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.

A Veggie Casserole for the Le Creuset

To break into my new lovely kiwi green Le Creuset casserole, I decided to bake a veggie casserole, specifically a trio of eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato. The ingredients are almost what you can find in a veggie lasagna, sans the pasta sheets. I did a very successful vegetarian moussaka before, but decided to go completely vegan this time (part of the reason being my laziness to create a “bechamel” sauce). The resulting dish is light, befitting for these hot summer days, but no less flavourful given the abundance of herbs. I mostly adapted the recipe from the genius Angela at OhSheGlows.

Veggie casserole

Layered Veggie Casserole
For one casserole.


  • 2 medium eggplants, sliced
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced
  • 1 large sweet potato, sliced
  • Large bunch of baby kale leaves (spinach or arugula would also work well)
  • 3/4 jar pasta sauce (I used Alce Nero brand, tomato with basil)
  • 1 can (15oz) haricot beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano (if pasta sauce does not already contain herbs)
  • 1 tsp dried basil (if pasta sauce does not already contain herbs)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used avocado oil)


  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place sliced eggplants on a lined baking sheet and pre-cook for about 15 min, or until shrivelled (see picture below). Remove from oven and cool. Once cooled, you can easily peel the skin from the eggplant slices (if you’re finicky like me).
  2. While the eggplant is cooking, prepare the bean filling. Place the drained beans, herbs, garlic, and oil in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Layer the casserole. I did mine in the following order: pasta sauce, eggplant, bean mix, sweet potato, pasta sauce, kale, bean mix, zucchini (see picture below). The order doesn’t matter much though although on hindsight it is probably wise to have layered the harder veggies (ie the sweet potato) at the bottom where it would have cooked better. In total, the veggies were sufficient to yield two of such layers.
  4. Bake for about 40-50 minutes at 200C. (Hunger got the better of me; I was impatient and removed the casserole nearing 40 min but some sweet potato slices were still crunchy, so I recommend 50 min to be safer.)
  5. Let cool and dig into the amalgam of mushy beany goodness!

Veggie casserole layers

By some sort of unexplained science, the bean mix, which was very pasty and difficult to spread pre-bake, had “melted” and “melded” together with the pasta sauce into a wonderful mushy beany combination. If you like beans, you gotta love this.

Veggie casserole served

I have to say that having a cheesy bechamel topping would certainly elevate this casserole up a notch. Nevertheless, it was still very tasty and pizza-ish (thanks to the pasta sauce). I reheated the leftovers for lunch today and it was even better after all the flavours melded together overnight. Hooray for the first recipe in the new LC casserole!