I grew up with two parents who are vegetarians, but somehow I have not been able to stay on a true vegetarian diet. However, I learned to cook some really delicious vegetarian dishes from my parents. Recently, I cooked my Mother’s signature braised Napa cabbage-mushrooms delights. It is not colorful nor is it crunchy (though wood ear mushrooms do lend a certain crunch), but it is sweet and flavorful. The secret to her recipe is braising the shiitake mushrooms with oyster sauce before cooking all the ingredients together. If you are short on time, like I was, you can skip this step. Though if you can, try cooking it my Mother’s way.
1 medium size napa cabbage, leaves separated, washed, drained
200g beech mushrooms, cleaned
170g fresh wood ear mushrooms, cleaned
170g oyster mushrooms, cleaned
1 pack of high gluten balls
1 large knob of fresh ginger, julienned
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt (according to your taste)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1-2 tablespoons corn starch (some extra if needed)
1 cup chicken broth or water
100ml cold water to make cornstarch mixture
cooking oil, mild flavor
How to clean mushrooms
Before we move onto how to cook this dish, I want to explain how to clean mushrooms. Growing up in my Mother’s kitchen, I learned that all ingredients (other than seasonings) need to be washed before cooking. So like my Mom, I also wash mushrooms even though many chefs recommend not to. Recently in my search for more mushrooms recipes, I came across a Food Myths website, which explains how mushrooms will not soak up a lot of water if you wash it. Just do it right before cooking. Since this dish is braised, giving the mushrooms a quick rinse is fine even if you believe that mushrooms should only be gently wipe.
Roughly chop the wood ears, slice oyster mushrooms in halves – length wise, cut off and discard the beech mushrooms base, and separate each individual mushroom. Set these aside. Cut the napa cabbage leaves 1 inch crosswise.
In a big stock pot, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add in the high gluten balls and boil them for 2 minutes, then drain and set aside.
Place a wok or big pan over medium to high heat, with 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Allow oil to heat for 20 seconds before adding half of the julienned ginger. Cook ginger for 30 seconds before adding the mushrooms. Stir-fry the mushrooms for about 3 minutes, remove from pan and set aside. Do not wash the wok/pan; you want the mushroom essence to cook into the next ingredient.
Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to the wok/pan and let it heat up for 30 seconds before adding the napa cabbage. If the wok is not big enough, cook in two batches. Stir-fry the cabbage for 3 minutes than add in the rest of the ginger, cooked mushrooms, gluten balls, chicken broth (or water for vegetarians), sugar, salt, and oyster sauce. Cover and let it simmer over medium low heat for 30 minutes or until tender.
To thicken the sauce before serving, in a small bowl add 100ml of cold water and whisk in the corn starch. Turn up the heat and as the pot bubbles, pour in the corn starch mixture and stir. If it is not to the consistency that you like, make another cornstarch mixture with only one tablespoon of starch. If it is too thick add some water or chicken broth to thin out the sauce.
Plate and serve with white or brown rice.