Sunday, 8 August 2010

Pesco-Vegetarian Potluck Feast

A couple of friends I met playing Ultimate this year agreed to have a dinner-and-movie potluck this weekend, and with the movies of choice being Red Cliff & Red Cliff II, I thought of cooking Chinese dishes for my friends.  Cooking for people with dietary restrictions can be a challenge, but fortunately for me, with my friends being pesco-vegetarians, I was given some latitude.  With that in mind, I decided to cook three dishes, a noodle dish, a vegetable dish and a tofu dish.

I first made the noodle dish, E-fu Noodles with Crab & Mushrooms, since, compared to the other two dishes, it was the least time-critical between cooking and eating.  With my previous weekend's Winnipeg daytrip, I was able to get my hands on E-fu noodles and, stocked with fresh shiitake mushrooms, canned straw mushrooms and canned crab meat, I was able to make this relatively simple dish.
Next I cooked the vegetable dish, Shanghai Bak Choy with Shiitake and Conpoy.  My parents gave me a stash of conpoy when they visited me earlier this year, which gave me an opportunity to create a dish inspired by similar ones at some Chinese restaurants.  Though I only used two whole pieces of conpoy this time and, having not cooked with conpoy beforehand I soaked it in water overnight just to be sure it was soft, in hindsight twice the amount could've been used this particular time considering how many stalks of Shanghai bak choy I used.  Though certain sources suggest reconstituting conpoy in warm or hot water, I personally prefer cold water thanks to my experience in reconstituting dried shiitake.  With cold water, one ensures that the conpoy isn't accidentally pre-cooked, signficantly defeating its ability to further bring out flavour during the cooking process.
Lastly, I cooked the tofu dish, Steamed Tofu with Shrimp.  I've not been a fan of tofu, or bean curd, since I was a kid, though admittedly I better appreciate Chinese tofu dishes compared to some of the more recent Western creations involving tofu such as tofu burgers.  However, I did mention about this dish to my pesco-vegetarian friends earlier this summer, so I decided to give them the opportunity to sample it.  This was one of two dishes where there were no leftovers, a testament to how even the simplest (and one of the healthiest) dishes can taste good.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed that I couldn't find Vita "San Sui" brand tofu in town, so I had to make do with another brand's soft tofu which leached, for lack of a better term, "tofu whey" from when I cut it into slices until they were steamed, something I had not encountered beforehand.
My friends also brought their own concoctions to share for the feast.  In the metal bowl is a salad of broccoli, fresh from their garden, cauliflower, dried cranberries, red onion and various nuts.  On the plate were rice paper rolls with smoked salmon, romaine lettuce, cucumber and avocado.  The latter dish was the second one where there were no leftovers.  All in all, we were satisfied, full and had an enjoyable evening.  Hmm, perhaps another potluck is in order in the future... poker potluck, anyone?

Shanghai Bak Choy with Shiitake and Conpoy
7-8 large stalks of Shanghai bak choy
~20-24 fresh shiitake
2-4 pieces of conpoy
Corn starch
Oyster sauce, if necessary, to taste
  1. Place pieces of conpoy in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes, then drain.  Place pieces again in a bowl of cold water and leave overnight, tearing the pieces every few hours to ensure all parts are reconstituted.
  2. Clean Shanghai bak choy thoroughly to rid of dirt and quarter lengthwise.  Set aside.
  3. Remove stems from shiitake.  If shiitake caps are larger than a comfortable bite size, halve the caps.  Set aside.
  4. Steam Shanghai bak choy for ~3 minutes.  Lay them evenly on a large dish, making sure not to transfer water from the steaming to the dish.  Set aside and keep warm.
  5. Pour some oil into a wok over medium heat and start cooking the shiitake.  Sprinkle a pinch of salt and a small splash of water and cover for ~4-5 minutes.  Toss shiitake or shake wok occasionally to ensure they don't stick to the wok and burn.
  6. Add conpoy and the liquid in which it was immersed to the shiitake, toss and cover to let simmer for a few minutes.
  7. While shiitake and conpoy are simmering, pour ~2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch in a small bowl.  Add some cold water and stir to create a pasty emulsion.
  8. Remove cover and taste liquid.  If necessary, add oyster sauce to taste and stir.
  9. Pour starch emulsion into mushroom mixture and stir constantly to spread the starch evenly and allow the liquid to thicken.  Ensure there is enough sauce to cover most of the Shanghai bak choy on the dish.  Add water if necessary if sauce is becoming too thick and is not of sufficient quantity.
  10. Remove shiitake and conpoy mixture from heat and pour evenly over the Shanghai bak choy.  Serve.
Steamed Tofu with Shrimp
1 large package of soft tofu, preferably packaged in its whey
Shrimp, enough for 1/tofu slice, shelled and deveined
1 stalk of green onion (optional)
  1. Remove tofu from package, drained, and cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices.  For most packages, this should produce about a dozen slices.
  2. Place tofu slices in a single layer on a dish, then place a shrimp at the centre of each tofu slice.
  3. If a large steamer is unavailable, fill a wok with water and place a rack in the wok that would prop the dish above the water line during the steaming process.
  4. Cover wok and bring water to a boil.
  5. Remove lid, place dish on rack and replace lid.  Steam for 8-10 minutes.
  6. If adding green onions to the dish, chop one stalk of green onion.  After the 8th minute of steaming, remove lid and sprinkle green onion over the dish.  Replace lid and let steam for another minute.
  7. Remove dish from wok.  Dish may be served with light soy sauce on the side to pour on individual pieces of tofu with shrimp.


  1. In terms of making tofu dishes, I recommend Sunrise brand tofu. It's locally manufactured and tastes the best in my opinion. They also make a really flavorful soya's not watered down. Won't disappoint!

  2. Thanks, Melissa! The Sunrise brand was available here, and it had my tastebuds' approval.