Fast forward many years later, and now I live in Arizona and my body has been crying out for more vegetarian dishes. My husband and I went to a restaurant which specialized in Chinese vegetarian cuisine based on Buddhist teaching/living. Once again, I was presented with a menu that contained "meat" dishes which surprised my husband considering he thought we were going to a vegetarian restaurant. Upon asking the wait-staff, learned that this restaurant also made their "meat" dishes with substitute meat made with to fu and gluten products.
The meal was delicious and meat was definitely not missed and we felt as if we had easily enjoyed a full meat meal.
Before leaving, I visited their little "store" which really comprised of a soda refrigerator stocked full with these meat-less meats, and I bought a packet of chicken. It was housed in a container that looked like chicken, and gave the "skin" a real chicken texture to it.
At home a few nights later, I decided to make this chicken, but did not really know what to do with it. I popped each "chicken" piece out onto a baking dish and popped it in the oven. It was not exactly what I had intended it to be... So we never revisited that idea of cooking vegetarian again.
Fast forward a few more years, and I am watching Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) on a trip to Thailand. And in Bangkok, he sampled some vegetarian meat, and showed how some of this "meat" is cooked in the kitchen of one of the most well-known vegetarian restaurant in Bangkok. Now I had an idea of how to cook with these meat-less meats.
So the other day, while visiting my local Asian supermarket, hit the frozen food section and picked out a packet of "Vegetarian Duck". Then night before last, got down to making my first "real" meal using an idea in my head and figuring out how to cook this duck. The result was really good.
"Buddhist vegetarian chefs have become extremely creative in imitating meat using prepared wheat gluten, also known as "seitan" or "wheat meat", soy (such as tofu or tempeh), agar, and other plant products. Some of their recipes are the oldest and most-refined meat analogues in the world. Soy and wheat gluten are very versatile materials, because they can be manufactured into various shapes and textures, and they absorb flavourings (including, but not limited to, meat-like flavourings), whilst having very little flavour of their own. With the proper seasonings, they can mimic various kinds of meat quite closely." (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cuisine)
Fermented bean curd also called sufu, fermented tofu, tofu cheese, or preserved tofu is a form of processed, preserved tofu used in East Asian cuisine as a condiment made from soybeans. The ingredients typically are soybeans, salt, rice wine and sesame oil or vinegar, and are sold in jars containing blocks 2- to 4-cm square by 1 to 2 cm thick soaked in brine with select flavorings.
Fermented bean curd can also be added in small amounts, together with its brine, to flavor stir-fried or braised vegetable dishes (particularly leafy green vegetables such as water spinach).
Fermented bean curd has a special mouth-feel similar to certain dairy products due to the breakdown of its proteins which takes place during the air drying and fermentation. Lacking strong flavor, fermented bean curd takes on the aroma and taste of its soaking liquid. The flavor is salty with mild sweetness.
The texture and taste of fermented bean curd resembles a firm, smooth paste not unlike creamy blue cheese. (Indeed, this kind of tofu is sometimes called "Chinese cheese" in English). Refrigerated, it can be kept for several years, during which time its flavor is believed to improve.
Vegetarian "Duck" and Kai-lan
2 cubes of fermented bean curd in red bean sauce
1 extra TBSP red bean sauce (from the curd)
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 onion, diced
2 green onion stalks, chopped
1 lb Kai-lan stalks, sliced
1/2 packet white mushrooms, cut into 1/8
1/2 lb "Vegetarian smoked mock duck"
1. Heat wok until very hot, add 1 tsp vegetable oil until smoking
2. Add the fermented bean curd cubes, breaking them up and frying them well
3. Add the garlic and onions, cook until onions are semi-cooked through
4. Add kai-lan stalks, stir fry until they are well coated with flavour, then cover and cook for about 3 minutes until stalks are cooked through, add the extra red bean sauce
5. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are semi-cooked, then add the "duck" and mix together well
Serve with steamed rice