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!

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.

 

Veganuary Recipes: No-Cook One-Pot Noodles Series

Veganuary is a movement from the UK that encourages people to start a new year on a healthy note. Participants try a vegan lifestyle (to the degree that they are comfortable with) for a month till 31st Jan. If you’re trying it out, or just wish to change your eating habits this year, here’s a method to make a meal that’s incredibly easy without cooking and it’s not salad!

I’ll be posting as a series of 3 recipes this month. My nutritionist friend Krystle will calculate the nutritional breakdown for all 3 recipes in this series.

Making an “instant’ meal

If you have access to boiling water, you can prepare a decent balanced meal. No stove top or oven cooking needed put it together. I make these type of meals in 2 situations:

  1. At previous workplaces located far from affordable vegetarian stalls.
  2. When travelling in areas where clean and cheap vegan food is unavailable.
Just need to add boiling water and cover for 5 minutes.

Sounds like cup noodles, but don’t worry, it is way healthier than that. But like everything else, it has pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Fast way to make a hot meal.
  • Way more nutritious and filling than convenience meals.
  • Portable. Simply keep in a container (must be suitable for holding hot food) and add boiling water when you want to eat.
  • Customisable.

Cons:

  • Not all ingredients will turn out tasty with this method.
  • Still need to wash, cut and pre-cook certain ingredients.
  • Boiling water is preferred (ie, water that’s just boiled). Hot water may not have enough heat to soften the carbs and other harder ingredients.

Firstly, my definition of a balanced meal is one that has carbohydrates (preferably complex carbs), vitamins (mainly veggies) and protein (from legumes, tempeh, tofu or wheat).

Secondly, using ingredients that can be cooked thoroughly with boiling water is most important. That means softer items, unless you truly don’t mind eating hard and half raw things.

Here’s a quick list of items that can work, all are available from various supermarkets and wet markets:

Carbs:

  • Soft thin noodles (brown rice noodles, certain brands of tung hoon)
  • Instant wheat noodles (for healthier option, buy those that have whole grains and are baked not fried)
  • Cooked rice
  • Cooked starchy plants (sweet potato, potato, pumpkin)
  • Instant oats

Plants:

  • Soft leafy greens (spinach, coriander, bak choy, etc. Avoid stems in certain veggies like kai lan)
  • Cooked hard veggies (broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Plants that are edible raw (tomato, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini)
  • Pickled or fermented veggies (kimchi, achar)

Protein:

  • Packaged silken tofu (all packaged tofu are ready to eat)
  • Soft dried soy products (Thin beancurd skin, tau pok)
  • Cooked legumes (cooked lentils, canned beans, etc)
  • Seitan (dried Japanese types or canned ready-to-eat types, those are available from NTUC)

I generally avoid putting the container into the fridge when bringing to office. I’ll always keep it in a thermal bag to keep it as cool as possible. Because it brings down the temperature, which causes the items to not cook fully after filling with boiling water. Thus, I avoid coconut milk based items and fresh market tofu, as they can spoil fast in our room temperature.

Ingredients list

Here are the ingredients I used for this recipe, where I purchased and their prices. Most of them (except the noodles) are also common items I use in daily meals.

For fresh veggies, try to purchase them from wet markets as they are much fresher and sometimes cheaper. Prices will vary depending on stall.
Use a large bowl or container to prevent hot water from spilling.

 

RECIPE: NO COOK MISO NOODLES

  • 1 serving instant wheat noodles, no seasoning packet needed (I used Koka purple wheat as it’s non-fried and partial wholegrain, some NTUCs sell it without seasoning packets.)
  • 2-3 bunch (50g) spinach, stems removed (spinach stems are usually too tough to chew.)
  • Half block (150g) silken tofu  (I used sprouted organic one from NTUC.)
  • 10g beancurd skin, rinsed (Rinsing helps to remove sulphates which are used in certain brands.)
  • 1 heaping tbsp white miso (Some miso pastes have bonito or fish, always check before buying.)
  • Small handful (50g) enoki mushroom (Other mushrooms may not be fully cooked with this method, certain mushrooms cannot be eaten raw.)
  • 30g carrot, julienned (Use a julienne peeler to save time.)
  • Chopped spring onions, to garnish
  • White pepper, to garnish
  • 1 tsp sesame oil, to garnish
  • Ready-to-eat seaweed, to garnish

Bring water to a boil in a kettle. Combine noodles, spinach, beancurd skin, miso, enoki and carrot in a large heatproof bowl/container. Pour boiling water till all ingredients are covered well. Cover and wait for 5mins. Dissolve the miso. Add garnishes and serve hot.

Don’t let the noodles sit for too long, it will get soggy.

 

Nutritional Information

Krystle is a freelance plant-based nutritionist and group fitness instructor, check her out here.

Here’s Krystle’s nutritional breakdown of the dish (source: myfitnesspal) :

Nutritional comments:

This is a perfect example of a healthy, balanced meal. It has a balanced amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat and other important vitamins, minerals and fiber. It has no trans fat and no cholesterol – both are known to increase risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Vegetables and whole wheat noodles helps to promote good blood sugar control and keeps you full for a longer time.

Tofu and Green Leafy vegetables are contains calcium and iron. Although the bioavailability of iron and calcium in plant based foods is not as high as animal based foods, it can still be a part of a healthy diet without the hormones and saturated fats from animals based foods. You can increase iron absorption by having a fruit high in vitamin C such as oranges as dessert. Limit your tea and coffee intake especially during your meal times as it further prevents the absorption of iron.
Spinach’s calcium is not readily absorbed in our body due to the presence of oxalic acid. However, it should be the least of our worries as we should always eat a varied diet to get enough calcium from many different healthy sources. Other calcium containing foods includes other green leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, chia seeds, fortified soy milk etc. Calcium from legumes are more easily absorbed than those from leafy greens.

Remember to get enough sunlight to boost your vitamin D levels to increase the absorption of calcium. Exercising regularly also strengthen our bones and muscles.

The carrots and spinach is high in Vitamin A in the form of beta carotene. It is an antioxidant that is great for your eyes and skin.

Sodium is high in this dish due to the amount of miso used. If you are watching your blood pressure, use low sodium condiments or drink less of the soup. You may use more spices and herbs like nutritional yeast, black pepper, spring onion, parsley, basil, mint which helps to add flavour without needing additional sodium.

This dish roughly provides the following recommended daily amounts (RDA) for healthy adults aged 18-60 years old. Note that percentages will differ among individuals. (Source: Health Hub SG)

  • 36% of protein for males, 42% of protein for females
  • 85% of iron for males, 28% of iron for females
  • 33% – 40% of fiber
  • 115% of calcium
  • 114% of Vitamin A

Next in the series will feature a Tom Yum rice noodles recipe made with the same method together with Krystle’s nutritional analysis, stay tuned!

 

One-Pot Rice Noodles in Miso Soup

Like every other busy person, time for meals can be short. Thus I make quick one-pot meals like this very often. It literally involved throwing everything into a pot of stock or water and bringing to a boil. Stir in a spoonful of sauce and maybe some plant milk for creaminess – ready in 10 minutes!

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One thing that I will always have in the fridge is mushroom soaking water. It’s a decent base for soup dishes, and much cheaper than buying ready-made stocks. Simply rinse 5-10 of any dried mushrooms then leave them in a huge bowl of water in the fridge overnight. The mushrooms would be hydrated for cooking too. Dried seaweeds like kelp and wakame can be used too, or combined with mushrooms.

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Ingredients (serves 1):

2 cups water, stock or mushroom soaking water (or as needed)

Brown rice noodles (as needed)

1 tomato, cut into wedges

2 thin slices of ginger

1 tbsp wakame (or as needed)

Handful of soybean sprouts, roots removed

4-5 carrot slices (or as needed)

1 shiitake mushroom, sliced (soak for 30 mins in hot water if using dried)

1 tbsp miso paste (or as needed)

¼ cup unsweetened plant milk (I used non-GMO soymilk)

Spring onion and white pepper powder as needed, for garnish (optional)

Place everything except the garnish, miso and plant milk into a pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer over medium heat for 5 mins, or until noodles are soft. Remove from heat and stir in miso and plant milk. Garnish and serve.

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Notes:

  • I suggest to always compose a meal to include carbs, protein and vitamins. Here the protein sources are the brown rice noodles, wakame, soybean sprouts, miso and soymilk.
  • You can use any noodle you like, just take note of the recommended cooking time on the packet so as not to overcook them.
  • Instead of miso, you can use tom yam paste, fermented bean pastes, curry pastes/powders for variations.
  • Some plants cook fast, others cook slow. Plants like raw potato and dried beans won’t suit this recipe as the cooking time is too short. Other plants like leafy greens (bak choy, spinach) cooks very fast, they need to go in at the point miso is added to avoid overcooking.
  • For more detailed tips on making one-pot meals, check out my guide on making Asian one-pot meals.

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One-pot meals basics part 3 – cooking times

Last post on my approach to Asian – inspired one pot meals, following the past pantry basics and flavour + texture posts. People seem to have a misconception that cooking takes hours. Not at all!

General guide on cooking times (No rules written in stone – it’s common sense, intuition, experience, personal preference!) :

1) Smaller/softer things need less time to be cooked than larger/harder ones. Dried noodles take longer than soft ones. Whole beans take MUCH longer to soften than split lentils. For harder-to-cook things like whole beans and potatoes, boil a big batch at one go, freeze in portions. Then they only need a couple minutes to be warmed. For tough veggies like broccoli, breaking into smaller pieces greatly reduces cooking time.

2) Some things are already cooked. Tofu, seitan and many processed soy products aren’t raw in their packaged form. Cooking them is to rid germs and impart flavour, thus only short heating (or even none if preferred) is needed. My fastest way to enjoy silken tofu is soak in hot water for 5 mins, drain and drizzle with sauce.

3) Don’t overcook. When green veggies turn yellowish under heat, they are overdone and have lost crispness and nutrients. Green leafies just need 30 seconds to a minute blanched in hot water to be done!

Continuing on last post’s working-with-whatever-in-fridge miso udon example, you can heat everything at once in a pot – but you may find tomatoes raw tasting and spring onions tasteless.

Here’s the sequence for max flavour:

1) Bring mushrooms, soaking water and additional 2 cups water to a boil in a pot.
2) Add ginger, spices and tomatoes, simmer at low-medium heat for 2-3mins until tomatoes soften.
3) Add pre-cooked yams and soaked lentils. Simmer at low-medium for 2mins.
4) In goes udon, simmer for just under a minute. Off heat.
5) Stir in miso and sprinkle spring onions. A drizzle of sesame oil and white
pepper will round up flavours perfectly. Dinner served in 10 minutes!

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So to round things up, one-pots are the easiest hot meals to make everyday. Just keep in mind the simple basics of having a balanced pantry, know what gives flavours and/or textures and try not to undercook or overcook ingredients. Soon you can intuitively compose filling meals from anything in no time.

Here’s some other examples of one-pots (and their ingredients) I made and posted on my instagram, for ideas (I’m an incurable noodle lover, you can use any carbs or grains preferred.)

eg

1) Carbs: Brown rice soya noodles. Protein: Pre-soaked roasted barley, edamame. Vitamins: Bamboo shoots, seaweed, edamame, enoki mushroom. Seasonings: Miso paste, sliced green chilli in soy sauce, sesame oil.

2) Carbs: White rice & quinoa. Protein: Quinoa, ground flaxseed powder. Vitamins: Onion stalks, red chilli, curry leaves. Seasonings: Grapeseed oil, sea salt, lemongrass.

3) Carbs: Rice noodles. Protein: Pan-fried tofu, fermented black beans. Vitamins: Cucumber, tomatoes. Seasonings: Sea salt, curry powder, coconut milk.

4) Carbs: Sweet potatoes. Protein: Pre-soaked red lentils. Vitamins: Okra, tomatoes. Seasonings: Sea salt, black pepper, olive oil.

Hope this series can give you confidence to step in the kitchen and take control of what you eat!

One-pot meal basics part 2 – flavour and texture

After part 1 on pantry basics, here’s the ingredients combining part of our one-pot miso udon. Cooking is a simple exercise in layering flavours with textures. Almost all foods give some texture, but not all can impart flavour.

It’s important to note that besides salty, sour, sweet and bitter, there’s a fifth sense of taste – umami (In Chinese it’s described as 鲜味). It’s the rich, appetite-inducing, lip-smacking savoury taste that characterizes soy sauce. It’s wrongly called the ‘meaty taste’ and while it’s true that glutamates, the amino acid responsible for umami, is higher in animal flesh, people forget that it occurs in plenty of plants too. Plant – based sources of umami include tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, fermented and pickled foods, green jackfruit, mushrooms, seaweeds, and many more! It takes more skill to coax it out from plants than from meat. Personally I believe that understanding umami and knowing how to layer it with other flavours is the key to making Asian vegan dishes delicious.

On to our one-pot example, miso udon’s ingredients and their roles. Of course it isn’t like the traditional dish, but point here is that seemingly random things in the fridge can be made to work as a tasty meal.

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Flavour givers:
5 dried straw and shiitake mushrooms soaked in hot water – as flavour base.
1 tomato, cut into wedges – adds tangy and umami taste.
6 small pieces of sliced ginger – uplifting fragrance complements earthy miso and enhancing umami.
A few spices (black cardamom, star anise and Chinese red pepper) – enriches soup with smoky and warm tones.
4 stalks spring onion, chopped – gives an onion-like hint.
1 tablespoon miso – adds salt, umami and earthy tones.

Texture givers:
1 pack udon noodles – main carbs, chewy and makes the meal filling.
3 pre-steamed yams – thickens soup while adding chunks of starchy textural interest.
Large handful of pre-soaked frozen split lentils – thickens soup and adds protein.

Here’s how everything melds together, plus possible ingredient substitutes for allergies/religious dietary restrictions:

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Have an end flavour & texture in mind before cooking. Want less chewy noodles? Use thin rice noodles. More spice? Add chilli. Want less umami, more sour? Omit mushrooms, use tamarind instead of tomato. Don’t take onion/garlic? Garnish with parsley/coriander.

For daily meals just work with whatever there is – no need to fuss over what you have or don’t. Relax, enjoy the process of discovering new combinations and feeding loved ones!

Next > cooking times – how not to under or overcook.

one-pot meals part 1 – pantry basics

I’m sure many of our new year’s resolution is to eat healthier or better – but that’s not quite possible if one eats out every meal. Cooking your own is not only cheaper but multiple times healthier. Being a typical busy person (once architecture student, now working full time), I do prepare meals nearly daily. My daily cooking is simply anything in the fridge cooked in a single pot. 10 – 15mins prep + 5-10mins heating + 20-30mins eating + 10mins cleaning =  1 hour, about the same time as going to a food court, queuing, ordering, waiting, finding a seat and eating.

Here’s a series of 3 posts as a starter’s guide to one-pot meals, the easiest way to make hot meals, using a worked-with-what-I-had version of miso udon soup as example. No previous kitchen experience needed!

One-pot meals are all about 3 basic principles – Pantry basics, combining flavours and textures and cooking times.

This first post is generic pantry & food prep basics:

–  Go for ingredients that needs minimal preparation and low cooking time – I usually just rinse and cut or even break with hands. Some from my list are tomatoes, string beans, okra, tofu, tempeh, seitan, dried beans, broccoli, snow peas, beansprouts, leafy greens with soft stems (without roots). No peeling, de-seeding, multiple washing needed for them! Here, spring onions are a great topping as you simply need to wash and cut it.
Balance – Every meal should have carbs (rice, noodles, quinoa, bread), protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan, legumes, nuts) and vitamins (mushrooms, veggies, fruit). To retain nutrients in veggies, best is to add them at the last stage of cooking then turn off heat – which sacrifices flavour sometimes.
Pre-cooking or soaking in bulk. The soaking water of cleaned dried mushrooms is a gem as a broth base. I also steam/boil a couple of starchy plants like potato, yam, sweet potato and take them from the fridge when needed. For lentils and beans I soak and boil them in bulk, then portion and freeze them in small bags. Of course canned legumes, being pre-cooked, are the quickest, but they are more expensive! For this miso udon I used pre-cooked red lentils for protein and few pieces of pre-steamed taro to thicken the soup.
Frozen foods are a good time saver. My usual are edamame, peas, carrots and corn. They just need 2-3 minutes cooking to be done.
Condiments, sauces and spices should be always present in a well-stocked pantry. They give taste immediately and can take anything up to another level. Here, miso is the main condiment with white pepper and sesame oil as supporting flavours.

Here’s an overview of the basic food groups from my pantry. Bought all of them at the usual supermarkets and wet markets.

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Having 1-2 items from each group can guarantee you satisfying and nutritious meals! Have fun mixing and matching.

Next post > basics of flavours & textures