During my first few years as a vegetarian, I was always at a loss as to what to order when dining in restaurants. Most American fare back then wasn’t as vegetarian friendly as it is now. I hadn’t eaten a lot of Chinese food growing up, but that quickly changed, and vegetable lo mein became my dish of choice. Between the squishy noodles, crispy veggies and savory-sweet sauce, I was fully satisfied and in veggie heaven.
It’s kind of surprising that it took me so long to cook up a classic lo mein in my kitchen, after having ordered the dish at a billion or so restaurants throughout my teens and twenties. Over the years I’ve created a few lo mein-inspired dishes, but this is the first time I tried to replicate my old restaurant favorite.
I quickly realized that lo mein presented a new challenge to vegans in particular, that being the fact that most lo mein noodles contain egg. Fortunately, I did find a couple egg-free brands. For this recipe, I used Roland brand noodles, which are vegan and a pretty close approximation to what I’d been served in restaurants. Ka-Me is another vegan brand you might want to try out. If you absolutely can’t find vegan lo mein noodles, fear not – I tried this recipe out with regular old wheat spaghetti noodles too, and found them to be totally passable for lo mein noodles.
Once you’ve got the noodle issue addressed, the recipe comes together in a cinch. Start by cooking up some crispy pan-fried tofu to give the meal some protein and staying power. Next, stir-fry some veggies with garlic and ginger. I went with shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, carrots and a red bell pepper, but feel free to substitute your favorites. Finally, add your noodles and a simple dressing made from soy-based sauce, toss until it’s hot, and serve everything up. You might never bother with takeout again.
- 8 ounces dried lo mein noodles
For the lo mein sauce:
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 2 teaspoons agave or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the pan-fried tofu:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil any high-heat neutral flavored oil works
- 1 pound extra-firm tofu pressed, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
For the vegetable lo mein:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil any high-heat neutral flavored oil works
- 1 ½ cups shiitake mushroom caps cleaned and sliced into strips (about 6 medium mushrooms)
- 2-3 scallions white parts and green parts separated and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
- 1 cup snow peas
- 1 cup julienned carrot 1 large or 2 small carrots
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the lo mein noodles and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them with cold water. Return them to the pot and set aside.
Make the lo mein sauce:
- Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Make the pan-fried tofu:
- Coat the bottom of a large skillet with oil and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the tofu cubes. Cook them for about 10 minutes, flipping once or twice, until the cubes are browned on multiple sides. Remove the tofu from the skillet and transfer it to a plate.
Make the vegetable lo mein:
- Using the same skillet that you cooked the tofu in, over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil and arrange the shiitakes in an even layer. Cook until the mushrooms just begin to brown on the bottoms, about 3 minutes. Add the white parts of the scallions, garlic and ginger. Sauté for 1 minute.
- Raise the heat to high. Add the bell pepper, snow peas and carrots. Stir-fry until the vegetables are just tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Add the noodles, sauce, tofu and green parts of scallions. Flip ingredients with a spatula to mix and coat noodles with sauce. Cook until the ingredients are well-mixed and the noodles are heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
- Divide onto plates and serve.