This is one of my staple recipes, based on a dish you could get at the Korean food stall in the late, lamented Oriental City mall in north London, and a few recipes from around the internet.
2-3 tbl olive oil
At least 5 cloves garlic, sliced.
1 medium carrot, sliced.
1 medium onion, sliced.
1 sweet red pepper, or equivalent other vegetable of your choice.
1 block tofu, 300-400g.
4 spring onions
2 tbl water
For the sauce:
3 tbl kochujang
2 tbl rice syrup or 1½tbl sugar
2 tbl soya sauce
Fresh red chillies to taste
Up to 1 tbl sesame oil
Mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. You’ll have to stir it well to get the kochujang to blend with the soya sauce. Add extra chillies if you want.
Using a wok or a large frying pan, fry the onions, garlic and carrots for a few minutes in the olive oil. You want them to soften, but not to start turning brown. Then add the peppers/other veg, the tofu and spring onions and gently stir in the sauce until all is well-coated. Add the water, stir again, cover and simmer for a few minutes until the vegetables are cooked through. Optionally mix in some sesame oil just before serving. Serve over rice.
Kochujang (sometimes transliterated gochujang) is a Korean paste which is basically a hot and spicy dark miso. It comes in bright red plastic tubs and is available from most Chinese supermarkets. A similar, but non-spicy, bean paste comes in tan-coloured tubs, should you not want the heat.
This recipe is based on one in Classic Food of China by Yan-Kit So, a book which is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in Chinese cuisine. Very few of the recipes are vegan, but the background material on the history and variety of Chinese food is fascinating.
The quantities below serve two when served as a single dish with rice.
½ block of tofu
8-10g Chinese black fungus
vegetable oil for deep frying
2-3 cloves garlic
2cm (or so) fresh ginger
as many small, hot, dried red chillies as you can bear (start off with about 10)
1 tbl sake (shaoxing wine is more authentic)
½ tsp sugar or other sweetener
1 tbl soy sauce
1 tbl rice vinegar
1 tbl strong stock or water
2 spring onions, cut into rounds
Cover the black fungus with warm water and leave to soak for an hour. Rinse them well – there will be grit – and break off the thick knobbly bit at the base. Break into small pieces and set aside.
Chop the garlic and ginger finely and put in a small bowl. Set aside.
Mix the sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar in another small bowl. Make sure the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Cut the aubergine into large cubes, leaving the skin on. Dice the tofu similarly. Heat up the oil in a deep fat fryer, a chip pan or a wok and fry the aubergine in batches until it begins to brown. Deep fry the tofu until golden. Set aside, draining on a few sheets of kitchen roll.
If you used the wok for deep frying, find somewhere to put the oil – it can be re-used. Leave a tablespoon or so of oil in the wok, and make sure you have all the ingredients to hand. Heat the oil in the wok on a high heat until it starts to smoke. Don’t panic. Add the garlic and ginger and stir it a couple of times, then add the chillies and stir. They should puff up a little. Add the tofu, aubergine and fungus to the pan and continue to stir fry for a few seconds. Dribble the sake around the edges of the food – it should sizzle in a satisfying manner – then add the sugar/soy sauce/vinegar mix and the stock. Cover the wok and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the spring onions and serve. Optionally, you can dribble a little bit of sesame oil over it, for added flavour.