Pros: Plenty of fresh vegan recipes to choose from. Nice glossary of ingredients. Nutrient information included on all recipes.
Cons: No photographs or illustrations. Ingredients can be difficult to find.
I enjoy eating Vegan even though I am not a Vegan. One of my sons is Vegan so finding new and exciting ways to prepare dishes he can thoroughly enjoy is rare. When I saw “The Chinese Vegan Kitchen,” by Donna Klein I was eager to delve into the pages and find new recipes that were tasty, doable, and fit within the rigorous guidelines of a Vegan’s diet. I was very pleased.
Klein spent 11 months in China teaching English. While not teaching she was intermingling with the families and embracing their culture. I can’t think of a better way to learn a cultural cuisine than submerging yourself with the people. After all, isn’t food one of the ways we identify with a culture? It appears she has managed to sample cuisines and gather recipes from all over China. There are recipes from Beijing in the north, Guangdong in the south, Shanghai in the east and Sichuan in the west, and yes, some of the recipes have an impressive amount of heat! She takes the time to explain all the different nuances of the diverse regional cuisine she is exposing us to in her cookbook. Klein was able to use her knowledge of Vegan cooking (author of The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen and Supermarket Vegan), and transform these traditional recipes into some delightful Vegan Chinese dishes. I feel she accomplished what she set out to do quite nicely.
My memories of Asia (South Korea) often revolve around food. Outside of every small restaurant was a little garden. Inside most of them are trays of sprouts growing. When you walk around towns you find every spare patch of land is a vegetable garden. It is wonderful. I mention this because when you read through this pleasant cookbook you can almost imagine the chef walking out into their own little garden and harvesting what there is for his daily creation. Most Asian dishes have simple ingredients. Simple, if you are in Asia. Over here in the states we have to find Asian markets or go to Amazon for a lot of the ingredients. However with a little looking you should be able to find what you need. Klein has included a nice Glossary of Ingredients to help you find what you are looking for. I found this to be invaluable as I was trying to find Pandan Leaf. While I was not able to find this particular leaf I did find a flavoring paste. That worked out just fine in my recipe. On most of the recipes she has substitutes listed. For instance on this particular recipe I could have also used vanilla extract which is very helpful.
This is a nice sized paperback cookbook. I advise caution while you are pounding your cucumber with the side of your chef knife preparing “Hunan-Style “Smacked” Cucumbers”; perhaps I was a bit too energetic, but when the cucumber splits open the juices fly! Allow me to share my experience with you. Previously, my experience in “beating” produce was crushing garlic cloves with a similar technique. Garlic crushes nicely, with little juice. So, there I was about to try this technique with an eight inch long cucumber and my chef’s knife. A little nervous – I do have a very sharp edge and a considerable amount of cucumber length to cover. Tossing caution to the winds, I brought down a fist on the flat of the knife. I had no idea that a cucumber could produce as much juice as a 10 pound watermelon! Fortunately, no was around to view this catastrophic crushing of the hapless vegetable, and subsequent mess. So, if your cookbook is near, the pages are quite absorbent, and will take damage! Lucky for me it was only cucumber juice. This cookbook is easy to navigate through. The recipes range from Appetizers and snack, soups, salads, rice dishes, noodle dishes, tofu, seitan, and other main dishes, vegetable side dishes and finally deserts and sweets. Since she often has substitutes suggested for the recipes she has included a section explaining how the nutrient values are calculated. Finally, the index can be searched by both the name of the recipe and the ingredients. My only complaint is that there are no pictures or drawings at all. I like pictures, especially when I don’t know what it is I am making. Even though there are no illustrations I found the book to be quite useful, and one I will return to time and again.
Every recipe I tried was easy to prepare and turned out great. With that said I do read, and re read recipes before I attempt them. This is especially important for the cooks not familiar with Asian Cuisine, and without a visual guide to help you. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of wonderful recipes in here that I want to try as soon as I find the ingredients. Other recipes I practically had everything in my pantry! My advice is to just simply have a backup recipe in the event you can’t find what you want at your local Asian market. The recipes have also inspired me to try and create my own versions of these dishes using our own favorite vegetables. All of these dishes are simple to prepare. None of them require extensive knowledge in the kitchen. The recipes are written with adequate instructions so that even the novice home cook will be able to create a wonderful meal. This is a well-rounded cookbook and could be used by both the home cook and the professional chef. Many recipes have notes on how they will hold up in a buffet. The next time you get a craving for Chinese food, skip the prepackaged grocery store products and the cute little boxes of take out, and open up this great book to make your own fresh Vegan Chinese! Hey, if you really like the cute little take out boxes you can buy your own on Amazon. What a fun way to serve a meal, and pack up left overs for lunch! With this said I recommend this book to all cooks out there, especially ones looking for more Vegan recipes.
Recipes I tried:
Hunan-Style “Smacked Cucumbers” (you know I have to include this one)
This is a popular appetizer throughout Hunan Province, nicknamed after the method of striking the cucumbers with the flat side of a chef’s knife to allow maximum absorption of the flavorful dressing. A wooden mallet or tenderizer can be used in lieu of the knife, if desired.
Makes 4 Servings
1 large cucumber (about 12 ounces)
Salt (about ½ teaspoon), plus additional, to taste
2 tablespoons plain rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted (dark) sesame oil (I couldn’t find dark so I used regular Pure Sesame Oil)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese hot oil, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place cucumber on a cutting board and position the flat side of a chef’s knife over top. Using your palm, strike the knife until the cucumber splinters open with aged cracks. (Alternatively, the flat side of a wooden mallet or tenderizer can be used.) Coarsely chop into bite-sized pieces. Transfer to a colander set over a place and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside for 30 minutes to drain; blot dry with paper towels.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, sugar, hot oil, and pepper. Let stand 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir again and add the cucumber, tossing well to combine and adding salt, if necessary. Let stand 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend, tossing a few times. Serve at room temperature. Alternatively, cover and refrigerate up to 2 days, tossing a few times, and serve chilled.
(Per Serving) (based on ½ teaspoon total salt in recipe) Calories 38, Protein 1g, Total Fat 2g, Sat Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0mg, Carbohydrate 4g, Dietary Fiber 1g, Sodium 268mg.
· I cut a thin strip off of my cucumber to keep it from rolling on my cutting board.
Black Glutinous Rice Pudding
Black rice comes in both long-grain and glutinous form. Make sure you select the latter for this exotic, luxurious rice pudding. Pandan leaves are available in Asian markets; if you can’t locate them, omit from the recipe and stir in 1/16th teaspoon of the pandan essence or pure vanilla extract just before adding the cooked rice.
Makes 6 to 8 Servings
1 cup black glutinous (sticky) rice
1 1/3 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
1 pandan leaf, tied in a knot
1 cup regular coconut milk
1 cup light coconut milk
¼ teaspoon salt
Bring a large stockpot filled halfway with salted water to a boil over high heat; add the rice and reduce the heat slightly. Cook stirring occasionally, until just tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Drain well in a colander (do not rinse).
In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and pandan leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Add coconut milks and salt and let come to a brisk simmer; reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, 8 to 12 minutes, or until reduced by about half. Remove the pandan leaf. Add the rice and reduce the heat to medium-low; cook, stirring, until heated through and thickened, about 5 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Alternatively, completely cooled pudding can be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days and served chilled or returned to room temperature.
(Per Serving) Calories 306, Protein 4g, Total Fat 10g, Sat Fat 9g, Cholesterol 0mg, Carbohydrate 52g, Dietary Fiber 1g, Sodium 118mg.
· This rice pudding is a brilliant purple. I served mine in white dishes with a sprig of fresh mint on top.
The above photo is a bit of a teaser. In the front are the Baked Vegetable Eggless Egg Rolls
From left to right in the back are the Pickled Daikon Radish, Hunan-Style Spicy Pickled Carrots, and Hunan-Style "Smacked" Cucumbers. Enjoy the pictures.