Making Mu Shu
I’ve written previously about the challenge of finding gluten-free Chinese food options, and how homemade Chinese tends to be the safest option for folks like us. But even home cooks could be forgiven for thinking that pancake-based dishes like Mu-Shu (or “Mu Hsu”) would be off-limits; after all, the traditional Mandarin Pancakes that accompany Mu Shu (and make it so darn fun to eat) are made from wheat flour.
But fear not, ye gluten-eschewing Mu Shu fans: where there’s a will, there’s a way. And since I happen to think that Mu Shu is a perfect dish to showcase high-fiber, colder weather veggies like cabbage, I decided to find us a way.
Preparing for Mu Shu
You’ll need very few fresh ingredients to make your Mu Shu dish, but a few key specialty pantry items to do so. This is especially true if you’re making a gluten-free version, and it might take some persistence to track down GF versions of the necessary condiments.
First, you’ll need some dried Chinese mushrooms, particularly “cloud ear” mushrooms (available at most Asian groceries), and three key Chinese condiments: Oyster sauce, Hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Gluten-free versions of all three of these condiments are available; for specific brand names, see my previous Gluten-Free Guide to Chinese Food.
Then there are the pancakes. If you can eat gluten, you have a few good options. The easiest would be to buy store-bought flour tortillas from any supermarket. The second easiest option would be to buy store-bought Mandarin Pancakes from a local Chinese/Asian grocery if you are lucky enough to live near one (they’re sold frozen). But if you’re gluten-free, you’ll need to make your own pancakes. (These will taste better than storebought options anyhow.) To that end, I offer two relatively quick and easy options: (1) Make chestnut flour crepes (click here for recipe), or (2) make buckwheat flour crepes as follows:
Combine: 2/3 cup buckwheat flour + 1/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour + 2 eggs + 1 1/4 cups milk (or dairy-free milk substitute) + 1 TBSP honey + 1/4 tsp salt.
Spray a small skillet or crepe pan with cooking oil spray, spread it around with a paper towel to cover the whole surface and heat over medium-high flame.
When pan is hot, pour in 1/4 cup of batter while tilting pan at 45 degree angle and and swirl around to spread batter evenly.
Cook about 1 minute on each side or until underside is brown. Flip. Cook 15 more seconds and remove from pan. Repeat.
Recipe will yield about 10 crepes.
These thin crepes will have the right texture to approximate the traditional Mandarin Pancakes, and their slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavors will compliment the dish swimmingly.
Recipe: Vegetable Mu Shu
After shopping around for recipes, I decided to heavily adapt Dorothy Huang‘s recipe for Mu Hsu Pork to be: vegetarian, cabbagey, lower fat and gluten-free. Depending on what you have on hand, feel free to improvise with the vegetable ingredients; a cup of mung bean sprouts or 1/2 cup julienned carrot, for example, would be terrific additions to the mix; you could add them in to the wok along with the cabbage if desired. Some mu shu recipes call for a sprinkling of crushed peanuts atop the final product; I imagine this would also taste quite good!
6 Chinese dried mushrooms (any kind will do; I used shiitake)
1/4 cup dried black cloud ear mushrooms
5 cups shredded green cabbage (about 1/2 of a medium-sized cabbage head)
1 tsp cornstarch
2 TBSP water
1 TBSP oyster sauce (for GF: use Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand Green Label Oyster-Flavored Sauce)
2 eggs, beaten
1 TBSP chopped garlic
1/2 TBSP shredded ginger (can substitute 1/2 tsp dry powdered ginger)
2 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
Mandarin pancakes or gluten-free substitutes (see pancake discussion above in “Preparing for Mu Shu” section)
Hoisin sauce (for GF: use Premier Japan Wheat-Free Hoisin sauce, Y&Y brand Hoisin sauce or Ka Me Hoisin sauce)
- Reconstitute and prep all of the dried mushrooms per package directions or as follows: soak them in 4 cups hot water for 20-30 minutes; rinse with cold water. When soft, cut off and discard stems or any tough/knobby bits as necessary; cut into thin strips and set aside
- Prepare the pancakes per recipe directions and set aside. (If you are making crepes from scratch, once you’re finished with them, use the hot pan to make the eggs as described in step #4… it will save you having to wash an extra pan!)
- Combine seasoning sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat 1 tsp canola oil in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (or use a quick spritz of non-stick cooking spray.) Pour in the eggs. Tilt the skillet so whole surface is covered with thin coat of eggs. Flip eggs over and cook for a few seconds until set. Transfer to a plate; when cool, shred into thin strips 2″ long and set aside.
- Heat 1 TBSP canola oil in wok or large skillet. Add cabbage and stir fry until cabbage is bright green and has softened but still retains a bit of crunch, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
- Using same wok, heat an additional 1 tsp oil and add garlic, ginger, scallions and mushrooms. Stir fry for 1 minute until fragrant and well-blended.
- Add cabbage and seasoning sauce to the wok. Stir until well blended.
- Add sliced egg strips to wok. Stir to combine. Turn off heat.
- To serve: spread a little hoisin sauce in the center of pancakes/crepes and add a pile of Mu Shu to the center. Wrap up and eat!
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