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.

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)


  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.

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.


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.