Recipe: Vegan Cilantro Pizza w/ Shiitake Mushrooms and Savory Eggplant Sauce

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There’s something magical about cilantro — something that will inspire you to new creations in the kitchen.

Here in Beijing, like many parts of China, cilantro is one of the most ubiquitous herbs. In fact, if you patronize local vegetable vendors, they often give it to you free of charge with your purchases, resulting in a treasure trove of the stuff in your crisper in the refrigerator.

Even better, my husband and I both adore cilantro. Just a whiff of the stuff, with its slightly peppery aroma, gets my mouth watering and often thinking about what to make for dinner.

So I started experimenting by adding chopped cilantro to bread recipes I was making from scratch. Yes, cilantro!

I got inspired from those recipes that typically call for you to add basil or oregano — but instead of those, I turned to the surfeit of that fragrant cilantro in the fridge instead.

As it turns out, fresh cilantro, paired with generous amounts of minced garlic, will transform any humble bread into something so fragrant and delectable that it could grace the menu of an upscale restaurant.

In any event, after discovering the super powers of cilantro, naturally I had to see what it could do when applied to one of the most beloved foods around the world — pizza.

However, pizza — at least the typical variety — can be a tricky proposition in our home for a number of reasons. First off, my husband isn’t a huge fan of tomato sauce (except on those rare occasions when it doesn’t taste sour). Second, I’m vegan. And third, sometimes the ingredients we have on hand don’t always correspond to what you might find at your typical neighborhood pizzeria.

But who says you have to follow the beaten path of pizza purists?

I noticed I had a round eggplant, which of course reminded me of the baba ghanooj (Middle-Eastern eggplant dip) that I prepare almost weekly at home. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use a sort of baba-like eggplant sauce — with, of course, generous amounts of cilantro and garlic — to slather on the pizza.

And the meaty shiitake mushrooms in the pantry would round it all out as a savory topping.

The result — pizza perfection for this vegan in Beijing.

Jun and I each took one bite and declared it the finest pizza we had ever sank our teeth into, with fluffy, aromatic crusts bursting with garlic and cilantro flavor.

Even better, it recalls flavors from the East and West, and brings them all together, a beautiful representation of my own life and marriage, right on the plate.

If you happen to have a bread maker, you can whip this up easily for an amazing pizza night. But no worries if you don’t — see the notes for instructions on how to do your own dough from scratch.

Also, if you love the dough but not the sauce and toppings, see the notes for some inspiration on how to build your own heavenly cilantro pizza.

Let’s make some pizza and rediscover the joys of cilantro!

Vegan Cilantro Pizza w/ Shiitake Mushrooms and Savory Eggplant Sauce

Jocelyn Eikenburg
Fragrant cilantro in the dough, a savory eggplant sauce and shiitake mushrooms as a topping make for a uniquely delectable pizza that's vegan and also echoes flavors of the East and West. Make the dough in your bread machine for an easy pizza night at home!
Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Resting Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Servings 2 people

Equipment

  • Bread machine (optional - see notes)
  • Food processor
  • Pan

Ingredients
  

Pizza dough

  • 15 grams fresh cilantro
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 360 grams bread flour
  • 24 grams olive oil
  • 6 grams salt
  • 24 grams sugar (I prefer brown sugar, but white is also fine)
  • 220 milliliters water
  • 5 grams yeast

Pizza sauce

  • 15 grams fresh cilantro
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (I prefer round, but any kind of eggplant that's good for baking is fine)
  • 5 grams lemon juice (fresh or bottled is fine)
  • 10 grams olive oil
  • ¼ small onion
  • 7.5 grams tahini or other sesame butter of choice
  • 1.5 grams salt

Mushroom topping

  • 5 shiitake mushrooms finely sliced

Instructions
 

Prepare the dough

  • Finely chop all the cilantro -- for dough and sauce -- then set aside in a bowl.
  • Finely chop all the garlic, then set aside in a bowl.
  • Add half the chopped cilantro and half the chopped garlic into your bread machine pan. Then add the flour, 24 g of olive oil, sugar, 6 g of salt, water and yeast into your bread machine pan as per your breadmaker's instructions (see notes for alternatives, should you not have a bread machine). Select the dough setting and start the machine (for mine, the process takes 1 hour 30 minutes).
  • Once dough is finished, let it rest for up to 30 minutes for fluffier dough (though if you are in a hurry, you can use the dough right out of bread machine).

Prepare the sauce

  • While dough is in progress, cut the eggplant into four equal pieces. Rub olive oil on the exposed meat of the eggplant, then place on an oiled baking tray. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour at 230 C (450 F), flipping the pieces at least once during the process, and ensuring both sides are seared. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes
  • Peel the meat of the eggplant off the skin, then place eggplant meat into a mesh bag. Twist the top of the bag to place pressure on the eggplant, squeezing the majority of the water out of it. (Be careful not to squeeze too much -- otherwise you'll reduce the amount of eggplant).
  • Add the remaining half the garlic and the cilantro to a food processor, along with the lemon juice. Then add in eggplant, onion, tahini, 10 g of olive oil and 1.5 g of salt. Pulse it until the eggplant mixture has the consistency of a paste; the onion may still be in small chunks or pieces, which is fine.

Prepare topping

  • Finely slice the shiitake mushrooms.

Assemble pizza

  • Lightly oil your pizza pan. (I use a rectangular one that measures 22 cm x 30 cm (9 in x 12 in)).
  • Work the dough into the shape of your pizza pan, then transfer it to the pan and continue working it with your hands, pushing down from the center out to form a crust on all sides.
  • Spread the sauce generously on top of the pizza base.
  • Top with the sliced shiitake mushrooms.
  • For a crispier crust, brush the crust with olive oil.
  • Bake the pizza for 20-25 minutes at 200 - 215 C (400 - 425 F), until the crust is golden brown. Cut and serve immediately.

Notes

No bread machine? No problem -- you can still make this pizza by using the same dough recipe, but following instructions for making dough by hand. 
To make dough by hand:
  1. Dissolve the yeast in the water (making sure you use warm water) and let it sit for 10 minutes, until the water looks creamy. 
  2. Add the flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, garlic, cilantro and yeast/water to a large bowl. Mix everything well to combine all the ingredients, until you have a sturdy dough. 
  3. Cover the dough and let it rise until it has doubled in size -- for at least 30 minutes.
If you can't make the eggplant sauce, the cilantro pizza dough can pair well with other sauces. You could add a classic tomato sauce, or an olio e aglio (olive oil and garlic), or even a vegan pesto of your choice (I also love cilantro, olive oil, garlic and walnuts).
Shiitake mushrooms make for a savory topping, but they're not the only option. Any classic veggie pizza topping you happen to have on hand works great too.
Keyword cilantro, eggplant, pizza, shiitake, vegan

What do you think?

My Husband Puts Hot Sauce on Everything – and I Think It’s Fantastic

(By [http://www.flickr.com/photos/snips/etoile] – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1225603)
There’s one condiment you’re sure to find on my dinner table: Lee Kum Kee’s Chinese-style hot sauce.

In fact, it’s not just one but two sauces you’ll notice sitting next to our bowls and dishes. One is the extra-spicy fragrant hot sauce, heavy with chili oil and the pungent smell of chili, and the other a milder garlic chili sauce perfect for noodles and hot pot.

At any given meal, you’ll see my husband add dabs of hot sauce to his rice or soup or even noodles. You’ll also hear him utter a delighted “mmmmmm” every time the peppery flavors dance across his tongue. After all, he once confessed that while he could happily go without meat, the same couldn’t be said for hot sauce.

Meanwhile, he’s married to me, a woman who can’t even remember the last time she tasted anything remotely spicy. A woman who was forced to quit even the mildest peppers last year after having her appendix removed. It’s been over a year since that surgery, but I still haven’t found the courage to test my stomach with hot sauce. Not yet. I eye my husband’s favorite condiments with a mixture of curiosity and fear, and for now prefer to have only garlic, ginger, sea salt and soy sauce as my flavorings of choice.

But I’m happy with this arrangement. I’m grateful that my husband’s deepest longings for spicy food are satisfied with these two simple condiments. I’m glad that what could have been a great disagreement about what to eat has now become a moot point, thanks to the presence of two small bottles courtesy of Lee Kum Kee.

Jun was born with a penchant for hot peppers. My husband grew up in a region of Zhejiang known for its more fiery flavors. Milder than Sichuan and Hunan, his hometown dishes up a delicious “fragrant and spicy” regional cuisine. That meant home cooking where nearly every dish – save a few greens and picked vegetables – had a touch of fire, sometimes stronger than you might expect. In fact, his family loved hot peppers so much that his father would even dab his favorite hot sauce into his rice during meals.

(Little did I know, when I first witnessed his father doing this, I would one day watch my husband do the very same thing.)

Meanwhile, I was raised on an average white middle-class diet of American staples – from spaghetti to hamburgers to fried chicken. Though we flirted with hot peppers from time to time, they were mostly absent from our meals. Dinner didn’t need them to be dinner. And some of us, notably my grandmother, wanted nothing to do with them. For her, even some varieties of black pepper were too spicy.

Who would have thought I’d now have hot sauce on my dinner table?

An American friend of mine once wondered if my husband wasn’t “ruining” dinner by putting hot sauce on every single dish. She argued that the hot sauce overpowered the more subtle flavors in every meal. I’m sure she would have thought it sacrilege if I had mentioned to her that Jun even loved hot sauce with his spaghetti.

But I say, who are we to judge his dining preferences? So what if he puts hot sauce on everything at the table? It brings him an immeasurable sense of happiness, and it doesn’t impact my meal in any way. It also means no arguments about whether or not to add hot peppers to the meal.

I’d like to think that our mutual respect regarding cravings has enhanced our marriage in so many ways. It’s how we, a vegan and a guy who has called himself “80 percent vegan” (but still loves his pork and beef and fish), have managed to happily dine together for so many years.

Which is why I’m certain my husband won’t object when I suggest buying a little vegan cheese to satisfy my own deepest cravings – cravings he will never understand either.

I figure we’re even now. 😉

Why I Don’t Like Going to Wedding Banquets in China

In China, there’s nothing that strikes fear into my heart quite like the phrase, “Let’s attend a wedding.”

I should know. A little over a week ago, I was worried when my husband’s old classmate was about to have a wedding banquet – and kept insisting that I simply had to come.

My palms started to sweat and visions of wedding banquets from hell in China flashed through my mind.

(Sadly, almost every wedding banquet I’ve experienced was pretty hellish in one way or another…)

The classmate tried really, really hard to persuade me to come. He offered to take care of everything that worried me about weddings, promising things would be different this time.

As much as I knew he was a nice guy, and as much as my husband trusted him so much he called him a “brother”, I wasn’t exactly buying it.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in his hospitality. It’s just that I know better about weddings in China. I know the drill. I’ve been there and done that. And I never, ever, want to go again if I can help it.

Here are my 3 reasons why I really dislike going to weddings and wedding banquets in China:

#1: I’m a vegetarian, which means I won’t have anything to eat

Wedding banquets in China are renowned for being extravagant feasts, with more dishes than everyone could humanly consume.

In theory, nobody should leave the table hungry.

But I, on the other hand, have left most wedding banquets in various states of hunger. At best, slightly hungry and requiring an additional snack; or at worst, so famished I ended up leaving the banquet hall before the affair was over.

That’s because wedding banquets almost exclusively serve up the finest meat and seafood dishes, while I’m a vegetarian (vegan actually) pining for something that’s not on the menu.

In China, people assume everyone eats meat, seafood and even eggs – and can’t imagine that there are people like me with special dietary needs. It’s such a problem that even dishes that technically ought to be vegetarian – like Chinese kale or tofu – end up being prepared with non-vegetarian ingredients like lard, ground pork or oyster sauce.

It’s bad enough to come for dinner and find there’s nothing for you to eat. But it’s pure torture to watch everyone else at the table blissfully devour their dinner while your stomach grumbles in vain.

Unfortunately, I’ve had this experience a few too many times at weddings in China. It’s enough for me to mentally link the occasion with “starvation” in my mind – and want nothing to do with wedding banquets in China.

Now, my husband’s friend did promise he would have commissioned the kitchen to prepare all the vegetarian dishes my heart desired. That was incredibly generous of him to offer. Still, that wasn’t enough to tempt me, because it’s not just the food that makes weddings in China so aversive to me…

(Photo by MiKi via Flickr.com)
(Photo by MiKi via Flickr.com)

#2: People usually smoke at wedding banquets in China, and I hate secondhand smoke

My husband and I are both fervent nonsmokers. We detest secondhand smoke and don’t want it crapping up the dining table – including when we eat out.

Well, it’s common practice at weddings in China to pass out cigarettes, guaranteeing most of the people there will light up. (And guaranteeing that if I were there, I would be coughing and hacking in agony.)

True to form, they distributed the Zhonghua brand smokes at my husband’s classmate’s wedding. My husband reported that the banquet hall was mired in a noxious cloud of smoke. Yuck!

Jocelyn-John-letdown#3: Weddings in China can be huge, overwhelming events — and I prefer small, quiet affairs

I’m an introverted, quiet kind of gal. I prefer long hikes in the mountains, lazy afternoons writing articles on my own, or reading a fantastic book all morning. I’m not a big party person, but when I do go I usually end up in the most low-key place with a handful of people to talk with – generally the kitchen. Loud noises unsettle me and crowds make me nervous.

In other words, I’m not at all suited for the kind of atmosphere you’ll find at most wedding banquets in China. You know, packed with at least 100 (and often more) people and often so noisy it’s difficult to carry on a conversation at the table.

Indeed, I’ve left more than a few wedding banquets in China wishing I’d just spent that time reading a good book instead.

How do you feel about wedding banquets in China?

My Family Recipe for Vegan Chinese Shaobing (Stuffed Flatbread), Featured on The Almost Indian Wife

Featured on The Almost Indian WifeThe Almost Indian Wife just featured me on Family Fridays, where I shared my own family recipe for vegan Chinese shaobing (stuffed flatbread), a snack food I’ve learned to prepare from my mother-in-law. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the coolest things about my mother-in-law is that she’s totally accepting of my vegan lifestyle. I never expected that a woman who grew up in Hangzhou’s mountainous countryside – where people tend to be pretty traditional when it comes to food – would embrace my dietary needs. But she does. Maybe it’s because the two of us have really bonded over food. I love asking her about her secrets for, say, crispy tofu or spicy pickled daikon radish. But when I discovered that one of the local snack foods was shaobing, a fried flatbread stuffed with savory salted veggies and then pan-fried until crispy, I knew I had to learn how to make it myself!

Most shaobing include bacon-like bits of fatty pork, making the food typically off-limits to vegans like me. But thanks to my mother-in-law, I’ve learned an amazing recipe for vegan shaobing. It’s even a little reminiscent of pizza back from home, so much so that I often jokingly call it “Chinese pizza”.

FYI, here’s what the shaobing look like when they’re done:

IMG_1944

Head on over to The Almost Indian Wife for the full post and recipe. And if you love it, share it!

Things We’ve Learned About Going Meatless in China From Our Chinese Families

Eating dinner at the family table at my Chinese wedding ceremony -- while I dine on the veggies, my husband goes for the pork.

I’m excited to share with you my first-ever collaborative article, which I wrote with Susan Blumberg-Kason. Susan is the author of All the Tea in Chicago and the forthcoming book Good Chinese Wife, a memoir of the five years she spent trying to assimilate into a Chinese family.

This article grew out of stories that Susan and I swapped over the past year about going meatless in China, and especially going meatless in a Chinese family. Hope you enjoy it.

—– Continue reading “Things We’ve Learned About Going Meatless in China From Our Chinese Families”

Ask the Yangxifu: On Being Vegan in a Chinese Family

Jocelyn and her Chinese inlaws at the table
Can this vegan and her non-vegan Chinese family share the same table in harmony?

Allison asks:

I’m a vegetarian in China and am finding that in general vegetarianism is a really difficult concept for people to understand here. Did John always know you were a vegetarian? How did that affect you guys when you were dating? and is/was it awkward with his family? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: On Being Vegan in a Chinese Family”

One Vegan, Making Chinese Red-Braised Pork For Love

Close-up of BBQ pork ribs
As a vegan, I never though I’d end up making pork — and more — for my husband, all for love. (photo by Charles Thompson)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made red-braised chicken wings, legs or thighs for my husband. They’re the chicken equivalent of his favorite dish, red-braised pork (or, to be even more specific, Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork, which I’m sure appeals to his patriotic side). I’ve adapted the sauce to become a marinade, and turned the whole recipe into something I can bake neatly in the oven for 50 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I have to admit that there’s even this small part of me that beams with domestic pride when I watch John devour the chicken fresh out of the oven in blissful silence (in my home, when John simply eats, instead of talking, it’s the equivalent of giving the chef his highest compliments).

But for anyone who knows me well, this whole scenario feels rife with dietary dissonance and makes them go “hmmm” (or, in some cases, “what?!?”). That’s because I’m a vegan, married to a Chinese man who can’t live without his meat and fish. Continue reading “One Vegan, Making Chinese Red-Braised Pork For Love”