Help me cook delicious plant based, whole food meals, in China
July 16, 2012 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me cook delicious plant based, whole food meals, in China

I am a 29 year old American guy living in China, I have been vegan for 13 years, but others have usually cooked for me. I find myself living in China and cooking for myself, and I want to prepare whole food plant based meals, with minimal processed sugar and oils.

In my part of China, local fresh produce is abundant, yams, tubers, sweet potatos, karrots, daikon, greens, brocoli, tomatoes, egg plant, garlic, onions potatos, etc. are all available, along with lots of whole grains, which are in the pictures below, that as far as I can tell include at least brown rice, and millet.

I have a rice cooker, a hot plate with a wok, and I am thinking about buying a crock pot for making beans.

My problem is, I have all of these fresh ingredients around, but I don't know how to prepare them into delicious food, especially without using a lot of oils, fats, and sugar.

Basically the one dish I can make is marinated tofu stir fry, and that gets old really fast.

What kind of sauces can I buy/make in China that are vegan, and don't have too much oil?

Help me make some delicious dishes, that fit my diet please, and give me recommendations for cookware.

Obviously foods that can be prepared quickly and conveniently is a plus, but I know It will take some time to make good food.

I am thinking about this cast iron skillet skillet

and this slow cooker for beans crock pot

But I don't read Chinese well and don't know much about cooking so I wonder if they're any good

any other recommendations would be appreciated
posted by crawltopslow to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Buy a few cookbooks, a basic vegan one and one other, maybe a Chinese themed one. Just follow the recipes for a while starting with simple ones with only a few steps and then moving on to harder ones. Always make enough food for at least two meals. You'll learn more about cooking than any other way.
posted by fshgrl at 4:12 PM on July 16, 2012

By the way, It is pretty hard for me to get paper cook books in China, but I can get ebooks, or videos or something, I'm in the middle of no where china.
posted by crawltopslow at 4:15 PM on July 16, 2012

crawltopslow: "along with lots of whole grains, which are in the pictures below, that as far as I can tell include at least brown rice, and millet."

I only see links to the skillet & crock pot. Did you mean to include others?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:36 PM on July 16, 2012

Here is one pic I got to upload.. sorry I didn't post it earlier

grains pic
posted by crawltopslow at 4:54 PM on July 16, 2012

I'm not sure how familiar you are with Chinese cooking and what your situation is exactly? Could you look on or learn from neighbor or coworkers? I only ask, because there are lots of Chinese vegetable dishes that are essentially vegan.

Almost all green vegetables can be stir fried. Yes it requires oil but not lots in my experience. Warm up the oil, but don't let it get too hot. Chop up some garlic and toss it in. Keep it moving, or it'll brown & get bitter! (In Chinese this is called "bao4 xiang4". I think. My pinyin is pretty awful). Next, toss in whatever veggie you're cooking. Keep the veggies moving (not in a panicked way but lightly tossing them around) until they've reached your desired level of softeness (or crunchiness as the case may be).

Yams & sweet potatoes can be scrubbed clean, cubed (large, maybe 1.5" or so), and put into your rice as it's cooking or on top when it's further along. They're very sweet naturally, and I've never understood people's need to coat it with sugar & marshmallows & all sorts of other sweet things. I tend to just eat it as a side or save it for a later snack or meal.

Braised eggplant & garlic is very good, but I can't offer you a good recipe. The "authentic" way tends to require lots of oil, so I've never tried replicating that in my own kitchen for health reasons. What I do instead is boiling or steaming them lightly (quickly!) to get the ball rolling and then finish up like a normal stir fry with garlic, chili oil/peppers, and just a bit of soy sauce. Not quite the same but still pretty savory.

I love daikon! I'm not vegan, so I tend to make it in meat broth, but it should still be fairly delicious just boiled with salt to taste. The key for daikon soup is the CELERY at the end. Chop it up and toss it in after you've put in your bowl (but while it's still hot!). Delicious. If that's too bland and not to your liking, may I recommend picking up some 酱油膏 (jiang4 you2 gao. Roughly translates to 'soysauce paste'). It's a thicker, savory soysauce. Chop up some garlic, toss it into the soysauce. Use for all steamed/bland foods.
posted by mittenedsex at 6:23 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The japanese also use daikon in raw form, but I'm not as familiar with that. I think if it's too old, you risk getting something quite bitter. (Sorry I can't be of much help there).

This requires sugar, but red bean or mung bean (called "green bean") soup CHILLED. Great in the hot summer. We also toss in some sweet potatoes while cooking sometimes. It's usually more of a dessert thing (cold) or a breakfast "cereal" of sorts (warm).
posted by mittenedsex at 6:32 PM on July 16, 2012

You should really try the taste first, but salted fermented tofu cubes + sliced lotus roots are great too (stir fry, of course).

Sorry if this is too obvious, but you could make American breakfast potatoes/hash with those potatoes.

(And now i'll stop with the two liner responses).
posted by mittenedsex at 6:36 PM on July 16, 2012

Check out some of the recipes at The Vegetarian Times.
posted by gudrun at 7:36 PM on July 16, 2012

101 Cookbooks has a lot of vegetarian recipes with an emphasis on low sugar, no processed grains. She sometimes puts modifications at the end on how to make the recipe vegan (if necessary), and if not, read the comments, because someone will chime in there with some good suggestions.
posted by bluefly at 9:36 AM on July 17, 2012

Given that I am very much of an omnivore, I've been hesitating to answer this question for about a day. However, since I cook quite a lot of Chinese food, I figured I would share some thoughts with you (and the posters above).

The "skillet" that you linked looks very much like a wok to me, so if you already have a wok, I'm not convinced it will provide you with that much additional utility. As for the beans, I'd try cooking them in the rice cooker before investing in the slow cooker. A good rule of thumb could perhaps be not to buy any piece of kitchen equipment until you want to cook a particular dish that absolutely requires it...? That way the risk of ending up with a bunch of not-that-useful kitchen stuff is reduced.

I'm not exactly sure how low in fat you want your foods to be. Do you mean that you don't like breaded and fried stuff? Deep fried stuff? Or that you want to avoid oil altogether? In my experience, stir-frying (with good results) in a wok really requires you to use at least 1-2 tablespoons of oil (depending on what you're cooking). Some things are better cooked in larger amounts of oil that can be drained and reused. You may want to keep in mind that the Chinese have for a very long time eaten a quite healthful diet that is very high in grain and vegetables and until recently only scatterings of meat, almost requiring liberal use of oil for an adequate fat intake.

As mittenedsex already pointed out, Chinese people use dried beans mainly for dessert (and sometimes cooked in rice or porridge), so you may want to double check that the ones you wish to buy are actually available.

You don't really specify what kind of foods you like to eat, so it's sort of difficult to suggest specific sauces. That said, I make almost all of my cooking sauces/marinades from a combination of soy sauce (light, dark), cooking wine, vinegar (white, zhenjiang), sesame oil, chili oil, sugar and starch. I also stock fresh and dried red chili, 花椒 (sichuan peppercorns), 豆瓣酱 (soy bean paste), 豆豉辣酱 (spicy fermented soy bean paste), and dry 豆豉 (fermented soy beans). I'm pretty sure all of these would be vegan. Of course, it's sort of difficult to combine these if you don't have a recipe to work from.

Green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, leaf vegetables, even green beans) can all be stir fried. As mittenedsex explained, it's very simple: add dry seasonings (e.g., garlic, ginger, chili) first, then add the vegetables and finish off with liquid seasonings (e.g., soy sauce) and salt if required.

I also love to eat daikon (it's dirt cheap here, but hey, it's mainly water!). In soup, it becomes very sweet and nice and tender. Raw, it has a mild radish taste and crunchy texture (never noticed any bitterness). I've used it to make Vietnamese-style pickles (daikon, carrot, white vinegar, sugar), maangchi's (Korean) radish salad, and with a spicy Sichuan style dressing from Dunlop's Sichuan cookbook.

Eggplant absorbs a lot of oil if you fry it, but as mittenedsex (again!) pointed out, it can be steamed as well. Then continue to stir-fry or just dress in sauce to eat hot/cold. If you think you'd want to try steaming, I think it'd be easy to find some kind of steaming rack that you can fit into your wok -- no need to buy a huge piece of specialized equipment.

As I mentioned above, I'm very much of a meat eater, but if you want to branch out from the stir-fried tofu, maybe try some naturally vegan Chinese tofu dish, such as 麻辣 (numb-spicy -- mala) or 鱼香 (fish-fragrant -- yuxiang) tofu? These are very standard dishes that usually don't include meat, so you should be able to find tons of recipes to draw from. Also, I find smoked tofu (熏豆腐干) absolutely delicious, and if you like smoked things, you may want to give it a try. Just slice thinly and add to a stir-fry.
posted by yonglin at 11:53 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

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