Cantonese: pai gwut

Another classic dim sum dish I really miss.  They do a really great version at Buddha Bodai in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  I basically followed the recipe in Ellen Leong Blonder’s wonderful book Dim Sum, substituting seitan for the spare ribs.


1 8oz. package cubed seitan
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp fermented black beans
1/4 to 1/2 tsp chili paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice wine (I subbed cooking wine)
1/4 tsp sugar
3 slices fresh ginger

Cut corner of seitan pouch and drain, squeezing out at much water as you can without damaging the seitan. Empty seitan into a large bowl and mix with corstarch. Mix remaining ingredients in separate bowl. Pour sauce onto seitan, mix well, and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, turning at least once (otherwise it will taste like spareribs on the outside, seitan on the inside).  Pour the entire mixture into a steam-safe bowl or dish, making sure the edges do not touch the sides of your steamer.  Steam for 15-20 minutes until hot. Discard ginger slices and serve.

black bean spareribs


I had to look up what “moo shu” (actually “muk sui” in Cantonese) meant in Chinese since it doesn’t translate in any way that makes sense… like “hot dog.” According to the wikipedia entry on the etymology, it doesn’t make literal sense and there’s some dispute over how the name came about. Anyways I don’t think we ever made these at home but I have fond memories of eating them in restaurants. There’s just something about going out to a restaurant only to make your own food…

You can play with the ingredients according to what you have in your fridge and what you like.  Each moo shu burrito will take about 3/4 – 1 cup of filling.

Basic ingredients:
moo shu pancakes (store bought or make your own)
white pepper
soy sauce and/or shaoxing cooking wine
sesame oil for stir-frying
lots of hoisin sauce

And for the filling, you can use any combination of:
tofu, drained and cut into slices
veggie chicken cutlets, shredded
green onions, greens cut into 1-inch pieces, whites into rings
chinese chives
regular onion, sliced
carrots, julienned
shitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced
dried tiger lily bulbs, soaked and cut into 1-inch pieces
canned bamboo shoots
scrambled eggs (pre-scrambled)
bean sprouts
cabbage, shredded thin
baby corn, sliced

I got about 6 moo shus worth of filling with 1 carrot, 1 can seitan (chai pow yu), 1/5 head cabbage, 2 cloves garlic, 3 big mushrooms, 2 green onions, 3/4 cup dried tiger lily bulbs, and 1/3 of an onion.
moo shu veggies

Store-bought moo shu pancakes:
moo shu pancakes

Tiger lily buds, which are the closed buds of the bright orange tiger lily plant and readily available at any Asian grocer (very common in hot & sour soup):
tiger lily buds
Preheat your pan to med-high with 1-2 tbsp oil and add the ingredients in the order they need to fry– tofu, carrots, onions (both kinds), cabbage, then garlic. You can time each addition about 2 minutes apart, and then add the rest of the ingredients that don’t need to be cooked– mushrooms, tiger lily bulbs, seitan, bamboo shoots, etc. But NOT the bean sprouts or they will turn to mush.  Add 2 tbsp shaoxing wine, 2 tbsp soy sauce, and a generous dash of white pepper.  These aren’t key, since most of the flavor will come from your veggies and the hoisin sauce anyways.  Once everything is cooked but not soggy, turn off the heat and make sure everything is mixed.  Add bean sprouts at this point.
stir-frying the moo shu filling

Take a pancake, smear generously with hoisin sauce, fill with veggies, and wrap it like a burrito but with one end open. Keep the pancakes moist and only fill/wrap moo shus as you eat them or the liquid from the veggies will soak through the pancakes and they’ll turn to mush. Also, when you scoop the filling from your pan, try to avoid as much liquid as you can. Enjoy!

moo shu veggies

I went to the Maine Vegetarian Food Festival last year and picked up a list of commonly-used Hidden Animal Ingredients.  I was reminded of it today because we bought a bottle of Sobe Lifewater, “yumberry pomegranate” flavor:

Sobe Lifewater

Apparently it’s supposed to “purify” me with these ingredients:


“Cochineal extract” is made from crushed scale insects that look like this:

Just goes to show– you can’t even trust the most innocuous-looking fluids not to have animal ingredients.

My dad’s sisters (there are a few) used to make a big batch of this in a industrial-sized rice cooker for family get-togethers. It’s not quire the same on a stovetop and without chicken drumsticks but here’s my version.  Start at least 1 hour before you plan to eat; it takes a long time for the rice to absorb the coconut milk.

1.5 cups white rice
1 can coconut milk (I use the lite variety)
1.5 cups water
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 tsp and 3/4 tsp Better Than Bouillon, divided
3-4 tsp non-spicy curry powder
1 package firm or extra-firm tofu, well drained; or pieces of veg. chicken (not breaded)
2-3 bay leaves
salt if desired
Non-spicy curry powder:
Indra curry powder- not spicy
Slice the tofu about 1 cm thick and smear both sides of each piece with portion of the Better Than Bouillon (I get 8 slices from Nasoya). Sprinkle tops with about 1 tsp of curry power and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes until the pieces are nice and meaty/chewy.  If using veggie chicken, just sprinkle the cutlets with some curry powder and place on top of  your rice while it cooks (see below).
basted tofu before baking
In a large pot, throw in the rice, coconut milk, water, peas, raisins, 2-3 tsp curry powder, and 3/4 tsp Better Than Bouillon. Set the 2 bay leaves on top. Cook on low for about 1 hour (mine took 1.5 hours on very low). Usually opening the lid is a total faux pas but because of the coconut milk, you’ll have to lift the bay leaves and stir the rice 2-3 times while it’s cooking to make sure the rice on top doesn’t get dry while the rice on bottom overcooks.

After an hour, check to see if the rice is done. Once the rice thoroughly cooked, remove the bay leaves and mix the whole thing so the peas and raisins are evenly distributed. Then throw the tofu pieces into the pot and mix again. Add salt if desired. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and then serve.
coconut curry rice

Drunken noodles/pad kee mao is my favorite Thai dish… thai basil, sweet soy sauce, chilies… mmmm…. I always start with this easy recipe as a basis for experimentation.

You can find thai basil and rice noodles at Haknuman Meanchey up Forest Ave., along with lots of hard-to-find asian produce, dry goods, and prepared foods. I went in there for the first time recently and was pretty wowed by their variety.
Haknuman Meanchey

Onto the eating part…

Drunken Noodles Sauce:
2 tablespoons Golden Mountain sauce or Maggi sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup thai basil leaves
Sambal oelek to taste (start with 1/4 tsp)
for the sauce

5-6 oz. rice noodles/rice sticks/rice flakes (big flat square noodles)
1-2 thai peppers, diced small
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1/2 onion, sliced
oil for stir-frying
1/2 package of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into strips

snow peas
1 carrot cut into rings or matchsticks
1/2 red or green bell pepper, cut into strips
noodle ingredients
Soak the noodles in hot (just before boiling) water, making sure all the noodles are underwater. In a separate bowl combine just the sauce ingredients and muddle the basil leaves in with it, set aside. Stir-fry the onions and carrots on medium high and add the tofu strips in a ring around the outside. Spoon some of the sauce onto the tofu, just enough to that all of it is absorbed by the tofu. Once the onions are cooked, add snow peas/bell peppers/chili peppers (if using) and stir the whole mixture and keep stir-frying until the carrots are no longer raw.


Check on the rice noodles- drain them when they are just under al dente because they will absorb the sauce at the end to become al dente. It’s best to undershoot this because you can always add more fluid at the end but you can’t take water out once the noodles are soggy. When ready, drain the noodles and set aside. Clear a spot in the middle of your stir-fry and add the tomato. Stir-fry briefly- about one minute. Clear all veggies to the side, dump the noodles in the middle and the sauce on top. Stir-fry the whole thing together until the sauce is absorbed (you may have to separate clumps of basil leaves or clumps of rice noodles), then serve.

Drunken Noodles

Drunken Noodles

My policy is to buy cage-free only, although “cage-free” is a loose term that apparently has been used to include hens that are let out of their cages for an hour a day.  Also, one could make the argument that a lifetime of egg-laying (or being milked) is worse than a quick death.  So… I guess ideally I would be vegan but I haven’t made the switch… yet.

I always hope that when Maine is in the national news it’s for positive reasons but that’s not the case today.  The animal welfare group Mercy for Animals had been investigating an egg farm in Turner, ME,  run by Maine Contract Farming LLC and distributed by Quality Egg, the largest egg supplier in the region.  Undercover workers shot footage  showing:

” workers killing hens by grabbing their necks and swinging them around in circles, workers throwing live hens into trash cans, and birds suffering from broken bones, open wounds and infections.

“The hens in the battery cages are oftentimes forced to produce eggs in cages with extremely rotting corpses of other birds who’ve died because they were unable to access food or water.”

The Press Herald states that “Quality Egg was known previously as DeCoster Egg Farm, which was accused of hiring undocumented workers and violating human rights.”  They’ve gone from violating human rights to animal rights, so I’d say it’s a small step up.

Here are the links:

Portland Press Herald (AP story; apparently PPH reporters can’t be bothered to drive an hour for a story )

the bostonchannel.com (much more thorough)

video (haven’t watched it, not going to)

Veg News Recap

Some recent vegetarian-related stories on the interwebs…

Veggie kids, omnivorous dad: I’m a little slow in posting on this piece in Slate, written from the perspective of the Dad (and only omnivore) of a 4-member family. He takes great pains to dispel the concerns that normal meat-eating parents would have about veggie kids– will they be freaks? Will they get enough nutrition? (No, and yes.) My main objection is that he evaluates vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice the same way that, say, wearing jean shorts is a lifestyle choice. For me, being a vegetarian is a lifestyle choice in as much as not stealing is a lifestyle choice. He doesn’t seem to get that, and I find this is a common problem. And I know 99% of the world won’t agree but I do believe that in an American society where veggie protein sources are cheap, plentiful, and convenient, choosing to raise kids who eat meat is as morally wrong as choosing to raise your kids to steal. Yes, I’m sure vegans feel the same way about ovo-lacto vegetarians, and yes, I’m fine with that. I think now that I’ve stuck with it for 16 years, relatives and friends can finally stop asking “are you still vegetarian?” The people I like get a “do animals still feel pain?”; the people I don’t particularly care for get “yes, are you still [insert his/her religion here]?”

Crustaceans feel and remember pain: It pains me to be a Mainer sometimes, land of the mighty lobster. A new study from Queen’s University in Belfast shows that hermit crabs who received a shock when they went into one shell would move into a new shell, while crabs who were not shocked remained in their original shells. A second study by the authors showed that crabs showed less response to negative stimuli when given painkillers.  They believe that their studies go to show that crustaceans’ response to “negative stimuli” like having their legs ripped off are not merely reflexes but true reactions to alleviate pain.  On a side note, here’s a disturbing but fascinating piece from the late author David Foster Wallace called Consider the Lobster. It starts out like a fluffy Maine travel piece and then takes a very serious turn into the ethics of eating animals, describing the way lobsters die by boiling and the myriad of ways cooks try to deny what they’ve done (like claiming that lobsters’ brains don’t allow them to feel pain or leaving the kitchen so they don’t have to hear the lobster scratching at the sides of the pot).  It’s some seriously good reading.

Red meat intake increases risk of death from cancer and heart disease:  I consider this a “no shit” argument I’m pretty sure I heard 16 years ago when somehow I got a hold of some PETA literature (or some PETA literature got a hold of me).  This time around, in a 10-year study of a half million Americans aged 50 to 71, both men and women in the top 20% of meat consumption had a much greater risk of dying from cancer or heart disease than those in the lowest 20% of meat consumption. Still, there will always be naysayers like meatsafety.org, who choose to go after the source of the information instead of the info itself (like criticizing The Cancer Project as a “Vegan, Animal Rights Group”).  Did you know that meatsafety.org was started by the American Meat Institute, “the nation’s oldest and largest meat and poultry trade association”?