COOKBOOK REVIEW: Wok your way through the produce bin

“Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food: Deliciously Doable Ways to Cook Greens, Tofu, and Other Plant-Based Ingredients” by Hsiao-Ching Chou (Sasquatch Books, $27)

I often gravitate toward the vegetarian options on a Chinese menu first — not because I have anything against meat, but because they’re what I genuinely crave. I credit those restaurants with teaching me to love tofu rather than merely tolerate it.

Besides a vast array of seasonal produce, meat substitutes made with bean curd and wheat gluten have been central to the Chinese diet for centuries, Hsiao-Ching Chou writes in the introduction to “Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food: Deliciously Doable Ways to Cook Greens, Tofu, and Other Plant-Based Ingredients” (Sasquatch Books, $27).

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One reason is the long-held reverence toward temple cuisine practiced by vegan Chinese Buddhists and nuns. Another is the common view of meat as a luxury to be served only in small amounts or for special occasions. Plant-based alternatives were devised to mimic traditional “lucky foods” served during holidays such as the Lunar New Year so that those who avoided meat could share in the symbolism those dishes represented.

Born in Taipei and raised in small-town Missouri where her family ran a Chinese restaurant, Chou has devoted much of her adult life to helping non-Asians overcome their anxieties about cooking Chinese food at home, including as food editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, author of 2018 cookbook “Chinese Soul Food,” and now as a cooking instructor in the Seattle area and on YouTube.

Her new book helps home cooks choose the right bok choy, distinguish one brand of soy sauce from another, season a wok, and slice and dice with precision before guiding readers through comforting and naturally healthy recipes for dumplings, soups, stir-fries, steamed dishes and more.

Rice Vermicelli with Vegetables, Wok-Seared Corn and Edamame, and Sichuan Pepper Salt Fried Tofu made tasty meals that came together in a flash. The delectable-looking photos and step-by-step instructions for Crystal Dumplings with Squash and Peas and Flaky Ribbon Pancake tempt me to set my goals higher.

And the next time I spot a bin of yu choy at the farmers market I’ll snatch up a bunch, now that I know what to do with it.

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