Edit: Please note that this post pre-dates my decision to shift to a plant-based diet. I list vegetarian/vegan alternatives in the post. xx
Chinese New Year is upon us, and a staple here in Malaysia (also Singapore and Indonesia) is the Yee Sang, also known as yusheng or lo hei. It’s an incredibly fun and also delicious salad of sorts, in which the ritual is to gather around with your family and friends and toss the salad with your chopsticks before your meal begins. The rule here is the higher you toss it, the more prosperous you will be – so it gets really messy! Since the luck lies with the fish, as the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for “abundance”, if your portion has fish, even more luck for you.
I have no Chinese roots but part of the charm of living in a multi-racial country is embracing all the different cultures. My dearest friends come from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and traditions, so we celebrate each major holiday together, and with lots of good food to go around – but of course!
Back when I was studying in London, Chinese New Year always fell in the middle of the ongoing term, so our Malaysian friends would usually throw a dinner to commemorate the holiday. My best friend and I one year decided to surprise them and make a plate of fresh Yee Sang, since they were only planning to use the store bought version which is not very nice… Boy, was that an effort! We first went to Chinatown to hunt for all the ingredients. We didn’t have a spiraliser back then, they weren’t really in fashion either, so we did all the shredding with a peeler. We even dyed the yam ourselves and fried them. Needless to say, the surprise was a major success and it was really yummy too!
I wanted to recreate that, but with a much healthier and gluten free version. The original isn’t too unhealthy, but definitely not gluten-free friendly with the crisps and the dressing. So, I make the dressing from scratch, which is quite an easy process actually, and in the place of the fried crisps I made baked sweet potato crisps.
I then took it one more step further and prepared the coloured fried yam strings, but used natural dyes and baked it. I might advise this as completely optional. In fact, I would suggest instead to slice thin beetroot strings and baking it till crisp. Cucumber already represents the “green” on the plate anyway. Some red on the plate is probably best for more luck!
I use salmon sashimi because it’s a family favourite, making this pescetarian but not vegetarian friendly. In Chinese restaurants, I’ve seen them use slices of Korean pears for vegetarian customers. If you’d like it vegan, replace the raw honey with agave or more rice malt syrup.
A spiraliser is a great, great tool to make beautiful salads really quickly. They’ve started selling them at lazada.com.my, and at really affordable prices too so do check it out if you’d like a spiraliser in your life!
The instructions may look long and scary, but they really aren’t especially if you don’t make the baked yam strings.
- Plum dressing:
- 1 plum
- 1 tablespoon rice malt syrup, or other liquid sweetener
- 2 teaspoons tamari
- 1 cm knob of ginger, peeled
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 star anise
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 yellow sweet potato
- ½ yam (optional)
- ½ teaspoon spirulina or chlorella (optional)
- 2 tablespoons beetroot juice (optional)
- 1 packet konjac noodles
- ½ a grapefruit
- 1 carrot
- ½ large cucumber
- Extra topping:
- Thinly sliced salmon sashimi
- Some Japanese pickled ginger
- 1 tablespoon crushed, roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoon white pepper powder
- ½ teaspoon five spice powder
- 1-2 tablespoons raw honey, to taste
- To make the plum dressing, cut the plum in half and remove the seed, then roughly chop. Place it in a small saucepan with the rice malt syrup, ginger, garlic and star anise, adding just a couple of cm of water. Bring to a simmer and let it cook until the plum pieces are soft and the water is mostly evaporated.
- Once soft, remove from heat and remove the star anise. Place the softened plum, tamari and apple cider vinegar into the jug of your hand blender and blend till smooth. Hand blenders are best for small amounts like this; a large blender may not catch the ingredients properly. Give the dressing a taste, adjust to taste. We like it with a strong tang of vinegar and not very sweet.
- To prepare the sweet potato crisps: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Wash the sweet potato. Peel just one side of the sweet potato lengthwise, then using a mandolin slicer, or a vegetable peeler, slice thin slices of the sweet potato.
- For extra crispiness, lay out the slices onto a wire rack placed on the baking sheet. Or else, just lay out the slices on the baking sheet directly. Lightly brush on some coconut oil and place in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then take out to flip each slice over and bake for another 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it after five minutes – some of the thinner slices might start browning up faster. The sweet potato slices are done once they are golden and crisp. Remove and let cool. Keep the oven on if you’re preparing the coloured yam strings as below.
- To prepare the coloured yam strings (optional – just an experiment to stick to the tradition): While the sweet potato bakes, juice a little bit of beetroot to get a couple of tablespoons to make a natural red dye. Mix the spirulina or chlorella with 2 tablespoons of water for a natural green dye.
- Cut the yam in half and peel. Slice the yam into thin string fries, then split the batch in half and mix each half with the natural dyes. Once coated, remove and pat dry with paper towels.
- Place the yams onto a baking sheet and lightly toss with coconut oil. Bake for 10 minutes, toss over, then bake another 10 minutes until crisp. Keep an eye on it so that they don’t burn.
- The rest of the salad: Cut a grapefruit in half, saving the second half for another use. Gently peel away the skin. Carefully slice thru the segment membrane with a sharp knife and using your fingers gently coax the grapefruit sacs from the segments over a small bowl. Set aside.
- Using a spiraliser, spiralise the carrot and cucumber. Set aside.
- Salad preparation, just before serving: Drain the konjac noodles, then split into two batches and place them opposite each other on a plate. Arrange the coloured yam (if using), carrot and cucumber in the same manner, leaving a space in the centre.
- Lay out the salmon sashimi in the centre along with the grapefruit sacs.
- Place the rest of the extra topping ingredients, except for the honey, on a small plate.
- To toss: Sprinkle the extra toppings onto the salad, then drizzle over the honey and a couple of tablespoons of the dressing. Let everyone grab a pair of chopsticks, and toss your way to prosperity!
Enjoy! xx, Bee