Bi Chay (Vietnamese Vegetarian Recipe)
If you're looking for tasty Vietnamese vegetarian food, this bì chay recipe is just for you. This version respects the true Buddhist vegetarian diet, which states no onion, garlic or shallots allowed. The flavors of the dish are mainly from the toasted jasmine rice ground into a fine powder, blended with very thinly shredded fried potatoes, taro, tofu and jicama. Jicama is a sweet turnip that is used quite often in Vietnamese cuisine (as well as in Mexican food) and it mimics the texture of pork skin.
I served this tofu dish with rice noodles, aromatic Vietnamese green herbs and a soy sauce-based dipping sauce made with coconut. The result is a simple, refreshing dish that is packed with flavor. It just proves that with the right ingredients and cooking techniques, even food made for a restricted Buddhist vegetarian diet can be satisfying. Don't believe me? You'll have to try it to for yourself!
Yields: 14 servings3 (12-ounce) packages firm tofu
2-½ pounds taro root
14 Yukon Gold potatoes
1-¼ cups canola oil (or any neutral oil), as needed
1-¼ cups jasmine rice or thinh (check tip section)
3-¼ teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1 teaspoon salt
1-½ tablespoons superfine sugar (or granulated sugar)
For the dry roasted rice powder: Dry roast the jasmine rice in a pan over the stove. Stir the rice using chopsticks until the grains turn a rich brown color (for about 5-7 minutes over high heat). Let cool. Grind the grains into a fine powder using a food processor or spice grinder. I use the VitaMix Dry Blade Container. The result should be a fine mill.
For the tofu: Drain any liquid from the tofu. Pat dry with a paper towel. Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch thick pieces. In a large pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil; fry the tofu slices and transfer to a plate. Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips. Set aside.
For the jicama: Peel and slice horizontally into 1/2-inch thick pieces. In the same large pan, add about 1 tablespoon of oil and fry all the jicama slices until golden brown. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut the pieces into very thin strips. Set aside.
For the taro and potatoes: Peel and shred the taro. Place in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with water (it should barely cover the taro root) and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then drain all the liquid. Pat dry.
Repeat the same procedure with the potatoes.
In the same large pan, add about 2 more tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle about 4-5 tablespoons of taro evenly into the pan. Do not stir. Wait for at least 2 minutes until one side is nicely fried, crisp and golden. Flip the taro using chopsticks. Continue until all the taro is fried and repeat the same procedure with the potatoes. Add more oil if necessary.
When the taro and potatoes are nicely fried and golden, transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. As soon as all the oil is drained, transfer to a large bowl.
Assembly time: Every ingredient should be the same size and fried to perfection. In the same large bowl with the fried taro and potatoes, add the jicama and tofu. Season with mushroom powder. Sprinkle with sugar. Adjust seasoning with salt. Toss well, then sprinkle with dry roasted rice powder.
Place on a serving platter. On one plate, place thin rice vermicelli noodles (called bún). On another plate, add fresh vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, fresh coriander and Vietnamese mint, and pickled vegetables like carrots, baby shallots and daikon. Fill a bowl with nước tương (vegetarian dipping sauce) and another with crushed, salted peanuts. It's family style - everyone helps themselves to their own bowl, starting with the veggies, the noodles, and then finally the bì chay. Pour on the nước tương sauce, add the coriander and mint and sprinkle some peanuts to garnish.
Dry roasted rice powder is called thinh in Vietnamese. If you want a finer mill for the roasted rice powder, you can use the Nutrimill brand mill if you have one. I got one several months ago, and it's very useful for making any kind of flour. It's a great complement for gluten allergies as well. I make my own flour with buckwheat, oat, sorghum and spelt. You can also buy ready-made thinh in Asian stores but I prefer grinding my own for a more fragrant, toasty scent. You can use it for bì (shredded meat with thinh) or grilled lemongrass beef with thinh and served with cơm tấm (jasmine broken rice). You can also toss the rice powder in salad; it absorbs all the moisture and helps keep the salad dry.
Taro root is a firm, hairy, purple vegetable that is as starchy as a potato and used very often in Asian cuisine.
I absolutely love the Thanh Son tofu brand. If you live in the Bay Area, you have to try it. They sell it in almost all the Asian markets in downtown San Jose and their main shop is on 2857 Senter Road, San Jose.
Jicama is a large sweet, firm turnip that is used in vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine to imitate the juicy pork fat and pork skin (when fried). It's crunchy like an apple and filling like a potato. You can find it in any Vietnamese store; it's called củ sắn.
Serve the bì chay with a soy sauce dipping sauce; click on the link for the recipe. Just omit the garlic and substitute coconut soda for the water. Coconut soda is available in Asian markets.
Published By: on April 14, 2010.