This vegan chow mein recipe features tofu and lots of vegetables. Its a deliciously easy meal to make and will keep you feeling full for hours. With eggless noodles and a simple sauce, takeout at home has never tasted better!
There are lots of options to customize this recipe and make it your own. Just start with the base recipe and if you want to (or need to) use other vegetables or garnishes, feel free!
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Is Chow Mein Vegan?
Chow mein dishes are almost never vegan. They’re often made with meat, such as chicken.
Even vegetable chow mein dishes may not be vegan because some are made with oyster sauce and/or chicken broth.
Are Chow Mein Noodles Vegan?
Chow mein noodles are a type of egg noodle and therefore aren’t vegan. Chow mein can be made with fresh or dried noodles, but both options traditionally contain egg.
This means that unless otherwise specified, chow mein dishes aren’t vegan even if they don’t contain meat or use oyster sauce and/or chicken broth.
However, some brands make noodles very similar in taste and texture but don’t contain egg. These noodles come dry in a package you’ll cook them similarly to dry chow mein noodles.
The brand I buy uses the words “chow mein” on its package, even though it doesn’t contain egg. If you search for “3 minute chow mein noodles” the brand I use should come up. Hopefully you’ll find these at your local grocery store, Asian grocery store or online. I often find them at my favorite bulk food store too. They should be inexpensive to buy as they aren’t marketed as a vegan specialty product.
I caution vegans to always read and re-read ingredient labels. Sometimes, brands decide to add animal products to their foods even if they didn’t before.
Tofu Chow Mein Ingredients
There are a few “specialty” ingredients in this recipe that you may not have if you don’t often cook Chinese-inspired meals. I’ve done my best to offer substitutions where possible, but you’ll get the best result when following the recipe as written.
Noodles, Tofu and Vegetables
To create the base of your vegan chow mein dinner, use the following ingredients:
- Chow mein noodles: The base of this recipe is the chow mein noodles. As noted above, chow mein noodles are often made with egg, but vegan options should be available.
- Tofu: For some protein, I like to make chow mein with tofu. You can cube the tofu so it’s more like “meat” or crumble it, like I do, so it’s more like “egg”.
- Garlic and onion: Both of these tasty vegetables add lots of flavor.
- Bell pepper, carrot, mushrooms, snow peas: Use almost any vegetables you like to make this recipe. It’s a great option for the end of a week when you have some older veggies around. You can also use frozen vegetables!
- Edamame: While this is optional, I love tossing edamame into stir-fry meals for a boost of protein and nutrition.
- Green onion: Along with regular onion, green onion provides lots of flavor to the dish. You could use extra regular onion or use only green onion (for a milder flavor).
Vegan Chow Mein Sauce Ingredients
To make your own vegan chow mein sauce, you'll also need:
- Light soy sauce: This “regular” soy sauce provides a delicious flavor and saltiness.
- Dark soy sauce: I’ve seen a few chow mein recipes call for dark soy sauce and it’s one I love to use for a great depth of flavor. I find it especially helpful as vegans won’t use oyster sauce. If you’ve never had dark soy sauce, it’s very different from the regular/ light version. You can substitute for more light soy sauce if it’s hard to find or you don’t want to buy it.
- Sesame oil: This is my favorite oil for making vegan chow mein and I use lots of it! It adds an amazing flavor to tofu, noodles and vegetables.
- Chinese cooking wine: Shaosing or Shaoxing wine is a common Chinese cooking ingredient. It has a unique flavor that really helps make home-cooked Chinese recipes taste like what you get in restaurants. If you don’t have access to this ingredient, you can use mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine; just note this is a much sweeter option) or dry cooking sherry. For a non-alcoholic alternative, use 1 ½ tablespoon vegetable broth, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or other vinegar) and ½ teaspoon sugar.
- Hoisin sauce: While this isn’t always used in chow mein recipes, I enjoy the sweet flavor it brings. Chow mein recipes often call to add sugar, but I prefer some hoisin sauce for its added flavor and sweetness. This is another way to get around using oyster sauce (which is a very flavorful but non-vegan ingredient)
- Corn starch: To help thicken your sauce and get it to stick to the noodles, you’ll need some corn starch (sometimes called corn flour).
- Black pepper: While white pepper may be better if you have it (simply for appearance), I only keep black pepper on hand so that’s what I use.
How to Make Chow Mein with Tofu
Vegan tofu chow mein is quite simple to make; I highly recommend prepping the vegetables and sauce first since cooking goes quickly. Read the detailed directions below to learn how to make this recipe!
Step 1: Prep Vegetables and Tofu
Wash, peel (if needed), and slice or dice all the vegetables you’ll use. Then cut the vegetables into pieces that are any size you like.
I prefer thinly sliced or julienned vegetables for this recipe. They cook quickly and it’s a nice shape/ texture for this noodle dish. I leave snow or snap peas whole.
I also recommend you mince the garlic rather than crush it with a garlic press. Crushed or pressed garlic can burn very quickly in a hot pan.
You’ll also want to prepare some tofu. If you typically press tofu, start doing that (I buy extra firm tofu that doesn’t require pressing). Cube or crumble your tofu, depending on the texture you like and set this aside.
Step 2: Prep Chow Mein Sauce
I find it helpful to whisk or shake all the sauce ingredients together before cooking anything.
If you don’t want to mix all the sauce ingredients, at least mix water with corn starch before adding to your chow mein.
Step 3: Cook Noodles
Next, cook the chow mein noodles for one minute less than package directions. Since they’ll absorb sauce and some vegetable liquid, they’ll finish cooking in the pan.
Once the noodles are out of your pot, drain away the hot water and rinse in cold water. Cold water stops the cooking process. You could also dip the noodles into an ice bath.
Depending on the brand of noodles you use, they may become mushy if overcooked. If the noodles come out of your pot fully cooked, it’s best to toss them into the stir fry at the very end, once the pan is off the heat. They won’t absorb as much flavor but also won’t get overly mushy.
Step 4: Stir Fry
Now it’s time to stir fry the tofu and vegetables. Start with 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan, over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook until it’s browned, about 10 minutes; higher heat will brown the tofu more quickly.
Remove the tofu from your pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoon of oil.
Add onion to your pan and cook for about 2 minutes; until it starts to turn translucent. If you prefer you onion well-cooked, you can cook it for longer.
Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute, then add harder vegetables that typically take longer to cook. In my case, it’s the carrot, bell pepper, edamame and mushrooms (mushrooms release a lot of water, so getting them into the pan now helps more water evaporate).
Stir fry these vegetables for another 2 minutes, or longer if you prefer more well-cooked veggies.
Next, add the more tender vegetables. In my case it’s the snow peas and green onion. Also add cooked noodles, browned tofu and sauce.
Cook for 2-3 minutes, mixing everything together. Remove from the pan when you’ve cooked the vegetables and noodles to your liking.
Serve hot, topped with sesame seeds, extra green onion, hot sauce or whatever else you like!
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
This meal contains two good sources of plant-based protein: tofu and edamame. There are also plenty of colorful vegetables.
The carbs in this meal mainly come from chow mein noodles. While I often recommend selecting whole grains where possible, enjoying foods that are slightly more processed is perfectly fine sometimes.
As for fats, there are healthy fats in the tofu and edamame. There are also fats from the oil used to stir fry the tofu and vegetables, and sesame oil in the sauce. Oil adds essential flavor to this meal, and while you can reduce how much you use, it won’t taste as good.
If you want to lighten up the meal, try a side of extra vegetables! There are endless Chinese-inspired vegetable side dishes you could choose from, or make a salad with a sesame-soy dressing!
How to Store Leftover Chow Mein
Leftovers can be refrigerated, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days. Reheat using a microwave or return the noodles to a pan over medium heat until warmed through.
Vegan Chow Mein with Tofu
- 225 grams chow mein noodles (½ of a 450 g pack)
- 350 grams tofu (I use extra firm)
- 3 cloves garlic (8 g)
- 1 cup onion , sliced (140 g)
- 1 cup bell pepper , sliced (120 g)
- 1 cup carrot , julienned (130 g)
- 1 cup mushrooms , sliced (100 g)
- 1 cup edamame , shelled (155 g)
- 2 cups snow peas (215 g) *
- ½ cup green onion , sliced (35 g)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (to fry tofu)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (to fry vegetables)
Step 1: Prep Vegetables and Tofu
- If you typically press tofu, start by doing that. I buy extra firm tofu that doesn’t require pressing.350 grams tofu
- Crumble or cube the tofu.
- Mince the garlic. Don’t crush or press it or it’ll burn quickly in your hot pan.3 cloves garlic
- Thinly slice the onion, peppers, carrot and mushrooms.1 cup onion, 1 cup bell pepper, 1 cup carrot, 1 cup mushrooms
- Shell some edamame if needed.1 cup edamame
- Remove snow pea tops and pull-out strings if needed. Leave them whole or cut in half.2 cups snow peas
- Slice the green onion.½ cup green onion
Step 2: Prep Chow Mein Sauce
- Whisk all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl or shake together in a jar with a lid.2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon water, 2 teaspoons corn starch, ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Step 3: Cook Noodles
- Cook your noodles 1 minute less than package directions. When cooked, drain away the hot water then rinse the noodles with cold water or dip into an ice bath. Cold water stops the noodles from cooking further and prevents them from becoming mushy.225 grams chow mein noodles
Step 4: Stir Fry
- Warm some vegetable oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook until browned, about 10 min.1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 350 grams tofu
- Remove tofu from pan.
- Add remaining oil to pan, then add onion and cook for 2 minutes.2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 cup onion
- Add garlic and cook for another 1 minute.3 cloves garlic
- Add carrots, bell pepper, mushrooms and edamame. Cook for another 2 minutes.1 cup bell pepper, 1 cup carrot, 1 cup mushrooms, 1 cup edamame
- Add snow peas, green onion, the cooked noodles, browned tofu and sauce.225 grams chow mein noodles, 2 cups snow peas, ½ cup green onion
- Cook, tossing everything together for another 2-3 minutes.
- Serve hot, topped with sesame seeds, extra green onion, hot sauce or whatever you like!
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a long-time vegan with a Masters of Science in Food and Nutrition.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes.