Saturday, September 24, 2011
Veg Week: Authentic Chinese With No Meat
My key for Chinese food is to stay on the authentic menus -- even if we're eating vegetarian.
We took two vegetarian friends to Red Pearl in Columbia and ate our way across the menu. We wanted broad menus so that they would have choices, and, with Mango Grove temporarily closed, Chinese and Italian seemed like the best options.
Mu shu vegetables was certainly fine. There is a memory of college that bubbles up with those pancakes and the plum sauce. Something about the fun of eating. But the really delicious items all came from the authentic menus.
Start with dan dan noodles -- noodles in a bowl topped with minced pickled vegetables. You stir the dish to mix the spicy sauce hidden underneath. That's a clean, spicy flavor and one of my favorite items on the Red Pearl menu.
Continue on the Sichuan menu to the ma po tofu. This is steamed tofu that they called Chengdu style. We filled the table with a special Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce. They cook vegetables perfectly -- tender, but still firm. To me, the sauces from the Sichuan menu and the specials always seem brightest.
If you can get to weekday lunch, you could try Red Pearl's dim sum for vegetarian options. It's harder because lots of the choices have pork or shrimp. But they're responsive. Look for vegetarian dumplings with a pea on top. There are also vegetables like a Chinese broccoli, and you can always end with the fried sesame balls with sweet filing for dessert.
This is part of Veg Week here at HowChow. With Mango Grove temporarily closed as it relocates, we're suggesting some other spots where you could please a vegetarian friend or please yourself. Obviously, any local vegetarian should check out the vegan kitchen at Great Sage in Clarksville. Or click on all the HowChow posts that we have marked on the theme.