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Ching He Huang on the best dishes for a veggie-friendly Chinese New Year

We caught up with food writer and TV chef, Ching He Huang to find out about her fondest food memories, and her favourite veggie-friendly dishes for Chinese New Year…

Ching He Huang on the best dishes for a veggie-friendly Chinese New Year

My grandmother is my biggest inspiration. I grew up on her farm in southern Taiwan; she used to cook with her wok on a large wood fire burner, and make delicious seasonal food. She did this whilst wearing Chinese traditional dress, red lipstick and curlers in her hair: she was the ultimate matriarch. We had delicious juicy oranges and plenty of bamboo on the farm, but in terms of material wealth, we didn’t have much; what we did have was amazing produce and her incredible cooking, and that was all we needed, really.

Vegetarian Chinese food is amazing. I love mapo tofu, sticky tofu with rice, General Tso’s tofu and Hong Sao tofu – there are so many amazing Chinese options with tofu. It’s one of my vegetarian staples and so delicious with rice and steamed greens. It’s also incredibly healthy; we use it as a key ingredient in our house as my husband is a vegan.

Most Chinese vegetarian dishes can easily be made vegan; all you need to do is omit the eggs, as we Chinese use virtually no dairy in our cooking. Asian cuisine is great when you’re on a budget. You can cook an amazing selection of stir-fried vegetables, depending on the season, with delicious rice or noodles, especially if you stock up on Chinese cupboard essentials: good-quality soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine, five spice, chilli pastes, and soy bean pastes. This ensures you can make wonderful flavour combinations.

I eat around 80% vegetarian most of the time. I sometimes skip breakfast, but when I do eat it, I’ll have porridge cooked with oat milk, a drizzle of honey, and sliced apples. Lunch is usually an aubergine and potato curry with rice, or if I’m out, I’ll have a veggie mushroom burger or a veggie wrap on-the-go. My dinner will either be vegan mapo tofu with rice, mushroom tomato ramen, or a tofu, chickpea, and potato katsu curry.

My latest obsession is French Dijon mustard! I just love it: ‘peppery hot’ is one of my favourite flavour profiles right now, alongside ‘hot and sour’. I also love to cook with rice vinegar, Shaohsing rice wine, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

Cutting down on sugar, and desserts in general, is one of the ways that I try to stay healthy. I substitute it by eating more fruit, and find that can help. In my cooking, I’ll also limit the amount of oil I use – luckily, stir-fries only need small amounts of it. I also try not to snack in-between meals, as each time you eat, you spike your sugar levels, and I find that the more I eat, the more I want to eat, but I don’t need to!

My grandmother always said, if you don’t know how to cook, you can’t feed yourself, and you can’t be healthy. I would say that’s a bit harsh, but you should work hard, hone your craft (especially your signature dishes), and remember that practise makes perfect! Enjoy the cooking process – I find it so meditative and relaxing – and use it as an opportunity to reconnect and nourish yourself after a busy day.

Two Vegan Recipes To Make Chinese New Year Extra Special

1. Thai Green Sweet Potato Curry

This dish is great on a cold winter’s day. First, roast the sweet potatoes, then make a quick Thai green curry in the wok, and serve with jasmine rice. This is perfect in every way: it’s wholesome, yet easy to make, and above all, vegan!

Ching He Huang on the best dishes for a veggie-friendly Chinese New Year
Image: http://www,octopusbooks.co.uk

2. Vegan Smoked Tofu

This is a great low-carb dinner with a spicy kick! The courgetti noodles are full of fibre; the hot oil dressing is super-tasty; and the black rice vinegar provides a nice tangy-sour flavour. Children prefer courgetti hot and blanched, but you may prefer it uncooked – it’s up to you.

Ching He Huang on the best dishes for a veggie-friendly Chinese New Year
Image: http://www,octopusbooks.co.uk

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