Marmite tempeh

I like Marmite – only in certain applications. My favourite is with thickly spread vegan butter. This recipe was inspired by Eight Treasure’s Marmite Ribs, a dish my family had during Chinese New Year and everyone (even the omnis) loved it. And because Eight Treasures is so far from my place and I can’t digest mock meats well, I came up with this recipe. Also because I bought a huge jar of Marmite on impulse and needed to find ways to use it!

Savoury, moist and high protein.

Marmite on it’s own, has a terrifying bitterness to my taste. Like their slogan “Love it or hate it”, I love it when used in dishes but hate it on it’s own. It’s got a unique concentrated umami flavour as a result of yeast fermentation that does not occur in other condiments. But the bitterness can be overwhelming when used too much, so I usually add sour and sweet flavours to cushion it. When used correctly, it gives the most lip-smacking savouriness to proteins with some tang and sweet aftertaste.

Tempeh can be found in Singapore at wet markets (at stalls selling mixed goods) or heartland supermarkets like Giant or NTUC (usually in refrigerated section near the tofu). This recipe has 4 main ingredients, is quick and easy to make and keeps well in fridge or freezer. Great protein item to make in advance for lunch boxes.

Remember to flip to cook both sides.

Marmite tempeh

  • 2 slices ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 block tempeh, cut to square pieces (I used the 200g block from NTUC).
  • 2/3 tbsp Marmite (or Vegemite)
  • 1 heaping tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp of Chinese cooking wine (or other cooking wines, optional)
  • 1/3 cup stock/water
  • 1 tbsp lemon/lime juice, or to taste

Mix Marmite, sugar, cooking wine, water in a bowl till Marmite is dissolved. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat, add ginger. Sautee till fragrant. Add tempeh and flip to coat evenly with oil. Lower heat to low-medium, pour liquid mixture in and mix to coat tempeh. Simmer till liquid is thickened and reduced, flipping halfway to ensure even cooking. Removed from heat, squeeze lemon/lime juice to taste and mix well before serving. Let cool before storing.


Perfect in a sandwich with vegan butter from Peace of Cheese and some chilli sauce!

Notes:

  • I personally prefer to cut tempeh thin as I find it holds flavour better.
  • Cooking wine helps to boost umami flavours in protein dishes, if you don’t have or don’t take alcohol, simply omit. Ginger here also has the same role.
  • If you’re really averse to Marmite, use soy sauce/curry paste/tom yam paste or any strong flavoured condiment of your choice instead.
  • This tempeh will be quite salty if you eat it on its own, as I made it to be a sandwich filler. Reduce Marmite amount or increase tempeh if you want less salt.
  • I find cooked tempeh can dry out in the fridge, so I usually reheat it by frying lightly on both sides with a bit of liquid (oil or water).

Check out more tempeh recipes here.

Wholewheat Masala Chai Muffins

Happy Deepavali!

I’m not an expert on Indian cooking, have attempted a few dishes but they never taste as good as the restaurants. A friend recently gave me a bag of masala chai blend (Black tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, clove). So I combined it with something I’m more confident at – baking! I also have a masala chai recipe using soymilk. That was approved by two Indian friends, so I’m pretty sure it’s good.

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This is my first muffin recipe using 100% wholewheat. I used Pillsbury Gold Atta flour, which is meant to make rotis. I find that generally atta meant for chapati or similar Indian breads works excellent in baking. Texture is slightly denser than my usual muffin recipe using white flour, but still soft and moist. Also has a more rustic and hearty flavour that complements the spiced tea taste well.

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Steep the tea in non-dairy milk first.
wettodry
Add wet to dry ingredients.
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Batter will be thicker than ones made with white flour.

 

wholewheat masala chai muffins

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups wholewheat atta flour (available from Indian grocery shops)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp quality masala chai blend (use more if you want a stronger chai taste)
  • 2 cups coconut milk (also works with oatmilk)
  • 2/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 175C. Bring the coconut milk and tea blend to a light simmer over low heat. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 20mins. Strain out the tea mixture with a sieve. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk tea mixture with other wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Make a hole in dry ingredients, add wet mixture and stir with spatula until just combined. Scoop batter into muffin cups till 2/3 filled. Bake at 175C for 15-20mins until a toothpick inserted into each cup comes out clean. Rotate pan halfway for even heating. Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack. Let cool before serving or storing.


Notes to ensure a good rise and moist texture:

  • Make sure your baking soda and powder is still active.
  • Do not overmix, stop immediately when you see no more flour.
  • Do not over bake, start checking at the 15min mark for doneness with the toothpick test.

Check out my chocolate chip pecan muffin recipe too.

masalachaimuffin

DIY Dairy-free Teh-C/Kopi-C

My friends at Souley Green had relaunched their shop and kindly gave me some items to try. Souley Green is Singapore’s first vegan online mart with quality lifestyle products like groceries, snacks, body care and fashion items from across the world.

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They sent me:

  1. BSKT Maca Espresso Chocolate Bar – Dark & rich, loved it. Best eaten at room temperature.
  2.  Acado Avocado Oil – First time trying avocado oil, too strong for my taste.
  3. Nature’s Charm Sweetened Coconut Condensed Milk – Just amazing.
  4. Handmade Heroes’ Beauty Warrior Face Mask – Cooling on skin, perfect for hot days.
  5. MOFO Chilli Level 7 Gun Powder – Incredibly spicy which is perfect! Contains onions.
  6. Mekhala Living’s Roasted Sweet Chilli and Roasted Sesame Garlic Dressing – Easy to use, good as flavour base.
  7. Winter Organics Chamomile Facial Cleanser – Very gentle on skin and did not strip off all natural oils.
mekhalanoodles
Stir-fried noodles and veggies+chickpeas made with Mekhala’s sauces, topped with MOFO Gun powder.

Out of all these, the coconut condensed milk was my favourite. It’s thick, creamy with slight caramel tones. Slightly thicker than full cream condensed milk but not as sweet (which is great). The coconut flavour is not strong and melds well with the main flavour, adding a slight nuttiness. Condensed milk is used in many of our local teas and coffees, after going vegan I simply had them as “O”, meaning plain (dark) version. I will say this is a great dairy alternative to be used in kopi-c, teh-c, bandung and ice kachang.

Ingredients: Coconut milk (Coconut cream, Filtered water), Cane sugar, Calcium carbonate, Salt

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Viscosity is slightly thicker than condensed milk.

 

DIY Teh-C/Kopi-C

Serves 2 cups

  • 1-2 tbsp tea dust (for more authentic kopitiam taste) or red/black tea leaves, or ground coffee (depending on how strong you like)
  • 4 tbsp Nature’s Charm sweetened coconut condensed milk
  • 3 cups boiling water

Put tea/coffee in a strainer and immerse in the boiling water for 2-3 mins. Remove strainer and stir in coconut condensed milk. Serve hot or over ice, add sugar if preferred.

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Teh-C without the hormones and stomachache-inducing properties!

Note:

  • For iced version, brew the tea/coffee longer and add a bit more condensed milk. As ice melts it will dilute your drink, so start off with a stronger flavour.
  • For bandung, simply mix with roughly 1 tbsp rose syrup or 1/4 tsp rose water + 1 cup water. Use a few drops of beetroot juice for natural red colouring.

 

Sadly it did not fare well as our favourite frothy teh tarik. When I “pulled” the tea, the bubbles did not stay longer than 2 seconds so I could not achieve the frothy top. I’ll figure out another way! But it still conveniently makes a great cup of creamy, sweet caffeine boost. I really wish one day hawker centres and restaurants can offer this as a dairy alternative for us. Though I definitely can’t afford to use this daily, I’m happy to support Souley Green as they are trying hard to bring in good products for us.

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My discount code is valid till 9th December 2017. Happy shopping!

Rice noodle soup with seaweed tempeh slices (愉片米粉)

The plant-based version of a local favourite, fish head bee hoon. A dish commonly found in vegetarian hawker stalls with mock soy “fish” slices in thick rice noodle soup. It’s also one of the few local dishes that contains cow’s milk in the soup.

As usual, my approach is to use whole foods instead of processed mock meats. The dairy in the soup can easily be substituted with non-dairy milks like soy or oat. The umami-rich and briny fish slices posed a bigger challenge. My aim is not to copy the taste of animal protein exactly, but to have a new take on flavours that are familiar yet new.

After cutting dairy back in 2009, I’ve always ordered this dish without the milk but didn’t fancy the mock fish slices. Thus I had an idea to use tempeh to substitute. Why tempeh? Because it can absorb more flavour than tofu and has a softer texture than seitan.

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(Fresh tempeh from wet market, $2 for 3 packs. I always remove the natural black mold before cooking but I’ve found that it seems safe to eat.)

The main difference between plant and animal proteins is that plant proteins are mild on their own. Extra effort is needed to impart and coax flavours out of them. Thus there’s an extra step of marinating , wrapping in seaweed and frying the tempeh to impart a briny, “ocean” flavour and moist texture.

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(Wrapped in sushi seaweed, other ready-to-eat seaweeds should also work.)

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(All ingredients are from NTUC/Wet market, vegan belacan from vegetarian groceries. For veggie stock, simply boil carrots, daikon, burdock, mushrooms in a pot or rice cooker for 15mins.)


 

SEAWEED TEMPEH BEE HOON RECIPE

(Serves 1)

Seaweed tempeh slices:

  • 1 tbsp fermented bean paste/salted beans
  • 1 palm sized piece of dried kelp, rinsed and soaked till softened
  • Few pcs of ready to eat seaweed, as needed
  • 6 pcs tempeh
  • 1 tsp vegan belacan
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Corn flour, as needed
  • Dashes of white pepper
  • Stock, as needed (I used homemade kombu stock by boiling kelp in water)
  • Cooking oil, as needed

Noodle soup base:

  • 1/2 pc salted mustard vegetable, sliced
  • 1 salted sour plum (I couldn’t find any in the shops near my house so I used tamarind juice)
  • 1 serving thick rice noodle (I used brown rice noodles from NTUC)
  • 0.5 cm ginger, sliced thinly
  • 1tbsp cooking oil
  • Stock, as needed
  • 1 tomato, cut into slices
  • 1/8 cup chinese cooking wine (optional)
  • 1 stalk spring onion, cut at the white part (use more ginger if you don’t take alliums)
  • 5 stalks of bak choy or similar leafy greens
  • ¼ cup neutral flavoured non-dairy milk (I used Bonsoy)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil, dried seaweed, chopped spring onions or coriander for garnish

Toast belacan for 2mins in a pan and crumble it. Crush the beans with a spoon. Mix bean paste, belacan, soy sauce and white pepper in a bowl. Put the kelp piece at the bottom. Place tempeh blocks into the marinade, add stock until just covered. Set in fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove marinated tempeh. Mix 3 tbsp of marinade with 2 tbsp corn flour till you get a sticky paste. Dip tempeh into this paste then wrap seaweed. Cut into bite sized pieces. Heat oil in a pan, add the wrapped tempeh plus 5-6 tbsp marinade. Fry till slightly browned. Drain and set aside. Keep the kelp and marinade.

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In a small pot, heat some oil. Add ginger, sautee till fragrant. Add white part of spring onion, the used kelp piece, stir for 1 min, add enough stock/water to fill 2/3rds of the pot. Add salted veggie, sour plum, 1 tablespoon of the marinade, bring to a boil and let simmer for 10-15 mins or longer if you can afford the time. Remove the kelp if preferred. Add rice noodles, tomatoes, Chinese cooking wine, bring to a boil. Then add non-dairy milk and bak choy, stir till greens are cooked. Season with white pepper, more soy sauce if preferred. Top with the seaweed tempeh slices, dried seaweed and spring onions and serve.

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Notes:

  • If you want to reduce oil used, bake the tempeh instead or fry with less oil in a non-stick pan.
  • To save time and maximize soup flavour, let soup simmer while you’re preparing the seaweed tempeh slices.
  • If you don’t like the beany flavour of tempeh, boil or steam it shortly before marinating to reduce the taste.
  • Non-dairy milks can separate under heat, so add that right before turning off the heat.
  • These tempeh slices can be made in bulk when you have time and kept frozen, as a convenient and tasty protein food.
  • If you can’t find salted sour plum, sub with tamarind juice, assam slices, lemon/lime juice. The goal is to give the soup a slight fruity tartness which brings out umami flavour while the acid can reduce the sometimes overly fishy smell of kelp.

Garlic Braised Eggplant

A well-loved dish from North China. Soft and tender eggplant pieces packed with umami and full of garlic fragrance. Like many North Chinese dishes, it’s a prime example of how the most simple ingredients can transform into something amazing in the right hands.

Eggplant is not an easy plant to prepare. Bland and somewhat ‘slimy’ on it’s own, it needs a good amount of seasoning to flavour it fully, and oil to tenderise it. This dish can easily burn, practise is required to control heat and timing. Don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first time.

This recipe is from my mother, although I can’t make it as good as her, I think it’s good enough to share!

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Since ingredients are simple, more care is needed in choosing and preparing ingredients. Choose eggplants that are smooth, shiny, long and slender. Cut them to bite sized so each piece can be fully infused with fragrance. I realised the thicker the eggplant, the larger the seeds. Crush the garlic first to release a stronger flavour. Use a neutral flavoured oil with quality soy sauce. A good soy sauce should only have 4 ingredients: soybeans, wheat, salt and water.


GARLIC EGGPLANT RECIPE

  • 2 medium sized eggplant, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp oil (to use less oil, refer to notes)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

1. Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. Add garlic, fry till fragrant and lightly browned. Take note not to burn it.
2. Add eggplant and soy sauce. Flip and stir for 10 seconds till eggplant is evenly coated with oil.
3. Lower the heat and cover the wok, letting eggplant simmer for 20 seconds. Then remove the cover and stir contents for 5 seconds. This is to prevent burning during braising. Repeat this step 4 more times. Keep an eye on the liquid level, take care not to burn it.
4. When most liquid is absorbed and eggplant is soft, turn off the heat and serve.


 

Notes:
1. To use less oil, replace 0.5 tbsp oil with 1/4 cup of stock. Mix the soy sauce and stock together then add at step 2. You can use even less oil with a non stick pan. Usually less oil can lighten the taste a lot, so you may need to find other ways to compensate.
2. If your eggplant is starting to stick to your pan, stir it quickly or add stock/water one tbsp at a time. Do not add too much water as it will dilute the flavours.
3. Garlic can’t be replaced in this dish without changing the flavour. If you cannot take garlic, replace it with 1 tbsp sugar and 1.5 tbsp Chinese vinegar. Sweet and sour eggplant (糖醋茄子) is also a classic Northern dish that is incredibly delicious.

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To complete this Northern Chinese style meal, I had it with a type bread called wo wo tou. It’s a steamed corn bread with a hole in the middle that you can stuff with savoury foods. Perfect way to soak up the extra sauce.DSC02353

Young Jackfruit Bak Kut Teh

Bak Kut Teh literally means “pork bone tea” in Hokkien, a local dialect. A garlicky, peppery, sometimes herbal, pork soup popular here, with variations from the different Chinese dialect groups. I wasn’t sure what to call this plant-based version as there’s neither pork nor bone. I also didn’t want to prefix “vegetarian” or “vegan” in front of it as Singaporeans can get sensitive when they see their beloved foods made without meat. The former conjures up images of “no protein and very green” and the latter, well, has too much baggage. Let’s just go with “bak kut teh” for familiarity’s sake.

The best plant-based bak kut teh I’ve had was from O’Bean. Theirs was a more Cantonese style with medicinal Chinese herbs, and interestingly, thickened with their organic soy milk. However because those herbs were used, there was a slight bitter aftertaste that not all will like. My recipe is similar to the Hokkien style that uses spices with generous amounts of premium soy sauce. The result is a soul-warming soup full of umami that you can’t stop at one spoon.

People always ask, “But how to make bak kut teh without bak (pork)?”

A bit darker than usual as they were frozen.
A bit darker than usual as mine were frozen.

Current vegetarian versions will have various mock meats, mushrooms, beancurd skin and tofu puffs. As with all local food recipes on my blog, I wanted to reinterpret it with mostly whole foods. Young jackfruit is commonly used by our Asian neighbours in stews and curries. The spark came when I first saw it in Western recipes like pulled jackfruit burgers and jackfruit bacon, I knew it will work in local pork recipes. And rest assured – it will not turn your savoury dish sweet as young jackfruit has little flavour on its own unlike its ripe counterpart. What it has is an amazingly tender texture that soaks up juices perfectly and releases a delicate meaty flavour into the soup when cooked.

In Singapore you can buy young jackfruit from Tekka Market’s fruit stalls and Mustafa (chilled veggies section).

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Ingredients used.

 

YOUNG JACKFRUIT BAK KUT TEH (SERVES 1)

Main ingredients:

  • 5 pcs young jackfruit, cut into bite-sizes chunks
  • 3 pcs dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked till soft
  • 5 – 7 pcs dried tau kee (beancurd skin), soaked till soft
  • 3 pcs black fungus
  • 1.5 cups stock (reserve mushroom soaking water if no stock at hand)
  • 1 – 1.5 tbsp premium soy sauce (good soy sauce should only have 4 ingredients – salt, water, wheat and soy beans.)

Spices:

  • 3 bulbs garlic, smashed without peeling with the side of a knife (use with few slices of ginger if allium-free is preferred, but flavour may be a bit different.)
  • 1 tsp whole white pepper, smashed with side of knife
  • ½ tsp whole black pepper, smashed with side of knife
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Garnish:

  • 1 handful coriander
  • 1 chilli padi, sliced

In a pot, heat some oil over medium heat. Add jackfruit, shiitake and all spices. Fry for 2 mins, till jackfruit is well coated in oil and turns slightly darker. Add stock, bring to a boil. Add soy sauce, tau kee and black fungus. Simmer over medium-low heat with lid slightly ajar for 15 – 20mins or so till jackfruit is tender. Remove from heat, add more powdered white pepper or soy sauce if preferred. Garnish with coriander, serve with sliced chilli and rice.

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Note:

  • This can be made into a filling one-pot meal by adding more stock and noodles.
  • If you don’t have jackfruit on hand, it’s ok to omit – still makes a decent bak kut teh with just the spices and soy sauce.
  • Don’t discard young jackfruit seeds. They are crunchy after cooking and quite nutritious.
  • Other ingredients that you can add to dress up the soup are: all kinds of mushrooms, firm tofu, tofu puffs, greens like bak choy and seitan chunks.

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Dark Chocolate Brownies

This is not only a recipe post, but a message to all girls.

Some girls have the habit of rejecting dessert, counting calories to a T, avoiding certain whole foods like coconut, nuts or avocados for the sole goal of “I don’t want to look fat.” What I find even more disturbing is the number of slim girl friends saying that they are “fat”, and the increasing number of eating disorders among young girls in recent years.

Firstly I’d like to question, with my usual frankness that’s notorious among my friends:

  • Why do you want to avoid being “fat”?
  • Is being bigger than “normal size” a bad thing?
  • Do you think there even should be a “normal size”?
  • Are you truly happy counting calories everyday?

My take on this is very simple:

  • Humans have survived millions of years thanks to genetic diversity. A smaller body that lived in a warm climate would not have survived well in a winter climate compared to a larger body. A larger body could be better at intimidating away predators than a smaller one.
  • Fast forward to modern times, body size was suddenly assigned positive or negative values purely based on appearance.
  • In most developed countries, anything that jiggles is bad. In some developing places, like my family’s hometown in North China, a bigger body = richer pocket = promises financial security (for men) and in good health to bear children (for women).
  • Your body is a result of the complex and practical evolutionary story – there’s no good and bad to your size. Diversity is to be celebrated and there should not be a “normal size” as a benchmark to judge yourself against.

Whole foods that contain good fats like nuts, seeds, avocados etc, are incredibly good for us when taken in suitable amounts. As long as you’re eating whole foods roughly 80% of the time, moving regularly and getting enough rest, I believe our bodies are smart enough to regulate our metabolism well.

For the other 20% of the time, enjoy your favourite coconut-rich curry cooked by grandma, don’t say no to the piece of cake at a party and indulge in those pineapple tarts when they come once a year.

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Life’s too short to reject a bite of fudgy, moist brownies, especially if they are egg-free, dairy-free,  hydrogenated oils-free and refined sugar-free. Here’s my favourite chocolate brownie recipe. Treat yourself well!


 

Vegan dark chocolate brownies

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour, sieved (If you want to use whole wheat, reduce the amount of flour and increase the amount of non-dairy milk.)
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat oven to 200C. Mix all together into a large bowl, make a hole in the centre and leave aside.

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 cup plant oil (I used grapeseed oil, avoid using strong flavoured ones like olive or coconut.)
  • 1 tbsp black coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
  • 1 and ¼ cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used coconut milk.)
  • 15g – 20g dark chocolate (at least 70%. More or less is fine, depending on preference)
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life, for cheaper but lower quality chips, go for the dark chocolate chips at Phoon Huat)

Melt the dark chocolate in the non-dairy milk over low heat. Whisk sugar, molasses and oil together in a medium bowl until combined. Add coffee, vanilla, non-dairy milk and chocolate mixture and mix till a smooth paste.

Pour wet mixture into dry mix. Using a spatula, mix until just combined then add chocolate chips. Sprinkle some chocolate chips onto the surface. Line a pan with baking paper. Pour mixture into pan and use spatula to flatten it out evenly. Bake for 15 – 20 mins, until a fork inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove, let cool in pan for 1 minute before transferring onto rack. Cool completely before cutting. Note: a longer baking time will result in a crumblier brownie, a shorter time makes a fudgy brownie.


 

 

 

 

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If fitting into society’s skewed ideas of beauty is making you unhappy, re-evaluate your goals. Pursue physical and mental health rather than a weight. A strong body and mind can do much more than just getting the look you wanted. Don’t gauge your worth on how you look, but how you feel.

This message from me was inspired by my friend Allison from New York. Allison has a brand inspired by China’s strong women, called 女汉子 pronounced as Nü3 Han4 Zi4 in Chinese. Although frowned upon especially by guys, I identify as a Nühanzi as I grew up among strong women. My grandmother fought for her right to enroll in university while her father wanted her to stay on the farm to raise pigs. My aunt overcame domestic abuse and is now running a business in China. My mother mocked for her poor English when we just arrived in Singapore and used that as the driving force to successfully climb up the corporate ladder. She has never cushioned her opinions and I got my frankness from her. To the guys that criticised me for being too direct, sorry not sorry, it just runs in the family!

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Imagine how thrilled I was to receive Nühanzi’s tops (now my Muay Thai class’ go-to tank) and necklaces! Some proceeds from her necklace will go to the MoreThanMe organisation, helping to build all-girls, tuition free schools in Liberia. Check them out and support a good cause for all girls.

Chinese Curry with Veggies, Tempeh & Tofu

In Southeast Asia, curry has a special place in our hearts and comes in endless forms. On at least two occasions, it has even stirred up passionate nationwide debates and uproar. Allow me to clarify this to international readers who aren’t familiar: curry is a type of dish, not a dish!

I’ve heard this question from foreigners many times, “Why eat something so spicy when the weather is so hot?” From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, the high humidity of our climate may cause our bodies to become saturated with the water element. Spices help to dispel excess moisture. They also have plenty of other health benefits proven by modern science. Eating a piping hot bowl of curry at a bustling hawker centre in 33C weather is my definition of shiok!

As a third culture kid who grew up mostly with family meals from a different part of the world, the Singaporean in me is determined to make a good Chinese curry. I can’t claim that this recipe is 100% authentic, but it is tasty at least to me. I was aiming for flavours similar to those from vegetarian economic rice stalls, where aunties would spoon curry gravy over your rice if you ask for “kali zhi“.  I made some adaptations to a meat-based Malaysian-Chinese recipe.


CHINESE STYLE CURRY (SERVES 1)

Proteins:

  • 3 slices each of firm tofu and tempeh
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp vegan sambal belacan
  • 1/2 cup water/stock
  • Pinch of salt

Mix curry powder, sambal and water in a bowl. Add tofu and tempeh slices to marinade, ensure they are covered by the liquid, leave aside for 15mins, then pan fry them just enough to form a light brown crusting.

marinate
Since tofu and tempeh aren’t flavourful on their own, marinating helps add taste.

Paste ingredients:

  • 1 tsp vegan belacan paste, best heated/toasted for 1 min
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (Prefereably Chinese, but any can work)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, white parts chopped finely (green part keep for later)
  • 2 candlenuts, halved (I like a thicker gravy, use 1 if thinner is preferred)
  • 1 dried red chilli, seeds removed
  • Half cm ginger
  • ½ shallot (sub with more ginger, lemongrass or belacan if allium-free is preferred.)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp oil

base-spices

Pound paste ingredients in a pestle and mortar the dry ingredients, then stir in the oil. Or pulse all in a blender.

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A blender can give a smoother paste. If you want a solution without pounding/blending, use pre-made vegan curry pastes available from vegetarian/indian grocery shops.

Main ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • ½ eggplant, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 long beans, cut into ~3cm length
  • ¼ carrot, sliced
  • 1/3 medium sized onion, diced (for allium-free, use more curry leaves/ginger/lemongrass/belacan)
  • 1 bunch curry leaves
  • Lemongrass stalk (green part from earlier)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup water/stock (more for thinner curry)
  • ¼ cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Salt, to taste
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My curry leaves were frozen that’s why they look weird!

In a pot, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Add paste and fry till fragrant or oil separates from it, keep stirring to prevent burning. Add onion, eggplant and potato, stir till onion is slightly translucent. Add water/stock, bring to a boil. Add lemongrass, curry leaves, long beans, carrots, pan-fried tofu and tempeh, and ¼ cup coconut milk. Bring heat to low-medium and simmer for 10-15mins or until potatoes are soft enough to be mashed. Stir in the last 1 tbsp coconut milk and season with salt to taste. Serve hot with warm rice or breads.

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Notes:

  • Tempeh isn’t common in Chinese curries but it absorbs gravies so well that I felt it had to be included 🙂
  • I couldn’t achieve the “oil split” effect from my paste while frying it – if any curry pro has tips kindly let me know.
  • Adding noodles or lontong (pressed rice cakes) will make it a complete and satisfying one-pot meal.
  • Most veggies can be used for this recipe – just experiment! I personally don’t fancy those cabbage-y curries from some vegetarian stalls so I used firm veggies.
  • Pan-frying tofu/tempeh before cooking in curry helps them to lock in more flavour. Other proteins can include legumes like tau pok (tofu puffs), soaked tau kee (beancurd skin), seitan, canned chickpeas for faster cooking.
  • I don’t press firm tofu before using them – we Chinese actually don’t do that except for some cold dishes. I find that there’s no difference in taste and in fact makes it more dry after cooking.

 

 

Chap Chye Style Soup (Mixed veggies soup)

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Thanks to Quanfa Organic Farm, organic produce easily makes up half of my plants intake now. I like ordering from them because:

  1. Their free delivery quota ($60), as far as I know, is the lowest of all organic farms,
  2. The locally-grown veggies are of high quality and affordable,
  3. They offer a good variety of local & imported produce, many which are not available in regular supermarkets.
  4. Although they do sell some produce at certain supermarkets, I find that the directly purchased produce are fresher.
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Some of the produce I bought last week.
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My favourite is the slightly spicy wasabi sprouts which is one of the few plants I enjoy raw, with a splash of olive oil and soy sauce.

When we have a fridge full of ingredients, I make a big pot of comforting chap chye soup. It’s a one-pot Nyonya-style dish that we cook often at home. It is the easiest way to use up many different plants at once which may not work together in other dishes. Chap chye, in Hokkien, means mixed vegetables/ingredients. That’s why economic rice is also known as “chap chye fan” – mixed vegetables rice.

My recipe here will be different from the traditional dish. It’s a versatile recipe that works with various ingredients. Adding carbs like noodles or potato can turn it into a filling one-pot meal.

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As long as you have most of the basics, the rest can be up to you to replace!
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Fermented bean pastes make up the base savoury umami flavours.

 

Chap chye style mixed veggies soup (serves 1)

Soup base:

  • 1 dried bean stick, soaked till soft
  • 5-6 dried lilly buds, soaked till soft
  • 3-4 black fungus, soaked till soft and expanded
  • 1 bunch of mung bean vermicelli, soaked till soft
  • Shiitake mushrooms, soaked till soft and expanded. (I didn’t have any so I used straw mushrooms with kelp buds for flavour.)
  • 0.5 cm ginger
  • 1 garlic clove (sub with more ginger for pungent roots-free version)
  • 1.5 cups stock/water
  • 1/2 tbsp of 2-3 types of any fermented bean pastes (I used black bean paste, miso and spicy beancurd)

Other ingredients from Quanfa that I used:

  • 1 tomato, diced
  • Handful of spinach leaves
  • Handful of sunflower seed sprouts
  • 1 potato, diced

Optional garnishes:

  • sliced chilli
  • white pepper
  • sesame oil

Steps:

  • In a pot, sauté the garlic and ginger in oil for 1 min or till fragrant.
  • Add tomato, bean pastes and fry for 1 min.
  • Add potato, mushroom, black fungus, lilly buds, beancurd sticks. Stir fry for 2 mins then add enough stock/water to cover.
  • Simmer for 5-10 mins or until potatoes softened.
  • Add in spinach and sunflower sprouts, mix till they shrink. Remove from heat. Add garnishes if desired and serve hot.

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You can purchase Quanfa’s produce online, visit their farm directly, or in these locations. I greatly encourage everyone to support local organic businesses as much as possible. They may have to go after 2019 as the government is considering to redevelop their land. I pray that won’t happen, but do support while they are still here!

Bee hoon goreng with kicap manis tempeh

Malay food, contrary to popular perception, is easy to veganize despite it being a meat heavy cuisine. Meat can always be replaced with other proteins or “meaty” plants. With the variety of spices in Malay food, plant-based dishes can be made tasty. The challenges are replacing the two seafood-based foundations of Malay cuisine – belacan (shrimp paste) and ikan bilis (dried anchovies).

This is my first Malay recipe post. Being a vegetarian pretty much since birth, the only exposure I had to Malay food was mainly mock meat rendang, nasi lemak, mee rebus etc from Chinese vegetarian stalls. Not very legit, I know! Having a good arsenal of creative vegan Malay recipes under my belt is a major goal. Mine may not be of makcik level, but they will be tasty, at least according to my taste buds!

Bee hoon goreng is the first attempt, because it has many familiar ingredients also used in Chinese cuisine. It is a dry rice noodle dish that is lightly fried then slowly simmered till the noodles absorbed all sauces. I topped it with sweet and sour tempeh made with kicap manis (sweet soy sauce) and lime juice. My first step was to find base flavours in place of belacan and ikan bilis to be pounded into the rempah (spice paste).

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Belacan:

We are lucky to have vegan belacan available cheaply at most Chinese vegetarian grocery shops. These shops are in almost every neighbourhood, usually under HDB or in wet markets. If you can’t find, check this list. Do call before going down as the list may be outdated. I’ve used vegan belacan in a previous fish-y sauce recipe. And grab a bottle of sambal belacan while you’re there too.

Vegan belacan is usually made in Malaysia, from fermented soy. There are 2 types, powdered and ball-shaped paste. The ball paste is more pungent so it’s my usual default choice. However, I feel that it’s less pungent than shrimp belacan (I can smell it many units away when my Malay neighbour is cooking!). Since in Malay cuisine, more pungency = more flavour, it takes a bit more to bring out the potential of soy belacan. I usually use twice or more the amount and fry it for longer than the original recipe calls. It smells absolutely delicious when fried with oil!

Ikan bilis:

For a vegan alternative of fish flavours, we look towards the sea too! Plenty of sea plants can give a fishy, briny ocean flavour. The idea of using kelp occurred after mom complained that the kelp buds I purchased from the vegetarian grocery shop were too fishy. I’ve not seen those sold at supermarkets, but I believe wakame (found in Japanese food section of NTUCs) and regular kelp (found in dried foods shops) can work too. Nori and hijiki may be too light tasting to use here. Dried sea plants usually have small amounts of sand, so rinsing thoroughly is a must.

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Pestle and mortars are widely available in most household shops since it is a staple tool in Malay cuisine.
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Feel free to use any ingredients you like. Here, straw mushrooms are to give chewy textural interest in place of sotong (squid).

 


 

BEEHOON GORENG WITH KICAP MANIS TEMPEH (SERVES 1)

For rempah (spice paste):

  1. 1/4 cup dried kelp buds, rinsed and chopped into smaller pieces
  2. 1 tsp vegan belacan
  3. 2 garlic cloves (For allium-free, use more ginger/sauce)
  4. 0.5 cm thick ginger
  5. 1 dried red chilli
  6. Pinch of salt

Sauces:

  1. 1/2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce or 1 tsp marmite
  2. 1 tbsp kicap manis
  3. 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
  4. 1 cup stock/water, or as needed.

For main dish:

  1. 1 tbsp vegetarian sambal belacan (available at Chinese veg grocery shops)
  2. 1 serving dry bee hoon
  3. 1 medium sized tomato, diced
  4. Small handful of mung bean sprouts
  5. 1/3 of a carrot, cut into sticks
  6. 4 straw mushrooms, sliced into half
  7. 4 – 6 chives, cut into 1 cm long pieces (for pungent roots-free, use coriander stems)

Garnishes (optional, as needed):

  1. Sliced chilli
  2. Chopped spring onions (for pungent roots-free, omit or use coriander leaves)
  3. 1 lime, top sliced off

For kicap manis tempeh:

  1. 50g fresh market tempeh, sliced
  2. 2 – 3 tbsp kicap manis (or use 3 tbsp light soy sauce with 1 tbsp coconut/palm sugar)
  3. 1 lime, top sliced off

Steps:

  1. Pound all rempah ingredients in a pestle and mortar till a dry paste.
  2. Mix 1/3 cup stock/water with all sauces into a bowl. Keep the rest of plain stock/water beside when cooking to be used if the pan is too dry and sticking.
  3. In a pan with a cover, heat oil over medium heat. Fry rempah for 2 mins till fragrant – flip often to avoid burning. Add sambal belacan and fry for 1 min or longer if using store bought sambal. Add tomatoes and fry for 2 mins, until tomatoes soften. Pour some stock, just enough to cover ingredients, simmer with lid for 2 mins.
  4. Add bee hoon, carrot, mushrooms, chives and mung bean sprouts. Top up with more stock, just enough to cover bee hoon. Cover pan and simmer on low heat for 4-6 mins, or till bee hoon is softened but not mushy, and have absorbed all stock/water. Check around the 3 mins mark so ensure there’s enough liquid and beehoon won’t burn. Remove from heat.
  5. Meanwhile, make kicap manis tempeh. Add kicap manis into a pan with some oil if not using non-stick. Heat till slight bubbling, then add tempeh. Cook till sauce is reduced and flip tempeh to coat and glaze well.
  6. Top beehoon goreng with tempeh and optional garnishes. Squeeze lime over it and serve hot.

 

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Warning: Kicap manis tempeh is seriously addictive especially with a citrus-y lime tang!

Notes:

  1. Usually bee hoon is presoaked before using, but I think this recipe needs a longer simmering time for flavours to sink in. I’ve tried with presoaked brown rice noodles, they turned out too mushy. I prefer a firmer noodle so I recommend using dry one.
  2. I personally prefer cooking in claypot as it retains heat very well so ingredients are cooked fast, you can use any pan/shallow pot with a lid.
  3. You can also use any other noodles you prefer or have on hand.
  4. Always use stock rather than water for better flavour. An easy way to get some stock is soak dried mushrooms and seaweed in warm water for 15mins, then strain out the liquid to be used as stock.
  5. This dish originally uses lots of onion/garlic. To cater to those veg*ns who don’t take alliums, I’ve modified it to use tomatoes for umami.
  6. One lime usually isn’t enough. I always use 2-3 😉

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