Hannah Che’s Vegan Chinese Recipes Modernize a 1,000-Year-Old Tradition – Sunset Magazine

September 11, 2022
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In her new cookbook, chef Hannah Che explores the plant-based traditions of Chinese cuisine with recipes that are healthy, sustainable, and rich in history.
Can veganism go viral? If anyone can accomplish that in the world of Chinese cuisine, it’s Hannah Che. Hailing from Portland and now based in Taipei, Taiwan, the chef, photographer, food stylist, and author has made a name for herself chronicling her adventures in vegan Chinese cooking across her blog and social channels. Watch her drool-inducing Instagram videos (@hannah.che) of nori-wrapped tofu pan-fried and glazed in sticky teriyaki sauce or fluffy black-sesame buns emerging fresh from the steamer, and you, too, will join the 100,000-plus social acolytes showering “likes” on her posts of plant-forward, photo-worthy, and above all delicious approach to Chinese cooking. 
Elizabeth Che
While Che’s evangelization of vegan cooking is on trend, the traditions and recipes from which she takes inspiration are as old as the ages. Vegan Chinese cooking has its roots in Buddhist zhai cai culinary philosophyin which seasonal vegetables are prepared with umami-rich dried shiitake mushrooms, deeply flavored black vinegar, and briny fermented black soybeans, with an added layer of complexity often coming from wok hei, the distinctive smoky char imparted by high-heat wok cooking.
Reprinted with permission from “The Vegan Chinese Kitchen” by Hannah Che copyright © 2022. Photographs by Hannah Che. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Dishes from this tradition and more are included in her new book, The Vegan Chinese Kitchen: Recipes and Modern Stories From a Thousand-Year-Old Tradition: A Cookbook (Clarkson Potter; $35), a vital and inspiring resource for any serious cook who wants to add more plant-based dishes to their repertoire. Here, we’ve excerpted her excellent vegan versions of Chinese classics for you to recreate in your home kitchen. 
“I learned how to make the vegetarian version of the dish from Chef Li, a Sichuanese chef, who explained that the four essential ingredients are the fermented black beans, chili bean paste, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and ground red chiles—everything else was negotiable. He used minced shiitake mushrooms in place of the ground beef and taught me to thicken the dish with three rounds of starch slurry, until the tofu was suspended in a silky, viscous sauce. We toasted fresh red peppercorns in oil and ground up more peppercorns to sprinkle on the dish for the famous numbing sensation.”
“In the original dry-frying method, the green beans are slowly cooked in a dry pan until their skins wrinkle, but restaurants almost always deep-fry the beans, which is more efficient and generates the shriveled, oil-blistered exterior people have come to associate with the dish. Yácài is a finely chopped Sichuan preserved vegetable that has become more widely available in Asian supermarkets in recent years and is a key ingredient in Sichuan dishes like dan dan noodles. If you can’t find it, omit it or replace it with 1 tbsp. fermented black beans, coarsely chopped.”
“Steaming is my dad’s favorite way to prepare eggplant,” Che writes. “He usually seasons the eggplant with soy sauce, a tremendous amount of minced raw garlic, and sesame oil, but I like to add a splash of dark Chinkiang vinegar to mellow the garlic notes and sugar and to edge it toward a more sweet-and-sour taste.”
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