Recipe: Crispy mock duck pancakes

Eating vegan and gluten free should never be an anaemic, sad affair of a few mismatched vegetables and monotonous rice. Meat might make the centrepiece in much of Western cooking, but there is more than one landscape of food to explore. Avoiding meat, fish, dairy, eggs and gluten is nearly impossible in cuisines whose bricks and mortar are the meat-and-two-veg, wheat based fodder that has been sustained through centuries. But in places where wheat isn’t widely grown, and where animal products aren’t readily available, eating vegan and gluten-free doesn’t have to limit you at all.

As Amy Adams says in her sunny role as Julie Powell in hers and Meryl Streep’s Julie and Julia, “You can never have too much butter.” Well, replace butter with tofu and you’re on to something. Soft and silken, or firm and textured, tofu (or beancurd) is versatile, easy to cook, and deliciously healthy. This recipe for Chinese style pancakes or lettuce wraps, in which the traditional Peking duck is replaced by tofu, is not only completely straightforward but happily moreish. Served with crisp cucumber and spring onion batons, drizzled with dark, sweet hoisin, and wrapped in a soft pancake or a fresh cold lettuce leaf, it’s every bit as indulgent as eating a whole block of butter.

Ingredients:

Chinese pancakes (can usually be bought from Chinese restaurants or from specialist supermarkets) and/or a whole iceberg lettuce (for gluten-free diets)
A block of firm tofu, cut into thin rectangular pieces
A large cucumber
3-5 spring onions
A small bowl of hoisin sauce to serve

For the marinade:
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp Sriracha
1 tsp miso paste
Ginger and garlic, made into a paste
Five spice powder

Method:

1. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius.

2. Mix all the marinade ingredients together, adding as much ginger, garlic and five spice as suits you. Taste the marinade and adjust as you want: for more sweetness, add more hoisin, for more saltiness, soy sauce, and for more heat, Sriracha.

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3. Marinate each piece of tofu for about five minutes—this is best done in batches. Making sure every piece is well coated, lay them out on a baking tray, leaving a little space between each one.

4. Bake the tofu for ten minutes, then take it out and turn each piece over, and bake for a further ten minutes.

5. Whilst the tofu is baking, if using pancakes, line a steamer and steam them over boiling water for no more than two minutes. If using lettuce, separate the leaves, then place them in ice water. Slice the cucumber and spring onion into long, thin strips.

6. When the tofu is crispy and sizzling on the outside, take it out and let it cool until it stops sizzling.

7. To serve, take a pancake or a lettuce leaf, place a strip of tofu, some cucumber and some spring onion inside it, drizzle with some hoisin sauce, fold up and enjoy.