Plant Based 411
Celebrating Chinese New Year
By Nancy Eisman
Chinese New Year is celebrated by one quarter of the world’s population, throughout 12 Asian countries, so this count doesn’t include celebrants from other places, including right here in the U.S. Also known as the Spring Festival, this year’s festivities begin on February 5 and end with the Lantern Festival on February 19.
Food is an important part of Chinese culture and pride, and the New Year’s Eve meal, enjoyed with family and friends, is always a feast of symbolic dishes. Dumplings (in with the new, out with the old), Spring rolls (celebrating the coming of Spring), long noodle dishes (aka golden silk, representing prosperity and longevity), and tofu (signifying happiness and wealth) are some of my plant-based favorites. Many Chinese recipes can fairly easily be plant-based, and still filling and satisfying, by eliminating the animal protein from the dish, and I’ve picked a classic to illustrate.
This month’s recipe uses cooked thin spaghetti as a base, with a colorful, spicy, and extremely popular albeit American/Chinese restaurant favorite, easily made plant-based, poured over top: Kung Pao Vegetables. I’ve included Chinese eggplant, green long beans, and baby bok choy, along with some cubed tofu, red chiles, ginger, garlic, rainbow carrots, bell pepper, green onions, and of course roasted peanuts for crunch and extra protein.
Another version of kung pao vegetables might include broccoli, petite choy sum, Chinese celery and/or leeks, gai lan or gai choy, Asian mushrooms, lo bok, lotus root, sno or snap peas, mo or pul qua, red long beans, or any other vegetable, Asian or not, that you like. But by clicking on these links you’re going to learn about some delicious ingredients that may be new to you.
What makes kung pao so beloved is the spicy kick of the chiles and the crunch of the nuts that the flavorful, classic sauce ties together deliciously. For dessert, make it simple and keep the good fortune coming with some fresh, seasonal, symbolic citrus, like tangerines, oranges, kumquats, and pummelos. Most of all, embrace the culture and enjoy the celebration.
Kung Pao Vegetables
1 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons soy or tamari sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
1 ½ tablespoons corn starch
3 cups Chinese eggplant, 1/2” cubes
3 cups Chinese long beans, 1” pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoons sesame oil
4 dried red chiles
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1/2 cup green onions, white part only, diced
½ cup green onions, green part only, diced
1 ½ cups rainbow carrots, 1/2” pieces
1 ½ cups red bell pepper, ½” pieces
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 cups baby bok choy, 1” cubes
1 package Organic Extra Firm Tofu, ½” cubes
Salt and pepper
1 ½ cups dry roasted peanuts
1 package thin spaghetti
Whisk the sauce ingredients together. Add in cubed tofu to marinate.
In a steamer, heat the eggplant and long beans about 5 minutes until tender. Remove and set aside.
Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. While the spaghetti is cooking, prepare the vegetables as follows:
Heat the oil in a wok or large sauté pan on medium-high heat and when the oil sizzles add the dried red chiles and white part of the green onions. Stir fry for 2 minutes.
Add the ginger, red bell pepper and carrots and sauté 2-3 minutes.
Add the garlic and bok choy and sauté 2 minutes.
Add the steamed eggplant and long beans, along with the tofu and sauté 1-2 minutes.
Add in the sauce mixture and stir to combine. Continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Toss in the peanuts and green onions and cook another minute.
Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the spaghetti and then transfer to a large serving bowl. Pour the vegetables and sauce over the spaghetti. Toss to combine and serve.