Sizzling, hissing, and popping violently, char kway teow is a dish that truly does speak for itself. If you don’t hear it first, you’ll definitely smell it; heady plumes of smoke carry the intoxicating aroma of caramelized soy sauce through the air for at least a dozen city blocks. Though one of a million noodles, it’s the fine details that set this one apart as a worthy headliner on any Malaysian menu.
A Brief History of Char Kway Teow
Originating from Chinese cuisine, particularly Teochew and Hokkien traditions, the dish’s name itself is rooted in Hokkien language, with “char” signifying stir-frying, “kway” representing rice cakes, and “teow” meaning flat. As Chinese immigrants settled in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Singapore, they brought their culinary heritage with them.
Over time, these traditions merged with local ingredients and tastes, resulting in the evolution of char kway teow. It became a popular street food, served in hawker stalls across the region due to its affordability, hearty nature, and bold flavors. Though the exact date and place of its creation remains uncertain, char kway teow has established itself as an iconic and beloved Southeast Asian dish, celebrated for its unique flavor as much as its cultural significance.
Many other suspiciously similar stir fries share numerous elements with char kway teow. While undoubtedly delicious in their own rights, none can compare with this singular culinary feat. The essential factors that define the dish include:
- Flat Rice Noodles: The star of the show, these wide, silky rice noodles provide a chewy foundation for the dish. They’re similar to pad thai noodles but wider. These noodles are known for their chewy texture and ability to absorb the flavors of the sauce.
- Dark Soy Sauce: The primary seasoning for char kway teow is dark soy sauce, which gives the dish its signature dark color and a slightly sweet and savory flavor. The dark soy sauce used in char kway teow is thicker and richer than regular soy sauce, clinging better to the other ingredients as well.
- High Heat Cooking: Char kway teow is traditionally cooked in a hot wok over high heat, which imparts a smoky “wok hei” flavor to the dish. This cooking technique adds depth and complexity like nothing else. This is the absolute most important part of the whole concept. Without that char, those subtly blackened edges and smoky finish, it’s just another bowl of generic noodles.
How It’s Made
Truth be told, technique is even more important than specific ingredients in this case. Intense heat ripples through the whole kitchen when the wok is set on full blast, smoldering and searing anything in seconds. Replicating the flavor and texture that creates through any other means is impossible, which is why it’s so hard to master at home. Few consumer stoves can get hot enough, and even if they do, most people don’t want to commit to setting off their smoke alarms for a weekday dinner. It’s such a popular street food for the same reason; open air markets pair better with live fire cooking than enclosed spaces.
Pungent garlic, soy sauce, and sometimes chili paste season those blistered noodles in a literal flash in the pan. Traditional recipes may include prawns, sausages, or other meat, but vegetarian versions are just as common, omitting or replacing the protein with fried tofu. Vegetables are used sparingly, leaning heavily on bean sprouts to add a fresh, crunchy contrast to the savory medley.
(Side note: I can’t help myself and tend to go overboard with zucchini, mushrooms, bok choy, and anything else that happens to be in the fridge, as seen here. In this case, do as I say, not as I do!)
Never A Bad Time For Noodles
Unlike the standard American diet that normalizes only certain dishes as “breakfast foods,” savvy Malay people will happily enjoy noodles throughout the day. Whether as a hearty breakfast, a quick lunch, or a comforting dinner, it never fails to satisfy. You’ll find char kway teow everywhere, on the menus of street stalls, hawker centers, and even upscale restaurants, as a testament to its enduring popularity.
Like any noteworthy noodles, char kway teow is more than just a dish; it’s a testament to the vibrant tapestry of Southeast Asian culinary traditions. With its broad appeal, dynamic flavors, and endless possibilities for adaptation, it’s a safe bet for a winning meal.
Legend has it that vegan zombies only eat grains, making them less of a threat to humanity than conventional omnivores. That may be true of the old-school undead, but times have changed. If we can have nearly identical analogues for steak and seafood, why wouldn’t we be able to upgrade to plant-based brains, too?
This decadent brain food pâté is scary delicious. Creamy, firm but spreadable, buttery and subtly savory, brains are a delicacy unlike any other. The addition of blood-red sriracha on top introduces a spicy, tangy element that makes it truly irresistible. Heat from the chili peppers and acidity from the vinegar play off the richness of the brainy base. You might end up fighting the zombies off to go back for seconds and thirds yourself.
What Are Brain Foods?
Brain food pate is more than just a fun Halloween party starter; it has real brain-boosting nutrition behind it! A varied diet is key for reaping the greatest nutritional rewards, but certain foods in particular have been shown to have a greater impact on our cognitive abilities, such as understanding and processing new information, plus maintaining memory and concentration. This pate isn’t just brainy in appearance, but a smart choice for your health!
- Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts are particularly beneficial in this category, packed with protein and omega fatty acids. Protein builds brain cells, amino acids help them communicate, and omega fatty acids keep things humming.
- Beans: All legumes are like the support crew for your brain, supplying fiber, B vitamins, and those omega fatty acids. Fiber offers steady energy, B vitamins aid memory, and omega fatty acids keep your brain sharp.
- Beets: These earthy root vegetables fight inflammation, pack in antioxidants, and amp up blood flow, all of which help boost brainpower.
Big Brain Ideas and Adaptations
There’s a wide range of brains out there; big, small, sweet, and bitter. Use your own intellect to customize shapes and flavors to your own personal preferences.
- Nut-free: Swap the walnuts for sunflower seeds. If you want an even more haunting color, add a pinch of baking soda to turn those seeds green!
- Not spicy: For the more timid of palate, feel free to omit the sriracha and serve your brains plain, or use mild cocktail sauce instead.
- Hip to be square: If you need a less gruesome presentation for the office potluck or a less appropriate holiday, like Christmas or Hannukah, set the pate in a simple square baking dish, rather than a brain jello mold.
Don’t be a halfwit by serving up brains with no accoutrements.
- Something as simple as crackers and vegetable crudites will do just fine.
- Soft bread would also be a welcome foundation for this schmear, enjoyed solo or turned into a fully stacked sandwich.
- Briny pickles, such as cornichons (small cucumbers), cocktail onions, or pickled peppers help balance the richness of the pâté with contrast acidity and crunch.
- Serve up slabs of brain on salad plates for a formal first course, nestled into mixed greens to provide a crisp, refreshing element.
- Wine pairing are always welcome, particularly a crisp white wine, a light rosé, or a sparkling champagne to cleanse the palate between bites. Contrary to popular belief, a nice Chianti would be quite overpowering.
Vegan zombie fam, I’ve got you this Halloween. Stop settling for bland grains, when you can have genuine brains in all their glory. It’s simply a smarter choice for your health and happiness.
Equal parts spectacle and street food, gyros are impossible to ignore. Spinning on a spit like a wind-up ballerina, glistening from the heat of an open flame, you may smell it before you see it, but the sight is positively mesmerizing.
The name itself comes from the Greek word meaning “turn” or “circle,” referring to this unique cooking method of continuous motion. Around and around it goes, edges caramelizing and crisping with each revolution. Periodically, as orders flow in, the pit master skillfully shaves paper-thin slices from the kebab, exposing the more tender meat within, beginning the process anew.
Make It Meatless
Before my fellow vegan and vegetarian friends recoil in horror, fear not: You can enjoy those same rich, highly seasoned prime cuts at home, without the meat, rotating spit, or perilous open flame.
Mushrooms Over Meat
Traditionally made from lamb, beef, chicken, or even pork, it’s a clear case where the actual protein in question is far less important than the herbs and spices involved. Especially when you layer in fresh vegetables and creamy tzaziki for serving, the entree could be made of pretty much anything. Enter: Sugimoto koshin shiitake mushrooms.
Renowned for their intense umami flavor, these mushrooms add a depth of taste to the gyro that’s hard to beat. Drying the shiitake mushrooms concentrates their flavor, resulting in a rich, savory, and remarkably meaty taste and texture. Koshin in particular are ideal for this application since they’re broad and flat, just like the delicate shavings of fresh gyro meat.
Serving Suggestions: Be Your Own Gyro
The beauty of the gyro lies in its versatility. Keep it simple or go all out; you won’t be disappointed even if you just go to town as is, no garnishes or accompaniments required.
- Classic Greek Style: Layer the seasoned, air fried shiitake mushrooms in warm pita bread, accompanied by crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, sliced onions, and a generous drizzle of tangy tzatziki sauce. It’s a classic for a reason!
- Gyro Bowl: Create a wholesome gyro bowl by arranging a bed of fluffy quinoa, rice, or couscous, topped with the shiitake mushrooms, cucumber ribbons, pickled red onions, and a dollop of hummus. A squeeze of lemon adds the perfect finishing touch.
- Mediterranean Wrap: Swap the pita for a whole wheat tortilla or lavash and fill it with your favorite gyro ingredients, along with some roasted red peppers and olives for contrast.
- Gryo Hummus: Layer tender shiitake gyro on top of creamy hummus and serve with pita chips or cut veggie crudites for an instant party starter.
With its roots firmly planted in the Middle East, the protein in question has historically been halal, but that’s not always the case anymore. For the concerned eater, swapping the mystery meat for shiitake mushrooms is a foolproof approach to ensure you’re avoiding a meal that’s accidentally haram.
What’s more, Sugimoto shiitake in particular are certified kosher AND organic on top of that. When serving a diverse range of discerning eaters, it’s the ace up your sleeve for an incredible meal that everyone can enjoy.
Indulge your senses with plant-based gyros, made effortless in an air fryer for your busiest weeknights or more elaborate celebrations. They are, quite frankly, a vegan masterpiece, celebrating the rich history of the Greek gyros while showcasing the incredible flavor of shiitake mushrooms.
Jiggly, wiggly JELL-O is a staple of early American desserts, persisting to this day as a favorite of the young, the old, and the boozy reveler alike. Most associate it with sweet desserts, packaged in all sorts of fruity flavors, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, gelatin was traditionally a savory ingredient, featuring prominently in some questionable gelled salads, or for the upper class, aspics instead. Of course, there’s so much more to it than that, especially when you consider different plant-based gelling agents. Thus, whenever I see “Sichuan green bean jello” on a menu, I’ll always jump at the chance to place my order.
Better known as liangfen, it’s not actually made from JELL-O or any animal-based gelatin at all. More accurately, it’s typically made from the starch of either mung beans or green peas. It may come as a surprise when it arrives at the table in bright white, blocky rectangular lengths, stained red with chili oil, boasting a hint of green color only from scallions or celery leaves on top.
What are Liangfen, AKA Cold Jelly Noodles?
Slippery, with a short bite that’s much softer than a chewy wheat-based noodle, they’re very easy to eat, provided you can gently coax them onto your chopsticks. It can be tricky to pick up more than one strand at a time, especially if they’re slicked with a richly umami sauce. Consider them the tofu of noodles, being almost completely flavorless before soaking in a deeply flavorful sauce. Mala Sichuan peppercorns, black vinegar, pungent chopped garlic, toasted sesame seed, and red hot oil sizzling with chilies are all essential for this dish.
Make Your Own Liangfen
As a naturally, “accidentally” vegan noodle, there are plenty of excellent recipes online that need no modification. It’s incredibly easy to make and fully customizable to your tastes, in case you’d prefer a sauce with less heat or more acid.
Where Do Liangfen Come From?
Served cold, the contrasting heat of the spices is what makes it so addicting. Especially on hot summer days, it’s incredibly refreshing while making you sweat at the same time. Fittingly, the name liangfen translates to “cold starch” or “cool noodle” in English. Born some time within the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912,) it began life as a humble street food in the Sichuan province, spreading quickly to proper eateries and even fine dining restaurants.
Eat Liangfen For Your Health!
For the health-conscious, there’s a lot to love about this sleek, silky treat, too. Low in calories and fat, it’s also rich in fiber and quality carbohydrates, promoting digestive health and providing a sustainable source of plant-based energy. Since these noodles are made of starch instead of wheat, they’re gluten-free and free of all major allergens.
Upon first bite, the unique gelatinous texture, seeming to melt in your mouth, grabbing your attention as something far outside the realm of western culinary creations. The interplay of flavors is a symphony of sensations; the tangy vinegar dances with the umami soy sauce, while the chili oil adds a crescendo of heat. Altogether, it’s an extraordinary noodle that should be a prominent guest at your table, too.
Scrolling through my mental Rolodex of meals that are quick, easy, and just the right balance of healthy and comforting on a hectic day, lasagna is typically not at the top of that list. It’s high time we changed this.
Make Ahead Lasagna
Neatly contained in a spacious baking dish, lasagna is the ultimate pasta casserole that can be made in large quantities to be enjoyed many times over. One batch could feed a small family for days, or a single person for weeks, when stored correctly. Either unbaked or ready to serve, you can stash it in the fridge or freezer with no degradation of quality; a huge feat considering how many store-bought options turn out.
Never settle for mushy noodles swimming in watery, sweet sauce ever again! Gentle people, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s best plant-based lasagna. Better, easier, tastier.
Tips For Success
It’s not so much technique that determines the outcome of this recipe, but the ingredients themselves. No cooking experience necessary, anyone can pull off this culinary feat with the right components.
- The lure of no-boil noodles is tempting, but you must resist! Since they sit immersed in sauce for so long, they’ll have long passed the point of al dente and gone straight to mushy by the time you set the table.
- Quality marinara is crucial. It plays a huge role in flavoring the whole dish, so if there was ever a time to splurge on the good stuff, this is it. Normally I’d make the case for starting from scratch, but for a quick fix meal, it’s okay to take an assist.
- NEVER get anything less than the best tofu, AKA Hodo Organic Extra Firm Tofu. It’s rich, dense, and has a unique, subtly savory taste that allows it to transform into both meaty protein and creamy ricotta in a snap. While some may look at the pasta as the backbone of lasagna, it’s the filling that really lays down the foundation for flavor. Accept no substitutes for the best results.
Ideas for Adaptation
The beauty of a tried-and-true lasagna recipe is that it allows room for adaptation. Make it your own with any of your favorite herbs, spices, vegetables, and proteins without throwing off the delicate balance. Every batch can be a little bit different, and thus never boring, no matter how many times it’s on the dinner menu.
- Seasonings: Italian seasoning, featuring basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, and thyme are of course classic, but that’s not the only option here. Consider something a bit spicier, like Cajun or Creole seasoning, bright like lemon-pepper, complex like curry powder, aromatic like za’atar, and so on. The only limit is your imagination, and spice rack!
- Vegetables: Use fully cooked vegetables so they don’t water down the filling as they cook. That means sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled zucchini or eggplant, and more are all fair game. If you want to add greens, use frozen chopped spinach, kale, chard, or collard greens that have been thawed and very thoroughly drained; squeeze them really well to get all the liquid out.
- Proteins: You’re already getting a ton of protein from the Hodo tofu ricotta, but in case you’re craving something meatier, you can beef up the filling, with all sorts of plant-based proteins. Saute your favorite meatless grounds before adding them to the marinara sauce to transform it into a hearty bolognese. If you’re focusing on more whole foods, try the same trick with lentils; red, green, or brown are welcome here! Even chopped up chunks of seitan or vegan sausage can add a satisfying meaty bite into every forkful.
- Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-free? There are great gluten-free noodles on the market now, made from chickpeas, rice, corn, and/or lentils. Read labels carefully to find the best option for you.
Prep Once, Eat All Week
The creamy Hodo tofu-based ricotta, layered throughout strata of tender pasta sheets and robust red sauce, is fortified with cream cheese, thickening, stabilizing, and enriching it all at once. This simple trick ensures that you’ll have picture-perfect slices of lasagna every single time.
Best of all, it acts as insulation from ice crystals in the freezer, making it the ideal dish to make ahead, toss in the deep freeze, then heat and eat as needed. The tofu ricotta is so undeniably cheesy that it really doesn’t need the finishing flourish of vegan mozzarella on top… But then again, has there ever been such as thing as too much cheese?
Don’t answer that. Just pass the lasagna, please.