3 mins

5 vegetarian Chinese recipes

China can be a tough place to travel as a veggie – but there are lots of authentic recipes that can be adapted at home, says cookbook author Jane Hughes

China noodles with vegetables (Shutterstock)

1. Sweet and sour tofu with vegetables

A favourite and now classic flavour combination, modern sweet and sour sauces have roots in China but are often influenced by Western tastes. This easy sauce works beautifully with tofu and crisp green peppers. Serve with a dish of steaming white rice.

Sweet and sour (Shutterstock)
Sweet and sour (Shutterstock)

1 tbsp cornflour
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
180ml vegetable stock
1 onion
3 tbsp sugar
2 carrots
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 green bell pepper
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
A few mushrooms
2 tbsp soy sauce
400g firm tofu
½ tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1. To make the sauce, first mix the cornflour into the vegetable stock, then add the sugar, vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger and cayenne and mix well. 

2. Peel the onions, carrot and garlic. Chop the onions finely, crush the garlic and slice the carrot. Trim and slice the mushrooms. Deseed and dice the green bell pepper. 

3. Drain the tofu, press gently in kitchen paper to remove excess water and then cut into 2.5-cm cubes.

4. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the onion, garlic and carrots for about five minutes. Add the pepper and mushrooms and cook for a further two minutes. Then pour in the sauce and cook until the mixture thickens and looks glossy. 

5. Finally, gently stir in the tofu and let the dish bubble gently for five minutes before serving hot.

2. Longevity noodles

Longevity noodles symbolise long life and are a popular dish to serve at birthdays or Chinese New Year celebrations. The red vinegar used in this recipe has a distinctive sweet-tart flavour. If you can’t find it, red wine vinegar with a dash of sugar or honey will do the job.

Oyster sauce is a nuisance for vegetarians as it is used in many dishes, but there are vegetarian brands available and if you cook Chinese food regularly, it’s well worth seeking it out, rather than omitting the oyster sauce altogether.

Longevity noodles (Shutterstock)
Longevity noodles (Shutterstock)

1 pack dried thin noodles
1 tbsp Chinese red vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1½ tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
1 tsp cornflour
3 scallions/spring onions, sliced
A handful of chopped garlic chives
2.5cm fresh ginger root
2 cloves garlic
20 fresh shiitake mushrooms
60ml vegetable oil
240ml warm water

1. Cook the noodles in boiling water until tender, then drain and set aside. 

2. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce and cornflour. Trim and chop the scallions/spring onions and garlic chives. Peel the ginger and garlic, and slice them thinly. Remove the woody stalks from the shiitake mushrooms – discard them or reserve them to make a flavourful stock. Wipe and slice the mushroom caps.

3. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the ginger and garlic for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, spring onions and garlic chives. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the sauce, mix thoroughly, and add a cup of warm water. 

4. Let the mixture bubble for about two minutes, then stir in the noodles, toss and heat through before serving.

3. ABC soup

Commonly served in Chinese homes as part of a meal, this clear soup is surprisingly
delicious and easy to prepare. The key to the authentic flavour is white pepper, a spice that has fallen out of favour in the West.

1 large potato
1 large tomato
500ml vegetable stock
1 medium carrot
3-4 white peppercorns
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, crushed or ground

1. Peel the vegetables and chop them all into bite-sized pieces. 

2. Bring the stock to boiling point in a large pan. Add the vegetables and simmer for 20-30 minutes until soft. Add the white pepper and adjust the seasoning to suit your taste. Serve hot.

4. Chinese greens

2 bunches long-stem broccoli
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp vegetable oil
60ml vegetarian
1½ tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar

Chinese broccoli (Shutterstock)
Chinese broccoli (Shutterstock)

1. Mix the vegetarian oyster sauce, garlic, soy sauce and sugar together – shaking them in a small jar is an easy way to do this. 

2. Trim the broccoli and slice any thick stems lengthways. Plunge into a large pan of boiling salted water and cook for three minutes, then drain and refresh under cold running water – this halts the cooking process and keeps the vegetables crisp and bright green. Arrange the broccoli on a serving plate.

3. Warm the vegetable and sesame oil together over a high heat for 30 seconds, then pour over the broccoli and drizzle the sauce on top.

5. Sweet potato and ginger dessert

Desserts are not always served with Chinese meals, and some restaurants do not offer any. Sweet snacks are popular, often fried morsels incorporating red bean paste. If dessert is served at the end of the meal, it is usually sliced fresh fruit, or a sweet soup made with red beans and sugar. This recipe is, however, a traditional favourite, revered for its heartwarming and revitalising properties. 

Find the dried dates in Chinese groceries – they have a distinctive flavour.

Chinese sweet potato dessert soup (Shutterstock)
Chinese sweet potato dessert soup (Shutterstock)

2 sweet potatoes
5cm fresh ginger root
840ml water
8 dried red dates
60g brown sugar

1. Peel the sweet potatoes and chop into chunks. Peel and slice the ginger. Bring the water to the boil, then add the sweet potatoes, ginger and dates, and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Add the sugar, increase the heat to bring the mixture to boiling point and boil until the sugar has dissolved and the sweet potatoes are cooked through.

3. This dessert can be served hot or cold. It is a great remedy for a winter cold!

The Adventurous Vegetarian These recipes have been extracted from The Adventurous Vegetarian: Around the world in 30 meals by Jane Hughes (New Internationalist Publications, £16.09), which will give you a taste of how vegetarians eat all over the world. Order your copy on Amazon

Main image: China noodles with vegetables (Shutterstock)

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