It was my vegetarian day and I was running out of ideas. The only vegetarian from my mother’s old Pei-mei recipe book was Luo Han Zhai (羅漢齋 ), one of my worst vegetarian nightmares. It is the sheer variety of vegetables just thrown in together and braised in a thick oyster sauce that is off-putting. What is there to this dish? I never quite understood.
And so I rummaged around Yuan Mei’s cookbook but found it equally disheartening. I realized that all of his vegetarian dishes in fact tell you to “cook in a chicken stock”, and “discard meat when transferring onto serving dish”. His recipe for frozen tofu (tofu frozen in the freezer overnight) for example, talks of braising with “chicken juice, ham juice and meat juice”, and to only leave “mushrooms, bamboo shoots and the like” when serving.
Flabbergasted, I ran to the nearest bookstore to look for Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook”, hoping that there might be something there I can combine with Yuan Mei’s concise description of a frozen tofu dish. To my pleasant surprise, I found that the Hunanese (湖南人) are in fact quite a creative bunch when it comes to vegetarian food. There is half a section dedicated to egg dishes and single ones to beancurds and vegetables. So I substituted a bean curd puff (油豆腐) dish with frozen tofu – which turned out to be, well, mama fufu (just ok) – and an egg dish, which turned out to be marvelous! The eggs are first hard-boiled, sliced, then fried and cooked together with ginger and chilies, so you can imagine a thin layer of crispiness combined with the softness of the boiled egg-whites, all drenched in a light sour and spicy sauce. Reminds me of the “deep-fried eggs spring onion pancakes” （炸蛋蔥油餅） I love so much from Hualian in Taiwan.
5 extra-large eggs, hard-boiled and cooled completely
1 ½ tsp clear rice vinegar
½ tsp potato flour
2 tbsp chicken / vegetable stock or water
½ tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh red chili
3 scallions, green parts only
1.Peel the eggs and cut crosswise into thick slices. Coat the slices lightly with flour, shaking off any excess. Combine the vinegar, potato flour, stock or water, and sesame oil in a small bowl, set aside.
2.Heat oil in a wok until hot. Add the egg slices in 2 or 3 batches and fry for just a few minutes until a little golden (the oil will froth up as they cook); remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3.Clean the wok and heat it over a high flame until smoke rises, then add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl around. Add the ginger and chili and stir-fry briefly until fragrant.
4.Return the eggs to the wok and gently stir-fry to coat them in the seasonings, adding salt to taste. Don’t worry if some fall apart. Add the prepared sauce and scallions, and stir-fry for a few seconds more. Serve immediately.