Eat To Live

Turn pork dish into meatless salad

Soya bean products and vegetables give a refreshing twist to the Chinese sek bak dish

The Eurasians have a salad that even those who do not like salads would eat. It is meaty and full- bodied, bathed in a vibrant chilli dressing, to which raw onions and fresh green chilli have been added.

Aside from cucumbers, there are also braised meats and soya bean products in the bowl.

These braised ingredients come from the Chinese dish of sek bak, where various cuts of mostly belly pork and organ meats are braised in spiced black soya sauce and served sliced, with a chilli dip.

The Eurasians have taken it and turned it into a salad, using the same chilli dip as a dressing. What a good idea. Who says there cannot be chilli in salad dressings?

I tweaked it so that it becomes, not a salad piled with rich belly pork and organ meats, but one topped with healthy tau kwa and tau pok, which is braised in the same spiced soya sauce gravy.

The Eurasians have taken it and turned it into a salad, using the same chilli dip as a dressing. What a good idea. Who says there cannot be chilli in salad dressings?

For variety, I stew hard-boiled eggs, tempeh (fermented bean cake) and black fungus in the gravy, adding lettuce and coriander to the cucumbers for an interesting crunch.

It then becomes a salad that retains all the flavours of the original dish, but without the sin.

I serve it, often in place of a meal or as a vegetable in an Asian meal. It can become an appetising (and healthy) choice to make up the five serves of vegetables and fruit that we are supposed to eat in a day.

The protein comes from the soya products and egg. The greens are the cucumber, lettuce and coriander. You can also add tomatoes, celery and radish to it.

If you still yearn for a meaty flavour, you can use a meat stock as the base. Or you can add a piece of lean meat to stew in the gravy, though it is fine without, as the chilli dressing makes up for everything.

Instead of oil and vinegar, the base for Western salad dressings, this uses a chilli, garlic, onion and green chilli dressing.

To make it, you thin down bottled garlic-chilli sauce with spoonfuls of the gravy. Then, add a squeeze of lime juice and top with fresh chopped onions and sliced green chilli.

You pour this over your sek bak salad and watch it being demolished within minutes.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.


The garlic-chilli dressing makes up for the missing pork belly and organ meats in this salad. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG


4 cups stock (vegetable, chicken or pork)

4 tbsp thick dark soya sauce

1 tbsp light soya sauce

½ tsp salt

1 tsp honey (optional)

2 cinnamon sticks

4 star anise

4 cloves

1 head of garlic, left unpeeled

2 to 3 firm soya bean cakes or tau kwa

4 to 6 soya bean puffs or tau pok

2 pieces tempeh (fermented soya bean cake)

2 to 4 pieces dried black fungus, rinsed and soaked to rehydrate

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled


1 head of lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 cucumber, sliced diagonally

1 bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped


½ cup chilli-garlic sauce

½ onion, peeled and chopped

2 to 3 green chillies, sliced

Juice from 2 limes, or to taste

Spoonful of soya sauce gravy


• Make gravy by putting stock, seasonings, garlic and whole spices into a pot and bringing it to a boil.

• Keep the heat gentle throughout. If it gets too thick, add some water. You want a rich and dark gravy with a hint of sweetness.

•Add tau kwa, tau pok and tempeh, all left whole, to the pot. After half an hour, add softened black fungus and hard-boiled eggs and immerse them in the gravy.

•To serve, slice the soya products and fungus and place on a bed of salad. Add the eggs (quartered) and garnish with coriander.

•Pour over the chilli dressing, as much or as little as you like. Add some gravy, if needed, and toss well.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Turn pork dish into meatless salad'. Print Edition | Subscribe