Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Red Bridge Cooking School

September 2, 2019

We saw winter out with a wonderful, relaxing holiday in Hoi An, Vietnam. A week or two before we set off we made sure to book in a couple of outings: one centred around bird watching (with an excellent lunch rolled in) and the other, a cooking class. There are numerous cooking classes around Hoi An, and my online reading suggested that Red Bridge Cooking School would suit us well. 

Their half day tour (US$34 per person) took us and about a dozen fellow students through the central market to learn about ingredients and tools (it wasn't a veg*n class, so that included visiting the meat and [sometimes live] seafood). From the market, we took a boat along the Thu Bon river to the cooking school itself. The school has a lovely herb garden, and covered open areas to cook and eat.

The class is structured as a series of short demonstrations and do-it-yourself. We started with banh xeo, turmeric-tinted rice pancakes that I was already fond of. As we rolled our pancakes in rice paper, we learned that it's stored and softened in banana leaves rather than hydrated in a water bowl.

An even bigger revelation was to come, when we made our own fresh rice paper! It's formed from a simple batter, spread and steamed over boiling water for just one minute, before it's quickly but gently prised off the cotton sheet. We weren't good at the manoeuvre, but nevertheless we were rewarded with the freshest, most special rice paper rolls we've ever eaten. I'm not sure that we'll repeat this at home, but we'll keep this memory for a long time. 

A short lesson in food decoration was fun but produced mixed results: I sliced my cucumber a little too thick for it to bend into the loops we were aiming for. Surprisingly, our tomato-skin roses turned out pretty well!

We also made a neat little tofu-mushroom claypot, and received tuition on papaya salad. While everyone else shared a steamed whole fish, Michael and I were treated to eggplant in a thick peanut sauce.

We had a great experience at Red Bridge Cooking School. They're very well organised, with lots of staff on hand to assist and ready to tidy around us. The tour guides and chefs were charming and upbeat, cracking plenty of jokes along the way. The pace was reasonably fast, and our contributions to the cooking were often more a brief practice of a technique (e.g. cooking ready-made batter and adding pre-chopped veges, julienning vegetables for the salad) rather than seeing a dish through from market to plate. 

While we received many handy tips throughout the class, we weren't individually tutored on the techniques - the couple of times that I stumbled, the nearest assistant tended to just take over and keep things moving rather than coach me through an improved attempt. This is a small quibble, though - overall, the approach enabled us to try and eat many different dishes, and feel equipped to repeat them at home. I reckon the banh xeo is on the top of our to-make list, with the papaya salad a close second.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sichuan House II

August 21, 2019

We recently met up with a big gang of vegans for a weeknight feast at Sichuan House. There's nothing very fancy about the venue - it's been pumping out amazing spicy food for years and the decor could easily have come straight from the 90s. It's a surprisingly veg-friendly place - we ordered 9 vegan dishes to share and we still had more options on the menu we could have tried. We kicked off with one of my absolute favourite dishes - Sichuan cold noodles ($7), a gloriously spicy treat that zaps your mouth and sets you up for the rest of the meal.

Someone in the group insisted we try the spicy cumin cauliflower ($20.80), and I'm glad they did - we'd never had this before (although we ate very similar dishes in China last year) and it was one of the best dishes of the night. As the name suggests, it's spicy, it's cumin-y and it's cauliflower. The spicy dried tofu ($11.80) is more of an old favourite - chewy tofu strips, slathered in more zingy sichuan pepper sauce.

We added a plate of greens with the Chinese broccoli with garlic ($16.80) and an order of Cindy's dish of choice: fish-fragrant eggplant ($19.80). The lightly battered eggplant has a sweet, vinegar-y sauce, along with a good hit chilli of course. It's always a winner.

The stir-fried five-spice tofu and chives ($19.80) is another old favourite, although it didn't quite live up to our memories this time. The tofu was a bit lacking in flavour alongside all the other dishes - it's usually great though, so we'll probably order it again next time. The absolute show-stopper of the night was the mapo tofu minus the pork ($16.80) - a rich and spicy dish that I will dream about for weeks.

The spicy and sour potato threads ($19.80) and stir-fried tea-tree mushrooms with five-spice tofu ($19.80) were both just okay - the potato lacked a bit of sourness this time around and the tea-tree mushrooms are an acquired taste.

On the whole though, this was an incredibly good meal - it's so great to go somewhere like Sichuan House with a big group so you can really delve into everything they have to offer. Sharing this food around is delightful, messy fun - it's got to be one of the best big-group options in the city.

Read about our first visit here. More recently, Enlightened Decadence enjoyed a selection of their tofu dishes, while there are positive meaty reviews at Foodie About Town and streaky eats.

Sichuan House
22-26 Corrs Lane, Melbourne 
9650 8589
menu samples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Accessibility: Entry includes about six steps, and we didn't see a more accessible alternative. Tables are densely packed. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. Toilets were gendered, flat-floored and narrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Rice Paper Scissors

August 18, 2019

We went hard at the Melbourne International Film Festival this year! I was expecting this to mean hasty stops for dumplings, street-side crepes and Lord of the Fries between sessions but we actually had several more leisurely sit-down meals. Our friend Jess organised a booking for Rice Paper Scissors, which we hadn't previously bothered investigating for veg*n options. As Jess well knew, there's actually a clearly marked vegan section to their menu (with gluten-free dishes also marked), and were able to sample almost all of it between the three of us.

The two things I most liked about the menu arrived up front. First, there's a list of six mocktails on the drinks list - I ordered a Yuzu Can't Touch This ($9.50). Second, the roti is vegan-friendly! We ordered two of them with peanut dipping sauce ($7 each) to celebrate.

Half the vegan menu includes the word 'salad', but they proved to be varied and substantive dishes that do the word proud. The tempura eggplant salad ($14, above left) arrived first, with the battered pieces keeping crisp alongside julienned green mango, chilli, coconut and herbs. The Asian greens ($13, above right) looked pretty salad-y too, with wood ear mushrooms, bean shoots and ginger sauce.

The smoked tofu had us doing a double-take - its density and texture was more like a mock-meat (or even possibly a real meat) than regular bean curd! It popped up in generous, marinated chunks in both the crisp, tangy green apple salad ($14, above left) and the sweet, saucy bao (~$7 each, above right). These were probably my two favourite dishes of the day.

The mushroom salad ($14) featured all sorts of barbecued funghi; I overlooked the banana blossom and rambutan here as a consequence.

We had a big wait after our salads were done. We were full, took a while to notice that we were missing a dish, and weren't inclined to remind the staff about it. Actually, they'd deliberately paced the ma hor ($12) for us. It was great to receive fresh fruit at the conclusion of our meal, piling it with a caramelised five-spiced tofu and peanut 'mince' as best we could.

The dessert menu's an interesting one, though sadly not so vegan-friendly. No matter - we were well looked after by a vegan staff member and clearly had no end of sweet, sour and savoury vegan mains to enjoy. The only downfall we experienced at Rice Paper Scissors was its interior design - it's densely packed, its seating doesn't include back support, and it's noisy. We'll choose carefully when and with whom we make reservations there.


Yoshiko has attended a vegan degustation at the Fitzroy restaurant - it looks like these still occur with some regularity.

Rice Paper Scissors
19 Liverpool St, Melbourne CBD
9663 9890
omni menu, vegan & desserts, cocktails & mocktails, wine, beer & other drinks

Accessibility: Not high! It's loud and crowded, with a mixture of high and low tables and stools (I don't think any of the chairs had backs). We ordered at our high bench and paid at an adjoining high bench. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Bodega Underground

August 16, 2019

We had a big Melbourne International Film Festival this year, which gave us a chance to catch up on a bit of CBD eating. Towards then end of MIFF, we rocked up for a post-movie dinner late on Friday at vegan-friendly Mexican dive-bar Bodega Underground. It's buzzing on a weekend - you absolutely need to book - with lots of big tables throwing back cocktails and tacos. It feels as least as much a bar as a restaurant, so don't head there expecting a quiet, low-key vibe. We kicked off with drinks - a margarita for me ($20), a tequila, elderflower and aloe cocktail for Jess and a pineapple, mint and lime mocktail for Cindy.

The three of us shared a bunch of dishes, including one serve of each of the three vegan tacos: frijoles (black beans, salsa verde, shaved vegetable chips and pickled jalapenos, $11), ejotes (green beans, apple and mint vegan slaw, salsa roja and guacamole, $12) and batata (sweet potato, pickled beetroot, vegan jalapeno crema, toasted pepitas and coriander, $11).

These were a great selection of fresh and interesting tacos with a good range of different flavours.

Our other pair of dishes were the vegan mole chilaquiles (pulled mushrooms with mole sauce, tortilla chips, jalapeno crema, queso catija, pickled onion and coriander, $16).

This was probably my favourite dish - a big, smoky nacho-style mess with some excellent creamy jalapeno mush and tangy onion bits.

Finally, we had the charred cauliflower (salsa verde, salsa de dos quesos, annata pepitas and radish, $16).

You can't go too far wrong with a charred cauliflower the combo of sauces and extras on top of this one added some bite and creaminess to the tender cauli.

Bodega Underground is a buzzing, boozy option for a late night dinner, with an excellent array of vegan Mexican dishes. Service was friendly and pretty efficient, even with hordes of people there on a Friday night - book in and check it out.


We found positive reviews for Bodega Underground at The New Fave and Aussie Coeliac (although they didn't love the noise), and a more unenthusiastic one at far fetched & fanciful.

Bodega Underground
55 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
(03) 9650 9979
menus: drinks, food
Accessibility: Bodega Underground is down narrow stairs and is cramped and loud. According to their website, children are not welcome(!). We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, August 31, 2019


August 13, 2019

It's fantastic to see Ethiopean restaurants spreading more broadly across metropolitan Melbourne! Michael noticed that one such spot, Northcote's Mesob, is located along our bike commute. It's a comfortable, low-key place with a naturally inclusive and intentionally well-labeled menu: mains are centred around their wonderfully sour and spongey gluten-free injera, and almost half their main dishes are vegan.

Naturally, we went all-in with the Herbivore Combination Platter ($23 per person). We didn't take a whole lot of interest in the central salad when we could be scooping up shiro (thick, berbere-spiced chickpea flour), miser wot (red lentils),  gomen (collard greens), yatakilt alicha (tender sauteed cabbage, carrot and potato), duba wot (caramelised pumpkin stew), and kik alicha (turmeric-spiced yellow lentils). And scoop scoop scoop we did, until it was almost done - those injera are filling!

Injera platters make for terrific winter comfort food, and they're so much fun to share. I've got a hunch that we'll be parking our bikes out front of Mesob on a regular basis.

Mesob has already received positive review on veg blogs Green Gourmet Giraffe and Enlightened Decadence.

213 High St, Northcote
9489 6952

Accessibility: There's a small ramp on entry and moderately spaced tables and chairs throughout the restaurant. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Yellow II

August 11, 2019

I stretched my birthday celebrations nearly three months past the actual date, arranging a family weekend in Sydney with my mum and siblings. They flew from all over the world for the weekend and I picked Yellow for a special Sunday night dinner. Yellow's a well-loved Sydney fine-dining place that picked up a lot of buzz in 2015 when it shifted to an entirely vego menu. It was the perfect place for a fancy night out.

We ordered the five course banquet ($85 a head) and were easily talked into adding a serve of the sweet potato, chipotle and lime tortillas as a bonus course ($8 each). They started us off with a couple of warm-up dishes as well: the housemade sourdough with a smoky mushroom powder on top and a plate of lightly pickled veggies with a macadamia-based dipping sauce. The bread is always a highlight at fancy restaurants and Yellow is no exception.

Next up was our extra dish - sweet potato, chipotle and lime yoghurt tortillas and a serve each of the macadamia tofu with grape, celeriac and little strips of kelp. The tortillas were lovely - smoky and sweet with a hint of spice, but the tofu dish was just okay. The little bursts of flavour from the grapes were great, but otherwise it wasn't particularly memorable.

Things moved up a gear with our next dishes - charred cabbage with black garlic, dashi and mustard seeds (left) and romanesco broccoli with tomatillos, green pepper and preserved lemon. These were both great - the romanesco dish was my favourite of the night, with a brilliant mix of strong flavours and some lovely textural touches. The cabbage wasn't far behind - loaded with richness from the sweet black garlic and the almost caramelised dashi.

The final savoury dish was tempura Jerusalem artichoke with leek, black lime, sage and goat's yoghurt. This was another winner - delicately crispy batter filled with nutty, starchy artichokes with some nice tang from the powdered dried lime.

Dessert was a honeydew sorbet with yuzu curd, coconut and peppermint. This was a fresh and tangy way to finish the meal with more fun textures (although I'm always a bit disappointed when there's no chocolate at dessert).

Yellow is a wonderful restaurant - we had fantastic service all night (right down to an embarrassing candle and song in my dessert) and the food is brilliant. It's great to see an all vegetarian fine dining place thriving - they're really worth a visit.

You can read about my previous visit to Yellow here.

All the blog reviews of Yellow's vego incarnation were positive - check out Will Be, Sashimisho, Ms Brulee, welcome to andyville, Sarah vs Carbs, foodie mookie, Does My Bomb Look Big In This?, Belly Rumbles and the unbearable lightness of being hungry.

57 Macleay Street, Potts Point

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway and a reasonably accessible layout inside. Toilets are gendered and accessible.

Saturday, August 17, 2019


August 11, 2019

We've just had a long weekend in Sydney and we based ourselves in Darlinghurst, a neighbourhood that Michael and I are now quite familiar with. Even so, we didn't recognise the cafe Organism just next door to Shenkin. It's got a cute, rambling vibe and a promise of waffles, so I gently steered Michael and his mum there for a small Sunday breakfast.

The menu is centred primarily around toast, rolls, bagels and waffles and there's a gorgeous display case of croissants, pies and muffins. Vegetarian options are plentiful; vegan and gluten-free options are less common but well-marked, including a lunch-time bibimbap that hits both marks.

After initially being drawn to the tofu l'ancienne roll, Michael settled on the Crush'n on Avo ($14) - a modest portion of sourdough toast and smashed avocado, topped here with tomato, feta, parsley and black sesame seeds.

There's a mini waffle menu with four different options, and I was in the mood to skip by the ostentatious ice-cream-laden ones and just get the simple ricotta version ($8). This really brought out the best in the waffle! It was lightly crisp with caramelised spots on the outside, concealing a thick seam of lemony house ricotta through the middle. A topping of maple syrup and cinnamon sugar supplied ample sweetness, and I enjoyed a rare honey yuzu tea ($6) on the side.  

I was utterly charmed by Organism, with its slightly cluttered nooks and understated meals. I'll definitely check in on them again, hopefully for a slice of pie next time, whenever I find myself in Darlinghurst again.

288 Crown St, Darlinghurst
(02) 7901 2509
facebook page

Accessibility: Pretty limited! There's a steep, curling staircase with handrails to enter. Furniture is densely packed and a little rickety, a mixture of heights and back supports. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Samoa biscuits

July 27-28, 2019

I was in a baking mood this weekend! I pulled this recipe from the depths of my bookmarks, sourced from one of my favourite food blogs back in 2007: Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit. It's a vegan version of the Samoa, which is Girl Scout cookie well-known in North America, possibly but possibly not named after the country.

I can't vouch for the authenticity of this version; it's certainly not ring-shaped like the other ones I've seen online. It looks like it might be heavier on the dough and lighter on the coconut. But it has the coconut chewiness that I was hankering for, crunchy pecans, and a smooth layer of chocolate across the bottom of each biscuit. 

I just went with flour mixtures and syrup combinations that used my pantry supplies efficiently, and was very happy with the results. If you like your biscuits chewy rather than crunchy, I'd recommend pulling them out early around the 10 minute mark, and not baking them for the full 14 minutes listed in the original recipe.

Samoa biscuits
(slightly adapted from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit,
where it's credited to The Veggie Voice)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 3/4 cups flour (I used a mix of plain and wholemeal)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup ground pecans
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
1/2 cup coconut or other vegetable oil
1 cup vegan-friendly sweet syrup (I used 1/2 cup malt syrup, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup golden syrup)
250g dark chocolate

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a couple of baking trays with paper (I was out; I just sprayed oil on the tray and did fine.)

In a large bowl, stir together the rolled oats, flour, salt, baking powder, coconut and ground pecans. Get your oil into a liquid state if it isn't already (I melted my coconut oil in a saucepan) and pour it over the dry ingredients; mix until well combined. Pour over your sweet syrup and mix thoroughly until a dough forms; fold in the chopped pecans.

Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, flatten them slightly, and place them on the baking trays (they will rise and spread a little, but not a lot). Bake for 10-14 minutes, until browned around the edges (10 minutes was plenty for mine). Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Melt 200g of the chocolate using your preferred method. Spread a teaspoon of chocolate on the bottom of each biscuit. When it's well set, flip the biscuits back over. Melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle it in stripes across the tops of the biscuits, and allow it to set. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Barton Fink

July 26, 2019

Barton Fink is a bar on High Street in Thornbury that's been around for four or five years without ever really drawing our attention. That all changed in May this year when they introduced a fully vegan menu. It's a mock meat-heavy selection of food that feels very US dive bar: tacos, hot dogs, burgers, nachos, etc. We stopped by for dinner on our way out to a gig in Northcote.

On a Friday night things were busy without being crowded - we had no trouble getting a table and food came out super quickly. I couldn't resist the full selection of tacos on offer ($18 for 4 or $5.50 each).

The range includes mock fish, mock chicken, jackfruit pulled pork and a beef 'n' bean mix. These are excellent vegan tacos - my two favourites were the mock fish, which had a brilliant aioli on top of some crispy battered fish pieces, and the beef and bean, which was rich and smoky. It was great to try all four though - I'd recommend it.

Cindy ordered the southern soul burger - crispy mock chicken with jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, chipotle mayo and a side of chips ($16.50).

The chips were ace and the burger was a very solid effort - we think the mock chicken patty is house-made seitan, which is always an impressive effort. It was heavy on the jalapenos, which would have suited me, but wasn't ideal for Cindy's taste. 

The atmosphere at Barton Fink was just okay - it's dark and there's footy on the tv, while the Coen brothers-inspired interiors won't be to everyone's taste. It's fine though - I sat happily in the corner and read my book before Cindy turned up. The food is definitely worth the visit though - I can't wait to go back and try the hot dogs. 


The only blog review of Barton Fink we can find is from their pre-vegan era on Parma Daze

Barton Fink
816-818 High Street, Thornbury
9484 7426
menu page 1, page 2

Accessibility: There's a ramp on entry and a mix of regular tables and higher ones with stool seating. You order and pay at a bar. The toilets are unisex and fully accessible.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Roasted cauliflower salad

July 7, 2019

Here's another gem from the lab farewell cookbook, shared by Saras. It's a recipe that she got from her cousin in Jerusalem for a salad with my favourite clash of flavours and textures - savoury cauliflower and hazelnuts refreshed with celery and parsley, in a sweet and warmly spiced dressing, all scattered with pretty, tangy pomegranate seeds. We're already familiar with a very similar salad made by Ottolenghi, but I like that Saras' version uses some of the celery leaves, not just the stalks, and those fresh pomegranate seeds replace dried fruit. 

This is such a versatile recipe: it packs well for picnics, potlucks, and workday lunches; it passes as a light but satisfying meal on its own, and makes a bright side dish for just about anything else. We matched it oddly but very happily with a batch of kimchi, gochujang & cheese scrolls

Roasted cauliflower salad
(a recipe shared by Saras,
which she credits to her cousin)

1/2 cup hazelnuts, roasted
1 large cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to roast the cauliflower
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
1/4 cup celery leaves
1/4 cup parsley

Preheat the oven to 240°C.

Place the cauliflower in a baking tray, pour over olive oil and generous salt, stirring it through the cauliflower. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender, and browning around the edges. Set aside to cool.

Place the olive oil, vinegar, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice, and some more salt in an old jam jar. Screw on the lid and shake the dressing until emulsified.

Roughly chop the hazelnuts.

Toss everything together in a big salad bowl and, Saras recommends, "bask in the praise".

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Nonna's gnocchi sauce

June 29, 2019

What a privilege to receive my friends' beloved family recipes in the lab farewell cookbook! My long-time officemate Pia went so far as to press her Italian grandmother for a record of the gnocchi sauce she makes by memory and to taste. 

We initially gave it a go on a Saturday night, but this is a quick and comforting formula that could easily be accomplished after work. I would never have thought to include grated vegetables in such a sauce, but I liked the heft they added to it. And I reckon with the vegetables on board, there's far less risk of the gnocchi coming over too gluggy or setting up like glue in your stomach.

Nonna's gnocchi sauce
(a recipe shared by Pia)

1 bottle passata
olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, grated
5-6 mushrooms, grated
a good handful of parsley, chopped
red wine
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the garlic. When the garlic has just browned, add the carrot, mushrooms and parsley. Cook them until they start to dry out.

Slosh in some red wine and turn up the heat, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Turn the heat back down and add the passata. Cook for a little while; add basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Vegan, gluten-free self-saucing chocolate pudding

June 29, 2019

This is a dessert recipe crying out to be made mid-winter! It comes from Mick, who was my very first supervisor when I arrived in Melbourne, and of course it's part of the lab cookbook.

This self-saucing pudding uses a trick that I would've been very skeptical of if I hadn't seen it before: it has you placing a teeny portion of cake batter in a baking tray, and then pouring half a litre of boiling water over the top! Amazingly, it doesn't turn into a curdled mess of cake clumps floating in water; rather, the cake expands in the oven and the water settles underneath, picking up all the flavour it needs to form a thick sauce. 

The other appealing features of this pudding are how diet-inclusive and pantry-friendly it is. I didn't need to shop for a single ingredient before I set to work. I will admit that I didn't have the highest of hopes for a vegan, gluten-free pudding based on rice flour, no-egg powder and only a small amount of cocoa. More fool me! The cake was plenty fluffy with a lovely crumb, and there was abundant dark, chocolatey sauce to go around.

We had a little leftover salted caramel coconut-based vegan icecream brought over by our friend Nat, and it was the perfect thing to scoop on top.

Vegan, gluten-free self-saucing chocolate pudding
(a recipe shared by Mick,
who credits it to taste.com.au)

60g Nuttelex
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup rice flour (Mick recommends Coles' organic)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 generous teaspoons cocoa
1 teaspoon Orgran no-egg
1/2 cup soy milk

3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups boiling water

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Lightly grease a high-walled baking dish.

In a large bowl, cream together the Nuttelex and caster sugar.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa and no-egg. In turns, gradually beat these dry ingredients and the soy milk into the butter mixture, to form a cake batter. Pour the batter into the baking dish.

Sprinkle the brown sugar and cocoa over the top of the pudding. Pour the boiling water over it all, and bake for 45 minutes.

Serve with a little vegan icecream.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Samba's Jhol Momo

June 20, 2019

This article prompted a some compelling critiques about Australian food journalism on twitter, but it also alerted me to the existence of Samba's Jhol Momo, a newish Nepalese place tucked just off Sydney Road. They specialise in jhol momo - hot dumplings served in a thick broth - and have two dishes: meat and vegetarian.

We grabbed two bowls of the vego option ($10 each) and settled in. There are jars of good quality chilli sauce on the tables, so I immediately spooned some over my dish. This is probably unnecessary - the broth is brimming with spiciness already. It's perfect winter food, with maybe a hint of Sechuan pepper to really add to the kick. The dumplings themselves are freshly made and filled with a mix of veggies, garlic and ginger, but it's the broth that really shines here. 

It's great to have another cheap and delicious option in the neighbourhood - this is a perfect place for us to stop off on the way home for a fast dinner when we need a break from Kevabs.


Samba's Jhol Momo
528A Sydney Rd, Brunswick (entry on Blyth St)
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a flat entry way to a fairly crowded interior, with regular tables. You order at a low counter. The toilets are unisex, but quite a trek through some narrow paths and uneven ground to the corner of the carpark.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Joma's lemon cordial

June 5, 2019

This cordial is a simple and appealing recipe from the lab cookbook that I didn't expect to get around to until next summer. But it's very much lemon season right now, and we've received lots of lemons from friends.

The only challenge remaining was to buy tartaric and citric acids, which I've never cooked with before. It turns out that citric acid sits near the baking powder in most supermarkets. Tartaric acid is in the same spot but stocked less frequently. After a few false starts I tracked it down at the SUPA IGA on Sydney Road. 

I made just half the quantity listed below and still made lots of cordial with just 3 lemons (two-and-a-bit of the bottles pictured above). Recipe-sharers Chris, Freya and Roy recommend freezing it into icy-poles, or drinking it with soda water, but at this time of year I'm content just to dilute it with regular ol' tap water.

Joma's lemon cordial
(a recipe shared by Chris, Freya and Roy,
who credit it to the Nursing Mother's Association Cookbook)

juice and grated rind of 6 lemons
2 kg sugar
30g tartaric acid
60g citric acid
8 cups boiling water

In a very large bowl, mix together the lemon juice and rind, sugar, and acids. Pour over the boiling water slowly. Mix until the sugar is dissolved and allow the mixture to cool. 

If you want to, strain out the rind (I didn't). Bottle and seal the cordial. Dilute with lots of water or soda water; enjoy it as a drink or freeze it into icy-poles.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ottolenghi birthday feast

May 26, 2019

I had a big birthday recently and hosted a shindig at one of our old favourite pubs with a bunch of mates. I finished the night loaded down with presents, including a stunning set of Global knives from my work colleagues. They supplemented the knives with a box full of produce, providing the key ingredients for three (3!) different Ottolenghi dishes. I had left Sunday completely free, so I spent the day working my way through all of them. 

There were a couple of pretty easy dishes: cauliflower, pomegranate and pistachio salad from Simple and roasted pumpkin wedges with chestnut, cinnamon & fresh bay leaves from the web. The cauliflower was pretty excellent - a mix of grated raw and tender roasted cauli, with the classic Ottolenghi additions of pomegranate and a variety of herbs.

The pumpkin was a bit let down by our inability to locate fresh bay leaves and a general ambivalence towards chestnuts - the maple and sage roasting mix worked well though. 

The final dish (pictured at the top) was the most complex: butternut squash with ginger tomatoes and lime yoghurt from Nopi - we used the version on Ottolenghi's website. There are a lot of steps to this - roast the pumpkin, roast the tomatoes for two hours with a spice paste and make up a yoghurt sauce. None of it's very hard, but it's a time consuming affair - you really need to have most of the day free to make this work. It's worth the time though - the ginger tomatoes provide a sharp, acidic burst that cuts through the sweet pumpkin, while the yoghurt smooths things out and the peanuts and shallots give you some crunch. It's a showstopper of a side dish.

Butternut pumpkin with ginger tomatoes & lime yoghurt
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Ottolenghi's website)

1 medium butternut pumpkin, unpeeled, halved lengthways, seeds removed, then cut into 1 inch slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 tomatoes, halved lengthways
3cm piece of ginger, finely grated
1 red chilli, seeded diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons palm sugar
salt and pepper

120g Greek yoghurt
zest and juice of a lime
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1/2 cup roasted cashews
10g crispy fried shallots

Preheat the oven to 240°C.

Mix the pumpkin with two tablespoons of the oil, two teaspoons of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Spread them out on a baking tray and bake for 40 minutes until golden-brown. Set aside.

Turn the oven down to 170°C. Pop the tomatoes on a baking tray, skin-side down. Sprinkle each of them with salt, drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and cook for 80 minutes.

While they're baking make up your paste - mix together the ginger, chilli, garlic, sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a thick paste. Spoon this mixture on top of the tomatoes and bake for another 40 minutes, until it caramelises. 

Stir the lime juice, zest and cardamom through the yoghurt. 

Spread the pumpkin slices out and top with the tomatoes, lime yoghurt, nuts, coriander and crispy shallots and serve.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Serious Eats vegan brownies

May 24, 2019

I can always rely on Serious Eats for a thoughtful but complicated way around vegan food, and so it was with their vegan brownie recipe. Calling for cocoa butter, soy milk powder and dry malt extract, I had to move beyond my own pantry and even my local shops to ready myself.

Though I'd never bought cocoa butter before, I knew it was achievable, and I was keen to bring another chocolate-based product in for the fatty component. Dry malt extract was harder, and I ended up settling for a syrup. Soy milk powder proved impossible, and I had some memory of seeing coconut milk powder around the place. Out of desperation I bought creamed coconut and this was a big mistake. My first batch of these brownies oozed with oil, and it solidified into a white tide mark around the cooled squares. 

Nevertheless, they tasted great. Very, very chocolatey but also complex with that malt and a pinch of coffee. And there was this slightly elastic chewiness to them that I was into, like a thick caramel. I wanted to make them work. 

The clue was in reading the recipe through a couple more times. It was designed to be packaged up as a dry mix to store in the pantry (just add boiling water and vanilla!) but that wasn't necessarily what I needed. Why use soy milk powder and boiling water when you could just use... soy milk? And how about melting the chocolate instead of processing it until it was "as powdery and fine as flour"? I rearranged the ingredient list, thinking about how brownies are typically made, and came up with the streamlined version that has worked best. I made a new, more successful test batch, and then a double batch for Michael's birthday, and then some more to use up the cocoa butter and share at a crafternoon.

This recipe and this brownie won't be everyone's favourite. It's got fussy ingredients, it's very intensely flavoured, it's barely cakey and the edges can even be tough if overbaked. But it's my kinda brownie, and it's going to take a lot to shift my allegiance to another recipe. 

Serious Eats vegan brownies
(adapted from this recipe)

2 1/4 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa butter
1 generous tablespoon malt syrup
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm-square baking tray with paper and lightly spray it with oil.

In a medium-large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, espresso powder and baking powder.

Set a medium-large saucepan over low-medium heat. Melt the cocoa butter in it; whisk in the malt syrup and soy milk. When the mixture is well-combined and hot, turn off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips, continuing to whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients and then the vanilla, until the batter is smooth. 

Pour the batter into the baking tray. Sprinkle something over the top if you like: there are pomegranate seeds in the pictured ones; I've also left them plain, dropped frozen raspberries in, and marbled peanut butter through other batches. Bake for around 35 minutes, until the edges are firm and the centre is a little bit wobbly.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Jamie Oliver's vegan brownies

May 18, 2019

When I put the call out for everyone's favourite vegan brownie recipes, a helpful person in a facebook group pointed me to Jamie Oliver's recipe. I liked that it was based on the kinds of ingredients I always have at home, and that the batter included both cocoa and melted dark chocolate for a deep chocolate flavour. There's some extra chocolate chips and pecans folded in at the end, too. Though I'd normally be very keen on the nuts, I thought it'd be fairer to skip them as I compare recipes.

As you can see in the photo above, this brownie is certainly fudgy rather than cakey! But without anything to replace the eggs that form such a key part of non-vegan brownies, the texture was a bit... paste-y. I could definitely see myself making these again on a raid-the-pantry whim, but they weren't my One True Brownie.

Jamie Oliver's vegan brownies
(slightly adapted from a recipe on his website)

200g dark chocolate chips
170g self-raising flour
3 teaspoons cocoa
180g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup soy milk
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a 20 cm square baking tray with paper and lightly spray it with oil.

Melt 150g of the chocolate by your preferred method (I use a double boiler-type set-up), and set it aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa. Stir in the sugar and salt. Stir in the soy milk, oil, vanilla and melted chocolate until everything is well combined. Fold through the remaining chocolate.

Pour the brownie batter into the baking tray and smooth over the top. Bake the brownie for 20-25 minutes until the edges are cooked but the centre is still wobbly.