Thursday, August 14, 2008

How to Make Vegan Fish or Mock Fish - Vegan Unagi Donburi

If you've ever been to Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurants and ordered dishes with 'fish' in it, you probably thought about how the mock fish was made. Below is a recipe that reveals the secret of Chinese Buddhist vegetarian fish. They use fresh or frozen yuba (which you may found it in the frozen or refridgerated sections of an Asian market) that is chopped into small flakes and then seasoned and wrapped in a nori sheet (sometimes a yuba sheet is added on the outside of the nori for a crispy skin). Then, it is steamed, cooled, and sliced into a fillet. Most Chinese Buddhist restaurants deep fry the yuba and nori wrapped 'fish' and then top it with flavored constarch thickened sauce.

Fresh or frozen yuba pockets (pictured) are hard to find in certain parts of this country (or your country). I found it in a nearby Asian market. But it is easier to find dry yuba sheets or sticks in Asian markets near you, probably? You'll have to do a few extra steps with yuba sticks because it is harder to soften them.

2 lbs fresh or thawed yuba pockets OR 2 pkgs dried yuba (6 oz. dried each) - see how to prepare below3 tsp sugar
6 tsp vegetarian bouillon mix powder
Note: I used Harvest 2000 Vegetarian Bouillon Mix chicken flavor or Bill's Best Chiknish1/2 tsp salt (use 1 tsp if using chiknish since it is not salty)
1-2 tsp kelp granules or more, depending on how 'seafoody' you want it to be
6 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
4-6 nori sheets

Glue mixture:
2 Tbsp Cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp water

Preparing with dry yuba sheets or sticks:Soak dry yuba in a lot of warm water in 2 large bowl. Make sure the water covers the yuba. Let it sit over night or at least 6 hours.
If they are not soft enough, boil a large amount of water in a large pot, simmer soaked yuba about 5 - 8 minutes. The idea is to make the yuba soft. After soaking, a few sections of the yuba are still hard. Simmering them for a few minutes will help.

Let them cool and then squeeze the water out as much as you can, then proceed to the next step below.

Preparing 'fish' mixture (with fresh or dryyuba):
Chop the yuba with a knife or put the yuba (soaked yuba) in a food processor and process about 5 seconds only. Do not process too long. The idea is to chop them to small flakes.
Squeeze the water out of the yuba (especially if using dried yuba sticks). You may use a piece of cloth or drain the yuba in a colander and squeeze the water out using your hands. Transfer the yuba to a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, excepts the nori and glue. Mix really well.

'Fish Fillet' :
Layer a piece of nori on a cutting board. Brush lightly with the cornstarch and water mixture (glue mixture). Scoop about 1 1/2 cup of the 'fish' mixture on the bottom half of the nori sheet. Press it down with your fingers or a spoon. You need to press and squeeze the filling tightly so it won't fall apart after it is steamed and cooked. I found out that if you wet your hands, the mixture will less likely to stick on your fingers or you can use a saran wrap.

Then, fold the other half of the nori over and make sure there is a 1/2 inch overlap to cover the fish (see picture). Seal the fish using cornstarch and water mixture that is spread over the 1/2 inch overlap and press and squeeze the 'fish' mixture tight together as much as you can. Repeat with the rest of the mixture for each nori sheet.
Steaming 'Fish Fillet' :
To prevent sticking to your steamer, put a few of cabbage leaves or lettuce leaves on your steamer, arrange fillet on top of the leaves (see picture). I have used Chinese bamboo steamers without leaves and it works nicely (didn't stick). Steam for 20 minutes. Let the fillet throughly cool before transferring it out of the steamer. Put them in the refridgerator to cool off some more for a few hours before cooking it. They freeze well.

Cooking Tips:
It is best to use the 'fish' for cooking after it is refridgerated for a few hours or frozen and then thawed.

JAPANESE VEGAN UNAGI DONBURI ('Eel' On Rice Bowl, pictured above)

Also, featured in DimensiĆ³n Vegana in Spanish Language with Video.

I used to order Unagi Donburi when I visited Japanese restaurants before I became a vegetarian. I sometimes missed the 'sea' flavor of Unagi. I was able to re-create this dish after I discovered how to make my own vegan fish. It is best to eat this dish accompanied by vegetable miso soup and vegan kimchi. Since the unagi sauce is so sweet, the saltiness of the miso soup balance it out. I also serve it with hot Genmai Cha (Japanese green tea with roasted brown rice). I am now back to eating Japanese food again.

1 recipe 'fish fillet' above
Note: For Unagi, I added 1/4 cup of reconstituted chopped wakame seaweed when making the 'fish fillet'. This will add more 'sea' flavor to the fillets. This is optional, of course.
vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. Toasted Sesame seeds
Dash of roasted sesame oil

4 cups steamed Japanese rice (short grain rice, white or brown)

1/3 cup Japanese soy sauce
1/3 cup Mirin (Sweet Style Japanese Mirin)
1/3 cup vegetarian Kombu Dashi or vegetable broth
2-3 Tbsp sugar, depending how sweet you like it or use agave syrup

Prepare the sauce:
Put the sauce ingredients together in a small pan. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Set it aside. I only use a small amount of sauce for each fillet. It is a matter of preference. Some people likes lots of sauce on their donburi. If you do, you can double the recipe.
Preparing the unagi:Heat a non-stick frying pan, then add 1/2 to 1 tsp vegetable oil. Pan fry 'fish fillet' in batches,2 fillets each time. Make sure both sides are crispy. Turn down the heat to low, pour 1/3 of sauce over fillets. Let the sauce cover the fillet and immediately take it off the heat. You don't want the sauce to crystalized in the pan. The longer you cook the sauce in the pan the thicker it will be. Repeat for the rest of the fillets.

Divide rice into 4 or 6 bowls. Transfer and divide the fillets and sauce on top of the rice. Sprinkle with dash of roasted sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds on top.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Friday, August 08, 2008

Secrets of Vegan Travellers

Hearst Castle Roman Pool

I went on a short vacation this week to Cambria/San Simeon, along the California Coast Hwy, to Hearst Castle. After becoming vegetarians/vegans, DH and I have a challenge regarding what to eat while we travel because we live in a non-vegan world. This issue didn't stop us from going on vacations and trips. My secrets are the Internet,, and a GPS system.

Before a trip, I usually visit to see what restaurants are available in the area. If there is no vegan restaurant in this site, I search the Internet to find restaurants with vegan or vegetarian options. Then, I either print a page or two and/or enter the addresses into my Garmin nuvi 260. This GPS tool was a xmas gift from DH last year. I thought it was the best gift I ever received from him (on top of the kitchen tools he gave me). If there is such a thing as a Vegan Garmin, it will be perfect. But there is none, so I entered all the vegan restaurants I found into my Garmin.

Talking about secrets, I want to let you know about Mary's Secret Garden, a 100% Organic Vegan Bistro, in a California beach town called Ventura. This is the last place we visited during our trip but it was the highlight of it all so I will start from here and then go backward.

We visited this bistro TWICE in 2 days and splurged on vegan dishes. It was indeed a VEGAN HEAVEN. For someone like me who cook ALL THE TIME, it was nice to have someone else cooked for me, for a change. It was a real treat for me!

This bistro is small but homey. It looks like an old 50s house that was converted to a bistro. I found this restaurant at a year ago and we went to visit it then but I didn't let the secret out till now. It's too bad that I live 1.5 hours away -without traffic and 3 hours away-with 101 Hwy traffic from it. That's the only issue I have with this bistro.

Other than that, the vegan dishes are so delicious, healthy, gourmet, colorful, and organic. If you read its reviews at, you'll find that lots of visitors complained about it being pricey. It's true that it is pricey but have you looked at the price of fresh organic ingredients in your nearby organic market or a farmers market? Eating organic is not cheap. That's the fact.
I know so because I shop organic, too.

We definitely were very satisfied with what were served to us. Every dish was a gourmet meal and made personally by Chef Mary (except the cakes, her friends made them). Half of the menu is vegan raw and the other half is vegan cooked dishes. She also provides 'specials' all the time so you don't have to eat the same thing all the time (or if you want to eat the same thing you'll find that in their menu). I met Chef Mary and talked to her. She was very nice, helpful, and humble. Our waitress, Rose, had a lot of recommendations for us which some we followed and some we didn't but she was very accommodating.

During our first visit DH ordered Mushroom Bakin Burger with a side of raw slaw. DH doesn't like veganaise or any other vegan mayonnaise so he asked for mustard on the side:

This dish has a lot of umami in it. All of them were yummy, including the raw slaw.

I ordered Blueberries/Pineapple/Coconut smoothie (one of the specials) and Vegan Shrymp Pad Thai. I thought the smoothie was very colorful and delicious.

My Vegan Shrymp Pad Thai was right on! It was spicy, peanutty, and flavorful. Mary suggested that I squeezed all the limes all over it to enjoy it more. She was right.

At our next visit, the next day, we ordered a raw appetizer, Vegan Mock Salmon Raw Sushi. The picture speaks for itself. It was very refreshing and tasty.DH ordered Middle Eastern Platter served with warmed whole wheat pita bread (on the menu) and opted for both Stuffed Grape Leaves and Falafels. Mary made everything on this plate. The Stuffed Grape Leaves were stuffed with rice and garbanzo beans. The hummus had herbs in it and was quite delicious. The taboulleh was a raw one. I was intriqued with the grains in the taboulleh but was told that they were HEMP SEEDS. Rose showed me the Organic Nutiva Hemp Seeds that they sell and use. I bought a package and am going to use it in my taboulleh, the next time I make it. Hemp seeds have a lot of omega oils in it and are definitely nutritious.
I ordered Vegan Chicken Cilantro Salad. I am curious about the cilantro dressing and wanted to save room for a dessert:

This salad and the dressing was delicious. It was all homemade and gourmet but the vegan chicken was not, I think.

We split this Vegan Heaven Coconut Cream Chocolate Cake. This finished off our trip on a good note: I definitely know that all my vegan friends will be drooling over this cake.

The last few days before we visited Mary's bistro we had just adequate vegetarian dishes. Most of them are dishes we ate at non-vegan restaurants with vegan options. We visited Sojourner Cafe in Santa Barbara.

I had Tempeh Reuben and DH had Tempeh Taco Salad. You can ask for veganized items in this restaurant. Their dishes were good but they were nothing real special(compared to Mary's). They were just good and adequate food.

We also found a Southeast Asian cafe in Cambria that offered vegetarian dishes, called Wild Ginger . This cafe is owned by a Singaporean Chef. This one is not in yet. There are a few vegetarian dishes in their menu. I had the Curried Butternut Squash-Sweet Corn Bisque that was spicy and coconutty (it has coconut milk in it). DH had Indian Vegetable Samosa. We both opted for the Sezhuan Tofu with rice. Surprisingly, it was spicy and flavorful. For desserts, we opted for their home made sorbets (available flavors are pomelo, kiwi strawberry, lime, lychee, mango, pomegranate).

I picked lychee and DH got the lime one. I was very surprised of how good it was. I could taste the lychee very strongly. Yum! I may make this at home. We definitely were satisfied with what we found in Cambria. We had another dinner at Morro Bay at a California Fusion Mexican restaurant called Taco Temple. If you ask to hold the sour cream and cheese, this restaurant provides vegetarian burritos and tostadas that can be veganized. Their black beans and rice are vegetarian. What I like was that everything tasted so fresh with lots of veggies.

Well, looks like my vacation is over. This means that I am going back to my kitchen and will start cooking again!