Vegan Vietnamese Shaking 'Beef' with help of California Earthquake

When I posted this blog this morning, we didn't have the Earthquake. It just happened a few minutes ago while I was eating my lunch in my office at Santa Ana, California. It happened at 11:42 am, a 5.8 earthquake at Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, California. It was PRETTY SHAKY! I am ok, a bit shaken up. We are about 17.5 miles from the epicenter.

The original name of this dish is Thit Bo Luc Lac, a famous Vietnamese dish that literally is translated to English as 'Shaking Beef.' This dish is named this way because the marinated beef is shaken in a very hot wok or cast iron pan, searing and shaking them, until they are evenly cooked. Then, they are served warm on a bed of fresh watercress, tomatoes, cucumbers, and seared onions, with a clear sweet and sour sauce (like salad dressing).

DH and I have been dining in Au Lac Vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant in Fountain Valley, CA for about 10 years now. One of our favorite dishes from their menu is Soy Beef and Watercress. We've been eating this dish for a long long time without knowing that this is the vegan version of Thit Bo Luc Lac. We have never eaten the original non-vegetarian dish at a non-vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant since we were not introduced to Vietnamese dishes until we became vegetarians 12 years ago. Not until recently, when I started to read blogs in the Internet that I found the original recipe and the story behind it. When I perused the ingredients, I realized that what I read was similar to our favorite dish that we frequently eat at Au Lac.

I recreated the veganized dish at home but used more ingredients than the original recipe such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and grilled pineapple. Au Lac uses watercress, tomatoes, and cucumbers but not pineapple. I had some left-over grilled pineapple in the fridge and thought that it would be a nice addition. This dish is flavorful because it tickles your tounge with 5 flavors: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami (savory/deliciousness). The sour taste comes from the rice vinegar, lime juice, tomatoes, and pineapple. The sweet taste comes from the tomatoes, pineapple, seared onions, and agave syrup. The salty taste comes from the soy sauces and salt. The bitter taste comes from the watercress, soy sauce, and cucumber. The umami (5th flavor) comes from the seared 'soy beef', seared onions, freshly ground black pepper, and the soy sauces. The key to the deliciousness of this dish is to have a balance of all 5 flavors. I hope I can do the justice with the recipe below but you are welcome to adjust the flavors according to your taste of balance.

Vietnamese Soy 'Beef' and Watercress
Serve 4-6


1 pkg. dried soy meat, beef style (Thit Chay)(7-8 oz.) or 2 cups dried Soy Curls? prepared (see instructions below) and marinade with:

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons light soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Amino?
2 Tablespoons agave nectar
1 Tablespoon dark mushroom soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
Note: See my blog regarding the dark mushroom soy sauce or light soy sauce or 'fish' sauce that I use in Vietnamese or Thai cooking. Do not use Japanese soy sauce because it won't taste the same.

1 medium onion, slice thinly (1/4-inch thick)

Sweet and Sour Light Sauce(salad dressing):
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons light soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Amino?
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 -2 Tablespoons agave nectar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch organic watercress, cleaned and dried
2 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber, sliced diagonally
1 medium fresh and ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 cup grilled or fresh pineapple

Preparing dried soy 'beef' (Thit Chay):
Simmer dried soy beef in hot water for 20 minutes.Drain water and squeeze most of the water out.The soy 'beef' should be soft now. I use this brand since it is very thinly sliced and is soft after they are simmered in boiling water.Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl.Apply marinade to soy 'beef', mix well, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.If using Soy Curls? :
Soak Soy Curls? in warm water for 10 minutes.Drain water and squeeze most of the water out.Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl.Apply marinade sauce to Soy Curls? , mix well, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.Preparing vegetables:

Mix sweet and sour light sauce ingredients together and marinade the sliced red onions in this sauce. The fresh onion flavor really makes this dressing flavorful. Let it sit marinating while you are preparing the rest of the vegetables.Layer watercress on a serving dish, top with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and pineapple. Searing onions:
Heat a cast iron frying pan until it is very hot.Drain onions from salad dressing/sauce but reserve the sauce in a bowl.Pour or sprinkle the reserved dressing/sauce onto the prepared vegetables on the serving platter, evenly.Put 1 teaspoon vegetable oil onto the hot cast iron frying pan. Then, add the drained onions.
Shake and turn onions until cooked (translucent) and a bit charred. Pour onions on top of the prepared vegetables. Shaking Soy 'Beef' or Soy Curls? :
Heat a cast iron frying pan until very hot.Add 1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Then, add the marinated soy meat.Shake and turn soy meat until a bit charred. Place warm soy meat on top of seared onions and prepared vegetables.
Before serving, mix the soy meat, onions and vegetables together and serve this dish with brown rice or white steamed sticky rice.

Happy shake, shake, and shake!

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