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Doufu

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Summer Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(2) pages: 34 to 37


Used in many ways, the well-known popular dish, seen on the cover, in Chengdu and the entire Sichuan Province, even all of China, is mapo doufu. Made with coagulated bean curd, piquant peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns, when it is made without meat it is also popular among Chinese Buddhists and Chinese vegetarians, and other vegetarians.

The names of many dishes with doufu mimic those with animal foods. If they do, they can be named ‘imitation’ this or ‘imitation that’, or be called ‘vegetarian’ this or that. Many so named are mimics for dishes often made without the usual chicken, goose, spareribs, even pig’s feet. It can have titles that sound like a typical meat or fish or poultry dish but with none of that animal protein in them. Most are made with coagulated and pressed soy beans, themselves made from soy milk. The best ones press the curds a lot or a little and strain away the liquid pressed out.

These meat-substitute dishes can be titled, from very firm, use that mentioned coagulated soy bean milk and mimic whatever texture they desire. People who eat them know that their doufu is usually low in calories, high in protein, and a manmade product called ‘tofu’ in English. They can have lots of calcium or magnesium depending on the coagulant used to make them. A common one is calcium chloride, another can be magnesium sulfate, and there are others.

When we were first married and making our own doufu, I did make it with Epsom Salts as they are magnesium based. They were tasty, most had soft textures no matter how well I thought I was pressing or expelling as much liquid as I could. Years later, I learned this coagulant always made a somewhat soft doufu and it was not my ability to press out or not press out its water.

The word doufu literally means ‘bean’ and implies the soy is ‘curdled.’ That happens physically and some articles and folks write that it is ‘fermented soy curd’ but that is not so. It simply is just a physical change in the finished product. One can purchase fermented tofu; it is found in jars, with contents most often one-inch squares in a very salty or alcoholic liquid; and it is very good and if you know it not, buy and try it.

A coagulated product, fermented or not, was reported first in the US by Ben Franklin’s time. That was in 1770, and we know this because he wrote a letter to his friend James Flint about it. Before that, the Chinese did make and use it for more than two thousand years, and we know that its earliest use in China was from in the Han Dynasty when Prince Liu An (179 - 122 BCE) spoke about the technique and process. Knowledge about this food item spread from China to most of Asia. For the doubters, they need to know that a stone mural of making it was unearthed from an Eastern Han Dynasty tomb from those times and radio-carbon dated assuring it was known at least by then. Some believe the Chinese may have learned to make or name it from the Mongolians; they made a fermented milk they called rufu and they did coagulate it. Maybe doufu was modeled or named after their food We know it took many years to become popular, and that was during China’s Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE) when it did.

Doufu spoils quickly in warm weather, and it was an honorific offering when people visited the graves of their deceased relatives. Doing so or not, many love it use it often, perhaps in an omelet or a dish with green vegetables. The recipes that follow were popular then and still are. Some people carry one or more of these dishes to the cemetery on a day honoring a deceased relative; and they can eat it picnic-style there sharing it with their loved ones who already passed on.

Most recipes in this article, and some in the article about ducks, geese, swans in other issues have no meat in them. Buddhists love them and are the ones who might take them when they visit where they find their tombstones, others might place them before the places in their homes where they honor them. Many of these dishes have the name of a meat in their title but the ingredients used to make them omit that item.

There are many cookbooks with hundreds of such preparations available for those wanting to do so. These dishes can be brought to the cemetery for that purpose. Visit your local library to see if they have such a book so you can make one of those recipes or the ones included in this issue, or an earlier one.

Bean Curd Omlet
Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
5 dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked, stems discarded or save for a soup base, minced
1 Tablespoon white sesame seeds
5 Scallions, minced
1 cup fresh ban sprouts, their tails discarded
dash of granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 pound silken bean curd, cut in half-inch cubes
5 eggs, gently beaten

Preparation:

1. Heat oil in a wok or fry pan, add the mushroom pieces and the sesame seeds, and stir-fry for two minutes until they are lightly colored.
2. Add the bean sprouts, sugar, and soy sauce and stir-fry for two more minutes, then add the beaten eggs, and heat and stir until they begin to set, then serve in a preheated bowl.

Jade Mushrooms
Ingredients:

1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 button mushrooms, stems set aside for another purpose, then sliced thinly
10 straw mushrooms
8 slices fresh ginger
1 cup mustard greens, minced
dash of salt
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Preparation:

1. Cut away the mushroom stems and save them for another use
2. Cut part way into each button mushroom five times, and spread them apart slightly.
3. Heat oil and deep-fry the mushrooms about half a minute each.
4. Fry mustard greens with the salt, and put mushrooms on a plate, the greens around them

Imitation Chicken Rolls
Ingredients:

1 large sheet dried bean curd, cut into five-inch squares
5 soaked then shredded Chinese black mushrooms, water squeezed out
5 thin white needle mushrooms, minced
3 Tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon each shredded green bell pepper and canned pineapple
½ cup vegetable oil
Seasoning mixtures can include one of the following:
a) 1 Tablespoon each, white vinegar and soy sauce
b) ½ teaspoon each, sugar and salt;
c) ½ teaspoon each, ground white pepper and sesame oil

Preparation:

1. Dry-fry shredded mushrooms mixed with the needle mushrooms, shredded bamboo shoots and shredded pineapple, then roll some of this mixture into one bean curd sheet.
2. Seal it with a little flour paste made mixing the flour, baking powder, cornstarch and two tablespoon of water; and mix spices into this mixture.
3. Mix a) b) or c) with shredded items and roll into the bean curd sheets.
4. Heat the oil in a small pot and deep fry these rolls until almost crisp, drain them on paper towels, and cut each into four pieces, some on an angle.
5. Stand those cut on an angle and put others flat on a small platter, the angle-cut ones in its center, and serve.

Soy Sprouts with Fennel
Ingredients:

5 slices fresh ginger
½ teaspoons salt
1 pound soybean sprouts, tails discarded. blanched one minute, then drained on a towel
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup fennel, cut in thin strips
5 scallions, cut in two-inch pieces, then in half the long way

Preparation:

1. Smash ginger and blanch in boiling water one minute, then put in cold water half minute and drain well.
2. Heat wok, add oil, and add ginger and salt, then the sprouts and stir-fry one minute, then remove draining them.
3. Put fennel strips and scallions in the wok or pan, stir-fry one minute, then add soybean sprouts and the ginger, and stir-fry one more minute’ then serve in a pre-heated bowl.

Doufu as Pigs Feet
Ingredients:

1 purchased or home-made flour-dough sausage
½ cup vegetable oil
2 star anise
10 Sichuan peppercorns
3 dried Chinese mushrooms
1 piece tangerine peel
5 goji berries
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon brown rock sugar
dash five spice powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil, divided

Preparation:

1. Cut the sausage into four-inch pieces and deep fry them in hot oil until they turn light tan, then drain them on paper towels.
2. Add all ingredients and put this into the flour sausage pieces with the seasonings and half the sesame oil in a sauce pan with two cups of cold water, add them and simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed, then toss with the rest of the sesame oil, slice four cuts at one time to one end of the sausage so it looks like a pigs foot, and serve.

Doufu with Garland Chryanthemums
Ingredients:

1 pound garland chrysanthemums, each cut across half-inch lengths, blanched one minute, then rinsed with cold water and drained
5 half-pound pieces firm doufu, each diced in half-inch cubes
3 Tablespoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon each, salt and sugar

Preparation:

1. Mix chrysanthemum and doufu with the sesame oil, salt, and sugar.
2. Toss well, and serve in a bowl.

An Eatery's Mapo Doufu
Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 dried chili peppers, toasted one minute, then minced
3 scallions, each cut into one-inch pieces
4 ounces ground pork
1 large or two small cloves fresh garlic, minced
5 slices fresh ginger, minced
½ cup Sichuan chili bean paste
1½ pound silken doufu, cut in half-inch pieces
1 cup one-inch mustard green pieces

Preparation:

1. Heat wok or fry-pan, add oil, and cook scallion pieces, pork, and the garlic, stir-frying for one minute.
2. Add ginger and chili bean paste, and then stir-fry for two minutes, add the doufu pieces, and stir-fry for half a minute, then add mustard greens and stir-fry another minute with half cup water, stir-frying two minutes more.
3. Put everything in a pre-heated bowl, and serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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