Unlike most of his counterparts in the Western world, the Chinese vegetarian strictly prohibits anything remotely connected with animals, including eggs and milk. He can eat only purely vegetable matter. In order to make their diet a little more exciting, the Buddist monks and nuns and other vegetarians invented a special cuisine in China, including vegetarian dishes that simulate meat not only in texture and appearance but in flavour as well.
Naturally, these vegetarian foods require special skill and ingredients which are beyond the scope of this author. However, I have adapted for Western kitchens one of their best-known dishes called ‘eight precious jewels’, using substitutes for some of the original ingredients which are rather hard to come by.
4-5 dried mushrooms (or 2 oz/50g fresh mushrooms)
1 oz (25 g) dried bean curnskin
1 oz (25 g) dried Tiger Lily
1 oz (25 g) Wooden Ears (black fungus)
4 oz (100 g) bamboo shoots
2 oz (50 g) carrots
4 oz (100 g) Chinese cabbage (or celery)
4 oz (100 g) broccoli (or any green vegetable, such as french beans)
4 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame seed oil
Soak all the dried vegetables separately in cold water overnight or in warm water for a few hours. Slice them into thin strips (except the Tiger Lily which is in small strips already). Slice the bamboo shoots, carrots, cabbage and broccoli.
Heat a wok or large pan. When it is hot put in about 2 tablespoons oil and wait till it smokes. Stir-fry all the dried vegetables together with the bamboo shoots, add a little water from the dried mushrooms, bring it to the boil for a few seconds, then dish it out. Now heat up more oil and stir-fry the carrots, cabbage (or celery) and broccoli (or greens) for about 1 minute, then add the partly-cooked dried vegetables with salt, sugar and soy sauce. Continue stirring for another minute. If the contents start to go dry, add a little more water to keep them from getting burnt. Add a few drops of sesame seed oil before serving.
This dish can be served cold if you prefer.
© Deh-Ta Hsiung and reproduced with his kind permission.