Saturday, September 17, 2016


September 11-15, 2016

After a week in Fukuoka, I'm now reporting from Perth! It's been 9 years since I explored this city in any meaningful way, although Michael stopped in just last year. My work commitments had me located right in the city centre, eating lots of in-house catering but allowing a bit of time to wander about and seek more exciting veg options. Here are four of those.

I had Sunday to recover from my travel and prep for a busy week ahead. Most of Perth seemed to be in recovery mode too - the streets were quiet, although a smattering of burger joints were well attended! I was tempted to join in when I saw haloumi burgers filing out of the Little Bird Cafe kitchen, but I satisfied myself with their more conventional brunch menu. It reminded me of Melbourne's Glass Den, where meat-based dishes sit alongside green brekky bowls, maca-spiked almond milk smoothies and raw vegan cakes.

I took on their signature vegan buckwheat pancake ($20), which was listed to include banana, coconut and cashew cream. I was thrilled to get a lot of other fruits besides, although I preferred not to eat the greenery. The pancake was lovely, just a little crispy on the outside and cakey in the middle, primed to soak up some maple syrup. Although there was a lot going on, the plate was lacking a little depth - I would have welcomed a hint of bitterness, sourness or charring to round everything out. Nevertheless I was very happy to be eating a variety of gorgeous fruits in a friendly, bustling cafe.

Michael recommended that I seek out Utopia in Northbridge for some mock meat and bubble tea. It's set back from the James St footpath, but once found proves to be an enormous cafe with dozens of menu items, as well as fridges stocked with mock meats and desserts that you can take home with you. The menu includes photos of every dish - noodles and soups, stir-fries, sizzling plates and, to my surprise, fish and chips.

Overwhelmed and seeking to narrow my options, I focused on the cheap Chef's Specials which come with a serve of rice. The sweet & sour chicken rice with crispy chicken ($11.50) was pretty standard and over-sweet, although there's always some illicit pleasure in eating a main dish with pineapple (*pulls face at Michael*). My lychee tea with aloe vera ($5) was equally fun and sugary - I really brought that on myself.

I noticed Indonesia Indah very close to my hotel, and promised myself I'd pay them a visit when I saw tempe listed on their menu out front. Unfortunately it was no longer included on their up-to-date manu inside, but there remained a dozen other veg-friendly dishes.

I picked out the sauteed tofu with egg ($11.90) and added some steamed rice ($2.50). The fried tofu pieces were served in a thin, tangy gravy the held wisps of egg, sauteed onions and tender green vegetables; it was all scattered with golden fried shallots. I was confused to see few other customers enjoying this great food, but perhaps it's more popular at lunch time.

On my final night in the city I walked beyond Utopia to Lotus Vegetarian, which I'd enjoyed in 2007. I unintentionally but fortuitously entered its sibling restaurant Sri Melaka, which serves Malaysia vegetarian foods. There's also a neighbouring vegetarian grocery, closed at night, to round out the business triplet.

Here I chose a small but rich plate of roti paratha and chicken kapitan ($11). The two rotis were piping hot and fried to flaky perfection, perfect for dipping into the oily curry. The medium-spiced curry bowl had plenty of diced mock chicken and just one wedge of potato. Sour pickled vegetables were a welcome contrast, although they added another layer of chilli. Thank goodness for aloe vera juice!

These Perth meals made for fun mini-escapes during my work week. It's been a relief to clock off entirely since then - stay tuned for holiday eats next.

Monday, September 12, 2016


September 4-10, 2016

It's been a quiet week on the blog, but those following us on twitter and facebook will have seen some updates from Fukuoka, Japan, where I've been attending a conference. My host was kind and persistent in securing vegetarian food for me, quizzing cooks several times daily in Japanese about dashi. In turn most chefs were equally generous in making me something off-menu, checking food labels and asking questions of their own accord. 

I enjoyed my usual inari and pickled plum onigiri from the convenience stores. We happened upon soft tofu served in a balloon, lovely braised Chinese vegetables, and tempura on udon. I drank several kinds of sake and ate sweet, pillowy omelettes. There's little I can share that any other non-Japanese speaking vegetarian in Fukuoka could take up and try for themselves - just one small restaurant called Ethnic café Bõ. It's a Vietnamese eatery where the chef knows exactly what vegetarian and vegan foods are, and is all set to prepare multiple versions of them.

It was the rare week where my vegetarian diet felt restricting, but this was tempered with gratitude for the many people who went out of their way to accommodate me.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Mega-mallow Vovo

August 28, 2016

Our favourite Vegan About Town is headed to Singapore for several months, and as a send-off she requested Aussie foods for a potluck in her home. Michael made sausage rolls, naturally, and I put my mind to dessert. I took a gamble on recreating Iced Vovos which Steph has related some nostalgia for.

Vegan-wise, the internet turns up a couple of neat recipes on Like A Vegan. By the time I came on board, one of Steph's housemates had already tried this formulation, and they weren't a fan of the agar texture in the pink fondant layer. I gave myself a couple of options - shopping around for vegan marshmallows, and/or making my own pink marshmallow fluff using aquafaba.

From the Cruelty-Free Shop, I was able to pick up these strawberry vegan marshmallows. They're lightly pink and have a pleasant, natural strawberry flavour that I hoped would carry through. (I still held over some aquafaba from Saturday night's dinner just in case it all went horribly, horribly wrong.) 

Everything was a bit experimental, really. I made an oversized biscuit that ended up a bit cakey after I topped up my plain flour with self-raising. The dough was too sticky to shape, but I cautiously cut some Vovo crinkles into the edges after it baked.

I started getting properly nervous when I tried to melt the marshmallows - they stretched and globbed and stayed stubbornly lumpy, while the edges began turning gold. Using oiled baking paper, I was able to fashion the goo into a couple of sausage shapes and lay them onto my big biscuit. (The marshmallow saucepan looked disastrous, and I filled it up with cold water that I prayed would dissolve the sugar.) I reckoned those marshmallow logs were hiding lumpy-crunchy-sugary bits on the inside. The coconut and jam were my saviours, the final well-behaved touches that lent the perfect Vovo look.

For no reason I can fathom, the marshmallows proved to be just fine and my mega-mallow Vovo was a roaring, sugary success. I still hesitate to recommend my sticky-gooey-will-it-or-won't-it approach, though! Embark on this recipe at your own risk.

Mega-mallow Vovo
(a recipe inspired by the Iced Nono Tart and Vovo biscuits on Like a Vegan)

1/2 cup margarine
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour
pinch of salt
1/4 cup soy milk
3 x 75g packets vegan strawberry marshmallows
spray oil
1/4 cup dessicated coconut
1/3 cup berry jam

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a small walled baking tray with paper.

Place the margarine, sugar and vanilla into a large bowl and beat them together until fluffy. Sift in the flours and salt and slowly beat them in, gradually adding the soy milk as you go. It could all come together into a sticky dough. Press the dough into the baking tray and flatten it out as best you can. Bake it for 10 minutes, then retrieve the biscuit to flatten it out more with the back of a spoon. Bake the biscuit for a further 10-15 minutes, until it's golden and cooked through but not too thickly crusted. Allow the biscuit to cool completely. 

If you'd like to replicate the crinkled edge of a Vovo biscuit, use the baking paper to lift the biscuit out of the tray. Use a round biscuit cutter to remove small arcs of biscuit at regular intervals along the edge (see top photo).

Set a medium saucepan over low-medium heat and pour in the marshmallows. Stir them regularly as they melt into a big lump - it'll be gooey and ugly and you want to avoid the sugar browning. I did this for about 10 minutes before turning off the heat. Spray a little oil onto a sheet of baking paper and plonk half of the marshmallow goo onto the paper. Roll the marshmallow up and fashion it into a long sausage shape. When it's the same length as your biscuit, transfer it onto the biscuit and flatten it with your fingers to cover a third of the surface (see top photo). Press half of the coconut into the marshmallow. Repeat with the other half of the marshmallow goo, lining the other side of the biscuit.

Gently spoon the jam onto the middle third of the biscuit. Store it all in the fridge if you're not planning to serve it right away; it can sit at room temperature for a couple of hours if needed.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Banana & strawberry cupcakes

August 21-22, 2016

My job is now split over two campuses - I've got some lovely new officemates and we've all moved into a newly refurbished workroom together. Our supervisor invited the rest of the department around for an office-warming morning tea, and our team all agreed to bring along snacks to share.

I first baked a tray of gluten-free, vegan caramel slice to ensure that most special-diet bases were covered. Then I moved onto using up some bananas in a cupcake recipe that I've had bookmarked for 8 years. With eggs and vegetable oil and fresh strawberries folded through perhaps it's more of a muffin recipe, except that the 'muffins' are spread with cream cheese frosting. I slathered the frosting on generously with a knife (no piping for me), and added some sprinkles on top for decoration. I had almost a cup of leftover frosting, which I enjoyed eating with fresh strawberries over the following week.

I like the flavour combination of sweet bananas and strawberries offset with a little tanginess from lemon zest and cream cheese. It was very popular with my colleagues too!

Banana & strawberry cupcakes
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Vanilla Garlic)

3 cups plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
generous pinch salt
3 small bananas, peeled
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup sunflower oil
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup strawberries, chopped

1/2 cup butter, softened
250g cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Place cupcake papers in a cupcake tray.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, mash the bananas and the vanilla together. Crack the eggs in one at a time and whisk them through. Whisk in the oil and lemon zest until well combined. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, and then fold in the strawberries.

Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake papers to three-quarters full. (I made 16 cupcakes, and so used up the mixture over two separate baking batches.) Bake the cupcakes until a skewer comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool before frosting them. This is a good time to take the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge to soften.

With an electric beater, whip together the butter, cream cheese and vanilla until fluffy. Sift and beat in the icing sugar, half a cup at a time until well mixed and fluffy. Beat in a little milk if the frosting looks too stiff to spread. Use a knife to spread the cooled cupcakes generously with frosting. Store cupcakes in the fridge, but allow them half an hour on the bench before eating.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thai barbecue seitan sandwiches

August 20, 2016

We had a pretty quiet weekend lined up, so I decided it was time to get stuck into one of the many intriguing but complicated recipes in Street Vegan, my birthday present from Cindy. The sandwiches section of the book is filled with amazing combos, all of which require a fair amount of effort. After much debate, we settled on these rolls filled with Thai barbecue seitan ribs, pickled onions and smoky, roasted peanuts.

There are a lot of elements to these but they're all relatively simple and standalone, which means you can make them whenever you've got time - you could easily prepare the nuts, onions and sauce well ahead of eating, which would make the actual assembly trivially easy. 

We doubled the ribs component of these to make sure we had leftovers, but even then we wound up with a disproportionate amount of the barbecue sauce - don't be afraid to tweak the quantities a bit to balance things out. 

The end results were spectacular: the ribs themselves were probably a little bit on the soft side (don't be afraid to add even more gluten flour than specified in the recipe below), but that meant they soaked up the sauce very effectively, making for a tangy, smoky sandwich filling. The pickled onions and nuts added more zingy flavour and a bit of crunch - these are some impressive goddamn sandwiches. We had the leftover ribs with the barbecue sauce and some roast veggies, which worked superbly as well.

Thai barbecue seitan sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Adam Sobel's Street Vegan)

pickled basil & onions
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 bunch of Thai basil leaves
1 large red onion, sliced

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegars, salt, mustard seeds and sugar and bring the mix to a boil. Stir in the basil and onion. Once the mixture has come back to the boil, cover the saucepan and kill the heat. After 20 minutes or so, transfer the cooled mixture to a sealable container and set aside.

smoked chile-roasted peanuts
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1.5 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)
1.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line an oiled baking tray. In a bowl, thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Spread the seasoned nuts onto the baking tray and roast for 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has dried up.

Thai barbecue sauce
1 cup lime juice
1 cup olive oil
1 stalk lemongrass, stripped and chopped into large chunks
1 tablespoon minced galangal
1/4 bunch of Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and stemmed
3 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup tomato paste

Put the lime juice into a medium saucepan and add in the lemongrass, galangal, Thai basil, jalapeno, cayenne pepper, tamari and the ground and fresh coriander. Bring the mix to the boil and then kill the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor, along with the tomato paste and olive oil and blend until smooth.

seitan ribs
500g firm tofu
6 tablespoons tamari
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1.5 cups gluten flour (our seitan was still very soft, consider adding more)
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons ground coriander
oil for frying

In a food processor, puree the tofu, onion, garlic, carrot and celery together until smooth - this took at least five minutes of blending for me, but it will depend on your equipment I guess.

In a medium bowl, combine the gluten flour with the paprika, cumin, coriander and curry paste. Mix if the blended tofu mix and knead for a minute or two until you get a reasonably dry and firm dough. Add more gluten flour as needed here - my guess is we added about another 1/4 cup.

On a cutting board, roll the dough out into a flat square - about 20cm X 20cm. Slice the square into ~15 thin strips and then cut them in half.

Heat a generous layer of oil in a frying pan until it's hot and then fry the 'ribs' in batches, turning to brown the outsides, for 5-8 minutes per batch. Top up the oil between batches if required. Pop the fried ribs onto some paper towel as you go to soak up the excess oil.

When you're ready to eat, heat the pre-fried ribs in a pan (we just used half of our batch) and, once they've warmed up nicely, pour in about a cup of the barbecue sauce. Stir everything together gently, so that the ribs get coated in the sauce and cook for a few minutes, until it fries off a bit and things aren't too liquidy.

4 long rolls
1 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
2 cups mixed green leaves

Build the sandwiches!

Start by combining the mayo and Sriracha to make a slightly spicy spread; smear it on the rolls.

Pop some greens on the rolls and then 5-6 seitan ribs. Sprinkle the pickled onion and some peanuts on top and then serve.