Cooking up a feast for my mother is no usual challenge. You see, she is vegetarian and doesn't eat onion or garlic. This year, I didn't want to just bake a cake or make something bland tasting. So I took a leaf from the MasterChef book (so to speak) and looked back to my childhood.
Growing up, my mum often served tofu, eggplant and lotus root at dinner. It's funny how foods I used to take for granted I now find really interesting and fun to cook. The best part of the banquet was that I got to teach my mum new flavours for vegetarian cooking as well as it being an homage to the food of my childhood.
I decided to make an entrée of agedashi tofu with a red papaya salad, a platter of lotus root, eggplant and cucumber salad, and a soy and sweet ginger soup for dessert.
Agedashi tofu with red papaya, chili and sweet spicy Asian dressing
This was so amazing. The tofu had a light crispy outside and an almost silkened inside. The freshness of the papaya perfectly set off the sweet, spicy and salty dressing. I would've been happy if this was the only thing I'd made!
1 packet momen tofu
½ cup potato starch
Vegetable oil for frying
½ red papaya
1 long red chili
1 long green chili
Luke Nguyen's Vietnamese dressing (I took out the garlic)
Heat oil in a deep-fryer or a deep wok to roughly 170°C.
Cut tofu into 16 pieces and coat with potato starch (try to pack on as much as possible for extra crispiness).
Drop each piece gently into the oil down the side. Fry until lightly brown. Drain on paper towel.
Thinly slice papaya and chilis and julienne the carrot. (I julienned mine very roughly!)
Arrange tofu and salad on plate and drizzle the dressing over.
From top to bottom: caramelised lotus root, eggplant salad and cucumber salad (recipes courtesy of Kylie Kwong)
An interesting ingredient used in the first two recipes was the shao xing wine. I had never heard of it but when I smelt it, I recognised it from my grandparents' cooking. It's a very pungent rice vinegar wine, used in dishes affixed with the word "drunken". When cooked, it has a very unique sour flavour that goes incredibly well with vegetables. I did have a bit of trouble finding this in the Asian grocery store though. The bottle doesn't actually have "shao xing" written on it - it's all in Chinese! I would suggest either looking on the little shelf tags in the vinegar section or asking someone.
Eggplant is great for such intense flavours because it soaks it all up. I stir-fried my eggplant (instead of steaming) and I added chili and coriander. The end result was a piece of eggplant that was so delicious and firm enough for it to feel a bit meaty.
Caramelised lotus root
I'm not too sure how readily available fresh lotus root is in Sydney. Kylie Kwong recommends Randwick Oriental Supermarket in Kingsford for fresh Chinese ingredients, and they do stock lotus root. I remember that my mum sometimes used pre-sliced and frozen lotus root, so that's what I got from my local Asian grocery store.
Lotus root has the most interesting texture. I would liken it to water chestnut, but less smooth. The strange and robust texture goes really well with the sweetness. Because it's cooked on high heat for about 10 minutes, it creates this brown, sticky and caramelised sauce.
I love how simple and refreshing this is after sweet, sour and spicy. Even though the dressing is hot and sour, the juicy cucumber cuts through it all and balances out the flavours.
For dessert I wanted to make a tofu pudding (dao fu fa). I used to love it at yum cha. It's meant to be a really wobbly pudding (wobblier than panna cotta) in a sweet and warm ginger soup. However, my pudding didn't set in time so I served it as a rich soy milk soup with the ginger syrup swirled through. It was still really cute (especially in my new pink Marie Claire ice cream bowls!) and YUM, so I wasn't too bummed about it not being perfect. But not to worry, I'll try it again and share the recipe next time.
I hope everyone enjoyed Mother's Day!