I’ve been away from blogging for a while, dealing with personal issues. Apologies for that, but I have been doing what matters most to me – visiting my maternal grandparents back in Taiwan! To make up for it though, I’ve brought back with me a classic Taiwanese dish that I have veganized using Beyond Meat Beef-Free Crumbles. The dish I have for you today is called Vegan Rou Zhao (Taiwanese braised ‘meatless’ sauce). To achieve the rich flavors and aromas often associated with Taiwanese cuisine, this dish is packed with a handful of Taiwanese ingredients that combine in one pot for a simple yet delicious savory braised topping for rice or noodles.
Rou Zhao (肉燥) is a traditional Taiwanese braised meat sauce served on top of steamed rice (滷肉飯 Lu Rou Fan or 肉燥飯 Rou Zhao Fan) or noodles (肉燥麵 Rou Zhao Mian) and often paired with egg. This is popular street fare in Taiwan – it’s cheap, hearty, unpretentious and rich in classic Taiwanese flavors. The traditional version uses minced pork, but my vegan version uses Beyond Meat’s Beef-Free Crumbles (Beefy).
For the seasonings, you will use light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. These are different than regular soy sauce. Light soy sauce (Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce）and dark soy sauce (Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce) have distinctively different qualities and uses in Chinese cuisine.
Dark soy sauce is used during cooking for its dark color, as it gives a wonderful caramel color to braised dishes, e.g. braised eggplant. Dark soy sauce is slightly sweet and almost bitter. Light soy sauce is thinner, lighter in color and used for its more robust flavor; it’s saltier and you only need a small amount. Do not confuse light soy sauce with low sodium “lite” soy sauce or dark soy sauce with thick “sweet soy sauce” (Healthy Boy Sweet Soy Sauce). These ingredients are typically available at any Asian grocer. I prefer the Pearl Silver Bridge brands due to their use of non-GMO soybeans.
This recipe involves Chinese rock sugar and fried shallots, both of which are available at most Asian grocery stores; however, I prefer to fry my own shallots and I have included a pretty easy way to do it in my recipe. Star Anise along with Chinese five-spice provide the foundation of the seasoning for the braising liquids. Star Anise is an integral ingredient to broths and braising liquids in Taiwanese cuisine, but keep in mind that if you do not remove and discard them before serving, you will need to eat around them.
Vegan Rou Zhao (Taiwanese Braised Meatless Sauce)
Yield: 4 to 6 servings (about 4-ounce noodles per person)
- 28 grams (1-ounce) dried shiitake mushrooms (about 1 cup)
- ⅔ cup fresh shallots, sliced lengthwise and thin on a mandolin (or ⅓ cup store-bought fried shallots*)
- 1 (12-ounce) package Beyond Meat Beef-Free Crumbles Beefy
- 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or other neutral oil
- 3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine, dry pale sherry or gin
- 2 whole star anise
- 40 grams (3 tablespoons) Chinese rock sugar or brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon organic white pepper
- ½ teaspoon 5-spice powder
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 6-8 tofu puffs or fried tofu (optional)
- 1 scallion, green parts, chopped
Place the dried shiitakes in a bowl or Pyrex measuring cup and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Let soak 30 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mandolin, slice shallots lengthwise and thin. Pat them dry with a paper towel and place them in a microwavable bowl. Add enough oil to cover the shallots entirely. Microwave for about 3 minutes, stirring every 1½ minute until shallot turns slightly golden in color. Let them stand for 1 to 2 minutes in the hot oil and transfer them to a paper towel-covered bowl. Set aside to cool. This makes about ⅓ cup fried shallots.
Place a strainer over a bowl, line it with cheesecloth or paper towels, and drain the mushrooms. Squeeze the mushrooms over the strainer. Discard the stems and rinse them quickly. Chop the mushrooms coarsely. Measure out 1½ cups of the soaking liquid and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the chopped shiitakes. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the fried shallots and beef-free crumbles, stir together for about 1 minute. Add the rice wine, cook, stirring, until the liquid boils down and glazes the mushrooms, 1 to 2 minutes. Add star anise, sugar, white pepper, 5-spice powder, light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. Add soaking liquid (shiitakes) and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the liquid is by ⅓, approximately 20 minutes. If you’re using fried tofu puffs, add them for the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
Meanwhile, cook your noodles according to the packaging instructions. Serve it over noodles or rice and add your favorite pickled or julienned vegetables and garnish with chopped green onions. Add Sriracha for extra heat.
Advance Preparation: Store the sauce in a cover container, but keep the noodles separate. The sauce will keep for five days in the refrigerator and can be reheated atop the stove or in the microwave.
If it’s too salty, add more sugar. If it’s not salty, add a little bit more light soy sauce.
In Step 1, cooking time depends on your microwave and the amount of shallots used, so keep an eye out. Don’t feel like making crispy fried shallots? Store-brought fried shallots are available at Chinese/Asian groceries.
Seasoned Julienned Vegetables: I used one English cucumber, peeled and julienned and two carrots, julienned in this recipe. I use this tool Kuhn Rikon Julienne Peeler to julienne vegetables. Prepare two bowls for the cucumber and carrots. In each bowl, combine 1 TB sugar, ¼ tsp salt, 2 TB rice vinegar and ½ TB toasted sesame oil (preferably Kadoya). Add the mixture to the vegetables in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Do you have a favorite vegetarian braised dish? Have you used light and/or dark soy sauce?