Saturday, April 29, 2017

Vegan saag 'paneer'

April 25, 2017

I like the Serious Eats approach to vegan cookery. Other comparable food websites have a tendency to roll out one post a year about how 'it's not all tofu and mung beans anymore!', then go back to their barbecued briskets. Serious Eats does barbecued briskets, too, but they explore vegan cookery more often and with more curiosity, figuring out plant-based ways to capture popular omni flavours. I liked their treatment of vegan icecreams, and they've also tried their hand at veganising ramen, chorizo, and carbonara. Their joyous, experimental style even convinced me to try stuffing tofu and rice into my waffle iron.

So when their twitter account teased us with pics of a vegan saag paneer a couple of months ago, I was excited. We waited weeks for the big reveal: it's a recipe where tofu cubes are baked in a miso-lemon marinade to form 'paneer', and the saag base gets its creaminess from cauliflower that's simmered and blended into plant milk. Our twitter buddy Eliza gave her trial a thumbs-up last weekend and we had our shot on the public holiday.

It differs from our staple palak paneer recipes in other ways, too. Where they use the sweetness of tomatoes and garam masala, this one has a more piquant blend of coriander, cumin and turmeric. The green leaves are chopped and wilted but not blended, so the final dish has a lot more substance to it. (I actually like the blending, and reckon I might try it on this recipe in future - it usually means you can sneak the vegetable stems in, too.) The flavour is just as complex and just as pleasurable.

This saag 'paneer' is a bit less labour-intensive than most Serious Eats projects we've tackled, especially with two pairs of hands at work. I prepped the tofu and cauliflower cream, and let Michael take the lead on the big pot of saag. We could even imagine achieving it on a weeknight, though this might change if we started blending the green leaves as well as the cauliflower. Weekend or weeknight, I reckon we will make the time for this recipe again. It's a smart, nutritious adaptation of one of my favourite Indian dishes.

Vegan saag 'paneer'
(slightly adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats)

500g firm, dry tofu
1 1/2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper

2/3 cup almond milk
170g cauliflower florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 large red chillis, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 green cardamom pod, smashed
1 bunch English spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 bunch silverbeet, stems removed and roughty chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a baking tray with foil.

Slice the tofu into 2cm cubes. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 'paneer' ingredients. Add the tofu to the bowl and toss them in the dressing to thoroughly coat the cubes. Spread the tofu cubes out across the baking tray, spooning a little more dressing on top of them. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the tofu cubes over. If you have more leftover marinade, spoon it onto the tofu. Bake for a further 15 minutes, until the marinade has dried and the tofu is golden brown. Set the tofu aside to cool.

While the tofu is baking, place the almond milk and cauliflower in a small saucepan. Place a lid on the saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Simmer the cauliflower until its tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the cauliflower to cool down a bit. When it's safe to do so, use a stick or jug blender to puree the cauliflower mixture. I added about 1/4 cup of water to facilitate the blending - you want the cauliflower to be as smooth and creamy as possible. Set the cauliflower aside.

Pour the oil into a large saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and chillies; saute them for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and cardamom and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Add the spinach and silverbeet a handful at a time, stirring to wilt the leaves. Give them around 5 minutes to completely wilt. Stir in the cauliflower puree and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the tofu cubes, then the lemon juice and salt to taste. Add a little water if you need to.

Serve over steamed rice.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Vegie Kitchen

April 18, 2017

We were saddened late last year when the news broke that Enlightened Cuisine was closing down. We'd been visiting there on and off for a decade, enjoying their mock-meaty Chinese food. Their closure, hot on the heels of White Lotus' shut-down, left a big hole in Melbourne's veg restaurant scene. Luckily 2017 brought good news: Enlightened has reopened under a new name, Vegie Kitchen. We checked it out for a quick meal before heading off to see the amazing Patti Smith at the Arts Centre.

Aside from the new name, almost nothing has changed. The menu appears to be exactly the same, with more than 100 mostly mock-meaty dishes to choose from. We started off with an old favourite, a serve of the delicious prawn toast ($5), which remains a deep, deep fried delight.

We followed up with a couple of mock mains: kung po fish ($19.90) and ginger duck ($19.90).

These were both great - the fish had a really great chilli kick and the ginger duck was tangy and delicious. Both dishes broke up the mock meat with a generous serve of veggies. They're big meals too - we ran out of steam before quite finishing everything off. 

It's great that Vegie Kitchen has picked up where Enlightened Cuisine left off. There's no sign of innovation here and the ambiance isn't anything special, but it's a reliable veggie restaurant to satisfy your old school Chinese-food cravings. Long may it continue.


You can read our old reviews of Enlightened Cuisine here, here, here and here. Nobody else seems to have blogged about Vegie Kitchen just yet.

Vegie Kitchen
113 Queensbridge St, Southbank
9686 9188
drinks, food: one, two, three, four, five

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide; there's a reasonable amount of space between tables. There's table service and bills are paid at a high counter. From memory, access to the toilets is narrow and includes a step.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Corn & jalapeño pancakes

April 17, 2017

A long weekend is a good time to make brunch at home. This one comes from the Smith & Daughters cookbook and it's been on my to-do list for months! We've enjoyed the Panqueques Piquantes at the restaurant several times, and they looked pretty achievable for the home kitchen. (By comparison, my all-time S & D fave is the mock tuna & pea croquetta, and I've no intention of ever deep-frying my own batch.)

Indeed, these pancakes are a breeze once you've gathered the right ingredients. Although there's corn involved, these are batter-heavy pancakes rather than fritters. (Incidentally, there is a ripper recipe for jalapeño & corn fritters in the book too!) The pancake batter is filled out with a little polenta and studded with corn kernels and jalapeños. They might sound savoury but once garnished with maple syrup and coconut bacon, they're firmly on the sweet side. 

I've had some fraught times frying pancakes in the past, but we've recently invested in a proper cast iron pan and it worked a treat with just a little spray oil. The first pancake was the mandatory mistake one, but after that I was flipping neat lightly-browned rounds with ease! More importantly, they tasted terrific with a slurp of maple syrup and sprinkling of coconut bacon. The coconut's sweet-salty chewiness makes the perfect contrasting garnish and I'm upgrading its status from optional (in the book) to definitely worth the effort of marinating and grilling your own.

Corn & jalapeño pancakes
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez
& Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups soy milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup polenta
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons egg replacer powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2-1 jalapeño, finely chopped plus extra round slices to garnish
olive oil spray
a couple knobs of vegan butter or margarine to garnish
maple syrup, to serve
coconut bacon, to serve

In a small-medium bowl, mix together the soy milk, lemon juice and vegetable oil. Set them aside for a minute or two to curdle and thicken.

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, polenta, sugar, egg replacer, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Whisk in the curdled milk mixture to form a smooth batter. Fold in the corn and chopped jalapeño. If you have the time, let the batter rest for 30 minutes.

Set a frypan over medium-high heat and spray it with oil. When it's hot, pour in ~1/3 cup pancake batter; allow it to cook until bubbles form around the edge and it's starting to set on the surface. Flip the pancake and cook for a further minute on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter. I placed cooked pancakes on a baking tray in a low-heat oven while I continued to cook the rest of the pancakes.

Serve the pancakes garnished with a knob of vegan butter, a few jalapeño rounds, a sprinkling of coconut bacon and a generous drizzle of maple syrup.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fig & goat's cheese tart

April 8, 2017

Well, I think we squeezed every last possible picnic out of this summer! I'm sure of it because little more than an hour after we finished up our outdoor Ottolenghi Club last Saturday, the wind changed and it poured with rain. But while the breeze was still blowing from the north and the sun was shining, we shared kuku, salads, and florets of fried cauliflower. We saw out the summer with this fig tart.

It's one of the most eye-catching pictures in Plenty More, I reckon - several dozen glistening crimson fig geodes stacked across a golden square of pastry, drizzled with lemon glaze, with teeny herb leaves tucked in. Read the ingredient list and it goes one better - there's some kind of goat's cheese frangipane in between the figs and the pastry! It seems like one of those clever dishes that straddles sweet and savoury, a tantalising hybrid of cheese platter and Danish pastry.

The original recipe includes instructions for a yeasted pastry dough, but Ottolenghi graciously grants us permission to purchase puff pastry instead. I found a small frozen block that I could roll myself to fit the base of my baking dish, and I gave it a little blind-bake to help ensure it cooked through. I thought it still ended up a bit tough, and I'd try something different on a second attempt.

The other layers didn't quite meet my high expectations either. The goat's cheese, once diluted with eggs and almond meal, lacked pungency; the tanginess of the lemon glaze didn't quite carry either. But the fresh figs, lightly dusted with caster sugar and baked until sparkling, were spectacular. I reckon they carried the whole dish. So I could change up the cheese or double the lemon juice glaze, but maybe I'm just better off grilling my figs next autumn.

Fig & goat's cheese tart
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

375g puff pastry, thawed
150g soft goat's cheese
85g icing sugar
grated zest of 1/2 orange
1-2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 eggs, beaten
100g almonds
600g figs
1 tablespoon castor sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a large high-walled baking tray with paper.

Roll out the puff pastry to fit the base of the baking tray and gently ease it in. Poke the pastry with a fork and bake it for about 10 minutes. Set the tray aside to cool a little.

In the meantime, put the cheese in a small bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of the icing sugar, the orange zest, a tablespoon of thyme leaves and three-quarters of the beaten eggs. Beat everything together until smooth. Grind the almonds to a meal and stir them into the goat's cheese mixture.

Spoon the goat's cheese mixture over the cooling pastry, leaving an inch-wide border around the edge. Brush the remaining egg on the exposed pastry. Slice the figs in half and arrange them, cut side up, over the goat's cheese mixture. Place the figs close together, even overlapping. Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the figs are bubbling with juice.

Let the tart cool down a bit. Whisk together the remaining icing sugar and lemon juice into a smooth glaze and drizzle it over the tart.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fig & walnut friands

March 25, 2017

I made these little fancies because it's fig season, and because I had a few egg whites in the freezer. It's a friand recipe that makes just six serves, and it was a nice spontaneous weekend project. Enough to eat warm, just the two of us on the couch that day, and to pack into our lunchboxes a day or two after, and then be happily done before the cakes turned mushy or stale.

I expect friands to be based on almond meal, but these ones use ground walnuts instead. It makes for a darker, toastier cake that I think complements the figs very well; a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg pushes the effect even further. The original recipe uses fewer, thinly sliced figs but I set a bulbous half into each of my friands. Baking concentrates the figs' sweetness, but they stay quite fresh and juicy. That's probably why the friands deteriorate after just a few days - they're a fleeting pleasure, like fig season itself.

Fig & walnut friands
(slightly adapted from a recipe on A Splash Of Vanilla)

75g butter
60g walnuts
3 egg whites
1/3 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup icing sugar
3 figs

Preheat an oven to 190°C. Lightly grease 6 spots in a muffin tray.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then turn off the heat and allow it to cool a little.

Grind the walnuts to a coarse meal in a spice grinder or food processor.

Drop the egg whites into a medium-large bowl and beat them with an electric mixer for up to a minute, until they're very foamy. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and icing sugar over the whites; add the walnut meal and fold everything together until just combined. Spoon the batter evenly into the 6 muffin cups.

Slice the figs in half and place one half, cut side up, gently onto the top of each friand. Bake until the batter is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Allow the friands to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes, then slide a knife around their edges and transfer them to a rack to cool further.