Chinese vegan fried rice, or its Chinese name, chao fan, is a simple dish made with simple ingredients found in every kitchen. It is a favourite of many busy working adults because it tastes good and is super easy to make. Asian comfort food at its best.
It's something that you can throw together on short notice or if you have leftovers or basic ingredients.
If you're looking to achieve that same restaurant-quality fried rice while sticking to your vegan or plant-based diet, we've got the right recipe.
We've experimented with a few recipes over the past month, and did a lot of taste testing. Carb loading is another way to describe it. But it was worth it.
We combined the best cooking tips and made our own rendition that we think is close to perfection in our books.
Read on for everything you need to know about putting together a simple vegan fried rice dish.
Is fried rice considered vegan?
This common Chinese takeout dish is not plant-based because they usually use meat or other animal byproducts, mainly eggs. In addition, many Chinese restaurants will use lard when stir-frying, a technique known as wok hei. It is often used to create a steamy, slightly moist dish.
The ingredients commonly used in the Chinese takeout dish often include animal products, such as eggs, chicken or seafood. Most chefs use these ingredients to enhance the dish's flavour and add variety to a meal.
Does it mean that Chinese vegan fried rice in restaurants does not exist? No, but it is much harder to find since the chef will have to use a different wok for cooking plant-based dishes because alot of Asian dishes are cooked with lard.
What is vegan fried rice made of?
Chinese vegan fried rice is made by stir-frying leftover rice with vegetables such as peas, chopped bell pepper and broccoli. Instead of pork lard, you can use sesame oil and season with soy sauce, minced garlic, and chilli garlic sauce.
A touch of peanut butter and brown sugar also helps to get the same savoury taste. More on this cooking tip later.
While the above vegetables are popular, you can add snow peas, asparagus, or any other vegetables you want. Make your dish as colourful as possible!
Another option is to add crispy, baked tofu to your Chinese vegan fried rice. The crispness of the tofu will give it a nice bite. It's also a good protein substitute since the usual version generally has chicken or meat. You can add roasted peanuts for additional protein to garnish the dish.
Finally, if eggs are a must for you, you can use egg substitute powders or oats mixed with boiling water. Alternatively, you can also use silken tofu in your Chinese vegan fried rice. Then, you can mash the tofu into a smooth paste and fry it with garlic chilli oil or other spices. The flavour is very close to the creamy gooeyness of an egg.
How to make vegan fried rice
To make the most delicious Chinese vegan fried rice, you must follow these simple steps.
- Sauté the onion and garlic.
- Stir in the veggies.
- Include the egg substitute if you are using it.
- Throw in the rice and seasonings.
- Finally, garnish and serve!
Keep reading to get all the details of this easy and delicious recipe.
Vegan fried rice ingredients
The basic ingredients for an easy vegan fried rice recipe are rice, vegetables, and a savoury sauce. Below is the complete list you will need for this recipe:
- Corn kernels
- Minced garlic
- Chopped onion
- Sliced carrot
- Soy sauce or tamari
- Sesame oil
If you make vegan fried rice with tofu, the tofu has to be marinated and cooked beforehand to be extra tasty.
First, add tamari, soy sauce, minced garlic, or black pepper for the marinade. Then, coat the tofu with cornstarch before frying to make it extra crispy and delicious. The tip is to cut the tofu into cubes to make cooking easier. You can see our salt and pepper tofu recipe for more information on how to cook tofu.
Read on below for our detailed recipe.
Vegan fried rice protein options
Chinese vegan fried rice uses vegetables or tofu as substitutes for meat. However, if you do not like tofu, here are other things you can try.
- Roasted cashews or peanuts
- Shelled edamame
- Fried shallots
Chinese vegan fried rice with cashews is believed to come from the Chinese community in Thailand. They also add chunks of pineapple, which is popular in their iconic version.
If you enjoy vietnamese rolls, you can also try adapting this recipe to make some vegan fried rice wrapped in rice paper rolls. Rice paper rolls are a Vietnamese staple food made with vermicelli and vegetables rolled in rice paper. Usually, it includes meat, but it's easy to substitute it.
Finally, for those who prefer no tofu but still want vegan fried rice with that eggy creaminess, try using the egg substitutes.
- Oats with boiling water
- Mashed banana
- Plant-based yoghurt
The above will create that same runny, slightly creamy consistency of an egg to make your dish flavourful.
Make sure you don't use yoghurt that is flavoured. You don't want to end up with a weird chocolate or strawberry after taste. Trust us, accidents happen in the kitchen when you don't check the label.
When you're choosing a substitute, you need to consider the taste and texture of certain ingredients.
For example, most people like seitan, made from whole wheat flour. It is a base for many vegetarian products. The taste resembles portobello mushrooms and has a rubbery, mild flavour. Seitan also takes on flavours so that it will enhance the seasoning in your Chinese vegan fried rice.
Another example is using buttery edamame. It will give your dish nutty, buttery notes and a firmer sweet bite.
You can also consider the nutrients you can get from different protein options. For example, tofu, tempeh and edamame have almost the same nutrients as meat. That's because they come from soybeans, an excellent source of protein. In addition, eating various plant-based proteins daily ensures your body gets all essential amino acids.
Vegetables to use
When cooking Chinese vegan fried rice, you can try the following vegetables.
- Sweet Corn
When you're choosing what vegetables to use in your Chinese vegan fried rice, you must consider the flavours you want. You can think about whether you want something more subtle or more robust.
If you like a mild taste with small bursts of sweetness, then kale, carrots, sweet corn, cauliflower and spinach may be better for you. However, if you like earthy flavours that go well with the sauce, we recommend broccoli, sprouts and mushrooms. Finally, adding peas, chickpeas or seaweed will give your dish a nutty taste.
Generally, non-leafy vegetables such as carrots and peas work best with Chinese vegan fried rice because they are or can be chopped into small pieces. However, remember that chopping vegetables can affect their taste and texture. So, when you cut them into smaller pieces, they will mix well with the other ingredients. Additionally, chopped non-leafy vegetables make each mouthful more toothsome.
However, if you do use leafy vegetables, they can be treated differently. For example, spinach is best thrown in as-is, but something like kale will need to be ripped up into smaller leaves to get the best flavour.
Another consideration is to use fresh or frozen vegetables. Of course, fresh vegetables will give the best flavour. But if you only have frozen, vegan fried rice with frozen vegetables still tastes equally delicious.
Nuts and Seaweed
Finally, you can have vegan chao fan with cashew nuts or crunchy seaweed to add a different flavour and texture. Both are lightly savoury and provide a satisfying crunch when you eat.
Vegan fried rice cooking tips
If you are finally ready to cook your Chinese vegan fried rice, here are some tips to help you.
First, it's best to use leftover rice that has been chilled. It is the best because it's drier and will cook well. If you use fresh-made, it might get mushy.
We recommend using medium to long grain jasmine rice to make your Chinese vegan chao fan. Avoid short-grained, sweet, glutinous and sushi. It is also important to remove the excess starch by rinsing it with cold water before cooking to prevent it from becoming mushy.
Your Chinese vegan fried rice can get clumpy or sticky. This is because you did not add enough oil. If you don't like oil, try using plant-based butter. Add one tablespoon spread around the pan. If the dish gets too sticky, just add more oil.
Additionally, do not overdo the seasoning and ensure your vegetables are dry. Any excess liquid will make your dish sticky and clumpy.
The other extreme is if your rice turns out dry which happens when you stir-fry for too long or the heat is too high. This is because the water will evaporate before everything is cooked through. However, if you don't stir-fry it long enough, the outside becomes soft, but the inside hard.
You need high temperatures for Chinese vegan fried rice. So heat your pan and pour some water. You're ready to cook if the water evaporates in a few seconds.
Additionally, it's best to use a cast iron pan because it evenly distributes heat. But, of course, if you don't have one, a regular frying pan, skillet, wok, or Dutch oven works.
To ensure the right texture, let the grains sit for 2-3 minutes in the hot oil to get toasty before caramelising. Then, stir. But not too quickly. Stir-frying is not as easy as you think. It can take chefs years to master how to capture the right smokiness.
Best Vegan Fried Rice Recipe (Simple Chinese Takeout)
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- ½ cup peas
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ onion finely chopped
- ½ cup sweetcorn
- ½ cup tofu
- 2 tbps canola oil
- 1 carrot peeled and chopped
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tbsps soy sauce
- 2 green onions for garnish sliced
- Cook the rice according to package directions. Cook the peas and corn kernels by boiling them. Drain the tofu, cut them into ½ inch cubes and marinate the tofu with soy sauce and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Add garlic, onion, and carrots. Cook over high heat for 3 minutes, then stir. Add peas and corn kernels and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add rice, soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir frequently. Once your vegetables are slightly brown, turn the heat down. You can then add the tofu and stir over medium heat. Now, your Chinese vegan fried rice is ready to serve.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
Vegan fried rice variations
There are many variations of Chinese vegan fried rice around the world. It's a very adaptable menu item, so you might see it cooked differently depending on what's available in the country. For instance, in Korea, they add kimchi. Here are some other popular variations you can find or even try yourself:
- Thai vegan fried rice
- Cauliflower vegan fried rice
- Kimchi vegan fried rice
- Japanese vegan fried rice
- Vegan basil fried rice
- Quinoa vegan fried rice
- Vegan pineapple fried rice
- Vegan mushroom fried rice
So, we hope you've enjoyed cooking Chinese vegan fried rice at home. For those who want a version with meat, just something with a bit more variety, you should check out the Singapore-style fried rice or Special Fried Rice.
Want a feast for your eyes? Then, head over to our Instagram @honestfoodtalks. We've got plenty of visual inspiration for your next meal!