Cookbook review: Plant-based dishes inspired by Buddhist traditions

‘The Vegan Chinese Kitchen: Recipes and Modern Stories from a Thousand-Year-Old Tradition’ by Hannah Che (Potter, $35)

Hannah Che gave up meat her junior year of college, learned how to make vegan pizza and grain bowls online and showed off her creations on Instagram.

Back home in Detroit, she preached to her Chinese family about the ills of factory farming and the environmental costs of meat and dairy in hopes of convincing them to follow her lead. They weren’t having it.

For the Lunar New Year, she opted out of the family’s annual holiday ritual of making pork dumplings. Her dad inquired why she wasn’t participating. It was then that she began to question whether her newfound dietary lifestyle was steering her away from her culture.

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Food was the vehicle Che’s immigrant parents used to teach their children about their heritage, she writes in “The Vegan Chinese Kitchen: Recipes and Modern Stories from a Thousand-Year-Old Tradition” (Potter, $35). And animal products played a major role in their meals.

But China also has a rich tradition of plant-based cooking rooted in Buddhism, which Che discovered while eating in temple restaurants on a summer trip there to visit relatives. She went on to train at the Guangzhou Vegetarian Culinary School and spent a year cooking and eating in a Buddhist community in Taiwan.

Now a writer and photographer living in Portland, Oregon, Che shares the recipes inspired by those lessons on her blog, The Plant-Based Wok, and in the pages of her debut cookbook.

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Chapters are presented by plant type and ingredient categories — leafy greens, root vegetables, tofu, gluten, noodles, and so on — with evocative essays throughout. The recipes I tried (Smashed Cucumber Salad, Stir-Fried Corn and Pine Nuts, Scallion Oil Noodles) would be appealing and accessible to any omnivore. For the more ambitious, there are detailed instructions for making Vegetarian Roast Goose with semi-dried tofu skin sheets, Poached Gluten Rolls for seasoning and threading onto skewers for grilling, and Steamed Bun Dough for stuffing with various vegetable combinations.

Her dad, who has since reduced his meat intake for health reasons, has come around. Nowadays, she writes, “he’s always asking when I’m coming home so he can eat the food I cook.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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