A very veggie Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year. I have Fuschia Dunlop's books on Sichuan and Hunan, but otherwise know little of the cuisine(s). I'm going to a potluck with mostly vegetarian attendees who are equally inexperienced in the discipline. Many do not like starch. So, looking for: tasty vegetarian low-starch Chinese food. Any suggestions?
Sounds like fun. How strictly vegetarian will the meal be? Good Chinese food starts with good stock. Chinese stocks (Dunlop uses the term Everyday Stock and a more robust Banquet Stock) use meat. If that poses a problem then just omit the meat/bones and make a veggie stock (onions, carrots, celery, ginger etc.)
In "Land of Plenty" there are Fish Fragrant Eggplants (p. 285) which despite the name has no fish and no fish fragrance either. Also: Dry Fried Green Beans (p. 289) and Sweet Corn with Green Peppers (p. 296.) In "Hunan" there is Stir Fried Peppers with Black Beans and Garlic (p.201), Potato Slivers with Vinegar (p.205) and a Mixed Mushroom dish and much more.
You might also look at any of the meat dishes and try to see if tofu could be substituted for any of the meat called for. I'd suggest draining the firm tofu of water, slice or dice it and frying in some oil to give it some texture before adding to your new veggie dish. You can omit the starch but use less stock when you stir fry. And don't overcook - Chinese veggies are served al dente for the most part.
Both of the dan dan mian recipes can be easily made without the meat (Land of Plenty), as can some of the other dry noodle dishes. Home Style Tofu (I like this one, which I think is originally from the Dunlop book):
is great with chopped shitake and bits of burned tofu instead of the pork (still marinate it in
the shaoxing / cornstarch).
Seconding the suggestion for yu xiang qiezi. I made it a couple times recently with fairly good success. Do all your deep-frying earlier in the day to save time later (tofu, eggplant, long beans, etc.). If you make the green beans, I'd suggest getting long beans instead of standard Western green beans if at all possible.
There are some other simple stir-fries that I think would be tasty - there's a stir-fried potato dish with chili peppers and vinegar, variations of which are pretty common in a lot of parts of China (I think the variation mentioned by scoopG is one). The potatoes are in long, thin strips, and have a crunchy texture rather than a hash brown type texture. You could also try bai ye (slightly pressed tofu sheets) or doufu yi (soaked if dry), thinly sliced into strips and stir-fried with jiucai (Chinese leek). This may not come out as well without a really high-btu flame under the wok.
If the guests eat egg, tomato and egg is a simple dish that I think will be a crowd pleaser.
Make sure you test the recipes out ahead of time if you have time, and make sure you choose the right sauces. Don't bite of too much if you haven't done much of this before. Hot pot would be one other way to go - fun for groups, everyone can eat what they want, and less work for you.
I think you can get away without using any stock at all in most of the recipes, but you can probably get away with a good quality veggie broth in a carton, though home-made would be better.
ps - I missed the point that it was for the New Year - you might want to try to do some dishes that are seasonally appropriate....
1) Niangao - either sweet, just cooked on a hot pan, or shanghai style salty niangao, sauteed with green vegetables.
2) Vegetarian fish, steamed with ginger. Boring, probably won't be anywhere near as good as real fish, but more for the symbolic significance.
3) Taro / turnip cakes - if you can find them premade without shrimp or pork, this would be an easy addition
Hope you post some pictures / let us know how everything turns out. Maybe try to limit yourself to one or two regions, and don't bite off more than you can chew.
Fish (whole, not chopped up) are a traditional good luck symbol. I often use my treasured fish-shaped bundt pan to make jellied desserts like egg-less mango custard.
The classic Buddhist eight treasure braised in mock oyster sauce is also a vegetarian New Year's favorite. If you have access to authentic ingredients, the dish typically includes Chinese black mushrooms, carrots, thick tofu crepe (but not the plain white tofu which is bad luck), black wood ear mushrooms, sun-dried lily buds, and sometimes bamboo, water chestnut, fresh gingko nuts, hard-boiled quail eggs, green peas, snow peas, or black hair moss (super expensive!). You need to select exactly eight of these ingredients.
For snacks and sweets, a welcome gift for the host would be a round tray arranged in eight sections or compartments (again the lucky number!), each filled with a different type of candy, nuts, or sweets. Good choices: Pistachio nuts in shell, shelled walnuts, pumpkin seeds, lotus seeds, any kind of dried or candied fruit (like melon, mango, papaya), and/or hard candies in gold or red wrappers.
Also, the table is not complete unless there is a bowl of oranges or clementines to symbolize wealth and prosperity.
happy new year and have a great potluck party!