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A Pure Vegetarian

by Wonona Wong Chang

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(3) page(s): 5, 6, and 22

During the first and fifteenth of each month of the lunar calendar, all members our family would be on strict vegetarian diets to observe the religious rules of a Buddhist fmily, yet on other days of the year we could eat all the meat that we liked.

As a child, I remember those days of the month. We would get up at 4:30 am so that we would be ready to join morning prayers half an hour later and for them we would kneel in front of a table covered with a red embroidered table cloth. On it was a brass ceremonial pot in which we burned incense; along side it we put and lit two candles. We also place a tray of fragrant tropical flower cuttings on the table. All of these were placed in the family courtyard. The fragrance of the tropical flowers always gave me a feeling of mystery. When we had all gathered, at once we would start to chant. We youndsters would repeat the chant of Na mo oh mi tou fu, Na mo oh mi tou fu.

My mother, her peers, and all the elders held necklaces made of a string of jade or carved wooden beads. Each of them would push a bead after every prayer that they said. In this manner, they would know how many prayer books they had finished during their lifetimes. I also remeber that on the days when my mother had extra time, she would quietly chant her prayers and push another of her beads forward. My impressionn was that it took an awfully long time to finish the prayers and that a necklace of beads was twenty-four inches in length.

For generations, my family were followers of the Yu religion, a blend of Buddhism and Confucianism. One of my sisters, who was a few years older than I, became a vegetarian at the very tender age of eight. She followed a strict vegetarian diet that even excluded milk and egg products. She had already decided to devote her life to Buddha's teachings and my family thought this a very special blessing. Later, this sister founded two Buddhist temples in Medan, Sumatra.

This sister never got married, but she did adoopt many children (all girls). Some of them arrived at the temple when they were only a few weeks old. As these children were growing up, my sister set up a special corner where they could eat non-vegetarian diets with foods bought outside the temple, if that was what they preferrred. The temple kitchen was absolutely clean, from the vegetarian point of view, and no meat was cooked there.

All of my sister's girls finished high school and some even went on to college. When they were twenty years of age, each had to make up her mind whether she wanted to stay in the temple and become a vegetarian or leave the temple and start a regular life in society. Of course, once her children left, if that was their choice, she could still come back and visit the temple any time she wanted to.

At my sister's temple, on the Buddhist festivals of the first and fifteenth of each month, faithful parishoners would come to worship Buddha. The temple would prepare vegetarian meals for them. Coming to the temple, they and everyone would find a donation box at the temple entrance. This box was called Fu Tien Shiang or The Bessing Field Box. Funds raised in this manner were used to defray the costs of the temple and to serve the poor. When my sister decided to build a second temple, the congregation gave freely of their labor and their money.

This sister and her temple family created many recipes based upon gluten and other vegetable proteins. They would ingeniously prepare many that would simulate or even look like the real thing. These recipes were named Vegetarian Shrimp, Vegetarian Roast Duck or Chicken, etc.

In hot tropical weather in Medan, Sumatra, in order to stimulate people's appetites, some of their food was prepared with hot and spicy peppers. For instance, for the sate or barbecue usually made with beef, it would be made with gluten which is the protein in wheat flour. That would be cooked and then dipped in a sauce prepared from hot peppers or chili, and some crushed peanuts. Their Atjar Atjars or Mixed Vegetable Relish would use vinegar, salt, and sugar along with the very same hot peppers.

To enhance flavor, taste, and aroma, black mushrooms are essential in vegetarian cooking; they also contribute protein value. The famous Chinese herbal treatise, Bun Tsao Gong Mo, published in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE) claimed that black mushrooms help the digestive system perfom more efficiently. Today, Chinese herbal doctors also claim that these mushrooms are also anti-carcinogenic.

In the temple, even mushroom stems are not discarded. They are cooked for a long time until they turn soft, then choped up and mixed with five-spice powder, soy sauce, and sugar. This is similar to the way Roast Pork is prepared They are then used as stuffing for Bao Tze which is Steamed Bread. Vegetarian Roast Duck is made by spreading stuffing made with shredded black mushrooms and bamboo shoots seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil between layers of Fu Pi; these layers are the skin taken off soy milk and dried.

In the United states today, in order to save time fo rthe working amily, grcery stores and restaurants now sell containers of Vegetaian Duck or Chicken, as well as many other dishes to take out. These prepared dishes are quite popular.

Many of my friends are vegetarians. Some do it for health reasons and others because they are against kiling animals for human consumption. However, most are not true vegetarians because their diets include eggs, fish, shellfish, the white meat of chicken, and/or products derived from milk products. My sister, the pure vegetarian, would eat ony products from vegetarian sources.

When my sister died and was cremated, to her family members and followers amazement, they discovered among her ashes, many grayish crystalline beads which Buddha had called Sieh Li Tze. These beads were shaped like a string of lotus flowers. In Indonesa, it was the first time among her ranks that people knew of someone with so many lotus flower-shaped Sieh Li Tze beads. Therefore, they decalred her to be a very special Pure vegetarian; that is the equivalent to sainthood in other religions.

Here are a few recipes that I tasted at one of her temples. I hope you will enjoy them. Before I share them, you might want to make a Vegetarian Soup Stock. When preparing soups or sauces, all chefs start from a master soup base. Pure vegetarians do not use any meat, not any bones either, in their soups or stocks. They make their stock from cabbage, soy bean sprouts, carrots, celery, white turnips, etc. They would simmer these vegetables in about two quarts of water. Then they use this stock in place of meat stocks. You may be in terested in knowing that this stock can be frozen for later use. If you do so, it is convenitent to package it in small amounts. Vegetarians, when preparing a brown sauce base would add the stems of mushrooms to the above mixture. This makes a strong aromatic sauce when cooked down to reduce it to the consistency of a sauce.
Buddha's Delight I
8 medium-size black mushrooms
1/4 cup cloud ear mushrooms
2 Tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
8 thin slices of fresh ginger, shredded
1 scallion, chopped
20 Golden Needles (dried day lily flowers)
1 cup, sliced half-inch thick, winter bamboo shoots
2 stalks celery, sliced diagonally into half-inch thick pieces
1 cup peeled baby carrots
1/2 pound Napa cabbage, cut into bite-size pieces
2 ounces cellophane noodles
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 to 1 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. Rinse black mushrooms and soak in warm water until soft, about half an hour. Drain the mushrooms and save the mushroom water; then slice or shred them.
2. Soak the cloud ear fungus in hot water for fifteen to thirty minutes, then discard that water and rinse them thoroughly.
3. Soak cellophane noodles in hot water until soft, then cut them into three-inch lengths.
4 Soak the golden needles in cold water for fifteen to thirty minutes. Cut away any hard ends, then cut them in half. Discard their water.
5. Mix soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper with a cup of the black mushroom water and set this aside.
6. Heal oil in a wok or fry pan, then brown the ginger and scallions for half minute. Add the mushrooms and stir until fragrant, then add celery, carrot, bamboo soots, and the cabbage, and stir for two minutes.
7. Add the cloud ear fungi and the golden needles, and stir well. Then add the mushroom water and cook for five minutes. Add more water, if needed.
8. Add the noodles and mix well, then add the sesame oil, and serve.
ERROR: Could not find a recipe with ID 1433 likely a recipe with number 1433 is missing
Suryani's Vegetarian Chicken I
1 pound gluten sticks (mien jing), roll cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
10 dried chili peppers
1 star anise
1 piece stick cinnamon, three inches long
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup tomato catsup
2 fresh tomatoes, cut in wedges
1 cup frozen peas
salt to taste
1. Mix the gluten pieces with the turmeric and salt and set aside for half an hour.
2. Heat oil, then brown onions and ginger for ne minute. Add chili peppers and star anise and tir for one more minute, then add the gluten pieces.
3. Add the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Then add the cinnamon stick, catsup, and sugar, and simmer for two minutes.
4. Add tomato wedges and the peas and cook another minute, then add the salt.
Note: Excellent served with hot rice.

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