Vegetarian Chow Mein (素菜炒面)

Introducing the best noodle sauce to make this scrumptious and authentic Vegetarian Chow Mein. {Vegan, Gluten-free adaptable}

Noodles | Chinese Food | Vegan | Gluten Free Adaptable | One Pot

Over the years I’ve gotten plenty of readers’ requests asking about creating more vegetarian Chinese dishes. I often reply hesitantly and said it’s very challenging to make it happen. You see, traditional Chinese food is always big on vegetables and grains; the focus has never really been on the meat. However, almost 90% of the dishes use some sort of meat or seafood as a flavor enhancer. For example, a big plate of fried green beans uses just a spoonful of ground pork; a hearty spinach dish is cooked in chicken broth; a simple soup is cooked with a few dried shrimps. Or a beautiful vegetable stew might be cooked in a rich pork sauce.

That was the only way I knew how to cook Chinese food; it never crossed my mind how to turn them into vegetarian dishes.

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Last year when I traveled back to Beijing, I was surprised to find my favorite Dim Sum Chain – Jin Ding Xuan (金鼎轩), had just opened a vegetarian branch. The store’s name is “Be Well” (善在), which gives it a hint of zen. It’s funny that at first, I didn’t even realize the place served vegetarian food. Browsing through the menu, we were thinking “hmmm, the dishes look different and a few things seem to be missing…” It was only when I asked the waitress about my favorite shrimp dumplings that she told me that the restaurant had changed to only serving vegetarian food.

Noodles | Chinese Food | Vegan | Gluten Free Adaptable | One Pot

Noodles | Chinese Food | Vegan | Gluten Free Adaptable | One Pot

What’s interesting is that the dim sum menu actually looked perfectly normal. That’s when it dawned on me that it is very possible to make many Chinese dishes vegetarian. If a famous dim sum chain whose previous menu contained meat in almost every dish can do it, I can as well.

So here it is, an authentic-tasting vegetarian chow mein I created in my American kitchen. When my husband asked me if this dish is authentic Cantonese, I replied “I have no idea!” … if you research the dish on Chinese recipe websites, many so-called vegetarian noodles contain pork!

In this version, I used the homemade vegetarian oyster sauce which gives the chow mein sauce a rich umami zing that I swear is as good, if not better, than the non-vegetarian version. At the end of cooking, I tossed in some homemade chili oil to give the dish an extra kick. Not to exaggerate: this one tastes so amazing that I feel even I could follow a vegetarian diet.

Vegan | Vegetarian | Stir Fry | Sauce | Chinese Food

Homemade Vegetarian Oyster Sauce (Click image to view recipe)

Chinese chili oil | Omnivore's Cookbook

Homemade Chili Oil (Click image to view recipe)

Cooking notes

(1)  This dish is highly versatile with the vegetables it uses and you can tweak it with whatever you have at home. Just cook them according to their texture so everything will be done at the same time. The only thing to remember is less is more, so do not add more than 6 cups of vegetables.

Some delicious vegetables I like to use in my fried noodles include:

  • Vegetables that add a crispy texture: bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, baby corn, baby bok choy (or bok choy), thin sliced bell pepper
  • Ingredients that add a soft and tender texture: julienned carrots, sliced mushrooms, fried tofu
  • Something green: spinach, kale, mustard green

(2)  Toss the boiled noodles with some oil in the hot pan before mixing the sauce and vegetables, so the noodles won’t turn to a soggy mesh. You will consume a bit more oil in this case, but this is how Chinese restaurants make such heavenly chow mein. By tossing the noodles with oil, the boiling water will evaporate, the noodles will char a bit and separate more easily.

Noodles | Chinese Food | Vegan | Gluten Free Adaptable | One Pot

(3)  A quick trick to make tossing noodles easier without entangling everything – use a pair of kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter chunks.

(4)  Never cook too many noodles at once. I wouldn’t cook more than 6 ounces dried noodles in a large skillet (11” to 12”) and more than 8 ounces noodles in a large wok (14”). If you need to serve more people, cook the noodles in two batches.

(5)  Many types of noodles work in this dish. The top choice is the dried noodles labeled as “chow mein noodles” (the yellow color comes from turmeric, not egg) or “Chuka Soba” (which is made with wheat flour and unrelated to Japanese buckwheat noodles). You can also use thick dried Udon noodles, or even spaghetti. For a gluten-free alternative, use dried rice noodles or shirataki noodles.

Cooking a Vegetarian Chow Mein

Cooking a Vegetarian Chow Mein

(6)  Do make some chili oil and add it to the noodles if you like spicy food. It’ll take your dish out of this world in no time! Chili oil stays good for months in your fridge and it’s always a great thing to have on hand.

Hope you enjoy!

Noodles | Chinese Food | Vegan | Gluten Free Adaptable | One Pot

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Vegetarian Chow Mein (素菜炒面)

Introducing the best noodle sauce to make this scrumptious and authentic Vegetarian Chow Mein. {Vegan, Gluten-free adaptable}
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: takeout
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 2 to 3 servings
Author: Maggie Zhu

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces dried Chinese noodles (*footnote 1)

Sauce

Stir fry

  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger , minced
  • 1 carrot , peeled and julienned
  • 3 to 4 shiitake or white mushrooms , sliced
  • 2 small heads baby bok choy , chopped
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup sliced bamboo shoot (or 1 cup sliced red pepper)
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 4 green onions , chop to 2-inch (5-cm) pieces

Serve (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil (or 1 tablespoons homemade chili oil)
  • Chopped green onion for garnish
  • Crumbled toasted peanut (or almond for garnish)

Instructions

  • Cook noodles according to the package instruction. Drain and set aside.
  • Combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl, stir to mix well.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high until hot. Add carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and baby bok choy. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Pour in 2 tablespoons water. Cover the pan and let steam for 30 seconds. Transfer everything onto a big plate.
  • Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add noodles. Toss the noodles with a pair of tongs until the edges turn a light golden color. Add more oil if the noodles stick together.
  • Return the cooked vegetables to the pan. Add bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions. Pour in the sauce. Toss until the sauce is eventually mixed and absorbed. Remove the pan from the stove. Swirl in sesame oil (or homemade chili oil). Toss again to mix well.
  • Transfer everything onto a big plate. Serve hot as a main.

Notes

  1. As I mentioned in the blog post, you can use chow mein noodles, or any type of thick wheat noodles. Alternatively, you can replace it with rice noodles for gluten-free and shirataki noodles for gluten-free and paleo.

 

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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my Austin, Texas kitchen.

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14 thoughts on “Vegetarian Chow Mein (素菜炒面)

  1. Wei @ Red House Spice

    Hi Maggie, Greeting from another Chinese blogger (brand new)! Discovered your site since I started my own blog. Adore your blog! So professional and inspirational! And like your photo style too. I’m from Gansu and lived in Beijing for many years before I came to Europe. I used to eat at Jin Ding Xuan a lot (the one near Yong He Gong) with my colleagues after work (around 1 am) because it was one of the few good restaurants which opened 24 hours. This post reminds me of those sweet memories…. Anyway, very pleased to meet you (would like to meet you one day in person). Ps, Thank you so much for your trick on hiding long Pinterest images. Have a great day!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Wei, sorry it took me forever to reply your message! Gosh I just realized it had been a month since I reply my blog comment last time.
      I’m glad to hear you have passion about Chinese food too and would like to share it with the rest of the world. I’ve never been to Gansu before, but I believe you have great noodles there? These days I’m very bad at blog commenting, but I’ll follow your blot and promote it for sure!
      I still haven’t replied your email but will do soon! Happy cooking and have a delicious week ahead 🙂

      Reply
      1. Wei @ Red House Spice

        Thank you very much Maggie! Yes, there are so many great noodle dishes in North-west of China. I saw you wrote about Lanzhou Beef Noodles before. That was my regular breakfast when I was a teenager! Anyway, have a great weekend!

  2. Virginia

    In Cal. we have a place called THE RICE BOWL it served great chow mein using mostly bean sprouts. T Obama’s demanded the thicken sauce be left out/. It became only steamed vegies. Can you tell me w hat the sauce might be? I love vegetables as we were raised with a garden every year. I am so excited with all your information.

    Reply
  3. Lucie

    Hey !
    As a vegetarian and all time fan of asian food I always feel so frustrated at all the meat in there…
    So I have loved your recent posts about vegetarian chinese food, please keep them coming 🙂
    Lucie.

    Reply
  4. eeljapan

    I cooked a 200g package of noodle in two batch for two of us, cooking in two batch, thinking I would have a leftover lunch for myself tomorrow – but no, we finished all! It was too tasty to leave anything behind. I am so happy finally I am accumulating from your site vegetarian / vegan dishes for my vegan friends, but also for myself who is reducing amount of meat in general. Frying noodle was a difficult bit, as quite a bit got stuck to my iron cast pan and didn’t come out. Perhaps I should have added more oil as the recipe says, though I didn’t want to make it too greasy. I will practice more in the coming weeks 🙂

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m glad to hear you like the recipe! Yes, you definitely need to add more oil to the dish if using a cast iron pan. I found starchy food such as noodles will stick to the cast iron pan very easily. Chinese restaurant uses the same trick too, to prevent from sticking and makes the noodles tastier.

      Reply
  5. Jody

    Hi Maggie! Greetings from Oklahoma City. We have enjoyed every recipe of yours that we’ve tried. I just had to comment on the photograph for this dish. It is umame for the eyes! If I wasn’t already vegan, I would want to be one because of this beautiful dish. Thanks for all of your hard work . You inspire me with every post!

    Reply
  6. Beth

    Hi Maggie. I made the vegetarian chow mein last night for dinner for me and my husband, the very first recipe I tried from your site! My husband was quite impressed with the flavor and we both enjoyed the different textures of the different ingredients in the dish: noodles, green onions, fresh mushrooms, baby bok choy, and carrot. I didn’t have any bamboo shoots or bean sprouts on hand so I added in about 7 or 8 ounces of pre-cooked tofu.

    For me and my taste preferences, I think the oyster sauce was a bit too intense. I felt the oyster sauce gave the dish a bit of a funky (but not in an entirely bad way) taste. I did clean my plate and liked what I ate, but ultimately I just don’t think I’m a fan of oyster sauce. (I bought Premium Oyster Sauce by Lee Kum Kee.) That being said, I am still very glad I made this recipe from your site. My husband really liked it and I will be definitely trying other recipes that you have posted. Again, thank you for sharing 🙂

    P.S. What can I do when I come across other recipes of yours that I want to try that have varying amounts of oyster sauce in the dish? Can I just leave it out? Or does the oyster sauce need to be replaced with a different type of thick sauce because that “thickness” might contribute to the body of the sauce??? Like hoisin sauce? Although I’m sure that would change the flavor profile completely. (I have seen vegetarian mushroom not-oyster sauce sauce at the Asian grocery but it’s so pricey that I can’t justify purchasing it, at least not right now since I’ve purchased other items to stock the beginnings of my small Asian pantry.)

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Beth, I’m glad you and your husband like the dish!
      Re oyster sauce replacement – I think the best replacement is hoisin sauce. Oyster sauce adds sweetness and starchiness to the sauce, so you do need to replace it with something similar. Alternatively, you might able to get away with added soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar and cornstarch. Although it’s hard for me to provide a quantity since it might vary depending on the recipe. If you use hoisin sauce as a replacement, I might add less sugar since hoisin is quite sweet.

      Reply
      1. Beth

        Hi Maggie and thanks for your reply and advice re oyster sauce replacement. I think I’d be totally fine using oyster sauce in small amounts in other recipes but it’s good to know that hoisin sauce would be an acceptable substitute. Years ago our natural food health store carried their own brand of hoisin sauce and it was sooooo good. Sadly they discontinued it and I have yet to find a store-bought hoisin sauce that is any good and I’ve been without hoisin sauce for years now 🙁 My most recent hoisin sauce purchase was Sun Luck brand, and while the thickness and mouth feel was quite good, it was really way too sweet and would be strange to use in a savory dish. I would have known that had I checked the ingredient list before I bought it as sugar, molasses, pumpkin, and some other sweetish ingredient were listed among the first ingredients. Anyway, to make a long rambling story short, I’ll be definitely trying your homemade hoisin sauce recipe soonish.