Have you ever seen the movie Big Night? An early effort from the incomparable Stanley Tucci, the film is notable for its fixation on food and cooking as well as a rare thespian turn from Mr J-Lo himself, Marc Anthony. Set in 1950s suburban America, the plot chronicles two Italian immigrant brothers who are determined to serve up genuine Italian food when all the that the madding crowds seem to want is McMeatballs with a side of cheezy entertainment. Customers keep requesting spaghetti, pizza or lasagna and are repulsed by the authentic risotto (which wasn’t yet familiar in North America).
In those days, “exotic” restaurants that purportedly served ethnic cuisines but really supplied little more than gussied up TV dinners were typical. One of these, the China Inn in Montreal, was a favorite destination when my sisters and I were kids and my mother felt like treating us to something special. We’d ride across town on the Number 17 bus, enduring 45 minutes of bumpy roads, swinging around extra-wide turns and the distinct aroma that develops when too many humans are packed into too small a space with half of them reaching overhead to hold onto bus railings–just to partake of their “all-you-can-eat” lunch buffet.
The table at the restaurant was fairly heaving with platters, all the Chinese equivalent of Chef Boy R Dee: greasy, slightly damp egg rolls filled with MSG-dusted cabbage and onion; sweet and sour chicken balls, their sauce the shade of cinnamon hearts and punctuated with nuggets of canned pineapple; chop suey, a gelatinous mix of wilted gray vegetables topped with equally ennervated bean sprouts; spare ribs, those tiny, lardlike cubes of bone and the occasional sliver of meat, slow cooked and bathed in a sickly sweet, molasses and soy sauce concoction; chicken fried rice with its frozen carrot dice and pellet-like peas; and–on the rare occasion that we were really lucky–egg foo yung.
China Inn’s egg foo yung was probably the closest thing to “real” food they served (which is also likely why it appeared on the menu so rarely). A flat, slightly charred omelet with chopped vegetables mixed into the egg, the dish was always accompanied by a thick, spicy sauce that was my favorite part. I mean, you could get egg anywhere, but top that egg with a spicy sauce–well, that was authentic Chinese food, right?
Once I grew older and expanded my culinary repertoire somewhat, I was appalled by the shoddy offerings on that buffet table (not to mention the heave-inducing thought of those “spare” ribs.). It occurred to me that China Inn’s food was about as far from Chinese as Pizza Pockets are from pizza. I wish I could tell you I never ate at that buffet (or the one at Mandarin) again, but alas, it was many years before I shunned such alimentary travesties for good.
After I began to follow a whole foods, healthy diet, I discovered a huge range of Asian cooking, including Thai, Malaysian, Japanese and, yes, Chinese. I ventured to create my own rice paper rolls, rice vermicelli, healthier “fried” rice, sushi, varied and sundry stir-fries–but never egg foo yung.
Until now, that is.
My version of the eggy dish (as so many vegan omelets are) is tofu-based. Unlike your standard tofu omelet, however, this egg faux yung is smaller, spicier, and slightly thicker in the middle (sort of like me compared to Ellen, I suppose). In fact, I preferred these mini omelets on the second day, once they’d rested in the fridge overnight and the insides had dried out a wee bit (you may find them a tad too moist when they’re very fresh). In any case, the flavor is superb: a combination of ginger, sesame, and green onion that is quintessentially Asian. I also felt compelled to reproduce the thick and gelatenous sauce to spoon over top as well–it just wouldn’t be my buffet favorite without it.
Whether you eat these with a side of chop suey, fried rice, or all on their own, one thing is for sure: the delight you’ll experience when you take a bite will be one hundred percent authentic.
[Oh, and The EL-LENd Me A Hand campaign is still on! Help bring some healthy, vegan, sugar-free desserts to The Ellen Show (and I suppose they’ll need someone to serve them–I guess I’ll have to go, too). ]
Egg Faux Yung (ACD Phase II and beyond)
While egg faux yung is traditionally eaten for dinner, I’ve enjoyed these at breakfast as well–they’re a protein-packed way to start the day (because, hey, these aren’t traditional).
1 package (12 ounces or 350-375 g) firm tofu, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup (80 ml) chickpea or garfava flour
3/4 tsp (3.5 ml) turmeric
1/4 tsp (1 ml) paprika (not smoked)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tamari, soy sauce or Bragg’s aminos
1 tsp (5 ml) sesame oil
1 tsp (5 ml) minced fresh ginger
2 tsp (10 ml) finely ground chia seeds
3/4 tsp (3.5 ml) baking powder
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 medium carrot, finely grated
1/3 cup (80 ml) broccoli stems, finely grated (use leftover stalks when you cook broccoli florets) or finely chopped green pepper
1/2 small red pepper, finely chopped
2 green onions, sliced (include some of the green)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped parsley
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tamari, soy sauce or Bragg’s aminos
a few drops hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/4 tsp (1 ml) sesame oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) organic cornstarch, arrowroot, or tapioca starch
1 large clove garlic, sliced
1 tsp (5 ml) coconut oil
additional sliced green onion
To make the egg faux yung: Crumble the tofu into the bowl of a food processor. Add the chickpea flour, turmeric, paprika, tamari, sesame oil, ginger, chia, baking powder and stock. Process until smooth.
Turn the mixture into a medium-sized bowl and add the carrot, broccoli, red pepper and green onion; stir to mix. The mixture should be fairly thick and not too moist, like a cookie dough, but still spreadable.
Heat a large frypan over medium heat; spray with nonstick spray. Using a large ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop the mixture and spread it on the frypan to create pancake-sized mini omelets; spread the mixture so that the egg faux yung are about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. Cook without disturbing until the tops are beginning to dry out and the edges begin to brown (this could take a full 10 minutes). Gently flip the omelets and cook for 5-8 minutes on the other side, until both sides are deeply browned. (Timing will depend on the heat of your particular stove and the thickness of your frypan; but be sure these are not undercooked!). Keep omelets warm in the oven until all the mixture is used up.
Make the sauce: In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the broth, tamari, hot sauce and sesame oil. Scoop out about 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of this mixture into a small bowl and add the cornstarch, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Set aside. Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil over medium heat. Slowly stir in the broth-cornstarch mixture and return to boil; lower heat and simmer for about 10 more seconds, until thickened.
For the optional garnish: melt the coconut oil in the frypan over medium heat and stir in the sliced garlic. Continue to stir constantly until the garlic is browned, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
To serve, stack 2-4 egg faux yung on a plate and spoon some sauce over top. Sprinkle with garlic and green onion slices. Makes 4-6 servings. Omelets may be frozen; sauce will keep, up to 3 days, covered in the refrigerator.
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