Wednesday 30 November 2011

Tortilla Triangles with Smoky Avocado Salsa

From Quick Vegetarian Dishes, Kurma Dasa, Chakra Press, 2000.

I’ve had this book in the library for some time now but never really got around to using it. I can’t think why it has been overlooked but it has. Now I think it is time to give it a try.

The book is divided into the usual sections of appetisers, soups, salads and so on. There are ample illustrations in the form of photographs. The print is clear and the recipes are provided with a list of ingredients first. What I like about the instructions themselves is that each paragraph begins with a verbal instruction highlighted in bold. For example, here are the highlighted verbs at the beginning of one recipe: Heat… Pour in… Fold… Reduce… Serve… It clearly identifies where you are.

I began with a simple snack to test out the waters: tortilla triangles with smoky avocado salsa. Tortillas were just cut into triangular wedges and fried in a little oil. Easy. The most difficult part was to obtain corn tortillas. The stores seem to be overstocked with wheat ones of a brand currently advertising on television.

For the salsa all the ingredients were combined and mixed. Also easy. The most difficult part of this was to spend some time reconstituting a dried chipotle.

This was an enjoyable snack, possibly a little bit bland for my liking. I think I would prefer to add a little Tabasco to brighten it up a little or a touch of Sriracha sauce. What I found stood out a little was the shredded iceberg lettuce, a salad green which I usually find not to have a lot of character, but here it came through well.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔✔

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Thai-Inspired Black Bean, Tofu and Potato Patties

From The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet, Joni Marie Newman, Fair Winds Press, 2011.

These were originally called burgers not patties in the book but I did not want burgers to eat in a bun when I made these. To the best of my knowledge burgers do not occur in the Thai cuisine. I wondered what a Thai-inspired one would be like. This book, which gives recipes for burgers from a different number of cuisines, has to guess what a burger in each cuisine might possibly be like.

The Thai inspiration seems to have been that of using tofu and peanut butter. The main ingredient though was potatoes that were chopped into 3 cm blocks, boiled first and left to cool. The firm tofu was broken up and mixed with an assortment of items: a can of black beans, peanut butter, chopped spring onions, red pepper flakes (I used chilli), garlic, curry paste, Sriracha sauce and ground coriander.

The potato was now added when it was cool enough to handle. It was then that hands were used to squash it all together. The resulting mixture was formed into burger shapes. The fact that the potato was not mashed but left in its blocks gave a mix that held together well but had satisfying lumps of potato and whole black beans.

These were an enjoyable eat, not exactly Thai-flavoured to my mind, but tasty though somewhat dry. I served mine with a stir fry of Asian greens, puffed tofu and reconstituted dried mushrooms.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Saturday 26 November 2011

Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango

From Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi, Ebury Press, 2010.

When I read eggplant and mango together I hesitated. Would that work? I felt somewhat uncertain about that combination. And I had never used soba noodles before. However, I had previously made several recipes from this book so I did trust Yotam Ottolenghi. I decided to give it a go.

The dressing was made first. That in itself seemed unusual to me. But go with the chef’s instructions. It was an Asian mix of rice vinegar, sugar, salt garlic, red chilli and sesame oil with some lime juice and zest.

Next I fried the eggplant (aubergine) that I’d cut into cubes. When they were golden they were sprinkled with salt and left to drain.

Next the soba noodles were cooked, drained and left to dry.

The noodles were mixed with the mango cut into pieces, the eggplant, chopped basil and coriander and some sliced red onion. These were tossed with the dressing and left for an hour or two until ready to serve. Basically this was a type of noodle salad.

It was surprisingly tasty. The mango and the fried eggplant complemented one another quite well. And the soba noodles are tastier than the usual noodles.

One to add to my make again list.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Friday 25 November 2011

Nourishing Chinese Green Pea and Tofu Soup

From Healthy Asian Vegetarian Dishes, Periplus Editions, 2003.

A nourishing clear soup was just what I was in the mood for and I found what looked like one in this book of healthy Asian vegetarian food. Not having used the book before I was keen to see how it would go.

It was so easy.

Firstly black fungus had to be put into water and soaked. Frozen peas were taken from the fridge to defrost a little.

While this was happening I put stock on to bring to the boil and chopped up a carrot and diced tofu. This went into the pot to simmer for 3 minutes while I chopped the mushrooms and cut up the black fungus that was now soaked. Mushrooms, peas and fungus went into the pot to simmer for another short while.

This gave me time to mix some cornflour and water to stir into the soup when it was ready. It was then brought back to the boil to thicken and it was done. Some sesame oil was then dribbled on top.

The soup was placed into serving bowls with chopped up spring onions added.

I did enjoy this soup. It was just what I felt like, satisfying though not over filling, well flavoured though neither too spicy nor too strong. And it was ready to eat in just a few minutes.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔✔  

Thursday 24 November 2011

Steamed Stuffed Won Ton

From Thai Vegetarian Cooking, Vatcharin Bhumichitr, Pavilion, 1991.

I really wanted to succeed with making won ton and I felt sure that with this book I would probably not go wrong. So far, all that I have made from Thai Vegetarian Cooking has been a success.

It was not difficult making the filling. Boiling an egg and chopping the white couldn’t be easier.  Making a paste in the mortar and pestle with coriander roots and peppercorns no problem. Frying some garlic in oil to make a garlic oil was pretty basic.  Chopping and mixing the final ingredients: bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and onion, and some bindings like flour and egg white, together with flavourings like soy sauce, sugar and the paste was the most difficult process so far.

It was filling the won tons and making them into the required shape where I fell down. The instructions were not completely clear in that it just said to gather the edges together and crimp them to form a money bag. I tried to close the bags tight which apparently was not what was required. They would not stay closed. The bags would not hold together. I have a feeling that I did not get the filling satisfactorily sticky to hold the pastry. After a lot of squeezing and binning of a few, some cursing and complaining, I had enough to put in the steamer.

They were all right, I suppose, but they weren’t right. They had a nice crunch and the flavour was not too bad, but they looked wrong.

I have since been shown what they should have been. The money bag is left open rather than closed tightly.

I might have another try at a later time, perhaps from a different recipe.  
Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔

Strawberry and Passionfruit Roulade

 From Hungry: Food from my heart, Guy Mirabella, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2011. 

Just the name of this cookery book intrigued me. When I flipped through the pages the inside had me somewhat puzzled and intrigued even more. There are groups of full colour pages, some of them half pages, and there’s actually a couple of fold out pages. This is not like the usual cookery book.

It’s really handsomely produced with its hard covers, intricately designed inside, double ribbon markers and arty photographic pages. It caught me in. I had to have it. Which also meant I had to cook from it. But will the recipes turn out as good as the layout?

Once I had worked out the complicated layout, which I much appreciated, I was ready to choose something to cook. There were left over egg whites in the fridge so I decided on the strawberry and passionfruit roulade—though I was somewhat uncertain about attempting it.

Actually it was not that difficult—even though mine went terribly astray somewhere along the way.  A lamington tin had to be prepared with backing paper, greased and sprinkled with caster sugar.

The cake itself was basically only a meringue and this is where mine started to go wrong. The egg whites did not seem to want to beat up totally. They went most of the way but didn’t fully fluff. Anyway I went ahead and cooked it.

The most difficult part was rolling it out onto the plate once you had put strawberries and cream on it. And, somehow, carefully following the clear instructions about how to fold back the paper and how to lift the cake off, it turned into a roulade-looking dessert.

While it looked reasonably good it wasn’t that good to eat. Something had gone wrong with the meringue mix and there was a layer of jelly-like egg white that was not at all pleasant. After a few tries we had to abandon the dessert. Pity. It looked better than it ended up tasting. My fault I’m sure, not the recipe’s.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔  

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Onion and Rosemary Tart with Fromage Blanc

From Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, Deborah Madison, Broadway Books, 2005.

I had a slight problem in understanding what ‘supper’ meant in this American book. For me it is a small snack type of meal before heading for bed. The recipes in this book looked to be much more than that. I think, after reading the introduction, that supper means a quick, more informal evening meal rather than dinner which is formal and could have more than one course. Whatever it means the recipes look enticing enough to try.

My first entry into the book was to cook an onion tart. I find tarts to be such useful items to make because you can serve them up with some vegetables or a salad—and generally there’s some tart left over to eat for lunch the next day. This particular tart looked to be quite easy and also cheap to make.

The onions were sliced and put in a saucepan to cook slowly. While they were doing their bit I made the pastry and pre-baked the case. The onions were ready by then so some chopped rosemary was added. Eggs were beaten with crème fraîche (I had no fromage blanc). Seasoning was added and the cooked onions added to this mix. It then went into the case and into the oven.

The tart was served with grilled potato salad with chipotle vinaigrette. A very satisfying meal.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔ 

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Grilled Potato Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette

From Fields of Green, Annie Somerville, Bantam Books, 1993.

I’ve had Fields of Green for some years now after it arrived as a Christmas present. I had said to family how I had enjoyed eating at Greens Restaurant in San Franciso. The result was the present which has been well used and equally well appreciated. The recipes generally always seem to be worth making and usually turn out well.

This particular salad was a little more work than usual. The potatoes had to be baked first. They were then cut into smaller pieces and grilled with red onions and red capsicums. Care had to be taken for the onions needed a little more time than the others so they had to be watched and the potatoes and capsicums moved lower in the oven.

Once the grilling was done the vegetables were tossed with the vinaigrette and some coriander. They were then placed on some salad leaves and served.

The chipotle vinaigrette was the hero. I had never thought of using chipotle puree in a dressing but it works extremely well. The smokiness and heat of the chillies highlighted the vegetables and the lime juice and Dijon mustard added an extra tang. Loved the dressing.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔ 

Chai Chikki Fried Rice Pudding

From Terre à Terre: The Vegetarian Cookbook, Amanda Powley with Philip Taylor, Absolute Press, 2009.

I’ve cooked a couple of recipes from this cookbook and thoroughly enjoyed the process, though it was quite a long one. The fusion of flavours worked extremely well in the items I made giving meals that were different and exciting to eat. So, at last I decided to try to make an item of dessert from the book. Hence Chai Chikki Fried Rice Pudding.

There were several elements to the puddings: the puddings themselves, a tamarind toffee and a chai custard.

The toffee was no problem. All I had to do was mix the ingredients: tamarind paste, two sugars (palm and caster) and water, and bring them to the boil then simmer. No problem. Cream was added for a further simmer. Done.

The custard was only slightly more work. Coconut milk and almond milk (I’m afraid I just mixed some ground almonds with plain milk for the almond milk) were infused with chai tea bags to flavour. The mix was then thickened with the addition of cornflour. Sugar was added and it was basically ready.

There were two sections for the puddings. Firstly apricots had to be infused with the flavour of cardamom. This was pretty easy to do with cardamom pods tied in muslin and placed with dried apricots and orange juice into a pan and cooked on a low heat.

The puds were made with rice and coconut milk. Basically it was very similar to making risotto. Sugar is stirred in at the end and they were left to cool.

Once cool the rice mixture was placed in small moulds with chopped apricots added in the centre (as a surprise) as they were built up. They were then placed in the fridge.

At the meal time they were shallow fried before putting them in the oven to heat right through. I could not get my puddings to look anything like the ones in the photograph when I fried them. They held together buy did not crisp up well on the outside.

The photograph in the book showed the puddings with a nasturtium bloom on each one so I nicked a couple of blooms which were hanging over a fence down the street and added them to mine.

Though the puddings did not come up to my expectations (built up from other recipes followed in the book) they were a pleasant dessert. I particularly like the tamarind toffee.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔ 

Thursday 17 November 2011

Kuching: Popular Vegetarian Restaurant

The last restaurant we tried was one we found by accident. It proved to be a good find. It was named 'Popular' which proved a good name for us.

As soon as we entered we felt the difference in this venue from the others we had tried. It was quite spacious with room between all the tables. There were  tablecloths on them. The staff was dressed uniformly.

We were approached by a genial maître d’ who instantly made us feel welcome. When we asked that the friendly host suggest a meal for us he had hesitation in telling us what he would recommend. He was spot on for it was an excellent meal.

We had a soup which the maître d’ said was good for our health. It contained a host of ingredients and it was difficult to actually work out what the flavours were though ginger came through. It was light and refreshing.

For a green dish the host suggested midin but as we said we’d rather try something else he came up with a dish of a local green that was unknown to us.

Our final dish was of taro. Another very tasty one.

A dish of watermelon was supplied at the end to cleanse our palates. This was complimentary unlike the Thank Food which I guess would have charged for it.

While I still think the ‘rids’ at the Fook Khang was my favourite dish, I feel that Popular Vegetarian Restaurant would have to be the best of the four we had tried.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Bigoli con Patate e Tartufi (Bigoli with Potato and Truffle)

From My Italian Heart: recipes from an Italian kitchen, Guy Grossi, Lantern, 2006.

I always enjoy trying out new pastas. This one from Guy Grossi’s book looked a little different from the usual. Apparently bigoli is an old Venetian pasta.

Making the pasta is almost like starting off to make a pastry. Is there any connection between the two words: pasta and pastry? Apparently yes. After a research hunt I found that they both have as a source the Latin word ‘pasta’ meaning dough. Interesting. I'd never connected them before.

You begin by rubbing butter into the flour until you have what looks like breadcrumbs. Egg and milk are added and a dough is formed and kneaded. It’s then rolled flat and cut into strips like spaghetti. I found it to be quite a lot softer than the usual pasta mix.

The sauce is cooked in the oven. Onions, garlic, potatoes and herbs (rosemary and sage) are placed in a baking dish. Oil and stock are poured over them and some Parmesan added. It's then baked.

When the bigoli has been cooked it is drained. It’s then put back in the saucepan with the contents of the baking dish. They are gently mixed together and served up. Some truffle shavings were supposed to be sprinkled over. That was out of my budget so I dribbled on some truffle oil.

The bigoli being a softer pasta than usual had no al dente dimension to it but it had an extra element of flavour from the butter. The sauce—if you can really call it a sauce—was wonderfully flavoured from the herbs and oven baking rather than on the stove top.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔ 

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Kuching: Kek Lapis

Walking along the streets of Kuching I was often struck by the stalls that sold Kek Lapis (Layer Cake). These cakes, which are a feature of the local cuisine, are like pieces of art in cake form.

They are formed of layers of different coloured and flavoured cake, each layer added one at a time and cooked before the next one is added. The cake is thus built up layer by layer until the cake is complete.

For the more elaborate Kek Lapis, which have geometrical patterns inside them, two or more cakes must be made. These are cut up and added into the layers of the main cake as it is being constructed. Some of the results are most amazing.

When the cake is complete it is not particularly impressive looking but when it is sliced open the magic inside is revealed.