Vegetarian Chinese Chickenless Salad for School or Desk Lunches
We’re only two weeks into 2020, but if I had to predict the food trend of the year right now, I’d say it’s plant-based eating. Between the known health benefits of a plant-rich diet and rising awareness about the carbon footprint of the meat and dairy industry, plant-forward eating is getting a lot of air time. So it’s with that in mind that I’m introducing this Vegetarian Chinese Chickenless Salad. It’s got the familiar flavor and crunch of the universally popular salad, only fortified with tofu instead of chicken.
A Healthy Spin on Chinese Chicken Salad
I’m not sure who invented Chinese chicken salad, but I’m guessing it didn’t happen in China. I first encountered it in college at the Cheesecake Factory, where a single salad packs more than 1000 calories and relies mostly on iceberg lettuce for its leafy greens. This version is a whole lot lighter than the one it’s modeled after and gets its crunch from nutrient-rich cabbage and carrots. I’ve included won ton strips in the recipe, since they’re a real kid pleaser, but feel free to use toasted almonds or peanuts instead. For the dressing, I’ve kept it to just a few ingredients. This is lunch after all and who has the time for much more?
What Type of Tofu to Use
Rather than standard, plain tofu, the recipe calls for baked or braised tofu. It has a firm, meaty texture and is available with a variety of seasonings. Look for baked tofu with an Asian flavor profile, such as teriyaki, sriracha, sesame/ginger, or Chinese 5-spice. It’s sold in the refrigerated section of the market alongside conventional tofu and tempeh. If you’re looking for non-GMO tofu, be sure to check the label or buy organic tofu.
A Salad for School (or Work) Lunch
Cabbage makes a sturdy foundation for this salad that doesn’t get soggy when dressed, like most lettuces. You can assemble and dress the salad the night before, or add the dressing just before you pack it up and take it to go. I suggest keeping the won tons in a small, separate container and adding them just before serving, so they stay crunchy. If you don’t care for tofu, you can bump up the amount of edamame in the recipe and toss in extra nuts or peanuts, so you’re sure to have plenty of protein.
Make it for Dinner Instead
Just because I’m pitching this as a lunch box idea doesn’t mean it isn’t perfectly suitable for a simple supper. Double or triple the recipe depending on how many you’re serving. Feel free to play with the ingredients, adding bean sprouts, snow peas, mandarin oranges, or other crunchy vegetables. You can also embellish the dressing with freshly grated ginger or a dab of hot chili sauce. For added sustenance, toss in your favorite Asian noodles or spaghetti just before serving.
Vegetarian Chinese Chickenless Salad
- 3 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 large shredded carrot
- ½ cup cooked edamame
- 8 ounces baked tofu cut into ½-inch cubes
- 3 green onions white and light green parts, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- ¼ cup crispy wonton strips or toasted nuts or peanuts
In a large bowl, toss together all of the ingredients except the wonton strips. Divide between 2 lunch containers with a tight seal. Divide the wonton strips between 2 small containers or snack bags.
Just before eating, add the wonton strips to the salad.