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 4: D is for Daring Durian [Birthday] Cake

I may be failing slightly in my commitment to Vegan MoFo but it’s all for a worthy cause – conceiving and creating my first birthday cake. I considered attempting one of Fragrant Vanilla Cake’s beautiful creations, or trying my hand at the equally luscious raw cakes by the Nouveau Raw. Yet somehow I knew I would not be satisfied by just following someone else’s recipe; it had to be an expression of my creativity, and of course, feature my favorite ingredients. Hours of brainstorming and kicthen labour later, this baby was born: Lemon & Rum Durian Mousse with Dark Chocolate Sherbet Surprise.

In the making of this cake, I unearthed some unexpected discoveries and acquired new kitchen knowledge. Like where to find the cheapest nuts (Albert Centre Food Market, Level 3; sold in bulk) and cheap durian (a makeshift stall opposite Bugis Market). Threateningly huge Mao Shan Wang (Cat Mountain King) durians sold at $15 per durian – can you beat that?! To put that in perspective, two durians yielded three large boxes, all for $30, and all of premium quality – small seeds with undulating layers of potent creamy rich non-fibrous bittersweet deep yellow flesh. In terms of culinary skills, it was the first for many firsts – making coconut whipped cream, homemade ice cream/sherbet, using xanthan gum and chocolate art. All in all, making this cake was a pretty insightful experience.

Oh yes, and a spanking new Bosch food processor as a birthday gift from Mum! Although KitchenAid is by far the most popular in the (American) market, it is unfortunately not sold in Singapore and I was put off by the hassle of shipping it. Nevertheless, this multi-function Bosch food processor packs quite a mean punch too – it comes with multiple attachments including the S blade, cutting disc, shredding disc, slicer, grater and dough hook, as well as juicer and blender. In fact I’m not sure if I’m ever going to utilise all its functions! So far it works like a silent workhorse and I’m more than pleased!

So back to the cake. This completely vegan, almost raw frozen cake is full blown TREAT. YO. SELF. birthday territory. The ingredients are decidedly luxe with durian (a whooping 800g), copius coconut milk, dark bittersweet Valrhona, and lots of nuts. It’ll take a bit of time, with multiple washing of the processor after making each layer, manual stirring the sherbet every so often (no ice cream machine), messy drippy chocolate and more washing of various kitchen equipment. But it’s my birthday and an excuse to create my ultimate birthday cake and have fun in the kitchen!

I understand that durian is not a readily accessible fruit, but at least you can learn some chocolate art, the resource and links which I have put up below. Believe me, waking up at 6AM to pipe chocolate on templates is very therapeutic.

I’m a pretty visual person, so I like to plan recipes visually. The crust is a basic nut/date crust but with cacao added in. The durian mousse is separated into two contrasting flavours: a lower boozy rum/vanilla layer and an upper zesty lemon layer. Sandwiched in between the two creamy durian layers is an icy bittersweet dark chocolate sherbet “surprise”. Indeed, there is a lot going on here but the play of flavours and textures all works out beautifully. The subtle hint of tartness of the lemon durian mousse provided just enough to cut through richness, while the creamy-icy-creamy-nutty mouthfeel was simply delightful. As for the cake decoration, I got my inspiration from the breathtaking delicate chocolate art from 100daysofevelyn, or more specifically her chocolate cage cake. However as a beginner I went for a simpler design of flower ornaments.

Lemon & Rum Durian Mousse with Dark Chocolate Sherbet Surprise
1 8″ cake.
Vegan. Gluten-Free.

Ingredients
You may also refer to the image above for the ingredients for each layer
 
For the Crust

  • 1 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup soft medjool dates (about 9), pitted and chopped
  • 8 tbsp raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Rum Durian Mousse

  • 450g durian flesh 
  • 3/4 cup whipped coconut cream
  • 1/3 cup cashews, soaked
  • 1/2 cup silken tofu
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp rum essence

Dark Chocolate Sherbet Surprise (inspired by CakeBoule’s Raspberry Blast Secret Centre)

  • 3/4 cup gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) syrup (100g + 200ml water)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 3/4 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 100g dark chocolate (I used Valrhona Guanaja – 70%)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1/4 tsp pectin (optional, supposedly lowers melting point)
  • 1/8 tsp xantham gum (optional, for stabilization & texture)

Lemon Durian Mousse

  • 350g durian flesh 
  • 140ml whipped cream
  • <1/3 cup cashews, soaked
  • <1/2 cup silken tofu
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tsp lemon zest

Lemon Cashew Frosting (from the Nouveau Raw)

  • 1 cups raw cashews, soaked
  • 6 tbsp coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp raw agave syrup
  • 1/4 tsp each of vanilla, rum
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 6 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Chocolate Decoration

  • Dark chocolate, melted (I used Valrhona Guanaja – 70%)

Directions
 
For the Crust
Add nuts, cocoa and salt into food processor and process until nuts are fine crumbs. Then add dates and process until the mixture is smooth and holding together. Press into 8″ cake pan. Set aside in the freezer to firm up.  
 
For the Durian Mousse Layers
Place tofu, soaked cashews in food processor and blend until smooth. Add in durian flesh and and vanilla/rum and blend until just combined.
Prepare coconut whipped cream. Measure out 3/4 cup and fold into durian puree to form mousse. Pour mousse on top of the crust and place back into freezer.
Repeat the same for the lemon durian mousse layer, except replacing the vanilla/rum with lemon juice/zest.
 
Dark Chocolate Sherbet Surprise
First prepare the gula melaka syrup. Place chopped pieces into a saucepan and add the water. Bring to boil and stir until all the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5-10 mins until the mixture thickens slightly. Pour out syrup into a large bowl.
Measure out 3/4 cup of the syrup and return it to the saucepan. Then add in almond milk and coconut milk and heat until simmering. Add in chopped chocolate and cacao powder, stirring until everything melts and dissolves. Add xanthan gum and pectin, if using. Then pour mixture into a aluminium baking tray and place into freezer (no ice cream maker method). Stir the mixture vigorously every 30 mins to break up large ice crystals.
After about 4 hours of frequent stirring, chop up the chocolate sherbet and place into the blender and blend until very smooth. Then pour the mix on top of the rum durian mousse.
 
Chocolate Decorations
I got the floral ornament template from Sabrina Sue (hey, we got the same name!).
Print out the template and place it on top of a rough flat surface (eg. bread board). Place wax paper over. Melt your chocolate using a bain marie or microwave. Pour into pipig bag (I used a ziploc). Cut a very tiny hole at the tip and trace according to the pattern (note: best to let chocolate cool until lukewarm for easier control). Place wax paper in freezer. About 5 mins later, peel off the decorations and stick onto sides of cake.
 
Serving
Remove cake from freezer about 15 mins before serving.

 
I had so much fun making [and eating] this no-holds-barred dream durian birthday cake. The texture of the mousse layer could certainly be improved (it was a bit icy rather than moussy); otherwise just treat it as a giant ice cream cake!

Mini St(Raw)berry Cheesecake

When it comes to cheesecakes in the vegan community, they traditionally fall into two categories: cashew-based or tofu-based. The first time I came across a cashew cheesecake I was sceptical. How can cashews ever replace cream cheese? Won’t it taste nutty? It was like comparing apples to steak. The copious quantities of nuts and (often) coconut was another impediment because it translated to high amounts of fat. However these photogenic cakes kept popping up, further piquing my curiosity and tempting the will. With creations like Raw Cashew Dreamcake by My New Roots and the tantalizing array at Fragrant Vanilla Cake and Sweetly Raw, how can you not be inspired to create one? And so my adventure began. With the abundance of strawberries, I set out to make a miniature version of the classic raw strawberry cheesecake.

The crust is typically made from nuts (walnuts, macadamia, almonds, pecans etc.) and dates. I usually find the recipes too sweet and so I upped the ratio of walnuts:dates in favour of the former (approx. 2 1/2:1)

The crust ingredients are pulsed and pressed into a springform pan. It pays to oil the base, or sprinkle it with extra shredded coconut, to ensure easy removal of the base when serving.

The cheese is made from soaked cashews, which softens them and produces the creamy consistency when blended. It really helps to have a powerful high-speed blender that is able to whip the heck out of the cashews, which my brandless blender unfortunately falls short of. Another reason to invest in a Vitamix! Also in the cheese mix is a sweetener (honey, agave or maple syrup), the fruit (strawberries) and some oil to get the mixture smooth. To help firm up the texture, I used agar powder, a gelling agent derived from seaweed and completely vegan. Melting the agar powder reminded me of the tedious hours in lab preparing LB agar plates, which ironically I quite miss now. The agar is optional; you could omit it or substitute with other thickeners such as cornstarch, though I’m not sure how that will work out exactly.

The strawberry cheese is then poured over the crust. Flecked with specks of strawberries, the rosy pale pink batter reminded me of girlish innocence. The horrible lighting definitely does not do it justice; I took it at dawn and so had to use flash.

The cake frozen and ready to be decorated. I used an easy & clean strawberry coulis made from just pureed strawberries, chia seeds and a touch of honey. The mixture is chilled in the refrigerator to let the pectin from the strawberries and soluble fiber of chia to work their magic. The mixture turns into a soft strawberry jelly, a consistency very amenable to decorating and forgiving to beginners of food art. I imagine this coulis would make a very good PB&J sammich too!

Initially I planned on doing swirls but the cheese layer was frozen solid and I was too impatient to wait for it to melt. The alternative was a simple flower design. As the finishing touch, I studded the sides of the cake with extra chopped walnuts just for that extra crunch!


Now you can have your pink cake and eat it too! The color is charmingly fabulous and au natural; the coulis may even border on being garish but I swear there’s no food colouring involved nor did I enhance the colour.

And so the weekend ended in style with a generous slice of the st(raw)berry cheesecake post-dinner. And now I’m a convert; I don’t claim this to taste like a real cream cheese cheesecake, but it is superbly light, rich, creamy and yummy in its own right. The berry flavour was smack-in-your-face intense, elevated by the zing of lemon juice and grated zest. I’m not sure if the agar powder did its job because it was still slightly soft, but freezing then slightly thawing it should produce the right texture. First attempts at recipes seldom produce great results, but this was a rare exception.

Mini St(Raw)berry Cheesecake
Makes one mini 4.5″ cake.
Vegan. Gluten-free. Raw.
Adapted from Lovely Food Blog and Noveau Raw.

Ingredients
For the crust

  • 1/3 cup (42g) walnuts
  • 2 tbsp dried fruits (I used 1 tbsp each of medjool dates and dried cranberries)
  • 1 tbsp (5g) shredded coconut
  • Pinch sea salt (omitted)

For the filling

  • 1/3 cup (48g) cashews
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp non-dairy milk (soy, rice, almond, coconut)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 5/6 tsp agar powder
  • 2 1/2 tbsp orange juice
  • Pinch sea salt

Strawberry Coulis (I reduced the proportions to suit the recipe, but it is definitely easier to get the processor whirring by making a double or even quadruple batch)

  • 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp chia seeds

Directions
Prepare the base

  1. Lightly grease the bottom of a springform pan with coconut oil.
  2. In a food processor, pulse walnuts and dates, then the shredded coconut and salt. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, pressing it evenly into the pan. Put pan in freezer.

Prepare the filling

  1. In a high-speed blender combine the ingredients in the following order (this will help the blade move more freely): soy milk, lemon juice, honey and strawberries. Blend till the strawberries are pureed.
  2. Drain and rinse the cashews before adding to the blender. Add the cashews and salt. Blend until the mixture is creamy smooth. Depending on your blender, this can take 1-5 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, dissolve the agar powder with the orange juice and microwave briefly for just 10 secs. It should turn sticky.
  4. Add agar mix and coconut oil to the filling mix in the blender. Blend on high until mixed in.
  5. Retrieve pan from freezer and pour the batter in. Tap the pan on the counter to work any air bubble up and out of the batter. Let set in the freezer until frozen, about 4 hours.

Prepare strawberry coulis

  1. Place the strawberries, honey and chia seeds in the blender or food processor and blend till creamy.
  2. Pour into a small bowl and allow refrigerate for at least 15 mins or longer if possible. The chia will cause it to start to thicken.
  3. Decorate your dessert with the coulis as you wish. You may also added extra chopped walnuts on the side of the cake.

 

More cake-porn. Enjoy!