When Hannah Che decided to become a vegan, she worried that it would separate her from the traditions and food that her Chinese family celebrated. But that was before she learned about zhai cai, the plant-based Chinese cuisine that emphasizes umami-rich ingredients and can be traced back over centuries to Buddhist temple kitchens.
In The Vegan Chinese Kitchen, through gorgeous photography, stories, and recipes, Hannah Che shows us the magic of this highly developed and creative tradition in which nearly every dish in the Chinese repertoire can be replicated in a meatless way, such as Blistered Dry-Fried String Beans or Sweet and Sour Tofu.
You’ll also find recipes that are naturally plant-based and as irresistible as they are nourishing, such as flaky scallion pancakes, corn stir-fried with peppers and pine nuts, or pea shoots braised in a velvety mushroom broth made with sesame-oil roux.
This book will delight vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike, inviting you to explore a whole world of flavours and ingredients.
Simple Sweet Pumpkin Soup
Almost every vegetarian restaurant I visited in China offered nan-gua geng, a soothing sweet soup of blended squash. Straining the pureed squash makes it buttery and velvety in the mouth, with no hint of graininess. The perfect consistency is best described as gentle, wen rou. When I asked Chef Li Hongzhi to clarify, he responded, “A gentle soup doesn’t move around in your mouth when you shake your head from side to side.” You can keep this simple, or add toasted flour dissolved with vegan butter or coconut oil, which slightly thickens the soup and lends a subtle fragrance. Although the name of this recipe translates to “pumpkin soup,” I don’t recommend pumpkin, as it can be watery or stringy—use a dense-fleshed, sweet winter squash like kabocha, butternut, red kuri, or Hubbard.
TOASTED PASTE (OPTIONAL)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour or cake flour
1 teaspoon coconut oil or vegan butter
1 winter squash (24 to 28 ounces / 680 to 790 grams)
2 tablespoons (20 grams) rock sugar, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Toasted almond flakes, goji berries, or pine nuts, for garnish
MAKE THE TOASTED PASTE (IF USING): Heat a clean, dry skillet over medium-low heat. Add the flour and toast, stirring continuously. You won’t see any difference in the colour for a while, but be patient and gradually it will start to darken to pale golden brown and smell faintly aromatic, about 4 minutes. At this point, stir in the coconut oil until smooth. Scrape the paste into a small bowl.
Peel the squash and cut it in half, then remove the seeds and core. Cut the squash into ¼-inch-thick slices until you have 20 ounces (570 grams) of squash flesh. Reserve the remaining squash for another use. Set up a steamer basket in a wok and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Place the squash slices in the steamer basket and steam until tender and almost falling apart, 5 to 6 minutes.
In a blender, combine the cooked squash and 2½ cups (600 mL) water. Puree just until smooth, about 20 seconds. The puree should be thin and pourable, but not too watery. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Slowly bring the soup to a boil over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat so that only a few small bubbles break the surface of the soup. Stir in the toasted paste, if using. The soup will thicken visibly. Add the sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.
Taste and add more sugar until the soup is as sweet as you like. Remove from the heat, ladle it into bowls, and top with a few toasted almond flakes before serving.
Excerpted from The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che. Copyright © 2022 Hannah Che. Photographs by Hannah Che. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.