Vegan Mofo 19: Y is for Yam Abacus Gnocchi with Broccoli Tahini Hemp Sauce

Pillows of yammy bites cloaked in a textured broccoli sauce redolent of tahini and hemp, uplifted with a touch of zesty lemon.

Singaporeans are a unique bunch. Not only do we have our own local parlance called Singlish, we name ingredients using the most confusing terminology that would baffle the rest of the world. In coming up with this dish, I learnt that what we call a yam is actually known to most as taro. And what most would know as yam is in Singapore, confusingly called the sweet potato. Furthermore the yam lexicon also includes the true yam and the purple yam or ube. The latter is often befuddled with the Japanese purple sweet potato (Okinawan purple yam). Just writing this is making my brain hurt!

To put things scientifically straight, a yam or taro is a large underground stem and is technically a tuber, while sweet potatoes are storage roots and do not have “eyes”. Apart from being totally different in shape and texture, they also differ in colour. Taros have a light purplish hue with grey undertones, while purple sweet potatoes and ube are dark purple. And finally, they taste different too. The taro is much starchier and less sweet than the sweet potatoes.

Today’s dish features yam (taro). In Chinese Hakka cuisine, it is often made into a dish called yam abacus beads, so named because they are shaped after the beads that make up the Chinese abacus. Yam abacus may be also be called the Chinese gnocchi, but being made from tapioca flour instead of wheat flour, the difference is that they have a bouncy chewy texture. They are usually stir-fried with garlic, shrimp, mushrooms and/or minced pork.

However the traditional yam abacus dish can be a tad oily, though the idea of the “bead” shape was cute. So I combined the idea of a classic Italian gnocchi with the bead shape of yam abacus. I had some leftover sweet potatoes so I decided to try out a sweet potato gnocchi too. The dressing was conceived out of an overdue need to use a week’s old broccoli. And we know the combination of tahini + hemp seeds work magic!

Truthfully I never had Italian gnocchi before so I don’t have a basis for comparison to these yam gnocchis. Nevertheless, they were not exactly fantastic; the buckwheat flavour was too strong. The sweet potato gnocchis were better in taste (sweeter), but the texture was slightly too soft. I suppose this recipe would work better with other milder flours that would not mask the flavours of the yam or sweet potato.

But one thing is definitely a keeper, the broccoli sauce! If you love tahini and hemp, this one is definitely worth a try. I also loved how the broccoli florets gave some texture to the sauce. It’s a very versatile sauce that would work well for pastas and salads, or a dip for fries, or just eat it up straight.

Yam Abacus Gnocchi with Broccoli Tahini Hemp Sauce
Vegan. Gluten-Free.

Ingredients
For Yam Gnocchi (makes about 18 gnocchi)

  • 1 cup (165g) yam (taro), peeled and chopped
  • 4 tbsp buckwheat flour
  • 1 tbsp glutinous rice flour (can sub with tapioca flour or use all buckwheat flour)
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin

For Sweet Potato Gnocchi (makes about 6 gnocchi)

  • 1/3 cup (55g) sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp buckwheat flour
  • 3/4 tbsp glutinous rice flour (can sub with tapioca flour or use all buckwheat flour)

Broccoli Tahini Hemp Sauce

  • 1 1/4 cups broccoli, cut into large florets
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tbsp hemp seeds
  • 1/2 tsp garlic olive oil (or use garlic powder)
  • 5 tbsp water (can use reserved water from boiling the yams or sweet potato)

Directions

  1. Make the gnocchi. Clean, peel and chop the yam. Place about an inch of water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Place the chopped yam pieces into the boiling water and steam for about 5-10 mins until tender. Drain the yams (you may reserve the cooking liquid for the dressing).
  2. Using a potato masher, mash the yams until smooth. Then add in the buckwheat flour and glutinous rice flour (if using) and fold in until a dough forms. The dough should be moist but not sticky.
  3. To make abacus gnocchi, pinch our a small piece of dough and roll into a small ball. With your thumb and index finger, make a slight depression in the centre so that it will look like a abacus bead. Do try to make all the beads in the same size so that they will cooked evenly.
  4. Bring a pot of water to the boil and drop the dough rounds in a few at a time. Do not crowd the pot. Once they bob to the surface (about 5 mins), remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate to cool.
  5. (Repeat the above process to make sweet potato gnocchi. As sweet potato is “wetter,” you may choose to dab dry the sweet potato pieces after boiling or the gnocchi may be too moist.)
  6. Make the sauce. Blanch the broccoli florets in boiling water for about 3 mins until bright green. Then place with broccoli with the remaining ingredients into a blender and blend on high until a smooth sauce forms. Instead of water, you may use the reserved yam or sweet potato cooking liquid for a sweeter and tastier dressing.
  7. Serve (or drench) the gnoochi with the broccoli sauce. Enjoy!

 

Boy, am I relieved than Vegan Mofo is over! It was so much fun, intense and a burden all at the same time. I’ll do a proper Vegan Mofo roundup (20th post) and reflection tomorrow.

Vegan Mofo 10: L is for Lentil Sunday Roast

A flavourful roulade packed with meaty mushrooms, toothsome lentils and nutritious spinach. Perfect for Thanksgiving, Christmas or just a normal night’s dinner.

I stumbled upon this savoury roulade recipe by the Mouthwatering Vegan when I was actually searching for a vegan dessert roulade. But what an accidental fortuitous find! It looked absolutely scrumptious that I bookmarked it immediately. Furthermore it gave an opportunity to work with phyllo for the first time. Phyllo has a fussy reputation – a delicate and messy dough that requires tedious buttering and layering. But I’m always up to a challenge and so down to work it was!

But back to lentils (the post should be about lentils after all). Lentils are another favorite pantry staple; they are tasty, cook in a cinch and its uses highly versatile, from bulking up a simple salad to becoming a creamy base for soups and stews. Furthermore, the nutritional value of lentils is well-established. For example did you know that lentils pack the third highest level of protein of all legumes and nuts, trailing after soybeans and hemp only? There’s much to love about lentils!

Lentils come in a myriad of colors including brown, green, yellow, red. The difference between them is the cooking time and texture. Red and yellow lentils cook in about 30 mins and tend to break apart when cooked; hence they are often used in soups, stews and Indian daals or curries. On the other hand, green (or French/Puy) lentils are sturdier and retain their shape when cooked, which make them a better choice for salads. I also find that green lentils have a stronger, more earthy taste than the other varieties, which I adore. In case you were wondering, green lentils are also called Puy after their origin in the Puy region of France.


And for a final lentil tidbit – lentils have been eaten since antiquity and actually appears in the Bible four times (Genesis 25:34; 2 Samuel 17:28 and 23:11; Ezekiel 4:9). The most famous account is in Genesis 25:34, in which Esau exchanged his birthright to Jacob, his younger brother, for a bowl of lentil stew. Either Esau had been truly starving, or that must have been some serious stew!


For the lentil roulade I used green lentils for a more toothsome bite and extra flavour. I’m sure yellow or brown lentils would work too although it may turn out more mushy. Apart from lentils, the filling contains mushrooms and spinach. The trio are seasoned with Middle Eastern spices and reduced to a delicious stewy mix before spreading onto phyllo, then topped with a nutty mix. In fact if you are pressed for time, the filling itself makes a pretty good dish on its own!

The roulade came out fantastic. There were playful textures and flavours for the palate to take pleasure in – a fragile frame of crispy phyllo that shattered into a million delicious pieces upon stabbing with a fork. Then there is the filling – meaty and earthy mushrooms and lentils with the nuttiness of crunchy nuts in between. To balance out the savouriness, I served this with some crisp-steamed broccoli and fresh cherry tomatoes. This is a crowd-pleaser that will warm the hearts of both vegan and non-vegan friends.

Lentil Sunday Roast
Makes one roulade, about 10 1-inch slices.
Vegan.
Adapted from The Mouthwatering Vegan.

Ingredients
Lentil, Spinach & Mushroom Stuffing

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 cups mushrooms, chopped into small pieces (I used a mix of portobellos and shiitake)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 250g cooked green puy lentils (can prepared from 125g dry or 1 400g can)
  • 6 oz (170g) spinach, roughly chopped
  • 3 whole sundried tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Juice of 1 slice of lemon (about 2 tsp)
  • Zest of half lemon

Nut Topping

  • 3/4 cup nuts, finely chopped (I used a blend of almonds, walnuts and brazil nuts; you can process them in a food processor, but don’t make powder of them, they still need to be in small pieces)

Puff Pastry

  • 5 sheets of vegan phyllo pastry, thawed (I used Fillo Factory Organic Whole Wheat Filo Dough)
  • Non-dairy milk to brush onto pastry

Directions

  1. If using dry lentils, cook the lentils. Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with cold water to cover. Simmer for 25-30 mins until tender. Set aside. If using canned lentils, drain and rinse. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, sweat onions in about 1 tbsp of olive oil until they turn soft and translucent, about 10 mins.
  3. Add garlic, mushrooms and 3 tbsp olive oil. Cook until mushrooms release their juices and become soft, stirring often. This will take about 10-15 mins.
  4. Then add in the tomato paste and spices and mix well to combine. Cook on medium-high for about 2 mins until the spices release their aromas.
  5. Finally, add in the cooked lentils and stir, then the spinach and remaining ingredients for the stuffing. Cook on low for about 10-15 mins until the spinach has wilted and the mixture is thick, rich and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm temperature.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Then prepare the pastry sheets. On a floured surface, fold the pastry sheets together in such a way that you create one sheet approximately 10″ x 7″ (25 cm x 18 cm).
  7. Spoon the thick lentil stuffing onto the pastry sheet. Flatten and evenly distribute it using the back of a large spoon, leaving a 1/2″ (1.3 cm) gap all round. Then top with the chopped nuts. Roll along the length to make log. If any bits fall out of the side, just push them back into place.
  8. Brush the roulade with non-dairy milk, then make horizontal cuts at 1-inch (2.5 cm) intervals on the surface of the dough. These will be your markers for each slice once cooked.
  9. Transfer the roulade onto a parchment-lined baking tray and bake at 400°F/200°C for 25-30 mins until golden brown.
  10. As the roulade is baking, you may want to prepare some steamed veggies (eg broccoli or carrots), potatoes or a salad to go with the roulade.
  11. Remove roulade from oven and let cool slightly before slicing (it will be very flaky). Impress your non-vegan friends!

Also, check out this interesting post about how to sprout lentils, and a sprouted lentil vegetable stew.

Black Bean, Sweet Potato & Oat Veggie Balls

The meatless veggie burger should be a familiar one to vegetarians/vegans. Far from being boring as some carnivores might scoff, they are a delicious smorgasbord of versatile ingredients and a great way to unleash one’s creativity. The basic veggie burger typically uses beans and other starchy vegetables as a binding ingredient, while nuts, seeds, grains, tofu, herbs and spices add texture, flavour and colours. Check out an excellent veggie burger tutorial here.

My first experience with veggie burgers came from Amy’s burger range. Initially dubious, I was amazed at how tasty a mish-mash of vegetables could be. Sadly my pitiful student income could only afford them when they were on discount, and so the veggie burgers were a rare treat.

But it shouldn’t be the case. Except for some chopping, veggie burgers are simple to prepare and easily scaled up and stored for future lunches/dinner. So I thought I’d give them a go. My choice of ingredients: black beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, rolled oats and spices. I also made them into balls rather than patties just because balls are more fun!

Slightly sweet from the sweet potato, these veggie balls are also a textural treat from the doughy beans and chewy oats. Make a big batch to tide you through your studies! I learnt that patience goes a long way in achieving the perfect crispy exterior. On the first try the balls suffered in texture but after increasing the baking time to 40 mins on the second try and they came out better, with a crackly crust surrounding a slightly crumbly centre. I still hope to improve on the texture to make it more firm, which may require further adjustments to the baking time and temperature.

Everybody knows a good burger (or meatballs) should be accompanied by a great sauce. These were delectable with nutritional yeast cheese sauce, but also great naked, with the natural sweetness of sweet potato shining through. Feeling too lazy to whip up a sauce? Ketchup would do too!

Black Bean, Sweet Potato & Oat Veggie Balls
Makes 6 golf-sized balls.
Vegan.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed or 3/4 cup cooked black beans (prepared from 60g dried beans), divided
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato puree (prepared from steamed or boiled sweet potatoes)
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 roasted garlic cloves or 1 clove raw garlic, minced
  • Herbs: dried basil
  • Spices: cumin, cayenne pepper

Directions

  1. In a bowl, mash half of the black beans.
  2. In another large bowl, combine the mashed beans with the remaining beans and all the other ingredients. Mix very well to combine into a sticky dough.
  3. Form into balls or patties.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour to allow it to firm up. Extra balls or patties can also be frozen at this stage.
  5. Bake for 30-40 mins in oven preheated to 375°F/170°C, rotating every 10 mins. If using frozen balls, allow them to defrost before cooking.

 
Here are some additional ingredient ideas for veggie burgers (curated from my favourite Amy burgers!)

  • Grains: oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, bulgur, rice, bread crumbs, wheat bran, wheat germ
  • Beans & Legumes: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, soy beans, chickpeas, lentils
  • Starchy veggies: potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, yam
  • Other veggies: carrots, corn, peppers, zucchini, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes
  • Nuts & Seeds: almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds
  • Seasonings: onion, garlic, chipotle, chili, cilantro, mustard, nutritional yeast
  • Others: tofu

Save some money and make your own nutritious tasty veggie burgers!

Rad Rainbow Summer Rolls

Vietnamese summer rolls, fresh spring rolls or “salad rolls” as directly translated from gui cuon, is probably one of best known of Vietnamese dishes, alongside the ubiquitous pho. Its enduring popularity – in restaurants, magazines, blogs, potlucks and parties – can be largely attributed to its freshness and tastiness, as well as to its adaptability to whatever ingredients you have on hand. As long as you’ve got fresh, crisp, colorful veggies, they are bound to be delicious.

Recently I’ve come across some scrumptious summer rolls on FoodGawker. Seeing that I had loads of veggie scraps to get rid of, I thought I’d try my hand at them. I bought a packet of rice papers from Cold Storage, and prepared to stuff them with a vegetable medley of lettuce, carrots, roasted red peppers, mango, avocado, and cilantro.

Rice paper is sold dried, and once rehydrated in water, it becomes a semi-transparent and elastic sheet. If you’re into aesthetics, it is important to plan your layout for layering the ingredients, so as to ensure the bright-colored veggies show through the roll. This can be done by placing the brighter colored ingredients against the skin (ie bottom layers), while the less “appealing” ingredients like lettuce as the top layers. I also learnt the hard way not to go overboard with the filling; you want a nice compact plump roll, but not one that is bursting or tearing.

Undeniably, the real flavor resides in the dipping sauce. Typically, the dipping sauce for Vietnamese summer rolls (nuoc cham) typically contains chili, garlic, hoisin, fish sauce, lime, ginger. However, I took this opportunity to tweak a almond butter-tamari dressing that I had used previously for a salad. While slightly inauthentic, it still exemplifies the sweet-salty-spicy combination of nuoc cham. Alternatively if you’re lazy, a squeeze of bottled sriracha would do the trick instantaneously.

The dipping sauce turned out rather thick and a bit too salty. Actually to call it “dipping” is quite a misnomer since its consistency was more suited for spreading instead! Nevertheless it still went excellently well with the rolls.

I feel conflicted about dishing out a recipe for the Summer Rolls, because it can be regarded as a “kitchen sink” dish. They can be as easy or complicated as you want. Use a nice colorful combination of veggies (and shrimp if you’re non-vegetarian) that pleases your eyes and palate. Importantly, use the freshest ingredients possible because inherently, summer rolls are all about freshness.

I’m quite happy with the results since this is my first attempt at handling the rolls. The crunch of the veggies against the chewy rice skin, the sweetness of the mango against the salty & spicy sauce; there was just so much complex flavours going on! Aesthetics wise, the rolling may look amateurish but practice makes perfect.

Rad Rainbow Summer Rolls
This should be regarded as an idea list rather than strictly a recipe.
Vegan.

Ingredients
My version:

  • Rice wrappers
  • Lettuce or other salad leaves
  • Carrot sticks
  • Red pepper slices
  • Mango slices
  • Avocado slices
  • Cilantro

Other possible ingredients

  • Cucumber sticks
  • Bean sprouts
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Shrimp (for non-vegetarians)
  • Vermicelli
  • Herbs: mint, chives

Almond dipping sauce

  • 2 tbsp maple almond butter (Maranatha)
  • 3/4 tbsp tamari
  • 1/2 tbsp lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (I used leftover roasted garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil
  • Few dashes of cayenne powder

Directions

  1. Pour a few inches of warm water in a large shallow dish. Dip a rice paper into the water and let it soak for about 1 min until soft and pliable. Remove and lay it on a cutting board or other non-porous flat surface (do not use wood!).
  2. Layer on the ingredients for the filling. Arrange the cilantro and other bright-colored veggies at the bottom against the skin, then the less “appealing” ingredients. Do not overfill or it will be difficult to wrap up and the skin may tear.
  3. Wrap the roll up, starting by folding in each side, then rolling up from the bottom. Set aside and cover with a damp paper towel while you finish the rest of the rolls, being careful not to let them touch each other as they sit, or the wrappers will stick to each other.
  4. To make the Almond dipping sauce, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  5. Serve summer rolls with Almond dipping sauce on the side.

 

YumYum at NamNam Noodle Bar

Dining out NamNam chicken pho

A steaming bowl of slurpilicious Pho Ga (Vietnamese chicken rice noodles) at NamNam Noodle Bar, Wheelock Place, as a prelude to an extremely fruitful and happy shopping trip. The thin, silky rice noodles glided down the throat on a joy ride, aided by a clean yet robust chicken broth. There’s no icky oil or MSG involved, just generous heaps of onions, scallions, cilantro, and tender pieces of chicken on top of it all. This is definitely not for the onion-haters. Now I totally understand the unabating queue at this restaurant. At least their service is god-speed quick, the staff well-trained to handle the office hour lunch crowd.

With regards to the shopping haul, it included a plain white long sleeve shirt from Mango (for convocation purpose), and from Topshop a black/white cotton dress, a white lace crop top and a matching long flowy skirt with prints. Thanks Mum for the purchases!

Weekend Candies

How was your weekend? Mine was a triple ‘L’: lazy, languid and laid-back. Sunday started off blissfully with yet another stack of winning-combination pancakes – Chocolate Pancakes topped with Puree of Durian Banana (Durianana).

Chocolate pancakes w durianana puree

Just look at that luscious durianana! Creamy and pungent, this certainly added some kick to the otherwise languorous Sunday. The chocolate pancakes was stodgier than usual, perhaps because of the cacao powder (which acts somewhat like a thickener), or because I cooked them slightly longer than usual (too much multi-tasking in the kitchen). Nevertheless, these pancakes made one happy belly.

Remember my mention of the Annie Tan prize? Well, I received a mail yesterday from the University informing that I was no longer on their shortlist, with no specific reasons provided. Truthfully, I’m superbly relieved to hear this news. I don’t feel as I meet the qualifications and now I don’t have to bear the burden of the interview on my mind. [Graduation] results will be released tomorrow, and I’m quite excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. You bet my eyes will be glued to the phone at around 8am tomorrow.

The family had Sunday lunch at Ichiban Boshi, which was my idea so that I could make use of the rewards card (it’s a pretty worthy card since most of their main dishes already cost $20, which entitles you to a stamp, which can be redeemed for free dishes or vouchers). I ordered the Salmon Head Pirikara Claypot Udon.

Ichiban Boshi Salmon head pirikara Snapseed

This consists of thick udon noodles in a heady garlic onion broth, with battered salmon pieces (tempura style), and silken tofu, egg, shitake mushroom and cabbage. It left me with a garlic breath that lasted many hours! In total we earned 5 stamps from the lunch; pretty awesome!

Dinner time rolled around and I exercised some creativity in another clean-out-the-fridge operation. A Sweet Potato Mushroom Quinoa Pilaf Salad was conjured.

SP quinoa mushroom pilaf

I had no patience for proper photos of the cooking process so this is the best I have. I loved the sauteed garlic [again!] mushrooms best. I was intending on sweet potato fries but because I overcrowded the casserole, it came out soft and steamed rather than crispy and caramelized. I well-learnt lesson – fries don’t like friends!

Otherwise, the other half of my weekend was spent playing Candy Crush. Addictive game; I supposed it’s a good thing then that you have limited number of lives (5), which only can be replenished once every half hour.

Movie Date // Soba Slime

Yesterday evening I met up with my college girlfriends for a movie date followed by dinner. We watched Fast and Furious 6. While this isn’t particularly my type of movie genre, it turned out better than I had expected. Beyond the necessary brawn (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and babes (Gal Gadot) and heart-pumping action, it was also packed with comedic moments. It won’t be something I will remember a few months down the road, though.

FF6-shimbashi

After much dithering, we finally settled for dinner at Shimbashi Soba, a japanese restaurant that specializes in freshly milled soba (buckwheat) noodles. I had the Neba-Neba Chilled Soba: chilled soba noodles in tsuyu sauce, topped with okra, natto, wakame, nori, tororo and a raw quail’s egg.

Shimbashi Nabe Nabe Soba

In frank terms, you may consider this a bowl of slime. Neba Neba means ‘sticky’ in Japanese. It appears that the Japanese have a food culture of slimy foods, common ones include those featured in this bowl of soba. I found the tororo (grated yamaimo or Japanese mountain yam) the most interesting. From its whitish appearance and the way they had plated the dish, I had initially thought the tororo was egg whites. However it was also fluffy, frothy, gooey and did not taste of eggs (in fact it was pretty much tasteless) which made me cast second doubts. It was only on returning home and googling about the Neba-Neba dish that I found out its origins. Tororo is prepared by grating the root, which renders it slimy, viscous and snowy white. Ahhh…

How does the mucilage in these foods come about? As for okra and yamaimo, mucilage such is a type of soluble fiber of viscous nature naturally produced by plants for various functions, including protection against microorganisms and promoting seed germination by trapping moisture. On the other hand, the gooey nature of natto is imparted by the reaction of extracellular enzymes produced by Bacillus natto with soybean sugars.

A diet high in soluble fiber has numerous benefits. First since soluble fibres have the capacity to bind water and swell, they help slow down the passage of food from the mouth and stomach and thus produce a feeling of satiety. Second, soluble fibers are also great in facilitating bowel movements. While insoluble fiber alone (the fiber that cannot be digested) promotes peristalsis, stools may become too hard without the softening properties of mucilaginous soluble fiber. It may also act as an antioxidant, anti-cholesterol and anti-cancer agent, absorbing toxins in the colon and preventing some types of cell damage associated with diseases such as ulcerative colitis.

It’s amazing how one meal can perk your curiosity and make you learn so much about the foods around us.