Cooking in Shanghai with Shiyin!

One of many great things about living in Shanghai is the availability of cooking classes. I recently attended a plant based Chinese cooking class by Shanghainese American chef Shiyin Wang . He taught some very eager students how to make Sichuan eggplant, Dongbei salad and cauliflower dry pot!

Healthy Vegetables?

Cauliflower dry pot is one of my favorite Chinese dishes but it isn’t as healthy as it sounds. This dish is usually cooked in pork fat (but you wouldn’t know unless someone told you) and may have bits of pork in it. This rings true for many Chinese dishes. Whether you are vegan / vegetarian, celiac, have allergies or simply want to avoid something detrimental to your heart health, learning to cook your own Chinese food is a great idea.

Cooking At Home

As I’ve written here before, cooking at home gives you complete control over your ingredients and calorie content of meals.  Chinese restaurant food may taste fabulous, but the chefs are often making up for a lack of quality ingredients or old vegetables by adding loads of salt, MSG and other mystery ingredients. Having quality ingredients allows you to use less of the “bad stuff” and reduce the oil content without compromising flavor.

Spices used in Chef Shiyin’s class
Lets Get Cooking!

My favorite ingredient was Chef Shiyin’s chili oil.  The oil is flavored with various spices that added a lovely flavor to the cold vegetable and tofu salad. I am looking forward to a class on using Chinese spices and creating your own sauces!

Vegetables used in class.

Shiyin’s classes; part hands-on cooking lesson and part dinner party; bring together a community of Shanghai expats who want a tasty and sustainable way to eat healthier. Shiyin teaches Chinese dishes that bring great flavor to whole foods (mostly vegetables) made from natural, quality ingredients. Moderation is key to this way of cooking.  While the focus is on healthy veggies, it’s ok to include small indulgences as part of a balanced and happy diet. These classes are not about feeling anxious over weight or size, but rather about being happy about tasty, nourishing, nutritious food.

The Numbers

Classes cater for a maximum of 8 people. Expect to cook and eat three dishes. Ingredients are all from Fields, so they are fresh, local, and safe. Wine pairings are included. Future planned classes will feature vegan Chinese food, healthier dumplings and noodles, cooking with ayis, and more! Add Shiyin on WeChat (ID: swangyin) to join a class.

Mushrooms, Chinese celery and bamboo.
Ingredients Used in Class

Oils: Chili oil – Shiyin’s homemade chili oil contains canola oil, Sichuan red chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon – and that’s it!. Use it to spice up stir fries or dressings.

Light soy sauce: –the everyday variety used for most cooking. It is salty and rich. Be aware that it contains gluten!

Dark soy sauce: – it’s thicker, sweeter, and smokier due to longer aging and the addition of molasses. Use it sparingly for marinades, braising, and sauces. It burns easily due to the sugar content, so don’t overcook it!

Doubanjiang: – also called broad bean paste – it’s a core sauce of Sichuan cooking. It’s salty, spicy, and pungent, and it’s made from fermented fava beans, soybeans, salt, rice, and spices.

Laoganma: – sometimes called Old Godmother, this venerable sauce is famous in China and abroad. It was created by Tao Huabi for her noodle shop in Guizhou, and soon took on a cult following. The fiery sauce, a combination of chili oil and “chili crisp,” is made with Sichuan pepper and a variety of spices.

Plant Protein: Yuba (Fuzhu) – a “tofu skin” made by skimming off the dense, top layer of soymilk during the making of tofu. It provides calcium, protein and a small amount of iron. It is a traditional meat substitute in Chinese Buddhist cuisine. It usually comes dehydrated, and needs to be soaked for two hours before cooking.

WeChat id for chef Shiyin: swangyin

Home Cooking in Shanghai – TCM Style

I had the pleasure of meeting Shanghai based Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food therapist Anna Na during the recent annual Shanghai vegan challenge.  While I am not a practitioner of TCM principals of eating, I agree that the TCM plant based style of eating is very healthy.  Anna has expert knowledge of local ingredients and how to prepare them.  From memory alone, she can name every type of produce available at a Chinese market along with price, seasonal availability and pesticide usage.  Quite a feat when you consider the variety in the local wet market.  I wish I could do the same! Luckily, Anna provides cooking classes in Shanghai!

Cooking With Anna Na
Home Cooking in Shanghai

I recently received a one-on-one cooking class from Anna. She brought to my house a plethora of interesting ingredients including; purslane, spring bamboo, yam, black mushroom and broad beans.  I have seen these ingredients in Chinese restaurants but trying to prepare them at home has been a huge challenge. Restaurants in China often use lots of additives (including MSG) to create an intense flavor that is difficult to replicate. When cooking at home, I don’t want to use mystery ingredients or chemical additives. I was blown away by the food that Anna created. It was way better than restaurant food, with no chemicals used.

Delicious Tofu
TCM Tips When Cooking

How did Anna do this in my kitchen? She used some flavorful – and healthy – spices.  These included black sesame paste, soybean powder, salt with dried bamboo, soy sauce, red rice wine, chili paste, black vinegar and Chinese miso. Anna purchased all these ingredients from the local Chinese farmer’s market.  She taught me that the best vinegar is from Shaanxi province and not to buy Shanghai soy sauce or vinegar because the Shanghainese often add sugar to it! Shanghai people are famous for their love of sweet flavors and will even add sugar to their stir fried bell peppers.  Anna added miso to our potato and bean dish –something I would never have thought of; it provided a very intense and delicious flavor.

Another “trick” she uses to ensure her dishes are flavorful is to be mindful of vegetable combinations.  She uses the different flavors of vegetables (sweet, sour and bitter) to complement each other.  One of the most interesting ingredients to me was the purslane. It’s a deep green succulent with yellow flower buds that looks like an inedible weed. However, it’s indeed edible and has a bitter peppery flavor similar to arugula. Anna explained that this vegetable is extremely healthy (as many deep green vegetables are) but is unpopular & therefore good value in Shanghai due to its bitter flavor.

Broad-beans & Vegetables
Get Cooking!

We made five giant dishes that cost very little. It took me three days to eat what we made! For those of us wanting to eat a healthy and cost effective plant based diet in Shanghai, learning to use local ingredients and cooking methods is invaluable. Even if you can afford weekly Kate & Kimi or Epermarket deliveries, it seems a real shame to come to China and not learn any of the local food culture.  If you are concerned about pesticides, get a weekly veggie box from Goma Greens (RMB 159 weekly for a box of local veggies) and get creative in the kitchen. Good luck!

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W.