I know some people view January as a month to detox and get over all the festivities that have just ended. But for some people, there are still festivities to come such as the Chinese New Year, which is January 28th this year. The foods eaten for Chinese New Year, or the Spring festival, can vary greatly from one area of China to another, as well as in different Chinese communities across the world. One tradition celebrated in some Chinese communities (eg in Malaysia and Singapore) is making yee sang, a Chinese salad. Given it’s packed with shredded vegetables, it sits pretty well with any New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier, and is tasty too.
Symbolic foods for Chinese New Year
It’s probably fair to say most foods eaten for Chinese New Year are symbolic in some way. Sometimes the name sounds like something else, such as mandarins in the Southern dialect sound like the word for luck. Other times it’s the shape – dumplings looking like silver ingots and spring rolls looking like gold bars, both symbolizing wealth. Yee sang is symbolic for a different reason. You see, in some ways this Chinese salad is as much an activity as a dish to eat. Traditionally the whole family stands around the salad ingredients with chopsticks in hand and then tosses it up in the air. The belief is the higher you toss it, the better the next year will be. As you can imagine, this makes it kind of messy, though a lot of fun too.
Of course, don’t feel like you need to toss this Chinese salad all over the room in order to be able to enjoy it. I don’t think you’ll be that disappointed if you simply mix it together and serve. Plus, that way you don’t miss out on anything. It’s full of lots of tasty, crunchy vegetables, but the real crunch here comes from the fried wonton strips. They’re so good in here, kind of like croutons but almost better. Traditionally you drizzle over plum sauce, though you can use hoisin if you can’t find any, it will still be good. I have included sashimi salmon as is common, but you can miss this out for a vegetarian version.
This Chinese salad is certainly not bad in the healthy stakes being packed with a range of veggies, but you could argue the sauce and fried wontons don’t quite fit as well. You can make a couple swaps to improve things, if you like. You can make plum sauce from scratch which will no doubt be healthier. Then you can try brushing the wonton strips with oil and baking them rather than frying so they absorb less. Personally I have not tried either yet so haven’t given instructions. But, given this was something I’d love to have again, I might try it next time.
I’ve made this a little simpler than some versions and also kept it colorful by having watermelon radish in there, which may not be totally traditional. It’s still pretty close, though, and is definitely a tasty mix. Color, texture and flavor, this salad is such a good combination.
Yee sang is a delicious, crisp Chinese salad that while traditionally eaten for Chinese New Year is something I could eat any time. It makes a great lunch, or appetizer, and while I might not toss it in the air each time, I’ll gladly gobble it up. So take a leaf out of tradition and enjoy yourself a colorful, tasty salad.
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 5 wontons each cut into 5 strips
- ½cup cucumber, approx ¼ large cucumber
- 1 medium carrot
- 1-2 spring onions/scallions
- ½cup watermelon radish (or turnip, as you prefer/have)
- 1 cup shredded lettuce
- ¼lb sashimi-grade salmon
- 2tbsp pickled ginger
- 2tbsp plum sauce (or hoisin if not available)
- Warm a little vegetable oil in a small skillet so that you have a layer around ¼in/6mm deep (you can also deep fry if you have a deep fryer). Once the oil is hot, cook a few strips of wonton wrappers at a time, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Keep a close eye as they cook quickly and can easily get too brown or burn if left too long. Turn as they start to brown to cook the other side then remove and drain on kitchen paper/paper towel. Repeat with all of the strips of wonton.
- Cut the cucumber, carrot, spring onions and watermelon radish into chunks around 2in/5cm long then cut each into thin strips ('julienne'). This is often easiest by cutting into slices then cut each slice.
- Place each of the vegetables in a pile around your serving plate, each vegetable separate. Cut the salmon into thin strips as well and place this on the plate as well, along with the crispy wonton strips. Put the pickled ginger in the middle.
- You can serve like this and mix together, as is the tradition, or else you can serve it mixed, with the dressing either over the top or mixed through.