Roti Jala (Egg-free recipe)

While you’re waiting for my book to reach, here’s a new recipe! Roti jala literally means “net bread” in Malay. It’s a chewy, latticed, rolled pancake paired with curry. It’s a traditional Malay dish that is usually served at events like weddings and festivals. This is usually made with egg to give the soft, tender texture that won’t break when rolled. I first had this in Kuala Lumpur at a vegan festival in 2019, and couldn’t forget it ever since. The nooks and crannies of each pancake mop up curry and gravy superbly well. 

I often get asked, “How do you replace egg in a recipe?”. It highly depends on the role of egg in that recipe. Here, aquafaba, also known as chickpea liquid/water, is a fantastic alternative as it can add some air into the batter while giving moisture for a tender and soft texture. Simply drain out a can of chickpeas to get aquafaba. To make the net structure, any cup with 5 holes can be used. I usually improvise with a squeeze bottle meant for sauces. You can buy a roti jala cup if you like.


Vegan Roti Jala

Makes about 14 rolled crepes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (150 g) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup aquafaba
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) water
  • Cooking oil to grease pan, as needed
  1. Sift flour and ground turmeric into a large bowl. Add salt. Stir in aquafaba, coconut milk and water in one direction until a smooth, runny batter forms. Strain batter to remove any lumps.
  2. Using a piece of kitchen towel, brush a little oil onto a non-stick pan over medium heat. You shouldn’t see oil streaks on the pan. Pour a little batter into a cup with 5-7 holes until about half full. Move the cup over the pan in a concentric, circular motion to drizzle batter in a lacy pattern. There should be a steady stream of batter coming out of the cup.
  3. Cook each crepe over low heat for about 30 seconds until the edges are slightly crusted. Turn off the heat and leave the crepe to sit for about 20 seconds. Then check by lifting it carefully with a spatula — it should be lifted in one piece. Slide crepe onto a plate. Repeat to cook more crepes till all the batter is used up, brushing the pan with oil before making each crepe. Do not fold cooked crepes while they are still hot.
  4. When crepes are cooled, fold two opposite sides of each crepe in towards the centre and roll up to form a roll. Serve with your favourite curry.
How to fold roti jala.

Notes

  • It takes some patience and practice to get the shape right. Don’t trace a circle twice or the lines will be too thick and the lattice effect will be lost. Keep your hand steady and close to the pan to avoid getting splatters.
  • Timing and heat control is quite important for getting the crepe’s tender texture. If you cook it for even a bit too long, the thinner strands will get too crispy and break easily.
  • If you add too much oil to the pan, the crepes will turn out too crispy and break easily. Wipe off excess oil with a paper towel before adding the batter.
  • Any curry goes well with roti jala. Try the curry from Curry Tempeh Noodles (page 43 of my book) and the Japanese curry (page 50). Or, try with this Chinese-style curry.
Best dipped in curry!

Vegan Malay Food Tasting Event – SAPAO

Malay food is well-loved in Singapore for it’s robust spices, creamy gravies and crisp deep fried fritters – but also known for it’s lack of veg*n-friendliness. Good news is, vegan Malay food may soon be a reality as my bodybuilder friend Hilmi is preparing to start up a food business. The venture is named Sapao, and they hosted their first pre-launch food tasting event last weekend.

Sapao’s tagline is “Mama’s Meatless”. The head chef is none other than Hilmi’s mother, who is also vegan thanks to Hilmi’s influence. Hilmi has been vegan for more than a year and his mother was also inspired by the benefits, especially health-wise. Once from a Malaysian kampong (village), the dishes she cooks has that homely kampong taste that’s a gem in our world of fast food and ready-made-meals.

Here’s a short interview of Hilmi on Sapao, his inspiration and goals:

What made you want to start Sapao?

There’s a general misconception that vegan food is tasteless and food that has meat tastes better. Here at Sapao we want to change that and reintroduce plant-based foods to Singapore.

We believe it’s not about the meat that makes food tastes good but a robust mix of spices or rempah (spice paste) that cause the dish to stand out.

As for the replacement of meat it doesn’t matter if it’s soy, pulled jackfruit, or whole foods. What’s important is the dishes taste great as a whole and everyone loves them.

How long has your mom been cooking these dishes?

She has been making the meat versions all her life since the kampong days till she turned vegan and started experimenting with plant-based alternatives. I went for 4 vegan potlucks with her cooking and the feedback we got were always great, that’s why we want to start this venture.

When will Sapao be launching?

Tentatively early next year, either a stall or delivery format.

Sapao’s Dishes – Starters:

currypuff
Handmade potato curry puff by Hilmi’s grandmother. I’ve never had homemade curry puff before, felt so blessed 🙂

gorengpisang
Pisang goreng – Banana fritters. Very crisp, not too sweet and oily.

Main dishes:

ikanassam
Ikan 3 Rasa – 3 flavours soy fish pieces. Sweet, sour and spicy sauce on mock fish. Usually I’m not a fan of mock meats, but this is crisp, soft inside with a good umami from the seaweed.

sambalgoreng
Sambal goreng pengantin – The meat version is usually made with beef, here tempeh and fried tofu were used instead.

lemakchillipadi
Lemak chilli padi – My favourite because the gravy was full of coconut and lemongrass fragrance. Stewed with mock chicken chunks and beancurd skin.

rendang
Rendang – A classic Malay dish, robust and intense due to the use of over 10 spices and coconut. Was cooked with mock beef chunks that day, but Sapao said they are planning to make a pulled jackfruit version for next tasting!

Sapao’s dishes are:

  1. Halal – Made with love by Malay Muslims.
  2. Very spicy – that’s the authentic way!
  3. Contains onions/garlic – A pity for religious vegetarians but I guess authentic Malay food, like Shandong food, can’t do without alliums.

Keep updated at their facebook and instagram, they may have another food tasting this month. They will be the first 100% vegan Malay food in Singapore and that’s a huge milestone for the local vegan scene!

Chinese Curry with Veggies, Tempeh & Tofu

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

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

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


CHINESE STYLE CURRY (SERVES 1)

Proteins:

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

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

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

Paste ingredients:

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

base-spices

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

paste
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

DSC01673
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.