces.
Put all the ingredients into a huge soup pot. Add 10-12 cups of water and boil on high for 20 mins, then simmer for another 40 mins.
Add sugar (if it’s too sour), salt and pepper to taste.
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!
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
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.
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.
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
Marinate the pork for at least half an hour, with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, corn starch, salt and water.
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)
Heat the cooking oil, stir fry the garlic for a few seconds, then add in the pork and stir fry until light brown.
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!
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!
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
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.