Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich

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I have a love affair going on when it comes to the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi. If the truth be told I love them in every form: pork, chicken, fish, beef, tofu – you name it and I pretty much love all the varieties that you can have. I love the cruchiness and sweet and sour piquant from the pickle, combined with the freshness of the coriander, the spices from the marinaded tofu/meat/fish, the chilli and the freshness from the baguette. Every bite has so much action going on for the palate – sweet, sour, umami chilli notes.

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They are not as much of a chore as you’d expect if you make them at home. I tend to buy the baguette, but if you have time on your hands, then I can totally recommend The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen to show you how to make the traditional baguette as well. Father Christmas kindly popped it in my stocking a few years back – such a thoughtful fella!

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I’ll talk your through it step by step, but once you’ve made the pickle – this takes no time at all – you’re pretty much all set. The pickle also lasts up to a month in the fridge so there is no need to use it all in a couple of days.  I am going to show you how to do the tofu version, but if you prefer to make it with chicken or pork then the same marinade can apply.

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I used the silken firm tofu, which you need to handle with care. Some brands are firmer than others, but ultimately if it falls apart a little it doesn’t really matter once it is in the baguette.

There are a few ingredients that you really need to get hold of before making a banh mi:

  • daikon (also known as mooli or white radish) – it looks similar to horseradish but has a lot milder flavour. I pick mine up from my local Indian grocer.
  • carrots
  • rice wine vinegar
  • a crunchy baguette
  • maggi seasoning sauce – according to Andrea Nguyen for a ‘first class banh mi, drizzle on some maggi sauce; it will boost each bite with an umami hit’ – she goes on to explain that ‘it is practically synonymous with banh mi’. I picked mine up from my local Asian supermarket but you can also order it from Ocado here
  • chillies to give the heat injection
  • fresh coriander
  • cucumber to add texture and crunch
  • mayonnaise (vegan if you want to keep the whole meal vegan)
  • sriracha sauce
  • 1 litre jar for the pickle

 

So to begin with you need to prepare the pickle. Trust me it is quick and easy to make.

 

Carrot and Daikon Pickle

500g daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks *

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (as above)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp caster sugar

100g caster sugar

300ml rice wine vinegar

250ml warm water

1 litre storage jar (can be slightly bigger but no smaller)

  1. After peeling, cut the carrot and daikon up into equal size matches and place them in a bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the salt and the teaspoons of sugar over the carrots and daikon and gently massage them gently for a few minutes using your hands. This will make them become softer and more bendy.
  3. Wash and drain them thoroughly under some cold water before placing them into your jar.
  4. In a separate jug mix the rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and warm water so that the sugar dissolves and then pour into the jar with the carrots and daikon. Discard any left over brine. If you need a little extra brine to cover the carrots and daikon simply add a little more warm water.
  5. Refrigerate for up to a month.

*the exact size of the matchsticks is irrelevant, obviously not too big, but do make sure that the carrot and daikon matchsticks are of similar size if possible.  I have seen them super skinny and slightly wider like mine below. Both ways taste delicious. 

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Matchstick daikon and carrots above and with salt and sugar ready to be massaged below.

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Once your carrot and daikon pickle is resting it’s now time to make the marinade for your tofu. I slice my block of tofu gently into about about 9slices. You don’t want to cut them too thin or they will easily break.

Place them gently in a bowl and add the marinade, which consists of: tamari (or soy sauce), 1/2 lime and zest, 1 tsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger and cracked pepper. Coat evenly and then leave to marinade for around 20 minutes. Heat some groundnut (or sunflower) oil in a pan and then let the tofu  cook gently on each side for around 3-5 minutes before turning over. It wants to be nicely bronzed.

Tofu Marinade

349g firm tofu (or similar size pack), sliced

2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

1/2 lime, juice and zest

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

liberal amount of cracked pepper

1 tsp groundnut/sunflower oil

  1. Slice the tofu gently into approximately 9 pieces and then place in a bowl and cover with the marinade ingredients.
  2. Leave to marinade for 20 minutes.
  3. Heat  the pan with oil and gently space out the marinated sliced tofu. On a medium low heat, leave the tofu for around 3 minutes to see if it is nicely bronzing. If it is then carefully turn it over for a further 3 minutes. Leave a little longer if it requires more time to bronze.
  4. Remove from pan and leave to cool whilst you prepare the rest of the sandwich.

If you are using pork or chicken make sure to slice the the meat thinly and leave to cook for longer on both sides. 

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The next part is easy. You simply mix a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise (homemade, vegan or shop bought) and add sriracha to taste. I usually find that around 1/2 tbsp works really well.

 

Sriracha Mayo

2 tbsp mayonnaise (homemade, vegan or regular shop bought)

1/2 tbsp sriracha, or to taste

  1. Mix the two ingredients together to form a salmon pink sauce. Taste and add more sriracha if necessary.

The next part is the assembling. First you need to slice the baguette, but not all the way through.  Take out some of the white bread part within – this allows more space for the fillings. Now follow the instructions below.

Assembling the Bahn Mi

few drops of maggi seasoning sauce

1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced

handful of fresh coriander

2 red chillies, chopped – optional

  1. Spread out the sriracha mayo evenly along the baguette followed by a few drops of maggi seasoning sauce.
  2. Next add the cucumber, tofu followed by some of the pickled carrot and daikon. You can also add some thinly spiced fresh red chillies for extra heat if necessary or omit this part and just add the fresh coriander.

It sounds terribly long winded but I assure you that it really doesn’t take that long at all. The pickle will last for ages and is pretty quick to make in the first place. The marinading is straightforward and the sriracha mayo takes seconds. So give it a whirl. Trust me you’ll become as addicted as me about banh mi.

 


Malaysian Inspired Street Food in the Heart of Soho – Sambal Shiok

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Soho, as a location, has always had a certain mystique and vibe completely unique to any other area in London. It’s bang central and could be described as the beating heart of touristy Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Regent Street and Oxford Street. The seediness that it had in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s has largely dissipated and now it is a magnet for those seeking to nourish their bellies and soul with memorable food, washed down with an ale or cocktail.

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Located on the corner of Beak Street and Great Pulteney Street – an intersection you’ll find at the end of London’s iconic Carnaby Street, you will find a pub by the name of ‘The Sun & 13 Cantons’. After a fire in late 1880’s, 13 Cantons was added to its name after its Swiss patrons who lived and worked as watch makers in the vicinity. Cantons, the Swiss word for counties, at the time had 12, but due to the Swiss community frequenting the pub it was charmingly given the name ’13 cantons’ as a tribute to it’s loyal customers.

The pub hosts culinary residencies, or extended pop-ups if you will, for 6 months plus, serving Indian/Asian inspired food at very affordable prices. Up until October they have ‘Sambal Shiok’ with chef Mandy Yin at the helm, tempting diners with addictively spicy Laksa Noodle Soups, Hainan Dumplings, Beef Rendang, Nasi Lemak or Malaysian Fried Chicken as well as a number of smaller starter dishes and sides. Yin grew up in Kuala Lumpur and after a two year stint feeding the masses at some of London’s markets, she made the transition to her own private residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons.

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I had been salivating over her Laksa noodle soups for quite some time, thanks to instagram, and with the interchangeable weather we have been having in the UK, I felt a strong need for something spicy and warming to give me that inner glow of happiness.

The pub itself was given a new lease of life in 2015 and today has Parisian inspired interiors with dark green leather banquette seating and different shades of green metro tiles and mirrors on the wall; all rather chic indeed. After deliberating on which laksa to choose I decided upon the spicy prawn and tofu. I am often suspicious when restaurants say something is spicy as they are invariably ‘Western spicy’ as opposed to properly spicy, but this laksa is dance about, super spicy. I loved it. My lunching companion, who I discovered whilst ordering is not so in favour of spice, opted for the Hainan dumplings and fried chicken with a tasty peanut satay on the side. Chicken portions were generous and more conservatively spiced, which appealed to my companion. It’s not often I get to eat fried chicken, although I do recall rather loving KFC as a child, but this fried chicken was lip-smackingly good.

Would I return, hell yes, I’ll be found slurping the laksa from time to time until the next residency starts in October.

Sambal Shiok
The Sun & 13 Cantons
21 Great Pulteney Street
London
W1F 9NG
Tel020 7734 0934

lunch 12pm to 3pm Tuesdays to Saturdays

dinner 5.30pm to 9pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

On Thursday and Friday evenings Sambal Shiok’s simpler street food menu will be available on a no reservations basis. Takeaways will be available at all times. Last orders will be at 2.30 and 9pm for each session.


Tamarind Noodles with Five Spice Tofu

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This past week I have been avoiding the kitchen. Don’t worry I am not on some crazy January diet that involves me starving myself or anything, goodness no. For those of you who read my last post you’ll know that my boiler died a death over a week ago, which has resulted in my house becoming rather Baltic. The kitchen is the coldest room in the house so instead of pottering in there as I normally would, when the heating works, I have been hibernating in one of the smallest rooms in the house – the study, with an electric heater going at full blast. It’s fairly roasty toasty so I try to avoid leaving it for long periods of time.

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However, when my mother in-law (aka my culinary spy) recently came back from a trip to Sri Lanka, she handed me a piece of paper with a very short ingredients list for a tamarind noodles dish that she has eaten and adored by a chef called Anura. If you are out there Anura and are reading this then this dish is in honour of you.

The recipe was for the sauce itself and I just got creative in turning it into a dish that my whole family will adore. If you don’t love tofu then you could always replace it with chicken or pork by following the same steps, but crispy five spice tofu – what’s not to like folks!

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Take a look at those crispy tofu bites, with sweet red peppers, soya beans and tamarind noodles, which have been coated in yet more tamarind sauce.

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Tamarind Noodles with Five Spice Tofu

Serves 4

tamarind sauce

3 tbsp tamarind paste

4 tbsp jaggery (palm sugar)

3 tbsp coconut milk

2 tbsp caster sugar

75ml chicken stock

2 lemongrass, chopped very finely

*****

350g firm tofu, bite sized cubes

2 tsp Chinese five spice

2 tbsp cornflour

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 sweet red pepper, cut julienne

200g frozen soya beans

4 nests of medium egg noodles

1. First cut the tofu into bite sized cubes. Place the cornflour and Chinese five spice into a shallow bowl and then add the tofu so that the cubes are all coated in the flour.

2. Heat a pan with the oil and when it is hot add the tofu in batches, turning at intervals so that it browns and crisps slightly. Place on kitchen roll to soak up the oil whilst you are frying the next batch.

3. Boil all the ingredients of the tamarind sauce until the sauce is smooth. Transfer to a pouring jug.

4. Using the same pan as the tamarind sauce, gently fry the sweet red peppers so that they soften. This will only take a couple of minutes.

5. In another pan boil some water and add the soya beans. After 3 minutes add the noodles and cook according to packet (usually a couple of minutes). Strain and place in a mixing bowl along with the sweet red peppers and 2 tbsp tamarind sauce. Mix together well.

6. Place the noodles into bowls and add the five spice tofu on top along with a little more tamarind sauce.

Serve and eat whilst hot. Enjoy.

Any leftover tamarind sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. 


Pork Larb – the national dish of Lao

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Larb originates from Lao but is also eaten in North Eastern Thailand where many of the Thai people are of Laotian decent. It is, put simply, a meat mince salad (pork, chicken, turkey or duck) that is placed in a lettuce ‘cup’ and then eaten in a couple of delicious bites. They have a similar lettuce wrap recipe in Korea known as ‘Ssambap’ – ssam meaning ‘wrap’ and bap meaning ‘rice’.

 

 

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My version has replaced the rice, (which is traditionally toasted then roughly ground (Khao Khua) and sprinkled on the top of the mince when serving to help soak up any of the juices) with roughly ground shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts. I like the crunch and taste of the nut combining with the minced meat and fresh herbs. If you want to stay true to the original recipe then just add ground toasted rice in place of peanuts. Try both and see which works for you.

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The combination of fresh crunchy salad leaves, fragrantly spiced mince meat and fresh mint and thai basil (or coriander, but I had run out otherwise I would have thrown that in too) is satisfyingly tasty that one, or three in fact, is never quite enough. It is perfect as a canapé, or as a starter whereby guests can put together their own wraps before popping them in their mouths. Personally I love eating with my hands so any excuse to get everyone to throw themselves into this enjoyable pursuit gets the thumbs up in my books.

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If you tone done on the chilli this dish is also a hit with kids (although my 8 yr old has it as is) as it is a little bit different, packed full of flavours and quite simply good fun to eat, which bottom line is what food and eating should all be about. My dish is more Laotian in style and substance, minus the rice sprinkle. The north east Thailand variety varies again omitting fish sauce and lime juice and instead uses a wide range of spices including cinnamon, star anise, long pepper, cumin, cloves amongst others. I’ll post this version in the future.

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Throw yourself into it, try something different. I can assure you that you one wrap is never enough. This will become a firm family favourite I can guarantee.

Pork Larb 

Serves 15 as a canapé or 6-8 as a starter

2 tbsp sunflower oil (or peanut oil if you have it)

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

1 tsp lemongrass paste

2 small red chillies, finely chopped (take the seeds out if you like it less hot)

1 kg pork mince

2 limes, juice only

5 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp caster

1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

***********

30g shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

5 little gem lettuces or similar lettuce

handful of fresh thai basil

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of coriander leaves

limes wedges to serve

1. In a large pan heat the oil on a medium heat and then add the shallots and fry gently. (Equally 1 large red onion also works well if you cannot get hold of shallots).

2. When the shallots have softened add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and fresh red chilli and stir together gently.

3. Add the pork mince and move around the pan until all the pink meat has become brown. This will take around 8-10 minutes.

4. Add the fish sauce, light soy sauce, lime juice, caster sugar and red chilli flakes and stir into the mince. Leave to cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes. Just before serving throw in a few fresh herbs and give a good stir.

5. To serve place a tablespoonful of the mince onto the lettuce cup followed by a couple of mint, Thai basil and coriander leaves and a sprinkling of peanuts (or rice if you want to stay totally traditional). Add a splash of lime juice as required.

It can be eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

* If your mince has juice, cook it for a little longer with the lid off the pan. That should do the trick. If there continues to be some juice, it is best to strain the mince as it is easier to eat on the lettuce cups if there is no juice. 

you can replace the pork mince, with chicken, turkey, duck or I reckon even tofu would work well.


Black Sesame Paste Soba Noodles with Salmon and Spring Onions

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There are some plates of food that when presented in front of you you are a little bit sceptical that the dish will actually taste good. This dish, being predominately grey and black with only a splattering of green and white from the spring onions and the delicate pink from the salmon, is a case in point. You are going to have to trust me on this one when I say that this meal is seriously delicious. It also ridiculously quick (I know I know I say that with most of the dishes I put up on my blog) – it takes the amount of time that you cook your salmon in the oven – 15 minutes.

 

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Black sesame seeds may require a bit of effort to hunt down – I found mine at my local Asian grocers, but other than that you should be able to get hold of the rest of the ingredients pretty easily. If you don’t have tamari, just use soy sauce – they are very similar.

 

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I ate mine with a hot cup of fresh lemon verbena tea, which I have become rather addicted to since I was sweetly given a bag full of the stuff last weekend. Have you tried it before? Does anyone grow it in their gardens? Is it easy to maintain? I’d love to know as lemon verbena has a wonderful aroma and taste.

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I hope you get to try this dish very soon. I adore buckwheat soba noodles – I tend to buy the Clearspring variety – they look like this. They’re wheat free noodles, low in fat and a great source of protein and fibre. Go on give this dish a go and leave me a comment below.

 

Black Sesame Paste Soba Noodles with Salmon and Spring Onions

Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s ‘Super Natural Everyday’ – Black Sesame Otsu

Serves 4

black sesame seed paste

1 tsp sunflower seeds

1 tsp pine nuts

60g black sesame seeds

1 1/2 tbsp demerara sugar

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 1/2 tbsp tamari/soy sauce

2 tbsp brown rice vinegar

pinch of cayenne pepper

*************

350g buckwheat soba noodles

4 salmon fillets – skin removed (optional)

3 spring onions, finely sliced

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

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1. Preheat your oven (I use a fan oven – if you are not increase the temperature by 10 degrees) to 180 degrees. Equally you can steam the salmon if you prefer. Using a cooking brush gently wipe each salmon fillet with sesame oil. Place in a non stick dish and cook for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a frying pan dry roast, on a low heat, the pine nuts and sunflower seeds for a couple of minutes so they begin to bronze. You will need to keep moving the pan to prevent burning. As the pine nuts begin to bronze add the black sesame seeds and move them around the pan for a minute. Transfer to a spice grinder (or pestle and mortar).

3. After whizzing the ingredients for 10-15 seconds so that they are properly blended, transfer the paste into a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients to make the black sesame paste. Place to one side.

4. Place the soba noodles in a pan of boiling water and cook according to instructions – should be around 5 minutes on a low heat. Before draining save 100ml of the noodle water and leave in a jug. Drain the soba noodles and run under cold water to prevent further cooking. Before adding the soba noodles to the black sesame paste, remove 1/4 of the paste and place in a separate cup. Add the soba noodles to the large mixing bowl with the remaining black sesame paste, the 100ml of noodle water, extra virgin olive oil and almost all of the spring onions and gently stir into the paste.

5. Serve a generous portion of noodles to each bowl or plate and place the salmon fillet on top along with a dollop of remaining black sesame paste which you have reserved and a scattering of spring onions.

It can be eaten at warm, room temperature or cold. You can replace the salmon with trout or even with tofu gently fried. It would in fact make an original and tasty lunch box alternative.


Chicken, Ginger and Spring Onion Gyoza/Jiaozi/Pop Sticker

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Mention the worked ‘gyoza’ in my household and you will hear yelps of delight – and that’s not just from the children. These moreish savoury dumplings are incredibly addictive and are a great little starter or snack, although you can off course have them as a main meal along with some steamed greens with soy and garlic perhaps.

Japan and China both have their version of the dumpling, although these dumplings first originated from China and were then adopted by the Japanese. The Chinese dumplings are known as jiaozi if they are boiled or steamed and guo tie if they are fried, in Japan – gyoza and the US – pot sticker.

The Chinese variety have slightly thicker wrappers and have a far wider combination of fillings than their Japanese counterparts. They are often steamed, whereas the Japanese gyoza are fried for a few minutes and then steamed for a further few minutes. The fillings I typically use for the vegetarian are tofu and shiitake mushrooms, or the meat variety filled with pork, chicken or duck or the seafood version, which tends to be prawn. Whatever takes your fancy these little dainties will be forever cherished by those who sample them.

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Now the question is to lovingly prepare your own wrappers or to buy some from your local Asian grocers or online. Basically it will come down to time on your part. Making your own takes a little time, but its the perfect activity to do with a mate who comes over for coffee – just rope them in they’ll love the experience or even with the kids. Shop bought is pretty cheap, as you can see for the price sticker I left on above, and are likely to be more uniform in thickness, but I’ll leave it to you to decide which suits your lifestyle.

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For those who wish to make their own it is SO simple. Seriously you only need a couple of ingredients and then a bit of kneading.

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Homemade Gyoza Wrappers

Makes around 20

210g plain flour, seived

125ml warm water

 pinch of salt

1. Stir the salt into the warm water until it completely dissolves.

2. Place the sieved flour into a large bowl and add the warm water. Using a wooden spoon mix the flour and water together and then use your hands to create a ball.

3. Kneed the dough on a cold surface for around 10 minutes, when it will be soft and springy to touch. Sprinkle more flour onto the dough if it is getting too sticky.

4. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 mins.

5. Take small balls of the dough – about the size of apricot – and flatten it with your hand. Gently roll the dough into a round shape, turning it after every roll. Using a round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a saucer) cut out a round circle and cover gently with flour and place in a pile.

6. Continue until the dough has been used up. You should make around 20 dough wrappers with the proportions above. Whilst you prepare the filling place a damp cloth over the wrappers so they do not dry out.

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So now you have the wrappers ready to go you need to prepare the filling. Whether you want to use chicken, pork mince, prawn, duck or shiitake mushrooms and tofu the rest of the ingredients remain the same.

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Whilst using Chinese cabbage is the most authentic, use whatever green cabbage you have in your fridge. Place two large leaves in a pan of boiling water for 1 minute and then drain and pat completely dry with kitchen paper. You then want to slice and cut them up as small as you can. You can blitz everything in a blender but I tend to often take the slightly slower version of cutting by hand. Today I used chicken and as I tend to find minced chicken hard to source so I bought boneless chicken thighs and cut up them up into small pieces. I also added spring onions, chopped garlic, finely grated ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper and hey presto you have your filling. You can get creative and add any other ingredient you think might work – how about carrot, fresh chilli, five spice.

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Wrapping the dumplings is rather satisfying and you will begin to get into a rhyme with them. Don’t overfill the gyoza, instead putting a teaspoonful in the centre and then, using your finger tip, wet the low half rim of the circle. You then want to fold over the gyoza in half and then begin to pleat from left to right, making sure the filling is securely inside the parcel. It is definitely a case of the more you do the better you become. My 8 year old is a complete natural and can do multiple pleats across the top. You only pleat one side of the gyoza s0 do not turn over and attempt to do more on the other side.

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The above photo shows half of the gyoza pleated. I finished doing this row, but did not turn it over to attempt to do the other side. To pleat you simply use your thumb and forefinger to make small pleats going over the last. Make sure you press the top together so that it is firmly stuck together – you don’t want them opening up in the pan.

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So you can see some are neater than others above. They will still taste delicious even if you haven’t got the perfect symmetrical pleating!

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Dumpling Filling

to fill around 20 dumplings

2 large leaves from a green cabbage/Chinese leaf cabbage

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

20g ginger, peeled and finely grated

3 spring onions, finely sliced into small pieces

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp mirin rice wine

275g boneless chicken thighs/or chicken mince (or duck, pork mince, tofu and shiitake mushrooms)

100 ml water

************

Dumpling Dipping Sauce

3 tsp rice vinegar

6 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp chilli oil (optional)

1 tsp sesame seeds

**********

1. Finely chop all of the ingredients and then bind together using your hands.

2. Place a heaped teaspoon of the ingredients onto one of the wrappers in the centre.

3. Wet the rim of the lower half of the wrapper using your finger.

4. Fold the wrapper in two and then pleat from left to right across the top, making sure to firmly seal the top of the wrappers.

5. Bend the wrapper slightly so that it is in a crescent moon shape and so it can stand up unaided. Place to one side whilst you prepare the rest.

6. Using a large nonstick pan add a tablespoon of sesame oil and when hot add the dumplings so that they are standing up and not sticking to one another. Fry them for 3 minutes, by which time they will have bronzed underneath. If they have not bronzed sufficiently leave them to fry for a little longer.

7. Add 100ml of water to the pan and place a lid on the top. Leave to steam for a further 3-4 minutes so that the water has completely dissolved.

8. Mix the ingredients of the dipping sauce together and then place to one side in a little bowl.

9. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

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Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu


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In my first months of blogging, way back in the middle of 2011, I posted one of my absolute favourite recipes, Ma Po Tofu, which is a Sichuan classic and is seriously addictive – if you like chilli that is. It is incredibly easy to cook and after a manic day it is the perfect pick-me-up-food that takes no time to prepare. Over the years however, I have found that I am increasingly making it without the pork mince element and keeping it to a more vegetarian dish by including simply tofu and fresh (or sometimes frozen) spinach.

Recently in Hong Kong I began to judge eating establishments on how well they could cook Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles as I had a acquired a taste for both dishes.

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Tofu I know divides opinion, but I am definitely in the camp of someone who loves it. It wasn’t an immediate love affair, but one that has grown over time to the extent that I always have tofu in the house, ready and waiting for me to make a last minute Ma Po Tofu dish or my other favourite tofu dishes, roasted harlequin squash with tofu, kale and coriander in a miso curry paste, black pepper tofu and soba noodles with tofu, aubergine and mango. Seriously give them all a try – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Tofu, or bean curd as it is also known, is hugely nutritious, versatile and a great vehicle for flavour. It’s rich in protein and low in fat, especially saturated fat. Yes, eaten on its own it is rather plain, but the point of tofu is to incorporate it with other flavours which it will help to enhance and lift. There are a myriad of different types of tofu, but the one I tend to use the most is ‘firm, silken tofu’ . I am going to be cooking some more tofu dishes over the course of this year, hoping that I may convert a few followers to the joys of tofu eating.

So here is what you need for the vegetarian version of the dish.

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Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu

Serves 2/3

349g silken tofu (or a similar amount)

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions, chopped

2 tbsp of chilli bean sauce (Lee Kum Kee’s I find works really well)

125ml of vegetable stock (fresh or a cube)

1 tsp shaoxing wine

1 tsp of soy sauce (light or dark)

2 tsp of sugar

1/4 tsp of sea salt

a good pinch of crushed Sichuan peppercorns

1/2 tsp of sesame oil

1. Cut the tofu into small (2cm) cubes and place to one side.

2. In a shallow pan heat the vegetable oil and then add the garlic and spring onions, stirring for around 30 seconds. Then add the chilli bean paste and mix into the garlic and spring onions.

3. After a minute add the chicken stock, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.

4. Add the spinach to the pan and gently fold into the hot sauce.

5. Once the spinach has begun to wither add the tofu and carefully spoon the sauce over the tofu, making sure not to break up the cubes. Leave to gently simmer for a couple of minutes.

6. Serve into a large bowl and sprinkle the Sichuan peppercorns and sesame oil and gently mix together.

Serve alongside small bowls of rice and hot cups of piping Jasmine/Chinese tea.

Perfect for this cold snowy weather.


Roasted Harlequin Squash with Tofu, Kale and Coriander in a Miso-Curry Paste

I am a big advocate of eating a few meals a week that are vegetarian. In the past I think the general public felt rather limited on what vegetarian meals to cook that were satisfyingly tasty. Times have changed however and today a whole universe into vegetarian cooking has developed and become mainstream. There are countless possibilities of what to cook and a wonderful array of cook books and blog posts giving us ideas of new food combinations to try out.

A fabulous success story in the blogging world is the vegetarian food blogger Heidi Swanson from San Francisco, who writes 101cookbooks.com and already has a few cookbooks to her name. I managed to pick up her latest book Super Natural Cooking in Vancouver last year when I was visiting my sister. Her photos always impress me and I like the way they have a matt finish in her book.  Understandably she cooks with a wide range of lentils, beans and grains and has some excellent ideas of pairing them with various vegetables and sauces.

This recipe is very seasonal and is perfect for Autumn time as it requires you buying squash. Heidi uses ‘delicata squash’  for it’s buttery flavour and wonderful green stripes, adding a vibrancy to the dish. Sadly I could not find any at Pimlico farmers market so bought a harlequin squash instead, which worked equally well. Basically any squash that you don’t have to peel (which is actually quite a large number) will work.

I also used roseval potatoes as I adore their red skin and yellow flesh, but any other small variety of potato will work – Heidi uses new!

Finally the only other change I made to Heidi’s original recipe is that I used more tofu as I wanted to use up a whole packet.

The dish is perfect for a weeknight meal as it is very easy to prepare and takes no time to  actually cook. I also love the fact that it requires no peeling of the squash – result !

Miso-Curry Harlequin Squash

Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s book ‘Super Natural Every Day’

Serves 4

350g harlequin squash (or delicata or any that require no peeling)

60 ml extra virgin olive oil

70g sweet white miso paste (I buy mine from Sainsbury)

1 tbsp red Thai curry paste

349g firm tofu (or whole packet equivalent), cut into small cubes

4 medium Roseval potatoes, unpeeled and cut into chunks

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

45g chopped kale, tough stems removed

45g seeds (pine nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds), toasted

30g chopped coriander/cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.

2. Carefully cut the harlequin squash into 1cm thick half moons.

3. In a bowl whisk together the oil, red thai curry paste and sweet miso paste.

4. Gently fold the squash, potatoes and tofu into 80ml of the miso-curry paste using your hands, making sure that you do not break up the tofu. Spread out the ingredients onto a baking sheet and place in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Toss a couple of times during cooking once the ingredients begin to bronze.

5. With the remaining miso-curry paste whisk in the lemon juice and then stir in the kale (uncooked!).

6. In a heavy skillet gently toast the seeds and nuts over a medium heat until they have bronzed and become fragrant. This will only take a couple of minutes. Do not leave them as they will burn.

7. When the squash, potatoes and tofu are cooked, gently toss all the ingredients together including the nuts and seeds, coriander/cilantro and kale. Serve hot onto warm plates.

The potatoes, squash and tofu coated in the miso-curry paste

Ready to eat – once I’ve got the perfect shot!


Black Pepper Tofu

For those of you who are unaccustomed to eating tofu, I really urge you to give it try. Some people simply right it off as being rather bland tasting, but the fact is tofu has a fabulous melt in the mouth texture and absorbs some of the other flavours that you cook it with. Its a great vegetarian option to meat and is hugely versatile. This is my third recipe using tofu on my blog – the other two, Ma Po Tofu and Soba Noodles with Tofu I incorporate fairly regularly in our diet. This recipe is also heavenly and reminds me in fact of one of my favourite dishes of all time – black peppercorn crab – that I ate in Singapore last year at Red House  on Robertson Quay. This recipe is sourced from the Yotam Ottolenghi’s  book ‘Plenty,’ which focuses exclusively on vegetarian recipes.

The recipe itself is fairly straight forward, however, as there is a fair amount of chopping, slicing, crushing it does take a little bit of time on the preparation part. The finished dish though is totally worth the effort you put in to the preparation. I have made a number of alterations to the original as I found that when I followed his quantities exactly the pepper was too overpowering and I did not need quite as many chillies or spring onions. So it is a little toned down but see how you get on and if you prefer it with more pepper just add an extra 2 tablespoons to the 3 that I suggest below and throw in a few extra chillies.

Black Pepper Tofu

A Yotam Ottolenghi recipe adapted from his book Plenty (p44-45)

Serves 4

700g firm tofu

vegetable oil

cornflour to dust the tofu

100g butter

10 small shallots, thinly sliced

4 fresh red chillies (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced (seeds removed)

10 garlic cloves, finely grated/chopped

3 tbsp fresh root ginger, finely grated

3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)

3 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp caster sugar

3 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns

5 small and thin spring onions, cut into 3cm segments

1. Carefully remove the tofu from its pack and cut it into large cubes, around 3 x 2cm, being careful not to break it.

2. Sieve a little cornflower over the tofu so that it delicately coats the cubes.

3. Heat  a little oil in a deep frying pan and add the tofu in small batches so that the tofu is evenly golden. Place on kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next batch.

4. Clean the pan thoroughly before adding the butter. Once it is melted add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger and saute on a low heat for 15 minutes so that the ingredients have softened and darkened slightly. Stir occasionally.

5. Add the soy sauces, sugar and crushed peppercorns and mix into the other ingredients.

6. Place the tofu in the pan and coat in the sauce, being careful not to break up the tofu cubes. After a minute or so add the spring onions and stir into the ingredients.

7. Serve immediately with steamed or boiled rice.

Do you have any wonderful tofu recipes that you would like to share with me? Leave a message below and let me know.