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DIY Vegan Snacks to Kick Off the Year of the Rat

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Hot on the tails of overindulging on Christmas and New Year, the upcoming Chinese New Year brings yet another round of feasting. Celebrated by the Chinese community worldwide, the holiday brings with it mouth-watering small bites and pastries. Favourites include pineapple tarts, mini prawn rolls, almond cookies and other types of calorific treats.

Unfortunately, most of these snacks are high in fat, cholesterol and sugar. The buttery pineapple tart contains 93 calories, 6.2 grams of sugar and 2.3 grams of fat just for a single tart. Its delectable combination of sweet, sour paired with the melt-in-your-mouth tart shell means it’s unlikely you’ll stop at just one.

Then there are the mini prawn rolls – made out of prawn floss and deep-fried to a crisp – it is sinful yet addictive enough that it is too easy to finish a box in one sitting.

Chinese New Year presents yet more challenges for those who are still reeling from overeating at Christmas and New Year’s, or whose New Year’s resolution is a cleaner, plant-based diet. Luckily, there are vegan variants of Chinese New Year snacks that are not only free of animal products, but can be adjusted for lower calories and sugar levels.

Here is a list of healthier, plant-based snacks you can whip up for Chinese New Year.

Vegan pineapple tarts

This melt-in-your-mouth Chinese New Year staple is traditionally made with butter and caster sugar. The vegan version from Malaysian Vegan calls for olive oil butter to replace dairy butter. The pineapple filling is what makes the snack high in sugar, so use less of it or use sweeter pineapple varieties instead.

*Makes 30 pieces

For Pineapple Filling:

  • 2 honey pineapples
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 60g of castor sugar (or maple, honey or agave syrup)
  • 1 star anise

For pastry:

  • 250g of olive oil butter
  • 450g all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons iced water
  • A dash of coconut milk mixed with maple syrup for the glaze

Instructions (Pineapple Filling):

1. Peel pineapples, core them and remove the “eyes”. Finely chop them.

2. Strain pineapple through cheesecloth until most of the juice is removed. Be sure to retain some juice for cooking.

3. Pour pineapple into a saucepan. Add spices and sugar.

4. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When the liquid reduces, stir frequently to prevent burning. Add sugar or syrup to taste.

5. Let cool to room temperature, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Instructions (Tart):

1. Roll pineapple filling into small balls and set aside.

2. Using a rolling pin, flatten pastry and use a cookie cutter to cut out circles from the pastry. Wrap the filling with the pastry and roll into balls. Line them up on a baking sheet, an inch apart from each other.

3. Brush with coconut milk and maple syrup glaze. Bake at 150 degrees celsius. Let tarts cool before storing.

Vegan almond biscuits

A crumbly almond biscuit served with a cup of hot tea is the perfect way to end your Chinese New Year afternoon visit. Use vegetable oil and coconut milk with maple syrup glaze (just like the one in the pineapple tarts recipe) in this modified but simple recipe adapted from Nonya Cooking. You can use leftover almond meal from making almond milk.

*Makes 25 biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 50g almond meal
  • 100g all-purpose flour
  • 40g sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/5 teaspoon salt
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • Dash of coconut milk mixed with maple syrup for the glaze
  • Slivered almonds for topping

Instructions:

1. Sieve wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and powdered sugar into a bowl. Add almond meal and mix well. Add oil to bind the ingredients into a dough.

2. Shape dough into little balls weighing about 15g each. Space them out and flatten them by pressing them down gently. Mix coconut milk and maple syrup, then brush each biscuit with the glaze. Place some slivered almonds on each cookie.  Mix egg yolk and water. Brush each cookie dough with the mixture. Place some almonds pieces (chopped lengthwise) on each cookie.

3. Bake cookies in a preheated oven at 180 degrees celsius for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow cookies to cool to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container.

Vegan rice paper rolls

This Vietnamese classic is a healthier and vegan-friendly alternative to mini-prawn rolls. Made with avocado, rice noodles, leafy greens, coriander and paired with a peanut sauce, it is easy to make and is gluten-free.

Ingredients:

  • 110g of rice noodles or bee hoon, softened in lukewarm water
  • 8 to 10 rice paper wrappers, soaked in warm water till soft
  • 2 avocados, slightly ripe and sliced thinly
  • Choice of leafy greens, torn into chunks. (Recommend: Kale, lettuce and mustard leaves)
  • 1 Japanese cucumber, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • Fresh coriander leaves

Instructions:

1. Set rice paper wrapper on a damp chopping board.

2. Stack fillings in the middle of the wrapper, from top to bottom, neatly. Be careful not to overfill the wrapper.

3. Roll the end closest to you towards the middle. Fold the sides into the middle, then roll it all the way to the end.

Mini chocolate tarts

Kids and adults alike love anything with chocolate. Serve these chocolate tarts chilled to keep the chocolate ganache filling from melting. You can adjust the added sugar to taste or remove it completely for low sugar pure dark chocolate tarts.

*Makes 6 to 7 mini chocolate tarts

Ingredients:

  • Vegan-friendly frozen shortcrust pastry (Jus-Rol from Redmart is suitable for vegans and vegetarians)
  • 250g of dark chocolate drops. If the chocolate comes in a bar, chop it up coarsely.
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • Mini tart tins
  • Optional: a sprinkle of sea salt flakes to bring out the chocolate.

Instructions (Tart):

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.

2. Place shortcrust pastry sheet in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to soften. Lay pastry into greased tart tins. Leave a little excess around the rim to prevent it from buckling when it’s being baked. Press the pastry sheet down gently against the tins to mould it.

3. Using a fork, poke holes on the bottom of the sheet in each tin. Line the pastry with parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes.

4. Remove parchment paper and bake for another 15 minutes.

5. Let pastry cool before removing them from their trays.

Instructions: (Chocolate ganache):

1. Heat coconut milk and sugar on a low flame until bubbles appear on the sides and the mixture emits steam. Stir frequently to prevent it from burning.

2. Remove from flame. Add chocolate and let sit for a few minutes. Stir well until chocolate is incorporated and appears shiny and smooth. Add vanilla extract and mix well.

3. Let cool to room temperature. Fill the tart shells three-quarters full. Chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours before serving.

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