Vegan Mofo 17: S is for Sesame Tofu (Goma Dofu)

Think tofu has to be made from soy? When I first came across this Japanese dish called Goma Dofu or sesame tofu, I thought it was an ingenious idea – a soy-free tofu made from sesame paste!

Tofu, in the traditional sense, is made by coagulating proteins in soy milk. Common coagulants used are magnesium chloride (nigari), calcium chloride or calcium sulphate (gypsum). (The divalent cations of these salts react with the anionic groups of the soy proteins, which destabilizes their structure and cause coagulation.) However since sesame does not contain as high levels of protein as soy, Goma Dofu is solidified using a starch, typically kuzu or kudzu starch, although arrowroot or potato starch may also be used. On the differences between the different starches, kuzu starch, which is extracted from the root of the kuzu plant, imparts a more elastic texture than arrowroot or potato starch.

I bought the Goma Dofu from a Japanese supermarket although it can be easily made from just three ingredients – sesame paste (white or black), kuzu starch and water. My first thought? Bleah, just pass me real tahini instead! It was starchier than expected but less so than tapioca balls, slightly gelatinous and wobbly, and its consistency was firmer than silken tofu not quite as firm as an agar jelly. It had a mild hint of sesame just enough to be noticed, but left you craving more, and being the ardent tahini addict, I proceeded to smother the goma dofu in a coat of tahini. Much better!

Typically, Goma Dofu is served as an appetizer or as a course in kaiseki dining. It was probably invented by Japanese Buddhist monks and is considered the most symbolic food of Shojin Ryori (vegetarian temple cuisine). Apart from excluding meat and fish, one website even says that root vegetables are excluded! It is believed that harvesting will cause the death of the vegetables, which is against their principle philosophy of “don’t kill.” As such, only grains, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits are used. An in-depth article on Shojin Ryori can be found here.

So overall, I didn’t quite take to Sesame Tofu, although some has gone so far as to describe it as giving melt-in-your mouth experience. Sesame Tofu is not only the faux tofu; this can also be made with ground peanuts (peanut tofu), or also check out Shan tofu, a Burmese staple made from chickpea flour.

Vegan Mofo 15: T is for Thunder Tea Rice

The Chinese may not be known for their salads, but one that you have to know is Thunder Tea Rice (Lei Cha Fan), which I would laud the honour as King of Asian Salads. Essentially this dish is served in two parts: a rice bowl filled with a bedazzling medley of chopped Asian vegetables such as long beans, cabbage, leafy greens and radish as well as diced tofu and peanuts; and a side bowl best akin to a slightly astringent herbal pesto soup, made from ground tea leaves and Asian herbs such as mint and basil. It is the tea soup that harbours the strong and unique flavor of Thunder Tea Rice which you either love or hate. It is obvious which side of the camp I am on!

The best part comes when you douse the rice bowl in the green tea soup, so that each spoonful of veggies comes coated in the minty soup. This is the traditional way to eat the dish although there are some who find the soup too overpowering and choose eat the individual elements separately. Whatever the method, the beauty of Thunder Tea Rice is the smug sense of virtuousness and well-being that lingers on for hours.

As always, I like to write a little on the history of the dish. Thunder Tea Rice is a traditional Hakka dish originally created as a medicinal dish for soldiers to ward of plague and illnesses during the tumultuous times of war in the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207AD). During the mass migration from central China to the southern provinces, the Hakka brought along and preserved the traditional preparation of Thunder Tea Rice. The “thunder” (Lei in Chinese) in the dish refers to the racket made from pounding (Lei in Hakka) all the tea ingredients. Thus there is actually a double meaning to the name depending on the language you view it from. It’s kind of confusing but interesting to learn the etymology of words.

With so many veggies, preparing thunder rice tea at home can be a tedious endeavor; it requires the separate preparation of each ingredient so as to maintain each of their flavor profile. But I assure you the results are rewarding and extremely satisfying. A big batch may last a couple of meals, which you will never tire of.

The original dish contains dried anchovies which help impart a umami or savoury flavour. I easily replicated its flavours by using tamari-simmered mushrooms and shredded nori strips. Also I used Pu-Er (普洱) tea leaves instead of the recommended ones green tea and some obscure liu bao cha (六宝茶) or jiu cheng ta (九層塔) because that was the only tea leaves I had on hand. Also I blended the tea leaves into the paste which may not have been the best idea. My soup came out blackish rather than the expected pale green, probably because of insufficient basil and mint leaves (their taste was rather weak too). Overall the tea blend still needs a little tweaking but was still pretty good. And look who loves Thunder Tea Rice too!

Thunder Tea Rice (Lei Cha Fan)
Serves 4.
Vegan.
Refer to Annelicious for a very comprehensive guide.

Ingredients (You may also refer to the visual guide above)
Rice or other carbs

  • Cooked brown/white rice or carbs of preference (I used buckwheat)

Vegetables and Other Toppings

  • 100g or 1/2 pack long beans, chopped into large sticks
  • 140g or 1/4 of a large savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 200g or 1 pack of kai lan (Chinese broccoli), leaves and stems separated
  • 9 small dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tsp tamari
  • 220g or 1/2 medium jicama, diced into small cubes
  • 200g or 1/2 pack firm tofu, drained, dried and diced into small cubes
  • Nori, shredded
  • 40g toasted peanuts, toasted

Thunder Tea Soup

  • 8g Thai Basil Leaves (stems removed before weighing; I used home-grown Thai Basil!)
  • 8g Mint Leaves (stems removed before weighing)
  • 5g superior-grade tea leaves (I used Pu-Er)
  • 25g old ginger, grated into large chunks
  • 5g or 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 10g toasted peanuts
  • 1/2 tsp matcha powder

Directions
For the vegetables and toppings

  1. Rehydrate the dried shiitake mushrooms in water for at least 2 hours, or better, overnight.
  2. Trim long beans and cut into large pieces. Blanch in boiling water for about 3-5 mins, drain, then chop into small pieces. Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, saute cabbage in olive oil until softened, about 10-15 mins. Set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, saute the kai lan leaves in olive oil until slightly wilted, about 3-5 mins. Set aside.
  5. Blanch the kai lan stems in boiling water until bright green, about 3 mins, drain, and set aside.
  6. Once the msuhrooms are rehydrated, squeeze them dry, slice into small pieces. Then simmer the mushrooms in the tamari and some water for about 10-15 mins, until the mushrooms have softened and absorbed the tamari.
  7. Meanwhile, chop the jicama and firm tofu, and shred the nori. Set aside.
  8. Toast peanuts and sesame seeds (for the tea paste) in a skillet over high heat if using untoasted. Set aside.

For the tea paste

  1. Place all the ingredients for the tea soup into a food processor and blend until a paste forms. Scrape out the paste and place into a small bowl.

Serving

  1. Place rice of choice of carbs into a bowl, then scoop desired amounts of each topping over.
  2. Take about 1-2 tbsp of the tea paste and place into a small bowl. Pour boiling water over to infuse for 3-5 mins.
  3. Douse the rice with the tea soup and inhale its minty aromas!

 

Five-Seed Vegan Crackers


When it comes to snacks, I have two favorites: Larabar-esque energy balls, and Dr. Kracker-like seeded crispbread. While the former is ooey gooey rich and sweet, the latter is crunchy, salty savory, even cheesy. Polar opposites they may be, but with both, they make my world complete. Yet it has never crossed my mind to make my own crackers until I came across an unbelievably simple recipe by Gluten-Free Vegan Girl. All it takes is just one bowl, a spatula and a baking tray to churn out these moreish bites (no dehydrator needed!)


Not only fuss-free and dehydrator-free, these crackers are also grain-free, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free and vegan. It is a very friendly snack that everyone can partake in. After an extended list of what these crackers are free from, what in the world do they contain?

A blend of five different seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and chia) is combined with dried herbs and a touch of nutritional yeast for a light cheesy flavor. The mixture is allowed to sit and gel. I added a tablespoon of buckwheat flour to the original recipe because it was still quite liquidy even after sitting for half-hour. After spreading out the mixture onto parchment paper, the batter is slowly baked until the perfect level of golden-brown crispy yumminess. It was also fortuitous that I scaled down the original recipe, which might not have fit into the baking tray!


Thin and delicate, yet they shatter into bold hearty bites of seed-filled protein and omega-3 goodness. On its own or served with hummus or guacamole, these really hit the spot and self-control may be futile! The best evidence: mum gave her seal of approval to these crackers.


A word of caution: the flax taste comes through pretty strong, so you may want to adjust the amount of flaxseeds to suit your preference, as I understand it is an acquired taste.

Five-Seed Vegan Crackers
Makes about 16 crackers.
Vegan. Gluten-free. Nut-free.
Adapted from Gluten-Free Vegan Girl.

Ingredients
(About 1/3 cup each of each type of seed)

  • 50g flax seeds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • 40g sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp buckwheat flour, or as necessary to thicken

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the seeds together and seasonings of preference. Add the water as well and mix until well-combined. Allow it to sit for 30 mins to allow the flax/chia seeds to gel.
  3. Optional: If after 30 mins the mixture is still somewhat liquidy, add flour, a little at a time, until the mixture becomes thick and spreadable.
  4. Spoon the batter out onto a baking tray lined with parchment and spread with spatu. Ideally it should be less than 1/4″ thick.
  5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 mins. Remove from oven and cut the crackers into rectangles using a knife or pizza wheel. Carefully turn the crackers on to the other side before transferring back to the oven for an additional 15 mins. Allow to cool completely before eating. Store any left-overs in an air-tight container and it will keep for up to a week or so.

 


Get cracking on these crackers! With my newfound mojo, I’d be trying out spirulina crackers or buckwheat graham crackers in the near future.

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.
Vegan.

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

  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.
Vegan.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  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.
Vegan.
Adapted from Multiply Delicious.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  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.

Notes
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.