With many traditional Chinese dishes rich in meats and egg, it can seem tricky to enjoy Chinese food following a vegan diet. But there are many ways to eat a healthy and wholesome Chinese-inspired dish that contains no meat or dairy, and doesn’t compromise on flavour.
Vegetables are a major part of the Chinese diet, bringing an eclectic mix of colours to each dish with a choice of greens, mushrooms and peppers. Bring the authentic tastes of the Far East to your kitchen with these simple vegan recipe ideas.
Back to the basics, a bowl of steamed vegetables is found on any Chinese menu. With many unusual vegetables native to China, it is the perfect chance to try something a bit new amongst the everyday broccoli and carrots. Leafy pak choy and bok choy plants, and snow peas and Chinese eggplant add a nutritious and unusual touch.
To make the dish more flavoursome, experiment with sauces. From garlic or chilli to peanut or sesame sauces, it is easy to create a healthy and wholesome meal. A simple oil-free peanut sauce can be mixed together in a blender using a couple tablespoons of peanut butter, a small amount of liquid sweetener, one clove of garlic, a drizzle of light soy sauce, and water to thin. To avoid soggy veg you can always serve the sauce on the side for dipping.
The versatile staple that belongs in every vegan kitchen, tofu adds flavour and texture to a variety of dishes. From spicy to sweet and sour, the bean curd food can be cut into chunks and seasoned or marinated to suit individual tastes. With a very subtle flavour alone, tofu perfectly complements many favourite Chinese dishes, such as stir-fries, rice bowls and creamy noodles.
The trick with tofu is to cook it just right. Usually packaged in liquid, tofu needs to be properly drained before it is fried or oven baked. Its silken texture can be pressed to remove the excess liquid so that it better resembles the firmness of real meat. Throw it into a fried dish or bake it until it’s crispy to accompany noodles, rice or a curry.
Soy-based mock meat
If you’re not a fan of tofu or are interested in sampling something different, there are many soy-based mock meats on the shelves of Chinese supermarkets. Created in the same way as many of the major Western manufacturers such as Tofurky and Frys, try the alternative soy-based meats such as duck, chicken and beef. Quicker to cook than tofu, the mock meats can be used in the same way, adding extra flavour to a stir-fry, noodle dish or steamed vegetables.
The soft, thick texture of udon noodles wonderfully complements a bowl of mixed veg and tofu. A healthy and vegan replacement for Mac & Cheese, a creamy garlic sauce offers an authentic take on Chinese cuisine. Mix up the sauce on a low heat using a few tablespoons of vegan mayonnaise, and a touch of garlic powder and nutritional yeast. The sauce can be gently folded into the noodles and vegetables, topping with tofu to finish.
Translating simply to ‘fried noodles’, Chow Mein is one of the most popular dishes across China. Very easy to cook, fried noodles can be mixed into a variety of dishes to suit your preferences. Make sure you choose the rice-based noodles instead of egg noodles though.
The light sauce of Chow Mein is traditionally a mix of garlic, chilli, dark soy sauce and rice vinegar. A pinch of sugar or sesame oil adds another subtle layer to the meal. Fried shiitake mushrooms, mange tout, bean sprouts and onion provide the perfect combination.
Served as a side dish for your main meal or as part of the bite-sized portions of dim sum, spring rolls can be made in a matter of minutes. Unlike the deep-fried or baked versions, raw spring rolls are full of goodness and give a satisfying crunch. Slice carrots, cucumber and mixed greens into thin strips before wrapping them up in rice paper. Marinated tofu strips can be added to the spring rolls as well for a crispy and delicious finish. The spicy marinade requires very few ingredients: fry the tofu in a mixture of sesame oil, rice vinegar, peanut butter, garlic powder and chilli sauce. To tempt your taste buds even more, leave the tofu marinated for a few hours. A peanut dipping sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the spring rolls too.
With these basic principles and recipe ideas in mind, it really is very easy to enjoy Chinese cuisine, the vegan way.