Tempeh Bak Kwa – Updated Recipe + Channel 8 Feature

Hope everyone’s 2019 has been good so far! 2019 so far has given me some new opportunities and positive changes. I hope that things are finally looking up and all the hard work I did in 2018 will pay off. My closest friends will know that 2018 was tough in certain aspects. I really want to thank all the amazing friends that supported, listened and gave me advice – couldn’t have made it without you!

In late December 2018, I received an email from a Channel 8 producer, asking to feature my old tempeh bak kwa recipe on the Hello Singapore show. She had found the recipe on this blog as she was searching for one that is healthier and isn’t conventional meat bak kwa. As an introvert who isn’t comfortable being filmed or photographed (I really prefer being behind camera!), I struggled at first on whether to accept it. But this is a great chance for the masses to learn that our favourite traditional foods can also be made with plants. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and put my discomfort aside.

It was a fun and interesting shoot with Youyi 有懿 thanks to Channel 8’s amazing crew! I was very nervous and awkward because it’s my first time being filmed. Everyone was very patient and nice during the shoot and wrapped everything up in the most professional manner I’ve ever seen on a set (I’ve worked on sets before as assistants). The show will be aired on Hello Singapore 狮城有约 on 28 Jan 2019, 7.15pm and will be available online on Toggle. Also really glad that the crew enjoyed the bak kwa (and tapao-ed everything back)!

you yi
You Yi and the crew were amazing and so professional!

Recipe is based on the one I posted 3 years ago, but simplified. Here’s the updated detailed recipe which is easier, slightly shorter with ingredients that are rather easy to find. I chose tempeh as the base protein as it’s a more digestible alternative to processed mock meat. Flaxseed powder is used as the binder, the other ingredients contribute to taste.

This is a slightly tricky recipe to make as temperature and time control is crucial, usually some pieces (especially those at the edges) will be burnt.

Tempeh Bak Kwa (makes 12-15 bite sized pieces):

For base:

  • 400g tempeh
  • ½ cup neutral flavour plant oil (don’t use olive or unrefined coconut)

For marinade:

  • 1 block of fermented red beancurd
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed powder (for binding, cannot omit, found in organic section in NTUC)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp red rice yeast (optional, for colour, from TCM shops)
  • 90g raw sugar (or use regular sugar)
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp rice wine (optional)
  • 1 tbsp maltose (can be bought from Chinese goods shops in market)
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp of each: five-spice powder, ginger powder, chilli powder, white pepper powder, black pepper
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke (optional but highly recommended, can be found in bigger Cold Storage outlets)
  • 1/2 tbsp white miso (optional, improves umami)
  • 1 tsp marmite (optional, improves umami)

For glaze:

  • 1 tbsp maltose
  • 1tbsp water/red water (see step 2)
  1. Steam tempeh for 5-10mins and let cool. In a food processor, blend with the oil to a thick, smooth paste. This step is important in removing the fermented taste from tempeh.
  2. Mix or boil 1/2 cup hot water and red rice yeast in a bowl. The water will be reddish, strain and let cool.
  3. Add all marinade ingredients into food processor on top of blended tempeh and oil. Blend till combined and well mixed.
  4. Transfer paste to a bowl. Cover bowl and leave overnight in fridge, or for at least 6 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 180C. Spread paste on baking paper on a large baking tray. Spread out the paste with spatula to about 0.3 cm thick. Sides will be thinner so gently push back the sides to minimise burning while baking.
  6. Bake in oven for ~25 mins till paste is dry to touch and able to lift slightly in one piece. Remove from oven. 
  7. Let the paste cool slightly before cutting. Meanwhile, increase oven temperature to 230C. Mix 1 tbsp maltose with 1 tbsp red water to make the glaze.
  8. Using a pizza cutter, cut into bite sized pieces. Brush one side with glaze.
  9. Bake for 7-10mins then remove tray from oven, flip each slice over and glaze the other side. Return to oven and grill for 5 mins or until sides are slightly charred. Watch the oven carefully here, at this point it burns easily!
  10. Remove and let cool, minimize touching when hot, as it breaks easily. The slices will harden when cooled. Brush with the remaining glaze (optional, it will look shinier) Can be kept in airtight container in fridge for up to 1-2 weeks.

Due to time constraints and the amount of labour needed to make this, I won’t be able to sell them. If you want good vegan bak kwa, I can recommend the one from Yes Natural brand. 🙂

Thank you for reading my posts as always! This happened because of your amazing support. I hope to continue producing good, plant-based content to help fellow Asians who want to eat healthier/vegan. Due to my new responsibilities, the posts may not be as frequent as they were in 2018 but I will keep them coming 🙂

PS: On a side note, I made a short travel film of my Japan trip here. Enjoy!

Singapore Rice Noodles (Sin Chew Bee Hoon) – Low FODMAP, Allium-Free

April is IBS Awareness Month. IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a digestive disorder that has no known cure yet as the causes are complex. But, it can be managed well with lifestyle changes.

Some of my long-time readers will know that I have had IBS for the past 15 years, and it is one of the reasons (other than ethical and environmental) that I adopted a whole food, plant-based diet. 20% of the population in Singapore has IBS and many don’t know about it. I believe in spreading awareness to help those affliccted make beneficial changes to improve quality of life.

One of the ways recommended by doctors to manage IBS is to try a low FODMAP diet for some time. Such a diet mainly involves avoiding foods that may be triggering the gut and identify intolerances. Currently, I am not able to try low FODMAP, but I’m putting out a couple of suitable recipes for those on this diet. Most FODMAP-friendly recipes online now are Western or Westernised dishes. With some creativity and care, Southeast Asian IBS sufferers can enjoy familiar foods again, like a local Chinese rice noodles dish, Sin Chew Bee Hoon.

Sin Chew Bee Hoon means Singapore Rice Noodles. Don’t confuse it with the Singapore Noodles popular in Western countries. Actually, you can’t find that in Singapore. Singapore Noodles are rice noodles stir-fried with curry powder, a combination that originated from Hong Kong, not Singapore .

Mention “Singapore Noodles” to a Singaporean, they will be confused and maybe irritated at the lack of understanding of the food culture, which is a national pride.

What is FODMAP?

FODMAP stands for:

  • Fermentable i.e. Foods that are digested by intestinal bacteria – producing gas that causes bloating.
  • Oligosaccharides i.e. Starchyose, Raffinose e.g. sources from legumes, beans, lentils, certain vegetables. Acts as soluble fiber.
  • Disaccharides i.e. sucrose (refined sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and maltose (malt sugar).
  • Monosaccharides i.e. simplest form of carbohydrate such as glucose, fructose (fruit sugar).
  • Polyols e.g. sugar alcohol such as xylitol, sorbitol; low calorie/no calorie sweetener which are poorly digested.

Low FODMAP simply means avoiding foods high in FODMAP.

Low FODMAP foods. Source: Katescarlata

Pointers to keep in mind:

  • A vegan diet low in FODMAP is highly restrictive and it serves as a short term solution to reduce IBS symptoms and find out intolerances.
  • Low FODMAP doesn’t mean no FODMAP. You would definitely consume FODMAP in many recipes but in amounts that are suitable for your body.
  • Eating actual main meals and less sweet desserts can help to reduce your intake of FODMAP. By reducing sugar intake, you are treating your gut well. Certain fruits such as grapes, strawberry, pineapple can be used as dessert as they are lower in FODMAP.
  • Portion size matters to keep the amount of FODMAP in check.
Firm tofu has less FODMAPs than silken types. Go for sprouted tofu whenever possible.

Sin Chew Bee Hoon 星州米粉 is usually made with high FODMAP ingredients like garlic, onion, shallots, spring onion and oyster sauce. Vegetarian oyster sauce likely contains MSG which is another gut irritant. For this FODMAP-friendly version, I used tomatoes, traditional soy sauce and miso to achieve a rich, natural, MSG-free umami.


Low-FODMAP SIN CHEW BEE HOON

  • 1 serving of rice noodles, soaked till just softened.
  • 1/2 tbsp traditional soy sauce (use tamari or Bragg’s for gluten-free option)
  • 1 tbsp miso
  • 5cm ginger, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 block sprouted firm tofu, sliced to bite sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tomato, cut into wedges
  • 1/3 carrot, julienned
  • 2 chilli padi, halved, seeds removed (some IBS patients are sensitive to chilli, omit if needed)
  • 1 piece bamboo shoot, sliced to bite sized pieces
  • White pepper, to taste
  • Coriander, to garnish
  • 1 Lime, to garnish (some IBS patients are sensitive to citruses even in small amounts, omit if needed)

In a pan, fry tofu slices in oil till evenly browned. Set aside. Dissolve miso and soy sauce into water in a bowl, set aside. In a wok, heat oil and add ginger, chilli, fry till fragrant. Add tomato and stir for a minute over medium heat, till softened. Add bamboo shoots, carrot and fry for a minute or so. Add rice noodles with the miso and soy sauce mixture. Cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring when needed till noodles soften and liquid is almost absorbed. If you like to have more gravy, remove from heat earlier. Garnish with coriander and lime and serve hot.


What makes it low FODMAP?

Low FODMAP ingredients.

Vegetables

Vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli are cruciferous vegetables which are more difficult to digest as it contain higher amounts of raffinose compared to other vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and bamboo shoots used in the recipe.

Tofu and Miso

Firm tofu is slightly easier to digest than regular soybeans because it went through process of soaking and finally squeezing out the excess liquid — which removes the galacto-oligosaccharides present in soy. Miso is made from fermented soybean so it makes it easy for the gut to digest.

Rice Noodles

Rice is a gluten free complex carbohydrate (starch) and FODMAP only consist of short to medium chain carbohydrate. Therefore it is considered low FODMAP. It is also easier to digest than the regular wheat noodles which is on the high FODMAP scale; plus it also contains gluten which is worse for people with gluten sensitivities. Most IBS sufferers can take rice at moderate amounts without triggering symptoms.

The most efficient ways to manage light to mild IBS is a holistic lifestyle approach – stress management, eating suitably and regularly, regular exercise and sufficient rest. My detailed tips to manage IBS here. When in doubt, always consult a healthcare professional. Wish everyone happy guts and stay tuned for the next recipe!

For a more complete list of FODMAP-friendly foods, visit here. Note that not all Asian ingredients are listed. When in doubt, avoid or test small amounts.

Nutritional information provided by Krystle Co.

 

Slow Cooked Soy Sauce Beans & Nuts

Oil-free, tasty, full of spice and umami. This easy and protein-rich recipe is a food prep staple. It’s easy to make and keeps well in the fridge. If you have problems digesting beans, don’t worry – read on for our nutritionist’s advice.

This recipe was inspired by my mother’s signature slow-cooked tofu. Firm tofu pieces are slowly stewed and left to sit overnight in a lip-smacking, umami-rich broth. As someone who has always been interested in new ways to cook familiar ingredients, I chose beans and nuts instead of tofu. Three reasons:

  • I think Chinese vegetarian cuisine need to move beyond tofu and processed soy. Thus I like to use high protein whole foods to replace tofu in traditional dishes.
  • Beans and nuts offer a more varied nutrition profile and should be an important part of a vegan diet if you have no allergies to them.
  • Cooked beans and nuts also offer more diverse textures. Some have more crunch, some melt in your mouth. If you’re bored of tofu’s soft and chewy textures, go for these.

If you’re living in any Asian country, you’ll be familiar with rice cookers. Cook this in a rice cooker for minimum fuss and effort. It’s not advisable to make it over open fire gas stove for safety reasons. It’s easy to forget there’s something boiling on the stove and sometimes wind may extinguish the fire.

This cooking method is know as 卤 (lu) in Chinese cuisine. It’s a type of oil-free slow cooking that relies on low constant heat, total immersion of ingredients, time and quality of sauce and spices for flavour. The secret to maximum flavour in this recipe is reducing the amount of liquid to as little as possible (without burning) so taste is concentrated in the beans and nuts itself. Thus, control of the water amount is most important.

Spices used

Cloves – A type of flower bud. Sweet and warm flavour. Don’t add too much as it’s very aromatic and strong.

Cao Guo – Also known as Chinese black cardamom, it is commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. Smoky, slightly peppery and earthy. Add one or two into your bottle of Chinese vinegar to impart more flavour.

Cinnamon stick – Sweet, warm and spicy flavour. In the West, ground cinnamon is commonly used in sweet recipes. In Asia, cinnamon is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

Star anise – Smoky and strongly aromatic. The main ingredient in Chinese five spice powder.

Whole white pepper – White pepper is just black pepper with the outer skin removed. Spicier but less complex flavour than black pepper. The best white pepper is from Muntok Island, Indonesia.

Whole black pepper – Complex spicy flavour due to the outer skin. Even stronger when freshly ground.


Recipe

Spices & Seasoning:

  • 1 pc cao guo
  • 3 pcs star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8-10 pcs whole white pepper
  • 8-10 pcs whole black pepper
  • 1-2 pcs chilli padi, halved lengthwise, seeds removed (omit if you prefer non-spicy)
  • 1 pc of 1 cm thick ginger, sliced
  • 1 5cmx5cm pc kelp (or 2 tbsp wakame), washed
  • 1 pinch asafoetida (optional, omit if you don’t take alliums for religious reasons)
  • 2 -3 tbsp quality soy sauce

Beans & Nuts:

  • 1/4 cup raw cashews (other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, Chinese almonds can be used too)
  • 2 cups dry whole beans (I used black soy beans, you can use any that don’t split too much when cooked, eg, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, red bean, soy bean, lima beans etc)
  • 1.5L – 2L of water (amount of water varies depending on bean type and cooker type)

12 hours before cooking, soak the dry beans in water. Discard the soaking water 12 hours later and give the beans a rinse. Place all beans, nuts, spices and seasoning into a rice cooker. Add enough water to cover all ingredients fully. Set to cook for about 1.5-2 hours. Around the last half hour mark, open the rice cooker to check the water amount. Refill with more water if too dry to prevent burning. Cook till water is almost absorbed. Transfer into bowl/container, serve hot or cool before storing.


Note:

  • Asafoetida is a traditional Indian spice that improves digestibility of beans. It can be bought from Indian grocery shops. It is not part of the allium family but is forbidden to be consumed in certain religions, as they are believed to have the same effects as alliums.
  • This recipe can be cooked in a pressure cooker or magic pot. Downside is, towards the end of cooking it’s not as easy to check and adjust the water amount compared to rice cooker.
  • You can use ground or powdered spices if you don’t have whole ones, but flavour profile may be less complex and rich.

Nutritional Comments

Contributed by KrystleCo.

Food prep is a fantastic way to eat healthier on a plant based diet. This recipe is full of spices for a great antioxidant boost, a good amount of high quality protein and healthy fats to keep you satiated!

Most of the fats from nuts are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be part of the diet. Both types of unsaturated fatty acids are important for regulating your cholesterol levels and promotes smooth flow of blood. Omega 3 is also particularly important for brain health and reducing inflammation in the body.

Beans are low in saturated fats, high in complex carbohydrate, high in fibre and contains high quality protein. Although meats are good sources of high quality protein, they are devoid of fibre, zero complex carbohydrates and high in saturated fats. High quality protein refers to a protein source that contains all the essential amino acids required by the body. In this recipe, black soy provides all the essential amino acids.

However nuts, legumes, beans and pulses can make us feel gassy and bloated. That is because they contain a sugar compound called oligosaccharides which can pass through our intestinal tract undigested. It is then fermented by intestinal bacteria which will produce gases. Gradually increasing your intake of beans will help to overcome gassiness as your gut build up more good intestinal bacteria. By soaking your beans and legumes as suggested, it can help you to remove some of the oligosaccharides present and improve digestibility of beans. Soaking also helps to remove phytic acids present in beans and legumes. These phytic acid binds to other important mineral sources such as zinc making it difficult for absorption. Therefore soaking not only helps to eliminate the problem of gassiness, it also improves the overall digestibility while avoiding mineral and vitamin deficiencies on a plant-based diet.

Soaked beans will split or even sprout – a great sign!

Make soaking a habit in your food prep today!

Tom Yum Spaghetti with Pan-Fried Tofu

A Christmas dinner idea that just walked into my mind when I was clearing out opened coconut milk one Friday. This straightforward East & West fusion recipe is hearty, tangy and spicy, topped with silky pan-fried tofu, a balanced main course idea for your Christmas dinner.

You can get packs of tom yum set spices from NTUC, which has just enough lemongrass, galangal, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, and lime for 2-3 uses. Tom yum paste here gives a base tangy & spicy flavour, while the fresh spices build on the fragrance. If you don’t have the paste or spice set, this recipe should still be tasty if you use only one of either. The tofu here is lightly seasoned as the main pasta has strong flavours.


Tom Yum Spaghetti with Pan-Fried Tofu

For spaghetti (serves 1):

  • 1 serving of spaghetti pasta
  • 1/2 – 1 tbsp tom yam paste (available from vegetarian grocery shops)
  • 3 tbsp coconut milk
  • 3-5 tbsp pasta cooking water
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp vegan belacan (optional, available from vegetarian grocery shops)
  • 1/2 tsp minced ginger
  • Few slices galangal
  • 2-3 pcs kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised with back of a knife and chopped into 2-3 parts
  • 1 chilli padi, bruised with back of a knife
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/3 of a carrot, julienned
  • 2 pcs fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut thinly
  • 1 spring coriander, for garnish (optional)
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime, for garnish (optional)

Cook pasta according to packet instructions till slightly less than al dente. Run pasta under tap water for 10secs, drain and set aside, reserving some pasta cooking water. In a bowl, dissolve tom yam paste in coconut milk, pasta water and set aside. In a pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegan belacan, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and fry till fragrant. Add tomato, fry for 1 min till soft. Add carrot and mushroom, stir for 20 seconds. Add pasta together with the coconut tom yam paste mix. Lower heat to low-medium and simmer covered for 2-4mins, or till liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in lime juice if more tangy flavour is preferred. Remove lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chilli before serving if preferred. Plate and garnish with coriander.

For pan-fried tofu (makes 8 pcs):

  • 1 block silken tofu, suitable for pan frying type
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Black salt, to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a non-stick pan. Place tofu in gently. Cook over medium heat for 1 min on one side. Add a pinch of black salt and pepper and flip to cook the other side for 2 mins. Remove from heat. Serve beside the pasta.

To save time, cook the tofu while the pasta is boiling.


Note:

For tom yum spaghetti:

  • A very flexible recipe, you can use any mushroom or veggies you like. Eg, long beans, cabbage, shiitake, king oyster etc.
  • If you want to use thin, dark leafy veggies like spinach, add towards the end when pasta is simmering with the sauce.
  • Pasta cooking water is used to make pasta sauces as the starch in the water makes a smoother sauce.

For pan-fried tofu:

  • Extra pan-fried tofu keeps well in fridge for 5-7 days, depending on fridge temperature, thus is a great food prep item to make in advance.