Paying homage to the popular Chinese san choy bow, this is a delicious vegan salad recipe with crunchy water chestnuts mixed with mushrooms, fresh snow peas and cut chillies, served over crisp baby gem lettuce cups. Share these tasty vegan lettuce wraps with family and friends today.
- Why I Love This Salad
- What is San Choy Bow?
- What is Water Chestnut?
- What Are The Best Ways To Cook Water Chestnuts
- Tips For A Delicious Vegan Lettuce Wraps
- Recipe Overview
- Variations and Substitutions
- How to Cook Mushrooms and Tofu
- How to Prepare The Rest of Salad
- How to Make Kecap Manis Dressing
- How To Assemble The Salad
- What To Eat With Mushroom and Water Chestnut Salad
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why I Love This 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.
Using classic san choy bow as inspiration, I mixed together water chestnuts, mushrooms and firm tofu with a sweet savoury kecap manis dressing and layered on top of crunchy fresh baby cos lettuce to create my own delicious Asian vegan lettuce wraps.
Served on a large platter with a good scattering of sesame seeds and chilli, this water chestnut recipe looks amazing. The flavours are deliciously savoury and with a crunchy texture as well.
I love this vegan san choy bow recipe because I can serve warm or at room temperature. This is perfect when you have to feed a crowd during Chinese New Year celebrations or for big family gatherings.
This mushroom and water chestnut salad is also the perfect vegan potluck idea. Can easily prepare in advance and transport to your destination.
What is San Choy Bow?
San choy bow is one of 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 was a more “westernised” Chinese side dish.
There are many variations of san choy bow. However, most commonly you will find recipes with fresh iceberg lettuce cups holding flavoursome minced pork stir-fried with finely chopped water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, baby corn and onion with sweet savoury sauce.
I have taken inspiration from the classic san choy bow and transferred it to this vegan san choy bow recipe.
Replacing the pork mince in san choy bow, I used firm tofu mixed with baby king oyster mushrooms. This adds volume and gives it the “meaty” texture to vegan san choy bow.
Then tossed with water chestnuts, raw snow peas and sliced spring onions, I retain the crunchy aspect of this Asian side dish. Finally tie all the ingredients together with a sweet savoury kecap manis dressing.
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 vegetables grown in water typically in marshes or ponds. You harvest them when the bulb turns brown.
They are native to Southeast Asian, Southern China, Africa and Australia.
Water chestnuts may seem small but are jammed packed with health benefits including high in fibre and low in calories as raw water chestnuts are over 70% water.
What Are The Best Ways To Cook Water Chestnuts
Typically in Australia, we buy water chestnuts peeled and in cans. You can buy them whole or sliced. I haven’t actually seen fresh water chestnuts before in our markets but I am sure they are available in other countries.
Water chestnuts are delicious in stir-fries, curries, salads and even desserts. One of my favourite Asian desserts is a water chestnut cake. Water chestnut has a crunchy texture and holds well when cooked.
You can enjoy water chestnuts raw or cooked.
Tips For A Delicious Vegan Lettuce Wraps
- Try to slice all the ingredients to a similar size. This way, you don’t get huge chunks of various ingredients.
- Let mushrooms and tofu absorb the kecap manis dressing before serving.
- Balance the flavours between kecap manis, soy, chilli and sugar.
- Be generous with your water chestnut salad in the vegan lettuce wraps so you get all flavours and textures in one bite.
Flavour/Texture: There is a lot of texture going on with this salad as we have mushrooms, water chestnuts, firm tofu, raw snow peas, spring onions all layered over lettuce cups. It’s crunchy and fresh all together.
And all these ingredients are great to absorb the kecap manis dressing. It’s sweet, savoury and owns a touch of caramel flavours.
Ease: There is some cooking involved with the mushrooms and tofu but technically challenging. Most of the work is chopping the ingredients into small pieces so they can fit well on the lettuce wraps. It is an easy Asian side dish to prepare.
Time: Total time it takes is about 30 minutes as there are two parts of the salad. But they are simple and the recipe is straightforward.
These are the ingredients you need for Mushroom and Water Chestnut Salad:
Mushrooms: I used baby king oyster mushrooms in this recipe as I like the “meaty” texture of king oyster mushrooms. Make sure they are cleaned of any excessive dirt and chopped into small pieces.
Firm tofu: As we are tossing the tofu in a pan, it is best to use firm tofu whether it be pressed firm tofu or regular firm tofu in this water chestnut recipe. Soft tofu or regular tofu will break and not be suitable.
Tofu form a big part of our salads from firm to puffs. If you’re a tofu lover you may like these recipes such as Egg Tofu Salad with Omelette and Chives, Silken Tofu Recipe with Fried Garlic and Black Beans or Tofu Puff Salad with Snake Beans and Peanut Butter Dressing.
Water chestnuts: I normally buy canned water chestnuts pre-sliced for san choy bow. One less step to do in preparing the recipe.
Snow peas: For added greenery and crunch, raw snow pea slices are deliciously sweet.
Spring onions: Also known as scallions, I love to add a little crunch and heat to the water chestnut salad with spring onions.
Baby gem lettuce: In place of iceberg lettuce, I prefer baby gem lettuce as they are more sturdy than iceberg as lettuce cups.
Chilli: You can adjust the level of heat and add as much chilli as you like. I have
Kecap manis: One of the more popular Indonesian brands, ABC Kecap Manis, is widely available in most supermarkets and Asian grocery stores. This sweet soy sauce keeps well in the pantry and goes a long way. We only use a couple of tablespoons each time.
Soy sauce: This adds balance to the kecap manis as it is more sweet and has a thicker consistency. Soy sauce will thin out the dressing.
Rice wine vinegar: Compared to white vinegar, rice wine vinegar is less acidic with a milder, sweeter flavour. We are not adding a lot of the vinegar, it is to balance the savoury sweet flavours of kecap manis.
Sesame oil: The aroma of sesame oil is second to none. It adds a nutty fragrance to the overall balance of the dressing.
Variations and Substitutions
Water chestnut substitutes: With canned water chestnut, you can generally access it all year round.
However, if you wish to look for a substitute for fresh water chestnut, I think the closest vegetable with similar texture and flavour would be jicama. Jerusalem artichoke also has a similar texture but not always in season.
Mushroom variations: If you can’t find baby king oyster mushrooms, you can substitute with white button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms or shimeji. Just make sure you cut them into small pieces.
Lettuce alternatives: I prefer baby gem lettuce as they are more sturdy when holding other ingredients. Iceberg lettuce will work as well.
Kecap manis substitutions: If you don’t have kecap manis readily available, add another teaspoon of soy sauce and switch the white sugar for brown sugar. Adjust the sweetness depending on your taste.
Step by step instructions for how to make Mushroom and Water Chestnut Salad:
How to Cook Mushrooms and Tofu
There are two parts of the salad. A cooked component and raw chopped salad component. Both are very easy to prepare.
Slice in baby king oyster mushrooms in half.
Slice firm tofu into 1cm cubes.
Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to a large frypan and heat over medium heat.
Add sliced baby king oyster mushrooms and firm tofu cubes and pan fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
Remove baby king oyster mushrooms and tofu from heat. Set aside for assembly.
How to Prepare The Rest of Salad
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 gem lettuce leaves. Set aside for assembly.
How to Make Kecap Manis 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 king 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 king 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 in a row. These will act as 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.
What To Eat With Mushroom and Water Chestnut Salad
What to serve with Mushroom and Water Chestnut Salad? Try these delicious Asian recipes.
Steamed egg with minced pork is the ultimately Chinese comfort food. Served with the steaming hot rice, this makes for a delicious meal!
Frequently Asked Questions
Water chestnuts and chestnuts do both have brown skins on the outside but the similarity stops there.
They may have chestnut in their names but water chestnut and chestnut are not from the same family. Water chestnuts are not nuts at all. They are an aquatic tuber vegetable.
Chestnuts have a meatier nutty texture when cooked, whilst water chestnuts have a more crisp bite. As water chestnuts have a high water content, the crunch feels juicy.
You might not be as familiar with water chestnuts as other vegetables but it is a versatile ingredient. I love to add water chestnuts in Chinese stir fries, stews, curries and salads. It adds texture, crunch and delicate flavour to water chestnut recipes.
In Chinese cooking, we like to use water chestnuts in desserts as well. The most popular recipe is called water chestnut cake.
Although it is not really a “cake” per se, it is more like a firm brown sugar jelly with tiny pieces of water chestnut scattered through. This is one of my favourite Chinese desserts.
Water chestnut goes well with many ingredients including chicken, snow peas, peas, mushrooms, tofu, bacon, lamb, pork and beef.
Yes you can definitely prepare this ahead of time. I would keep the mushroom and water chestnut salad in a separate container until ready to serve over the lettuce wraps.
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!
Asian mushrooms 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.
The end result of this mushroom and water chestnut salad is very much a delicious vegan recipe and truly pays homage to a well-loved Chinese starter, san choy bow.
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.
Presented on a large platter with all the delicious Asian colours and flavours, these flavoursome vegan lettuce wraps will be a hit at any Chinese New Year gathering.
More Asian Salad Recipes
Mushroom and Water Chestnut Salad (Vegan Lettuce Wraps)
- 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 lettuce, baby gem
- 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.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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