For Conflicted Carnivores: Thai Mock Duck Curry
Looks like meat, tastes like meat, but it sure isn’t meat. Linda Shiue draws upon her vegetarian experience to grant us Thai Mock Duck Curry – a recipe for the conflicted carnivore (or vegetarian).
My mother took me for a fool, and lied to my face.
In college, I was vegetarian for a few years. I wasn't dogmatic about my reasons for my conversion – no PETA protests or Meat is Murder proclamations – though those thoughts crossed my mind.
I had never been much of a meat-eater growing up anyway, and my best friend, Victoria, was a life-long vegetarian, as was one of my housemates, Patty. They were excellent cooks, and through them I began to enjoy the infinite variety and complexity of vegetarian food. Once I learned to cook the legume-based meals of different ethnic cuisines – rather than focusing on cheese for protein – I found it to be the cleanest, healthiest diet I'd had.
My mother, an otherwise accepting and honest woman, would have none of it. She feared that I would somehow waste away if I didn't eat meat. But aside from announcing her concerns once or twice, she didn't protest too much about my new diet when I came home from college to visit. She is a cook of extremely healthy food, mainly vegetables, so it wasn't too hard to feed me.
But over one of our family dinners, I was caught up in discussion and did not look at my food as I was eating. It was a stir fry of a Chinese squash I really enjoy opo
"Mom! Is this meat?" I asked, slightly alarmed.
She looked straight at me with a placid expression. "Oh, of course not – you are a vegetarian now, aren't you?"
Then I inspected the food in my bowl. Now that I actually looked at it, I saw miniscule brown bits among the pale green slices of squash. "Are you honestly telling me there is no meat in this?" I picked up a morsel of ground pork in my chopsticks and waved it at her. "What is this?"
"Oh, it's just a little bit, it doesn't really count." She still hadn't changed her expression.
Who knew she had such a poker face?
Yes, my own mother lied to me.
I forgave her, of course, and a few years later, caved in to the delights of roast duck, bacon, and other meats I had been depriving myself of, and fell permanently off the wagon. My mother was smugly satisfied.
But I was always curious about the foods that are marketed to vegetarians as "meat substitutes". I don't think there is any truly convincing substitute for meat, although there is certainly a big market, with such products as Tofu Pups®, Tofurky®, and so on. However, the most developed cuisine of pretend meats that I know of is Chinese vegetarian cooking. There is a whole array of dishes that try to replicate the texture of meat with a wheat gluten product, known commonly in the US as the Japanese seitan
You can order dishes called mock or vegetarian chicken, duck – or name your animal – all featuring the gluten product, which is a good source of protein. This cuisine was originally developed for religious purposes, for adherents of Chinese Buddhist cuisine
I find it particularly curious that one would want not just a non-animal protein source, but a food that would mimic both the appearance and texture of meat.
In the religious context of non-violence, I find it particularly curious that one would want not just a non-animal protein source, but a food that would mimic both the appearance and texture of meat.
The gluten or seitan used is usually prepared in the way meat would be, flavored with soy sauce and used in stir fries with an assortment of vegetables; or on its own, with rice porridge. It does look vaguely meat-like: chunky, brown and wrinkly, with soy sauce giving it umami. I like the flavor, but more as a unique food of its own, and not as a meat simulacrum.
Following up on my mother's successful attempt years back to hide real meat in my vegetables, I came up with a way to give make-believe meat a disguise, too. For all the conflicted carnivores out there, here's a Thai Mock Duck Curry.
Thai Mock Duck Curry
2 cans mock duck, available in Asian markets*
2 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 cup of pineapple chunks
1 cup Kabocha squash or pumpkin, in chunks
1 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
1-2 Japanese eggplants, sliced on the diagonal, or 6 (round) Thai eggplants, cut in half
4-5 kaffir lime leaves, torn into small pieces
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water or vegetable stock
1 1/2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
3 tbsp red curry paste (use prepared, or recipe below)
2 tbsp fish sauce (optional, for non-vegetarians)
Accompaniment: steamed Thai jasmine rice
1. Heat oil in a wok or saute pan over medium heat, and add red curry paste. Stir well.
2. Add 3/4 cup coconut milk and stir to mix thoroughly.
3. Add mock duck and stir well.
4. Add remaining coconut milk, then add all remaining ingredients.
5. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmering for about 20 minutes.
6. Serve over steamed rice and enjoy.
*Substitute roast duck from a Chinese market if you prefer the real thing, or for another (and more honest) vegetarian option, deep fried tofu cubes.
Thai red curry paste
13 small dried chilies, seeds removed, soaked in water until softened
3 tbsp chopped shallot
4 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped galangal
2 tbsp chopped lemon grass
2 tsp grated rind from kaffir or other limes
1 tbsp chopped coriander root (or substitute fresh coriander stems)
20 white peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp ground roasted coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp salt
1. Grind all ingredients in either a mortar and pestle or with an electric blender or food processor. Add a tablespoon of water, if needed, to assist with blending.
2. Cook as above.
Thai red curry recipe adapted from templeofthai.com
Photos by Linda Shiue
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