Most of you already know that my wife is a vegetarian, and that I occasionally dabble with making vegetarian food for her, like that time I made hickory smoked tofu on my smoker, or that time I made my own version of Chipotle’s tofu sofritas tacos. Well last night’s Arkansas Soy Supper was a real treat. Lisa Zhang, the chef/owner at Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. made us a five-course homestyle Chinese meal that featured soybeans in many ways (and also some delicious pork belly…since they feed soybeans to pigs. Cue the Circle of Life music now…).
We started off with Edamame braised in a heavily seasoned homemade broth, and also stir fried peanuts with salt. The peanuts were little baby peanuts, which I far prefer over the larger ones, finding them sweeter and full of that roasted peanut flavor without too much of that overarching creaminess. I failed to get a picture of them, so we’ll just have to live with my food memory.
Our first course was a soybean hummus served over a fried bread called Mantou, which you eat with a piece of pickle. The soybean hummus was so deliciously fresh, full of juicy soybean, a judicious use of sesame oil, and a bit of ginger. The mantou were a steamed cornbread that were then griddled slightly to give them a bit more texture. I seriously ate at least five slices slathered full of that delicious soybean hummus. The pickles were more fresh cucumber tasting than the advertised spicy, and I am pretty sure I ate a whole bowl of them. This was a first course that I could eat every day for lunch! That good.
The second course was the best. It was a Pumpkin (Nan Gua) and Tofu Salad. Perfect seasonally, sure, but the combination of flavors here kept me going back for bowl after bowl. The pumpkin had its skin on, but there was no toughness to it at all; it almost melted in your mouth. It was paired up with cucumber, tomato, fried tofu, tea smoked eggs and fried basil. It had a light dressing also with some ginger and again a judicious amount of sesame oil. It was really well balanced, so fresh and crunchy and with a little bit of creaminess from the egg. I know I’m now cheating on the hummus and mantou, but I could eat this everyday for lunch too.
The third course was a red sauce braised pork belly with tofu and Mo — steamed buns.
The pork belly just fell away into delicious fatty squares as you ate it, and had that absolutely delicious skin that turned into chewy strands of porkliciousness. The tofu was cut into large flat squares and braised in the same rich liquid; I had several. I was not a huge fan of the bun, I would have preferred a bao instead, but this was really good, and a fun treat.
The fourth course was our dessert course. We were served a steaming hot cup of homemade soymilk and three red bean paste filled deep fried sesame balls. This dessert really hit home for me. I once spent some time in Beijing, and would go get soymilk each morning from the grannies making it out on the street. And each time I’d get a steamed bun of one flavor or another to go along with it. This dessert brought that back to me. It was a really wonderful way to relive that food memory, and I am glad for that opportunity from Chef Zhang last night.
I learned a lot at this dinner, sitting with a local farmer (and chair of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board) Gary Sitzer. I was full of questions about the how and when and why and what of soybean farming here in Arkansas (and among many other things learned that soybeans are now being used in Goodyear tires!). I’m looking forward to a spring trip to his farm to catch the planting cycle. And the next time I am in the market for tires, I am checking out those soybean tires.