Earthy mushrooms mixed with crunchy water chestnuts, fresh snow peas and cut chillies, served over crisp baby gem lettuce salad cups, this is a delicate Asian salad that looks and tastes fantastic.
Why I love Mushroom and Water Chestnuts Salad
During Chinese New Year celebrations, we cook many traditional dishes to share. There is always an array of meat dishes as centrepieces like roast pork, boiled chicken, steam fish, roast duck and prawns.
As much as there will be some vegetarian dishes, they are not the main focus. So to buck the trend, I wanted to create a vegetarian dish that will steal the show.
San choy bow is one my favourite Chinese appetisers. It literally translates from Cantonese to English as lettuce wraps. We didn’t order this dish often when we went out as children. Maybe my parents felt it is a more “westernised” Chinese dish.
However, I love it. So any chance now I make it at home, and my kids love creating their own lettuce wraps.
There are many slight variations of san choy bow. Still, most recipes will have fresh iceberg lettuce cups holding flavoursome minced pork stir-fried with finely chopped water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, baby corn and onion.
Plus the sweet yet savoury sauce mingled together is just yum.
For Chinese New Year dinner, I wanted to recreate the flavours and textures of san choy bow but a vegan version and one that does not need to be served hot. Also, the plating of salad cups will stand out and rival all the meat dishes on the table.
So here we are. Mushroom and Water Chestnuts Salad was born.
Replacing the pork mince in san choy bow, I used firm tofu mixed with baby king oyster mushrooms in this water chestnuts salad. This adds volume and gives it the “meaty” texture. Then tossed with crunchy water chestnuts, raw snow peas, sliced spring onions and cut chillies.
I just love the kecap manis dressing. It’s sweet, savoury and owns a touch of caramel flavours. All topped on a platter of baby gem lettuce acting as salad cups.
This Asian style salad looks fantastic, and the overall flavours are fresh, delicate but with a hint of spice. I was so happy with the end result.
If we need to visit family for dinner, this water chestnuts salad would be a great vegan potluck idea.
What is Water Chestnut?
One of the key ingredients in both san choy bow and this salad is water chestnut. Commonly used in Asian cooking, I love the crisp, slightly juicy texture of water chestnuts.
The name of this vegetable does seem a bit strange. Water chestnuts are not related to the chestnut family, and they are not nuts at all. Water chestnuts are tuber vegetable grown in water typically in marshes or ponds.
They are native to Southeast Asian, Southern China, Africa and Australia.
Water chestnuts are delicious in stir-fries, curries, salads and even desserts. One of my favourite Asian dessert is a water chestnut cake. You can enjoy water chestnuts raw or cooked.
Different Types of Mushrooms for Salad
To add volume to water chestnuts salad, I used baby king oyster mushrooms in this salad. However, you can substitute for button mushrooms if you can not find baby kind oyster mushrooms.
I am a big fan of mushrooms. I have made quite a few mushroom salads on the website, and with over 50,000 varieties of mushrooms, there is no stopping!
Although I am probably exaggerating the actual number of edible varieties, there are still many different types of mushrooms that are delicious for salad.
Let’s start with button mushrooms. The most common mushrooms in salads would probably have to be the white button mushrooms. Often thinly sliced and eaten raw but they are also fantastic roasted or pan-fried.
Cremini mushrooms are from the same family as the white button mushrooms, but they have a brown cap and have a slightly more earthy flavour.
You probably guessed it, but I also adore Asian mushrooms in salads.
Other than baby king oyster mushrooms in this vegan salad, the other different types of mushrooms such as shiitake, enoki, king oyster, pearl oyster and shimeji are also delicious in salads.
They all have delicate but earthy flavours and are fantastic at absorbing the other flavours around it. I would normally cook Asian mushrooms before eating. It is not because you can’t eat them raw but cooking them first will have better taste and texture.
And finally, if you can get hold of more exotic or wild mushrooms like saffron milk cap or pine mushrooms, they would be fantastic lightly pan fried and then tossed together with our balsamic vinaigrette.
How to Make Mushroom and Water Chestnuts Salad
How to Cook Mushrooms and Tofu
There are two parts of the salad. A cooked component and raw chopped salad component. Both very easy to prepare.
If you can’t find baby king oyster mushrooms, you can substitute for white button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms or shemeji. Just make sure you cut them into 1cm pieces.
First up is to pan fry baby oyster mushrooms and tofu. Then you can set aside to cool down whilst preparing the raw elements.
Give the baby oyster mushrooms a quick rinse to ensure there is no dirt. For slightly larger baby oyster mushrooms, slice in half and leave small ones whole.
Slice firm tofu into 1cm cubes.
Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to large frypan and heat over medium heat.
Add sliced baby oyster mushrooms and firm tofu cubes and pan fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
Remove baby oyster mushrooms and tofu from heat. Set aside for assembly.
How to Prepare The Rest of Salad
For the chopped raw salad, try to slice all the ingredients to a similar size. This way, you don’t get huge chunks of various ingredients.
Wash, top and tail snow peas. Then slice each snow pea on a diagonal to create thin strips.
Drain sliced water chestnuts from the can and then further slice water chestnuts into thin strips. You can purchase whole water chestnuts too, but I find having them pre-sliced it means cutting out one more step of slicing.
Wash and finely slice 2 sprigs of spring onion.
Finely chop chilli into small rounds.
I prefer baby gem lettuce as they are more sturdy when holding other ingredients. Iceberg lettuce will work as well.
Wash and pull apart baby gem lettuce leaves. Set aside for assembly.
How to Make Kecap Manis Soy Dressing
This is a simple Asian style salad dressing with a little bit of sweet and a bit of salt. There is added palm sugar in kecap manis which creates the more syrupy consistency and darker molasses-like flavours in this sweet soy sauce.
In a small bowl, mix kecap manis, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar together.
Stir well until the sugar has dissolved.
How To Assemble The Salad
Place the pan-fried baby oyster mushrooms and tofu in a large mixing bowl. Add kecap manis dressing and mix together well. You may even want to leave the baby oyster mushrooms and tofu to sit in the dressing for a few minutes to absorb the sweet soy flavour.
Add sliced water chestnuts, snow peas and half of the spring onions to the mushroom mix. Mix together.
On a large platter, place the baby gem lettuce leaves a row. These will act as a salad cups.
Add mushroom mixture on top.
Drizzle some of the leftover dressing from the mushroom mixture on top.
Sprinkle sesame seeds, chopped chilli and the remaining of the spring onions on top of the salad cups.
I am not pretending this dish is san choy bow but a delicious vegan salad that truly pays homage to a well-loved Chinese starter.
Presented on a large platter with all the delicious Asian colours and flavours, these flavoursome water chestnut salad cups will be a hit at any Chinese New Year gathering.
I love the fresh element of the baby gem lettuce mixed with the different textures of mushrooms, firm tofu, snow peas and water chestnuts. And with the added zing of fresh chillies, this is a yummy vegan potluck idea that will get the taste buds moving.
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Mushroom and Water Chestnuts Salad
- 200 g king oyster mushrooms, baby
- 200 g tofu, firm
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup snow peas
- 1 can water chestnuts
- 2 sprigs spring onion
- 2 red chillies, small
- 3 baby gem lettuce
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- Wash baby oyster mushrooms. Then slice the larger baby oyster mushrooms in half and leave smaller ones whole.
- Slice firm tofu into 1cm cubes.
- Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to large fry pan and heat over medium heat.
- Add sliced baby oyster mushrooms and firm tofu cubes and pan fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Remove baby oyster mushrooms and tofu from heat. Set aside for assembly.
- Wash, top and tail snow peas. Then slice each snow pea on a diagonal to create thin strips.
- Drain sliced water chestnuts from the can and then further slice water chestnuts into thin strips.
- Wash and finely slice 2 sprigs of spring onion.
- Finely chop chilli into small rounds.
- Wash and pull apart baby cos lettuce leaves. Set aside for assembly.
- In a small bowl, mix kecap manis, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar together.
- Stir well until the sugar has dissolved.
- Place the pan-fried baby oyster mushrooms and tofu in a large mixing bowl.
- Add kecap manis dressing and mix together well.
- Add sliced water chestnuts, snow peas and half of the spring onions to the mushroom mix.
- Mix together.
- On a large platter, place the baby gem lettuce leaves a row. These will act as a salad cups.
- Add mushroom mixture on top.
- Drizzle some of the leftover dressing from the mushroom mixture on top.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds, chopped chilli and the remaining of the spring onions on top of the salad cups.
- If you can’t find baby king oyster mushrooms, you can substitute for white button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms or shemeji. Just make sure you cut them into 1cm pieces.
- You find water chestnuts in the Asian aisle in most large supermarkets or Asian grocers. They come whole or sliced. Either one is fine.
- Kecap manis can be bought in large supermarkets or Asian grocer. If you can’t find it, I would use brown sugar instead of white sugar in the dressing for that slightly more caramel flavour.
- Baby gem lettuce are preferred, but iceberg lettuce will work as well for salad cups.
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