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Cloudy with NO chance of meatballs.

12 Aug

Neatballs? I went online to see the kitchen exploits of fellow vegetarian cooks and came across several sites featuring recipes for Neatballs. One click later and I realised neatballs is a term that’s been coined for vegan meatballs.

Why “Neat”?  Well, the “N” represents the “normal” ingredients that go into a neatball. Normal as in common, everyday, easy to find ingredients. Seriously?

A neatball is really a new-fangled way of saying vegetarian or vegan koftas. Instead of ground meat as the base, vegetarians use beans, tofu, nuts, mushrooms, eggplant or pulses as the base for their balls/cutlets. The different base ingredients determine not only the taste of your cutlet but also the texture. Using eggplant, for example, will yield you a smooth, soft cutlet while a nut-bean combo will give you a rough, crunchy texture. Mushrooms, of course, make anything taste good 🙂

Mushrooms are my favourite base ingredient for vegetarian koftas. And, unlike most recipes using mushroom, with koftas, I find the stems more useful than the caps so I buy the king oyster mushrooms (the one where the stems are at least a couple of inches thick and the caps are tiny and pale) and mix them with some shitake (stems and caps). The stems give you the koftas a kind of toughness you won’t find with most vegetables.

I drained the mushrooms (about 2 cups)  and roughly chopped them up. Next, I seasoned them with just salt and pepper and dry roasted them for about 30 mins (150C). Let them cool.

Once cool, mix the caps with other ingredients of choice: I used walnuts (1/4 cup), some carrots (1/2 cup), parsley (a handful, chopped) and eggplant (1/2 cup, lightly roasted) and blend them till they are slightly pureed — allow for some chunkiness. Add some mash potato (1 potato) and breadcrumbs (just 1/2 cup, optional) and season with oregano, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Roll into balls, and you’re set.

Bake at 180C for 20 mins or till they’re nice and browned. I cooked my koftas in a tomato-based stew and ate it with spaghetti but I kept several aside to eat on their own for my dinner tomorrow. They’re that tasty ..

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Almost chunky peanut butter

24 Jun

Man cannot live by bread alone. He must have peanut butter ≈ Bill Cosby

I think I discovered peanut butter when I was in my teens. You’re amazed? Yeah, me too. My mother never included peanut butter in her grocery lists … ever. I don’t really know why … I never asked her. But when I was 13 or 14 I had a sleepover at a friends house and for breakfast, we were served PBJs: yeah, the all famous Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jam) sandwich.  Imagine how blown away I was. I took a while to get over my reaction to the peanut butter: what was this creamy, buttery, nutty spread that made bread taste like cake? And, wait a minute, Peanut Butter and Jelly. PBJ. That’s what those kids on TV have all the time.  Cool!

And so began my love affair with PBJ which lasted about six years. Needless to say, after that sleepover, I bugged my mum to buy peanut butter for us. She acquiesced — she couldn’t bear the many, many “please, mummy, please” pleas any longer, I guess.

As I grew, I kinda ate less PBJ sandwiches though. Breakfast became a jumbo cup of thick, sweet tea and nothing more. But, if you’ve read this blog often enough, you know how many random cravings I have all them time and lately it’s been for a PBJ: a think chunky layer of peanut butter and layered with Jam. I love store bought peanut butter; jam, not so much (they’re always just too sweet). But I decided to make my own: both peanut butter and jam. I’m on vacation from work for a couple of weeks and I wanted to stay home and chill with my pal, Mojo the Dachshund.

This first installment (Part I) is making the peanut butter. It’s simple and actually a lot easier than getting dressed, putting on make-up, driving to the store and buying a jar. All you need are some skinned peanuts and salt and a little sugar (optional). The sugar is optional as some peanuts are sweater than others and also because it depends on how sweet you want your PB. I  added just a tbsp  sugar as I prefered the  nutty flavour to stand out.

Homemade peanut butter

400g peanuts, skinned

4 g fine salt

2 tbsp sugar (optional)

Roast the peanuts in the oven till they’re lightly toasted (just slightly brown). Add the sugar, salt and sugar in the blender and … blend, blend, blend. The nuts will first be blended to powder and then with more blending, their natural oils will be released and the mixture will form  a paste. More blending and you will get your buttery treasure.  TIP: You may want to add the roasted nuts bit by bit (three batches) especially if yours is not a high powered blender (mine wasn’t either). If you prefer your PB chunky, set some nuts aside and add them towards the end of the blending process).  Oh, and blending takes a while: about 30 mins with my ratty blender. So, while waiting for the peanuts to transform into butter, check out some PB trivia here.

Next up: Home made jam!

Nuts about … nuts

6 Jun

It’s really quite amazing what some of my friends and family are doing to gear up for the World Cup this Friday. Buying jerseys to support their favourite teams, placing bets and even purchasing High Definition TV sets — World Cup fever is definitely here and temperatures are high. Now, since the TV is going to be everyone’s  best friend for the next month or so there is one other thing to prepare: snacks to eat while watching the games. I’m a TV snacker so this is of prime importance for me.

It is in this vein that we decided to devote this months Don’t Call Me Chef (a monthly column I write with Marty Thyme and The Hungry Caterpillar in The Star) on munchies for the World Cup. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing my repertoire. For the column, I made yummy cheese straws: they’re addictive, let me warn you. I also made sweet potato home fries, onion rings, breaded mozzarella sticks and breaded tempe sticks (an alternative for vegans) for this blog.

Today I decided to bake some nuts. Regular nuts are great but I also like coated nuts, the spicier the better.

You need raw, skinned peanuts and a batter to coat them in. For the batter, I mixed plain flour, 5 spice mix, salt, pepper and sugar. To bind the nuts with the batter, I used an egg with some minced garlic.  First, beat the egg with the garlic (3 cloves). Pour the egg over the nuts (300 gms) in a bowl and mix. Whisk together the flour (75 gms), 5 spice powder (1/2 tbsp), salt (1tsp) and sugar (1.5 tbsp). Add the dry ingredients to the egg coated nuts and mix well. Though I usually use my hands to mix my ingredients, I recommend using a spoon as the batter gets sticky making it a little bit tricky mixing everything together.

Now you can either fry the nuts or bake them. Both ways are good but I opted for the oven as it was a slightly healthier option. Heat the oven at 180C for about 10 mins. Spread the nuts on a greased baking sheet and slide the tray onto the middle rack. Bake for 10 or 15 minutes, remove tray, toss the nuts and put it back in for another 5-10 mins. Remove when the nuts turn golden and crispy. If you prefer frying, heat a saucepan with oil. When the oil is hot, spoon the nuts (a little at a time) into the oil and fry till golden. You will have to turn them midway. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain oil on a paper towel.

You can season the batter with a host of other spices. Chilli powder or curry powder work too. If you like the coconut cream coated nuts, you can substitute half the egg with thick coconut milk. The thing to remember is not to add too much egg/coconut cream as the batter has to be sticky and stick to the nuts. If you accidentally add to much liquid, just add on a spoonful or so of flour.

That’s it. Takes just about 25 minutes to make and 300 gms should see you through one match.

Butter me nutty

8 May

After seeing the creamy nut butters featured in the April-May issue of Flavours — Malaysia’s premier food and lifestyle mag — I knew I had to make some for myself. Homemade nut butters? Oh my, I was as excited as those pre teen and tween girls at the Tokio Hotel concert just last week.  And as I peered into the blender as the butter was being processed, I too was in tears as those screaming groupies of the German band.

I was a wreck. An emotional wreck.

I was particularly pleased because I didn’t have a high-powered blender and used my reliable just-barely mid range Philips blender, praying all the while that the motor wouldn’t give way. I love you, my Philips blender. Thank you.

I never realised how simple it is to make nut butters — peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter… you name it. All you need is some fresh good quality nuts and a little bit of salt and a sturdy blender.

The catch is that the nuts (except for the modest peanut) can be pretty expensive and making a jar of these creamy beauties can cost you close to RM12.  Oh, well. the satisfaction and the rich creamy spread you get is all the payoff you need.

What you  need is 400g of your choice nuts. I used almonds. First, you roast them in the oven: it’s up to you if you want it slightly roasted or if you prefer a dark roast. I chose a dark roast. Although you can opt not to use unroasted nuts, the roasting process helps release some of the flavour from the nuts, hence your  nut butter will be richer.  So, if you want just a light roast, heat up your oven to about 120C, spread the nuts on a flat tray and roast for about 10 mins. for a dark roast, leave it about 5 mins longer or till they brown.

Remove and let cool a little. Transfer into a blender and add a pinch of salt and blend. And blend. And blend. First, will be the grinding and you will see your nuts turn to coarse powder. Blend some more and you will start seeing the crumbs get creamier, and creamier until they resemble a thick buttery paste. A high-powered blender will, naturally, yield results faster. My basic Philips took a while longer (about 20 mins) with some one minute rests in between (I really was afraid the motor would go bust).

Most store-bought nut butters have some kind of hydrogenated vegetable oil, sugar  and colouring to enhance the taste and texture. Home made nut butters are pure nut butters although you may add some like-flavoured liquers (like amaretto for the almond butter) to enhance the taste. I didn’t have almaretto at home, dang-it, so mine was totally original.

So, it’s goodbye peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for a while) and ola to almond butter/jelly! Oh, and almond butter cream cookies. And almond butter slices, perhaps!