Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kale & coconut salad

 August 26, 2014

Our veggie box dictates a lot of our cooking these days, and with just half a bunch of kale to finish off before the new box arrived we went scouring our cookbooks for a solution. This salad from Heidi Swanson's book fit the bill nicely - it was easy enough for a work night dinner, didn't require any shopping and held out the promise of delicious toasted coconut.

I didn't do a great job on it - I'm still mastering our rice cooker, and the brown rice wound up being a bit undercooked, while my faffing about with it meant that the kale/coconut mix was slightly overcooked. It was a masterful display. Still, the recipe is pretty forgiving - the kale crisped up almost to kale chip texture, while the extra dressing helped to soften the rice out and the sweet, crispy coconut flakes made everything better. We served it up with maple-miso tofu (another recipe that I messed up but got away with anyway).

Kale and coconut salad
(very slightly adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day)

80mL olive oil
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
100g of kale
85g flaked coconut
250g cooked brown rice (the original recipe uses farro, any grain will do)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cut the stems off the kale, remove the biggest stalky ribs and then roughly chop the leaves.

Combine the olive oil, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small jar and shake well to combine.

Combine the kale and the coconut flakes in a large bowl with 3/4 of the dressing and stir well to coat.

Spread the kale and coconut mix in a large baking tray (or two if you need 'em) and bake for about 15 minutes, until the coconut is golden brown - keep an eye on it every 5 minutes or so and stir things around a bit.

Put the kale and coconut mix, the rice and the last drizzle of the dressing into a bowl and toss well.

Serve as a side dish for four (we paired it with maple-miso tofu) or a main for two.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Potato & almond koftas

August 24, 2014

I'm mighty fond of koftas, and I tend to eat them out at Indian restaurants far more often than I make them at home. (Nevertheless, I do have fried paneer and baked spinach versions in the archives.) Something had me overcoming my usual "Woe, the effort! Ugh, the frying!" kofta-cooking reluctance on Sunday, and I gave an Ottolenghi version a shot.

Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe centres around potatoes and feta with lots of green herbs, plus a crust of flaked almonds and freshly-ground spices. It's neither vegan nor gluten-free, but I found it pretty easy to convert both ways. Firm tofu has just the texture to replace feta, and I added some extra salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to boost the flavour. Chickpea flour behaves just as well as the wheat-based stuff, and a just-add-water powdered egg replacer sets the batter right (I bet a little cornflour and water would do the trick, too). I missed the dill Ottolenghi used, but it just wasn't practical to buy such a small quantity (note to self: plant dill.). I didn't need nearly as many almonds as he listed, and I've adjusted the quantity down in the recipe below.

For all my veganising, these have a hilariously eggy look - they're about the right size and have a crackly golden shell; inside they're a funny mottled mix of white potato and tofu with streaks of yellow turmeric and paprika. Michael sauteed a bunch of spinach with garlic, ginger and vege oyster sauce, which made an excellent accompaniment and kofta-nest.

Potato & almond koftas
(adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Guardian column)

450g potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 green chilli, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
generous squeeze of lemon
½ teaspoon caster sugar
75g firm tofu
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1 egg replacer, whisked
50g flaked almonds, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat an oven to 220°C. Puncture the potatoes with a fork and place them on a baking tray. Bake them for about an hour. Allow them to cool enough to handle, then remove and discard their skins.

Place the potato flesh in a medium-sized bowl, drizzle over the olive oil, and mash them roughly so that a few lumps remain. Add the fresh herbs, chilli, spices and sugar. Crumble in the tofu and generously salt it all. Stir it all together to combine.

Place the chickpea flour in a bowl. Form the potato mixture into golf ball-sized koftas with your hands and roll them in the flour, lining them up on a plate or board. (I made seven koftas; Ottolenghi made eight.)

Whisk together the egg replacer in another small bowl. In a third small bowl, stir together the almonds and seeds. Roll each kofta in the 'egg' batter and then the nuts and seeds, pressing the nuts and seeds into the ball to form a crust; return the kofta to the plate/board.

Pour the vegetable oil into a small-medium saucepan until it is ~2cm deep. Bring the oil up to high-medium heat and fry the koftas, two or three at a time. I fried mine for 30-60 seconds on each of three 'sides', so that they looked golden all over, then transferred them to absorbent paper while I continued with the rest. Serve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ren Dao II

August 22, 2014

We've been making a good go of the Melbourne Writers Festival, starting out with a Book Club taping over in Elsternwick. It was a lot of fun, and a great excuse to revisit Ren Dao for a late dinner. They agreed to serve us after 9pm on a weeknight without a hint of annoyance, and a few more Book Clubbers trickled in after us to make it worth their while.

We did our best to be decisive, in spite of the seventy (!) items on offer, and our food was served in good time. The Assam Pedas ($23.90) was a little sour and a little spicy, with plenty of zucchini, carrot, capsicum and celery adding variety to some slightly homogeneous mock fish strips... and a canned pineapple ring on top. While we gladly polished off the lot, it didn't have quite the panache of their Kung Po Chicken.

Roti ($4) arrived too hot to handle and thicker around the edges than we prefer, but it was great for mopping up the Assam Pedas sauce.

The night's victor was the Hainanese Roasted Chicken Rice ($12.80). Michael was utterly enamoured of the thin and crispy bean curd skin 'chicken' strips, and the back-of-the-tongue heat of the chilli sauce took us both by surprise. The rice mound had a nice whiff of galangal about it, too.

While we finished up and paid the bill, our waiter shyly recommended a few of her favourites for next time (watch out, roast duck and coconut butter chicken!). It was a nice gesture that reflects the understated, welcoming atmosphere of Ren Dao and it had us looking forward to a future visit before we'd even finished this one.


Our first visit to Ren Dao is blogged here. It turned up on Veganise This! soon after but doesn't seem to have scored any recent blog attention.

Ren Dao
275 Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick
9523 0150
menu: one, two

Accessibility: The restaurant's entry is quite flat and wide, tables inside are moderately spaced. We received full table service. The toilets are unisex but located up a narrow, bending staircase.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Billy Kwong

August 19, 2014

I've managed to set up my current employment situation so that I get to make semi-regular trips to Sydney for a week at a time. I usually stay somewhere near the beach and haven't really stumbled across too many places worth blogging (let's just say that I eat a lot of cheap Thai food). But clearly I've been talking food with my colleagues, because on this trip one of them booked me in for a Tuesday night outing for something a bit fancy. Our original plan was Berta, but their special Tuesday night meal doesn't include a vegetarian option. Luckily, my friend had plenty of fall-back plans and we were able to snare a table at the one on the top of her list - Billy Kwong.

Billy Kwong is a stalwart of the Sydney scene - run by celebrity chef Kylie Kwong with a strong emphasis on local ingredients and sustainability, it's a regular presence in lists of 'must try' Sydney restaurants. It's a tiny and crowded space and has only recently started taking bookings after years of long queues for tables. We felt lucky to nab a booking on the day - rainy Tuesdays are probably the best time for impulsive trips to high demand restaurants.

The menu changes regularly, and the current iteration isn't its most vegetarian friendly - there weren't quite enough dishes available for us to order the $95 chef's banquet. The staff were lovely though, suggesting dishes and helping us come up with more than enough options to form an excellent meal. The style of the menu is fascinating, pioneering a kind of bush tucker Chinese food, whereby relatively standard Chinese dishes are tweaked with the addition of local ingredients. Most famously, Kwong advocates for the use of insects as a sustainable protein source, serving up cricket and prawn dumplings and fried rice with meal worms (for the record, my dining companions sampled the crickets and described them as just adding some crunch to the dumplings). Vegans do almost as well as vegetarians here - all the savoury dishes I had were vegan and the dessert would just need a sour cream substitute.

We split a couple of the veggie starters among the three of us. The saltbush cakes with house made chilli and soy sauce ($18) were a brilliant way to get started, with the slightly salty greens seasoning the crisply fried cakes and the chilli adding some bite. Note to self: next time, don't share these.

Next up was the vegetarian sung choi bao ($26) - big lettuce leaf cups to be stuffed with a black fungus, saltbush, organic vegetables, coriander and chilli sauce.

I'm sure there's a knack to making neat little parcels out of the lettuce leaves, but I wound up with chilli sauce and veggie pieces dribbling down my chin. Messiness aside, this was a dish bursting with freshness and flavour - the fungus got a bit lost, but this was all about big crispy bites of vegetables.

I got a whole main to myself - steamed silken tofu with ginger, shaved kombu, chilli, shiro shoyu and sesame oil ($26) and we split a $15 plate of the stir-fried native greens with ginger (my note-taking failed, but I think it included Warrigal greens and some more saltbush). The tofu was creamy and a tiny bit sweet, but otherwise fairly featureless, taking on the flavours of its accompaniments - a salty, umami flavour from the kombu, mild shoyu and a decent ginger kick (I must admit to not really noticing any chilli, but we were a few wines deep at this stage). It's a lovely dish, but probably one that's better shared - it all got a bit samey by the end. The gingery native greens provided a nice contrast, with some sharp flavours.

There's just the one dessert option - poached pears with hazelnut praline, home-made sour cream and crumbled dark chocolate ($15). We split this between the three of us - it was fresh and pleasant, but strangely unexciting given the fascinating dishes on the savoury menu.

In light of her Writers Festival appearance, Cindy and I have been talking a bit lately about what's distinctive about Australian fine dining, and Billy Kwong provides some answers. Kylie Kwong has taken excellent Chinese cookery and given it a really distinctive Australian twist. I was very impressed. It's not a cheap place to eat (e.g. a similar tofu dish at Rice Queen goes for $16), but the focus on sustainable and organic produce, the friendly and efficient service and the imaginative approach to food just about make it worth the money. Billy Kwong is doing something quite unique and is well worth a visit if you're looking for somewhere exciting to eat in Sydney.


A couple of veg-bloggers have visited Billy Kwong previously, and both Tales of a Vegan Food Fetishist and Not Another Mushroom Risotto were very impressed.

Billy Kwong
3/355 Crown St, Darlinghurst (although it's soon to move to Potts Point)
(02) 9332 3900

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway but a very tightly packed interior. It's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Vegan soul in a bowl

August 10, 2014

Australia's experience of soul food has been pretty shallow, on the whole. A few years ago we might have been able to nominate fried chicken or collard greens as soul food staples, and now there's no end of Melbourne bars and restaurants serving up cornbread, mac'n'cheese, hush puppies and pork fat everything. But you'd be hard-pressed to learn much of this cuisine's roots, deeply entwined with African-American history. There's a context of slavery, African and Native American ingredients, home gardening, game meats and offal, and a spirit of sharing and making the best of what's on hand.

I was struck by this sense of generosity and family connection when we visited soul food restaurant Seasoned Vegan in New York back in June. Like the Seasoned Vegan team, Bryant Terry has been reinterpreting soul food for the contemporary vegan, though he tends to leave the mock meat and dairy aside and prioritise sustainable whole foods. (Here's a great article where he fondly recalls the home-grown produce and seasonal cooking traditions in his grandparents' neighbourhood.) I recently acquired a second-hand copy of his book Vegan Soul Kitchen and it's been fascinating to flip through some really unfamiliar recipes, drawing together spices and produce in ways that I haven't tried before.

We tried out three of these recipes for dinner on a Sunday night. This wasn't quite the ordeal it sounds - the preparation methods aren't too fussy, and we scheduled the oven and stove times well. The main protein was tofu, drizzled with a little oil, paprika and fresh rosemary before baking. I was impressed with the golden crust it developed but the spices just didn't carry; I'll have to try tinkering with the quantities here.

We had better success with the sweet potato puree - fluffy yet filling and very, very sweet. It played well with the chewier and more acidic lemon tahini-dressed chard and spinach. I reckon we'll be making these two recipes again - as a sweet-and-sour team, mixing and matching with other Vegan Soul Kitchen dishes, and perhaps even integrating them into our other cooking habits.

The sweetest potato puree
(from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen)

1.8kg sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 tablespoons agave nectar (or less)
6 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
165mL can coconut milk

Preheat an oven to 200°C.

Place the sweet potato chunks in a very large bowl. Toss through the agave nectar, coconut oil and salt. Spread the potato chunks out over a large high-walled baking dish and roast them for 30-40 minutes, giving them a stir at 10 minute intervals. Let the potatoes rest for 10 minutes or so. Puree the sweet potatoes and coconut milk in a food processor until smooth, working in batches if necessary.

Lemon tahini-dressed greens
(slightly adapted from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen

large bunch of chard, sliced into bite-sized pieces with stems and leaves separated
large bunch of spinach, leaves sliced into bite-sized pieces with stems discarded

1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, by hand or in a food processor.

Set a large frypan over medium heat. Cook the chard stems for a couple of minutes, then add the chard leaves, and after a few further minutes the spinach leaves. Stir them often, cooking until everything is just wilted. Transfer the greens to a bowl (if there's water in the frypan, hold it back from the bowl). Pour in the dressing and toss it through the greens.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mankoushe Cafe IV

August 9, 2014

I've only just finished singing the praises of Mankoushe Cafe, so I'm going to keep this post pretty short - Mankoushe are doing a monthly banquet and you all need to get yourselves along as soon as you can. Basically the Mankoushe guys pick a day, pick a theme (it was Syrian this month, previous buffets have been Iraqi and Lebanese food) and make a crazy amount of delicious food that you can stuff into your face for just $20.

The menu is super veg-friendly - I'd hazard half the dishes are vegan and another quarter are vegetarian. Everything is well labelled and the staff are incredibly helpful and happy to make sure you know what you're eating. And the food is just incredible - a great mix of fresh salads, stewy dishes, rices and grains, fried goodies and sweets - you'll stuff yourself silly just getting a sample of everything. Some of the highlights: kibe dumplings stuffed with tahini, chickpeas and silverbeet, silverbeet rolls stuffed with cardamom and chickpeas, grilled eggplant with tomato, capsicum and parsley and a simple but wonderful rice and noodle mix. There were loads of other dishes too, including a tasty vegan slice - it really was an incredible spread.

You get the picture by now - we're big Mankoushe fans and will recommend a trip there any day of the week. The buffets are really something special though - you can tell how much they love whipping up this food and it's a brilliant way to experience all that Mankoushe has to offer. You really should get along to one of these afternoons - the next one will be Sunday, September 7. See you there!


Read about our previous trips to Mankoushe Cafe here, here and here and our bakery visits here, here and here

Mankoushe Cafe
323 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9078 9223
monthly banquet $20

Accessibility: There's a small step up through a narrow-ish entry but everything's more generously spaced once you're in. We mostly self-served at the buffet, but the staff were happy to load plates up for us too.  We paid on the way out at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dessert 1st

August 3, 2014

Clamps and Bec continued our vegan Springvale tour with a stop at Dessert 1st. My subsequent googling has revealed that this Asian dessert cafe was set up by Sheryl of Cupcake Central fame, in partnership with her mum. (Its online presence rates barely a blip after its 2012 opening so I don't know if they're still running it.) 

It's a teen dream hang-out, crammed with posters, piping pop music and selling myriad permutations of cheap coloured sugar - mix'n'match drinks and bowls of dumplings, puddings, pearls and jellies, ices, beans and fruit. The walls show posters of pancakes and other fritters not mentioned in the laminated menu, so it's worth sitting and staring in bewilderment a while and working out what you're most in the mood for. There aren't any dietary labels, so double-check that your choice fits your needs at the counter.

Clamps and Bec shared a cute pastel bowl of mixed puddings and tapioca pearls ($5.50), Michael slurped a milk-based Thai iced coffee ($3), and I picked Tangyuan ($5) from the posters (pictured top). These glutinous rice balls were stuffed with sweet black sesame and served in a warm syrup of ginger and rock sugar, sprinkled with white sesame seeds - prime winter comfort food.

Service was friendly but haphazard, just fine for a casual cafe. We weren't surprised by the charting RnB tunes the staff chose until they shifted to uncensored R. Kelly - an artist with an abusive history and very explicit lyrics. It was an unsavoury accompaniment to otherwise excellent mid-afternoon desserts.


Dessert 1st
35C Buckingham Ave, Springvale
9109 2121
partial dessert menu, drinks menu
(barely updated) facebook page

Accessibility: I think Dessert 1st has a flat entry; it's very crowded inside. I ordered and paid at a low counter; drinks were picked up from a high counter and desserts were served to our table. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nha Hang 5 Sao

August 3, 2014

We've been hoping to visit Nha Hang 5 Sao in Springvale ever since Brianna discovered it a year ago, so an invite from some friends to lunch with them there was eagerly accepted. The restaurant is really close to the train station, so it's not a particularly arduous journey. It's also the kind of place you could easily walk by as a vegetarian looking for food - there are ducks hanging in the windows and a general vibe of meatiness. We investigated further. The regular menu looks like it's got very few veggie dishes on offer but the second, vegetarian menu more than makes up for it, with nearly 100 dishes to choose from.

We had the benefit of Bec and Clamps' previous visits here and let them recommend some key dishes, starting with two serves of the deep fried chicken wings ($4 a serve). This was a big mistake - we should have ordered at least four serves. The 'wings' are a mix of tofu and crispy fried tofu skin and are ludicrously good.

The other mandated dish was the fried kuey teow ($10.80), a smoky wok-fried medley of rice noodles, slivers of mixed mock meat and some veggies. This was my favourite dish of the day, with the mock adding texture and flavour without completely dominating the plate.

We took Vegan Bullsh*t's advice and tried the Kung bo soy chicken ($12.80), assuming we'd have the spice tolerance to do it justice. It had a pretty decent kick, but as long as you steered your way around the dried chillies it was fine. The mix of mock chicken and veggies was great and the slight sweetness of the chicken pieces was a nice match for the hot sauce.

We branched out into some unexplored portions of the menu after that - unable to resist a taste of sizzling venison in XO sauce ($16.50). The 'venison' turned out to be some sort of mushroom-based meat, which I didn't completely love, but the spicy sauce and fresh veggies complimented it well.

We completely embraced the mock meat experience and tried to order the green beans with soy beancurd sausage ($13.80) as our 'veggie' dish, but sadly they were all out of sausage and we settled for some stir-fried Chinese broccoli ($13), which did provide some respite from all the mock.

Nha Hang 5 Sao offer a good line in non-alcoholic drinks - I enjoyed a cooling coconut juice ($3), while Cindy loved her grass jelly and coconut milk concoction ($3)

Nha Hang 5 Sao isn't a fine dining experience - the fit out is basic, the service a little haphazard and the atmosphere very suburban Chinese restaurant, but the food is excellent, cheap and plentiful. It puts the likes of Enlightened Cuisine and White Lotus to shame price-wise, and I don't think either have served up dishes to compete with the chicken wings or the kuey teow (OK, maybe the tamarind fish at White Lotus). It's a definite winner, and well worth making the trip out to Springvale for. It's probably best to visit with a group of people so you can sample widely - we're keen to return and hunt down some more menu highlights.

Brianna and Vegan Bullsh*t have enjoyed the mock meat experience at Nha Hang 5 Sao, while Gourmanda liked its meatier options.

Nha Hang 5 Sao
4 Balmoral Ave, Springvale
8555 0106
menus: one, two, drinks

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry and a fairly spacious interior, including a ramp between rooms. The toilet is unisex, although there was something wrong with the latch when we visited - it was probably too accessible.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Peach & semolina custard tart

July 27, 2014

There was an open plastic jar of peaches in our fridge for the entirety of our overseas travels. The expiry date was still many months off, and they looked and smelled just fine, but I still hesitated to dip a fork in and eat them as they were. Within a week Haalo was posting about a peach and semolina custard tart and I knew what to do.

I was completely unfamiliar with semolina custard, but the premise seems pretty simple - semolina thickens milk just like eggs do! That had me thinking that I really should just go ahead and veganise the tart. I looked up Wrapped in Pastry for tips on sweet vegan shortcrust and blended it together with my usual food processor method. The pastry didn't brown as quickly as a butter-based version, but with a little extra baking it was crisp and comforting.

This tart is not quite as elegant as an almond frangipane, but it has its own casual charm. We didn't even bother with an (ice) cream garnish.

Peach & semolina custard tart
(pastry adapted from Leigh Drew's Wrapped in Pastry,
tart adapted from Cook (Almost) Anything)

shortcrust pastry
2 cups plain flour
a generous tablespoon of icing sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice

semolina custard
2 tablespoons semolina
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut sugar
3/4 cup almond milk

8 peaches sliced into eighths, or an equivalent volume of canned peaches

Place the flour, icing sugar and salt in a food processor, pulsing briefly to mix them together. Add the margarine in small spoons and blend it all together until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the almond milk and lemon juice, blending further until the pastry dough just starts coming together. Tip the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and pull it together into a ball with your hands. Wrap it up in the plastic and refrigerate the pastry for at least an hour.

Stir the custard ingredients together in a small saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat and continue stirring regularly as the custard cooks, turning off the heat when it has thickened. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature.

Retrieve the pastry from the fridge and roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap - aim for a circle that's a bit bigger than your pie dish. Ease the pastry into the dish (without the plastic attached to the bottom!).  Remove the plastic from the custard and give the custard a brisk stir; spoon it onto the pastry base and spread it out evenly. Arrange the peach wedges over the custard, and fold the pastry edges down, pinching it at intervals.

Bake the tart until the pastry begins to go golden - this took mine about 50 minutes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Curry soup

July 28, 2014

A few months after it hit the newsstands, Cindy and I finally grabbed a copy of The Saturday Paper for a lazy weekend browse. Alongside the in-depth articles on the various ways that the Abbott Government is destroying Australia and the excellent arts coverage was a nice little food section, featuring recipes from Andrew McConnell (of Cutler & Co, Cumulus Inc and elsewhere).

The theme for this wintery week was soups - we skipped the chestnut, celeriac and cabbage soup recipe and focussed on McConnell's curry soup. The recipe included a big pile of mussels, but we were assured in the text that it was just as good mussel-free, so we swapped in a can of chickpeas and garnished with a few fried mushrooms instead (we also left out the butter to keep things vegan). Once you chop up all the pumpkin it's a very straightforward recipe and the end result is loaded with spicy-sweet flavours from the array of aromatics that are simmered in. The chickpeas were an okay addition, but next time I might try to think of something a bit chunkier to take the place of the mussels - I feel like some big potato cubes or diced mock-meat would work well. This is definitely a good base for a spicy winter soup - we'll report back on any future experimenting we do.

Curry soup
(adapted from this recipe in The Saturday Paper)

1 onion, diced finely
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 red birdseye chillies, sliced finely
4cm piece of ginger, chopped finely
410g can of chopped tomatoes
600g pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
1L veggie stock + an extra 250ml or so of water
410g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

6 makrut lime leaves
15 curry leaves
2cm chunk of ginger
2cm chunk of galangal
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala (we'd run out, so I made up my own with a mix of ground mace, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and nutmeg)
400ml can of coconut milk

Heat the olive oil in a big saucepan and throw in the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli, cooking for 5 or 10 minutes, until everything is soft and the onion has gone a bit golden.

Add the tomatoes, pumpkin, stock, turmeric and the extra water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Attack the mix with a stick blender until you've managed to turn all the pumpkin and onion pieces into a relatively smooth paste (if you've got a real blender you can transfer the soup and do it properly)

Throw in all the aromatics and simmer again, for about 10 minutes. Fish out the ginger and galangal chunks as well as the lime and curry leaves and then stir in the chickpeas, cooking for another 5 minutes or so.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sookie La La

July 27, 2014

Recently we cycled up to High St for some sun, physical activity and takeaway frozen La Panella pies. New cafes pop up on this strip St faster than we ever make it up there to visit them, and this was a chance to try at least one more. I picked Sookie La La from my to-eat list, having read about it on MEL: HOT OR NOT earlier this year. This is a cute hybrid of American diner and inner north cafe, with a stool-lined high counter, dark wood booths, espresso coffee, pies, shakes, fries and - on the specials board - a lamington-flavoured bagel.

Vegetarian options are abundant, there are helpful hints for vegans along the way, and there's gluten-free bread available for those who need it. Veganising the Don Watson sandwich ($12) means sourdough or rye bread instead of brioche; Michael chose the latter. He reported that the slab of tofu tasted as much of mustard as the promised sweet BBQ sauce, and I could see the pickled beetroot, carrot and cucumber making quite the mess as he gobbled it all up (see pic below). I helped out with the shoestring fries (an extra $3) before setting to work on my own meal.

Since the desserts looked good, I decided against cornmeal buttermilk pancakes for lunch and tried The Bacho ($12.50), a toasted bagel thickly spread with jalapeno cream cheese on one side, then layered with black beans, melted mozzarella, salsa and avocado on the other. It was gooey and comforting, and perfectly portioned.

The sundae list is short but irresistable - there's even a vegan option made with 'Coconut Silk' sorbet! I pressured Michael into sharing some 'Strawberry Harvest' icecream topped with a thick hot chocolate fudge sauce, honey-roasted macadamias and stroopwafel wedges in place of the more traditional wafers ($8). I can see why Thanh goes ga-ga for this biscuits, with their chewy strip of caramel through the centre. Three spoons in, Michael ceased acting at all put upon.

Sooki La La is a sweet little spot - I hope we'll find time for more bike trips towards their sundaes come summer.


Sookie La La  has won other admirers on Vetti Live In Northcote, MEL: HOT OR NOT and Dani Valent.

Sookie La La 
593 High St, Northcote
9486 5417
breakfast & bagels, sandwiches, drinks, sundaes

Accessibility: We think Sookie La La has a flat entryway. Seating has a range of free-standing seats and tables, fixed booths and high stools at the counter with a wide pathway through the middle. We ordered at our table and paid at the high counter. The toilet was unisex and located upstairs.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reminder: Australian Fine Dining panel

The 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival approaches! The panel I'm appearing on - Thinking & Drinking: Australian Fine Dining - is happening in just two weeks. I'm catching up on the books of my co-panelists Andrea Frost and Ronnie Scott, and they're definitely food for thought... moderator Estelle Tang's food blog makes for a few chuckles in between.

I believe there are still some tickets available through the festival website. Hope to see some of you there at the Duke of Wellington (an accessible venue!) on Monday August 25.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Mankoushe Cafe III

July 26, 2014

Since getting back from holidays we’ve been revisiting some of our favourite breakfast places to remind ourselves how great Melbourne’s veg eating really is. After East Elevation and Smith & Daughters, it was time to make a return visit to the fantastic Mankoushe Cafe. There were a terrifying couple of months where the windows were papered over, but the cafe has reopened with a renovated back room and an open fire. Things are otherwise basically unchanged – the staff are still amazingly friendly, the food incredibly tempting and the whole experience just wonderful.

The breakfast menu isn’t very large, with just five dishes to choose from (and nothing vegan). You can also sample from the bakery menu, so you can always fall back on a spinach, feta and ricotta pie ($5.5) or a zaatar bread with fresh tomato, onion, green olives and mint ($7). We stuck with the brekkie menu, with Cindy ordering the zucchini and fennel fritters, with grilled capsicum and a parsley tahini dressing on toast ($15).

It all looked a little dry when it came out, but the thick smears of tahini dressing hiding under the fritters kept things tender. The fritters themselves were simple but effective and the tower of greens and capsicum added colour and freshness.

I weighed up the tomato and ginger puree baked with two free range eggs and eggplant spread ($16), but in the end couldn’t resist the siren song of breakfast potato. The spiced Dutch cream potatoes baked with two eggs and topped with minted yoghurt ($14) was the perfect winter brekkie. Hearty and warm, with more carbs than a human should probably ingest first thing in the morning. I was impressed.

We’d both focussed on savoury breakfast options to ensure we had some enthusiasm for post-breakfast treats, ordering an apple and custard pastry triangle and a pot of cardamom and cinnamon tea ($9) to finish up. Alongside Smith & Daughters, Mankoushe is one of the few places in town where we’ve made enough repeat visits to be treated as regulars, and we were rewarded with a bonus bikkie that was crumbly on the outside and stuffed with sweet ground nuts. The sweets are reliably excellent at Mankoushe, and these were no exception. I will definitely be re-ordering the apple custard pastry in the not-too-distant future.

Mankoushe Cafe is such a standout Brunswick breakfast option – consistently brilliant food, a menu that changes regularly and surely the friendliest staff in town. It’s a bit baffling to see empty tables here on a Sunday morning when there are queues out the door at other places along Lygon Street. Word will surely get around, so grab a quiet, relaxing breakfast while you still can.
Read about our previous visits to the cafe here and here and to the bakery here, here and here. Since our last visit, I Spy Clad and Christina MacLean have enjoyed the Mankoushe experience.

Mankoushe Cafe
323 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9078 9223

Accessibility: There's a small step up through a narrow-ish entry but everything's more generously spaced once you're in. We ordered at the table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Rice pudding

July 20, 2014

Thanks to houseguests and vege boxes, we've recently been inundated with kiwi fruits. I've never really developed a taste for their tartness, so I got to thinking about desserts I might be able to hide them in. Some went into an ugly yet edible vegan bastardisation of this financier recipe, but that only took down two. Cashew cream and frothy gelato came to mind, but I really wanted something warm and winter-friendly.

I hit on a winner with rice pudding. Its creamy warmth is perfectly in season, and softens out the kiwi fruits' acidity. I like these two much better as a team than I like either on their own, and I happily finished off the large pot of pudding and half a dozen kiwis.

This was also a chance to try mixing not-milks in place of dairy, a trick I noticed at a couple of New York's best vegan icecreameries. It definitely lent this pudding a silky richness that didn't taste overbearingly like any of the source ingredients.

Rice pudding
(adapted slightly from a recipe at taste)

1.75 L milk (I used 1L almond milk, 400mL coconut milk, 350mL soymilk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cinnamon stick
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup coconut sugar
220g short-grain rice, such as arborio

Place the milk, vanilla, cinnamon, lemon rind and sugar in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring it regularly.

Pour in the rice and reduce the heat to low. Stir the mixture regularly, cooking it for 40-50 minutes, until the rice is completely cooked and the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove the pudding from the heat and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving with fruit.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Berbere black beans

July 20, 2014

My friend and colleague Yung is an excellent cook, and always brings something exciting to our workplace's annual culinary competition. Recently she formed a small team to cater a vegetarian fundraising event; Michael and I gladly bought tickets to support a worthy cause and graze on what we knew would be a very good buffet. One of the highlights was a pot of rich, warmly spiced black beans. Yung is a generous chef who doesn't hesitate to share her kitchen secrets, in this case her homemade berbere.

Yung and her partner Danielle are so fond of this Eritrean spice mix that they find themselves roasting and grinding up a batch every couple of months! And I was the lucky recipient of a small jar of their blend two Christmases ago, so I had a little on hand. (Yung says they use a recipe by Cath Claringbold, published in Good Weekend a few years ago - we'll post it if we ever muster the courage to make our own stock.)

As for the beans, this is a recipe that Yung and Danielle have developed to suit their taste. It sure suits ours, too! Apparently you can make this with dried beans without any need to pre-cook or soak them, and Yung urges us all to use the full quantity of oil to really carry the flavour and build a rich texture.

We were so keen that we copied her moves the very next night, serving our beans with some Viva Vegan! silverbeet, wholemeal tortillas and fresh salad.

Berbere black beans
(slightly adapted from a recipe by our friends Yung & Danielle)

1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped 
1 green capsicum, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1 1/2 teaspoons berbere 
2 x 400g cans black beans, drained
3 bay leaves
1 dried chipotle chilli (optional)

Place a large saucepan on medium-high heat and pour in the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, capsicum and a teaspoon of salt. Allow them to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and berbere and then the black beans; pour over enough boiling water to cover the beans. Keep cooking the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the sauce is thick and rich.

If you're using the chipotle chilli, soak it in hot water and add it around 15 minutes before you want to eat.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Smith & Daughters IV

July 20, 2014

We'd brunched our way across North America and fallen in love with a few great places (hi Champs!), so on our return we decided to see how Smith & Daughters measured up to what the US has to offer. We turned up at 10 as they opened and had no problem snaring a table - the downside of our early arrival was that it left me unable to justify breakfast cocktails once again. One day I'll get my weekend started with a gangster horchata... one day.

I'd heard great things about the egg-free omelettes on the brunch menu and so got onto the baked Spanish omelette (potato, chorizo, mushrooms and sweet peppers topped with saffron sofrito and served with toasted bread, $16)

This was outstanding - some egginess in the mix (black salt presumably) and a cheesy flavour, little chewy chorizo pieces and a rich sauce across the top. It's a little on the small side, but it's a really high quality breakfast. The burrito that Smith and Daughters serve up is good, but this? This is really excellent.

Cindy could not be swayed from the Spanish French toast (is that a contradiction?). It's based on Shannon's grandfather's recipe apparently, with the bread dipped in a spiced wine syrup, coated with batter and served with a cluster of golden poached quince wedges ($16). Though the bread looked a crusty, this was soft and cakey all the way through.

As always we got great, great service at Smith & Daughters. It's got to the point where they're so nice to us that I'm not sure these write-ups can be considered even vaguely objective anymore. On this visit, Mo dropped off a bowl of the horchata rice pudding for our table to share - since Cindy last ordered it it's become more sprawling and fluffy, the charred pineapple is finely cubed for easier distribution and there's a little shredded mint. Brekkie is a great time to visit Smith & Daughters - there's not as much pressure on your table and you can lounge around a bit over a coffee as you enjoy a really top notch meal.

You can read about our last brunch at S & D here, and our dinner experiences here and here. Since we last wrote about Smith and Daughters it's been enjoyed by Cate's Cakes, Klaus & Fritz, It's an expensive but delicious habit, melbourne with the rocket, A Melbournite and I Spy Plum Pie

Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
brunch and booze menu, juices, smoothies and coffees (although the facebook page is really a bit more useful)

Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow and the tables are pretty crowded. The interior was a bit quieter and brighter during the daytime. Toilets were located up several steps, were gendered and of standard dimension. There's full table service.

Monday, August 04, 2014

All Day Donuts

July 19, 2014

Twitter and Facebook went a bit crazy the weekend we got back from our overseas jaunt, with everyone suddenly obsessed by a pop-up doughnut shop tucked into the back streets of Melbourne. With photos of massive queues, we decided to bide our time for a few weeks, finally stopping in after the hype had died down. The shop in question is All Day Donuts, a semi-permanent home for Raph Rashid (of Beatbox and Taco Truck fame) to sell a selection of iced doughy treats.

There are six doughnuts to choose from and it seems as though they're going to focus on getting these six flavours spot on rather than rotating their options regularly. We took home a sampler of four (clockwise from top left): jaffa, coffee glaze with passionfruit curd and choc rubble, strawberry cheesecake and lime brulee ($5 each). First up, the price: $5 for a doughnut is a bit nuts, although it seems to be the going rate if my research into Melbourne's other fancy doughnut shops is to be believed. These make a pretty good fist of living up to the expense though - the dough is fresh and soft and the icing and curd combos work reasonably well. The lime brulee is the clear standout - the sourness of the lime flavour cutting through the sweetness that overwhelms the jaffa and the strawberry cheesecake.

We've been on a bit of a doughnut binge lately - these were much better than the Voodoo version (although there's nothing vegan on offer here), but not as cute as our Japanese treats. With fancy filter coffee on offer and a very Brunswick vibe, I'm sure All Day Donuts will be a roaring success - given the price and sweetness though, we'll probably keep them as a sometimes food. They're only open Friday-Sunday at the moment, but there's talk of dinner options and longer hours in the future.

Melbourne Food Snob, My Backyard and Ordinary girl, extraordinary dreamer loved what All Day Donuts had to offer, while Ebezilla's Food Blog and erin maynie, everyday had the same kind of mixed response that we did.
All Day Donuts
12 Edward St, Brunswick
8060 6664
donuts $5 

Accessibility: There's a small step up to a pretty spacious interior. Service is at a low counter.

Friday, August 01, 2014

East Elevation VII

Edit 02/01/2021: East Elevation is no longer trading as a cafe, but is available as a function venue.

July 17, 2014

East Elevation is not currently offering a weekly dinner service, but they do run the odd special event. When we caught wind of their July vegan dinner we were signed up in seconds - their equivalent event one year ago was delightful. (Hot tip - they've another on August 7 that's sold out and they will consider an encore on August 8 if enough people show interest!)

With this $60 six courser, East Elevation outshone the all bright hopes I held for the meal. I don't think you can find anything else like it in this city. It began with small plates presenting Jerusalem artichoke as a puree with pepitas and truffle, but also fried to a crisp and salted - a nice interplay of comforting savoury softness and light crunchy touches.

Tilting further to soft comforts were these jars of soy custard with surprisingly sweet fresh and pickled mushrooms, topped with a kombu and shiitake broth at the table.

The night's crowd pleaser was a buttery confit Nicola potato set in a soy emulsion with toasted shallots, burnt leek and vegan parmesan. I reckon this is what a sour cream-and-chive baked potato looks and tastes like in heaven.

The final savoury course was more divisive. While the baby carrots - baked, pickled and pureed - were sweet and inoffensive, not everyone took to the grassy-earthy tones of the Coopers stout soil and the hay puree. The larger clods of 'soil' reminded me happily of Weetbix, and I enjoyed the sights and smells of a paddock that it evoked. For me the only hiccup was that, on a cold and dark winter night, this dish was served at room temperature.

Nothing gets me onside a degustation like a menu with two desserts! Never mind that I couldn't quite reconcile my taste buds to the first fruity one - poached rhubarb and blood orange served with a dollop of lumpy, ricotta-like almond curd, a pretty but bitter nasturtium leaf and a disorienting stem of smoked rhubarb.

By contrast the chocolate and almond-themed finale really hit home with its sweet scatter. A spill of almond milk, a shard of dark chocolate and a puff of Persian fairy floss; a crunchy crush of praline, equal parts almond and amber toffee; a tiny sundae of shaved chocolate and almond milk granita that started with matching textures then melted unevenly in the mouth to matching temperatures. And a cup of East Elevation's specialty Monsieur Truffe hot chocolate on a base of almond milk - until I drank it I was yearning for more and more of this meal, but I finished completely, deeply satisfied.


Here are our previous  one, two, three, four, five, six blog posts about East Elevation. This particular evening has also been blogged on quinces and kale.

East Elevation
351 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9380 4915
set menu $60

Accessibility: Excellent. A ramp on entry, great light, lots of space and spacious individual unisex toilets, at least one of which has disability signage. Ordering happens at the table and payment at a reasonably low counter.