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.

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.


  • 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


  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!

Three Dishes for a Vegan Meal

My eyes are greedy. I’ve been bookmarking so many recipes lately and have an inexplicable urge to make all of them. I’m not sure if this lull period in my life is a good thing because in between preparing (or attempting to) for the MCAT and writing essays, I’ll be surfing FG, brainstorming for new recipes and visualizing the creation in the mind. Could it be possible to suffer from recipe addiction? Incidentally, yesterday’s sermon touched on idolatry, which was a timely reminder not to turn this hobby into an obsession that occupies my mind and uproots more impending priorities.

Lest I launch into philosophical waxing, here’s one two THREE dishes that will make a complete wholesome vegan meal. Somehow Sundays are always equated to cooking out and more elaborate meals. I might add time-consuming too. Nevertheless, what you reap is what you sow, and though these recipes are slightly time-consuming, they’re bursting with a party of flavours and the effort is worth every bit. Actually, most of time is spent letting the ingredients sit in the marinade so the actual cooking time is fairly short.

First up, we have giant portobello mushrooms for carbohydrates. Okay so I admit mushrooms are low carb compared to rice and grains but the carbohydrates they contain are of the complex type. They are rich in immune-boosting beta glucans and loaded with selenium, an often overlooked mineral that helps regulate thyroid function. An Italian favourite, portobello’s meaty texture takes well to marinades and glazes. Here as an twist to the classic olive oil, I concocted a balsamic vinegar dressing, spiked with the piquancy of crushed garlic, shallot and herbs. Paired with the natural woody juices of the portobellos when cooked, it came out as a curious, interesting flavour. Who needs meat when we have portobello steaks?

Oh, and be sure to lean the shrooms well before marinating; bits of dirt may be trapped in the gills. The gills can be easily removed by scraping with a spoon (see above right picture).

Tofu provides the protein. Sesame crusted tofu is a perennial favourite where a crisp crust of smoky toasty sesame seeds encase pillowy soft tofu curds. The contrast in texture is pure delight! I used pressed tofu for the recipe which has a firmness between silken/soft tofu and firm tofu. Their semi-firmness is best suited for tofu steaks and braises, and it’s so convenient that the whey is already pressed out for you.

And finally for veggies we have a Cauliflower & Carrot Garlic Mash, a veggie alternative to mashed potatoes, but just as creamy and tasty! My love for garlic knows no bounds, so I threw in cloves of roasted garlic with reckless abandon. If you haven’t tried roasting garlic before, it’s about time you do. The astringent mouth-puckering sulfurous tones of raw garlic melts into a creamy smoky flavour, and they are so deliciously mild you could eat them by the cloves.

I’m quite sure you wouldn’t miss meat with this three tasty vegan dishes. Enjoy!

Balsamic Portobello Steaks
For two large portobellos.


  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used Il Borgo del Balsamico, orange label)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Herbs (fresh or dried, eg. thyme, rosemary or basil)


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Clean and pat dry portobello mushrooms and scrap gills away with a spoon. It should come off easily (see above picture).
  2. In a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, shallot and a liberal pinch each of sea salt, black pepper and herbs. Mix well to create a marinade and brush or drizzle the mixture generously over the portobello mushrooms. Let it sit for at least 15 mins.
  3. Place the marinated portobello mushrooms gills side up in the oven and bake for 10 mins, flip, then bake the reverse side for another 10 mins.
  4. Best enjoyed with mash (potato, or veggie mash – eg. cauliflower, carrot, sweet potato or pumpkin).


Sesame Crusted Tofu
Makes eight tofu sticks.


  • 1/2 block (140g) pressed tofu, drained of liquid
  • 3/4 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3/4 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
  • 3/4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds


  1. Wrap tofu in lots of paper towels and press as much water out of the tofu as possible. You may place a weight on the tofu and leave it standing for about 15 mins. Once the tofu is fairly dry, slice into sticks.
  2. In a shallow plate, mix the garlic, sesame oil, tamari, vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes. Add tofu to plate, spooning the marinade over the tofu. Alternatively you may marinate the tofu in a ziploc bag. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 mins to an hour.
  3. When ready to cook, pat each tofu stick COMPLETELY DRY with paper towels. This is critical to achieve a crispy sesame crust. (I didn’t pat mine dry and it didn’t turn crispy). Sprinkle the sides of each tofu stick with sesame seeds (I only crusted two sides.)
  4. Heat a large nonstick pan over medium low heat. You may add a small amount of oil if necessary to prevent sticking. Sear the sesame tofu for about 3-4 mins per side, so that it achieves a nice brown crust.


Cauliflower & Carrot Garlic Mash
Yields ~2/3 cup mash.
Adapted from Multiply Delicious.


  • 2/3 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1/3 cup carrot slices
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves roasted garlic (see notes)
  • 1 tsp olive oil, divided
  • Non-dairy milk, if necessary
  • Herbs (fresh or dried eg. rosemary, thyme, basil)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. In a saucepan, bring about 2″ water to boil. Place cauliflower and carrots in boiling water and steam until soft, about 12-15 mins.
  2. Heat 1/2 tsp olive oil in non-stick skillet on medium heat. Saute onion, garlic, and herbs until onion is translucent. Set aside.
  3. Place steamed cauliflower and carrots into a food processor. Add the sauteed onion, roasted garlic, herbs, and 1/2 tsp olive oil. Process until desired smoothness, drizzling in some non-dairy milk if necessary. Season with more salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Garnish with additional fresh or dried herbs and serve.

To roast garlic, slice off the top of a head of garlic and drizzle in some olive oil. Wrap in aluminium foil and bake for 40 mins. Remove from oven and let cool completely before unwrapping.

Slow Cooker Veggie Tempeh Curry

Once in a while I do hanker for a spicy belly-warming veggie stew. Of course nothing beats having a hot stew on a cold rainy day, but when the craving hits, you just gotta have it regardless of the weather. This afternoon was one of those blisteringly hot days, and I was actually sweating as I shoved spoonfuls of gravy down. The hot weather actually accentuated the enjoyment in a sadistic fashion actually. You’ve heard of people eating ice cream during winter, well why not curry during summer?

Using the slow cooker for curry is an extremely smart way to save time, and it still produces excellent results, if not better, than regular stove-top curry. Just throw in your favourite veggies, set the heat, and forget about it. After a long hard day’s work, dinner (or lunch) has already prepared itself.

While you could use any type of veggies, I stuck to cauliflower, eggplants and peas, as well as tempeh for some protein. I love these veggies as they turn oh-so-mushy as they soften. Black beans further help to thicken the stew, and also making it a complete meal.

There are thousands of variations of curries, from the mild coconutty Thai green curry to the fiery Indian style. I took on the middle lane, but omitted the coconut milk because I wanted to keep it light. The standard spice mix consists of curry powder, turmeric, cumin and chili/cayenne pepper, but feel free to zest things up with other herbs and spices such as lemongrass or fenugreek as you please.

Be prepared to sweat with this veggie curry!

Slow Cooker Veggie Tempeh Curry
Makes two large bowls or three small bowls.


  • 2/3 small red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2″ fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 2 tsp coconut oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (add more if you prefer a spicier kick)
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4-1 cup cooked black turtle beans (prepared from ~1/2 cup or 80g dry beans)
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1/3 medium eggplant, diced into large chunks
  • 1/3 cups sliced carrots
  • 3 tbsp frozen peas
  • 2/3 package (60g) tempeh (can substitute firm tofu if unavailable)
  • 2/3 can (1 1/3 cup) whole peeled tomato
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened coconut milk (optional)
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Few leaves of Thai basil, torn (optional)


  1. In a medium bowl, toss tempeh in 1/4 tsp curry powder and 1/2 tsp coconut oil.
  2. Heat pan over med-high heat and add tempeh. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally (about 3-4 mins). Set aside.
  3. Heat remaining 1/2 tsp oil and saute onions, ginger, and garlic for 5 mins until onion is softened. Stir in remaining curry powder and spices and saute another min until fragrant.
  4. In a slow cooker, combine the tempeh and onion mixture with the remaining ingredients. Stir well to distribute the spices.
  5. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for to 5-6 hours. The beans should be soft. Stir once or twice if possible.
  6. Add salt and if using, coconut milk, cilantro and basil just before you’re ready to serve. It can be enjoyed alone or as a side dish with rice or naan.

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.

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


  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.