Monday, July 07, 2008
Shopping in ethnic markets is an inexpensive way to add variety to your diet and food shopping routine, but many people are hesitant to try cooking the unfamiliar but cheap vegetables in their local oriental market. The myriad tofu options there can be confusing, too - actually, I still find them confusing. You don't necessarily need Asian techniques or equipment to cook them, though, and grilling is a fantastic way to cook the squash or gourd type vegetables such as silk gourd or winter melon. (Caveat for the bumpy skinned bitter gourd, as it really lives up to its name and is not to everyone's taste.)
Shaokao (barbecue) is a late night street food here in Chengdu and the selection is mostly vegetarian including not only the usual grilling suspects like eggplant, corn, onions, peppers, and asparagus but also green beans, cauliflower, winter melon, cucumber, lotus root, lettuce, slices of potato, flower buds (huang hua), and various types of pressed tofu (sometimes in sheets, sometimes in rolls). It really opened up my eyes to the variety of vegetables that taste good grilled.
Above, I used zucchini, winter melon, eggplant, onion, and pressed dry tofu. The tofu is sold in a thin sheet already, so I only had to slice the vegetables before rubbing everything with oil (I used ordinary cooking oil, though most people will use olive oil) and salt, then used some hot pepper paste mixed with oil on half of the stuff. Regular barbecue sauce or a marinade would be fine too; eggplant is particularly great at soaking up flavours. Grill or broil on both sides to desired doneness. Grilled vegetables are good several hours after you cook them, but tofu is not - try to cook the tofu just before eating.
Rare daytime shaokao stand: