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Friday, October 5, 2012

Soya in Chinese Cuisine: Milk, Beans, and Bean Curd

Posted by Chantel M. Recipe contributed  By
Soya is a key ingredient in Chinese cuisine and it has been so for thousands of years.
If you think that soya intake in China is limited to soya beans, soya milk and tofu, you are mistaken. Actually, there are hundreds of different kinds of soya-made food products that are part of the daily diet in China.
In this article, I will focus on soya milk, soya beans and bean curd. Tofu deserves special attention on its own and therefore has been discussed in a different article.
Soya Beans
Let us start with the original form in which soya presents itself in nature: soya beans. I have been looking for soya beans in UK supermarkets and shops for a while, but haven't been very successful so far. Fortunately, soya beans are sold in most Chinese supermarkets in the UK. The beans are sold dried and hard, so if you decide to cook them, you need to soak them in water at least overnight to get them softer and ready for cooking.
A popular way of cooking them is to stir fry them. I like to do it with little tofu pieces and carrots; or light frying them in oil, until they become crispy. They can then can be taken as snacks or side dish.
Soya Milk
In China, soya milk is slightly thicker than what is customary in Western countries, and it is never mixed with anything else. Nowadays, soya milk can be made at home by using a soya milk maker. If you remember to soak the beans the evening before, the next morning you can make pure soya milk in 10 minutes.
Once, I found a type of soya milk maker sold in the US which did not require you to soak the beans in advance, which is very convenient since I always forget.
Soya milk is an essential component of Chinese breakfast.
Dried Bean Curd
Two types of dried bean curd can be commonly found in Chinese supermarkets. The first one comes in the shape of a stick; the second one comes in a sheet.
They both need to be soaked in water first. You can soak it in warm water (never too hot) for a couple of hours, then make it into salad.
Vegetarian Chicken (Suji)
This is the literal translation from the Chinese name, so don't get confused with the ones sold in Vegetarian sections of supermarkets. It is another form of tofu or bean curd, which is not at all intended as a substitute for chicken.
It is typical from the Northern provinces of China and it is normally prepared in salad or stir fried.
Seasonings
There are many seasonings made from soy, like soy sauce, soy paste, soy oil. Most of them are essential in Chinese daily life and can be found in every kitchen in North China.
Shibin Zhang writes about Chinese food and Chinese culture. She specialises in the cuisine of North East China and in Islamic Chinese cuisine. On her website you can find more information about soya in Chinese cuisine

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