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!

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.

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.

DSC02706

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.

DSC02743 DSC02725

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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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.

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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.

curry-with-rice


 

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!

Eight Treasures Chinese New Year Menu Tasting

Yes, I know Christmas still haven’t arrived and Chinese New Year is still a month away! But being Chinese, we all know a high level of kiasu-ness is needed to secure a table for the family reunion meal in local restaurants. It’s common for Chinese eateries to be fully booked for the first 2 days of Chinese New Year MONTHS in advance!

In the spirit of sharing the sgvegan love and promoting Chinese vegan food, Eight Treasures Vegetarian restaurant generously invited some fellow sgvegan instagrammers, including myself, for a 8 course Chinese New Year menu tasting. Instead of ending with the usual Chinese desserts, boss Zenna presented a spread of handmade, rustic Western desserts from Well Dressed Salad Bar (which is the sister cafe). Thanks to her, we had the best of both worlds! Here are all that we stuffed ourselves with.

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Lucky Yu Sheng

Also known as raw fish salad, a staple at every Singaporean Chinese New Year table. The fun part is the mixing, which is done by everyone together at the table with chopsticks while saying prosperous phrases. The fish in the vegan version makes use of starch from konjac (a.k.a konnyaku), a root plant, which gives the chewy, springy texture similar to raw fish. My favourite part was the how the fresh veggie + fruit shreds and crisp crackers soaked up the refreshingly tangy, sweet plum sauce. A very appetizing start to a huge meal.

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Signature Vegetarian Sharks’ Fin Soup

Shark’s fin is an absolutely terrible ingredient, and I strongly believe that it should be banned. The vegan version uses either a type of gourd or vermicelli to emulate the smooth silky threads. Strips of beancurd and sliced shiitake are also added for bite and chewiness in this smooth, hearty soup. Vinegar and pepper is a must, but add only after tasting the soup on its own to gauge if it is truly good or not. With such a good vegan alternative to a traditional but cruel dish, there’s no reason we should consume shark’s fin at all.

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Fruit Salad Yam Ring

Another staple in Southern Chinese feasts because yam and roundness both represent prosperity in Chinese beliefs. Cubes of mixed fruits and tossed in vegan mayo, stuffed into a ring of crisp and spiced yam, sitting on a bed of deep fried rice noodles. Personally I prefer the traditional yam rings – filled with stir fried mixed veggies and mushrooms, because mixing sweet and savoury flavours isn’t always my cup of tea. This is an interesting Westernized interpretation that will appeal to children especially.

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Pickled Radish veg. Fish

Fried soy seaweed slices sitting in a mushroom-y sauce, topped with umami pickeld radish and fried ginger. Usually Chinese mock meats don’t taste great, but this was good! The slices had a nice crisp bite on the outside, soaking up the sauce well and thus moist inside. None of the dry, over-flavoured MSG aftertaste of regular mock meats. The crisp ginger topping were an absolute delight, rich fragrance without the overwhelming spiciness.

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Golden Veg. Salad Prawn

Us Chinese, are very literal and money-loving. Deep fried foods are very common in Chinese New Year dishes as the golden-brown chunks symbolize gold nuggets and wealth. These konjac prawns were crisp outside, soft and springy inside. The vegan mayo added an umami tangy sweetness, balancing out the oiliness of this deep fried dish.

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Bai Lin Mushroom with Seasonal Greens

Because of the similarity in tenderness and juiciness, Bai ling mushrooms (a.k.a abalone mushrooms) are the vegan answer to abalone – which is another overpriced seafood placed on tables to show off the hosts’ wealth. Personally I’m very critical of the overall Chinese culture of showing off, placing too much emphasis on money and face value – some traditions are unnecessary and even harmful in the big picture of modern times. Here, I love the fact that they didn’t label it as mock abalone like other vegetarian restaurants will. Mushrooms are mushrooms, they aren’t pretending to be seafood!

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Black Pepper Monkey Head Mushrooms

Monkeyhead mushrooms (a.k.a lion’s mane mushrooms) are widely used in Chinese meatless cuisine. The juicy meatiness is something that will appeal to the hardcore carnivores. Here, the chunks are tender and excellently infused with a strong black pepper sauce. Do take note that many vegetarian restaurants use processed monkeyhead mushrooms that contain egg, however Eight Treasures’ one is pure vegan!

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Eight Treasures Beancurd

Fried silken tofu drenched in Chinese olive sauce. Umami rich with spinach and shimeji mushrooms for texture. The perfect companion to plain rice or noodles. Note that Chinese olives are not the same thing as Western olives used in pizza!

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Longevity Heng Hwa Noodles 

A Chinese meal is never complete without a good serving of carbs! A lightly braised and moist wheat noodle dish that cleansed our palette after the savoury and heavier dishes. Topped with seaweed and roasted peanuts, this will go well with all the sauce heavy dishes. So if you’re not feeling like having rice, get this instead!

The savoury dishes were good, the desserts were absolutely amazing! Zenna of Well Dressed Salad Bar have been wowing the vegan community with beautiful creations since the start of this year. They are all Western style sweets that are tuned to Asian taste buds (just the right sweetness!). For those who say vegans can’t eat desserts, sorry, you gotta eat your words!

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Rustic Plum Galette

A flaky crust with a tart plum filling with the sweet and sour flavours perfectly balanced. Look at how the glazing glistens without any use of egg whites!

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Blueberry Cinnamon Rolls, BisTOFFEE cake, X’MAS Pomegranate AvoChoco Brownie

The cinnamon rolls literally melt in your mouth, the bistoffee cake had a lovely caramel flavour. The brownie was my favourite, fudgy and rich chocolate flavour with bites of pomegranate and nutty bits.

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Forest Berries Frozen Brownie Pie

The smooth chocolate with a hint of hazelnut and tart frozen berries melts on your tongue. This captured the best of brownies, pies and berries in one dessert! Zenna certainly didn’t hold back on the amount of chocolate or quality of chocolate, and that should be the way!

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Ice creams: Matcha WhiteChocolate, Mango Pineapple Madness, Raspberry WhiteChocolate, Peanut Butter Cookie Dough

Every one of the handmade cashew-based ice creams were absolutely delicious. Creamy, rich and not icy at all unlike most people’s perception of vegan ice creams. My favourite is the matcha, high quality matcha was certainly used as there was no strong bitterness.

I can type more paragraphs about how great everything here was (especially the mind-blowing desserts!), but all I can say is, go down and try it for yourself! Bookings for 2017 Chinese New Year is already open at Eight Treasures. Do follow Well Dressed for and Eight Treasures for updates on events and desserts available. Well Dressed is located just below Eight Treasures and you can order food from both!

Well Dressed Salad Bar/Eight Treasures Vegetarian

  • Address: 282 South Bridge Road Singapore 058831
  • Tel: 6534 7787