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.

Vegan Mofo 5: G is for Greens & Grass

After the indulgence of the Birthday weekend and the whirlwind of the Nom Yourself Contest, I’m wanting culinary simplicity, freshness and greens. However in the spirit of Vegan MoFo and to keep up my commitment, I ditched the quick-and-easy ready-made salad mix to create a big, bright, colourful and cheerful blog-worthy salad. May this Rainbow Broccoli Salad with Avocado Orange Dressing bring you smiles and miles of happiness!

This salad is not merely a rainbow of colours, but also of textures and tastes. Crunchy carrots and toothsome florets; sweet corn kernels and peppery peppers; reds, orange, yellow and greens. Rainbows are not an everyday occurrence, but we can always make [and eat] our own!

For the dressing, I was inspired by the sweet zesty flavours of an Orange Cilantro Slaw. However I wanted to incorporate a creamy element amidst all the crunchiness, avocados being the most obvious choice. The Avocado Orange Dressing is then further spiced with ginger, cider and pepper flakes for the flavour punch. The result? A midly sweet, tangy and buttery dressing that nicely percolates through the salad. This dressing would certainly work well as a sauce for zucchini noodles or other pasta too.

Finally, as a double dose of greeness, I made my first glass of wheatgrass juice! On a whim, I bought a packet of wheatgrass from the supermarket a couple of days ago, despite not knowing how to use it. After turning to Google, here’s what I gathered:
wheat grass

  • Wheatgrass (or Wheat Grass) refers to the the young grass of the common wheat plant Triticum aestivum. It is usually cultivated in a greenhouse or grown at home in trays for the purpose of juicing and drinking.
  • Wheatgrass can be grown and harvested after 7-10 days.
  • It is recommended that specially designed wheatgrass juicers be used to juice wheatgrass. Compared to regular juicers, wheatgrass juicers act like a press to extract the juice at a very slow speed (80-120 RPM vs 1000 RPM). Extracting the juice at a high speed would oxidize and damage the enzymes. Moreover normal juicers or blenders may risk clogging from the high fiber content of grass.
  • Wheatgrass is ranked as a superfood. It is a complete protein (contains 17 amino acids); packed with minerals (contains 92 of the 102 known minerals found in soil including calcium, iron and zinc); rich in enzymes (30 enzymes including digestive enzymes – amylases, proteases and lipases); and chlorophyll (70%).
  • The many health benefits of wheatgrass: as an energizer, cleanser and builder – primarily attributed to chlorophyll.
  • Wheatgrass is also available as supplments in the form of tablets and powder. (Not sure how it compares in terms of nutrition to the juice though).

Without a wheatgrass juicer, I did the next best thing – blended the grass using an immersion blender (specifically 1/2 cup cut wheatgrass with 1 3/4 cups water) then strained it to remove the pulp. Surprisingly it was all very easy because the pulp clumped together just under the blades and can be readily removed – and be saved for use as a facial mask if desired. To take green to the extreme, I added in spirulina and matcha powder. This produced a mildy grassy and vegetal juice, but in a enjoyably refreshing manner. It’s definitely going to be a regular on the green smoothie roster! Note that both my sister and mum couldn’t stomach the “grassiness” of it, so you may want to add more water or blend it other fruits or fruit juices to dilute the taste.

So here is a double dose of greens: a salad and a juice. Have your eyes turned green yet?

Rainbow Broccoli Salad with Avocado Orange Dressing
About 4-5 servings.
Inspired by an Orange and Cilantro Slaw.
For the Salad

  • 1 head medium broccoli, cut into florets (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 head small red cabbage, shredded and chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2/3 cup sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen)

For the Dressing

  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1 orange, peeled and seeded
  • 1 inch ginger root, grated
  • 1 tsp apple cider vingear
  • 1 tsp tamari
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Bunch of Italian parsley (optional)
  • 1/4 cup water


  1. Cut the broccoli into small florets and steam until tender but still bright-green, about 3-4 mins. Immediately transfer the broccoli to an ice bath to stop the cooking and then drain well.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the broccoli florets with the remaining salad ingredients – bell pepper, carrots and corn.
  3. To make dressing, place all the ingredients for the dressing into a blender and blend on high until smooth and creamy. Best if dressing is made several hours in advance and refrigerated.
  4. About 15 mins before serving toss salad with dressing. Toss and enjoy!


Basic Wheatgrass Juice (using blender)
About 2 cups.

  • 1/2 cup wheatgrass, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 3/4 cup ice-cold water
  • 1/4 tsp spirulina powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp matcha powder (optional)


  1. Place wheatgrass and water into blender and blend on high.
  2. Pour juice into cups through a sieve to remove pulp.

I think an immersion blender works better as it will be easier to remove the pulp. You may save the wheatgrass pulp for composting or use as a facial mask.


Have you tried making wheatgrass juice before?