I have friends who are vegetarians. And there are different vegetarians. Some simply will not eat meat and that is defined as the flesh of land animals – birds and beasts. Seafood though are not defined as meat. These are called pescetarians. I think. In my head, I think of them as “fishy vegetarians”. Or Good Friday Catholic Vegetarians (Good Catholics should abstain from meat on Good Friday, but fish and seafood are not considered meat. So there is the incongruent thing about abstaining from meat as a penance, and then “rewarding” yourself for your Good Catholicness by having Drunken Prawns, Chilli Crab, Sambal Stingray, Lobster , Sushi/Sashimi, etc. But that is for another post. Maybe.)
The next level of restriction is where we find ova-lacto-vegetarians. They don’t eat fish as well as meat, but they are okay with eggs, and milk. There may be variations within this category – will take milk but not eggs, or vice versa.
Then there are the “vegans”? Well, the strictly vegetarian. They will only eat vegetables, fruits, and fungi (mushrooms). They do not consume eggs or milk (animal products).
Think that’s it? Very strict vegetarian Buddhists will only eat vegetables/plants, but they will not take spices like ginger, onions, chillis etc as they believe such spicy foods will inflame the senses/passion and lead them to temptation. Or divert them from the path of spiritual enlightenment. (Or some such spiritual concerns. I’m not Buddhist. Spicy food just give me gas. Which might divert me from spiritual enlightenment, come to think of it.) I know of one acquaintance with this level of restrictions. We have never socialised over a meal. I invited her to our wedding and clarified that the vegetarian option provided by the restaurant actually met the Buddhist strictest rules. But she didn’t turn up in the end as some emergency came up.
Then there are raw food vegetarians, and juicers, and variations on variations. Too many to be definitive.
One nephew had told me (unprompted) that my Mac & Cheese was the best he had ever tasted. A niece once thanked me for making the Sio Bak. Her mother explained that my niece was not too keen on meat actually, so for her to like a meat dish and to have seconds was quite rare. I take these two endorsements as the most important for my cooking. Especially saving my niece from the scourge of vegetarianism.
Anyway, when we decided to get all the babies together (by now they are toddlers) for a play date, I got to cook.
When I cook for friends I like to offer Sio Bak which is the crowd pleaser. What goes well with that is plain rice. Or Chicken Rice. Or Olive vegetable rice. And this combo would settle the protein and carbo section of the meal. But it’s not very balanced. Good (especially, the olive vegetable rice, and no there isn’t really enough vegetables there to count as a serving; besides, that is preserved vegetables and is oily and salty.), but not balanced. So I search for a salad option, and found Macaroni Salad. This had carbo (macaroni) and vegetables (carrots, onions, peppers, green peas). So with just 2 dishes (Mac Salad, and Sio Bak), I had the three main groups of food covered – carbo, veggies, and protein. Easy peasy.
At first I just wanted to prepare Macaroni Salad because it was the newest dish I had learned to make and you can make it ahead of the day. And I wasn’t sure many people would be coming. And because I have vegetarian friends coming. One was a “regular” and she was easy to cook for (pescetarian). But one was a new vegetarian so I asked his wife if he was okay with eggs (the salad uses mayonnaise as a dressing, and I had only found out in the last year or so, when I learned to make Macaroni Salad, that mayonnaise is made with eggs! I thought it was dairy!). And while he does eat eggs, he is beginning to suspect that he might be sensitive to it. So I offered Mac and Cheese which only has dairy. But no vegetables.
Then as more people confirmed their attendance and there were subtle requests for Sio Bak, I put that on the menu.
But I was curious. Could I come up with a no-egg salad?
Oriental Potato Salad
Diced Potatoes, Green Peas, Diced Onions
Dressing: Sesame oil, Goma (soy sauce and sesame) sauce, Dijon mustard, white pepper, vinegar to taste
I’m calling this “oriental” potato salad because Sesame oil is one of the 5 ingredients you can add to or substitute into any recipe (say replace olive oil with sesame oil) to give a familiar dish an exotic (or Asian) twist.
[The other 4 ingredients, if you are curious, are, Five-spice powder, Oyster sauce, Soy Sauce, and corn starch. For another post. Soon.]
I had some bell peppers in yellow and red, so I diced those and added to the salad. To mix it up, I julienned the red peppers instead of dicing them.
I tasted the salad dressing and liked the mix I ended up with. Goma is mainly salty with some sweetness. The mustard adds heat, and some complexity, I think. I used Dijon because that was what I had. You could try other mustard. But I really wanted to add wasabi. That would have made it more “Oriental”. But I suspect it might not have worked so well. But maybe I will try it anyway. One day. 🙂
Go light on the sesame oil. It can be overpowering.
Same for vinegar. I used distilled vinegar which was neutral in flavour, except for the acidity, of course. Again I considered upping the “Orientalness” by using Chinese black vinegar, but I thought the flavour (some sweetness) might not fit and the colour (black) would make the salad seem unappetising. But I guess, you could manage expectations by calling it Oriental Black Potato Salad. But people might still not eat it. Unless you paired it with Squid Ink Pasta or some Halloween or other dark-themed event.
The dressing worked I think. At least for me. I didn’t prepare a big batch of it in case it didn’t work, but most of the experimental salad was gone by the end of the gathering, so that’s a good sign.
Salted Fish and Potato (salad? maybe.)
I did not ask if the other vegetarian ate fish (i.e. pescetarian), so I saved this idea for another day.
Potatoes, salted fish (or salted anchovies if that is what you can get), diced onions, and bean sprouts (optional).
The potatoes can be boiled or shallow fried. Depending on your preference, and the type of potatoes. A floury potato (like Russet) could be boiled or fried. A waxy potato might be better boiled.
Dice and lightly pickle the onion or cucumbers (or both) with lime juice or vinegar. After about an hour of pickling, drain excess liquid, and mix with potatoes, and crumbled salted fish, or mashed up anchovies. Olive oil dressing, or mayonnaise. Add blanched bean sprouts. Or put as a side to add to the salad as desired.
(I tried this “mind kitchen” experiment out, and it needs further tweaking. So use this to spark an idea, but experiment.)