Bring in the Chinese New Year with a prosperous and festive yee sang salad that is made with immense love and effort. A significant tradition, we take you step by step through the recipe and show you that it is much easier than you think!
Why You Should Make Your Own Yee Sang
You have no doubt come across this recipe because you are contemplating making your own yee sang or prosperity salad for Chinese New Year. Years of buying pre-made or store-bought yee sang no longer appeals to you, and you think that you can make a better, fresher version for the festivities.
I hear you. After many years of ever only eating pre-packaged yee sang, I was introduced to making it fresh, from scratch and honestly, that changed my world!
Never did I think that people would spend time shredding, tearing, chopping and frying for a prosperity salad until my sister-in-law offered to do so annually for our Chinese New Year celebration.
A freshly, homemade yee sang is noticeably different. Not only is it a lot more economical, but each individual ingredient really shines as they are fresher, more flavourful and crunchier.
So a few years ago, I offered to make yee sang salad for a group of friends. O M G, the reaction I received was phenomenal!
Everyone who has had it over the years, with a few tweaks here and there, has complimented on how good it is. The words “fresh, crunchy and tasty” are repeatedly used to describe their experience.
A good yee sang recipe needs to carry all the following – flavour, texture and colour. In this recipe, there is all of that.
Flavour from aromatic ginger, fresh coriander, tangy pomelo and the five spice plum sauce dressing; texture from deep fried wonton skin wrappers and sweet potatoes, bouncy jellyfish, and juicy cucumber; and colour from orange carrot to purple sweet potato. All ingredients culminating into an explosion of deliciousness in one mouthful!
There is one compliment from early this year that reassured me that this is the best homemade yee sang recipe, and that’s when my friend Pete said: “I’ve had many yee sang this Chinese New Year, but yours is downright the best!”.
Difference Between Yee Sang and Lou Hei?
In contextual terms, they refer to the same thing. It refers to a salad made with a variety of shredded vegetables, various toppings, a tangy plum sauce and slices of raw fish specifically eaten during the 15-day celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year.
Yee sang (Cantonese dialect), or yusheng (Mandarin dialect) is literally translated to raw fish.
Lou hei (Cantonese dialect) or lou sang (Mandarin dialect) means “tossing up good fortune”. The English name for this salad is often called prosperity salad or the prosperity toss.
The first time I encountered yee sang (魚生) was when I was stationed in Singapore for work in my 20s. It was Chinese New Year and my workmates brought in this huge platter with assorted vegetables and toppings on it into the boardroom.
We each received a pair of chopsticks, and then someone shouted out “time to lou hei!”. It was time for “the prosperity salad toss”. So we all dug our chopsticks into the platter and tossed up the ingredients to mix it whilst shouting out auspicious sayings.
This cultural activity was such an experience and oh so delicious! I couldn’t get enough of it! It was from then on my fondness for this iconic Chinese New Year salad emerged.
The Significance of Lo Hei
Lou hei is an integral part of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, especially in Malaysia and Singapore, where there are many traditions and cultural practices from receiving red packets to firecrackers.
This annual festival is held over 15 days and is a holiday in several Chinese populated countries. Not only is it an occasion to draw the family together, but it is also an excuse for indulgence, especially when it comes to feasting!
Traditionally, lou hei took place on the 7th day of the Lunar Year festival, also known as the celebration of Renri. However, commercialisation had restaurants pushing it out on the 2nd day so that they could sell the lou hei for 14 days instead of 15. Now the iconic lou hei usually happens more than once over the 15 day celebration and the first in order at any festive gathering.
Met with gusto, the activity “Lo Hei” (撈起), in Cantonese literally translates to “tossing up good fortune” and it involves a group of people gathered around a big plate of salad around a table, shouting out auspicious sayings whilst tossing the ingredients up in the air.
The belief is that it brings good luck for the new year. They also say the higher the toss, the better your prospects and fortune in the year ahead so the prosperity toss can get quite messy at times but also really fun!
Who invented Yee Sang?
There is much debate about where yee sang originated. Some people say Malaysia whilst others say Singapore.
According to one set of claims, the Malaysian version of this Chinese New Year salad came about when a catering business owner from Seremban, Loke Ching Fatt, reinvented the traditional Chinese dish in the 1930s to save his business after it was hit from the economic downturn after World War II.
He recreated the yee sang recipe with 7 vegetables that are all symbolic and easily attainable and dressed them with raw fish, plum sauce, oil, salt and pepper.
The other claim was that it was created in the 1960s by chefs Lau Yoke Pui, Tham Yui Kai, Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, together known as the “Four Heavenly Kings” in the Singapore restaurant scene.
Apparently, they standardised the sauce and used additional ingredients to enhance the dish in flavour, texture, colour which is pretty much the version we all know today.
The evolution of the yee sang started back in the 1930s and has since been transformed and adapted over the years by many, including us here at The Devil Wears Salad.
I guess we could claim it as Australian now since this is the best homemade yee sang recipe? LOL! Not sure that will go down well!
One thing is certain, though, that this dish has its roots deep in the Southern part of China.
What To Say During Lou Hei
It is customary to say auspicious sayings while tossing the lou hei together as the belief is that it brings good luck for the new year.
Like many traditions, there are proper steps to follow in terms of assembling the yee sang, and each step comes with a poignant saying. As you’re building it step by step, you can say these out loud for good fortune.
Step 1: Yee Sang platter is placed at the centre of the dining table.
Cantonese saying 1: 恭喜發財 Gong Hei Faat Choi
Mandarin saying 1: 恭喜发财 Gong Xi Fa Cai
English translation 1: Congratulations for your wealth and prosperity
Cantonese saying 2: 萬事如意 Maan Si Yu Yi
Mandarin saying 2: 万事如意 Wan Shi Ru Yi
English translation: May all your wishes be fulfilled
Step 2: Raw fish is added.
Cantonese saying: 年年有余 Leen Leen Yow Yu
Mandarin saying: 年年有余 Nian Nian You Yu
English translation: Abundance every year
Step 3: Pomelo is added.
Cantonese saying: 大吉大利 Dai Gut Dai Lei
Mandarin saying: 大吉大利 Da Ji Da Li
English translation: Good luck and great prosperity
Step 4: Carrot (and other pink ingredients such as ginger) is added.
Cantonese saying: 鴻運當頭 Hung Wan Dong Tau
Mandarin saying: 鸿运当头 Hong Yun Dang Tou
English translation: Good luck is approaching
Step 5: Green vegetables are added (in this recipe, we use cucumber and coriander)
Cantonese saying: 青春常駐 Cing Ceon Soeng Zyu
Mandarin saying: 青春常驻 Qing Chun Chang Zhu
English translation: Wishing you eternal youth
Step 6: Seasonings are sprinkled over.
Cantonese saying: 招財進寶 Jiu Choi Jun Bo
Mandarin saying: 招财进宝 Zhao Cai Jin Bao
English translation: Let wealth and treasures enter the house
Step 7: Plum sauce dressing is poured over ingredients in a circular motion.
Cantonese saying 1: 一本万利 Yut Boon Maan Lei
Mandarin saying 1: 一本万利 Yi Ben Wan Li
English translation 1: Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital
Cantonese saying 2: 甜甜蜜蜜 Tim Tim Mut Mut
Mandarin saying 2: 甜甜蜜蜜 Tian Tian Mi Mi
English translation 2: May life always be sweet.
Cantonese saying 3: 財源廣進 Choi Yun Gwong Jun
Mandarin saying 3: 财源广进 Caii Yuan Guang Jin
English translation 3: Money and treasures will be plentiful
Step 8: Peanut crumbs are poured over.
Cantonese saying: 金银满屋 Gum Ngun Moon Knuk
Mandarin saying: 金银满屋 Jin Yin Man Wu
English translation: May your home be filled with lots of gold and silver
Step 9: Sesame seeds sprinkled over.
Cantonese saying: 生意兴隆 Sang Yi Heng Loong
Mandarin saying: 生意兴隆 Sheng Yi Xing Long
English translation: Wishing you prosperity for the business
Step 10: Deep-fried wonton skins are added.
Cantonese saying: 满地黄金 Moon Dei Wong Gum
Mandarin saying: 满地黄金 Man Di Huang Jin
English translation: May the whole floor be filled with gold
When the yee sang is assembled, served and the tossing commences, everyone involved would shout out all the above sayings randomly and rarely follow a sequence. There are other sayings too, but these are the most common ones.
Of course, you are more than welcome to shout out these well wishes in English as many of our friends and family do.
How to Make Yee Sang
How to Make Wonton Skin Wrappers and Sweet Potatoes
Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the square wonton wrappers into 6 rectangles. Cut a few sheets at a time. The shape should resemble “golden pillows”. Separate each layer and place on a plate ready to be fried.
Peel both the orange and purple sweet potatoes. Then using a 3mm julienne slicer, slice the sweet potatoes. Set aside separately, ready for frying. You could also use a julienne peeler, mandoline julienne slicer or knife for this task.
In a small pot or a wok, heat vegetable oil to medium, drop the cut wonton skin wrappers a few at a time, and deep fry them. They turn brown in seconds so watch them closely and remove them quickly with a slotted spoon.
Also, ensure the oil is not too hot; otherwise, they burn quickly. Once fried, the wonton skin wrapper should be golden, crisp, and light-textured. Set aside for assembly.
Next, place the shredded orange sweet potato into a saucepan of medium hot oil and deep fry in 2-3 small batches. I use a pair of chopsticks to separate the sweet potato as I was frying so that they wouldn’t stick together.
After about 4 minutes, take the sweet potato out and place on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. The sweet potato should be crunchy when cooled. After each batch, you may need to scoop out some of the smaller burnt remnants. Set aside for assembly.
Do the same for the purple sweet potato.
You can fry up to 2 days in advance as long as you keep the ingredients in an airtight container until day of assembly.
How to Prepare The Pomelo
With the pomelo, lay it on its side and slice off the top of the fruit. Stand it back up on its base. Cut the outer skin from top to bottom. The skin is about 3 cm thick, so don’t be afraid to embed a knife in a bit more than usual.
Do this about 4-6 times around the red pomelo.
With your thumb, pierce the skin on the top of the pomelo and pry the skin open by pulling downwards. If you made 4 incisions, you would get 4 portions of the skin come off.
Remove all the pith of the pomelo and extract the segments. Break the segments down further by separating the pink pulp. Be gentle and try not to break the juice sacs.
Set aside for assembly.
How to Prepare The Rest Of The Salad
Peel and grate carrot with a 1.6 mm julienne slicer or julienne peeler. I use my Mother-in-law’s old school shredder that works a charm!
Peel and grate white radish with a 1.6 mm julienne slicer or julienne peeler. Squeeze the sliced radish with your hands to take out the excess water. Like you’re squeezing water from a sponge.
You will be amazed how much water content a white radish has! Then let it sit in more paper towels until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
Peel and grate cucumber in the same way as the white radish. If using a julienne peeler, try avoiding the seeds as that part contains a lot of water.
Wash the coriander leaves well and roughly tear or chop off leaves.
I absolutely adore coriander (cilantro) and feel that this is what helps make this yee sang one of the best, but for those that despise coriander (you know who you are), then omit it and use spring onions instead.
The instant natural jellyfish was purchased at an Asian grocer. They come all cut and prepared, so all you have to do is open the packets of jellyfish, drain the liquid, mix in the packet seasonings and leave aside for assembly.
My husband believes the jellyfish is an integral part of the yee sang as it adds a bouncy texture.
The pickled ginger is also purchased from an Asian grocer. I buy the Japanese pickled ginger, also known as sushi ginger or Gari, for their pink colour and taste. Squeeze out liquid and let it dry on paper towels.
On a small pan, toast the crushed peanuts for about 2 minutes until there is a nutty aroma. If there are guests I don’t know, I usually leave out the peanuts in case there is an allergy. Set aside.
If your sesame seeds are not pre-toasted, toast the sesame seeds for about 2 minutes until there is a nutty aroma. Set aside.
Slice the sashimi-grade salmon into very thin slices. We’re eating the salmon raw so ensure you buy very fresh salmon. I like to slice them thinner than your standard sashimi which is generally between 5 – 7 mm.
This way, there is more variety of ingredients with every mouthful. Set aside in the fridge until assembly.
How to Make Five Spice Plum Dressing
In a small microwave-safe bowl, add the plum sauce, Chinese 5 spice powder, white pepper, sesame oil, hoisin sauce and lemon juice. Mix until well combined.
Microwave on high for 1 minute.
Allow to cool.
This dressing is thick and syrupy, full of sweetness and tang. If you prefer more tang, add juice of another ½ lemon.
You can make this a few days ahead to save you time on the day. Just store in fridge and when ready to use, place in the microwave for about 30 seconds to soften into a saucy dressing.
How to Assemble Yee Sang
For this salad, you need a large shallow platter.
If you would like to follow the traditional way of assembly, then add the ingredients one at a time as you do the lou hei. However, in modern day, most people assemble the platter before the prosperity toss.
The key thing to remember is to place different colours next to each other. I separate each ingredient into two piles so that they sit on opposite sides of the platter.
For example, separate the white radish into two piles and place on opposing sides of the platter. Then pick up another ingredient with a different colour such as the cucumber, and place it next to the white radish on both sides of the platter and so forth.
Start from the outer edge of the platter, work your way around the rim and then start moving towards the centre. Leave a place in the centre of the platter for the salmon.
Each in two separate piles, this is the order I assembled the ingredients:
Orange sweet potato
Purple sweet potato
I then place the salmon in the centre, divide the fried wonton skin “golden pillows” into four piles and placed around the edge (or on top if you don’t have room), and finally scatter the roasted peanuts and sesame on top.
For presentation and before you add the dressing, you can add 2 red packets as decoration. Remove prior to adding the dressing.
Place a ⅓ of the dressing into a bowl for guests who may like more sauce, leaving the remaining ⅔ for the prosperity toss. Just as you’re about to do the toss, pour the dressing all over the salad and shout “lou hei!”.
This is homemade yee sang salad is fresh, textural and colourful with an abundance of flavours that explodes with every mouthful. Dressed with the sweet and tangy yee sang sauce, this iconic dish will reign at the helm of all your Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.
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Best Homemade Yee Sang Recipe
- 150 g wonton skin (wrapper)
- 1 sweet potato, orange, small
- 1 sweet potato, purple, small
- 3 cups vegetable oil
- ⅓ red pomelo
- 2 carrots, medium
- 1 white radish, medium
- 1 cucumber, large
- 1 bunch coriander
- 375 g jellyfish, instant natural
- ⅓ cup ginger, pickled
- 4 tbsp peanuts, crushed
- 2 tbsp sesame, roasted
- 500 g salmon, sashimi grade
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
Wonton Wrappers and Sweet Potato
- Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the square wonton wrappers into 6 rectangles. Cut a few sheets at a time. Separate each layer and place on a plate ready to be fried.
- Peel both the orange and purple sweet potatoes. Then using a 3mm julienne slicer, slice the sweet potatoes. Set aside separately, ready for frying.
- In a small pot or a wok, heat vegetable oil to medium, drop the cut wonton skin wrappers a few at a time, and deep fry them. Once golden brown, remove them quickly with a slotted spoon. Set aside for assembly.
- Place the shredded orange sweet potato into a saucepan of medium hot oil and deep fry in 2-3 small batches. Separate sweet potato while frying, so they do not stick together.
- After about 4 minutes, take the sweet potato out and place on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Set aside for assembly.
- Scoop out burnt remnants from oil.
- Repeat process for the purple sweet potato.
- Peel pomelo, remove all the pith of the pomelo and extract the segments. Break the segments down further by separating the pink pulp. Be gentle and try not to break the juice sacs.
- Set aside for assembly.
Rest of the Salad
- Peel and grate carrot with a 1.6 mm julienne slicer or julienne peeler.
- Peel and grate white radish with a 1.6 mm julienne slicer or julienne peeler. Squeeze the sliced radish with your hands to take out the excess water. Then let it sit in more paper towels until you are ready to assemble the salad.
- Peel and grate cucumber in the same way as the white radish. If using a julienne peeler, try avoiding the seeds as that part contains a lot of water.
- Wash the coriander leaves well and roughly tear or chop off leaves.
- Prepare jellyfish. Drain the liquid, mix in the packet seasonings and leave aside for assembly.
- Squeeze out liquid from packaged ginger and let it dry on paper towels.
- On a small pan, toast the crushed peanuts for about 2 minutes until there is a nutty aroma. Set aside.
- If your sesame seeds are not pre-toasted, toast the sesame seeds for about 2 minutes until there is a nutty aroma. Set aside.
- Slice the salmon into very thin slices, about 5 mm. Set aside in the fridge until assembly.
- In a small microwave-safe bowl, add the plum sauce, Chinese 5 spice powder, white pepper, sesame oil, hoisin sauce and lemon juice. Mix until combined.
- Microwave on high for 1 minute.
- Allow to cool.
- For this salad, you need a large shallow platter.
- Start from the outer edge of the platter, work your way around the rim and then start moving towards the centre. Leave a place in the centre of the platter for the salmon.
- Each in two separate piles, assemble the ingredients to include white radish, cucumber, jellyfish, carrot, coriander, orange sweet potato, purple sweet potato, red pomelo and pickled ginger.
- Place the salmon in the centre, divide the fried wonton skin "golden pillows" into four piles and placed around the edge (or on top if you don't have room), and finally scatter the roasted peanuts and sesame on top.
- Place a ⅓ of the dressing into a bowl for guests who may like more sauce, leaving the remaining ⅔ for the prosperity toss. Just as you're about to do the toss, pour the dressing all over the salad.
- This recipe makes 16 serves. If you would like to prepare this yee sang for less than 16 people, then not only can you proportion the ingredients accordingly, but there are some elements that you could leave out. For example, the cucumber and the purple sweet potato.
- If you would like to transport this dish, pack the fried wonton skin wrappers, fried sweet potato, peanuts, sesame seeds, and salmon separately. Add these ingredients to platter just prior to consumption, then pour over dressing.
- You can make a vegetarian version by replacing the salmon with soy fish.
- Add more lemon to the dressing if you like it more tangy.
- Replace coriander (cilantro) with spring onions if you prefer. You could also add it as an additional ingredient for additional flavour!
- Leave out the peanuts if there are people you don’t really know, in case there is an allergy.
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