Vegetarian San Choi Bau

With our new year’s health kick and saving money on my mind, I have set out to start meal planning this year, to avoid unnecessary temptation while in the supermarket and to prevent food wastage (which is also money wastage).  I have compiled a substantial list of easy, go-to meals, but also hope to try at least one new recipe each fortnight, to add some excitement and extra meals to our repertoire.

An easy way for us to cut down on our spending is to cut down on eating out, therefore I am trying out some recipes to fill the void and recreate some of our favourite things to order when we are out (at a fraction of the price).

We often frequent a local Vietnamese restaurant, and though it is cheap, it comes with the extra temptation of BYO-ing a couple of beers or a bottle of wine, so I thought I would try out one of our favourite menu items at home.

San choi bau is a tasty little entree that involves filling a lettuce leaf with a hot, asian stir fry type thing, and the vegetarian version often involves tofu and mixed veggies.

In my version, I have used tempeh and stir-fried mushrooms mixed with fresh chopped vegetables, coriander and sesame seeds.  To be completely honest, I think I like my version better than the restaurant version.

Photos from: my camera

Recipe and more photos to follow:

Tempeh & marinade:

  • 1 package Tempeh (or tofu if you prefer)
  • Soy sauce
  • Hoi sin sauce
  • 2-3 cloves crushed garlic
  • about a tablespoon of grated ginger
  • sliced chilli (to taste)

Chop the tempeh up into small cubes (about 1cm each side) and marinated it overnight (anything longer than 1 hour should be fine).  To make the marinade, combine soy and hoi sin sauce, with a stack of chopped chilli, grated ginger and crushed garlic, and top up with a little water if required to cover the tempeh pieces.


  • peanut oil
  • sesame oil
  • one onion, chopped
  • 4-5 mushrooms, chopped

Place a wok over heat and add peanut oil and a splash of sesame oil.  When the oil is hot, carefully add the onion and mushrooms and stir fry until soft.  At this point, add the tempeh or tofu that has been marinated, stir fry until cooked, and set aside.

Vegetable filling:

  • 1 carrot, sliced thinly
  • half a capsicum, sliced thinly
  • 1 stick of celery, sliced thinly
  • a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
  • sesame seeds

I did the vegetables with a peeler, in order to get them finely sliced as desired, but feel free to cut them using a knife or a mandolin if you prefer.

Mix the salad veggies with the stir fried tempeh and mushrooms and top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

  • iceberg lettuce

I would say that the most difficult part of this meal is getting the lettuce leaves off whole and intact, without making any holes for the filling to escape from.  I found it easiest to chop off the bottom stem of the lettuce and work slowly out from there, but do it the best way that works for you.

Now, divide your filling equally between the lettuce leaves.  I only made enough for four leaves worth, but could have easily added some extra mushrooms, shredded cabbage or sprouts to fill it out.  I was also planning to use up some spring onions that we have in the fridge but totally forgot.

Serve with a wedge of lime and some extra sesame seeds on top.

12 thoughts on “Vegetarian San Choi Bau

  1. C

    um, I think we might have to organise some sort of weekly vegetarian night…at your house… (in exchange for notes? :) haha)

  2. Catherine

    I’m trying to implement more lettuce-wraps into my meal planing in the spirit of saving money and eating healthier. (plus, if there’s a head of lettuce hanging around the kitchen, it obliges one to actually make and serve salads, which I hardly ever bother with otherwise) These are a super appetising way to make it happen… another superb idea!
    – Catherine

  3. Evie

    Oh yum, I’m definitely going to try this one.
    I always love Muy Kum from Thai places (wrapped up in spinach leaves or similar) so I’m keen to give this a go. I’m a total tofu addict and know I will love it.
    Thanks for sharing :-)


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