Vegetarian Stewed/ Braised Meat-Sauce 素肉燥

One of the famous street-food in Taiwan is Stewed Meat Rice 肉燥饭 (usually made from ground pork) or Braised Meat Rice 卤肉饭 (made with slightly bigger chunks of pork, or pork belly).

The ideal stewed/braised meat is perfectly balanced in savory and sweet flavors, and at some point, the gravy/sauce leans towards being sticky, glossy and gooey gelatinous - as a result of fats in the pork melding into the gravy. The meat used in stewed meat  肉燥 is, by default - pork, due to the higher ratio of fats in pork. However, there are also healthier versions which use ground chicken - that reminded me of the Zha-Jiang meat-sauce 炸酱 I have made previously, and ground turkey.

Pork, chicken, or turkey but none of them is vegetarian. When we associate vegetarian "stewed or braised meat", blehs and mehs are all we hear. Nothing interesting when "meat" substitutes such as tofu and mushrooms start coming in, which in fact is what I am going to use to make my Vegetarian Stewed Meat 素肉燥.

I was excited in trying a vegetarian "stewed meat" especially after being inspired by a cooking segment that was demonstrating similar but with some key tips that I thought was really quite out-of-the-box.

Now, it sounds even better when the vegetarian version can be made "gelatinous" * (How? Hint: Corn-starch is not the answer, as that only makes the mixture sticky).

Now the vegetarian version is no longer the boring virtually tasteless tofu but a dish with a nuanced savory profile.

Vegetarian Stewed Meat 素肉燥
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 block firm tofu 14-19oz, roughly mash using fingers (it should resemble "ground meat" after a while)
10-12 medium cap fresh shitake, finely diced
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tspdark soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
Ground white pepper
1-2 cups vegetable stock (of kombu). I have used wakame instead as I was using it for soup, so the water used to hydrate/soak the dried wakame was used as the stock

Directions: Fry shallots till slightly translucent and aromatic, then add mushrooms, garlic, half the sauces (1/2 tbsp light+ 1tsp dark) and fry till mushrooms are tender. Add the finely mashed tofu, add the remaining sauces and sugar, and mix well with mushrooms. Add stock till mixture is partially submerged, simmer for 10-15 minutes till flavors completely combined. Ground white pepper and a little sea salt to taste.

*How to make "gelatinous" vegetarian "stewed meat" 肉燥 or "Zha-Jiang meat sauce" 炸酱 , herald it collagen-rich, without the use of fatty pork (its skin, fats, meat):  Blitz some cooked-to-the-point-of-slimy cloud-ear (white fungus)/wood-ear (black fungus) mushrooms that is superb plant-protein collagen; or grate some mountain yam;then add them into the tofu-mushroom mixture while cooking.

I am submitting this post to Asian Food Fest – Taiwan Month, hosted by Alan of Travelling Foodies

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