When ever I am on the road, one of my non-guilty pleasures is dinner at a Chinese buffet. Armed with an eBook and headset or pair of ear plugs (the good Chinese buffets tend to be crowded with families from the surrounding area and packed with noisy children), I walk the buffet line to peruse the offerings. Once I have assured myself that the selection is up to snuff and the food looks fresh, I settle myself in a booth and enjoy a eating a bit of many things. One thing that would surprise most people who don’t patronize Chinese buffets, is that the food that is consistently better than that found a many mediocre a la carte Chinese restaurants. (Even at good places, close to closing time the selections can somewhat lackluster and/or picked over. In that instance, I simply ask if it is possible to get more of whatever items have caught my eye. I have found that, in most cases, the people are very accommodating. If not, you probably don’t want to be eating there anyway.)
My two favorite dishes when I do go to a Chinese buffet, the ones that I get on my first, second, and possibly third trips to the buffet are stir fried string beans (I have yet to master this simple dish. It might be because I can’t bring myself to use enough oil.) and mushrooms in oyster sauce.
I have been on a Chinese food kick for a few weeks, ever since my recent visits to Chinatown here in NYC. One of the things that struck me when I was at the 5-Combination restaurant was their simple treatment of their Chinese greens – be it baby bok choy, broccolini they simply chopped them up into 1 inch pieces and called it good. That made the broccolini easier to eat that if you were to stir-fry it whole (those stems are so hard to cut with your teeth) and is much less of a hassle than the “peel the outer leaves off until you are left with the little heart in the middle” preparation of baby bok choy that I have come across in recipes past.
Being thus inspired, I headed over to my favorite Chinatown produce vendor on Mulberry Street, here in New York, and loaded up on baby bok choy (broccolini is a little too bitter for my tastes) and button mushrooms. In addition to being excited to try the new, easier preparation technique, I was also armed with new-found knowledge.
As someone who loves to cook, I have long known about the Asian food staples of seasoned rice vinegar, sesame oil, hoisin sauce and low-sodium soy sauce. I have only recently discovered, however, the two magic ingredients… The ones that will make your teriyaki beef or stir-fried vegetables taste “like the ones from the Chinese restaurant.”
Here they are: Oyster Sauce (Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Sauce – with the little boy and his mother poling along in a boat on the label is the best brand, if you can find it.) and Chinese Rice Wine. Combined with sesame oil, corn starch, ginger, chilis, sugar and garlic, you now have the keys to the Middle-Kingdom. (I admit, I usually cheat and use garlic powder – NEVER the preserved stuff in the jar – it has a horrible aftertaste and doesn’t even taste like garlic.)
So, flush with fresh produce and new-found knowledge, I rushed home to make my Baby Bok Choy with Mushrooms and Oyster Sauce.
Honestly, it was so quick and easy, I couldn’t believe how good it was. I actually made it two nights in a row! (Having run out of baby bok choy, I made mushrooms with oyster sauce for lunch the next day. I told you, I’m on a roll!)
This is low-fat recipe (the only oil is the sesame oil in the sauce) and, depending on how strict you are with your definition of a vegetarian recipe, it is also a vegetarian stir-fry recipe. If you are vegan, or looking for a vegan
recipe, you can substitute Lee Kum Kee Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce or Lee Kum Kee Mushroom Flavored Stir-Fry Sauce which is Shitake flavored. (I have never used either of them because I am in LOVE with the oyster sauce, but then again, I’m not vegan :)
So, here is my easy recipe for Mushrooms & Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce.
Mushrooms & Chinese Vegetables w Oyster Sauce Recipe:
Serves two as an entrée or 4 as a side dish
one 10 oz package of mushrooms.
one half pound of baby bok choy, broccolini or other Chinese greens
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine (crucial – don’t skip)
2 Tablespoons Oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Cut the greens into 1 inch pieces and rinse in cold water to remove any sand. If the mushrooms are very small leave whole. Otherwise cut into quarters.
Drop the greens in boiling water and cover until water returns to a boil – then drain immediately and chill with cold water to prevent over cooking – drain again
Mix all ingredients except the mushrooms & greens in a bowl using a fork to make sure all the lumps are out of the cornstarch
Put the mushrooms and greens in a frying pan or wok – DON’T preheat the pan
Pour in the sauce and stir until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken – about 1 to 2 minutes
Serve with white or brown rice if desired, or eat with spoon to gather sauce in every bite if you’d rather skip the carbohydrates.