Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Vegan Emperor's herbal Soy Curls

Today was another trio of new food experiences, and an unexpected (by me; recipe included) culinary success story.  This time we're featuring goji berries, longan, and red dates (left to right bottom in the adjacent picture), none of which--unlike the ingredients from yesterday's post--I had even heard of two weeks ago.  Also enhancing this image are Soy Curls and garlic.  I admit right up front that I didn't have the courage to use this much garlic and confined myself to two cloves.

So what the heck are these things?

Goji berries:  My friend Fi keeps a bag of these by her desk, nibbles on them all day, and swears by them for all kinds of health-related benefits.  Fi is (almost) my age, and looks at least ten years younger, so who am I to criticize?  They're supposed to be one of the new superfoods, high in antioxidants, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene.  The ones you see in this image are super-premium goji berries, not just the inferior wolfberries, which are smaller, duller, and more bitter.  I bought them at Wing Fung Herbal & Dry Food in Edmonton, a Chinese herbal store, which every time I have been there has been packed with customers.  Fi is kind enough to translate for me with the proprietor, so you may hear more about Chinese medicine later in the month.  Goji berries taste very pleasant, like a cross between raisins and dried cherries only not quite as sweet as either.  They really are nice to eat on their own.  Fi scolded me for cooking with these particular berries: since their quality is so high, they should be eaten plain.

Longan:  This was the surprise star of this post.  WiseGeek explains that:  "The longan is a brown skinned fruit that is said to be the 'little brother' of the lychee. It is native to China and South East Asia and is a little larger than an olive. The longan has a musky, grape flavor and is sweeter than a lychee but not as juicy. The longan has a whitish, translucent flesh that encases a small black seed, and its skin is pale brown and brittle.  The longan or lungan is sometimes referred to as a dragon's eye or eyeball in China and as mamoncillo chino in Cuba. It is the seed at the center of the fruit that gave it the 'eyeball' name. The seed is jet black and shiny with a circular white spot at its base, giving it the appearance of an eyeball. In China, the longan is used more often in traditional medicine than as an edible fruit."  Here are some nice pictures.  I'd like to try it fresh; it seems the taste and texture would both have to be quite different from the dried variety.

My dried longan contained no seeds, and had no resemblance to an eye, dragon's or otherwise.  It looked more like pieces ripped off a date.  The taste is surprisingly smoky--I wouldn't call it exactly pleasant...unlike goji berries, I wouldn't make a snack of longan, but in my opinion it lent a deep, mysterious flavour to this soup.

Red dates:  First of all, these are not dates as we known them.  Wikipedia has this to say about them: "Ziziphus zizyphus (from Greek ζίζυφον, zizyfon), commonly called jujube, red date, or Chinese date, is a species of Ziziphus in the buckthorn family Rhamnacae, used primarily for its fruits."  Well, there you have it; what more do you want?  Heh, just kidding.  So this is jujube.  It's sort of pretty, but gah, the taste ranges from nothing to slightly woody, raw or cooked.  They are supposed, however, to have numerous and weighty health benefits, including increasing blood flow and therefore oxygen to the brain and thus improving memory and promoting clear thinking.  What I want to know is, is zizyfon the same as Sisyphus?  My cheeks are burning slightly as I type this, and I'm feeling pretty oxygenated--coincidence?  Or not?  I have a whole bag of these things, so I'll let you know.

On to the soup.  Fi made me promise, absolutely promise, that I would not use garlic or onions in this soup.  Her version is very simple, basically just chicken, goji berries, and red dates simmered with a little salt.  But I tried to consider how to make this work for a vegan without ending up with basically tofu, water, and reconstituted dried fruit, which didn't sound very appetizing.  I looked around and found, among many others--for this is a popular Chinese and Malaysian soup--this recipe.  So, um, sorry, Fi, but it worked out well for me all the same!

I didn't make that recipe, partly because I'm not yet familiar enough with Chinese herbs to be able to know what some of the ingredients were, partly because I'm vegan and the images associated with these recipes are fairly horrific, animal-parts-wise.  But here's what I did, and I'll give my standard disclaimer again here: I am trying foods new to me and not pretending to be any kind of authority on authentic Chinese cuisine, or herbal medicine, or any other subject:

The Vegan Emperor's herbal Soy Curls
serves 1

1/2 cup dried Soy Curls
1 tbsp Maggi seasoning (I know it's mostly chemicals, but Chat Mingkwan got me onto it and now I'm addicted; it tastes like a nice spicy, celery-based vegetable broth)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 bulbs garlic, minced or put through a press
1 tbsp goji berries or wolfberries
5 dried red dates
1 tbsp dried longans
2-inch square Chinese yam, thinly sliced
1 medium sui choy, cleaned
1 tbsp vegetable oil
First, soak the Soy Curls in warm water for 10 minutes.  Squeeze and drain.  Meanwhile, put together the marinade ingredients, and then add them to the drained Soy Curls and mix well:
Arrange the marinated Soy Curls, the yam or sweet potato, and the dried fruits in a small saucepan.  Add 1 1/2 cups water and the vegetable oil:
Heat just to boiling, then simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender.  If you wish, at this point you can add some sui choy or other greens for a final steaming:
When that's done, taste for salt, and serve with rice:

At the very least, this is a fantastic way to cook Soy Curls.  They would not have benefited from, for instance, being pre-fried, and the marinade was outstanding.  I'm still intrigued by the burning cheeks thing, but taste-wise you could probably get away with using a few raisins and just one single drop of liquid smoke if you couldn't get longan or goji-berries, but I would urge you to reach out to your local Oriental market and experiment.  I thought I'd end the evening with a tofu Reuben, but no, this was enough, and so tasty!


  1. I'm actually familiar with all of those ingredients except for the soy curls. :-) Your vegan version of herbal soup looks delicious!

  2. Very interesting--thanks for sharing the info, Zoa. I've tried jujube and also thought they were a little bland. Granted, I bought them fresh, on a whim at the farmers' market, without actually knowing what to do with them.

    This soy curl dish looks delicious! Also, thank you for the lovely words of encouragement yesterday. :)

  3. Agreeing with Chow Vegan, the soy curls make a terrific herbal soup. Actually I like eating plain dried dates better than goji berries, but with all of those benefits (new to me) I should give goji berries a try.
    Have a look at the recently defunct
    http://crystalbyblog.blogspot.com/ and
    http://chicvegetarianfood.blogspot.com/ for some more Asian recipes

  4. More herbal soup recipes! As I'm eating red dates...

  5. Katharine, are your red dates sweet? Mine weren't absolutely awful, but I'm curious--is there a particular kind do you buy, or what do you look for when you're buying them?

    Also, thank you for the links! The concept of herbal soup is very, very new to me...but I think I like it, and these links seem like a good place to start.

  6. I've seen jujubes at the farmers market and was really confused when the farmer told me that they were dates. That soup looks warm and healthifying!

  7. I've tried goji berries (probably the inferior kind) but never heard of the other two. Very interesting. Your soy curls bowl looks absolutely delicious.

  8. I love your mofo theme, by the way. I might try to do a new foods post sometime this month.

  9. I still have never tried soy curls. I am seriously in awe of how gorgeous this food looks!!!!

  10. Love soy curls - can't wait to try this!