There is no food I crave more than Chinese food. I used to practically live on it. My love for Chinese food began when I was in grad school. I would go to this amazing restaurant and practice picking up peanuts with chopsticks. My first apartment had a Chinese take-out place right downstairs. I ordered food from them so often, they would have it ready before I even walked in. When I became vegan, the number of things I could order decreased dramatically but I still had lots of veggie options. Once I started eating gluten-free though, getting Chinese food from a restaurant was all over.
But hold on to your won tons, because making Chinese food at home is easy! Whether it’s because you are vegan, gluten-free (or both) or perhaps live in a neighborhood with no local Chinese restaurant, you don’t have to live without your favorite dishes, nor do you have to only order steamed vegetables. You can have the same meaty tastes and textures you have always loved right in the comfort of your own home, but without the meat. Here are my tips for creating your own vegan Chinese cuisine:
1. Swap Out the Meat for Meaty Vegan Choices
You can easily substitute tofu, tempeh, seitan or mushrooms for the meat in Chinese dishes. If you used to love General Tso’s Chicken, try it with cubes of fried tofu instead. Was Beef and Broccoli your favorite? Seitan is an excellent choice for a vegan version of that dish as are mushrooms and jackfruit. Remember, it’s the flavor and texture that matter most so if you prepare vegan ingredients to taste like the originals, you’ll get the “meatiness” you crave.
2. Get the Tofu as Crispy as the Restaurants Do
Some people wonder how you can make your tofu (or tempeh or seitan) as crispy as they seem to get it (or the chicken and beef) in restaurants. First, if you are using tofu, make sure you press it really well. The less moisture, the better. You can even freeze your tofu overnight and then thaw it out and press it for an even firmer texture. After your tofu, tempeh or seitan has been in the marinade, make sure to pat it dry before you get ready to cook it. A thin coating of cornstarch or arrowroot powder will give it a crispy coating when you fry it. Cook it a bit crispier than you would think because once you pour the steaming hot sauce over it, it will lose some of the crunch.
3. Stock Up on Ingredients to Make Your Favorite Sauces
It isn’t hard to make all the different Chinese sauces, but you do have to have the basic ingredients on hand. Keep your pantry stocked with the foundations of Chinese sauces: low-sodium tamari (gluten-free, if necessary), Hoisin sauce, brown rice vinegar, mirin or sweet rice wine, toasted sesame oil, Sriracha hot sauce, agave nectar and cornstarch or arrowroot powder. With these ingredients, you can make the sauces for General Tso’s, Moo Shu, Garlic Sauce and more. Just be sure to read the labels and make sure everything is vegan.
4. Make Your Dishes Colorful
When making Chinese dishes, there are no hard and fast rules as to what vegetables to add. Choose your favorites – if you love asparagus, add it! If you don’t like mushrooms, leave them out. Make your dishes prettier (and more nutritious) by adding lots of colorful veggies such as yellow baby corn, red bell peppers, and purple cabbage. The food will look so amazing — no one will miss the dull, brown meat.
5. Have a Variety of Texture in the Dishes
Texture is important in Chinese food, so don’t overcook the vegetables. They need to retain some crunch. Also, adding ingredients like water chestnuts, scallions, sprouts, and chopped nuts will add some crunch and texture to your dish. Even a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds can make a big difference in taste, texture and presentation.
There is no need to feel intimidated about making your own Chinese take-out. Just follow these tips, dust off your chopsticks and create some vegan versions of your favorites. Best of all, with all the plant-based ingredients, you probably won’t be hungry again an hour later.
Lead Image Source: Vegan Sesame Tofu