Although I am Asian by ethnicity, I was born and grew up in the States. Unlike most other families with immigrant parents, my mother was a stay-at-home mom and she was in the PTA. Our neighborhood while growing up, though predominately Caucasian, was still made up of a lovely mixture of cultures and ethnicities and with my mom being a part of the PTA, her friends were not of the usual Asian variety (there were some, but they weren’t her only friends). Honestly speaking, though, she didn’t have to learn how to cook until she got married so though her baklava was pretty good, I still remember her first attempt at making pizza from scratch.
About 70% of it was burnt. We ended up eating out that night.
I actually didn’t get into cooking until I was in college, mainly because it was most convenient, being a vegetarian (my family became vegetarian when I was around 14 years old)… and one that didn’t eat onion, garlic, leeks, and chives, all of which are almost always used in American vegetarian cuisine. And hing (asafoetida)… but that’s not as common unless eating Indian cuisine. I wasn’t even a foodie until I got older. I don’t know what happened, but when I was growing up, I didn’t like to eat. Now, I wish my parents didn’t make me finish everything in my bowl; perhaps then I wouldn’t feel the need to do so till this day and, consequently, gain weight so easily.
Once I got into cooking, though, I made a point not to make a lot of Asian food. My family is Vietnamese-Chinese so though my mom does like venturing into other cuisines, it was still mainly of the Asian variety. They make it well, I thought, so why should I make a mediocre attempt at it? Well, since I got married to a Taiwanese guy and his older brother lives with us for the time being, I have been cooking a lot more. Yay! However, it’s been mainly of the non-Chinese variety, because these two guys can cook and they only cook Taiwanese food. Occasionally, I have been toying with the idea of making Asian food because these two guys apparently prefer it. My husband’s more open-minded but the other one… let’s just say I have a lot of leftovers on the days where BIL (brother-in-law) doesn’t like the food as much. Plus, after staying in Taiwan for a month and eating Taiwanese food about 98% of the time, I suppose I can’t “deprive” them, either. Taiwan is great at their vegetarian food, but after eating almost the same thing day after day, I was having intense cravings for non-Chinese cuisine.
However, like I said, Taiwan is a great country to visit if you’re vegetarian. A good 10% of the population is full-time vegetarian while a portion of the remainder may go vegetarian for a couple of days a month for religious (Buddhist) reasons. As such, there are a lot of choices there. While there, I bought two Taiwanese vegetarian cookbooks. I came across a recipe one day while designing the menu for a Chinese-themed dinner. It seemed pretty easy. Too easy, one might say. It was essentially tofu and oyster mushrooms. How did one make it? You lay it in a pan, pour the sauce over it, cover it, then forget it for 12 minutes. Done.
I was skeptical, but I decided to try it out. Also, it was on the healthy side, which is something I need. The Taiwanese people are all about hospitality and I was fed wherever I went, even when I didn’t want to be fed. I was fed so much that when I returned to the States, I found out I gained 5 pounds. Great. Good thing the engagement photos we had done was at the beginning of our stay there…
Braised Tofu with Oyster Mushrooms
(serves around 8 as a side dish)
2 14-ounce packs of Extra Firm Tofu, drained
1 16-ounce pack of Fresh Oyster Mushrooms, rinsed
2 to 3 tsp (thumb-sized knob) of Fresh Ginger, peeled and sliced into thin strips
1 tsp of Vegetable Oil
3 tsp of Vegetarian Mushroom Seasoning (preferably without MSG)
1 tsp of Salt
1/4 tsp of White Pepper Powder
1/4 tsp of Sesame Oil
1 tsp of Hot Water, scant
- Cut the tofu blocks in half and then in half once more, making it a total of 8 pieces:
- Add the vegetable oil on a non-stick 12-inch skillet with a lid over medium to medium-high heat. Once hot enough, place the tofu in a single layer. I like to use the first piece of tofu to spread around the oil evenly to distribute the oil for the remaining pieces. The tofu will lightly sizzle. Lower the heat to medium-low.
- Spread out the mushrooms over the tofu in an even layer.
- Sprinkle the ginger on top. Try to find “young” ginger. When you cut it and it’s tough and there is “hair” coming from it, then it’s old. So-called “old” ginger is spicier, but you can still use it. Just a word of caution for those who don’t like ginger as much, or you could cut down on the ginger. I personally love ginger.
- In a small bowl, combine the mushroom seasoning, salt, pepper, sesame oil, and hot water. You will not need a lot of water; the tofu and mushrooms will secrete enough once done cooking. The little bit of hot water will help dissolve the mushroom seasoning and salt so you will not have really chunky and salty bits of food. Pour the sauce over the mushrooms and tofu.
- Close the lid and allow to simmer on low for 12 minutes. Do not open the lid during this time or it will delay the cooking process.
- Once done, open the lid and plate. Serve hot with rice.
The end result is this wonderfully tender tofu with these perfectly cooked mushrooms on top. The seasoning? Subtle but very much present. It even got the stamp of approval from the two Taiwanese guys I live with, which is saying something. They’re my usual go-to people for Asian food as they’re pretty good cooks. With it gently simmering and being steamed in its own juices for those 12 magical minutes, the flavors had adequately seeped in and it smelled quite good. Because of how easy it is, this is definitely doable for a weeknight meal!
I made this for my parents and they were quite impressed and my mom requested for me to teach it to her. haha, wait until she finds out how simple it is! A part of me is still in vague disbelief that this was so easy, but this was my second time making it and the same result came out of it. I’m inclined to say that it’s a good thing! Also, it is rather versatile. I’m sure you can add other ingredients as well like some greens (like baby bok choy) or black fungus and baby corn. I had changed the original recipe a bit because there were some items I wasn’t terribly fond of, like the po bu zi (破布子), and wasn’t motivated enough to find. Okay, a lie. I found it at a local East Asian market, but opted out. They’re essentially seeds and I find them a pain to pick them out of my food, though they are said to impart a certain flavor to the food it is cooked with. My BIL loves them. In Taiwan, people would cook them with egg, or at least that was when I always encountered them. Do you know what a nuisance it is to pick them out from the egg with your tongue before you can properly enjoy your food?
Or perhaps that’s just the American in me speaking. ^^ Perhaps I’ll try cooking this again with the little seeds of trouble. Who knows? I might even like it!