A Chinese recipe will be appropriate for the coming Lunar New Year, as this refreshing and umami-rich dish will be a healthy addition to reunion meals. When we think of Chinese cuisine we will automatically think of stir fries, rice and soups served piping hot. There is a class of Chinese dishes known as cold dishes or liangban cai (凉拌菜, literally “cold tossed dish”) from Northern China that defies this perception.
Cold dishes are similar to Western salads only in the sense that they are served slightly chilled or at room temperature, but never cold (unlike the name). Otherwise, they are often not fully raw for the sake of taste (eg, green leafies are always blanched) and the dressings are much simpler – usually just soy sauce, plant oils and Chinese vinegar. No dairy is used and thus they are often vegan unless meat or seafood is a main ingredient. If a cold dish is eaten as a meal, it will definitely contain carbohydrates in the form of various noodles (we think that a meal is not a meal without carbs!). They are easy to make, some even require no cooking at all. Thanks to the non-dairy, savoury-sour sauces, they can keep well and thus are a good make-ahead food prep and lunch box meal!
Recipe (makes 2 servings)
2 servings of black rice noodles, cooked to package instructions (You can use almost any noodles you prefer, I got them from Yes Natural store.)
Half medium-sized carrots, shredded or julienned (use the largest holes of a grater or a julienne peeler, or simply use a knife.)
Half a medium-sized young cucumber, shredded or julienned.
Half cup of mung bean sprouts
Half a pack of baiye tofu, cut into strips and roughly peel the layers apart (don’t worry about peeling them perfectly as they will come apart during cooking).
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese vinegar
0.5 tbsp sesame oil
1 chilli padi, chopped
Spring onion, chopped (optional if abstaining from pungent roots)
Mix all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes. Cook mung bean sprouts in a sieve in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and immerse in cold or tap water to cool it down. Cook baiye tofu in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and immerse in cool water. Drain excess water from both by letting them sit in the sieve over a bowl for a minute. Combine all main ingredients with sauce together in a large bowl and mix well, adding more sauces to taste if preferred. If you do not prefer too spicy flavours, remove chilli padi before adding the dressing. Lastly, garnish and serve.
- A large sieve and julienne peeler will make preparation much easier, both can be bought cheaply at provision shops or supermarkets.
- The traditional cold noodles use chilli oil which is not that available in Singapore, I used chilli padi to infuse the sauce for spiciness. If no spice is preferred, simply omit it. If you have no chilli padi but still want a merciless spiciness, use Tabasco, vegan sambal, sriracha or any chilli sauce available in your country.
- If you want a 100% gluten-free version, use tamari, coconut aminos and bragg’s instead of soy sauce. Replace Chinese vinegar with lime/lemon juice, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar or apple cider, and mix dried ready-to-eat seaweed into the sauce for extra umami – it will taste different, but still should be good!
- For an oil-free version, use 1 tsp tahini instead of sesame oil.
- For a soy-free version, use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Instead of tofu, use large, thick-skinned cooked legumes like navy beans, kidney beans, sweet peas as protein for a complete meal. Although using beans in cold dishes isn’t quite traditional, it should still be tasty when mixed with a good sauce 🙂
- Unlike Western salads where the dressing should be added only before serving, generally for Chinese cold dishes, the longer it sits with its sauce, the tastier it will be. Only exception is for leafy green veggies. They should not be mixed in too early as the acid from the vinegar will turn them yellow.
- Almost every type of noodles can be used. Udon, soba, tung hoon, sweet potato noodles and wheat noodles will all work great in this recipe. But I don’t advice using rice noodles, instant or quick-cook wheat noodles, they are very absorbent and might turn soggy after sitting in the sauce for a while.
- Other traditional cold dish sauces can include wasabi, Szechuan peppercorn oil, fermented bean pastes and minced raw garlic or ginger. Feel free to experiment to your taste!
Here’s wishing everyone a prosperous and happy Year of the Rooster 🙂 Thanks for reading, have a good holiday and reunion for all those who celebrate!