Celebrate the start of the new lunar year (and new zodiac sign!) by cooking up a storm for a fabulous plant-based feast filled with amazing vegan Chinese dishes that are all gluten-free too! As ex-Singapore expats, we always get excited about Chinese New Year and like to celebrate with a family meal together all our favourite Chinese recipes. These vegan versions are all utterly delicious and you absolutely won't miss the meat or gluten!
Although I'm not Chinese, we lived in Singapore for 4 years where Chinese New Year was a really big deal, with lion dances, dragon dances, long noodles, and of course little red packets for the children! (The little red packets containing money are traditionally given to children at Chinese New Year)
Even though we no longer live in Singapore, we still love to celebrate Chinese New Year at home with a special Chinese meal with the family. In this post, I give ideas and recipes for the vegan Chinese dishes I like to serve.
Lunar New Year
Since Chinese New Year is not only celebrated in China but also in many other Asian countries and by many Chinese-heritage people around the world, the correct, more globally-inclusive, term to use would be Lunar New Year.
The lunar calendar celebrates the start of a new year with the cycle of the new moon. This means that it falls on a different date each year (as opposed to the solar new year which is celebrated on 31st December each year). It is usually towards the end of January or beginning of February.
In 2024, the new lunar year starts on
🐉 Friday 10th February 2024 🐉
Each new Chinese year is given one of twelve zodiac signs. 2023 was the Year of the Rabbit and 2024 will be the 🐉 Year of the Dragon 🐉 (See this website if you want to learn more about the Dragon zodiac sign!)
The Chinese New Year celebrations officially last for a fortnight with various events happening including lion dances, dragon dances and lantern festivals.
However, the main event is usually the Lunar New Year's Eve meal shared with family members. Traditionally, Chinese families celebrate on the eve of the new lunar year with a big feast with particular auspicious dishes each with symbolic meanings chosen to bring prosperity and good fortune for the coming year ahead.
For example, tofu is said to symbolise happiness and fortune for the family, and noodles are eaten for longevity (with the length of the noodles directly correlating with longevity so make sure not to cut them!).
In this post, I give suggestions for delicious vegan versions of the traditional dishes served at the Chinese New Year dinner table. Choose some or all of these plant-based recipes for your own lunar new year celebration. Happy Chinese New Year!
Vegan Chinese New Year Meal
Starters and Dim Sum
Dim Sum are eaten to represent wealth. However, dumplings can be a bit tricky if you are gluten-free since most of the wrappers contain wheat. If you can find gluten-free wrappers, then it is easy to make your own spring rolls (symbolising wealth) and dumplings (representing bags of gold!). Or you could use rice paper, dipped in water, to roll up your spring rolls and dumplings instead (like the Vietnamese style spring rolls).
Alternatively, here are some easy vegan dim sum and Chinese starters that you can make with a little less time and effort!
- Chinese Quick Pickled Cucumbers - these are a classic palate cleanser, refreshing and spicy at the same time and very quick to prepare!
- Vegan Crispy Kale - if you leave out the nutritional yeast from this "cheesy" crispy kale recipe, and add some soy sauce and sesame oil to the raw kale instead, then maybe scatter a few sesame seeds onto the crispy kale after its cooked, you will have a seaweed style healthy nibble to start.
- Vegan San Choy Bau - this is so easy to make and utterly delicious. Using chopped up tofu in place of the usual minced meat, this is a fantastically healthy and tasty way to start your meal!
- Char Siu Mushrooms - my family really loved char siu pork when we lived in Singapore. This is my vegan version using oyster mushrooms. Even though my children don't like mushrooms, they all adore this recipe! I've never found anyone that doesn't like it!
- Vegan Chinese Radish Cake (Lo Bak Go) - In Singapore this was called "carrot cake" (or sometimes turnip cake) although it bears absolutely no resemblance to the carrot cake you might order in a cake shop in the West! This is a sticky savoury dim sum made with daikon radish and, usually containing pork and shrimp so off limits to vegans. This Lo Bak Go recipe from healthy world cuisine magazine, looks delicious if you want to try making some!
Mains and Sides
Normally, Chinese new year feasts are centred quite a lot around meat and fish but with these vegan Chinese recipes, you will be able to enjoy your meal with all the flavours and none of the animal products!
- Chinese Braised Aubergine (Eggplant) and Tofu with Shiitake Mushrooms - this dish is a copycat Hakkasan recipe and is absolutely brimming with delicious Chinese sweet, salty and umami flavours!
- Chinese Green Beans with Tempeh - a plant-based version of the Chinese classic green beans with pork mince. This version uses tempeh for a healthier vegan spin on a much loved recipe.
- Crispy Tofu Cubes with Chia Seeds - in place of the salt and pepper squid that you might have once eaten in the Chinese restaurants, try vegan salt and pepper tofu instead. Add a little more salt and pepper than it says in the recipe, and serve with soy sauce and some chilli oil and fried spring onions, red chillis and garlic sprinkled on top. Delicious!
- Stir Fried Vegetables with Hoisin Sauce - this gluten-free and vegan hoisin sauce is simple to make and tastes authentic. It is such an easy way to step up your vegetables. Make the full recipe, use some with your stir fried vegetables and then leave the rest in a jar in the fridge for other meals.
Serve with some jasmine rice or a bowl of steaming hot noodles (the longer the better remember - for longevity!).
After a big feast, you may find that you don't really want much for dessert! You could go with little things for people to pick at like mochi balls (found in the supermarket or Asian grocery stores) and a fresh fruit platter or you could make one of these small desserts to finish off your meal.
- Peanut Butter Cookies are a popular treat for Chinese New Year and these ones are vegan and gluten-free and very quick and easy to make!
- With golden orange being a colour of prosperity, a Tropical Mango Sorbet might just hit the spot to cleanse the palate at the end of this celebratory feast.
- You could make (or buy) some Chinese New Year Sticky Rice Cakes (Nian Gao) for a traditional end to your feast. These sweet sticky cakes (also called Chinese new year cake) are made with rice flour so they are naturally gluten-free. They are often offered as gifts at Chinese New Year. This Nian Gao recipe by The Woks of Life looks interesting if you want to try making your own!
- These Chinese Sesame Seed Balls by Spruce Eats are also gluten-free and vegan and look delicious!
I hope you have a wonderful vegan Chinese New Year celebration and a prosperous and happy year ahead! Happy Chinese New Year! Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái!
Please do get in touch if you make any of my recipes and let me know how your vegan lunar new year feast went!