Monday, January 31, 2011

January 23, 2011: Tofu Chicharrones

When we first grabbed our copy of Viva Vegan, we fell in love, going on a Latin-themed recipe binge. In recent weeks, our wandering eyes have been caught by some of Ottolenghi's delights, but Viva Vegan remains a strong contender for our most exciting cookbook. So, with Mike and Jo swinging by for a post-Black Swan dinner and Cindy keen to make more tortillas, it was time for another visit.

Checking over Terry's recommended taco fillings, we returned to the silverbeet with raisins and capers and teamed them with tofu chicharrones. Anyone with detailed knowledge of Latin American cuisine will realise that chicharrones are typically crispy pork pieces. This is the Viva Vegan attempt to make something that will do the same job, but with tofu instead of pork. Let's be clear: this tofu will probably not convince any pork-mad meat-eater that it can fulfil all their porky dreams. Having said that, it's hard to imagine anyone not loving these crispy, oily, smoky little bites stuffed inside some fresh-made tortillas. They're pretty great. They're basically little bites of delicious junk food, and combining them with something healthy like the silverbeet was a very smart move.

The chicharrones are pretty simple to make, with the issue being more about preparation time required for freezing, thawing and pressing the tofu rather than anything really labour intensive. This is the first time we've ever frozen and then defrosted tofu and it definitely changes the texture, making it a bit chewier and much more sponge-like at soaking up marinade. They were so absorbent, that I ended up upping the amount of marinade to make sure there was enough to soak into all the little tofu pieces.

Tofu chicharrones 
(from Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan)

500g firm tofu
5 tablespoons tamari
1.5 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons agave syrup
peanut oil

Freeze the tofu overnight and then thaw in the morning (if you stick it in some warm water, it will thaw fairly quickly).

When it's thawed, slice it into 1cm thick rectangles, and press the moisture out (I started doing this properly, with the paper towels and the heavy objects, but ended up being more successful just squeezing each piece between the palms of my hands). The amount of liquid that comes out will depend on the kind of tofu you use, but you want to get as much out as possible (the more liquid that comes out, the more marinade-absorbent the tofu will be).

Combine the tamari, liquid smoke, agave syrup, garlic and red wine vinegar in a bowl and whisk together. This is your marinade.

Tear the tofu rectangles up into little chunks - roughly 1cm*1cm*1cm. Do this as roughly and imprecisely as you like.

Pop the tofu pieces in large flat container and pour the marinade over, smooshing everything together so that all the tofu pieces get their fair share of deliciousness. Leave for 10 or 15 minutes, occasionally stirring things around to make sure everything is coated in marinade.

In a frying pan, heat a 1cm layer of peanut oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully place a layer of the tofu pieces in it and fry them, turning every minute or two so that each side gets a sizzle. Once the little pieces have browned up nicely and started to go crispy on the edges, take them out and press them in some paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces and serve.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 22, 2011: Char Koay Teow

Cindy and I wanted to cook something massive to give us lunch leftovers for the week ahead. After a bit of brainstorming, Cindy suggested CKT, which perfectly fitted both our moods. We had a nice recipe from our cooking class at LaZaT to base things on, but it turned into a bit of a freestyle exercise, with Cindy directing and me doing most of the manual labour. It was a fair bit of work- for optimal wokking, we did things in a couple of batches - but well worth the effort. We ended up with a massive pile of delicious noodles and veggies, which made many outstanding lunches through the week.

We found some fresh CKT noodles in the fridge at Mix Oriental Supermarket in Barkly Square, which were probably the key reason that this dish turned out so well - they were much better than the dry ones that we've used in the past. We also put some eggs in ours - they are truly excellent in CKT - I'd be interested to here whether there are good vegan substitutes, or if they just get left out.

Char Koay Teow
(adapted from a LaZaT recipe)

500g fresh CKT noodles (wide, flat rice noodles)
300g smoked tofu and 300g fresh tofu, cubed
1 carrot, sliced into fine sticks
1 big handful of beans, trimmed and halved
1 big handful of bean sprouts
1 bunch chives, sliced into 2-3cm pieces
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons sambal
4 eggs
4 tablespoons peanut oil

4 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons kecap manis
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt

Soak your noodles in hot water, making sure they all separate nicely, drain and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in your wok and stir fry all the tofu until it gets a nice crispiness going and starts to brown a little. Remove it all from the wok and set aside.

From here on in, we did everything in two batches - everything works better if you have space in your wok, so splitting things in half is a good move.

Add half the garlic and a splash of oil and to the wok and stir-fry, until the garlic turns a bit golden. Stir in half the sambal and fry for a few minutes.

Add half the carrots and beans, as well as half the noodles, and stir from for a couple of minutes.

Add half the tofu back in, pour in half the seasoning and cook on high heat for another minute or so.

Spread the noodles around the side of the wok so you've got a little gap in the middle. Pour in a tiny bit of peanut oil and then crack two of the eggs into the oil. Scrape the noodles back over the top of the eggs and let them cook for a couple of minutes, so that they set.

Once the eggs are set, stir everything thoroughly, add in the chives and sprouts, fry for another minute or so and then remove from the wok and repeat the whole process again.

I found this even better with a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce stirred through, but Cindy enjoyed hers without the need for extra heat.

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 22, 2011: A Minor Place III

I surprised to see that we haven't written about A Minor Place here in over two years! In good weather it's a very pleasant bike ride from our place, and we've made a handful of undocumented trips in the meantime. Last Saturday we set out a little earlier than is our habit, arriving before 9am and scoring our pick of the tables running along the side of the house.

Michael can't stay away from Henry's white beans ($10, pictured back), flavoured with garlic and rosemary and then served with rocket, dukkah and toast. They're surely this cafe's signature dish. I tried the quesadilla ($12.50, pictured front) stuffed with cheese, refried beans and corn and topped with salsa, jalapenos and a fried egg. The modest portioning and fresh salsa kept this protein-heavy dish fresh and light.

Service was sunny and capable. Michael loved his coffee, though by the time he ordered a second the cafe was filling up and he had to wait a while. A Minor Place is probably best enjoyed in its first hour of opening.

A Minor Place
103 Albion St, Brunswick
9384 3131
veg breakfasts $4.50-$15.50

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 17, 22, 2011: Cinema Nova bar

We're lucky to live within walking distance of Cinema Nova, and over the years we've enjoyed many films and choc-tops there.  Recently they've expanded into a space, just off to the left of the stairs as you enter, that I'd not even noticed before.  It's now a surprisingly slick cocktail and tapas bar overlooking Lygon St!  

We've stopped by twice for light dinners in the past week.  The 2-minute menu is available from noon through 'til closing; these items are stored in a display case at the cinema's snack bar.  The bar food is pricier, subject to kitchen hours, and made to order.  There's a decent variety of vegetarian options across the board, though nothing is straight-up vegan (there might be a few adaptable items - the menu is online here).  Unsurprisingly the drinks menu dwarfs the food, with the 2-page cocktail list featuring a lot of gin.

The mushroom croquetas ($3 each) need a light touch - handle them too roughly and the crumbing is likely to fracture, spilling a mild mushroom bechamel over your fingers!

The patatas bravas ($7) are delightful - not greasy at all, with the right proportion of crust to fluffy interior, and enough tomato sauce and aioli to go around.

The country tortilla ($8.50) is mighty sturdy.  I'd challenge anyone to break off and consume polite portions of this with the tools provided.

Michael is a huge fan of the vegetarian coca ($9).  (A coca is described on the menu as "the Catalan twin of the Italian pizza".)  The super-thin base is almost like a soft SAO biscuit, and this one is topped with bubbling cheese, artichoke pieces, red capsicum and strips of a green sauce.  Again, clean consumption seems impossible, with hot flavoured oil dripping through fingers, down wrists and onto tables at the slightest opportunity.

I think I might make the Nova salad mandatory on my visits to this bar ($7) - nothing cuts through a rich meal like rocket, and the apple, quince, walnuts and dabs of goats cheese mean its a pleasant stand-alone dish too.

The Nova bar is an excellent addition to Lygon St.  Its closest neighbour, mood- and food-wise, would be Markov Place.  How remarkable that it's attached to a cinema!  It's so refreshing to be offered quality, made-to-order morsels worthy of their asking price, just metres from the movie queue.

Cinema Nova bar
380 Lygon St, Carlton
Fully licensed
veg tapas $2.50 - $9

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 15, 2011: Afghan Tasty Food

Update 27/1/2019: Afghan Valley has permanently closed.

Update 31/12/2014: Afghan Tasty Food has had a name change - it's now Afghan Valley. The menu and approach seems to be very similar, so this review is probably still quite relevant.

Cindy and I had a date with David Byrne at ACMI on Saturday night and were on the prowl for a tasty post-movie dinner. We'd been working the city's Chinese options fairly hard and wanted something a bit different. Thank goodness then, for tummyrumbles' cracking (and veg-friendly!) review of Afghan Tasty Food. We'd had their other branch recommended to us on our Dandenong post, and looking at the food Mellie ate, it's easy to see why.

From the outside, things didn't look that promising - Afghan Tasty is squeezed in above a horrible looking pokie barn (whose VCGR records show almost $5m a year pouring into their crappy machines!) with just some ugly pink signs in the window to identify it.

The interior is a bit better - with some atmospheric photos on the walls and flowers on the tables, yet there's still a pretty cheap and cheerful vibe going on. When we turned up at around 9pm the place was basically empty (just one other group) so we had our pick of the tables.

We must have subconsciously remembered EG's post while ordering, as we ended up having almost the exact same vegetarian dishes, starting with the Ashak ($20).

This was amazing, made up of weird little dumplings (described as 'pastry' in the menu), stuffed with a delicious leek and coriander filling, and covered in a stunning combination of red beans, yoghurt and a tangy tomato sauce. I could have eaten about four plates of this - a really wonderful dish.

As an accompaniment, we ordered the Orange Palow ($19), a brilliant combination of basmati rice (cooked so that that rice took on an orangey flavour), preserved orange, pistachios and almonds.

This was as good as the Ashak - perfectly cooked rice, loads of delicious orange pieces and some nice crunch from the nuts.

The palows come with a bonus accompaniment - we went with the spinach, which was nicely done - a bit of onion, garlic and chilli to liven up the spinach.

Afghan Tasty was outstanding - everything we tried was cooked to perfection, and the dishes themselves were interesting variations on Indian and Middle-Eastern food - I'm very disappointed I forgot to order the bread and chutney that EG raved about. The only downside was the prices - $20 a dish is at the upper end of what we'd pay for a dinner in a restaurant like this. To be fair though, the quality of the dishes probably did justify it - it really was excellent. I'm dying to try the lunchtime buffet now!

Kudos again to Mellie and EG for their review - we probably wouldn't have tried this place without their great summary of the vego options on offer.

Vegan readers: most everything here is served with yoghurt, so I'm not sure how well they'd provide for you - they were pretty friendly and helpful though, so it mightn't be a bad idea to go in one night and ask them.

Afghan Tasty Food
1st floor, 315 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
9670 7305
entrees/sides ~$2-8, mains ~ $14-20

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 13, 2011: HuTong Dumpling Bar

HuTong has become the hottest dumpling place in town, with rave reviews in the papers, reviews all over the blogosphere and tables that are basically impossible to come by without a booking. We've swung by a few times with friends on the hunt for a CBD dinner to be told that the wait was 45 minutes, or 2 hours, or that there was no way we'd get a table. Still, Cindy and I weren't too put out - despite all the enthusiasm, HuTong seemed like a place unlikely to really knock a vegos sock's off - their signature dish, Xiau Long Bao, are dumplings filled with pork and a meaty gelatin soup, and everything else people raved about seemed to be filled with pork mince or seafood or, at the very least, cooked in chicken stock. Our enthusiasm was rekindled by Gretelgettingfatter, who left a comment on our China Red post letting us know that she'd found some winning vegeterian HuTong dishes for us to try out. (and summarising her own vegetarian XLB recipe!) Armed with the knowledge that we could eat there, we booked ourselves a table and headed in for dinner.

We ended up ordering exactly what GGF suggested, starting with the claypot eggplant in Szechuan chilli sauce ($13.80).

This was my favourite dish of the night - the eggplant was meltingly soft, thick with chilli oil and somehow sweet and spicy at the same time. I'm sure I ended up with a sheen of red oil all over my face, but it was definitely worth it.

Next up was the dumplings, the genre in which HuTong has made its name. These were mixed vegie dumplings ($5), and were full of satisfying chunks of a range of vegetables.

The skin was sticky and gelatinous but not as gloopy as the ones we had at China Red. Luckily, HuTong has the same amazing Szechuan chilli oil that I fell in love with at China Red, which turns any half-decent dumpling into a taste sensation.

Finally we went with the stir-fried spinach in ginger and spring onion sauce ($15.80).

This was an excellent serving of greens - not overcooked and smothered in too much sauce as is sometimes the case. The ginger and spring onion sauce gave a nice spark the crispy greens, giving us a chance to pretend that we were healthy after too much of the oily eggplant.

So, how to sum up our Hutong experience? The food was quite good and the prices much more reasonable than China Red - for a tick over $30, we ate ourselves to a standstill. Still, there's something unsatisfying about having to book a table for this kind of food - in my head, dumplings are something you get the urge for suddenly and need to eat at once, not something you plan a few days ahead for. Despite the horror stories in many other reviews (seriously, there's a weird vibe to much of the writing about HuTong where it seems you have to earn a taste of the precious XLB by putting up with abominable treatment), we had good service - they were helpful and speedy and we didn't have to wait for our table. The room itself was a bit frustrating - we were seated upstairs and the noise seemed to bounce off the walls, meaning any loud conversations nearby quickly drowned us out. Still, HuTong is probably worth a visit - just to experience Melbourne's hippest dumpling place. Now, can someone please make me some vegetarian Xiao Long Bao?

Compiling and reading this list of other Hutong reviews took me a goddamn age - it really is one of the buzziest places in town (I didn't even include reviews of their Prahran venue!).

Most visitors have raved about the food (at least the XLB, which everyone seems to have ordered), even in the face of mediocre service. Check out positive reviews from: Tummy Rumbles, Ooh, Look, The Value Add, The Modern Fabulous, Ze Eats, Foodies n Places, Footscray Food Blog, Melbourne Culinary Journal, I Eat Therefore I Am, Mel: Hot or Not, He Needs Food, Delishaz, Saint-ism, Cruxie Faye, Half Eaten, My Food Odyssey, Dizzy Inamorata, Ms I-Hua, Eat Drink Stagger, Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, Melbourne Gastronome, Foodswings, Ichigo Shortcake, Christine's Foodie Adventures, Totally Addicted to Taste, Bellygood, Melbourne's Bargain Foodie, Gluttony Gluttony, I've Always Been Here, The Jess Ho (one, two, three times!), Cookbook, Lisalicious, What's for Tea?, Munching in Melbourne, Saucy Thyme, Gosstronomy, Barley Blog, Because I Can't Cook, 730 Days of My Life, Our Food Tales, Suck My Radish, On Golden Food, Tastes Like Yum and Eat and Be Merry.

A few people have been less impressed: Dollymic, A Daily Obsession, Debrief me, 6 Lumens, Sarah Cooks, Jeroxie.

It was great to read the experiences of Nouveau Potato and Confessions of an eco-food dude eating vegetarian food there - looks like we'll have to go back to check out the spinach dumplings at some stage.

HuTong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne
03 9650 8128
entrees ~$5-8, mains ~ $10-15

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 10, 2011: The Gasometer III

11/11/2013: We're sad to report the closure of our beloved Gasometer.

We've been by the Gasometer a couple more times, and the menu has recently been downsized a little.  There's still plenty to enjoy, though!  We were disappointed to miss out on the manchege-filled croquettas served with smoked garlic aioli and consoled ourselves with fried olives stuffed with goats curd ($8).  They're a perfect beer-time amusement.

The Spanish style mushrooms ($9) are juicy and laden with smoked paprika.  The bread's best saved 'til last, so as to soak up all the sauce.

The salsa board ($12) is a light and novel alternative to the usual pub nachos.  The tortilla chips seem to be fried and salted to order, and the salsas are full of fresh ingredients like pineapple, avocado and corn.

Michael was underwhelmed by the black bean and chilli burrito ($16).  Though he liked the accompanying pico de gallo and cashew cream, their flavours weren't quite sufficient to enliven a bland beans'n'rice filling.

Onto dessert!  (And some poorly lit and shot photos - sorry.)  A recent vegan and gluten-free option has been a Mexican spiced chocolate tart served with coffee cream ($11).  It's stuff to send the heart of any restricted-diet sweet tooth aflutter, and is a worthy selection for any omnivore too.

I've got to admit, though, it was upstaged by peanut butter cup icecream sandwich ($11).  Vanilla icecream and crushed peanuts squished between whopping brownie slabs - bold and oh, so beautiful.

The Gasometer folk are doing great things with the pub menu format.  Theirs is a novel variety of bar snacks and hearty meals that suit most dietary requirements.  And though it's no prerequisite, they're doing a bang-up job with desserts too.

You can read our previous posts on the Gasometer here and here.  Since then, it's also been featured on Veg in the West and Black Bunny Carousel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 9, 2011: Coconut lime cupcakes

Recently my dear and distant friend Katy gave me Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.  This proves her to be both generous and clever - the cookbook is by Post Punk Kitchen's Isa Chandra Mockowitz and Terry Hope Romero, authors of other such favourites as Viva Vegan, Vegan Brunch and Veganomicon.  (This gift idea was no doubt sparked by the delightful baking day we had last time Katy travelled south to visit me.)

I was so excited to receive it in the post that I seriously considered making something that very night, which was a terrible idea (I had other foods and chores to attend to).  But I made a point of trying it out the very next weekend, choosing the coconut lime cupcakes both because they looked wonderful and because I had limes and shredded coconut to use up.  I did a fair bit of adapting to suit our situation:
  • halving the cake recipe to avoid mega-gluttony
  • reducing the icing quantity to a third - I just don't dig the towers of fluff used on the modern cupcake
  • the limes were looking pretty sad, so no zest and no pretty lime slice garnishes
  • no coconut extract
  • all margarine, no shortening in the icing (BTW - can any Aussies recommend a vegan shortening? I've never used it)
This yielded five large-ish cupcakes that suited my preferences well.  While the cake batter started out  an unappetising grey, it baked up with a pleasing golden crust and dense crumb; the icing wasn't excessive and had plenty of tartness.

I'm not the kinda gal to go gaga over the miniature, the cutesy or the fussy, but this first foray into Vegan Cupcakes hints that I'll have no trouble enjoying such things on my own terms.

Coconut lime cupcakes
(adapted from a recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

2 tablespoons coconut oil
3/8 cup raw sugar
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons soy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
generous pinch of salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup margarine
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

coconut flakes, to garnish

Preheat an oven to 180°C and add some cupcake liners to a muffin pan (I used 5).

Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat.  When it's completely liquid, transfer it to a mixing bowl.  Stir in the sugar, followed by the coconut milk, soy milk and vanilla.  Sift in the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, mixing everything until smooth.  Fold through the shredded coconut.

Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake liners and bake the cupcakes until golden on top and cooked through (you know the skewer test, right?), about 20 minutes.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing them.

To prepare the icing, beat together the margarine and icing sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and lime juice and beat a whole lot more - at least 5 minutes.  Spread the icing onto the cooled cupcakes and garnish them with the flaked coconut.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 9, 2011: Pumpkin sage pasta bake

On Sunday nights we often spend a bit of time in the kitchen, cooking up something that'll both serve us as dinner and set us up for a few packed lunches early in the work week.  On this occasion we had a cool change and some leftover sage leaves; this had me thinking of gnocchi and pasta dishes dressed with sage and brown butter.  Veganomicon offered me a recipe in this vein that was a little more nutritious and far more practical - a pumpkin sage pasta bake.  Pasta gets coated with a sauce made from pumpkin puree, cashew ricotta and warm spices, then topped with crunchy herbed breadcrumbs.

We made a few changes to suit us, the main one being that we roasted and pureed our own pumpkin instead of buying it canned (that's just... really not a thing in Australia).  Then we reduced the dried sage quantity in the crumbing and fried our fresh sage leaves as a crispy garnish.

This recipe was a thorough workout for our brand new food processor (yay!) - the breadcrumbs, cashew ricotta and pumpkin all went through it at some stage.  Even with those rotating blades doing their share, this was a labour intensive recipe and I was glad to have Michael's assistance throughout.  We were rewarded with many hearty meals throughout the week.  Michael liked this best with a shake of Tobasco sauce, while I'll be looking to replace a little of the pasta with bake-friendly veges in future.

Pumpkin sage pasta bake
(adapted slightly from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero)

600g pumpkin
5 tablespoons olive oil
375g penne pasta
2 onions
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
white pepper
1/4 cup vegetable stock
5-8 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper

cashew ricotta
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
600g tofu, drained
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

crumb topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1/3 cup walnut pieces, ground to coarse crumbs in a food processor
1 teaspoon sage powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Remove the pumpkin's skin and chop the flesh roughly. Place the pumpkin chunks into a baking tray, stir through 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the pumpkin until soft, about 30 minutes. Set the pumpkin aside.

While the pumpkin is baking, bring a medium-large saucepan of water to boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When it's done, drain the pasta, rinse it with cold water and drain again. Set the pasta aside.

While the pumpkin and pasta are cooking, you will probably have time to prepare the onions. Slice them into thin rings then fry them on low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook them until they're very soft and sweet, 10-40 minutes, stirring them occasionally. Be sure to take them off the heat before they burn.

Next up, make the cashew ricotta. In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic until thick and smooth-ish. Crumble in the tofu, sprinkle over the basil and salt, and process further until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the mixture to your largest mixing bowl.

Hopefully by this time your pumpkin has cooled a little. Place it in the food processor (doesn't matter if there's still ricotta dregs in there) and blend it to a smooth puree. Transfer the pumpkin to the bowl of ricotta, adding the brown sugar, nutmeg, white pepper and cayenne to taste, and stock. Stir it all together until well mixed. Fold in the pasta and onions.

Get the crumb topping going whenever you have a spare moment. We used the frypan that had cooked the onions and didn't bother to clean it out in between. Heat the olive oil then add the remaining crumb ingredients. Fry the crumbs for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until they're golden and crunchy.

In a large baking tray, spread out the pasta mixture evenly. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and bake the casserole until the crumbs are well browned, about 30 minutes. Allow the pasta bake to rest 10 minutes before serving. In this time, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on high heat and fry the fresh sage leaves until crisp. Serve the pasta bake garnished with the fried sage leaves.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January 9, 2011: Monk Bodhi Dharma II

The visit of Melbourne ex-pat and vegan twitter fiend Not Josh to our fine city prompted K from In the Mood for Noodles to arrange a brunch veg*n twitter meet-up at Monk Bodhi Dharma. Luckily, only K & Toby, Cindy and I and Josh joined in - any more and we'd have been hard-pressed to squeeze into the tiny space that MBD occupies.

Having tried the much-raved-about French toast last time, Cindy opted for one of their other sweet options - the Dharma Banana ($9), warmed house-made banana bread, served with lemon ricotta. This was a reasonable version of banana bread but everything was very, very sweet, meaning this didn't quite live up to the standards of the French toast.

I couldn't resist the specials board, going for the Balinese soup, with sticky rice and chilli jam, sweetcorn and lemongrass ($14.50).

This was outstanding - especially with bonus chilli jam from Toby. The soup had a nice lemongrass flavour, some sweetness from the corn and a delicious oily slick of chilli all through it. The sticky rice was a nice addition - giving the dish enough substance to fill me up and providing a bit of textural variety.

Monk Bodhi Dharma have shot towards the top of my brekkie list - it's great to have a veg-place that focuses on brunch food and serves great coffees and teas. I'm pretty sure Josh went back to Vancouver wishing that MBD had a North American branch.

Read about our first visit to MBD here.

Since we visited in November, Monk Bodhi Dharma has been given the thumbs up by In the Mood for Noodles, Veg in the west, Tenth Day Roasters, Wandering Vegans, Nutmeg's Cafe, Zinnamon and A little red ribbon.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 8, 2011: Banana Notella Tortillas

For the Saturday night BYO dinner, I decided to expand my tortilla trials to dessert.  I've seen Nutella tortillas and Nutella-banana tortillas at Mexi-inspired eateries like Trippy Taco and it seemed the obvious way to go.  This being a vegan gathering, it meant I'd also be making my own Nutella, or "notella" as Veganomicon's Isa and Terry dubbed their version.

Notella requires a food processor but is otherwise very, very easy.  My ingredient list takes inspiration from two recipes, the not-tella in Veganomicon and the recipe for easy chocolate-hazelnut spread on Su Good Sweets.  It's nigh on impossible to grind hazelnuts to Ferrero's silky smoothness but with a little persistence it is possible to blend nuts to a velvetty butter.  This notella is rich though not quite as sickeningly oily as its namesake; I reckon I'll find some other good uses for it in vegan desserts.

The tortillas came together in the same manner as my previous attempt.  Without the aid of a tortilla press this time, I flattened them the best I could with the back of a frypan (à la Anna) and then pushed them out a bit further with a rolling pin.  I added a little icing sugar to the dough to enhance the sweetness but didn't notice it at all in the finished dessert.

Assembly was pretty simple - spread half of each tortilla thickly with notella, add a few banana slices and fold into half moons.  These were pretty good when assembled fresh with warm tortillas, OK after some time in transit and frankly terrible as fridge-stored leftovers the next day.  So go fresh or go home.

Sweet tortillas were a worthwhile experiment but probably not one I'll revisit.  The notella, on the other hand, is worthy of numerous replications.

(inspired by recipes from Veganomicon and Su Good Sweets)

2 cups skinned, roasted hazelnuts
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons Frangelico
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous pinch salt
1/4 cup cocoa
up to 1/2 cup peanut oil, as needed

Process the hazelnuts to a butter, scraping down the sides of the container occasionally. This will take several minutes; keep an eye on your food processor and potential overheating.  Add the icing sugar, Frangelico, vanilla, salt and cocoa and blend thoroughly.  Add the peanut oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach the consistency you want.

Sweet tortillas
(an adaptation of the tortilla recipe in Viva Vegan)

2 cups Mexican-style masa harina
1 tablespoon icing sugar
generous pinch of salt
1 cup warm water

Mix together the masa harina, icing sugar and salt in a bowl.  Add the water gradually, mixing it with the flour to form a firm, smooth dough (not too sticky).  Knead the dough briefly.  

Break off generous tablespoons of the dough and place them between two sheets of baking paper.  Squash and/or roll the dough balls into rounds that are 1-2mm thick.  Fry the tortillas in an ungreased pan for no more than a minute on each side.  Rest cooked tortillas under a damp teatowel and serve them as soon as they're all ready.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 8, 2011: Quinoa avocado salad

Craig and Bec decided to ring in the new year with a little BYO dinner party at their place. I hummed and hawed about what to contribute, before Cindy lost patience and sent me a handful of links to delicious gluten-free vegan savoury treats for inspiration. I settled on this salad from Emily at Sugarspoons. It really lived up to its promise - an array of textures (tender soaked raisins, crunchy almonds, creamy avo), flavours (sweet, citrusy, nutty) and heartiness up the wazoo. The combination of citrus and spices in the dressing was a particularly impressive component, but this whole meal was a treat - loved by all who tasted it. It had a very Ottolenghi vibe - a hearty grain-based salad that didn't scrimp on the flavour while being healthy and filling.

Quinoa avocado salad 
(from Sugarspoons, via Fine Cooking)

3/4 cup raisins
1 cup red quinoa
2 lemons
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground corainder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 avocados pitted, peeled, and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 bunch coriander, chopped
1/2 cup toasted almonds
3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Soak the raisins in a bowl of warm water for five minutes, until they're all soft and puffy.

Heat a saucepan and toast the sesame seeds for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.

In the same saucepan, cook the quinoa according to the instructions (should take about 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemons, and then whisk in olive oil, spices and a sprinkle of salt.

Smash the almonds in a mortar and pestle until they're crumbled into little pieces (but not powdered).

Combine the quinoa, vinaigrette, avocado, coriander, almonds and sesame seeds in a large bowl and gently stir everything together. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, January 14, 2011

January 4, 2011: Muhammara II

Mum came through with another recipe calendar for Cindy's birthday this year and I mixed things up by taking charge of making January's dish. First up for the year was muhammara, something we've made from a different recipe and enjoyed before (the other version is also gluten-free). This turned out fairly similarly - it's a hearty and enjoyable dip.  We happily ate this for dinner with a bunch of chopped up vegies and some guacamole. If anything, it could have used a bit of an extra chilli kick to overcome the sweetness of the pomegranate - I'll know for next time.


1/3 cup breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
3 red capsicums, quartered and seeded
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped finely (maybe go to 2 next time)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil

Grill the capsicum quarters until they blacken up nicely, and then cover them and leave to cool. Peel the blackened skin off.

Whizz the breadcrumbs, capsicum, chilli, garlic, pomegranate syrup, lemon juice and 2/3 of the walnuts in a food processor, and then pour in the oil with the motor running and season with salt.

Transfer to a bowl to serve and garnish with the remaining walnuts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 3, 2011: Quinoa salad with Persian dried lime

I know, I know - more Ottolenghi. This book's getting a real workout!  The quinoa salad became a must-try after I bought Persian dried limes in Dandenong.  Instead of going the usual route of piercing the limes and having their fragrance infuse a liquid, they are ground to a powder and used as a seasoning in this recipe.  Powdering the limes is easier said than done, as Ottolenghi hints in his preamble.  Michael went through several rounds of food-processing, mortar-and-pestling and sieving to yield 2 tablespoons of coarse powder. It's also very heady stuff, with Michael complaining of some dizziness (and olfactory hallucinations the next day!) from the intense aroma.

The dried lime lends a unique edge to another salad that's bursting with grains and herbs. Preparing the elements takes some energy (we cooked the three grains separately, as well as roasting the sweet potatoes and prepping the herbs), but there's lots to share around once its done and it keeps well for packed lunches.  (We ate pomegranate tofu on the side, which added further to the prep effort and lunch bounty.)  For a vegan version I'd recommend replacing the feta with cubes of smoked or marinated tofu; chickpeas could work well too.

Quinoa salad with Persian dried lime
(slightly adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi; recipe also appears here)

700g sweet potato
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup wild rice (needs 1 cup water)
a generous 3/4 cup basmati rice (needs 1 1/3 cups water)
1 cup quinoa (needs 1 cup water)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons sage leaves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons oregano, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons dried and powdered Persian lime
6 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
4 green onions, green part thinly sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
200g feta, broken into chunks
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel the sweet potatoes and chop them into inch-length cubes. Spread them over a baking tray or two, drizzling over half the oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Bake the sweet potatoes until tender but not disintegrating, about 20 minutes.

While the sweet potato bakes, cook the wild rice, basmati rice and quinoa in separate saucepans.  In each case we covered the grains with the required water, brought them to the boil, and then simmered until tender.  The basmati rice and quinoa absorbed their water completely, but we drained the wild rice once ready.  Transfer the cooked grains to a large mixing bowl.

Heat the remaining oil in a frypan.  Sauté the garlic until lightly golden, then add the sage and oregano and stir-fry for a minute more.  Pour the mixture over the grains in the bowl.  Gently stir in the sweet potato, lime powder, mint, green onions, lemon juice, feta, and some salt and pepper.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January 3, 2011: Thanh Nga Nine II

Edit 02/01/2022: Thanh Nga Nine appears to have closed.

Cindy and I have had a few shots at checking out Loving Hut on Victoria St, but have consistently turned up to find them closed. Unsurprisingly we failed again on the new years day public holiday, but the ride out to Richmond wasn't in vain.  We had Thanh Nga Nine up our sleeve, a veg-friendly Vietnamese place that had taken our fancy on our first visit.

The ride there had combined my afternoon sleepiness with some overheating, so the Vietnamese iced white coffee ($3) was the perfect beverage - sweet, cold and super strong, the caffeine and ice soon had me feeling human again. Cindy couldn't resist ordering the Thanh Nga Nine Special Lemon ($4), which had the same delicious ice pile as my coffee and tasted essentially like iced tea.

We based our food ordering almost entirely on a comment Ruth left on our last post, starting with the vegetarian mini pancakes($9).

These were amazing little crispy delights: rice pancakes filled with a fried chunk of tofu, various delicious herbs and spices and served up with coconut cream and chilli sauce (we didn't detect the faux-shrimp Ruth promised but were still completely won over). They were just outstanding - it was painful to have to share them.

Luckily, our other order was almost as successful: spicy salt and pepper fish-tofu ($15, note: no fish were harmed in the making of this dish).

Just look at that picture! Gloriously deep-fried tofu and seaweed chunks, dressed with crispy peanuts, red and green capsicum pieces and secret chunks of chilli. I dabbed on a bit of the excellent chilli sauce from amongst the available condiments and I was in lunch heaven. We'd been pretty excited to try out the special tofu balls for dessert but we were both too full and dessert would have left us incapable of eating dinner before 11 at night.  We'll have to return for another shot soon.

The only quibble with Thanh Nga Nine is the service - it's friendly enough, but everything's a bit slapdash. Our two drinks came about 15 minutes apart, and the meals were served up one after the other (it was lucky we'd decided to share it all). Still, I can forgive a bit of disorganisation when the end result is a lunch as delicious as this. Highly recommended.

Read about our previous visit to Thanh Nga Nine here.

Since we first visited, M1rr0r, Happiness is a Warm Gut, Half-Eaten and Niche have enjoyed cheap meaty feasts at TNN, while My Food Odyssey had a less enjoyable time.

We're pretty in love with Thanh Nga Nine, but if anyone has other veg-friendly Vietnamese recommendations drop us a comment, I really want to explore more of what Victoria St (and beyond) has to offer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January 2, 2011: Half-baked choc-chip cookies

Our first attempt at tortillas was fraught but ultimately successful.  Thanks to some twitter tips and encouragement I felt game to invite five friends over for a lunch of soft tacos.  This time I tried using a tortilla press, on loan from tortilla veteran K.  While I don't think the tortillas I made with it were better, they were certainly quicker.  I punched out a couple of dozen in much less time than it took to fry them, while our guests settled in on the couch with a bowl of cashew crack.

For dessert I'd been planning just to offer fresh pineapple and coconut ice cream.  Michael was not impressed by the local pineapple stocks that morning so we gave them a miss and almost cancelled dessert.  But what with me always having a few recipe ideas stashed in the back of my mind, I sorted out a quick and easy alternative before Michael had even returned from the shops.  We tried the original entirely-raw version of these cookies at a Tex Mex-themed potluck a couple of years ago.  Pip was also there and photographed the recipe, which I went on to bookmark for future use.  

On this day I made a few substitutions to ensure these cookies were vegan, gluten-free, and used only ingredients I had in my pantry.  This rendered them less raw but no less tasty.  I used more peanut butter and tahini than was sensible (perhaps I misread teaspoon for tablespoon?) so the mixture was a bit sloppy.  A half-hour in the fridge before rolling, and then more fridge storage after sorted that out.  As a consequence they were immensely rich, with a fudgy texture and pleasing crunch from the cocoa nibs.

Half-baked choc-chip cookies
(adapted from a recipe shared by a kind stranger, photographed here)

1 cup macadamias
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
12 dates
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/3 cup cocoa nibs

In a food processor, grind the macadamias, coconut and buckwheat flour to a coarse powder. Add the dates and process again until they're evenly distributed throughout the mixture.  Next in goes the salt, agave, tahini and peanut butter for more processing; you should now have a very moist dough.  Add the cocoa nibs and process very briefly, just enough to mix the nibs through.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate it for at least half an hour to firm up.  Take about 2-3 teaspoons of dough at a time and roll it into a ball, placing the balls on a tray.  Store the balls in the fridge until serving time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

January 1, 2011: China Red

After spending the Christmas period cooking up nearly every meal, new years day had us on a quest for someone who would cook us dinner. Our first few local ideas were closed but we eventually remembered the existence of China Red, a newish dumpling focussed place in the city. China Red has already been blogged to death (see the list at the bottom), with a lot of fairly ambivalent or negative reviews. Most of the criticism of China Red had held it up in comparison to sister restaurant Hu Tong, which we've failed to visit because we were suspicious of the lack of veg options. So once we'd seen this rave by Vegetarian Life highlighting the veg options on the menu, we were keen to at least give China Red a shot.

The key gimmick that China Red has going for it are these touch-screen menus, which let you browse the menu, order and arrange the bill without having to deal with any pesky humans. These screens had the significant advantage of the option of 'English' over the ones we'd used in Tokyo but were otherwise basically the same thing. The menu is a bit overwhelming, with dozens and dozens of options, illustrated by a bunch of somewhat unappetising miniature pictures. We ordered some drinks to carry us through the food ordering process: a lychee calpis for Cindy and an iced honey lemon tea for me ($4 a pop).

The lack of human interaction makes checking ingredients a bit harder, so we just made some assumptions about which of the entrees were vego, starting with shredded turnip pastries ($6.50).

These were crispy-fried and delicious, particularly when slathered with the fantastic chilli oil that China Red have on every table.

As with most of the places famed for their dumplings, the vast majority of China Red's dumpling options are loaded up with pork, seafood or other nasties (the first vego place to offer me xiao long bao will win some sort of prize). Our vegetable dumplings ($6.80) were filled with a fairly tasty minced up mix of tofu, mushrooms and herbs but had disappointingly stodgy skins. Again, these were basically amazing once you smeared chilli oil all over them.

We managed to track down quite a large range of vegie main options, opting to try two dishes that were completely new to us. First up, stir-fried pumpkin with salted egg yolk ($19.80).

These little crispy pumpkin slivers had an incredibly rich batter, with a slightly sandy texture and a strong, salty flavour. After the first few bites I was in love with these but by the time we'd got through most of the plate the flavour had become a bit overwhelming - probably better ordered in a larger group. Cindy didn't tire of these and they were the last dish that she continued to pick at before declaring herself full.

Cindy was also pretty excited to try the shredded potato in hot and sour sauce. The tiny menu picture made it hard to figure out exactly what this would be, so were a bit surprised when it came out looking basically like a plate of potato noodles.

The hot and sour sauce was deliciously spicy and the mix of capsicum and potato was crunchy and enjoyable. But again, a full plate of this gets a bit much - there must be three or four whole potatoes in this one dish.

I'd been happily pouring the Szechwan chilli oil over everything throughout the meal, so we needed to make another tour of the drinks menu about halfway through - an iced lemon tea for me and a strawberry calpis for Cindy (another $4 each).

We ended up pretty satisfied with our visit to China Red - the menu seems to have a lot for non meat-eaters to choose from and the touch screen ordering system was a pretty efficient and enjoyable way to wade through our options. The food was probably a smidgen disappointing - I think we could have done a better job of ordering and the chilli oil made everything taste great, but none of the dishes really knocked my socks off. And it's not particularly good value - nothing here impressed me much beyond the level of Camy, which is about half the price. Still, we'll probably give China Red another shot when we're struggling for CBD dinner ideas in future.

China Red has received a fairly resounding 'meh' from the blogosphere, check out the negative or ambivalent reviews from Melbourne Culinary Journal, Addictive and Consuming, The Very, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Ichigo shortcake, Melbourne Food Review, Kong-Kay, Half-Eaten, The Jess Ho, Eat and Be Merry, Misadventures of Miss C, Once a Waitress

A few people have been a bit more upbeat: Vegetarian Life, I Eat Therefore I Am, Saint-ism, and Ze Eats.

China Red
6/206 Bourke St, Melbourne
9662 3668
entrees ~$6-12, mains ~ $12-20