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"American With A Vegetarian Lifestyle In China

Searching for enjoyable un-Chinese vegetarian recipes & meals

I live in China and lack access to a lot of the prepared meat substitute foods and canned beans. A lot of varieties of tofu aren't even available here.

I am getting tired of eating stir-fry, and, being new to the vegetarian lifestyle, am constantly fighting cravings. I also work out. Most of the vegetarian recipes I find online require ingredients that aren't available at the market.

I need ideas for healthy and enjoyable vegetarian meals. My boyfriend isn't a vegetarian, and is trying to be tolerant and supportive, but I think he's getting tired of the same old bland food. Please help!

I'm going to try to make black bean patties tonight.:) But I can't get: TVP, tempeh, nutritional yeast, extra firm tofu, or lentils. I can get a variety of dried beans, tofu, sometimes seitan, dried bean curd milk sticks (and other shapes), etc.

I'm discouraged and my boyfriend doesn't want to eat Chinese food all the time (neither do I). What can I do? - W.D.

Savvy Vegetarian Advice

Dear W.D.,

You know that old saying, "When in China---"? (It was Rome, of course). Point is, the environment supports Chinese cuisine. I'm sure real Chinese food is different than what we think of as Chinese food and I'm not saying you should go all Chinese, as it's not your diet of choice.

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I'm suggesting that you get creative with what's available. That will lessen the frustration of not being able to find what you want.

Look for foods that are common in Chinese cooking - nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit, veggies - experiment and adapt them to Western style cooking. Here's a page of Chinese recipes that might give you some ideas for ingredients and what to do with them. Omit and substitute freely.

Don't give up on tofu! There's so much you can do with it! To make extra firm tofu: If you can get firm tofu, wrap it in a dish towel and press it with something heavy to get more of the water out and make it extra firm. Use silken tofu to make smoothies or desserts.

I recommend Deborah Madison's tofu cookbook, if you can get hold of it: '75 Recipes to Cook Something You Never Thought You Would - and Love Every Bite', by Deborah Madison.

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Seitan is easy to make, if you can get vital wheat gluten.

Some vegan protein sources used in Chinese food: walnuts (soak to remove bitterness), water chestnuts, mung bean sprouts, mushrooms, bean curd sheets, tahini, peanuts, cashews, broad beans (fava beans). You should be able to find noodles made from peanuts, sesame, tofu, or whole grains.

Grains: I'm not sure what's available for whole grains in China - barley, oats, corn, wheat, rice are the ones I know about. For complete nutrition, including protein, you should have some in your diet, everyday.

Blandness is unnecessary, when there are so many herbs and spices available, and you should be able to get many of them there. They are also nutritionally dense. And Chinese cuisine abounds in tasty sauces - adapt some of them to your purposes and play with spicing.

Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian

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