Sixi kaofu is a traditional local snack in Shanghai. It is often served as a cold dish, which is why it is sometimes called a “gluten salad”. I find this a difficult dish to talk about in English but I’ll try my best! 烤麸 (kǎo fū) is a particular type of wheat gluten that is made with yeast. The yeast ferments in the gluten, causing it to rise, resulting in a spongy loaf when steamed. These spongy “gluten toast” slices are chewy and fun and amazing at absorbing flavours.
Another unique ingredient in this dish is 金针菜 (jīn zhēn cài), as it is called in Shanghai. In Hokkien, we call this 黄花菜 (huáng huā cài). In English, they are apparently called daylilies. Together with the kaofu, shiitake mushrooms, black fungus mushrooms, and peanuts, they make up the 四喜烤麸 (sì xǐ kǎo fū) or Four Happiness Kaofu. Because of its auspicious name, and purported healthly qualities, this is one of the must-haves for Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner in Shanghai.
This is a fairly straightforward braising dish. It is meant to be on the sweet side, so you can really make it as sweet as you like!
- Soak the huang hua cai, black fungus mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms in cool water in the fridge overnight so they rehydrate evenly.
- Kaofu: You can find this at Asian grocers, usually in the frozen section. Cut the cubes smaller than you want as they will swell while stewing.
- Huang hua cai: Can be slightly bitter so if you are worried about that you can quickly blanch them first.
- Bamboo shoots: Usually in China they use fresh winter bamboo shoots, but canned ones work too.
- Black fungus: Make sure you remove the hard ends.
- Ginger, cinnamon, star anise: Not in the traditional recipe, but I always include them when braising for ‘warming the stomach’. It’s a TCM thing for vegetarians and vegans as our diet tends to consist of mainly ‘cooling food’.
- It is common to make this dish with honey. If you don’t like using sugar as a replacement, you can use maple or agave syrup instead.
- Toast the kaofu cubes until golden on all sides.