There are two things I look forward to during the Chinese Lunar New Year. First are the red envelopes, handed out by married couples to unmarried friends and others couples' children, stuffed with crisp new banknotes. Second is the Reunion Dinner. Held on the eve of the Lunar New Year, it's basically Thanksgiving with twice the amount of food. Sadly, my years of collecting red envelopes have come to an end, but thank goodness there's still the reunion dinner.
From steamed whole fish to roast pig, the reunion dinner is a feast that celebrates family coming together and welcoming a new year. One of the dishes my parents always make is abalone, dried oysters, and shiitakes with black moss. Like most food served on the holiday, the dish symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. It's made by simmering the abalone, dried oysters, and shiitakes in a rich sauce; then the black moss, which is a type of algae, is added towards the end, and everything is poured on top of a bed of Shanghai bok choy or mustard greens. It's a luxurious dish and especially great with a bowl of white rice.
For this recipe, I wanted to create something similar but with ingredients that are easier to find if you don't have an Asian supermarket nearby. I also wanted to make it suitable for vegetarians. The result is this dish of mushrooms cooked with pan-fried tofu in a glossy, soy-based sauce.
The most important ingredient in this recipe are the mushrooms, especially the dried shiitakes. Those show up twice: Rehydrated mushrooms are one of the main ingredients, but the water used to rehydrate them also flavors the sauce. When buying dried shiitakes, look for ones that are plump and meaty, and avoid ones with thin caps.
You can use a variety of fresh mushrooms to complement them. Creminis are great if you can't find shimeji or portabello, and so are oyster mushrooms if there's no maitake at your supermarket. When prepping them, keep the pieces big—you want to cut the mushrooms into meaty chunks.
The same goes for the tofu. Slice it into thick slabs and make sure they are thoroughly dry before pan-frying. To do this, I blanch the slabs in boiling water for a few seconds, drain, and then pat dry with paper towels.
Even though there's no seafood in this dish, when the mushrooms, the tofu and the sauce all come together, it is just as tasty as the original.