Chinese vegetarian restaurant dishes are sometimes considered “too meaty”. While this may put off salad eaters, it certainly makes the meal a lot more acceptable to those accustomed to eating meat.
More than that, it makes the meal a lot more balanced. A meal of rice, vegetables and “mock meat” follows closely the traditional diet pattern of grains, vegetables and protein (beans, bean products, fish, seafood or meat). In contrast, a salad meal is just vegetables, no grains , no protein-rich food.
The “mock meat” used in Chinese vegetarian restaurants is gluten. The Chinese call it “heart of the wheat”. This is made by mixing flour with water to form a dough, then washing off the starch (many, many times) until the protein-rich gluten is left.
You can buy frozen gluten from some market tofu / vegetarian stalls. They come in various shapes and sizes, including “large intestines”, “sausages” (with black fungus enclosed) and fist-sized lumps which my vegetarian stall holder calls “durians”.
There is also vegetarian chicken, duck, goose, mutton, fish, etc – some made from gluten, some from soy products such as bean “skin”.
Most of these are already flavoured and ready-to-eat. I prefer plain gluten as the ready-to-eat versions usually come with poor quality soy sauce, MSG, sugar, etc.
Natural food stores do have ready-to-eat gluten, called seitan by its Japanese name, made with healthier ingredients.
As with tempeh, you can use gluten in any meat recipe such as curries and stews.
I made it the other day using pre-packaged Thai green curry paste. It turned out not bad but not great either. Maybe I should try a different brand of curry paste, or make the curry with fresh ingredients.
But I much prefer gluten green curry to the tofu green curry, which an upmarket Thai restaurant in town serves. I find tofu too weak in texture.
More successful was my experiment with bak kut teh (pork rib tea), again using pre-packaged herbs and following the instructions on the packet.
Gluten soy sauce stew
The classic preparation for gluten is in a Chinese-style soy sauce stew. Here, I offer a richer variation with the addition of tahini or sesame paste.
- 2 gluten “sausages” or equivalent amount of other gluten
- 4-inch strip kombu seaweed (optional)
- 6-inch section daikon / white radish
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup tahini
Cut gluten and daikon into large chunks. Leave mushrooms whole or cut into halves. Cut kombu into small squares.
Cook with water and soy sauce for 20 minutes. Remove some cooking liquid, mix well with tahini and pour back into the pot to cook another 10 minutes.
- Use a mixture of gluten with firm tofu
- Use carrot, lotus root, onions and other firm vegetables.
- Use the leaves of Chinese salted vegetables. Rinse well to remove excess salt, and reduce the soy sauce by half.
- Add cinnamon, star-anise, “five spice powder”, pepper, etc