Vegan and Gluten-Free Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

When I think of Japanese food, I think of a carnivorous feast full of sashimi, nigiri, and sushi rolls; chicken or pork tonkatsu; chicken, beef, or salmon teriyaki; porky udons; and much, much more.  Everything but vegan.  Six months ago, I would have snubbed at the idea of a vegan Japanese meal.  I would have thought, “such a sad waste of calories” at that time.

Interestingly, since I’ve made the decision to eat less meat, and more veggies, my palate has become more open-minded to vegan and vegetarian fare.  I seek out vegan or vegetarian restaurants when I’m traveling.  We recently visited the East Bay and headed to the Gourmet Ghetto (aka, Berkeley) for some vegan/vegetarian Japanese food at Cha-Ya.  I have to admit, I was still a little hesitant about vegan Japanese food because I had some doubts that it was going to be as good as your traditional Japanese meal.  We ordered miso soup; sunomono; udon with vegetable tempura; and pickled burdock and pickled melon sushi rolls, and a seaweed salad sushi roll.

The dinner was ridiculously amazing and filling!  I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how much I look forward to going back.  What stood out the most was the simple but savory miso soup that oozed with umami.  Oh.  My.  Word.  It was just delightful.  I like a good miso soup, and I order it just about every time we dine at a Japanese restaurant.  Most places are either too salty or too stingy with the tofu and wakame.  I can honestly say that Cha-Ya offers some of the best miso soup.

I left Cha-Ya feeling inspired to cook up some vegan Japanese food at home.  I started with a vegan miso soup.  It turned out pretty good… it’s definitely a close second to Cha-Ya’s :)

Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

6 cups vegan dashi (6 cups of water + 12 inch piece of kombu soaked overnight)
3-4 tablespoons gluten-free red miso paste
1-2 tablespoon gluten-free white miso paste
1 block firm tofu (fresh if possible), drained and cubed
2 tablespoons wakame, soaked in water for 5 minutes, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped

When ready to make the soup, bring the vegan dashi up to a simmer (not a full boil), then take out the kombu. Bring to a full boil, and then add the wakame and simmer for one minute.

Place a small strainer over the broth. Add the miso [a little bit at a time to your preference, since miso varies in saltiness] by dissolving and pushing through the strainer. [The strainer helps to avoid a lumpy miso soup. Lastly, do not boil the miso or else you risk ruining the miso flavor.] Add the tofu and green onion.

Serve immediately.

Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chop… it’s porky goodness!

It was 99 degrees F outside today, and it’s only the middle of May.  Mother Nature, you are being cruel to us.  I love when you are around the 70s to mid-80s, because that’s what you are during the months of April and May.  In fact, that’s my favorite time of the year here.  So what gives?  Is this a taste of what is to come this summer?  Please be kind.  I can’t bear sizzling temperatures near/over 110 degrees F.

I couldn’t bear to cook in the house today.  We cooked in yesterday, although it was 93 degrees F outside, our house seemed like a sauna.  I suppose we could have turned on the air conditioner, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that because it is only May.  But I digress.  It was the perfect to take the cooking outdoors, and I’ll take any excuse to play, I mean, cook on my Big Green Egg.

Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chop (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)

4 pork chops, bone-in, about 1 inch thick
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons garlic
3 tablespoons shallot
1 1/2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil

Using a mini food processor, pulse the sugar, garlic, shallot, and lemongrass to a mince-like texture. Add the pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce, and oil, and process to combine well.

Place the pork chops in a large zip-lock bag, and pour the marinade to coat. Squish the marinade around to coat the pork chops evenly. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, up to 24 hours. Allow the pork chops to rest at room temperature, about 30-45 minutes, before grilling.

Preheat the Big Green Egg (or any grill) to 550 degrees F (or medium-high heat). Grill the pork chops over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, about 4 minutes. Flip, and cook for an additional Place the chops on the grill rack of your Big Green Egg. Sear the chops for about 4 minutes, flip, and cook for an additional 4 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F. Remove from the grill, and let the pork chops rest for 5 minutes.

My favorite way to eat these delicious pork chops is over steamed white rice with a fried egg, and nuoc cham dipping sauce.  Yum.

Makes 4 servings.

Amuse Bouche This: Pork Wonton Soup Meets Japanese Braised Pork Belly and Kale

[I can't believe I still haven't blogged about this!... This post was sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year.  How did i miss this?! ]

My ultimate comfort food is pork wonton soup that my Mom used to make when I was growing up.  I could almost guarantee there would a big bowl of filling with two packets of wonton wrappers waiting for me to help her wrap wontons during the first day of winter.  We’d make a large batch to consume later that night, but she would also freeze baggies of wontons for Monday night dinners weeks ahead.

It’s raining and cold outside today.  I was craving something warm and soothing, but I realized that we had recently finished the wontons my Mom gave us.  What was my solution?  It was easy… make some more!

This is my kicked up version of the traditional pork wonton soup with slices of char shiu pork and bok choy…

Amuse Bouche This: Pork Wonton Soup Meets Japanese Braised Pork Belly and Kale

For the filling:

1 pound of ground pork
3 stalks of green onion, chopped
1 1/4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white pepper
1 packet of wonton wrappers

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.

Fill a small bowl with water and keep it next to you. Place one heaping teaspoonful of the filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. [Be sure not to put too much of the filling, otherwise it'll leak out during the folding process.] Moisten all the edges of the wonton wrapper with water using your finger. Fold one edge of the wrapper over the filling like a triangle. Press the edges firmly together to make a seal, which will help eliminate any air pockets. Bring the left and right corners together above the filling. Overlap the tips of these corners, moisten with water and press together. Continue until all the wrappers are used.

Note: Wontons can be made a month ahead. Freeze in a layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Carefully lift the wontons and place them in a sealable plastic bag and keep frozen.

For the soup:

1 quart of chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1/2 bunch of kale, strip out the center core or stalk, tear kale into small pieces

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. Add the kale and drop in the amount of wontons you want, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes minutes.

Garnish serving spoon or miniature serving bowls with a little broth, kale, a wonton, and braised pork belly.

For the braised pork (adapted from No Recipes):

6 cloves of garlic crushed with a heavy object
1 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons sake
2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds pork belly cut into 2″ strips

In a small dutch oven or heavy bottom pan with a tight-fitting lid, combine all the ingredients in the pot, and cover. Cook over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat falls apart and the fat is silky smooth.

Remove from heat and allow the pork to rest in the broth overnight by putting it in the refrigerator after it cools. This will accomplish two things: 1) it gives the pork belly a chance to absorb more flavor and 2) it will be easier to skim off the rendered fat.

[Gently reheat the left over with some braising liquid and serve over white rice. You won't regret it.]

My Chinese Family, Part I (and Chinese chive dumplings with shrimps and scallops)

As I get older and with each year that passes me by, I’ve begun to notice my parents aging.  I still consider them young for their age, but they aren’t as youthful and spry as they once were.  They complain of aches and pains that weren’t present before.   They have ailments for which they need medicate.  They doze off while we watch TV together, just like how they used to complain of their parents doing so while they spent time together.  They’re becoming more forgetful.  They are slowly being adorned with wrinkles and gray hair.  It has made me realize how little I know about my parents.

My partner has been pushing me to document my parents’ life stories, and to also document the recipes that we grew up with.  She wants to ensure that we can pass down our family stories to the next generation.  You see, I know very little about my family history.  I can recall bits and pieces of my parents’ childhood, but not enough to tell a story.  It saddens me.   I had so many opportunities to spend time with my great grandfather and grandparents to learn more about them and their life in China, but I didn’t.  Hindsight is always 20/20, right?

I lost my heritage while desperately immersing myself into Western cultures while growing up as an Asian-American.  I didn’t want to be Chinese.  I thought I was the ugly duckling next to my non-Asian classmates while in grade school.  I wanted to be the blond hair, blue-eyed girl next door.  If someone asked me what I was, I’d quickly respond with, “American.” I hated checking the “Asian” box for my ethnicity.  I used to always wonder to myself, why did I have to be Chinese?  Why me?  It just wasn’t fair.  I can also recall how I didn’t like to be out in public with my parents because I was so embarrassed by their broken English.  Thankfully, this all changed during the mid-90s when Amy Tan came out with The Joy Luck Club that I gained some pride in my nationality.

I realize that it’s not too late to start interviewing my parents and my relatives.  I just don’t want to keep procrastinating this project or else it might just be too late.  So I’m going to do what my partner suggested, and dedicate a series titled, My Chinese Family.   I hope you’ll enjoy the stories and the recipes, as much as I have as a child and still do as an adult.

To start off this series, I wanted to dedicate this post to my Mom.  She is my hero.  The most influential person in my life.  My brother and I are very lucky to have her as our Mom.  She’s also an amazing chef… we ALWAYS look forward to Monday night dinners at Mama Chang’s!  One of the ultimate comfort foods for me is my Mom’s Chinese chive dumplings with shrimps and scallops.  My Mom doesn’t cook with recipes… it’s a little dash of this, and a little dash of that.  So it was always hard trying to cook with my Mom when I was growing up.  And to this day, it’s still hard because now I’m trying to translate her dashes into measurements :)

Chinese Chive Dumplings (Jiaozi) with Shrimps and Scallops

1 large bunches of Chinese chives, rinsed and drained, chopped into 1/4-inch dices
1 pounds scallops, chopped into 1/4-inch dices
2 pounds shrimp, chopped into 1/4-inch dices
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth or water
3 packages pot sticker wraps (or homemade dumpling dough)

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients together, except for the Chinese chives. Using a pair of chopsticks, mix the ingredients in ONE direction [This technique allows everything to combine; whereas, if you were to mix in all directions, the mixture would separate, rather than come together. It works because my Mom says so :)] until thoroughly combined, about 5 minutes. [Your forearms will certainly get a good workout.]  Next, pour in the Chinese chives and mix in one direction for another five minutes until all the ingredients have been thoroughly combined.  This may sound yucky to some, but take a piece of the Chinese chive and place it in your mouth to test the seasoning. If it seems bland, adjust the seasoning with adding a little extra more salt.

Heat a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. [Trust me, you'll want to do this ahead of time to get the water to boil faster because you'll want to eat those dumplings immediately after their wrapped. And besides, you never want to watch a pot to boil water or else it'll just take longer (or so it seems).]

Prepare a small bowl of water and cut open the pot sticker wraps. Place a small portion (about one heaping tablespoonful or a little more if you are advanced) of the filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the remainder of the dumplings.

As you get down to the last few dumplings to wrap, turn the heat to high to boil the pot of water. Once it comes to a boil, add a teaspoon of sesame oil [this helps them to not stick] and half the dumplings, giving them a gentle stir so they don’t stick together. Bring the water to a boil, and add 1/2 cup of cold water. Cover and repeat. When the dumplings come to a boil for a third time, they are ready. Carefully drain and remove. If desired, they can be pan-fried at this point.

Serve with your favorite Chinese dipping sauces. I love to dip mine with a mixture of soy sauce, white distilled vinegar, and a homemade Chinese XO sauce. Yum.

Rice-less Spicy Tuna “Handrolls”

Homemade spicy tuna handrolls are our go-to meals when we feel like having sushi.  We have a great fishmonger, Stan, that sets aside fresh ahi tuna for us.  He’s so convincing, too, because when we’re not there for fish, he’ll tell what he has in fresh that day, and we immediately order a pound or two.  Like last weekend when we were there specifically for ribs, and walked out with five pounds of ribs and one pound of ahi tuna.  We even told ourselves in the car on our way to the market that we were only there for ribs, and nothing more.  If only we weren’t so easily convinced…

It had been some time since we had spicy tuna sushi, and we were craving sushi that day, too.  So it really worked out in our favor.  The only problem was that I was too lazy to make rice.  I know.  What in the hell kind of Asian am I?!  I’m questioning myself, too, as I type this sentence.  I know it’s not hard, but I was too lazy to pick myself off the couch to make rice, and by the time I looked up at the clock, it was already nearing 1 p.m.  And I didn’t want to eat too late because we had plans to eat yummy things for dinner.  So, I had to forego the rice :(

However, on the flip side of this, I got to eat more of the spicy tuna “handrolls” because it was guilt-free eating without all the carbs! :)

Rice-less Spicy Tuna “Handrolls”

1 pound sushi grade fresh ahi tuna, cut into 1/2 inch dices
1/4 cup flying fish roe
2 stalks of green onion, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce, plus more to adjust level of spiciness
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Salt, to taste

Nori seaweed sheets, cut into 4″x 3″ strips

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salt and mix well. Add more Sriracha sauce if you prefer it to be more spicy, or add less to begin with if you like it less spicy. Mix well again. Adjust seasoning with salt to your liking.

Spoon spicy tuna mixture into the middle of each Nori strip, and enjoy! :)

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