Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Rin Sura

November 28, 2019

We were sad when Handsome Her packed up their cafe in Brunswick and we barely paid attention to Rin Sura, which took their place on Sydney Road. It didn't take long for word of mouth to kick in though, with a couple of different people recommending we try it out. We called in on a sunny Thursday arvo to see what they had to offer.

The courtyard is lovely in good weather - the perfect place to pick through their menu. Cindy was pleased to see a decent list of non-alcoholic drinks, and ordered a coconut virgin mojito ($10). There's a good selection of vegan options scattered throughout - we started with a serve of pan-fried Thai frittata with chilli vinegar dressing ($11).

These were great - crispy on the outside and rich and tasty inside. An excellent start. We followed with a serve of the papaya salad ($12) and the roasted miso pumpkin with coconut red curry and sweet potato crisps ($13). 

The papaya salad was really hot - too hot for Cindy to really enjoy - but otherwise wonderful, crispy and tangy and fresh. The miso pumpkin was maybe my favourite dish of the night - it had a good spicy hit too, with a wonderful curry/miso sauce over sweet, roasted pumpkin. We make a miso-curry pumpkin too - it's a winning flavour combo.

We finished with a serve of the fried tofu bao ($11) and the roti with homemade peanut satay (this was the only non-vegan dish we ordered, $8). The tofu bao were really excellent - pillowy buns wrapped around crispy fried tofu with garlic aioli, slaw, pickled veggies and chilli. Unbeatable. The roti was lovely too - perfectly cooked and with a rich peanut-ty dipping sauce. 

The food was so good that we decided to sample the dessert menu, sharing a Thai tea pudding served with strawberry sorbet, berries and smoky coconut caramel ($12). This hit the mark as well - the pudding was a bit jelly-ish (maybe there was some agar involved?) and its rich sweetness was cut nicely by the berries and sorbet. 

We had a lovely dinner at Rin Sura - the food hit the mark across the board and the service was lovely. It's a great addition to the strip, a mid-priced option for people looking for a somewhere a bit nice in the neighbourhood. We'll be back!

We couldn't find any other blog reviews for Rin Sura, but they're surely on their way.

Rin Sura
206 Sydney Road, Brunswick
9942 7047
non-alcohol drinks, hot drinks, sharing food, mains and dessert

Accessibility: The entry is flat, and tables are densely packed with a clear corridor through the middle. Things are a bit more spacious out the back. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. Toilets are unisex and accessible.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Billy van Creamy

November 5, 2019

Billy van Creamy is a lovely icecream business. They've got a food truck, and I've seen tubs of their staple flavours here and there. For a little while now they've had a shop front in Fitzroy North, between Piedemonte's and Edinburgh Gardens. (These neighbours are my best excuses to stop by.) Billy van Creamy do shakes and fancy sundaes as well as simple scoops, and they've got proper cutlery and crockery if you want to eat in at one of their benches.

Importantly, the vegan options here extend much further than fruit sorbets. They've developed a cashew and coconut base that just quietly, creamily supports their feature flavours like it's no big deal. (I think it is a big deal.) Chocolate, salted caramel, and peanut butter choc chip are in regular rotation and high demand. I was just as pleased with the vegan peppermint fudge special they offered last time I was in (pictured above; $5). 

I keep telling myself that next time I'll get some extra honeycomb or fudge sauce or a whole smores sundae, but I keep finding that there's pleasure enough in just the icecreams themselves.


Billy van Creamy is well known to the mummy set: the only blog posts I found about this Fitzroy shopfront are on TOT: HOT OR NOT and mamma knows north.

Billy van Creamy
27/29 Best St, Fitzroy North

Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry. Tables are low and seating is low benches and stools, with decent spacing between them. I ordered, paid and picked up my food from a low counter.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Mary Miller

November 5, 2019

We cycle past the cafe Mary Miller on our way home from work most days. We know the spot well from its previous incarnation as Julio, and even spent the 2007 federal election night there. As Mary Miller it has received plenty of sponsored blog attention (see links at end of post), which I didn't really bother with... until Cruella deVegan posted about its vegan options, including a kaleidoscopic bibimbap

I stopped in for a quiet solo lunch on a public holiday. The menu had a lot to linger over: that bibimbap, a vegan chicken burger, French toast and pancakes, fritters, eggs, and veges. Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and adaptable dishes are abundant and clearly marked. The vegan B.L.A.T. ($16) had the right balance of mock meat and fresh greens for me: the Turkish bread was unusually fluffy and light, and it was generously layered with vegan bacon, vegan feta, spinach, avocado, tomato and mayonnaise.

The menu covers so many of my meal moods, from fruit-and-yoghurt to rice-based bowls and burgers, that I'm seeking any excuse I can to go back for more. 

I've gotta thank Cruella deVegan for getting me through the Mary Miller door!

Otherwise in blog-land, Mary Miller seems to have given out a zillion freebies, most of them declared, with predictably positive reviews: A Chronicle of GastronomyThe Penguin EatsLips Temptationsfo0die (twice), Love at First BitethelittlehungrylifeSuzie Scribbles2WO FAT GIRLSWHATEPIEATS and Gastrology.

Mary Miller
171 Miller St, Fitzroy North
9489 6740
meals, kids' menu & drinks

Accessibility: There's a step up on entry (see top pic). The indoor furniture consists of reasonably spaced low tables and chairs with backs. I ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. I didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Noo Moo Foods

November 1, 2019

Our friend Lisa recently alerted us to Noo Moo Foods, a vegan food trailer tucked away in the industrial back-blocks of West Heidelberg. Cindy and I both work in the neighbourhood, so one Friday afternoon we all met up there to try it out. It's a very unassuming set-up - literally a little trailer in the front of a warehouse with a handful of plastic chairs and low tables. It feels like it's mostly aiming for the delivery market, but it was pleasant enough to eat-in on a warm Friday arvo.

Don't come to Noo Moo Foods looking for salad - this is a burger and fries kind of establishment. The menu has seven kinds of loaded fries (including some topped with mashed up burger rings!), nuggets and five different burgers. We started with a ten-pack of the nuggets ($10) with mayo and Hazel's dirty fries (topped with gravy, coconut cheese sauce, coconut bacon and fried onions, $12). The nuggets were great - I'm not sure what brand they're using, but they're delicious - great texture, nicely fried and with excellent mayo to dunk them in. The loaded fries were tasty, but unsurprisingly a bit of a mess to eat. The coconut bacon got lost a bit in everything else, but the cheese sauce and gravy combo worked surprisingly well.

I also wanted to try a burger - this is the Culverlands industrial schnitz - a southern spiced fried pattie with bbq sauce, secret sauce, coleslaw, pickles and cashew cheese ($17). This a messy, delicious treat - there's so much sauce that things inevitably drip, but all the chaos is just about worth it. 

The friendly staff treated us to a tangy lemon sorbet to finish things off - it was just the sour/sweet burst we needed to cut through the oily dinner. Noo Moo Foods is working in a similar vein to Lord of the Fries - the burgers here are a bit more expensive, but a bit better quality as well. If you're in the neighbourhood and feel like junk food for dinner you can't really go wrong.


You can read more about Noo Moo Foods over at Messy Veggies.

Noo Moo Foods
20 Culverlands Street, Heidleberg West
loaded fries, burgers etc

Accessibility: It's a flat entryway, but you order and pay at a high counter and the only chairs are low plastic stools. We didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Burmese fermented tea leaf salad

October 26-31, 2019

This recipe from the Lab Farewell Cookbook is actually two gifts. I'll tell you about the second gift first: the recipe is for a salad with an ingredient I've never encountered before, fermented tea leaves. There's a not-so-authentic-but-it'll-do recipe for making them at home, and I took it on with a 'lil help from my friends.

My mate Toby is an expert in all things tea, and he recommended Assembly in Carlton for green tea leaves that are good enough to eat. The leaf prep is simple: rehydrate, drain and lightly ferment in salt, flavour with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. The result is, to me, a distant cousin of pesto - it's got that concentrated green flavour, but the tea is lightly bitter instead of summery and sweet like basil. Following the recipe's general guide, I teamed it will a little pickled ginger, then generous shakes of salted roasted peanuts and fried shallots.

The first gift is the written recipe itself. It's a rollicking read that runs to two-and-a-half pages, and instead of paraphrasing it I'm submitting it whole, with permission.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Nat's pumpkin rice dish

October 26, 2019

This Lab Farewell Cookbook recipe comes from Nat. She'd be the first to admit that she's not a fancy or especially enthusiastic cook, yet she's one of the two people who took charge of on this whole cookbook project as a gift to me.

Paradoxically, I knew that her recipe would be a handy one - she shared one of her stand-by dishes, something she made to low-key impress her partner in their early days of dating. It's a bowl of pumpkin, rice and Thai curry flavours that Michael easily pulled off on a weeknight. It's got roughly the texture and all the comfort of a risotto, right down to the more solid and perfectly microwaveable leftovers that we packed for lunch.

We're getting pumpkins on the regular in our CERES boxes, so this is gonna get the repeat treatment for sure.

Nat's pumpkin rice dish
(a recipe shared by Nat in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where she credits it to Jamie Oliver)

a small handful of makrut lime leaves
2-3 chillies, seeds removed and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 thumb-sized pieces ginger, peeled
3 sticks lemongrass, outer leaves removed
large handful coriander, leaves picked and stalks chopped
1 heaped teaspoon Chinese five-spice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
600 - 1000g pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 5cm pieces
565mL vegetable stock
200g basmati rice
400mL coconut milk
salt and pepper
juice of 1-2 limes

Use a mortar and pestle, spice grinder or blender to make the fragrant soup base: smoosh together the lime leaves, chilli, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander stalks, five-spice and cumin. Remove any stringy bits that remain.

Heat the olive oil in a very large saucepan and add the pulpy soup base. Stir in the onion and cook on low-medium heat for 10 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add the pumpkin and stock, stirring everything together and then bringing it to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on until the pumpkin is soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rice; it's OK if some of the pumpkin mushes up. Simmer under the rice is cooked, a further 10-15 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the coconut milk, and season with salt and pepper. Remove it from the heat, add the lime juice to taste and serve garnished with coriander leaves.

Monday, November 04, 2019

La Tortilleria II

October 25, 2019

Here's a short, updated note of appreciation for La Tortilleria. It was the most convenient place to grab dinner on a Friday night, before attending A Midnight Visit. In spite of its industrial location, La Tortilleria's eatery continues to do very well for itself - the four hopefuls ahead of me were sent away to wait for a half-hour, and we were lucky to squeeze into a table for two with a time limit.

The menu is still gluten-free with abundant well-marked vegetarian and vegan options, including vegan cheese and chorizo. I went for a quesadilla con nopales ($9.50, pictured at 12 o'clock) which is made with a blue tortilla; the cactus gives just the slightest pickley sharpness to an otherwise mild cheesy snack.

I must admit to scraping the raw onion off the papas con chorizo taco ($5.50, pictured at 8 o'clock), but it was worth it for the roasted potato and soy chorizo underneath. My favourite was the frijoles con chipotle taco ($5.50, pictured at 7 o'clock) - the beans were so hearty, and garnished with a sprinkling of savoury crispy rice.

Now that I've figured out my way there by bike, I'm resolving to visit more often. The food is simple and lovely, the staff are capable and friendly, and the atmosphere is lively and colourful. Besides, I didn't have time for a horchata!

You can read about our first visit to La Tortilleria here. Since then it's received positive reviews on Not My Bread And ButterSweet & Sour ForkThe Aussie CoeliacThe New Fave and The Coeliac Plate

La Tortelleria
72 Stubbs St, Kensington
9376 5577
savoury foods, desserts

Accessibility: Limited! The entry is up some stairs and I couldn't see an alternative. The interior has narrow sections is densely packed with furniture. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. There's a single unisex toilet.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Daughter in Law

October 10, 2019

Our friends Ben and Nat took us out for a surprise date on a Thursday night in the city - we didn't know where we were heading and I'd never heard of the place we ended up: Daughter in Law. It's an offshoot of Horn Please in North Fitzroy and has a very similar vibe: slightly high-end Indian, a great booze selection and a relaxed atmosphere.

Ben took care of ordering for the table and came up with a wonderful mix of dishes. We started out with a selection of small plates: balls of happiness (top left, $3.50 each), Colonel Tso's cauliflower (top right, $18, vegan) and papadi chaat (bottom, $18, vegan).

The balls of happiness are crispy hollow fried dough, stuffed with chickpeas, yoghurt and spices - they explode with flavour in your mouth! They were happy to adapt these as vegan too. The little chickpea bubbles they came served on were great as well. The Colonel Tso's cauliflower was probably my favourite dish of the night - super spicy little battered delights. I ate well more than my fair share. The papadi chaat is billed as Indian nachos - a great mix of crispy wafers, veggies and delicious chutneys. 

We followed up with a couple of curries: vegan roast pumpkin and butternut squash ($18) and palak paneer ($22), with a naan basket ($12) and a serve of the spiced mushroom and beetroot tandoor ($12, vegan).

These all hit the mark too, although we were already filling up by the time we got through the tandoori veggies. The palak paneer is a good test of an Indian restaurant and Daughter in Law do a very fine one.

We somehow pushed on for dessert - a serve of gulab jamun (top left, $10), kulfi (top right, $8), coconut sorbet (bottom left, $8) and chocolate ice cream (bottom right, $8). Both the bottom two were vegan. I only tried the chocolate ice cream - it was incredibly rich and creamy and utterly too much. Cindy had the kulfi, which came served in what we gather is the traditional style.  

Daughter in Law is an excellent CBD dinner option - there's a good range of vegan stuff, the servings are generous and everything we had was super tasty. Service is lovely as well - definitely a good option for when you want something a bit fancier than dumplings.

We couldn't find any blog reviews for Daughter in Law (which might say as much about how hard it is Google makes it to find blogs these days as anything else).

Daughter in Law
37 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
9242 0814
food, mocktails, dessert

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up to enter. The interior is pretty crowded, with full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


October 5, 2019

Yamato is located in the same cobbled laneway as our beloved Sichuan House, and it's been there at least 15 years. Every time I've seen it, I've remembered that it was recommended on easy as vegan pie (now half that lifetime ago!). It's difficult to pull Michael past SH's mapo tofu, but I have at last succeeded, on a Saturday night en route to the Corner Hotel.

For me, Yamato has two key points of appeal. First, it has the charming atmosphere of the small cafes we've visited in Japan - it's densely packed with furniture and cute knick-knacks, and there are kneeling tables for those who are keen on them. Second, the vegetarian entrees and mains are clearly set out separately in the menu, meaning no awkward investigations into stock and bonito flakes are needed.

The execution of those dishes doesn't rank quite as highly. The skin on our nasu dengaku ($8.30) was too tough to split with chopsticks or teeth; its seasoning was fine.

The Agadashi Combi ($13.10) was a pleasant assortment of battered veges and fried bean curd, but not the epitome of lightness or crunch.

For me, the Zaru Soba ($11.30) was the surprise winner! I loved the texture of the buckwheat noodles and the light flavour of their broth; some sly ice cubes were keeping it all fresh.

Our Yamato meal was modest, and modestly priced. While not every dish was brilliant, I can see myself sneaking in for a quiet slurp of soba and trialling something from the remaining dozen vege options.


Blog reviews of Yamato span a decade! It was a positive one on easy as vegan pie that led us there.

There are also positive reviews on Weekend NotesNurikko Visits, my name is Food, and Food Rehab, and reasonably positive reviews on Short & Stout, and Eat & Be Merry; bloggers are distinctly unimpressed on Espresso and MatchaSweet & Sour Fork, and The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar.

28 Corrs Lane, Melbourne
9663 1706
vegetarian menu
facebook page

Accessibility: The laneway that Yamato is located in is cobbled, and there's a step on entry. The interior is very crowded, with a mixture of booths, standard height tables and kneeling tables. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Evie's Disco Diner

October 1, 2019

A couple of our vegan friends have recommended Evie's Disco Diner to us in the year or two that it's been open. It's as garishly lit as the name would suggest, with pink-cushioned booths around its edge and tall, flimsy stools in a space that you might assume is a dance-floor, but is definitely a covered-over skate pool from the burrito business that was here a couple of years earlier. We made a point of visiting on a Tuesday, when they host a free drag-themed trivia night.

The reason our mates are so keen on Evie's is that there are vegan options on every dish on its junky American menu, from hot wings and loaded fries through to hot dogs, burgers and chocolate mousse. (Gluten-free options are more like fried appetisers than full meals but also seem to include the apple pie!) A quick run-down of the terribly lit food photographed above: 

  • The spiced tots ($5, top right) were heavy with smoked paprika, just like the fries down the street at Trippy Taco,
  • Michael's Tex Mex burrito ($18, bottom right) was pleasant but a bit homogeneous, and
  • my chicken and waffles ($18, left) had a similar 'pretty good but gets samey' vibe, although I tip my hat to their garnishing sprinkle of icing sugar - my tablemates were appalled but I thought it worked. 

By chance, I managed to capture my dessert in better light. At trivia half-time, I ordered a Reeces Pieces shake ($10). The bartender apologised that they were out of chocolate syrup, then on a whim offered to improvise a version with Oreos - and it was great! The shake was thick, plenty chocolatey, and I loved the wide, reusable glass straws they're going with. 

We felt a little out of step with Evie's Disco Diner - while the bar staff and trivia team made us feel welcome, the lighting and furniture were for younger eyes and bodies than ours. Their vegan junk food is fun, and we'd be up for ordering another round.

Evie's Disco Diner has garnered a positive review from Suzie Scribbles and a mixed review from The Penguin Eats

Evie's Disco Diner
230-232 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9419 4192

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide. Seats are a mixture of narrow booths and high tables and stools, not particularly comfortable, although there's lot's of clear space through the bar (see top photo). The coloured flashing lights and loud music could feel overwhelming. We ordered and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Brazilian slaw

September 27, 2019

We were tasked with bringing a salad to dinner at a friend's place and we turned to the Smith & Daughters Cookbook for ideas. We've enjoyed this Brazilian slaw at the restaurant in the past (it even makes our 12 hours in Melbourne post), so we decided to have a crack at making it.

It comes together pretty easily, especially if you take the lazy option of using pre-made chips for your garnish. There's a lot of chopping and prep involved, but you can easily knock it all together in half an hour or so I reckon. The pay-off is excellent - a zesty, fresh salad with lots of interesting textures and the added bonus of chips on top. It's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Brazilian slaw
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

2 tablespoons of olive oil
kernels from two cobs of corn
100g oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tamari
2 small granny smith apples, cored and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
100g pimento olives, cut into rounds
1/2 purple cabbage, thinly shredded
small bunch of parsley
small bunch coriander

100g silken tofu
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil
zest and juice of one lime

tortilla chips (the recipe has you making your own, but we just gabbed these)

Start by making the dressing - pop all the ingredients except the oils in a blender and whiz them together. Gradually pour in the oils while the blender is on low until you've got a nice thick aioli-style dressing.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a small frying pan and fry the corn kernels until they're lightly charred. Take the corn out, add the other tablespoon of oil and fry the mushrooms until golden. Set aside to cool.

Combine the rest of the salad ingredients in a big bowl, along with the corn and mushrooms and a good shake of salt and pepper to season. 

Stir everything together with about a cup of the dressing (you'll have leftovers) and serve, topped with the tortilla chips.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A simpler 'cheesesteak' sandwich

September 21, 2019

All those banh mi in Hoi An stoked my enthusiasm for fancy sandwiches. They reminded me that I had unfinished business with this cheesesteak sandwich; a really great idea that was just too much work. So almost a year to the day after our first cheesesteak attempt, I tried again. 

The core of this sandwich is a 'meaty' mix of mushrooms and yuba/dried bean curd. I chose slight variations on the ingredients, going for common Swiss brown and portabello mushrooms instead of the rarer, chewier king oysters, and hunting out a dried bean curd that was formed as thin, bite-sized pieces. I condensed the mushroom-yuba flavouring way down to store-bought stock flavouring, vegan oyster and Worcestershire sauces, liquid smoke and a few pantry spices.

The second key element in a Philly cheesesteak is a cheese! The original recipe included a vegan sauce that needs extensive pre-cooking and a deep blend. This time I turned to our beloved Smith & Daughters hot cheddar and pickled jalapeno dip. It's still a bit of effort, but it stirs up in a single saucepan and tastes spectacular. It was the perfect partner to our mushroomy 'steak', melting just a little around the edges and adding some pickley piquancy.

The cheesesteak fillings are saucy, but not as horrendously messy as I feared, gently soaking into a soft long bun without too many drips. I even struck on a method for preserving the magic when taking leftovers to work; microwaving a paper-wrapped roll for 60 seconds to heat it all through without toughening up the bun too badly.

A simpler yuba mushroom cheesesteak sandwich
(a recipe inspired by a Serious Eats one we made previously)

1 teaspoon beef-style stock powder
75g yuba pieces
4 spring onions (would use 1 brown onion in future), chopped
200g Swiss brown mushrooms, sliced into large pieces
250g portabello mushrooms, sliced into large pieces
1/2 red capsicum, sliced into large pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup vegan oyster sauce
1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
black pepper, to taste
6 long rolls
half the regular quantity of hot cheddar & pickled jalapeno dip
pickled jalapenos, to taste

Place the stock powder in a medium bowl and pour over 1 cup of boiling water. Drop in the yuba pieces, stirring them around so that they're all softened by the water.

Heat the oil in a large frypan or pot. Add the onion and saute until soft. Add the mushrooms and capsicum, sauteing until the capsicum is softened. I found that this mixture dried out quickly, and poured over 1/2 cup water. Add the yuba and stir through, ensuring that the pieces are softened all the way through.

Add the condiments in succession, stirring them through the mixture: oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, paprika, garlic powder, mustard, and pepper. Continue to cook the mixture, stirring, until most of the liquid evaporates.

Cut the rolls lengthways, leaving a small seam where the roll folds open and shut. Spoon in the yuba-mushroom filling, spoon over a generous portion of cheddar dip, and add pickled jalapenos to suit your spice level. Close and eat.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Vegan enchiladas with coriander-cashew cream

September 16, 2019

When one of our friends has a baby, we have a tradition of delivering them a tray of tempeh lasagne. The newest little baby, though, has a gluten-free parent! Thus, we've prepared enchiladas as a wheat-free alternative.

I found this recipe on Oh She Glows during a brief browse online. It's a long recipe, but not at all unreasonable. I really liked the smooth and warmly spiced tomato sauce, based primarily on tomato paste and vege stock. The filling is a mixture of sweet potato, capsicum, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and black beans, moistened with a little of that sauce. Instead of cheese, the enchiladas are topped with a light, green cashew cream that's whipped up entirely in a blender.

I made two little changes. First, I recalled that American chilli powder doesn't pack the punch of typical Aussie stuff and dialled it way down. Second, it's really not my style to neatly pipe the cream at the end. My big dollops are much less photogenic, but I'm AOK with that.

These enchiladas are great fresh out of the oven, packed for lunch at room temperature, with a side dish or straight up on their own. Hopefully they'll serve these new parents well.

Vegan enchiladas with coriander-cashew cream
(very slightly adapted from a recipe on Oh She Glows)

coriander-cashew cream
3/4 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup water
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons avocado
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 scant cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt

260g sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup jarred roasted red capsicum, drained and chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
400g can black beans, drained
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

~12 small corn tortillas
optional garnishes: more fresh coriander leaves, avocado, chilli flakes, etc

Soak the cashews in water overnight. Drain the cashews and place them in a blender or spice grinder. Add the remaining cream ingredients and blend until smooth.

Next, get the sauce going. Set a medium saucepan over medium heat and pour in the oil. When it's heated, stir in the flour to form a paste. Add the dried spices (chill through to cayenne) and combine well, cooking for a couple of minutes until they smell great. Stir in the tomato paste, and then the stock, until smooth. Simmer for about 5 minutes, and add the salt. Turn off the heat.

Time for the filling. Fill a medium saucepan with water and drop in the sweet potato pieces. Bring it all to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, under tender but still holding their shape. Drain the sweet potatoes and set them aside.

Set a large frypan over medium heat and pour in the oil. Saute the onion and garlic for 3-5 minutes, until softened.

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

To the frypan, add the sweet potato, capsicum, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and black beans. Cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until the spinach is just wilted. Stir through 1/3 cup enchilada sauce, the lime juice, cumin and salt. Turn off the heat.

Get out a large, high-walled baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup sauce across the base of the dish. Scoop some filling into a tortilla, roll it up and place it in the dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and nestle them up together in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the tortillas. Baked the enchiladas for around 20 minutes, until they're heated through.

To serve, dollop the cashew cream over the enchiladas and sprinkle over any garnishes.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Sana's vegan dumplings

September 14, 2019

It's been months since I last took on a real cooking project! This one does double duty, coming from my lab cookbook: it's Sana's vegan dumplings! I remember this prize-winning recipe fondly from the annual culinary competition in 2017.

Sana's recipe stretched to two pages, not just because dumplings take a bit of effort, but because she helpfully included resources and photos along the way. We took a few notes with us to KFL to seek out the right ingredients. We were pretty sure we recognised the shitakes on sight, but we couldn't find the bricks of wood ear fungus that Sana described, so we went with a more generic dried black fungus instead. It was easy to find good tofu, fresh veges and dumpling wrappers there.

Sana uses a little AGV BBQ sauce in her filling. We love the stuff, although we haven't had it in a few years, and our mate Steph helped us track it down to Vincent's Marketplace.

Once we'd assembled our ingredients, making the filling was simple methodical work I could easily complete with a couple of podcasts for company. I pleated my wrappers using the method we learned from The Humble Dumpling earlier this year; they weren't perfect but I was pretty pleased with my work. The quantities multiplied out well - the 40 wrappers I bought covered us happily for two consecutive dinners, and used up about half the filling. The remaining filling is now tucked in the freezer, waiting for our next dumpling night.

I experienced bigger challenges in the cooking phase. We've had success with potsticker preparation before, but I just couldn't get it right this time. Two batches stuck stubbornly to our cast-iron pan on Saturday night; on Sunday I simply boiled them instead (top photo) with more success.

Even stubborn, messy dumplings are tasty dumplings, and these have such a great, varied filling. We dipped them into a soy-vinegar-chilli sauce, and rounded out our meal with choy sum in vegetarian oyster sauce and garlic

Sana's vegan dumplings
(a recipe shared by Sana in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

a handful of dried shitake mushrooms (about 50g)
1 'brick' wood ear fungus (we use ~15-20g dried black fungus)
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup vermicelli, rehydrated according to packet directions and chopped roughly into 1-2cm lengths
1 cup fried tofu, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 stalks spring onion, finely chopped (white and green parts)
dash of soy sauce
dumpling wrappers (this quantity of filling makes about 80)

Place the two kinds of dried mushroom into bowl and pour boiling water over them; make sure they're completely submerged with extra water and bowl space for expansion. Let them soften overnight if you can; we gave them a couple of hours, and part-way through I chopped the shitakes into long slices so that the dry centres were exposed to water. Chop them finely; you're aiming for about a cup of each.

Get out a very large bowl and drop in the chopped mushrooms. Add all of the other ingredients, except for the wrappers (!). Add salt to taste; I went pretty light because of the BBQ and soy sauces but Sana recommends slightly over-seasoning because the wrappers will weaken the overall flavour.

Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre of each dumpling wrapper, and wrap them into your preferred shape. There are plenty of tutorials online! I used the method I learned at The Humble Dumpling. Repeat with as many wrappers as you want.

If you want to simply boil the dumplings, get a very large pot of water up to a rolling boil and drop the dumplings in, in batches. Make sure the batch size allows them all to float to the surface, a stir them regularly to make sure they don't stick to each other. When they're ready, the dumplings will puff up slightly. Pull them out with a slotted spoon.

To make pot-stickers, heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a frypan over medium-high heat and have a lid that covers the pan at the ready. When the oil is hot, arrange a layer of well-spaced dumplings in the oil. Allow them to fry for about 2 minutes, until they're golden brown on the bottom. Give them a little shake to ensure they don't get stuck. Pour in just enough water to cover the whole base of the frypan and swiftly cover them with the lid; allow them around 4 minutes to steam and add a little more water along the way if you think it's needed. Remove the lid and cook for a further 2 minutes; allow the water to evaporate and give 'em a little shake again to avoid sticking.

Serve the dumplings with a dipping sauce such as soy, black vinegar and chilli in your preferred proportions.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Soba noodles with lime, cardamom & avocado

September 12, 2019

We've been a bit remiss with Simple - we bought it hoping to use it in our mix of speedy school night meals, but with some added Ottolenghi flair. We turned to it again as we settled back into real life after a week of eating ridiculously well in Vietnam. This noodle dish was the perfect return to the kitchen: fresh, tasty and - yes - surprisingly simple.

I had to laugh when a so-called 'simple' recipe starts with scraping out cardamom seeds and grinding them to a powder, but once that step was out of the way there was nothing to it. It just about stretches to two dinners and two leftover lunches too - a perfect option for our regular rotation.

Soba noodles with lime, cardamom & avocado
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

200g soba noodles
12 green cardamom pods
small bunch of basil leaves, roughly chopped
small bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
2 limes, zest and juice
70g pistachios, roughly chopped
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 green chilli, seeded and finely sliced
2 ripe avocados, sliced
chilli flakes and an extra lime to serve

Crush the cardamom pods to extract the seeds and then grind them up in a mortar and pestle to get a half teaspoon of powder.

Cook the noodles as per their instructions, refresh under cold water. Stir everything through with the noodles. 

Serve, topped with a sprinkle of chilli flakes and with a lime quarter on the side.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Sweet stuff in Hoi An

August 31 - September 4, 2019

It's no secret that I've got a sweet tooth, so naturally I was keeping an eye out for desserts on the menus throughout Hoi An. The most common offering was a couple of pieces of fruit at the end of a meal, and that was indeed a fitting and refreshing end when the evening was warm and we'd already eaten plenty. But here are a few other treats we snuck in along the way.

We came across a couple of Cocobox cafes on our first day exploring the ancient town. It's clearly aimed at tourists, with its wifi and its extensive drinks menu providing a cheap means of accessing said wifi. We stopped in when we were hot and tiring of walking, and I was primed for a Coco Choco (75000 VND ~ AU$4.85). This was a cute little cupful of creamy coconut icecream, topped with toasted coconut and thick flakes of dark chocolate. It was really special, a lovely contrast of dark and light flavours.


Michael's already mentioned our splendid dinners at Minh Hien, and I left room for dessert on our first visit. Here I was most drawn to the young rice icecream (45000VND ~ AU$2.90). Swirled with pandan and sprinkled with peanuts, it looked a little like someone lopped the top off a Cornetto! The first mouthful had a bright rice-and-pandan flavour, but my palate rapidly lost sensitivity to its subtlty.

The fancy Nu Eatery had a very European little dessert list of cakes and pies (55000VND ~AU$3.55 each), very well executed. We doubled down on a cheesecake with mulburries and cashew crumble, and a mocha cake layered with spiced cream cheese and sprinkled with peanut brittle.

We have our friend Ash to thank for steering us towards the beautiful tea house Reaching Outwhich provided a timely refuge from a heavy downpour. It's a social enterprise that employs local people with disabilities and stocks fair-trade teas and coffees; there's a rule of speaking minimally and quietly inside and we were happy to honour it during our break. We kept our mouths busy with a sampler of their biscuits; this array of crunchy morsels was flavoured with the likes of ginger, passionfruit, coconut, black sesame, sweet potato and chocolate. Most novel for us were the long ribbons of sweetened, flavoured and dried coconut.

Michael and I are almost polar opposites when it comes to coffee in Melbourne: Michael can't do without one or two each day, while I don't drink it at all. In Vietnam, we're agreed that the sweetened iced coffees are awesome! They're easily the most common sweet thing in Hoi An, and we ordered them almost daily while we could, at any time from breakfast through to after dinner. Well, Michael was game - I'm more inclined to restrict my caffeine intake to daylight hours on hot, distant holidays.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Lunch in Hoi An

September 1 & 4, 2019

There were abundant vegetarian restaurants for us to try around Hoi An! While many were clearly targeted towards tourists, some were frequented equally by locals and by veg*n visitors. We noticed a variety of customers at most of the banh mi vendors we tried, and the same goes for the following two restaurants - both places with local staff speaking limited English, offering clearly translated menus and fantastic food.

Quan Chay Dam is centrally located in the ancient town, although it's tucked into one of the narrower laneways. It opens into a simple but sizable space with a buffet up front and laminated menus available at the table. Yearning for the cơm chay experiences of our last Vietnam holiday, we both ordered the mixed fried rice (30,000VND ~ AU$1.90) and were treated to so many different flavours! A small nest of noodles as well as rice, a spring roll and stir-fried vegetables, samples of four mock meats, and a few pickles. Like the market meals we remembered, it had all been prepared earlier and so was just a little warmer than room temperature but still an absolute delight.


Quan Chay An Lac is a kilometre or so further east along the river; we looked out for it on the day that we borrowed bikes from our hotel and explored the beach. With both pictures and translations on the menu, it was easy to point out what we wanted.

There was pretty much just one staff member running the place, so after she took our order she set to work on our dishes one at a time. We were in no rush and didn't mind sharing so this worked fine for us. First to arrive was the chicken rice (30,000VND ~ AU$1.90); we liked that little yuba strips were used to imitate chicken, and we were most taken by the fresh and distinctive herbs all through the dish, including one we've never encountered in the Vietnamese restaurants we've visited in Australia.

We'd pretty much finished the rice by the time the banh xeo (30,000VND ~ AU$1.90) arrived. It was very thin and crispy with oil, stuffed with more of those gorgeous fresh herbs and veges, and topped with sesame seeds.

Michael ordered a lemonade, and we were initially puzzled that it was the last to arrive of all the dishes... until I figured out that our chef had sent a family member out to purchase ice to make it with! We were so grateful for the hospitality, and for these unique renditions of dishes that we thought we knew well.