Monday, January 17, 2022

Baked spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce

January 13, 2022


On my most recent weekday off, I decided to make lunch my primary project and picked out Hetty McKinnon's baked spring rolls from her recent Chinese Takeaway series on ABC Everyday. This is a clever technique that I've used before - by turning your oven way up, and brushing or spraying your spring rolls with oil, it's possible to make golden, crunchy spring rolls without the hassle of deep-frying. (Grilling leftover spring rolls also helps bring back the crunch they lose in the fridge.)

McKinnon's spring rolls are stuffed with mung bean vermicelli, carrot, celery, water chestnuts and spring onion. I loved the distinct crunchiness of the water chestnuts and will use them again; celery, I'm less fond of. I gather that shiitake mushrooms are another common filling for Cantonese spring rolls, and I'll be keen to reduce the vermicelli volume a little and get some mushrooms into the mix.

To round this out for lunch, I served the spring rolls with lettuce leaves. It really freshened up the meal on a hot day, but I suspect it's more of a Vietnamese technique and doesn't match the origins of this recipe.

The other fun thing going on with McKinnon's recipe is making your own sweet chilli sauce! It's easy to make within the time the rolls take to bake, and a bit livelier than the years-old bottle in my fridge. That said, there's no harm it falling back on whatever bottled sauce you have on hand: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sweet chilli sauce, plum sauce, and Chinkiang vinegar are all common and delicious. 


Baked spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Hetty McKinnon, 
published on ABC Everyday)

spring rolls
80g mung bean vermicelli (also called glass noodles)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
100g carrot (1 medium for me), peeled and finely diced
70g (1 stick) celery, finely diced
80g canned water chestnuts, finely diced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
250g packet 20cm x 20cm spring roll pastry sheets, defrosted
spray oil

sweet chilli sauce
1/4 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the vermicelli in a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over them, and allow them to soak and soften for 5 minutes. Drain them and use kitchen scissors or a knife to roughly chop them into shorter lengths.

Set a frypan over medium heat. Pour in the sesame oil, then add the garlic, carrot and celery and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the vermicelli, water chestnuts, spring onion, tamari, salt and pepper. Mix everything together well, and after a minute or so in the pan, turn off the heat and allow the filling to cool for at least 10 minutes (and even overnight in the fridge).

Preheat an oven to 230°C. Get your rolling stuff set up at a table, with a chopping board in front of you, the vermicelli mixture close to hand with a spoon in it, spray oil accessible, and two greased baking trays ready for rolls. Take the spring roll pastry sheets out of their plastic and wrap them in a damp towel.

Peel off one spring roll sheet and place it in a diamond shape on the chopping board. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling about 5 cm away from the corner closest to you. Roll the corner over the filling to enclose it, then fold in the two long, adjoining sides. Roll the parcel just a little more away from you to secure the filling, then spray the remaining pastry strip with oil before completing the roll. Place the roll on a baking tray and repeat with the remaining filling and pastry.

Spray all of the rolls with oil, and bake them for 15 minutes. Flip each roll over and bake for a further 10-12 minutes, until they're golden and crispy. 

While the spring rolls are baking, place all of the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir them until well combined, and cook until just thickened.

Serve the spring rolls as soon as they're baked, with little dipping bowls of sauce on the side.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Sister of Soul

January 1, 2022


On new year's day we got up a little early for a bayside swim with our mates Lisa and Steph. St Kilda had still barely woken up by the time we were done, so we took a streetside booth at Sister of Soul for breakfast. The staff were conscientious in checking vax status, and helpfully showed us the QR codes at our table that we could use to order and pay for food.

It was nice to still have access to paper menus as we browsed the options. The current breakfast selection is all vegan (with gluten free options clearly marked), running to 8 dishes that cover the important bases: toast with spreads, a big brekkie, smashed avo, an acai bowl, and pancakes. 


Surprisingly I wasn't in the mood for those blueberry pancakes, though I saw them go to another table and they looked great. Instead I worked my way through the corn fritters ($20), which had a fairly even ratio of batter to corn kernels, and apparently also include zucchini! There was lots of avocado-sour cream puree to slather them with, a smattering of mango salsa to brighten the flavours, and lots of coriander to garnish. I teamed it with a watermelon, orange, strawberry and mint juice ($7.50) - the juicing happens on site daily, but it looks like they're bottling portions up individually at the moment.


Everyone else at the table was set on the Sister's One Big Brekkie ($22.50): a well-flavoured tofu scramble on toast with an excellent potato & sweet potato rosti, avocado, roasted mushrooms and wilted spinach. Michael like the accompanying tub of tomato kasundi and spread it around liberally.

It was a refreshing and deeply satisfying way to start the year. But we can't promise to carry on the way we've started - visits to St Kilda have always been rare for us, and our inclination to eat out is in constant flux.

Sister of Soul
73 Acland St, St Kilda
9593 8550

Accessibility: We signed in and showed proof of vaccination at the door and then occupied streetside booth seating, maybe one step up from the footpath. We ordered and paid using phone apps at the table. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, January 03, 2022

where's the best in 2021?

Luther's Scoops

As the calendar flips to a new year, I review the past year's blog posts and update our where's the best? page. This was a second year shaped by the COVID pandemic, with lots of time spent at home and only sporadic opportunities to see friends, visit workplaces and restaurants, and to travel. We ventured to Castlemaine for a long weekend in January and had a safe, restorative trip to Queensland in April that was focused on seeing family and friends but also included lots of eating around West End.

Otherwise, we've been touring the local circuit of icecream shops! We're now reprising many of last summer's faves, including Billy van Creamy, Luther's Scoops, Icecream Social, Beku Gelato and Gelateria Bico. The nearby Gelato Messina outlet seems to have upgraded its status from pop-up to permanent so we'll aim to add that to our posts soon.


While I anticipated widespread restaurant closures and few new restaurant reports, this update required only five deletions (Maccaroni Osteria Italiana, Rue de Creperie, Tamil Feasts, Thanh Nga Nine, The Yarra Hotel) and included fifteen new-to-us eateries! We've brunched at Elektra, Wolfhound and Mabu Mabu; affirmed Gloria as a new favourite local; had great dinners at Big Esso, Ge'ez Ethiopian Restaurant, Leonardo's Pizza Palace, Masti, The Workers Club, and 113 Eatery; and had one very long, very special lunch at O.MY Restaurant.

Wattleseed and lemon myrtle have long been in our spice rack, and 2021 was a good year for getting to know some more native ingredients better. The gift of Warndu Mai (Good Food) Cookbook yielded a spectacular wattleseed and macadamia brownie recipe. We loved eating at Nornie Bero's restaurants Mabu Mabu and Big Esso, and I made many batches of her damper recipe, flavoured variously with saltbush, bush tomato, and wattleseed

Hetty McKinnon's To Asia, With Love was another favourite cooking resource. We're still holding off on blogging the recipes, since the book's still on sale and we think you should buy it, but we've been blogging and tweeting pics and mini-reviews. What a blessing that McKinnon's lemon tofu recipe is freely available online!

Hetty McKinnon's miso oats with egg & avocado

Other new entries to our dinner rotation are quick carrot dal and herby zucchini and peas with semolina porridge. We've just made the chipotle-brushed potato tian twice in eight days so that's earned a best-of spot too. 2020's orange, yoghurt and cardamom cake and peanut butter miso cookies became repeat bakes and firm favourites in 2021. I improved an already-perfect slice (tell me that's impossible after you've tried it!), and recently had fun with a novel miso caramel cake.

It's hard to tell what's coming up in 2021 but if it involves good eating, we'll be sure to let you know.

That slice

Friday, December 31, 2021

Chipotle-brushed potato tian

December 25, 2021


I chose an artichoke and chickpea salad to eat on the side of our pumpkin and feta filo pie. I knew this would be enough food for us, really, but I thought it would be fun to make a potato side as well (and skip the potato cubes that I usually include in the salad). This tian is a super-easy but slow-cooking recipe that's been sitting among my bookmarks for years.

The premise is: assemble thinly sliced potatoes in a baking dish, brush them with adobo sauce and olive oil, bake until crispy on top and tender in the middle. As long as you're patient with the baking time, I think this is a near-foolproof method for a smoky, spicy comfort carb. I could work to improve my presentation by arranging the potato slices more carefully, but the flavour is all there regardless.

These potatoes added the perfect kick to varied but mildly-spiced lunch plate. The leftovers, reheated in the oven a day later, were even better!


Chipotle-brushed potato tian
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Oh My Veggies)

1-2 teaspoons adobo sauce from a jar of chipotles
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium Dutch cream potatoes

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Whisk together the adobo sauce and olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the base and sides of a baking dish with the chipotle oil.

Peel the potatoes and slice them into rounds no more than 3mm thick - keep the pieces together in order for a prettier presentation. Arrange the potato slices in the baking dish so that they're standing up on their thin sides, firmly sandwiched together across the baking dish. Brush the tops of the potatoes with the remaining chipotle oil. Sprinkle over some salt.

Bake the potatoes for 75-90 minutes, until browned and crispy on top and tender in the centre. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Pumpkin & feta filo pie

December 24-25, 2021


This year our Christmas day was small, casual and content, with no pressure to put on a big, fancy meal. But with time off from work, I was in the mood to do something fun in the kitchen and planned out some dishes a couple of days ahead. This Ottolenghi filo pie was simply plucked from my bookmarked recipes and formed the centrepiece of the meal - it's filled with a comforting, crowd-pleasing combination of pumpkin, feta, caramelised onion and sage.

There are a few phases to the recipe and I got a head start a day in advance, roasting the pumpkin in cinnamon and slowly caramelising the onions. This allowed me to focus on the construction of the pie during Christmas day. I had to trim my baking paper back to get the control I needed over the filo sheets, but it all came together and held together without too much drama. Though this recipe isn't vegan, I think it would be easy to adapt: the filo could be brushed with olive oil or melted margarine, and there are some terrific non-dairy feta cheeses available now.

The golden filo pastry makes a bit of a mess when it's time to slice the pie up, but I think it's the kind of crackly, tasty mess that enhances the sense of occasion.


Pumpkin & feta filo pie
(slightly adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe appearing in The Guardian)

375g packet filo pastry
90g butter, melted
30g caster sugar

60mL olive oil
2 onions, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2 cm slices
salt and pepper
5g sage leaves, finely chopped
10g parsley, roughly chopped
150g feta, roughly crumbled
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 butternut pumpkin (~650g), seeds and peel removed, cut into 1 1/2 cm-thick half-moons
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Set a frypan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and a little salt, and slowly cook the onions until they're very soft and caramelised - expect this to take around 40 minutes. Transfer the onions to a bowl, and stir in the herbs, feta, lemon zest, and a little salt and pepper.

Preheat an oven to 220°C while you slice up the pumpkin. Place the pumpkin pieces in a large baking tray, drizzle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle over the cinnamon and some salt and pepper. Toss the pumpkin pieces around to get them coated in the oil, and bake them for up to 30 minutes, until tender.

Turn the oven down to 190°C. Line a springform cake tin with baking paper and brush it with the melted butter. Use a little more than half the filo pastry sheets to line the base and sides of the cake tin - brush each one with butter as they go in, sprinkle them with 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar, and stagger them around the tin so that the base is well covered, all the sides are covered, and the sheets extend beyond the top of the cake tin. This process should use up about half of the melted butter.

Arrange half of the pumpkin pieces across the base of the cake tin, breaking them up as needed to fit them into the spaces. Spread half of the onion-feta mixture over the top of the pumpkin. Repeat with the remaining pumpkin and onion-feta mixture. Scrunch another sheet of filo onto the top of the fillings and brush it with butter. Fold over a couple of the overhanging filo pieces, add another filo sheet and brush with more butter. Continue this process until all the overhanging filo is gathered up, and all the filo sheets and butter are used up.

Transfer the springform tin to a baking tray, and place it all in the oven to bake for 50 minutes. Gently remove the outer springform walls from the cake tin and bake the pie for a further 20 minutes, until it is golden brown all over. Allow the pie to cool for around 15 minutes before slicing and serving.