The idea of starting off the new year by going vegetarian is appealing.
As a time for fresh starts, what's better than eating clean?
Indeed, lots of people go vegetarian on significant days, just as the Buddhists do for Chinese New Year.
Many Hindus also do so for the first day of Deepavali, while Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. Some Christians go on a bread and water diet from time to time.
This idea of eating clean is probably why a vegetarian chap chye is often found on many tables during Chinese New Year.
The most popular is the Cantonese version, a mixed vegetable dish boosted with lots of soya bean products and flavoured with fermented bean curd or lam yee.
The Nonyas also cook chap chye during the new year but it is dramatically different: It is lavish.
It uses not only the traditional cabbage and soya bean products, but also pork and prawns, all braised in a rich garlic and soya bean sauce (tau cheo).
Being a Nonya, I grew up with the Nonya chap chye, but the vegetarian chap chye appeals to me more in later years because it is lighter, being meatless, but still satisfying.
Besides, it looks prettier, scattered with sliced carrots and green beans. A serving with hot rice (and chilli, if you're an inveterate chilli eater like me) would both fill your stomach and satisfy your senses.
Yet, few young folk know how to cook it. They should, simply because it is healthy and easy to turn out - most of the ingredients would already be at hand.
Many of their parents' larders would have dried mushrooms, soya beancurd sheets and sticks, black fungus, tang hoon (glass noodles) and lily buds.
I like to also add in a handful of fresh vegetables: carrots, green beans (either sugar snaps or snow peas) for colour and, yes, the important Napa cabbage or wong bok, which provides the fibre, vitamins and sweetness to the dish. I up the fresh quotient by using fresh shitakes and black fungus, which are softer than the dried versions.
Despite it being vegetarian, this dish is full-bodied, with the protein coming from the gingko nuts and the various dried soya bean products. Traditionally, this would be the soya bean sticks, sweet beancurd sheets and the sauce itself, made with fermented soya bean curd or soya cheese.
While many use the red bean curd (lam yee), I do not mind using the white version (fu yee), if it is more convenient.
To keep it strictly vegetarian, I would use only ginger to flavour the oil, omit the prawns and dried oysters which some families add, and use only the vegetarian version of oyster sauce to flavour the dish.
Indeed, I like this version of chap chye so much I will cook it this coming Chinese New Year and for the days after.
Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
CHOLESTEROL-FREE, LOW-FAT TWIST ON CHAP CHYE
Depending on the recipe or ingredients used, some non-vegetarian chap chye with seafood can be high in protein and maybe omega-3 but low in saturated fat.
However, if the recipe includes roasted meat or fatty parts of the meat, the dish will then be higher in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.
Vegetarian chap chye with soya curd and sheets provides a lean source of protein which is also free from cholesterol.
Furthermore, some studies are reporting the benefits of soya which include preventing osteoporosis, lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
Cabbage contains fibre and phytochemicals that are beneficial to our health, for example, helping to lower cholesterol levels. They are also an excellent source of vitamins such as vitamin C and minerals like magnesium.
The other ingredients, including lily bud and gingko nuts, are also a great source of protein.
Gingko nuts also have lower caloric content compared with other nuts like cashews. There are 182kcal in 100g of gingko nuts, while the same amount of cashew nuts provides 553kcal.
This recipe can still be made healthier. The oil used contributes to a large part of the fat content. Reducing the amount of oil to 1.5 tablespoons can reduce the fat content by half.
We can also replace the glass noodles with wholegrains, such as wholemeal vermicelli or higher-fibre noodle such as shirataki which can increase our fibre content up to four times.
Principal dietitian, Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre
- 1 tsp chopped ginger
- 1 tightly packed head of Napa cabbage
- 2-3 dried soya bean sticks, soaked to soften, then snipped into small pieces
- 4-5 sweet beancurd sheets, cut into small squares
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 1 cup fresh black fungus, cut into smaller pieces
- 6-8 fresh shitakes, quartered
- 1 cup gingko nuts, already shelled
- I cup dried lily buds, soaked to soften
- 1 skein dried glass noodles (tang hoon), soaked to soften
- 2 cubes lam yee
- 1 tsp lam yee liquid
- 1 tbs vegetarian oyster sauce
- 2 tbs rice wine, optional
- 1 handful green beans, optional
- 3 tbs vegetable oil
1. Cut off the hard bottom of the Napa cabbage and discard. Wash thoroughly to get rid of dirt, especially between the leaves and cut across into smaller sizes.
2. Snip the softened bean sticks into smaller sizes.
3. Heat 1 tbs oil in a pan and crisp up sweet bean curd squares. Drain on kitchen paper and leave aside.
4. Heat 2 tbs oil in a wok and brown the ginger, then add the mashed up lam yee cubes.
5. Add the cabbage, carrot slices, gingko nuts and black fungus.
6. Season with oyster sauce and the lam yee liquid. Add rice wine and toss well.
7. After a few minutes, add the soya bean sticks and shitakes, then the lily buds and tanghoon.
8. Finally, add the green beans, if using, and top with the sweet beancurd squares.
SERVES 6 -8
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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