Tuesday 12 January 2010

Vegetarian San Choy Bau

Some time ago I saw Frances making San Choy Bau on her Crunchy Green Things blog. The simplicity of the Asian dish appealed to me. I had not encountered it before, no doubt because I have never found a vegetarian version on a restaurant menu. But the idea of serving a flavoursome vegetarian mix in lettuce leaves seemed like fun. I enjoyed eating it but as I am unfamiliar with the dish I found it a bit of a mystery.

I was curious about San Choy Bau. On the web I found it had featured on two television shows recently. Kylie Kwong had made it on her Simply Magic television series. She is one of Australia’s celebrity chefs. Her family is from China and apparently this dish is popular there. Tobie Puttock, another celebrity chef, also made it in Shanghai on Toby and Matt: Asia television series. They both spell it Sung Choi Bao.

When I served it, I suddenly wondered where the carbs were. I know there are lots of people who have low carb diets who might like this but we usually have some carbs on our plate. Maybe it was meant to be one of many courses or a starter.

I had thought I would be able to pick it up in the lettuce leaf and eat it with my fingers but the large serving of hot filling in a large lettuce leaf was not something I could handle easily. Too hot. Too big. The next night I served it on rice with some shredded lettuce on top. If I was to serve it as finger food I would serve each person with several small pieces of lettuce rather than all of it in one piece of lettuce.

This is a great dish for our recent hot weather. It will suit gluten free and/or vegan diets. I loved the marinated tofu and vegetables in the filling. I thought I had read that san choy bau was often made with pork. On the second night when the tofu was really full of flavour I said to E that it was just like pork. He gave me a look that suggested it is a long time since I had pork. It tasted good anyway.

So I leave you with this quote that I came across recently. It struck a chord with me. Vegetarian dishes are not about imitating meat, even when fitting in with a meat-centred banquet – but rather it is about making food taste good.

“You can't make a nut loaf taste like meatloaf but you can make a nut loaf that tastes good
.” in ‘Kitchen saboteurs - Avoid pitfalls, not benefits, of a vegetarian diet’, Liz Biro, Star News Online, 7 January 2010

Vegetarian San Choy Bau

Adapted from Kylie Kwong (via Crunchy Green Things) and Jill Dupleix
serves 4
Place crumbled tofu into a large bowl and add rice wine, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Leave to marinate while you chop vegetables. Place vegetables in bowl with tofu as they are chopped. Heat a large frypan or wok over medium high heat. Cook all ingredients except (bean sprouts and lettuce leaves) in vegetable oil for 4-5 minutes. Add bean sprouts and cook another 2-3 minutes. Serve in lettuce leaves or on a bed of rice with lettuce leaves shredded.

* January 2012 - tried this with a tin of drained brown lentils instead of tofu and it worked very well.

On the stereo:
The Detectives: The John Gregor Orchestra


  1. that nut loaf quote is so right on. I have actually made this before and added very spiced up quinoa and wheat kernels. My husband resisted for sure, but i liked the addition of carbs. Though, now thinking about it, i prefer the idea of rice.

    BTW, I loved your comment on my post.

  2. Ooh,I love San Choy Bau - I've found vegetarian versions at restaurants before (as you guessed, as a starter), but I like to make it at home as a main course. But it's definitely one of those foods to eat with people you know well - can be fairly messy!

    I like your idea of putting the "filling" on rice and topping with lettuce, though. Am keeping that in mind for the future!

  3. Mmm I love San Choy Bau! I make it often sometimes using spinach leaves to roll up the mixture in and seitan for the meat. Yum. Yours looks fantastic!

  4. Sounds amazing. There's a restaurant here that serves a tofu mix in lettuce leaves along with some kind of bean sauce--it's heavenly. I bet yours tastes sort of like that--must try it!

  5. I love san choi bao. Easy and delicious - but half the fun is eating it in the lettuce cup!

  6. sounds great and summer friendly too!

  7. I love the quote - so true, and so wisely put! Your dish is new to me, and sounds incredible - such a vibrant combination of flavors! Gorgeous!

  8. Thanks maybelle's mum - we had some discussion about how to serve this - quinoa would be good in the mix though I did like the rice

    Thanks Hannah - E is not into messy finger food so he appreciated the chopped lettuce and rice but it would be good in smaller quantities as a starter in lettuce leaves

    Thanks Vegetation - spinach to roll these up would be good - I'd like to put the rice in so they could be like a chinese dolmade

    Thanks Ricki - bean sauce sounds interesting - had not thought of this with sauce but now am pondering possibiilties

    Thanks Steph - I know the lettuce cups are fun but I just need to get my head around size I think - maybe it would work better if we had a big bowl of filling and lots of lettuce cups - like spring rolls are served in vietnamese restaurants???

    Thanks Kristy - the lettuce makes it more summery

    Thanks Astra - keep this one for when the snow melts and hope you will enjoy!

  9. I always find Sang Choy Bau one of the best recipes to make vegetarian! It always tastes just as good as the neat version or in some cases better! :)

  10. Yeah, definitely let it cool a bit and then lots of lettuce cups. Mmmm lettuce cups.

  11. As someone who eats a ton of vegetarian food but is definitely a meat eater, I totally agree with your last quote. Since I'm not trying to replace meat, I try to make vegetarian food with the intent that it taste good. And why not? A lot of the time, meat is just not necessary.

    This looks fantastic! I've never had this dish before but now I definitely want to give it a try.

  12. Thanks Lorraine - have to agree with you about it tasting better than the meat version though I haven't tasted the latter

    Thanks Steph - cooling it a bit would help

    Thanks Joanne - try it - I found it a good way to get out of the rut of our same old food


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