"Vegan food was part of Chinese cuisine long before it arrived in many other parts of the world. It was not a trend," author of food blog littlericenoodle Austrian-based Yang Liu says in her cookbook Vegan Chinese Food.
"I want to show you that it is possible to cook plant-based Chinese dishes that are every bit as delicious as mainstream Chinese food."
In the cookbook, which includes a chapter on the history of veganism in China, she shares recipes from the different regions she has lived in as well as recipes she has developed herself or learnt from her grandmother, her aunt, or her mother.
Throughout most of their history, the vast majority of people in China lived off a largely plant-based diet — simply because
most could not afford or get regular access to meat or dairy products.
"For many, eating meat was a luxury they could only afford once a year, and this was the norm for many Chinese people until just a few decades ago."
That was until the invention of tofu and other soybean products which soon became the most important and versatile ingredient in vegan Chinese cooking.
Liu grew up in Hunan province, and she was introduced to spicy food at an early age.
"Food played an integral role in my upbringing, and is connected to most of my memories of childhood."
The spicy fresh rice noodles they used to have for breakfast are still her favourite dish today.
"I soon grew to love the rich Cantonese cuisine especially the enormous variety of dim sums. To this date yum chat is still my favourite kind of meal."
She began preparing her own food at a young age, cooking pan-fried tofu with fresh chilli when she was seven years old.
Liu began travelling while studying and then moved to Spain to continue her studies in Spanish for a year and while there honed her cooking skills hosting regular dinner parties.
"I missed Chinese food and there were no authentic Chinese restaurants around."
Then 10 years ago, she converted to Buddhism, and in 2016 became a strict vegetarian. A few years later she moved to Austria to live with her partner Katharina Pinczolits and they both became vegan.
When they visited China, they discovered many new vegan restaurants and "had so much amazing food".
So in 2019, the pair started their own instagram channel "littlericenoodle" sharing pictures of the dishes Liu had veganised. Then due to interest they began sharing recipes and videos as well. Pinczolits manages the account and takes the pictures and videos while Liu concentrates on the recipe development and cooking.
In the cookbook they have shared tips on Chinese cooking techniques as well as chapters on sauces, tofu, veges, noodles, dumplings and rice and desserts.
This is an edited extract from Vegan Chinese Food by Yang Liu. Published by Hardie Grant Books. RRP $NZ50. Photography by Katharina Pinczolits.
Allegedly, the dish was invented by a woman who ran a small restaurant in Chengdu, Sichuan, in 1862. She was called Mapo because of the freckles on her face.
Mapo tofu is known to be mouth-numbing spicy, tender and aromatic. It is traditionally cooked with minced (ground) beef, but in this recipe I substitute it with a vegan mince, which also provides a very good taste.
Prep time 15 min
Cooking time 15 min
750g tender tofu, diced into 2cm
60ml (1/4 cup) canola (rapeseed) oil
100g vegan mince
100g Pixian broad bean paste
60ml (1/4 cup) chilli oil
1 Tbsp chilli flakes
1 Tbsp fermented black beans
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
360ml hot water
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
90 ml warm water
½ tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 green garlic stalk, cut into short lengths
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil on a medium heat and add the tofu. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from the water and set aside.
Heat a wok over a medium heat. Once hot, add 3 tablespoons of the oil and the vegan mince, breaking it into small pieces with a spatula. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the mince is slightly crispy and brown on the outside, then remove from the heat and set it aside for later.
Add the remaining oil to the wok and fry the Pixian broad bean paste for about 1 minute, then add the chilli oil, chilli flakes and fermented black beans. Stir a little, then add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Carefully add the tofu, then pour in the hot water and soy sauce.
When the sauce starts simmering, mix the cornflour with the warm water and add half of the cornflour water. Stir carefully and let it come to a simmer again.
When the sauce has reduced by half, turn the heat down to medium–low and add half of the remaining starchy water. Stir and let it simmer for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened, then add the rest of the starchy water. Let it simmer for another minute, stir gently so the tofu doesn’t stick to the wok, then turn off the heat.
Carefully transfer the tofu to a bowl and top with the ground sichuan peppercorns and the green garlic.
Yuxiang eggplant (aubergine) is definitely the most well known and popular eggplant dish in China. Yuxiang is a famous seasoning mixture in Sichuan cuisine – typically savoury, sweet, sour and slightly spicy.
It literally means "fish fragrance", allegedly because the eggplant was originally cooked in chilli pickled with fish.
Despite its name, the recipe nowadays has nothing to do with fish.
Traditionally, the eggplant is first deep-fried then cooked in the yuxiang sauce. If you don’t like deep-frying, you can also mix the eggplant strips with half a teaspoon of salt and let it marinate for 15 minutes until the liquid comes out.
Squeeze all the water out and pan-fry the eggplant until it is golden and cooked on the outside.
Prep time 15 min
Cooking time 20 min
560ml (2 1/4 cups) canola (rapeseed) oil
750g eggplant (aubergine), sliced 4cm long and 1cm wide
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp Chinese dark vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine
½ tsp potato starch or cornflour (cornstarch)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
20g piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
50g pickled Sichuan chilli or piri piri, finely chopped
1 spring onion (scallion), sliced
Heat 480 ml of the oil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat. To check the oil is hot enough for deep-frying, hold a wooden chopstick in the oil. If it is immediately surrounded by tiny bubbles, the oil is ready to use.
Deep-fry the eggplant until it is soft and a bit golden on the outside, then remove. Deep-fry the eggplant for the second time, but only for 30 seconds (this can be done immediately after removing the eggplant from the first deep-fry). Deep-frying it twice helps to reduce the oil absorbed by the eggplant.
In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, Chinese dark vinegar, sugar, cooking wine and starch.
Heat the wok over a medium heat and, once hot, add the remaining oil. Add the garlic and ginger, stir for 30 seconds, then add the pickled chilli and stir-fry for 1 minute. Then add the eggplant and continue stirring for another minute.
Add the sauce to the wok and keep stirring until most of the sauce has been absorbed by the eggplant. Add the spring onion.
Hong Kong supreme soy sauce fried noodles
The traditional version is vegetarian, and it is typically made with egg noodles, bean sprouts, shallots, yellow garlic chives and a mixed sauce.
For this recipe, I use dried noodles made for frying, for example, instant noodles.
They are elastic and slightly chewy, similar to egg noodles.
Prep time 15 min
Cooking time 10 min
200g dried noodles for frying
2 Tbsp soy sauce or light soy sauce
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp vegan oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
120ml (4 fl oz) canola (rapeseed) oil
1 red shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
100g bean sprouts
50g garlic chives, cut into 3 cm lengths
1 spring onion (scallion), cut into 3 cm lengths
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil then turn off the heat. Add the noodles and let them soak in the hot water for 1-2 minutes until they are loose and half-cooked (it depends on which noodles you are using; the soaking may take longer). Do not soak for too long, otherwise the noodles will become soggy later. Drain the water and blow the noodles dry with a ventilator or hand-held fan.
Mix together the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, vegan oyster sauce and sugar in a small bowl.
Heat a wok over a medium heat and, once hot, add half of the oil then add the noodles. Slowly pan-fry until the outside of the noodles is a bit golden and crispy, about 2–3 minutes, then take them out.
Switch to the highest heat, add the rest of the oil, the shallot and garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds, then add the noodles and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the mixed sauce and use chopsticks to quickly mix everything together, being careful not to break the noodles.
Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, and when the noodles are cooked and the sauce has been absorbed, add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add the garlic chives and stir-fry for another 15 seconds before adding the spring onion and cooking for another 30 seconds.