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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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Soba meets cheese

1 Jul


I won a packet of cha (green tea) soba noodles recently. It was a lucky draw, you see, and I won a hamper of food stuff which included the packet or soba noodles. Soba or buckwheat noodles are often eaten cold: the noodles, once cooked, are rinsed under cold water. The cold noodles are eaten with a dipping sauce and often, wasabi.

Our hot weather is the ideal impetus for a plate of cold soba. But I don’t fancy cold noodles. They have to be a little warm, at least. Besides, since I don’t usually cook Japanese dishes, I didn’t have the requisite ingredients for the dipping sauce: no dashi, no mirin, no Japanese soy sauce, no bonito flakes. I didn’t want to go out and buy them: they’re quite costly and since I don’t them use them often enough, it would be foolish. I could give the noodles to friends who do cook Japanese food often but I was curious and wanted to play with my noodles.

So, I decided to use the soba as I would pasta (purists, turn away now) and tossed it with garlic powder and grated parmesan cheese and garnished with a mushroom and scallion tapenade. How un-Japanese is that, eh?

It tasted  good though. Soba noodles are really quite thin, kinda like angel hair pasta. They’re usually brown but the one I used was green tea+buckwheat so they were moss-green. I have to say they have a more distinct taste than pasta, a little nutty perhaps and it added flavour to my dinner.

Soba, my way

Soba noodles

3/4 fresh shiitake mushroom, chopped fine

2 scallions, chopped

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1/2  tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Boil a pot of water and slide in the soba noodles and cook them for about 6 mins (or as specified in the packet). Drain, set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the chopped mushrooms and scallions and cook till soft, about 5 mins. Add the noodles and sprinkle the garlic powder and toss. Remove from heat.

Toss the parmesan in and serve. Garnish with a little more parmesan. Eat.

You had me at Aglio Olio

5 Jun

My friend Premah asked me a couple of days ago if I had a recipe for Pasta Aglio e Olio. Unfortunately, I didn’t, although the Angel Hair pasta with garlic and breadcrumbs I often make is a variation of the classic Aglio e Olio. Well, it’s been two days and I haven’t been able to get Aglio Olio out of my mind. Not that I was particularly craving for it, but I was itchy to try and make it. It isn’t complicated and it’s essentially vegetarian; vegan even as it  doesn’t have cheese.

Aglio Olio has neither a tomato base nor a creamy base. It’s a simple, straightforward, rustic pasta dish but that really doesn’t mean it’s a no brainer.

Aglio Olio is Italian for garlic and oil. And that’s basically what it takes to make this dish what it is. Parsley is also an essential ingredient as is chilli flakes or dried chillies while seasoning is salt and pepper.

Linguini is supposed to be the original pasta of choice for Aglio e Olio but I had angel hair so I didn’t have the luxury of choice.

Cooking the pasta: I decided to cook the pasta in vegetable stock to add flavour. At the World Gourmet Summit I attended in Singapaore a month or so ago, I attended a cooking masterclass by Italian Chef  Andrea Berton who cooked his pasta in stock to wonderful results. So I decided to follow suit. It was a great tip as the pasta soaks up the stock well. I would think a thicker noodle would perhaps be better but I made do with what I had.  As usual, cook in al dente.

In a skillet, heat about 4 tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic (8 cloves, squished and minced) and chilli flakes (2 tsp) and 2 tsp chopped flat leaf parsley (opt for the Italian flat leaf parsley as it’s more flavourful).  Toss the ingredients around and make sure you don’t let the garlic burn.

When it’s all toasty and fragrant add the cooked pasta. You can add the pasta straight from the saucepan or stockpot you boiled it in so that it’s still moist. Also add 3-4 tbsp of the stock in with the pasta. Season with salt and black pepper. Toss the pasta so it’s coated with the olive oil, garlic, chilli, parsley and the seasoning.

Cook on low heat for a few minutes, adding a little more  parsley. The pasta will be a little wet, but it should never be soupy.

Remove and serve.

Now, this is the basic Aglio e Olio and you will find variations like  adding seafood like  prawns or mussels, tomatoes and sometimes even minced meat. I tried it with some sauteed mushrooms — it tasted good but honestly, I preferred it plain with no frills.

When crumbs are all you want

20 Feb

I have never really been wild about pasta. I don’t hate it but I almost never cook pasta and hardly ever order it when dining out.But when I watched an episode of Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World where he dressed his pasta with just breadcrumbs and dried chillies lightly sauteed in butter and garlic; seasoned with salt and pepper and of course tossed with lotsa extra virgin olive oil, I was drawn in.

Something about that mix piqued my curiousity and I decided to try it. That was about six months ago and I have since made it numerous times for friends, all of whom have loved the recipe. The garlic and the flavour of the lightly fried breadcrumbs and the hint of hotness ffrom the dried chillies are just sublime. There is no cheese (usually a must for me with pasta) but you really don’t notice and frankly, you don’t care.

I varied the recipe a little each time I made it, not out of necessity (because the recipe didn’t need anything more) but more out of my curiousity. I wanted a herb in there. and so I tried fresh thyme (a little peppery and woody)  and some dried mixed herbs but just a dash. They both tasted great but like I said, the recipe doesn’t really need it.

What’s more important that your breadcrumbs should not be too crumbled; make sure you have some chunks and some lumps amidst the crumbs. Also, it’s difficult to balance how much garlic is enough because you want a distinct garlic flavour but not too much that it burns and overpowers everything else.

Breadcrumb+ garlic meet dried chillies + pasta

Angel Hair pasta (I like this recipe best with angel hair)

Two cups breadcrumbs (have lotsa chunky bits amidst the  fine crumbs)

About six dried chillies, roughly broken up

Six cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tbsp butter

olive oil

salt n’ pepper

Cook pasta till al dente. Toss with oilve oil (be generous)  and set aside. Heat butter in saucepan and add garlic. When fragrant, add breadcrumbs and chilli and cook for about 3 mins or till crumbs are golden. Season with salt and pepper. Just before removing, add spaghetti and toss, on the fire, till well coated. Remove, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve.

Ton or Tan, I Wan this Mee

28 Jan

It’s been a long while since I had Wan Ton (Tan?) Mee. In fact, I think I’ve had it only once since I became a vegetarian 21 years ago (good lord, that’s a heck of a long time. And did I just reveal how old I might be?). I don’t know what it was exactly that made me want to eat it again recently but I decided that instead of heading out to the Chinese vegetarian shop, I’d try making it myself.

You can find this dish all over the country but the presentation and preparation of it may differ slightly in different states — the Wan Ton Mee you find in Penang is not the same as the one in Johor, for example. However, there are two broad types of wan ton noodles: soupy and dry. I have always preferred the dry noodles as it has a sweetness (just slight) that is so different from any other noodle dish I’ve tasted. The dry noodles however do come with a light wanton soup on the side.
It’s pretty easy to make but there are several things that differentiate a good plate of wan ton noodles from a really good one: First, its pretty important how you cook the noodles and for how long. Just like spaghetti, they should not be too mushy nor too hard. Oh, and they’re cooked in boiling water, like the italian counterpart.
Next: the sauce in which you season the noodles determines its taste. You need a balance of sweet and salty. And not too much oil.
Having said that, it’s not that hard.
Wan Ton Mee
Noodles
1 roll wan ton noodles
seasoning :
2 tbsp vegetarian oy
ster sauce
3/4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp honey/sweet soy sauce
pepper
Cook noodles in boiling water for about 3 mins or until it ceases to stick together. Remove and blanch in cold water. Put the noodles back in another pot of boiling vegetable s
tock and cook another 3-4 mins or till it reaches the right texture. Meanwhile, mix all ingredients of seasoning in a bowl. When noodles are ready remove from fire and drain. Toss it in the seasoning till well coated.

Wan Ton soup
1. Mash some tofu and season with salt, pepper and light soy sauce. Add chopped chives and carrots and mushroom if you wish. Fill wan ton wrappers with filling and fry.
2. For he soup, boil vegetable stock and season. Add wan tons once soup is done and removed from fire.
Vegetable
Though its best to use a leafy vegetable, I used broccoli. Blanch the vegetable in the stock used to cook the mee.
Assemble and garnish with grilled vegetarian char siu .

Wan Ton Mee

String fling

20 Dec

Shall we bi hoon today?

I made my first Bi Hoon dish when I was 14 or 15. No, I wasn’t a cooking prodigy or anything. It was at school during one of my home science classes. The dish: Mee Siam.

Since then however, I have not been able to make the perfect Bi Hoon (rice vermicelli), not for the lack of trying. It’s been either too dry, too soggy (most often this is the case), too spicy, not spicy enough ….

You don’t know how frustrating this is, especially since it’s not a difficult dish to make (why else would 14-year-olds be trusted with it??).

Thankfully I have a very harsh critic in my partner. Too much pepper? Not good. Soy sauce not evenly distributed? Tsk, tsk. How many eggs did you add? Sigh. Nothing is ever  been labeled horrible: it’s always, “Nice, but …”

The day I finally got it right was ironically the day I wasn’t trying. I didn’t have a lot of time and even less ingredients in my fridge. (Incidentally, I often get criticised for putting too many ingredients in). I didn’t have bean sprouts (usually a crucial ingredient) and I didn’t have chives. I had some tofu puffs (which I sliced real thin) and some spring onions (which, if you imagine enough can pass off as chives) and egg. Thats all. I didn’t soak the rice vermicelli too long (maybe that’s why they weren’t soggy) and I was cautious with the chilli paste (I am told not everyone enjoys chilli with noodles; most people like noodles with some chilli). Garnish with the spring onions, red chillies and fried onions and voila, my Fried Bi Hoon passed the test.

Nice. That was the rave review I got. Shoot for the moon and you get a sincere albeit earthy compliment. 🙂

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