Teriyaki Sauce (vegan)

30 August 2014

The first time I made a home made a teriyaki noodle bowl, I kept making contented humming noises and saying things along the lines of "I've cracked noodle box." This sauce is good. Really good. The day I took these photos, I was home alone and made a half recipe over noodles and veggies, which should have been enough for dinner and lunch the next day. I had to find something else for lunch...

Teriyaki Sauce

Makes: Enough sauce for 3-4 servings of stir fry
Adapted from: Oh She Glows

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons raw sugar, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced (out of a tube/jar is fine)
  • pinch of chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • sesame seeds for garnish

  1. Mix together cornflour and water in a small dish until smooth, and keep separate.
  2. Whisk together all the other ingredients in a small-to-medium mixing bowl.
  3. Set aside, to let the flavours meld, and prepare your stir fry or noodle bowl ingredients.
  4. Once your stir fry is done, pour in the sauce and bring to the boil
  5. Re-mix your cornflour, and then add to the sauce and stir through for about 30 seconds or until sauce is thickened, then remove from heat.
  6. Serve, garnished with sesame seeds.

Why isn't The Doctor a vegetarian?

25 August 2014

This past year I have turned into a bit of a Doctor Who nut. We started watching the reboot just before Christmas, and finished all seven seasons with a few weeks to spare before yesterday's launch of season 8. I freely acknowledge that it's not brilliant TV, it's no Game of Thrones, and most episodes have plot holes, often giant ones, but it's fun, entertaining, and, unlike Game of Thrones, rarely leaves me feeling depressed.

When I found out that yesterday's season premiere was going to be shown in cinemas, I immediately booked tickets, even though they were overpriced, because I wanted the experience of being introduced to Peter Capaldi's Doctor in cinemas. I even dressed for the occasion.

However, there is one thing that really bothers me. The Doctor has lived for over 1000 years. He always gives his enemies a chance, and is friends with all different species, and tends to reject differences between species as being relevant. He has a strong objection to causing harm, and an incredibly deontological (what you do matters more than the overall consequences) approach to ethics (Time War complexities aside). Why then, is he perfectly happy to eat roast beef, not to mention fish fingers and custard? It's true that humans (and presumably Gallifreyans) are good at cognitive dissonance, and he is probably better than most, considering his history in the Time War, but I still don't think that meat eating makes sense for his character.

Of course, The Doctor is supposed to be appealing to the everyday Brit, and I guess a vegetarian Doctor, let alone a vegan one, would probably damage that appeal somewhat. Furthermore, it probably wouldn't have occurred to the scriptwriters in the first place. That doesn't stop it from being jarring every time I see him tucking in to something he shouldn't. Furthermore, when I did a bit of digging, I discovered that the Sixth Doctor became vegetarian, and the Doctor wasn't seen to eat meat again until the reboot (source). Why couldn't that have been kept in for the reboot? They needn't have made a thing of it, just not shown the doctor sitting down and happily chowing down on animal flesh.

What do you think? Am I overanalysing an in general superficial storyline? Alternatively, what do you think of the Season 8 premiere?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that Clara is finally going to develop some character depth, and the throwaway line "Last time I checked you weren't a vegetarian" (no context given to avoid spoilers) was particularly interesting given that I already had this post half-written last night. I also fell like I'm going to like the new doctor. Of course, the only one I didn't like on intro was Tennant, who I think ended up being my favourite.

How to make genuinely delicious tofu

22 August 2014

When I was in primary school, Mum went through a phase where she tried cooking with tofu quite a bit. Actually, I only seem to remember one tofu recipe that she made repeatedly, it was tofu, capsicum and tomato in a watery sauce. At the time I had to hold my nose to eat it. My tastes have matured since then, but I suspect I would still find that meal bland and unappealing.

Fast forward to my first trip to Japan in late high school. There I thought I learned the trick to making tofu edible - it was using it as a meat filler rather than a meat replacer - minced meat + crumbled tofu was ok, if not as good as the mince without the tofu.

After returning to Australia, however, I'm pretty sure that I barely, if at all, saw tofu again until my next time in Japan. This time around, I discovered Aburaage, tofu that's been pre-deep fried for you, and that was pretty good, if you define good based on taste rather than the effect on your arteries. I actually bought that to cook with every now and then, but unfortunately, it's very expensive to buy here in Australia

After returning from Japan, I turned vegetarian, followed by vegan. It was time for me to forge a new relationship with tofu. It took a while. I've been vegetarian for nearly two years now, and it was only recently that I discovered how to make really good tofu.

A lot of people recommend freezing tofu to give it a meaty flavour and help it absorb the marinade. That definitely improves the tofu, but it's not the method that had me dancing around the kitchen and snatching pieces of tofu from the pan and shoving them into my mouth. Crispy on the outside, smooth and creamy on the inside, I never knew tofu could be this good. It's lightly salty though otherwise rather bland, but in a pleasant way, like chips are bland. Of course, once you've added it to a stir-fry with a flavoursome sauce, you won't need to worry about bland. Admittedly, it's not exactly low fat, but I'm ok with that.

surprisingly delicious tofu

How to make genuinely delicious tofu

Most of what I write here came from Herbivoracious. Definitely read that article in full. However, I'm going to reproduce the basics here, with some of my own perspective.

Step 1: Buy good tofu

Get good, fresh, firm or extra-firm tofu. Do not use the shelf-stable dry packed tofu. It has it's uses, but a stir fry is not one of them. If you can, buy tofu from your local Asian food shop rather than from Coles or Woolworths. I find this one to be excellent, even though I think it's only firm rather than extra firm.

It's made locally, so I'm not sure how readily available it is, but they sell it in my local Asian grocer. If you're in Melbourne, you may be able to find it. Whatever you do, do not use the organic firm tofu they sell in Coles, it has a really lumpy texture, which will not give you the effect we're after here.

Step 2: Cut your tofu

Rather than making big cubes, slice the tofu into thin slabs about 1cm thick. Then slice the rectangles in half on the diagonal to make triangles (my preference), or alternatively cube it, slice it into strips, or just leave as rectangles.

Step 3: Soak the tofu

This is optional in the guide I was following, but I have decreed that it is not. Soak the tofu in freshly boiled well-salted water for about 15 minutes, making sure that the pieces of tofu are separated so they all have water exposure. This pulls some of the moisture out of the tofu, improving the texture, and also makes it slightly salty and delicious straight out of the pan.

Step 4: Dry the tofu

Lay out a clean tea towel, spread out the tofu on top, then put another tea towel on top. Pat dry.

Step 5: Pan fry the tofu

Heat a pan over high heat, using a high smoke point neutral tasting oil. Peanut oil is good. You want to make sure there is a decent amount of oil in the pan. Do not skimp on the oil.

I go against instructions and do it in a non-stick pan (I don't own a cast iron one), though I turn the heat down a notch, and it still works great. Put the tofu in the pan in a single layer. You may need to do several batches, but if you overcrowd the pan it won't crisp.

When the tofu is golden brown, flip it over. When it's golden brown on both sides, set aside on some paper towel.

If you're making a stir fry, or curry or whatever, removing it from the pan is important. If you dump everything on your tofu, you will ruin all the work you have put into crisping the tofu. Add the tofu back into your dish right near the end, when you're putting the sauce into the stir fry, or just in time to heat up if it's a curry. Or just season it with some more salt and eat it. It really is surprisingly good.

surprisingly delicious tofu

Note: when I took these photos, I used (sustainably harvested) red palm oil for frying, because Mum bought it for me last time she visited. The vivid yellow colour comes from the red palm oil, so if you use peanut oil, expect a more ordinary colour. I couldn't bothered redoing it all with an ordinary oil just for the sake of realistic looking photos.

Traditional Lasagne - Veganized

17 August 2014

Growing up, Mum's lasagne was one of my favourite foods, and it easily beat any other traditional lasagne I'd ever eaten. I used to rave to my friends about how good Mum's lasagne was, especially when we got fed some terrible lasagne look-alike on school camp. In retrospect, I expect my friends found it rather tedious.

Vegan traditional lasagne

I don't usually cook with fake meats, but to make this vegan version taste authentic, I needed to try something other than lentils. Enter TVP, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at the result. In this dish, I suspect it could fool most omnivores, although it's not easy for me to test this theory.

This recipe is long and contains a lot of steps. It is time-consuming, but it isn't difficult. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed

Recipe Notes
  • Liquid smoke isn't the easiest ingredient to find in Australia. If you can't find it, it doesn't matter, I just added it to compensate for the smokiness of the missing bacon. You may be able to find it in a health food store, or, if you have one nearby, an import store.
  • It may seem like there's quite a bit of oil in the sugo. This is because meat naturally contains fat, but TVP doesn't have any, and needs fat added to give it a nice mouth-feel.
  • You shouldn't need to add any salt to the sugo because of the salt in the beef style stock. If you use a salt free stock powder, you might need to add salt. If you use a salty stock powder, and it's not salty enough, I'd recommend adding more stock powder instead of salt.
  • You can prepare this the morning of or even the day before. Just cover with clingwrap and store in the fridge. This makes it ideal for entertaining. I think that the fact that the lasagne noodles have time to absorb juices prior to going into the oven more or less compensates for the fact that the lasagne needs to be heated up from cold rather than warm.
  • You can use commercial vegan cheese on top instead of the cheesy sauce. In that case, just make half the amount of bechamel base, and then add the nutmeg to it.

Traditional Lasagna

Serves: 6-8
Veganised from Mum's lasagne recipe, which I think originally came off a lasagne box a long long time ago

TVP "Mince"
  • 3/4 cup TVP crumbles
  • 2/3 cup hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon beef style stock powder (I use Massel brand)
Sugo (the tomato layer)
  • 2 + 2 tablespoons light oil (not virgin), divided
  • 1 Small onion
  • 1 quantity "mince"
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 2 x 400g tins peeled and diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Italian herbs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Bechamel/Cheesy topping
  • 4 tablespoons light olive oil (not virgin)
  • 4 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1.2L soymik 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup Nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lemon juice
  • About 1 box instant lasagne sheets (6 large sheets)

TVP "Mince"
  1. Mix the stock powder and liquid smoke into the water
  2. Add the dry TVP to a medium sized pot, cover with the stock mixture, and cook over low to medium heat until the water is completely absorbed
  3. Add half the oil, and try to brown it, or at least cook until all the oil is absorbed, and then a few minutes afterwards. I find it difficult to get to brown.
  4. Set aside.
Vegan traditional lasagne - TVP "mince"

  1. In the same pot you used for the mince, heat the remaining oil, and cook the onion over medium heat until golden brown, then add back the mince.
  2. Increase to high heat, add wine and stir until it evaporates.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes and tomato paste, and bring to the boil.
  4. Season with freshly ground black pepper, sugar and mixed herbs. Taste, and if it needs salt, add more beef stock powder, or if you prefer, salt.
  5. Cover, and set aside. 
Vegan traditional lasagne - Sugo

  1. Heat oil over medium heat, and whisk in flour.
  2. When the roux turns lightly golden, gradually pour in the soymilk, stirring constantly. It will go really lumpy at first, but as you keep adding milk and stirring it will smooth out.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and continue to stir until sauce has boiled and is smooth and thick.
  4. Vegan traditional lasagne - Bechamel sauce

  5. Divide in half
  6. Season one half with nutmeg. This forms the bechmel.
  7. Stir nutritional yeast and lemon juice into the other half. This forms the cheesy topping.
Vegan traditional lasagne - Cheesy topping

Assembling the Lasagne
  1. Lightly grease an oven-proof lasagne dish.
  2. Pour a thin layer of bechamel into the dish. 
  3. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  4. Arrange uncooked lasagna sheets over the bechamel. 
  5. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  6. Cover with half the sugo and half the remaining bechamel.
  7. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
    Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  8. Add another layer of lasagne sheets.
  9. Repeat step 4 and 5.
  10. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  11. Cover the top with the cheese sauce, making sure that there isn't any lasagne sheet left uncovered, or it won't have the moisture it needs to cook.
  12. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  13. Bake in oven at 180°C for 35-45 minutes or until the lasagne sheets are soft (you can try pricking it with a fork to test). 
  14. Take from oven, cover, and allow to set for 10-15 minutes. Don't be tempted to skip this, or you will end up with slop. Tasty slop, but not at all attractive looking.
  15. Vegan traditional lasagne
  16. Serve with garlic bread, or even better fresh hot bread (Coles/Woolworths bake-at-home dinner rolls are a deliciously easy option) and a fresh garden salad.

At this point, I need to rant about lasagne photography. If it's hot, it falls apart and forms a gloopy mess that is completely not photogenic. If it's cold, it holds together well, but somehow, it's visibly cold and unappetizing in the photo (see below). I think the trick is to cool it completely, then cut it, and then microwave it a little bit, so the top is warm but the insides are still cold, and then it holds together fairly well but doesn't have that unappetizing cold look to it. At that point, however, I'd rather given up. It was the third time I'd made this lasagne to develop the recipe (you can see that some of the photos were taken in different kitchens), and it was the second day of eating and photographing that particular lasagne, and I didn't want to reheat two extra serves of lasagne that weren't going to be eaten that day.

Vegan traditional lasagne

Seriously though, make this lasagne. It's seriously good comfort food.

Vegan butter

13 August 2014

Giving up butter was a major hurdle for me in going vegan. Let's face it, Nuttlex tastes rather like the solidified grease it is, and while I know of one other brand of vegan margarine in Australia, I'm not prepared to go to a health food store to buy my butter alternative, nor am I prepared to pay health food store prices. In fact, I've never even tried Melrose. So Nuttlex it was, and it did the job in some contexts, even while it failed miserable on hot fresh bread or on pancakes.

So when I came across a recipe for homemade vegan butter that claimed to taste just like the real thing, it caught my attention. It took me a while to track down all the ingredients, but it was definitely worth it. I've made it a number of times now, and while there's still some Nuttlex sitting in my fridge, it's been abandoned - I haven't had to replace it since I discovered this recipe. While I don't think it tastes exactly like dairy butter (it has a faint coconut aroma for a start, though that could be the oil that I'm using), it's an excellent alternative, not just a lacklustre replacement.

The only problem is that I always want to make a tipple batch (to fill my giant ice cube tray), and the original recipe is awkward to multiply out. This is further complicated by the fact that Australian cups and tablespoons are slightly different to US ones, something that I usually ignore, but in this case, I find it important to measure as accurately as possible. As such, I've reproduced Mattie's genius recipe below, with measurements converted to Australian units and tripled. I've also modified the steps slightly to incorporate some things I found helpful. However, I highly recommend you also read his spiel about how and why it all works. If you like this one, you might want to try some of his other vegan butter recipes. So far, I've also made the garlic butter, which was amazing, though not quite as versatile.

Vegan Butter

Makes: 6 x 100g (approx) blocks
Tripled and updated for Australians, with permission, from veganbaking.net

  • Making smooth Vegan Butter is dependent on the mixture solidifying as quickly as possible after it's mixed. So when melting your coconut oil, be careful to just barely melt it. I find that a few floating lumps are dealt with just fine by my blender. If you're doing this on a hot day, you may actually need to cool your oil in the fridge before you start.
  • Mattie recommends using this ice cube tray, and I also find that it does the job very nicely. However, any small container will do the trick.
  • I know weird, hard to pronounce ingredients like lecithin and xanthan gum are scary to a lot of people. However, I know where they come from, what purpose they're serving, and I consume them only in moderation - probably a lot less than the average person since I rarely consume packaged foods. Don't tell me about health risks, I'm not interested. If you're concerned, just don't make this recipe.
  • I wanted to avoid using multiple teaspoon increments on all these measurements, but unfortunately, without using non-standard kitchen measuring tools, it's not possible to be accurate enough going by weight for such small quantities, and I don't have anything to measure small quantities of liquid by volume. Sorry.
  • Some advice on chasing down ingredients:
    • Lecithin granules can be found in the health food section of Coles or Woolworths. I believe that liquid lecithin would give a better result and I intend to track some down, but the granules are fine for a first try.
    • Coconut vinegar can be hard to find. My local Asian Grocer didn't stock it, but I found it at the Asian Grocer at the Prahran Market, and it was dirt cheap. If you're not in Melbourne, you're on your own as far as finding it goes, but if you can't find it, just use all apple cider vinegar.
    • I found xanthan gum in a health food store. You may also be able to find it in Coles or Woolworths in the health food aisle. It's a common additive for gluten free baking.
    • I haven't yet found a good bulk source of refined coconut oil. Currently, I'm using this coconut oil, but as it's purified and deodorised rather than refined, it leaves a faint though not unpleasant coconut flavour. If you know of another source, please let me know in the comments.

  • 200mL soy milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coconut vinegar
  • 1 + ⅛ teaspoons salt
  • 390g refined coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon canola oil, light olive oil or rice bran oil
  • 3 teaspoons liquid soy lecithin or liquid sunflower lecithin OR 1 tablespoon + 2 ¾ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum or 1 ⅞ teaspoons psyllium husk powder

  1. Measure out soy milk in a small measuring jug, and add vinegar(s) and salt. If using lecithin granules, add now to give them time to soften. Whisk together with a fork, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until it curdles and thickens.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil in the microwave so it's barely melted.
  3. Add the coconut oil, soy milk mixture, canola oil, lecithin (if not already added), and xanthan gum to a food processor or blender.
  4. Blend/process for about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides halfway through if necessary. If using lecithin granules, you may need to process for slightly longer.
  5. Pour the mixture into a mould and immediately place it in the freezer to solidify. Depending on how cold your freezer is set, it should be ready in 1-3 hours.
  6. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month or wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 year.

Happy Birthday Hunter! (vegan vanilla sponge cake with buttercream frosting)

10 August 2014

It was Hunter's birthday yesterday. I asked him what sort of cake he wanted for his birthday, and he said "a sponge cake". Seriously, what sort of person, given an open choice of cakes, selects sponge cake? Where's the richness? Where's the decadence? Where's the adventure? Ok, scrap that last one, there's plenty of adventure to be had in baking my first ever sponge cake, using an untested vegan recipe, in a never-before-baked in oven, and along the way doing my first ever decorated cake. How have I got this far in life without ever decorating a cake?

After failing to find a recipe on any of my trusted vegan recipe sources, I did a lot of Googling, and settled on using this cake recipe, but went back to the trusted veganbaking.net for the buttercream frosting.

Based on the comments below the cake recipe, I reduced the sugar down to just over 150g, and it was plenty sweet enough, especially with the icing. The cake as a whole was good, but not excellent. It was light, but didn't have the airy softness of a truly good sponge, and I think next time I might need to try a slightly more complicated recipe, maybe this one, which I decided against because I didn't feel like also trying to make yoghurt on a cold winter's day.

For the buttercream frosting, I made a double batch (one for the middle and one for the top), but thought I'd only use the amount of sugar for one batch, and then slowly work up. In fact, I didn't need to add any more than that, it was already very sweet, and I could have comfortably used even less. The flavour blend in the icing was amazing, and I definitely recommend it, just adjust the sweetness to taste. The only problem was that as the cake was rather domed in shape, some of the strawberries exhibited an unwelcome tendency to be more interested in being friends with the plate rather than with the cake. This may have been at least partially due the the reduced sugar in the icing affecting its stiffness.

Vegan sponge cake with buttercream frosting and strawberries

Overall, the cake was a success, and I have decided that sponge cakes, while never destined to be my first choice, need not actually be that boring after all. The birthday was also good. We had some friends over and played some games, though unfortunately we didn't have time for any Magic. Due to an organizational glitch I had to leave for a few hours to do some tutoring, and then we all went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. Happy Birthday for yesterday, Hunter.

An ode to public transport

05 August 2014

After moving just over a week ago, we are now mostly unpacked. I haven't, however, had much time to experiment in the kitchen, especially as I'm also back to uni. Sorry about the scarcity of posts during the past few weeks. I do, however, have several half-written posts that just require me to remake the recipe again to tweak things or get better photos. In the meantime, here's a digression onto another topic I feel quite strongly about.

I am a regular public transport user. I also work and study with a lot of public transport users, and we love to gripe about how unreliable Melbourne's public transport system is. And by a lot of standards, for example, by Japan's standards, it's unreliable and infrequent. And when a heatwave cases public transport to grind to a halt, or when I experience 3 weeks of replacement buses in the evenings adding 20 minutes to my trip home after work, I love to have a good whinge.

But the truth is, I love Melbourne's public transport. It's not an unconditional love, and I firmly believe that it should undergo significant improvement, but I love it all the same.

Australians, on the whole, have a very negative relationship, with public transport, so I though I'd share some of the things I love about it, in a mini public awareness campaign to (microscopically) shift public perception:
  • When I'm on the train, I can read, do my study, talk on the phone (yes, I'm one of those people), or read blog feeds. When I'm driving, I have to pay attention to the road, and am responsible for the safety of not only myself, but others too.
  • Trains are much, much safer. It looks like since 1976, there has been precisely one Melbourne train passenger killed in a train accident, in 2012. The 1976 incident also only had one fatality (source). Car accidents are much more common. Furthermore, accidents involving trains are almost inevitably caused by drivers of cars, and not by drivers of trains (removing level crossings would remove this risk, are you listening state and federal governments?).
  • While it's true that the trains are often overcrowded, at those times, so are the roads. I'd much rather be standing on a train than inching along through stop-start traffic, not to mention that the train is often faster at that time of day too.
  • You don't have to spend lots of time driving around after you've supposedly reached your destination to find a park.
  • You don't have to pay exorbitant inner city prices for parking.
  • It's good for the environment. Climate change is real, and switching to public transport is, (after going vegan) one of the best things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment.
  • I can easily take my bike on the train, even when it's busy. Ok, so this is more about my super awesome folding bike than about the trains, but I love combining bikes and trains to avoid walking/buses.
  • Trams are cool, in an old-fashioned but still relevant kind of way. I'm afraid that's all I can say about trams and buses, I much prefer trains. 
What are your favourite things about public transport?