The Chinese Vegan Kitchen (2 page)

BOOK: The Chinese Vegan Kitchen
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

China is open to Western religions as well. I attended services at Changsha’s Roman Catholic Church on a glorious Pentecost Sunday. In this Gothic-style structure with its rose petal–pink walls and arched midnight blue ceilings resembling starry skies, a breathtaking Madonna floats on a heavenly orb above the altar as the Earth’s benevolent mother filled with grace, beseeching her Son Jesus to bless all of His Father’s children in the human race. There were the traditional offertory gifts of bread and wine, and the unexpected delights of melons, mangoes, and apples—always apples. Received were the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, flowing in infinite abundance everywhere I went in China: kindness, joy, peace, patience, goodness, forbearance, gentleness, faith, modesty, self-control, purity, and love—always love. As I sat in the pew in stillness, blown away by the music, listening to a hymn familiar from my childhood but sung in Chinese, I surrendered to the sanctity of the spirit-filled moment—a clear connection to an endless wellspring of love and light. A foreigner, I never felt more at home in my life.

A few weeks later, as I flew back to the States, I counted the many blessings of experiences and friendships I had been graced with in China, and soared with gratitude for all that I had waiting for me—my family, my friends, my dogs, my house, my life, my purpose. I felt enveloped in peacefulness as palpable and still as the apples nestled in the offertory basket that miraculous Pentecost Sunday.

I thought of this book I would write—my seventh one, a fortuitous number for relationships in both the East and West and, in my mind, a symbol of the interconnectedness of all the nations of the world through food. And, finally, I thought of my own modest contributions to this interconnectedness to nourish the body while eschewing the use of animal products and, in turn, attempts to leave the tiniest carbon footprint.

Watching the brilliant sun set through the plane’s window, drifting off into contented sleep, I felt the breath of the Spirit blowing in me, and was full and satisfied—my happy heartfelt wish for you as you use this book.

Spirit of God

Spirit of God in the clear running water

Blowing to greatness the trees on the hill.

Spirit of God in the finger of morning:

Fill the earth, bring it to birth,

And blow where you will.

Blow, blow, blow till I be

But the breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

Down in the meadow the willows are moaning

Sheep in the pastureland cannot lie still.

Spirit of God, creation is groaning:

Fill the earth, bring it to birth,

And blow where you will.

Blow, blow, blow till I be

But the breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

I saw the scar of a year that lay dying

Heard the lament of a lone whip-poor-will.

Spirit of God, see that cloud crying:

Fill the earth, bring it to birth,

And blow where you will.

Blow, blow, blow till I be

But the breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

Spirit of God, everyone’s heart is lonely

Watching and waiting and hungry until

Spirit of God, man longs that you only

Fulfill the earth, bring it to birth,

And blow where you will.

Blow, blow, blow till I be

But the breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

—Words and music by Sister Miriam Therese Winter


Attractive appearance, pleasing fragrance, satisfying flavor—Chinese dishes have been measured by these three major criteria for centuries. Other important considerations are the texture and the intrinsic healthfulness of the food—any and all auspicious connotations are extrinsic added boons. The harmonious blending of these distinctive elements has made Chinese cuisine a veritable feast for the senses and an enduring source of sustenance. While many of China’s ancient inventions—paper, moveable type, and the compass, to name a few—have changed the course of history, its most popular contribution to the modern world is arguably Chinese food, enjoyed in restaurants and homes in every corner of the globe. Now vegans throughout the planet can indulge their passion using
The Chinese Vegan Kitchen

How is a vegan diet in China possible? It’s easy. As the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, grains such as rice and wheat, legumes such as mung beans and peanuts, and the inventor of tofu more than two thousand years ago, China boasts an impressive array of meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free dishes that is highly conducive to healthy, plant-based eating. Additionally, the effect of Buddhist vegetarian practices upon Chinese culinary art is apparent in specific foods, namely seitan, the quintessential mock meat, which, like tofu, originated in ancient China. From tasty appetizers to mouthwatering desserts,
The Chinese Vegan Kitchen
is a comprehensive collection of easy yet authentic recipes from the Middle Kingdom’s
various regional cuisines—such as Cantonese, Hunanese, Mandarin, Shanghainese, Sichuanese—that you can prepare in your own kitchen with ingredients readily available in both standard and Western Asian supermarkets.

Diverse Regional Cuisines

In the Western world, it used to be that Chinese food called to mind a single, homogenous cuisine packaged in cute pint-sized containers known as Chinese take-out. These days, with the proliferation of Asian food markets, TV food shows, and Internet food blogs, it’s become increasingly obvious that there is much, much more to Chinese cuisine than egg rolls and chow mein. Moreover, it stands to reason that a country as large and as geographically and ethnically diverse as China would naturally have a wide range of culinary styles. While there are various ways of classifying these regional cuisines, an extensive variety of flavors, ingredients, cooking methods, and cultural influences has evolved over the centuries to distinguish the north, south, east, and west schools of Chinese cooking.


The northern school of cooking is largely defined by the refined cooking of Beijing (also known as Mandarin or Peking cuisine) and its former palace kitchens; the classic style of Shandong, where the wok is said to have originated; and the hearty, cold-weather food of Tianjin and cities bordering Russia such as Harbin, where a version of borscht made with red cabbage is quite popular. While the areas in the south, east, and west favor rice, the north is China’s bread basket—wheat-based noodles, dumplings, steamed buns, breads, and pancakes are popular fare. Foods are typically flavored with the liberal use of vinegar, garlic, scallions, leeks, and salt, and tend to be oily. The preferred methods of northern cooking are boiling, steaming, and stir-frying.


The food of the Guangdong and Hainan regions largely define the southern regional school of cooking. The Cantonese food from Guangzhou, located in the subtropical province of Guangdong, is the most commonly defined cuisine
outside of China—most Chinese restaurants in the Western world feature Cantonese derivatives. Cantonese food is known for its exotic ingredients and fresh, natural flavors. Fermented black beans, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce—available in a vegetarian form made with soy sauce and mushrooms—are popular condiments in a Cantonese kitchen. Steaming and stir-frying are the two primary Cantonese cooking techniques. Hainan’s tropical island cuisine, while strongly tied to Guangdong’s, combines special local characteristics with milder seasonings that make it lighter. Steaming, braising, and boiling are popular Hainanese cooking methods.


The regions of Jiangsu, Zhenjiang, and Shanghai largely define the eastern school of cooking, which is typically characterized as sweet and oily. Sugar, vinegars, and wines are frequently employed to create this sweetness as well as to impart subtlety of flavors. Salt is another common ingredient, particularly in the dishes of Jiangsu, which are often described as salty-sweet. Zhenjiang is famous for its fragrant black vinegar, a popular condiment throughout China. Because of Shanghai’s status as the world’s largest port and its sizeable international population, a variety of dishes with French and Russian roots dominate menus, as well as dishes originating from China’s other three regional cuisines. Favored cooking methods in eastern cooking include steaming, stewing, braising, and frying.


Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are the most well known in China’s western regional school of cooking, with Yunnan cuisine increasingly gaining recognition. Both Sichuan and Hunan cuisines derive their notably spicy flavors from the use of chili peppers, both fresh and dried, and the famous Sichuan peppercorn—which is not really a pepper, but a dried berry. Also common in Sichuanese cooking are garlic, ginger, and star anise; broad-bean chili paste is a staple seasoning. Hunan cuisine’s liberal use of fresh chili peppers makes it even spicier than Sichuan’s; it also tends to be oilier, fresher, and simpler in taste. Pickling, salting, drying, and smoking are used extensively for food preservation in the hot, humid climate of both provinces. Stir-frying, steaming, and braising are common cooking techniques in Sichuan, while stewing, stir-frying, braising, baking, pot-roasting, and smoking are popular in Hunan. The cuisine of Yunnan Province is a unique blend of the different cooking and preparation styles of its numerous
ethnic minority groups with the spicy foods of neighboring Sichuan Province. Mushrooms and flowers, namely chrysanthemums, figure prominently in local dishes, while clay pot stewing is a popular cooking method.

Hot in Hunan

Hot, spicy, sweet, sour, bold, beautiful—Hunan cuisine embodies all the enticing facets of Chinese cooking. For me, it also conjures up home—I lived in Changsha, Hunan’s modern and bustling capital of 7 million-plus people and skyscrapers, for eleven exciting months. (Indeed, as of this writing, plans to construct the world’s tallest building by 2013 are awaiting final approval!) Yet not far outside the city limits, a land of gentle hills and fertile valleys morphs into view, blessed by a subtropical monsoon climate, promising an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables the whole year through. In fact, Hunan is China’s third-largest producer of oranges, second-largest producer of tea, and number-one producer of rice—a veritable embarrassment of riches by global standards. Ask the locals what Hunan’s greatest agricultural accomplishment is, however, and most of them will proudly answer it’s the hot chili peppers, which grow prolifically throughout the province. After all, what would Hunan cuisine—or Chinese cuisine, for that matter—be without them? Known for its exquisitely hot dishes, Hunan cuisine is even spicier—or “la”—and hotter than Sichuan cuisine, to which it is often compared. It is also purer and more simple, relying almost exclusively on fresh, not dried, chili peppers. While the peppers may burn your palate, they load your system with more vitamin C per gram than citrus fruit and more vitamin A than carrots—and contain compounds that can kill harmful bacteria in the digestive system to boot. Blasts of capsaicin, the active ingredient found only in the pepper family that causes the feeling of spicy heat, release endorphins, the body’s biological painkillers, for a natural high. Common physiological effects also include a metabolic boost and heavy sweating—explaining the paradox of how hot chilies can actually cool the body and, as a result, why they are so popular in tropical climates. To the uninitiated, Hunan cuisine is an intoxicating contradiction of pleasure and pain. To the initiated, like me, food simply doesn’t get any better. Like it or not, it will always take your breath away!

Glossary of Ingredients

A small, reddish-brown, sweet-tasting bean that is used frequently in Chinese desserts; also known as aduki bean, red bean, or feijoa bean.

A root vegetable with a bland taste whose starch is typically ground into powder and used as a thickener in sauces, soups, and puddings, etc. The fibrous root is also cubed and used in soups; when boiled, it has a slightly sweet, nutlike taste. Also known as obedience plant.

The edible shoot of the bamboo plant. Spring shoots are larger and tougher than winter shoots, which are considered a delicacy. Bamboo shoots contain toxic concentrations of cyanogens, which cause cyanide poisoning; thus, they must always be cooked before eating. Also known as takenoko, kanile, or labong.

BOOK: The Chinese Vegan Kitchen
8.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Prey by James Carol
The Color of Ivy by Peggy Ann Craig
Enemies at the Altar by Melanie Milburne
In the Penal Colony by Kafka, Franz
Poor Badger by K M Peyton
The Last Thing I Saw by Richard Stevenson
Desire Me Now by Tiffany Clare