What’s your go-to Chinese food order? When the menu is as thick as a novel, which section to you flip to first? I find it’s always a struggle to balance cravings for the familiar with the impulse to try something new. Venturing into unknown territory can be risky, but the delicious payoff could be even greater. This is true of any cuisine, but few cover such breadth and depth of different flavors; if you can’t read the original Hanzi, you never know exactly what might land on your plate.
For my family, I could usually predict what would end up on the table, especially if we’re talking about standard Americanized Chinese food. When I was younger and much pickier, it was always a tofu and vegetables in garlicky brown sauce for me. Probably chicken with black bean sauce for my mom, and some sort of stir fried noodle for my sister, hold the vegetables. We most likely got a plastic quart container of wonton soup to share, maybe some fried rice, and extra crispy wonton strips, even though my mom hated how greasy they were.
Scenes like this replay in my mind all through the holiday season. Chinese takeout is an essential part of Christmas to me, this single most important tradition that must be observed every year. While everyone else tore into presents underneath a big evergreen tree, we dug into paper takeout boxes at the kitchen table. Everyone picked at least one dish they wanted most and everything was shared, but the only thing that I never ate was my dad’s choice of boneless spare ribs.
Lurid red and gleaming in the light, I just didn’t understand them. How can ribs be boneless, for one thing, and what gives them such an unearthly color? Unwilling to gamble on the unknown, I stuck with my staples, year in an year out. Only now, as a vegan, avid food explorer, and nostalgic child of the 90’s, have I returned to the concept with insatiable curiosity.
My dad still loves the dish, so there must be something to it. Luckily, bones are not something I ever need to worry about with vegan proteins, taking mystery meat out of the equation entirely. Beet juice is my favorite source of scarlet food color, lending a subtly earthy flavor that harmonizes beautifully with mushroom stock at the same time. Garlic, ginger, and five-spice powder sing out clearly from that savory soy base, creating the signature flavor that truly defines the dish. Soy curls soak in all that flavor in half the time of traditional prep, speeding right through the cooking process with the help of an air fryer.
Most places would pride themselves at having meat so tender that it practically melts in your mouth, but that was not such a selling point for my dad. Even if the food was still blazing hot upon delivery, he would put the whole thing straight into the toaster oven to crisp up the edges. As such, my rendition is on the extra-crispy side, blackened around the edges, super juicy, and thoroughly lacquered with sweet, sticky glaze all over.
Whether you’re celebrating the holidays with your family or just craving this old school staple, these are the boneless spare ribs you wish the local takeout restaurant would make. At least, they’re everything I wanted from the dish, any time of year.
- 4 Ounces (1/2 Bag) Soy Curls
- 3 Cups Boiling Water
- 1/2 Cup Beet Juice
- 1/2 Cup Mushroom Stock
- 1/2 Cup Hoisin Sauce
- 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
- 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
- 1 Tablespoon Peanut Oil
- 1 Tablespoon Five-Spice Powder
- 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
- 1/2 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Finely Minced
- Place the soy curls in a large bowl and submerge in boiling water. Let sit for about 10 minutes, stirring periodically, until fully hydrated and tender. Drain off the excess water, squeezing gently to get as much moisture out as possible.
- Mix together the beet juice, mushroom stock, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, peanut oil, five-spice powder, garlic, and ginger. Pour the marinade into the bowl with the soy curls, stirring to coat. Cover and let rest for at least one hour for the flavors to soak in. Longer is better, and and if you can let them marinate overnight in the fridge, that would be ideal.
- Spread the soy curls out on an air fryer rack lined with aluminum foil. Make sure they're in an even layer, and add in any leftover marinade as well. Air fry at 300 for 30 minutes, stirring every 8 - 10 minutes, until lightly caramelized and crispy around the edges, but still juicy and sticky from the glaze.
- If using a conventional oven, bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
- Serve hot, alongside cooked white rice and your favorite Chinese vegetables.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 227Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 1543mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 3gSugar: 30gProtein: 5g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.