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