On Chinese New Year, I grew up watching an elaborate and colorful parade in China Town, San Francisco followed by Mu Shu pork pancakes and plum sauce. I once had the pleasure of another New Year spent in Hong Kong where shark-fin soup was offered afterwards. While these options are not very healthy or environmentally sustainable, Chinese cooking can actually cater to a host of specialty diets with a small amount of effort. Here are 5 tips to accommodate a gluten-free and dairy-free diet with a few simple swaps.
1. Many people report hangover like symptoms from Asian cooking. A huge reason for that is an ingredient called MSG, (monosodium glutamate) which is a flavor enhancer and preservative. Look for ingredients with no MSG. Store-bought Asian sauces also contain gluten, corn syrup and a ton of sodium. So it’s best to make your own broths and sauces from scratch with simple ingredients and great flavors.
2. Focus on soups! Chinese flavors are excellent in soups and lack the oil that you traditionally find in stir-fries. Use your favorite organic broth as a base and add garlic, ginger, spring onions, tamari (gluten free soy sauce) mushrooms and your favorite veggies and meat. You can even add rice noodles for a completely gluten free soup. Garlic and ginger are also known for their medicinal properties and are great for colds and flus.
3. Try a homemade spring roll. The association with spring rolls in China is that they are fried. I make a healthy Vietnamese version with rice paper with uncooked veggies and steamed shrimp. Many people think of spring rolls as something to have in a restaurant, but they are very easy to make at home. Just get some rice paper and add your favorite julienned crisp veggies and precooked meat. For an even healthier dipping sauce, replace peanut butter with almond butter.
4. “Just add broccoli.” This advice applies to make any recipe healthier but broccoli is especially complimentary with Asian flavors. Broccoli has protein, fiber, potassium, iron and vitamins A, K, E and B vitamins. Broccoli stands up well in soups and stir-frys and absorbs flavors wonderfully.
5. California Chinese Cabbage salad is one of my favorite healthy salads and an undisputed crowd pleaser. Coming from San Francisco California, we have a massive Chinese influence in our cuisine but we also try to make lighter healthier versions of everything.
Here is a recipe my mom used to make in our house all the time.
- Combine ½ cup of carrots with 2 cups of shredded cabbage and 2 scallions.
- Add 1/3 cup of slivered almonds and 2 cups of shredded chicken (or leave it out if you are vegetarian).
- For the dressing combine 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons of sesame Oil, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce (or tamari).