Allium-free Shouyu Ramen with Tempeh Char Siu

Ramen was an import from China that evolved in a uniquely Japanese way. It’s likely the most common and popular dish in Japan among both locals and travellers. Being inexpensive, piping hot, full of umami, it’s very satisfying especially on a cold day! There are 4 main types of ramen you can find in almost any ramen shop, differentiated by the soup base – shio (salt), shouyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste) and tonkotsu (pork bone). Out of all the bowls of ramen I ate in Japan, my favourite was a vegan tonkotsu ramen from Yokohama’s Ramen Museum. But that seems tricky to make, so I chose to make my second favourite, shouyu ramen.

Making ramen is a highly skilled job, so home cooked ramen may not taste intense as what you get from ramen shops. This recipe took me 2 hours to make, which is nothing compared to the hours ramen shops put into one bowl. Still, it’s fun to make your own version! If you have dietary requirements like vegan + no alliums/gluten-free, there aren’t much choices in Japan. So if you’re craving for a good bowl of ramen that’s close enough, homely and comforting, this is the recipe for you.

Shouyu ramen from Kyushu Jangara Ramen; soup is allium-free. I loved the clear soy sauce taste that wasn’t terribly salty. The one from T’s Tan Tan was way to salty for me.

As someone who grew up eating noodles, I LOVED the amazing and familiar umami in every bowl, but overall almost all the ramen I had in Japan were really salty. That’s considering I’m someone who love savoury foods! I soon learnt that it’s just the way ramen is. Since it was a food historically eaten by labourers, it always had a high sodium content. Also, salt helps to bring out umami. Thus, this recipe may taste saltier than what you expect.

The Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum is a good place to visit and educate yourself about the beauty of ramen.

This recipe is made allium-free, because I hope more people can try ramen. In Japan, with the exception of traditional shoujin ryori, almost all savoury foods contain some type of allium. It was quite tricky getting the soup to taste complex enough without alliums, MSG or other instant seasonings.

A good bowl of ramen means an intense umami. It is a result of a good soup base, quality noodles, a variety of toppings, suitable oils and seasonings.

Here are some important notes that will help you succeed in making a good bowl of ramen:

1. Use a sieve.

There’ll be lots of straining and draining out things, so at least one big sieve is a must. You can get one from NTUC or general stores.

2. Soup base:

– Kelp and dried shiitake

These 2 will be the backbone of the soup, do not replace. Due to their high glutamine acid content, the soup base will be high in umami. I recommend getting high quality kelp, like this one from Hidaka, Hokkaido, that’s specially meant for soup. Available in some NTUC Finests. It comes with instructions on how to use, make sure you follow them carefully to preserve the flavour. I believe in using the highest quality ingredients you can get, since you’re going to put in effort making this from scratch. For shiitake, go for Japanese dried shiitake, also available from NTUC.

Dried shiitake is readily available in supermarkets and wet markets, this particular brand of kelp was from NTUC Finest.

– Potato, corn, carrot, celery stalk and lentils.

I turned to a tried-and-tested formula that makes the backbone of many traditional Chinese vegetarian soups. The starch in potato helps enhance flavour and texture. Corn and carrot adds depth by giving a natural sweet aftertaste that makes one wants more. Celery adds another layer of depth. Most important part is adding protein; it’s protein that gives the most umami. Traditionally, soybeans are used, but I find that they take very long to cook, so I took inspiration from Indian cuisine and used red lentils.

– Ginger

Since this recipe does not use alliums, I turn to my favourite ingredient, ginger. Here I used quite a bit of ginger in different steps. Ginger is incredibly powerful, it brings out umami and adds complexity while being able to hide itself. Rest assured, there’s no strong ginger taste in the end result.

– Bean paste

This is a Chinese condiment used in Hokkien mee and other dishes. I used both regular bean paste and spicy bean paste. Available in NTUC. Do not omit as this is another important contributor of umami.

My 2 favourite brands of fermented bean paste. Left one is from NTUC. The right one is from a vegetarian grocery shop, extremely spicy!

– Rice wine (or sake, optional)

Just a bit of alcohol can increase the intensity of umami. Highly recommended, but feel free to omit. Available from supermarkets.

– Quality soy sauce

A good soy sauce should only have 4 ingredients – soy beans, wheat, salt and water. It should not have MSG and preservatives. Since shouyu is the main flavour here, go for high quality ones. Kikkoman is my go-to brand. For gluten-free, go for quality tamari.

3. Noodles

The noodles make a different. Ramen noodles are usually QQ, means having a good bite. Many recipes online suggests you to undercook the noodles as the hot soup will continue cooking them. Do not use instant noodles, as they get soggy incredibly fast (unless that’s what you prefer).

– Quality wheat noodles

It’s best to use noodles specially made for ramen, but I realised many of them are only available in Japanese supermarkets. I used Prima Taste La Mian from NTUC, which remained chewy and toothy after sitting in the hot soup for 10 minutes (the time I took to photograph this). For gluten-free, go for thick rice noodles as thin ones also may get too soft quite fast.

4. Toppings

You can technically top with anything you like, but here’s some that are commonly used for shouyu ramen.

– Char siu (or chashu in Japanese)

Char siu refers to the cooking method, not the pork. Thus I used the same method on tempeh. I posted a Chinese version before. It is not the authentic recipe for Japanese chashu as it depends on a lot of leek for flavour, which I can’t figure out a replacement yet for those who avoid alliums. Try it with seitan, it might work even better!

Recipe here.

– Menma (preserved bamboo shoots)

Crunchy and delicious, highly recommended! Got this from Donki. A standard topping for shouyu ramen.

Note: This is not the red chilli oil bamboo shoots!

– La-yu (Chilli oil)

Adds spice. Who doesn’t love a bit of spice! I realised Japanese brands of chilli oil isn’t very spicy, so I used a bit of oil from my (very) spicy bean paste.

– Shiraga Negi, green onions (optional)

Adds some pungency. I’ve noticed that many Japanese dishes are topped with julienned raw onions. Here, I didn’t use it as I wanted to make everything completely allium-free.

– Nori sheet (seaweed)

A piece of dried seaweed adds a slight ocean flavour and colour. I used the type meant for sushi which you can find in most NTUC’s Japanese section.

– Konjac (konnyaku)

All Chinese mock seafoods are made from this. Available in Donki. Not a traditional ramen topping, but I used it in place of narutomaki (fish cake). I lightly boiled, then scored and marinated each piece in black vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil as it doesn’t have much flavour on it’s own.

Konjac, or konnyaku in Japanese, is a springy block made from the starch of the konjac plant.

Allium-free Shouyu Ramen

Serves 1

Soup stock:

  • 2 – 3 pcs dried konbu, cleaned according to packet instructions
  • 4 – 5 pcs dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed slightly to clean
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup lentils, soaked for at least 1 hour in warm water or overnight in room temp water.
  • 1/2 carrot, chopped into 1 cm long pcs
  • 1/2 corn, chopped into 3 parts
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped into 5cm long pcs
  • 1 cm ginger, sliced
  • 1 tsp salt

After cleaning kombu and shiitake, soak them water for at least 30 minutes. Pour everything into a pot, turn on medium low heat. Bring to almost a boil and remove kombu before water boils. While keeping medium low heat, add lentils, carrot, corn, potato, celery and ginger. Top up enough water to immerse everything completely with about 5 cm room at the top. Increase to medium high heat, bring to a boil and simmer half covered for at least 30 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt and strain out. If storing in fridge, let cool completely. Can be kept up to a week in fridge.

For ramen’s soup base:

  • 1 serving of ramen noodles
  • 0.5 tbsp fermented bean paste (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp spicy fermented bean paste (or to taste)
  • 1 cm ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil (using another oil will reduce fragrance)
  • 1 tbsp rice wine (optional)
  • 1.5 tbsp soy sauce (or to taste)
  • 1 pinch of black salt (or to taste)
  • White pepper, to taste

In another pot, sauté ginger and bean pastes till fragrant. Add rice wine to deglaze. Add 4-5 cups of soup stock, bring to a boil and keep simmered over low heat. Meanwhile, cook ramen noodles according to packet instructions. Reduce the cooking time given on the packet by 1 minute. Drain out by flicking it slightly in a big sieve. Taste the soup and add other seasonings to your preference. Remove from heat and strain out the soup.

Assembly & Toppings:

  • 1 block of Char Siu Tempeh, sliced to your preferred thickness (traditionally char shu is thin, but I like it slightly thicker for better bite.)
  • 5 pcs menma (bamboo shoots)
  • 2 pcs seaweed
  • Bean sprouts, blanched (fastest way to cook is put in a sieve and immerse into the same pot when the noodles are cooking)
  • 2 pcs marinated konjac

Place drained ramen noodles into a large serving bowl. Pour hot soup over the noodles. Top with char siu tempeh, menma, bean sprouts and konjac. You can also use some of the soup stock ingredients (carrot, corn) as toppings. Enjoy it while hot!

This recipe usually takes me 2 hours to make from scratch! But I’m extremely happy with the end result, so it’s worth it.

If you want more vegan ramen recipes, check out these recipes: Tan Tan Men, Hakodate style ramen, Sapporo style ramen.

Next up – plant-based karaage! Stay tuned!

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 3

How was your Veganuary? If you tried out being vegan for a month, I hope you find it easy enough to continue for a bit more. If not, I hope this series will help you in other ways 🙂 Part 1 here, part 2 here.

The last recipe of the Veganuary series on No-Cook Noodles is inspired by Korean flavours. Although nothing close to authentic traditional Korean food, this is a fast and easy way to fix your kimchi cravings and fill your tummy!

In this recipe I stuffed minced stir-fried tempeh into tofu puffs. This catches the soup well and every bite is full of juicy, complex flavours. If you wish to save time and omit cooking completely, you can add them separately or use silken tofu which is a food item that is ready-to-eat. Tempeh recipes are here, simply mince with knife or crumble them by hand before frying. Rinse and squeeze the tofu puffs before using, cut in half, score pockets and stuff with the cooked tempeh. This stuffed tofu puffs are high protein and can be easily packed, so it’s a perfect food prep item.

Ingredients


NO COOK KIMCHI UDON

  • 6 tofu puffs stuffed with minced cooked tempeh
  • 1/4 cup kimchi
  • 1 serving of instant udon, remove seasoning packets, rinsed
  • 1/3 cucumber, julienned (use a julienne peeler for easy prep)
  • 1/4 carrot, julienned (use a julienne peeler for easy prep)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce, to taste
  • 1 tbsp gochujang
  • Coriander, to garnish
  • Ready-to-eat seaweed, to garnish
  • Sesame seeds, to garnish

Combine all base ingredients in a heatproof bowl/container. Pour boiling water till all ingredients are covered well. Cover and wait for 3-5mins. Remove cover, mix to ensure gochujang is well dissolved. Add garnishes and serve.

 

Nutritional Analysis

Provided by nutritionist Krystle.

Kimchi is traditionally used as a side dish in Korea, but has gained popularity all over Asia because of its unique spicy and sour taste as well as its health promoting properties.
Kimchi is made from fermented and salted vegetables such as Napa Cabbage and Korean Radishes. It is low in calories and high in vitamin A and C. But one of the highlights of kimchi is the fact that it is fermented — which makes it a good source of probiotics and promotes a healthy gut.

The main probiotic present in Kimchi is Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB). It plays a role in treating diarrhoea and boosts the immune system, reduces serum cholesterol levels and blood pressure, prevents bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. Probiotics is also very important for the control of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).

Let us not forget how other key ingredients of making kimchi such as cruciferous vegetables, garlic, ginger, red pepper powder etc are very healthy functional foods. It contains antioxidants and phytochemicals with anti-cancer properties.

Another femented ingredient used in this dish is none other than the good ol’ tempeh. Packed full of nutrition and protein, and is easy to digest thanks the fermentation process. Phytic acid in the soybeans has been broken down during fermentation, which in turns helps to improve digestion and absorption of the nutrients. Also rich in probiotics such as bifidobacteria, it also promotes good gut microbiota.

If you have concerns about bloating, flatulence, indigestion, or is suffering from IBS, IBD and even Chron’s Disease, consuming more fermented food provides an easy alternative natural treatment. Not only does it benefits people who has gut issues, it also benefit any regular healthy person as health maintenance.

Prebiotic, on the other hand are like food for the Probiotics. If you are already eating a whole foods plant based diet, chances are you are getting most of your natural source of prebiotic – oligosaccharides fiber! They passed through the system undigested by enzymes and ended up in the colon — perfect fuel to be fermented by probiotics/good bacteria to continue to thrive in your gut. Some of the top prebiotic sources are garlic, onions, leeks, bananas etc.

What about dairy based fermented foods? Although LAB present in the yoghurt actually helps to alleviate some of the symptoms of lactose intolerances, however, if your main symptom of diarrhoea stems from Lactose, it is not wise to get your probiotics from fermented dairy products like yoghurt and cheeses. Other plant based sources that do not stimulate your intolerances like kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso are better source of probiotics and sometimes even prebiotics!

Sodium is high in this dish due to the kimchi, gochujang and soy sauce. So take less soup or skip one of the sauces.

This recipe fulfils 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)

  • 38.5% of protein for males, 45% of protein for females
  • Around 50% of iron for males, 20% of iron for females
  • Around 21% of fiber
  • 11% of calcium
  • 21% of Vitamin A
  • 10% of Vitamin C (note that some will be lost due to heat)

Thanks for reading this series of Veganuary No-Cook recipes. Wish you continued good health for the whole of 2018!

VEGANUARY RECIPES: NO-COOK ONE-POT NOODLES SERIES 2

The second instalment of my Veganuary series on no-cook one-pot noodles. This series is meant to help those who are not yet confident in cooking, too busy to cook, or when you want a hot homemade meal but have no access to a stove. Read the first part here. Nutritionist Krystle will give a nutritional analysis at the end.

This recipes may need a bit of food prep if you want to make it as fast as possible. Food prep simply means preparing certain ingredients in advance to cut down on meal preparation time. Refer to my guide on food prep and basics of cooking. I do not recommend meat products to be used in this method. Boiling water may not be able to bring up the internal temperature of meats to a safe range to kill harmful bacteria.

Like miso, tom yum paste is a condiment I use often as it is flavourful and easy to use. For most brands, you just need to stir it in hot water to make a tasty soup. We can get vegan ones from vegetarian grocery shops or Chinese vegetarian eateries. Note that most common tom yum sauces contain fish sauce. Here I’m using the same brand as my tom yum pasta recipe. This recipe is not a traditional Thai dish, but it is more of a quick way to get a hot, balanced and filling meal.

Ingredients that can be “cooked” with boiling water.

Ingredients used

Here are the ingredients I used for this recipe, where I purchased and their prices. All of them are common items I use in daily meals.

Try to get fresh produce from wet markets for better quality.

NO-COOK TOM YUM RICE NOODLES

Base ingredients:

  • 1 – 1.5 tbsp tom yam paste (Amount depends on brand, some brands are saltier.)
  • A large handful (60g) of pea sprouts (Packaged pea sprouts only need a quick rinse thus they are convenient to use.)
  • 1 serving (65g) red rice noodles
  • 1/4 cup (65g) cooked chickpeas, drained (I used rinsed canned chickpeas, try to cook your own from dried beans, it’s cheaper + healthier. Cooked beans can be frozen to keep longer.)
  • 8-10 (65g) cooked tempeh slices (Tempeh tastes great pan-fried with strong condiments, more tempeh recipes here. Cooked tempeh can last up to a week in fridge.)
  • 1/4 carrot, julienned (Use a julienne peeler to shred it fast.)
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, seeds removed, sliced
  • 1/2 tomato, cut into wedges
  • 1 cm leek, sliced thinly (Replace with coriander as garnish if you don’t take alliums.)

Add last:

  • 2-5 tbsp coconut milk (Amount depends on your taste – the more the tastier.)
  • Juice from 1 lime, to garnish

Bring water to a boil in a kettle. Combine all base ingredients in a large heatproof bowl/container. Pour boiling water till all ingredients are covered well. Cover and wait for 5mins. Dissolve the tom yum paste. Add garnishes and serve hot.


To prevent lime seeds from dropping, press against a spoon while squeezing.

Nutritional Analysis

Nutritional breakdown by nutritionist Krystle:

This recipe fulfils 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)

  • 38.5% of protein for males, 45% of protein for females
  • Around 65% of iron for males, 33.15% of iron for females
  • Around 47% of fiber
  • 13.7% of calcium
  • 105% of Vitamin A
  • 257% of Vitamin C (note that some will be lost due to heat)

Krystle’s comments:

A hearty warm bowl of noodles feels like a comfort food for all but at the same time gives you important nutrients and energy needs to keep you going! This recipe is nutritionally balanced and healthier than most of the hawker food out there. The veggies give high fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. If you are watching your cholesterol levels, use low-fat coconut milk.

The key ingredients used has several health promoting factors.

Red Cargo Rice Vermicelli

– Higher in Fiber. It keeps your cholesterol and blood sugar in check and it’s definitely a healthier choice compared to normal white rice vermicelli.

– Contains antioxidants especially zinc. Zinc is important for normal cell division and growth, maintains your immune system and fights against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.

Tempeh

-Tempeh is a healthy and delicious protein source. You can easily substitute meat using tempeh without the artery clogging saturated fat.

-Although it can be naturally higher in fat, it contains Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) which are the good essential fat. PUFA also help to control cholesterol levels.

– It is also high in trace minerals like maganese, phosphorus and copper, which are important for normal bodily metabolism and functions.

– As it is made using fermentation, it is highly digestible and therefore helps in the absorption of other key nutrients present in tempeh.

-If you want a great meat substitute high in good quality protein, Tempeh is the way to go. You can use various marinating methods/recipes to make it more palatable and at the same time enjoy the health benefits it brings.

Chickpeas

– Chickpeas are a legume and thus are high in many nutrients, like protein and fiber, folate, and minerals such as iron and phosphorus.

– For dried legumes, they should be soaked in water for few hours before cooking. The soaking water must be discarded. This is to reduce phytic acid which may cause digestive upsets (bloating, irritation) in some people and to increase the availability of nutrients.

Cooking method

– This cooking method is similar to blanching, where plant ingredients are immersed in boiling water to be cooked briefly before removing.

– This helps retain more of certain nutrients than other high heat methods like frying or baking. Another similar way to minimise nutrient loss is steaming.

Next in the series will feature an “instant” kimchi udon recipe. Stay tuned!

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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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!

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.)

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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