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)!

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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!

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!

Chinese-Style Cold Tofu (凉拌豆腐)

Happy World Vegan Day! Today is celebration of compassion, as well as morethanveggies.sg’s one year anniversary. I’ve come a long way since starting a simple tumblr 5 years ago to share foods I like. THANK YOU everyone for your support all these years!

I realised that I barely have many tofu recipes here when tofu is a staple in the Asian vegan lifestyle. Thus I’d love to share this recipe that’s my favourite way to have silken tofu – and no cooking required, just 3 basic ingredients!

Cold tofu is eaten in many South Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea. I’m most familiar with the Chinese style of cold tofu as I grew up eating that. My grandfather would have it regularly for breakfast. Although he was a meat-lover, cold tofu was his favourite dish. Many times I served this to other omni friends and they loved the smoothness, umami and simplicity of it.

Despite the name, its usually served at room temperature or slightly warm, but seldom cold like its just removed from the fridge. Chinese traditional medicine believes that cold foods affect digestive health. I always blanche the tofu to warm it slightly before serving.

This dish simply silken tofu in soy sauce and sesame oil, then you can add toppings. Even if you don’t have any suitable toppings at hand, you can still enjoy it in the most basic form. Because of the simplicity, it’s important to choose quality ingredients.

3 basic ingredients.

A good soy sauce should only have 4 ingredients and absolutely no MSG – water, salt, soy and wheat. A good sesame oil should emit a strong, delicious fragrance right after opening the bottle. For tofu in simple dishes, I go for the organic sprouted type from NTUC as it’s closest to the nigari tofu (露水豆腐) from my “home”town. Tofu is traditionally made only with nigari which is a natural extract from seawater. Such types of tofu has a beautiful mineral taste that reminds me of sea breeze. Sadly most tofu sold in Singapore are modern ones made with GDL and other coagulants. They are not only less nutritious, but also not as smooth, springy and tasty as nigari tofu. People who say tofu is bland, I can totally understand them – most of us have never experienced the beauty of handmade nigari tofu.

Let tofu sit on sieve over a plate to drain excess water.

Chinese-style cold tofu

Basic Ingredients:

  • 1 block tofu
  • 1-2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Boiling water (optional)

Toppings I used:

  • Chopped spring onions
  • Sliced green chilli
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Kicap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
  • Korean seaweed shreds
  • Ginger
  • Chilli sauce
  • Lao Gan Ma chilli sauce
  1. Place tofu on sieve and cut into 8 parts. Immerse sieve and tofu in boiling water for 1 min. Remove and let tofu drain excess water on sieve for 5 mins. This step is optional, see notes.
  2. Add soy sauce and sesame oil to a bowl or small plate. Place tofu into it. Add toppings and serve.
  3. This dish can be made hours in advance and served cold. The longer you let the tofu sit in the sauce the tastier it gets!

Notes:

  • Step 1 is to kill bacteria and warm up the tofu without cooking. If you’re using wet market tofu (the type sold in a tub of water with no packaging), it’s more hygienic to blanche before eating. Because tofu can release a lot of water and that dilutes the sauce, let it sit on a sieve to drain.
  • If you don’t mind eating it cold and will consume it immediately, step 1 can be skipped.
  • If you’re making it in advance and only serving it hours later or tomorrow, you must drain it much longer for 10+ minutes. The longer tofu sits, the more water it releases and that can dilute the taste and spoil the look of the dish.
  • If your topping is quite salty, use less soy sauce.
Clockwise: Spring onions + sesame + kicap manis, Lao Gan Ma chilli sauce + spring onions, Korean seaweed + ginger and chilli sauce + sliced green chilli.

Black rice noodles cold dish

A Chinese recipe will be appropriate for the coming Lunar New Year, as this refreshing and umami-rich dish will be a healthy addition to reunion meals. When we think of Chinese cuisine we will automatically think of stir fries, rice and soups served piping hot. There is a class of Chinese dishes known as cold dishes or liangban cai (凉拌菜, literally “cold tossed dish”) from Northern China that defies this perception.

Cold dishes are similar to Western salads only in the sense that they are served slightly chilled or at room temperature, but never cold (unlike the name). Otherwise, they are often not fully raw for the sake of taste (eg, green leafies are always blanched) and the dressings are much simpler – usually just soy sauce, plant oils and Chinese vinegar. No dairy is used and thus they are often vegan unless meat or seafood is a main ingredient. If a cold dish is eaten as a meal, it will definitely contain carbohydrates in the form of various noodles (we think that a meal is not a meal without carbs!). They are easy to make, some even require no cooking at all. Thanks to the non-dairy, savoury-sour sauces, they can keep well and thus are a good make-ahead food prep and lunch box meal!

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Recipe (makes 2 servings)

Main ingredients:

2 servings of black rice noodles, cooked to package instructions (You can use almost any noodles you prefer, I got them from Yes Natural store.)

Half medium-sized carrots, shredded or julienned (use the largest holes of a grater or a julienne peeler, or simply use a knife.)

Half a medium-sized young cucumber, shredded or julienned.

Half cup of mung bean sprouts

Half a pack of baiye tofu, cut into strips and roughly peel the layers apart (don’t worry about peeling them perfectly as they will come apart during cooking).

Sauce:

1.5 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp Chinese vinegar

0.5 tbsp sesame oil

1 chilli padi, chopped

Garnishes:

Spring onion, chopped (optional if abstaining from pungent roots)

Coriander leaves

Chopped chilli

Mix all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes. Cook mung bean sprouts in a sieve in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and immerse in cold or tap water to cool it down. Cook baiye tofu in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and immerse in cool water. Drain excess water from both by letting them sit in the sieve over a bowl for a minute. Combine all main ingredients with sauce together in a large bowl and mix well, adding more sauces to taste if preferred. If you do not prefer too spicy flavours, remove chilli padi before adding the dressing. Lastly, garnish and serve.

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Notes:

  • A large sieve and julienne peeler will make preparation much easier, both can be bought cheaply at provision shops or supermarkets.
  • The traditional cold noodles use chilli oil which is not that available in Singapore, I used chilli padi to infuse the sauce for spiciness. If no spice is preferred, simply omit it. If you have no chilli padi but still want a merciless spiciness, use Tabasco, vegan sambal, sriracha or any chilli sauce available in your country.
  • If you want a 100% gluten-free version, use tamari, coconut aminos and bragg’s instead of soy sauce. Replace Chinese vinegar with lime/lemon juice, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar or apple cider, and mix dried ready-to-eat seaweed into the sauce for extra umami – it will taste different, but still should be good!
  • For an oil-free version, use 1 tsp tahini instead of sesame oil.
  • For a soy-free version, use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Instead of tofu, use large, thick-skinned cooked legumes like navy beans, kidney beans, sweet peas as protein for a complete meal. Although using beans in cold dishes isn’t quite traditional, it should still be tasty when mixed with a good sauce 🙂
  • Unlike Western salads where the dressing should be added only before serving, generally for Chinese cold dishes, the longer it sits with its sauce, the tastier it will be. Only exception is for leafy green veggies. They should not be mixed in too early as the acid from the vinegar will turn them yellow.
  • Almost every type of noodles can be used. Udon, soba, tung hoon, sweet potato noodles and wheat noodles will all work great in this recipe. But I don’t advice using rice noodles, instant or quick-cook wheat noodles, they are very absorbent and might turn soggy after sitting in the sauce for a while.
  • Other traditional cold dish sauces can include wasabi, Szechuan peppercorn oil, fermented bean pastes and minced raw garlic or ginger. Feel free to experiment to your taste!

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Here’s wishing everyone a prosperous and happy Year of the Rooster 🙂 Thanks for reading, have a good holiday and reunion for all those who celebrate!

A peek at vegan food in Beijing

Recently I visited Beijing with the family. Due to the short time we stayed we didn’t venture out in search of veg restaurants, so we braved a couple of non-veg restaurants and asked for vegan food. And it wasn’t a problem at all when we communicated clearly! What we had was delicious, refined and eye-opening. So here are those that I especially loved, do look out for them if you visit Beijing.

Top picture – Steamed cake with raisins. Ovens aren’t used in Chinese cuisine, so cakes are usually steamed to a light, fluffy texture.

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Pickled radish stir fried with vermicelli and chilli. My favourite, not only because I love anything sour and spicy, but this is not overly done on spiciness. Vermicelli is a transparent noodle made from green bean or sweet potato starch, the thinner type are made from rice.

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This may look a little scary but it’s refreshingly cool and chewy – The noodle is made from Kudzu root, used in Chinese medicine to clear excess heat. Tossed in light vinegar, sesame oil and garnished with chilli and chives.

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Chinese toon sprouts tossed with smoked tofu strips. The sprouts resembles the taste of onions, but has an uplifting quality and doesn’t cloud your breathe.

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Deep fried yam rolls – the ends are dipped in white sesame which makes the first and last bite most interesting.

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These look like pears but are not! The ‘stalk’ is a strip of dried sweet potato.

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Surprise, surprise – it’s fresh red bean paste wrapped in sticky rice dough and deep fried.

Traditionally Chinese food does not use dairy, so those without animal ingredients are usually vegan. Just beware of hidden ingredients like lard, gravy and meat stocks. Three points for those wanting to travel there:

  •  Go to a restaurant that is clean, not some roadside stall or eatery. Not only it lessens your chances of an upset stomach, restaurants have well – trained staff too. We went to a place that specializes in roast duck because there weren’t any other places to eat, but still had our fill. The waitress looked puzzled to why we would not order any duck, but asked no questions.
  •  Communicate clearly – because some people classify shrimps or chicken stock as vegetarian. Best is to write a list and show it to them – no animal fat, meat stock, milk, eggs, seafood.
  •  Most restaurants provide wet tissue, you can use it to clean your utensils. And many use disposable chopsticks – so no worries about using anything with a faint fishy smell.