We’ve rounded up 30 of our favorite Chinese cold dish recipes (known in Chinese as liángcài – 凉菜) for warm weather cooking.
These cold dishes are not only designed to be tasty and refreshing, they also get you in and out of the kitchen quickly. You can make them ahead as well, so all you have to do is pop a few items out of the refrigerator to have a satisfying meal.
The beauty of “cold dish” cooking
Aloha—Kaitlin here! I wish I could say I were actually writing this from Hawaii, but I’m actually inside in the middle of New Jersey, hiding away from the heat and the hot mid-day sun that makes freckles sprout on the back of your hand.
The other day I saw a headline that this may be the most mild summer we ever experience again. While that is terrifying on an existential level, this isn’t that kind of blog—and mostly I couldn’t help but think about what this means for how we cook as the seasons change.
With a few heat waves already under our belt and just days into summer here in the Northeast, finding recipes that are cooling and require minimal heating elements is an invaluable consideration for your summer recipe arsenal.
What makes a Chinese cold dish?
There are a few hallmarks of a quality Chinese cold dish:
- Strong flavors – You’ll find that so many of these recipes, while served cold, don’t sacrifice the flavor (or even the heat of a good red chili)! Chinese food philosophy dictates that the summer doesn’t mean relinquishing foods that promote your internal heat, especially with everyone spending their days walking from air-conditioned space to air-conditioned space. A little chili and ginger is good for you in the summer!
- Low cook / no cook – Many of these recipes rely on simple cooking techniques like blanching something quickly and tossing it in a dressing. It’s like a regular salad, but the possibilities are truly endless when it comes to Chinese cold dishes. There are salads, pickles, braises, and tossed yummy bits galore!
- Can be made ahead – Unlike conventional salads made with tender greens, in many cases, these cold dishes won’t suffer from sitting in the refrigerator for a spell—rather they’re just as tasty as when you first prepared them. No complaints about soggy salads here!
- Substantial – This is a bit esoteric, but the fact that Chinese cold dishes aren’t just salads means that there’s more creativity and room for substantial ingredients like beef, chicken, and seafood. While I love a delicious summer salad, sometimes you just need more.
The beauty of all of these Chinese cold dish recipes is that you can mix and match them to make a full meal with lots of variety.
Start Here: a foundation
Let’s say you’re one of those people who likes to go rogue—to chart their own path in the kitchen! Cue music.
This is for you—it’s a versatile Chinese cold dish starter kit. Make the dressing and toss it with whatever your heart desires: cooked shredded chicken, sliced beef or pork, seaweed, blanched vegetables, or tofu. Experimenters welcome.
This is our new favorite noodle dish. Not in small part because all you need is spaghetti, a “Chinese” pantry staple we’ve turned to for years in a pinch. The light sour and spicy sauce is perfect for when temperatures are spiking but you still want a substantial bite.
For heat-seekers and thickly sauced noodle devotees, see these cold sesame noodles, which are heavier and more substantial than the aforementioned sour spicy noodles!
Remember when I said the thing about cold dishes having strong flavors? These noodles don’t just have strong flavors, they also boast a pleasing medley of textures.
I suppose you could think of it like a salad. But instead of lettuce or kale, add noodle. That’s our kind of salad…
Learn how to make fresh Chinese liángpí noodles, using just flour, water, and salt. Sarah spent a lot of time learning this old school technique, but brings it up to date with the use of a stand mixer.
BONUS: you’ll also make your own seitan (wheat gluten) in the process!
Sometimes you need a protein hit with your noodles, and this delivers with shredded chicken.
Pro tip: Lazy tip: We wouldn’t be sad nor offended if you just tore into a cold half-eaten rotisserie chicken to pull this one off…
This is one of our all-time favorite cold dish recipes. I remember a stretch of years growing up when we had this drunken chicken on the regular.
This is for those who love pure flavors, as cold chicken really shines with the briny marinade, making the chicken taste figuratively “drunk” without covering up its essence.
The magic of a Chinese cleaver is being able to slice a lemon so thinly that you can toss whole chunks—rind and all—into a salad and end up with something truly delectable and not at all too sour.
Live on the wild side and give this creative use of lemon a try! It’s incredibly refreshing and adds a delicious complement to the savory flavors of the herbs, garlic, and chili.
These fish dishes can be served hot, warm, or cold—it’s truly up to your tastes, but I will say this smoked fish in particular just tastes better cold.
I think it has something to do with the fact that when served cold, you can really taste the sweetness of the soy sauce braising liquid. And you’ll never guess the secret ingredient that makes this fish so unique…
This really takes us way back. My mom (Judy) has been eating this since she was little, and so have we.
It’s a recipe that could easily get forgotten unless you have a grandma or mom to show you the ropes. Luckily, my mom has stepped up to the plate for all of us! Fresh out of the pan, it’s crispy and salty. When cold, the buttery firm texture of the belt fish shines.
We don’t need to explain the appeal of boiled shrimp dipped into a tasty sauce. Instead of a traditional cocktail sauce, here’s a simple ginger scallion dipping sauce.
Boiling the shrimp with a few pieces of ginger and scallions also ups the flavor factor in an unexpectedly meaningful way!
BEEF & pork
This braised beef shank has for many many years been the MVP of weeknight dinners at the Leung household.
A tupperware prepped at the start of the week would make appearances throughout the week to accompany fresh vegetable stir-fries and a pot of rice for an effortless dinner.
12. Spicy Beef Salad
Okay so maybe this isn’t quite “cold dish” as much as it is “warm dish”. But it makes the cut because it is beef tossed in dressing and also doesn’t the notion of beef salad feel like a delightful oxymoron?
Serve this with some of the veggie cold dishes on this list for a satisfying lunch or dinner.
Fūqī fèi piàn is the gangster of the list—chock full of meaty bits from tripe to tongue, heart, and shank, the meat lovers among us won’t walk away from this dish dissatisfied.
Tossed with crunchy Chinese celery and peanuts? Well let’s just say it’s not an uncommon refrain to hear me say to Sarah “hey, quit Bogartin’ the fuqi” at the dinner table.
This particular Chinese cold dish makes my mother, resident Shanghai local, very very happy. It uses a particular kind of vegetable that is actually quite rare outside of China called mǎlán tóu (马兰头) in Chinese, or Indian aster or Indian Kalimeris in English.
It has a vaguely chrysanthemum-like flavor. Some substitutes you could use stateside are fragrant vegetables like fresh celery leaves, tong ho (chrysanthemum leaves), or even a mixture of Shanghai bok choy leaves and cilantro.
If the word “gluten” had you running for the hills, well we can’t help you on this one. For anyone still with me, Chinese seitan (known as kǎo fū – 烤麸) is a great source of plant-based protein, making this a delicious and satisfying vegan main dish!
So many of our favorite cold dishes, this one included, combine sweet and umami. We’ve made sure to temper the sugar amounts here, so there are just enough sweet and savory notes.
(There’s something to be said about sugar not tasting as sweet when it’s cold—just think about ice cream and the fact that you need quite a bit of sugar to make that sweetness shine through in a frozen medium.)
One of the best kept secrets of the Chinese grocery refrigerated section may just be this Chinese vegan chicken. Sù jī (素鸡) is a beautiful shortcut.
It’s the Chinese equivalent of grabbing a frozen veggie burger out of your freezer. It’s easy. Delicious. Dare I say, “meaty?” Add a vegetable and some rice and that’s dinner done.
Okay this doesn’t *actually* fall under my rule of no cook / low cook, but some effort upfront leads to some very nice rewards later as this vegetarian duck can be enjoyed both hot and cold, and my mother has made the recipe yield quite high here.
Vegans rejoice! It’s obviously not duck, but that is intended to be the deliciously satisfying bright side here.
A salad…but make it tofu, courtesy of these shredded tofu “noodles” you can buy just like this at the store. It’s about as easy as buying the pre-washed box of spring greens.
This recipe is part art project and part salad—though there’s no reason why you couldn’t just chop it all up and toss it together in a bowl! No one’s looking, right? This could be a very delicious accompaniment to some takeout sushi, too!
Fresh spring bamboo shoots shine in this salad. You can buy them pre-cooked in vacuum-sealed packages or blanch them yourself.
Just don’t try to eat raw bamboo shoots. Raw bamboo contains a naturally occurring toxin that is neutralized by cooking!
I know what you’re thinking: you’ve seen one chili bamboo shoot you’ve seen em all. This one uses brined bamboo shoots that you buy pre-packaged. For fans of the jarred stuff who use this as more side than condiment, this one’s for you!
Ah the dish that sparked my parents to put not two, but FIFTEEN okra plants in this year’s garden! The slight sliminess of the okra isn’t noticeable in this delectable little cold dish as it actually has a pleasant thickening effect on the spicy sesame sauce.
For a time we were obsessed with finding new ways to cook king oyster mushrooms. This dish relies on a textural component, namely, hand tearing the mushrooms with more crevices to soak up a simple dressing.
Wood ears are a healthy food, so my mom is always looking for new ways to prepare them. Unlike a heavy portobello mushroom, the snappier light texture of a wood ear mushroom can taste super refreshing during the hotter months.
This is another dish that could be served hot, warm, or cold, depending on your needs. No need to worry about leftovers here!
This is probably our most popular cucumber salad, with the perfect balance of tangy, sour, and spice and the extra crunch of roughly chopped cilantro. If you’re only using cilantro leaves and not stems, I regret to inform you that you’re doing cilantro wrong!
Okay, another déjà vu moment, but this cucumber salad has its own charms, swapping the chili oil for a stronger dose of garlicky goodness.
Pickles are the perfect companion to a bowl of rice porridge. Cold, refreshing, salty, and delicious. Plus, these pickle super quickly. Always a bonus in the world of pickle!
Seaweed is one of those foods that Chinese grandmas push on you during the summertime to tame your inner heat. Or er…something along those lines. It’s delicious. It’s simple. Both my mom and grandma told me to tell you to eat it.
That is all.
At this point, this dish may just be a relic of the past. It’s been a good minute since we’ve been to a restaurant that offered this crunchy and refreshing complimentary appetizer.
Our version channels that simple refreshing flavor some of you may remember from your favorite Chinese restaurant with simple and widely available ingredients like white vinegar and garlic.
We hope you enjoyed this collection of Chinese cold dish recipes. Stay cool this summer, everyone!