8-Treasures Vegetarian Stir-Fry

Chinese New Year 2013 ushered in the Year of the Snake. For us, it was another excuse for several prolonged family feasts. There was a lot of sitting around a table laden with food, picking away at morsels and waving zai jian (goodbye) to our collective resolutions to get healthy, eat less and do more exercise. Mi brought her home-made achar (spicy pickles) which is eaten with freshly deep-fried prawn keropok (crackers). Her secret ingredient is top-quality Malaysian hei bi (dried shrimp) which gave it a really savoury dimension.

My  contribution to the CNY table is a traditional auspicious dish, the 8-treasures stir-fry. 8 in Chinese sounds like the word for ‘fortune’; that’s what I’ve been told. (My command of Chinese is so haltingly bad, even my 4-year-old niece refuses to put up with it.)

My version of the 8-treasures vegetables is borrowed from Kylie Kwong’s Recipes and Stories. This is all done quickly in a very hot wok, so most of the effort is in getting the ingredients ready.

This is such a simple dish, and there doesn’t appear to be any rules to this, so be creative, and use what you like to eat. Choose between the various mushrooms (fresh, canned or dried), tofu, vegetables (lotus root, baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoot, asparagus, snow peas) and even lily buds. The idea is to get a range of textures and flavours. Continue reading

David Chang’s Miso Corn

Fresh sweetcorn is one of the crops that heralds in summer in my kitchen. They are amazing this time of the year when they are abundant at the greengrocers, so sweet and bursting with deliciousness that you could eat them raw off the cob. And I do. Seriously. Even Sam, the beagle, gets in on the act.

Strangely enough, we don’t get much sweetcorn back in Malaysia. What we do have are delicate and crisp baby corns. The tinned versions are a poor substitute, so I seldom bother with them.

David Chang prepared this dish on his PBS series Mind of a Chef episode on Soy. So simple and clever, I had to give it a go. I later realised that a version of this was published in his Momofoku cookbook (instead of cooking from it, the cookbook has been propping up my laptop…oh the shame!)

Like Chef Chang, I love corn on the cob but only when I’m on my own as they are messy to eat (I steam them and slather with butter) and it’s not the most attractive look when bits of corn get stuck between your teeth. This recipe gives the best of everything, you get slightly smokey, buttery corn with such a great umami taste (no one will guess there is miso in there), you have the cob to gnaw the juicy heart of the kernels and no messy diners.

This version of Miso Corn comes from Gourmet magazine, adapted for NZ ingredients, and my laziness. Although we don’t get smokey bacon from Benton’s here in NZ, I’m sure they don’t have Manuka smoked bacon over in NY. So there. Continue reading

Eggplant croquettes

I continue to be smitten with Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. It is now my go-to cookbook for vegetarian dishes that surprise, tantalise and beguile. I so much prefer how eggplants are called across in the continents, aubergine. Sounds so much more posh and exotic.

The croquettes are crunchy on the outside, giving way to a delicious smokey, savoury centre. Ottolenghi has a tarragon aioli recipe to go with the croquettes, but my lazy hack is to serve these with an easy lemony yoghurt dip.

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Mesclun, Orange and Avocado Salad with pomegranate vinaigrette

It was a one of those work nights, my mind had gone into park and I just wanted to curl up on a comfortable couch and eat something I would regret. I was hungry, and feeling more slothful than usual.

I am on a journey to eat more vegetarian meals this year, and learning to make the most of the unadulterated flavours of vegetables and fruits. I’ve reconciled to the fact that I’ll never be the carrot/celery stick munching person, cheerfully cycling to work. (Admittedly a cheerful commuter seems like an oxymoron). I’ll only avail myself to the lower half of the food pyramid if it hits all the right flavour notes. Continue reading

Sweetcorn and zucchini fritters

Having a zucchini plant means you are never without a zucchini. Ever, All. Summer. Long. Which also means you have to find ways of hiding, uh, incorporating, zucchini into your meals. The saving grace is that zucchinis are pretty much tasteless, so they can be used to bulk up all manner of dishes.

This is my favourite way to eat zucchinis. It can be whipped up in minutes and tastes absolutely scrumptious. Continue reading

Asparagus and walnut risotto

I like asparagus, though I struggle to find different ways to cook it apart from the usual sauté with garlic and lemon juice. It’s one of those vegetables that I have a love/hate relationship with. When it’s out of season, I miss it, but when it’s here and so abundant, there is a rush to stick it on the menu as much as possible resulting in asparagus burnout.

This recipe tempers the green taste of the asparagus with the nutty walnut and creamy risotto. It’s such a comforting food. I would serve this with simply pan-fried fish or poached chicken. I poached some free-range chicken with sweet vegetables (celery, onion and carrot) and herbs for the chicken stock, then served the risotto with slices of the poached meat.

As an aside, can someone explain the cult of (canned) asparagus rolls to me? I was introduced to them during a potluck lunch at my first job. I took one naïve bite, and was desperately trying to find a way I could spit it out without upsetting the colleague who made the dish. Continue reading

Avocado, quinoa and edamame salad

I spied this clever adaptation of Ottolenghi’s recipe in Milliemirepoix’s blog. The original recipe calls for young broad beans, which are not easy to find (unless you grow them), and also, having eaten broad beans before, I am unconvinced. Edamame (young soybeans), on the other hand, is delicious, and can be purchased as frozen shelled beans.

I also had almost all the ingredients in the kitchen or garden. My paltry harvest of radishes had to be supplemented from the supermarket.

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Ottolenghi’s Very Full Tart

Can you be seduced by a vegetable tart? I’ve flirted with vegetarian food in the guise of being healthier and saving the planet. Who hasn’t? But it doesn’t last. Not even. My upbringing in Malaysia and and its myriad of meat-y cuisines makes it seemingly unpalatable.

However, this simply amazing roast vegetable tart makes the whole idea of going meat-free a few days a week plausible. If vegetables can taste this great, who would quibble? I purchased this cookbook without realising Plenty is a vegetarian cookbook. (I am somewhat of a slut for award-winning cookbooks, put a gold sticker on a cookbook, and it will find its way into my Amazon basket). This cookbook had been sitting forlornly on my shelf for near-on a year before my sudden vegetarian urge took me on a hunt for recipes across all my cookbooks.

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Potato tart with pickled fennel, green apple, sheep’s feta and wild rocket

Molten (422 Mt Eden Rd, Auckland, Ph: 09 – 6387236) is an award-winning neighbourhood restaurant nestled in quaint Mt Eden village. Michael Van de Elzen, the chef of Molten is also known as the star of the TV series, The Food Truck, where he deconstructs common fast food to come up with their healthy and tasty reincarnations.

Recently, Michael released the Molten cookbook where recipes from the kitchen of Molten which have been modified to suit a home kitchen, and shows you how to create a fine dining experience to wow your guests. Continue reading

Storing tomatoes – the flavour issue

Many of us purchase tomatoes from the supermarket or greengrocer, take them home and promptly shove them in the refrigerator without a second thought. Recently, a postharvest scientist told me that you should listen to your grandmother when she said to store your tomatoes at room temperature (mine didn’t cook with tomatoes or had a refrigerator for a very long time, so that point is moot). It may surprise you that all horticultural services state that you should never store tomatoes in the fridge. It certainly surprised me.

Tomatoes are sensitive to chilling, and low temperatures will destroy both the flavour and texture of ripe tomatoes.

Horticulture NZ advises that tomatoes should be stored at around 10-12°C, never in the fridge and away from sunlight. BUT, this is somewhat different from the scientific literature, which says to never store tomatoes below 13°C, or even 15°C. Continue reading