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Slowly but surely my cravings for Chinese food are being sated. I may not be able to order Chinese take-out anymore, but no need. Chinese food is mine again! I’d still be game for lessons from a real Chinese gourmet, though. If you see one wandering aimlessly on the street, holler. Mmm, kay!?

Mu Shu Vegetable

Gluten-Free Mu Shu Vegetable

Gluten-Free Mu Shu Vegetable

  • 4 eggs + 2 t. sesame oil, beaten
  • 3 T oil
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, finely shredded
  • 4 celery stalks, shredded
  • 4 oz. shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 oz. dried wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated in 1-2 cups hot water
  • 1 T grated ginger (lightly packed)
  • 1/4 c tamari
  • 1/2 c. rice cooking wine
  • 20-25 soft corn tortillas, warmed
  • double recipe of gluten-free Hoisin Sauce

A note on mu shu: Real mu shu gets its flava-flave from lotus shoots and wood ear mushrooms. Both can be found dried at Chinese markets, but seriously, peeps, how often will you have those chillin’ in your cupboard? If you do or if you can make a special trip to Chinatown, hot dang. If not, cabbage is a great substitute. As for the wood ear mushies, they actually sell them at Whole Paycheck. Niiiiiize.

Soak your wood ears in warm water (they may take up to 30 minutes to rehydrate, so be prepared) and prep the other ingredients. This’ll be a fast dish once all the parts are ready, so take the time now to get organized. Also, while you’re at it, turn the oven on to 200° F. Wrap a stack of corn tortillas in tin foil and place in the ov to warm. Word. Let the cooking begin.

Makie ze omelette: Put a bit of oil in a frying pan and heat until hot. Pour the egg beaten with sesame oil into the pan and turn down the heat to medium. As the omelette begins to cook, take a fork and pull the cooked edges towards the center of the pan while simultaneously tilting the pan so the uncooked egg runs out to fill the space you just created. Keep doing this until the egg is no longer runny. Now you’re ready to flip ‘er. That’s right. Man (or woman) up and just flip the beetch. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.

Makie ze other schtuff:In a large wok or high-sided pot, put 3 T of oil and heat on high. Add garlic when hot and saute for a minute or two. Add the cabbage, celery, and shiitake mushrooms and saute until the cabbage begins to turn translucent. At this point you can add the remaining ingredients: the scallions and wood ear mushrooms, the ginger, and the rice wine and tamari. Saute until the cabbage is nice and tender, about 10 minutes.

Serve hot with the warmed tortillas and gluten-free hoisin sauce. As with real mu-shu, let everyone assemble their own at the table by taking a tortilla, spreading a bit of the hoisin on first and then spooning ~2-3 T of filling on top. Fold the tortilla in thirds over the filling and chow. Serves 3-4 if it’s the main dish. Alternatively, for a full gluten-free Chinese meal, serve with gluten-free hot and sour soup as an appetizer and gluten-free tofu with black bean sauce as another main dish. Then it’ll go much further!

Woohoo! I did it! Very respectable gluten-free hoisin sauce is mine, allllll mine. And yours, too. If you want it. Let me share.

Gluten-Free Hoisin Sauce... one step closer to Gluten-free Mu Shu!

So some serious googling returned the results that hoisin is made from fermented soy bean paste, among other things. Armed with my new-found knowledge I hit Chinatown and found me some of this alleged fermented hoisin magic. The label said the only ingredient was fermented soy bean paste, but I was suspicious. Fermented with what? Wikipedia, oh great fountain of knowledge, says the soy beans are fermented using either wheat flour, pulverized mantou, rice, or sugar. Hmm… what are the odds… BAH! Until someone develops a quick and easy at-home gluten test, I’m going to avoid the sketchball Chinatown bean paste and go with what I know.

Luckily, what I know is pretty dern good.

Gluten-Free Hoisin Sauce*

  • 1/4 c. sweet red bean paste (the smooth variety)**
  • 2 T wheat-free tamari
  • 2 t sesame oil
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • dash of white pepper
  • (optional) squirt of Sriracha chili (or “Freshred Chili” if you have it)

Combine all of the above ingredients in a small bowl and mix until smooth. Can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for a week.

*Before you get all sassy and tell me that Premier Japan makes a gluten-free hoisin sauce, I want to save you the disappointment of buying and trying it. Honestly, it tastes like orange-flavored BBQ barf. Not even close to hoisin. I’m not trying to be snobby here – bleeeeve you me, my heart skipped a thousand beats when I saw it on the grocery store shelf. But it really tastes absorootly nothing like any hoisin I’ve ever had. Sad, but less so because of the above recipe.

**If you can’t find smooth red bean paste in Asian specialty markets, sweet red bean paste is easy-po-cheezy to make at home. has a recipe.

Sadly, my dim sum days are over. If we were living a Monty Python skit, the waiter would offer the day’s menu:

“We have gluten dumplings, gluten balls, gluten pancakes, glutinous gluten, wheat gluten, gluten hash, gluten sauce…”

“Have you got anything besides gluten?”

“Well, we have gluten buns, gluten blobs, gluten on gluten, soft tofu, gluten soup…”

What was that!? Soft tofu? Shyeaaah! This, peops, is the only dish remaining on the dim sum raster that we can eat. But it’s so damn good, it’s almost worth watching friends mow their glutenfest while you wait for the giant vat of tofu goodness to make its rounds. Here’s my take on the recipe so you can enjoy it at home, at will, glutenfest-free.

Naturally Gluten-Free: Warm Silken Tofu in Sweet Ginger Water

Silken Tofu in a Sweet Ginger Syrup

  • 1 package silken tofu
  • 2 c water
  • 2-4 T honey
  • 1 T fresh grated ginger

Pour water and honey into a small pan and heat over medium heat until honey dissolves. Empty contents of one silken tofu package into the pan. Grate ginger* and simmer on medium-low for 15ish minutes. When tofu is heated through, spoon out some tofu and pour enough syrup (like most Chinese desserts, this is no where near as sweet as what we think of as dessert, so it’s less syrupy, more watery) over the tofu to almost cover it. Serve warm. Have a little joygasm.

Now if I could only find a recipe for making homemade silken tofu, this would be insan-yah-good.

*do you know this trick? Wash your ginger root well (peel if you like, but I don’t bother) and stick it in a ziploc baggie in the freezer. When you need fresh ginger for a recipe, just pull it out of the freezer and grate it with a Microplane grater  – no need to defrost. You have fresh ginger at your fingertips whenever you want it, rather than letting it wilt and die in the fridge between gingery recipes… Niiiize.

I almost peed my pants when I saw it on the grocery store shelf. Gluten-free hoisin sauce?! Could it be? The brand is Premier Japan and it has the added bonus of being biologique, or organic. But it also has the disappointing issue of tasting like a**. It’s orangey and barbequey and not remotely hoisiney. Dang, dang, dang. My hopes were so high.

I don’t know if you guys do this but I have a running list in my head of must-cook gluten-free foods. A snippet of late:

  • gf danishes
  • gf hoisin
  • gf sourdough
  • gf dumplings

Some of the more elaborate or involved items have been sitting quietly on this list for several years. Occasionally, one gets taken off in a triumphant squeal as I either successfully collect all the necessary ingredients, or I find or adapt a respectable recipe, or whatever. Premier Japan piqued my desire for gluten-free hoisin and I WILL create or find a recipe to fill the void. I must have mu shu vegetable again. Must must must.

Stay tuned… I think I’m close.

Update 3/3/10: checkit! I diddit!

I haven’t eaten at a Chinese restaurant in three years. So what? So, there’s a huge hole in my life that I absolutely must fill. Today, I take the first step. (Gawd, this sounds like therapy. Unappetizing.) Ok, start over.

I’ve been thinking forevah-evah about taking some Chinese cooking classes from an old Chinese dude (please, if you know this dude, call me) so I can make veggie stirfry that doesn’t taste like veggie stirfry (you so know what I’m talking about, vegheads). I have it in my head that with a simple substitution (wheat-free tamari for soy sauce) I can make every Chinese dish I miss with the added bonus of avoiding the MSG (which, I read somewhere can be a wheat derivative and therefore not gf – hm!)

Well, I haven’t found said Chinese dude yet, but I did manage a tofu with black bean sauce dish tonight that was migh-ty-tasty. Reminded me of, well, tofu with black bean sauce! Oh, Chinese food, how I’ve missed you!

Tofu with Black Bean Sauce in all its Gluten-Free Glory

Tofu with Black Bean Sauce in all its Gluten-Free Glory

Tofu with Black Bean Sauce

For the fry:

  • 1 tub firm tofu
  • 4 scallions, sliced all perty, on the diagonal
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 t. grated fresh ginger (use the freezer trick*)
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 4 T fermented black beans**
  • 12 whole dried chili peppers
  • 1 bunch swiss chard, chopped

For the sauzah:

  • 1 cup veggie broth, heated
  • 2 t. sesame oil
  • 2 T rice cooking wine
  • 2 t. cornstarch

A note before you start: If you have a wok, hallelujah. Use that. If you’re lame like me and don’t have a kitchen big enough for a wok, do like I do and use a big old fry pan. Just make sure the sides are high enough that you won’t lose stuff over the edge.

Ok, to begin:In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce and stir with a fork to get all the lumps of cornstarch out. Set aside. Drain and cube your tofu. Put a couple tablespoons of oil in a nonstick fry pan and brown the tofu on high heat. Remove from pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of fresh oil to the pan and saute your garlic and chili peppers for a minute on high. Add the scallions and onions, saute until the onions begin to turn clear. Chop the black beans a bit and add to the mix. Pour the sauce you set aside earlier into the pan with the onions, chilis, etc. Stir the fry. Add the tofu and simmer until thickened. Remove from pan and set aside. Fill the fry pan with 1/4″ of water. Place the chopped swiss chard in the pan and cover. Simmer for 3ish minutes until leaves are limp and soft, but still bright green (before they turn mush-tastic). Drain and put on a serving plate. Pour the tofu and black bean sauce on top. Serve with rice of your choice. Serves 2-3.

*You know the freezer trick, right? Buy a big ol’ lump of ginger at the gross-hairy store. Wash, and if you’re finicky, peel it. Stick it in a plastic bag in the freezer. When you need fresh ginger, just pull it out and grate it with a microplane grater. Ta-daa. Fresh ginger at your beck and call, any night of the week.

One of the GF brands of jarred fermented black bean

One of the GF brands of jarred fermented black bean

**Notes about the wacky ingredients: Fermented black beans are key to this dish. No black beans = no black bean sauce. They can be found in Asian grocery stores if you’re willing to dig a little. This dude has a great photo on his blog of several different brands you might see around. For this recipe, I used the bagged beans on the right. I thought they were tasty. But BEWARE, GF friends, the Lee-Kum-Lee jarred black bean garlic sauce on the far left definitely has gluten in it. You can almost categorically ignore this brand because they always use soy sauce. But I have found other jarred black beans that are gluten free. For example, Master has a jarred Black Bean and a Black Bean Garlic, both of which are gluten free as far as I can tell:

It makes me sad that practically all Chinese food (practically all? I think I can safely say “all”) is off limits because of the soy sauce. Just one simple substitution would, in most cases, make every dish on a Chinese restaurant’s menu edible. Sigh. We’ll have to make do making our own at home. On that note, anyone know of a good Chinese cooking school I can attend to learn to make some of the staples at home with tamari? I’ve got a FEVER and ain’t no cowbell gonna cure it!

Here’s a recipe I’ve sussed out already. It does a pretty dern good job of feeding the beast. Plus, it has the added bonus of being veggie, which hot and sour soup at the Chinese restaurant is most certainly not.

Feed the beast: Hot & Sour Soup

Feed the beast: Hot & Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

  • 8 cups veggie broth
  • 1/4 c. tamari (more depending on how salty your broth is)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 half-inch slices of ginger
  • 1 5 oz. can of bamboo shoots, julienned
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • small handful dried wood ear mushrooms (julienned or whole)
  • 1/4 of a block of firm tofu
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 4 T cornstarch
  • 4-5 scallions
  • 4 T sesame oil
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp chili flakes and/or chili garlic or freshred chili*

Bring veggie broth to a boil. Add minced garlic, tamari, ginger slices, julienned bamboo, sliced shiitakes, and wood ears. Beat the egg and while whisking the boiling soup, pour the egg in slowly. Lovely little egg strings should appear and float to the top. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and vinegar. Pour this mixture into the soup – without it the egg doesn’t stay suspended in the broth and just floats to the top looking icky. Turn the heat down so the soup simmers and add the tofu (diced or thickly julienned), chili goo of your choice, and sesame oil. Just before serving add the scallions and tamari to taste. Makes 4 small bowls. Mmm… taste like Chinese food.

*Shopping in Chinatown is always a bit of a crapshoot. Consistency in stocking just doesn’t exist. Or maybe it’s that everything is in Chinese so if they change the packaging on you (or their English translator), you’re toast. Then you have the added obstacle of finding one delightful something-or-other one time and then you can’t remember which store you got it from when you run out. Ah, yes. It is an adventure. But I digress. We’re talking chilis, people! There are two prepared chili thingies that we use incessantly in our house. One is fairly ubiquitous – our local grocery store even carries it so I’m thinking yours might too. It’s the Sambal Oelek chili sauce. The second is the hilariously named “Freshred Chili Pepper” by Master Sauce Co, Inc. Really, any Asian chili sauce you can lay your hands on will do, but these are tasty if you happen to run across them.

Gluten-Free Cold Noodles & Sesame Sauce

Gluten-Free Cold Noodles & Sesame Sauce

As a kid, I adored Stouffer’s frozen mac and cheese. I would pull up a stool in front of the toaster oven and watch it bake, anticipating the melted cheesy goodness that would ensue if only I could hold out for the 25 minutes it instructed me to wait. So naturally, when I got out of college and went wheeling down the grocery aisles like a kid in a candy store (woohooo! I can get anything I want!) I picked up a couple of packages. Brought home, immediately stuck in oven. Waited excruciating 25 minutes til done. Pulled out and took in a triumphant whiff. Fork dove in from 3 feet high. First taste of a childhood comfort food in 10ish years… could it be happening? Oh so delightfff-uhh-glauuuuuugh!? Gross! What the? This shite is pasty narsty mushiness! How did I eat this crap?

There are many childhood treatsies that have similarly fallen from grace: McDonald’s chicken nuggets, fruit loops, bubblegum ice cream, lunchables. Cold Noodles and Sesame Sauce was another one I luh-uh-uhved, but it might be the only such dish that has managed to maintain its allure into adulthood (ok, ramen noodles and kraft mac & cheese are survivors, too). There seem to be several ideas of what constitutes CNSS (given my experience ordering it at restaurants over the last 20-odd years), but in my mind, the gold standard is set by Empire Szechuan in Manhattan. Most restaurants make a sesame-oily imposter. I’ve tested it out at enough spots to know it’s not worth ordering. But Empire Szechuan’s noodles are divine and remain so to this day.

Sadly, Empire Szechuan doesn’t deliver to Chicago, so I have had to search for recipes that could recreate their magic. Where did I hit gold? Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook empire. Her recipes, if you’re not already familiar with them, are not watered down for whiteys (as far as I can tell, of course, being a whitey myself) and obviously, that’s a good thing. And does she have a recipe for cold noodles? YES! And hubba is it tasty. Just like I remember good old Empire Szechuan’s. I don’t have all the wacky ingredients she calls for… plus, like most Chinese food, t’ain’t gluten-free. Sew-hew-hew, here is my take on Madhur’s masterful mimicry of Empire Szechuan’s delight. To make it slightly more nutritious so it can stand as a main course and provide some vitamins for this veghead, I’ve added extra veggies. If you’re a purist or could care less about the nutrition (power to ya), stick to noodles, the sauce, and julienned cucumbers. If you’re interested in her original recipe, it’s on page 246 of World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce

  • 1 package of rice noodles
  • veggie oil
  • sesame oil
  • 1 grated zucchini
  • 5ish scallions
  • 5ish leaves of napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tub of extra firm tofu
  • julienned cucumber (1 pickling cuke works best b/c you don’t have to seed it and it’s the perfect size. Plus, they’re super crunchy)
  • 1 T sesame seeds
  • 1 T black sesame seeds (for fun, if you have them)
    For the sauce:

  • 1/2 c. tahini
  • 1/4 c. tamari
  • 2 T Chinese black vinegar* (sub. balsamic if you can’t find GF black vinegar)
  • 1 tsp sugar (omit if using balsamic vinegar)
  • 2 T veggie oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp chili oil
  • 2 T water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper

Diiiiirec-shons: Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Put noodles in a large serving bowl and drizzle with 1-2 T of sesame oil and toss to coat. Set aside.

Grate the zucchini and saute in a pan with a tablespoon each of sesame oil and veggie oil. Add the chopped scallions and saute until wilted. Dump on top of the noodles. Add napa cabbage. Mix von mix. Cut the tofu into 1/4-inch thick rectangles. Cut the rectangles in half diagonally so you end up with large triangles. Brown the triangles on both sides with a couple tablespoons of sesame oil in a fry pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients for the sesame sauce until smooth and pasty. The sauce will seem too thick, but have faith – it’ll be buttah. Pour the sauce onto the veggies and noodles and toss. Top with tofu, julienned cuke, and sesame seeds. Serve at room temp.

Gluten-free brand of Chinese Black Vinegar

Gluten-free brand of Chinese Black Vinegar

*A note on this wacky ingredient: The first bottle of Chinese black vinegar I picked up at the Asian food mart and used for years was sadly not gluten-free. I was devastated when I actually read the label. But, since then I have found that there are many brands that do not use barley (the offending ingredient) in their recipe. This brand of Chinkiang Vinegar is one of them. And hey, according to Wikipedia, this is considered the best. What a deal.