Written by: Rowena Leung, RD
September is a month that is synonymous with celebrating the end of summer and establishing a routine again with back-to-school season in full swing. As autumn solstice quickly approaches near the end of September, many East and Southeast Asian Canadians will also be celebrating Mid-Autumn festival on September 21, 2021.
For East and Southeast Asian Canadians, Mid-Autumn festival is a holiday to gather with family and friends, much like Thanksgiving, and celebrated over a feast filled with foods steeped in tradition and history, mooncakes take a central role at festival time. It’s been said that these sweet treats, with their centuries-old origin, were once used to hide and distribute messages to Ming revolutionaries as a way of getting word to them about the secret plan to end the Mongol Dynasty. But that was 900 years ago.
Today, mooncakes are enjoyed as delicious, delectable and indulgent delicacies. Traditional mooncakes typically had a sweet filling made with, for example, lotus seed paste, sweet bean, and mixed nuts tucked into the center of a tender, chewy or flaky pastry depending on regional tastes and preferences across China. Modern versions of mooncakes have a sticky, chewy mochi-like outside and custard fillings. At the centre of some mooncakes, there may be one or two salted egg yolks which symbolize the moon. This is a nod to the fact that the festival is usually timed around when the moon is at its roundest so that while everyone is dining on delicious food, they can enjoy the sight of the full moon – a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion in Chinese tradition.
As plant-based eating becomes more popular among East and Southeast Asians in Canada, vegan mooncake options that only contain lotus paste without any egg yolk or pork fat are increasingly available.
In addition to mooncakes, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with traditional dishes prepared using a variety of cooking techniques such as stir-frying, deep frying, steaming, stewing, boiling, roasting and braising and a range of traditional ingredients starting with vegetables like bok choy, napa cabbage or Chinese water spinach. These are options you can consider if you would like to include more traditional ingredients into your plant-based diet, and they are easy to find in most grocery stores in Canada.
Stir fries can be a winning solution incorporating some of these vegetables in a very flavourful way. Stir frying can also include many plant-based proteins you may already know and love like edamame, extra-firm tofu or tempeh, especially beneficial if you are following a plant-based or vegan diet.
Here are 5 vegetables that are commonly used in different Asian cuisine dishes. Consider incorporating these into your plant-based diet for a more unique spin on your daily meals:
1. Lotus Root
Crunchy in texture yet neutral in flavour, lotus root contains fibre, B1 (Thiamin), B6 and folate as well as Vitamin C.1 Lotus root is a vegetable with an Asian heritage that my family has loved using in many of our family dishes, such as soups. Want to see how you can incorporate lotus root into your next stir fry using Becel® Avo Plus Oil? Click here for a handout of delicious Asian recipes for you to try.
Traditionally, taro is a versatile root vegetable predominantly found in Asian cuisine but has since found its way into many heritage dishes around the world. You may wonder what the difference is between the large and small varieties of taro. If you are looking for the meaty texture of root vegetables, your safe bet is to purchase the larger variety. If you are looking for a softer texture, purchase the smaller variety. Taro can be an alternative option to your usual root vegetable choice and contains fibre.2 Your next savoury taro dish or dessert recipe idea featuring taro can be found here.
3. Watermelon seeds
Do you enjoy snacking on nuts and seeds? Don’t forget watermelon seeds as an option. These delicious nuggets contain magnesium, a very important mineral needed in our body.3
4. Wood Ear Mushrooms
If you are a lover of mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms are another variety for you to try and grow to love. These mushrooms usually come dried. After 20-30 minutes of rehydrating in water, the texture will be quite firm and al dente. Neutral in taste, wood ear mushrooms absorb surrounding flavours so they can be a nice addition to your go-to dishes. Find out how to incorporate wood ear mushrooms into your next Asian-inspired meal by checking out my recipes for a lotus root stir fry or steamed chicken thighs with black bean sauce with taro and wood ear mushrooms.
5. Snow Fungus
Are you looking to increase your fibre intake? Consider giving snow fungus a try. This edible mushroom has a jelly-like texture and is typically used in Chinese soups and Chinese desserts but can also be used in savory dishes. Click here for a light dessert soup recipe that is a family favourite in my house.
The next time you catch yourself saying you want to add some new flavours to your usual vegetable ingredient selection, remind yourself of the possibilities you have in creating healthy plant-based dishes using recipes inspired by East and Southeast Asian cuisine. Take the first step today and save this handout that has many Asian cuisine inspired plant-based recipes that I have curated for you to try. Enjoy!