Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Vegetable Lo Mein and Hot and Sour Soup
Warning: super long post ahead!
I know, I've been making a crazy amount of stuff from this book lately. Not really sure why, it just sort of worked out that way. Anyway, it was Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Lunar New Year) last weekend and I didn't make or go out to eat Chinese food at all. I wanted to but just didn't get a chance to so I decided to at least make a couple of Chinese dishes from the book a few days ago. Even though these are not traditional new year's dishes, or even dishes I grew up with, I settled on Vegetable Lo Mein With Tofu (page 234) and Hot and Sour Soup (page 152).
For the lo mein, I ended up using linguine. I normally don't substitute semolina pasta for Chinese wheat noodles but the texture and width worked really well. The recipe follows a standard format for stirfried noodles: prepped vegetables, precooked noodles and premixed sauce. I made the recipe as is at first (tweaked it afterwards, keep reading) and I found it really lacking in seasoning and flavour. Not a huge deal for me. I'd rather have a dish that is underseasoned so I can adjust accordingly, than one that is overseasoned.
Now this is just my personal take on it but here are my suggested tweaks. The recipe initially calls for only 3 tbsp soy sauce. It does say to adjust the seasonings when you're done, but in my opinion, 3 tbsp as a starting point is way too little for 12 oz of noodles. It should be closer to 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup. That may sound like a lot but if you compare recipes, the Pad Thai recipe uses 1/3 cup of soy sauce for 12 oz of noodles. The amount of sherry is about right since the flavour is fairly strong. The sugar however should also probably be upped to 1 tbsp or more to balance out the other flavours. The last thing that this dish would have benefitted from was a few spoonfuls of vegetarian "oyster" sauce. You know when you make some Cantonese dishes at home and it never tastes quite right with just soy sauce? That missing flavour is usually from the vegetarian "oyster" sauce. Other ingredients too, but the "oyster" sauce makes a huge difference. I also ended up adding some chili oil with roasted peanuts (the peanuts are in the oil) and sriracha on the side
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a "bad" recipe by any means. The basic blueprint is there, but keep in mind that you will want to up the seasonings by quite a bit.
On to the soup!
Hot and sour soup is one of those things that is never really the same from restaurant to restaurant. Pre-vegan, I consumed so much hot and sour soup and have had so many different variations with the most interesting one being a really sweet tomato-based one. It was kind of odd, but good at the same time. But I digress...
Yes, I know the soup looks a bit oily in the pic. It's most likely from the sesame seed oil at the end (and maybe because I used roux...). Anyway, this recipe is a good starting point for hot and sour soup. Balanced flavours that really come together after simmering. I did have a few small tweaks though.
I was completely out of cornstarch so I ended up making a light roux first (that's why my soup isn't clear) and then adding in the water and bouillon powder. The recipe calls for a light broth since the flavour and sodium comes mostly from the other ingredients, so I cut the amount of bouillon powder in half. I also didn't have any bamboo shoots on hand and I really don't like water chestnuts so I skipped that. I did add in both shiitake and white mushrooms along with some sliced cloud ear fungus for texture and some chopped bok choy.
On to the seasonings! For the chili paste, I used (double) chili garlic sauce. I ended up adding in a little bit more soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and also a splash of balsamic. What? Yeah, I said balsamic. I wanted to add in a splash of Chinese black vinegar, but I didn't have any on hand. Balsamic is an okay substitute in small doses as long as it's not the primary flavour. It adds a similar depth in taste as Chinese black vinegar and worked well here too. The sesame seed oil at the end helped to round everything out nicely. The soup was even better the next day.
All in all, everything turned out pretty tasty, but only after some major additions for the noodles. Keep that in mind if you're making them.
Lastly, a belated gung hay fat choy to everyone!
— Ms. Veganorama