Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Maja Banana (manjar de plátanos con canela)

I wanted to make a traditional Filipino dessert called maja blanca. It's made with coconut milk and corn kernels, cooked and set in corn flour. Mmmmm! However, living in the Sub-Himalayan part of the Indian Subcontinent means I get snow and little access to fresh coconuts because they don't grow here. I could buy tinned coconut milk from the local supermarket but they're imported from Thailand and that just defeats the whole reason this food item was invented in the first place. This dessert is an adapted version of the Spanish manjar blanca, which means white delicacy, made with dairy milk. Since we Southeast Asians didn't have a prevalent cow-milking culture before and during the days of colonisation, we made use of what was available to us -- coconuts -- thus maja blanca was born. In channelling the spirit of those who came before me, I simply couldn't make do with something flown in from Thailand -- at least for this food item -- so I decided to use what was in the pantry: bananas and cinnamon.

maja blanca
maja banana

This recipe makes

- 1 small bowl mold good for 4 people if served as a dessert or snack

You will need:

- 2 tablespoons of corn flour (also known as corn starch)
- 3 large bananas, mashed to oblivion or blended
- ½ teaspoon of powdered cinnamon 
- 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar (adjust to taste)
- 1 cup (450ml) of water 
- 1 tablespoon of neutral cooking oil (sunflower and corn oil are good)
- ⅛ teaspoon (or a small pinch) of salt 

Let's do this!
1. In a small frying pan (ideally non-stick), heat some oil and lightly fry the bananas with a tiny pinch of salt. After 2 minutes, add powdered cinnamon and sugar, and stir to incorporate well. Cook over medium heat with constant stirring for 3 minutes until aromatic.
2. Mix the corn flour and water well to make a slurry and pour it into the pan. Cook in high heat with constant stirring until the mixture becomes very thick. Not sauce-thick, not batter-thick. I mean sticking-to-the-spatula and difficult-to-stir-thick. But be careful not to burn it or dehydrate it too much. Use wise judgement, for heaven's sake!
3. Transfer to a greased mold or bowl and refrigerate covered for at least 3 hours to set.
4. Invert the mold onto a plate to reveal the set maja banana. Serve as a snack or dessert. 

Tip:  Best served with tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

A Day for Hemp

With the prospect of returning to the Philippines where growing even THC-free cannabis is illegal, I decided to play with some of the live hemp seeds I bought at a supermarket here in Kathmandu. Yes, a supermarket. A big grocery store part of a local chain that has branches all over Nepal. Not an independent distributor, not a dealer, not a cannabis shop, not a local fresh market, not even a specialty health food store. Freaking Bhat Bhateni Supermarket.

It's well-known that hemp seeds are a serious super food but I read that sprouting them spikes up their nutritional value to a whole new level. Sort of like sprouting mung beans or chia seeds. So I spread them out on a plate lined with wet kitchen paper, watered them daily and after two weeks of patience and perseverance, here they are on three vegan food items.

I hope one day the people who run our country would come to their senses and stop being paranoid sourpuss control freaks over things they don't understand. It is backed by legitimate scientific research conducted by reputable universities that hemp (a) does not alter one's consciousness and (b) is very rich in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Why people are up in arms over this humble plant is beyond me.

Quinoa salad with hemp sprouts and roasted hemp seed,
dressed with homemade toum (allioli)

Crepe with tomato chutney and hemp sprouts

Crepe with toum (cut) and hemp sprouts

Sunday, 10 March 2019

A Day's Groceries for under €1

While the prospect of returning home to Bohol excites me for things that I don't get in Nepal -- fresh island breeze, the ocean, deep diving and walking around the beach under the sun without a shirt on -- I will really miss this country for cheap vegetables. More than staring at the snow caps of the majestic Himalayas. This basin with a sprig of coriander leaves, two big bunches of radish greens, two sprigs of scallions, a quarter kilo of mushrooms, half a kilo of tomatoes and half a kilo of onions cost me just 120 NPR. About 60 PHP. That's less than 1 EUR for all this. This just would not happen back home.

In a country where vegetarianism is considered the ideal way of living and with a considerable chunk of the population turning vegan, the demand for plant-based food is high and thus prices are maintained at a constant low. Even artisan vegan restaurants are relatively cheap. This debunks the idea that veganism is a lifestyle for the moneyed. The primary reason for this notion is because it is regarded as a trend in predominantly meat-eating countries where animal flesh is the primary table commodity. In order to rectify this, people must understand the fact that meat comes at a cost far higher than financial capital.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Basic Silken Tofu and Mushroom Ramen

One of my biggest quandaries about turning plant-based is not being able to order ramen at Japanese restaurants because, even if they don't put meat cutlets or formerly live seafood in it, the broth they use is always, always, always based on meat -- usually pork. And if I ask them to omit the broth, they wouldn't know how to make it taste good, so rather than suffer eating bland noodles soaked in plain hot water, I just skip it. For years, I steered clear of the holy noodle bowl until one day someone slapped my forehead with chopsticks and I realised I could actually make it myself!

This recipe makes

- 1 bowl for one person

You will need:

Mandatory Ingredients

- 1 tablespoon of good quality soy sauce (e.g. nama shoyu, tamari, Pantai Mushroom Soy Sauce, Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy Sauce)
- ½ teaspoon of black bean garlic paste * alternatively: ½ teaspoon of fermented black soybeans and one clove of garlic, bashed into a paste with a mortar and pestle * alternatively: 1 teaspoon of miso paste
- 1 teaspoon of instant vegetable broth paste or powder * alternatively: mushroom powder 
- 100-120g of dry ramen noodles
- 500 ml (2 cups) of boiling water 
- 50g of silken tofu (or any kind of tofu), cut into cubes
- 50 g of mushrooms (ideally shiitake, but any kind will do), whole or cut, you decide 
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil 
- ½ sheet of nori, thinly cut 
- 1 tablespoon of scallions, chopped 
- 1 teaspoon of crispy fried garlic, finely chopped

Optional Ingredients
- ½ teaspoon of chilli oil
- 1 tablespoon of cabbage, finely chopped 
- 1 tablespoon of sweet corn kernels
- 1 teaspoon of roasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon of mung bean sprouts
- ½ teaspoon of crushed (pulverised) Sichuan pepper corn

Let's do this!
1. In a large serving bowl, add soy sauce, vegetable broth paste/powder, black bean garlic paste (or miso if using it as an alternative) and dry ramen noodles. Add boiling water. Cover the bowl with a lid and leave for 5 minutes.
2. Open and stir everything to mix well. When the noodles have swollen up and the pastes and broth powders have dissolved, add silk tofu, mushrooms and sesame oil. Sprinkle nori on top, then chopped scallions and fried garlic.
3. Add any or all of the optional ingredients. If not, serve.

Tip:  This is best served immediately after preparing.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Avocado-Based Vegan Ice Cream

vegan dessert 

Now that summer has hit most of the Philippine Islands, let me share my Avocado-Based Vegan Ice Cream recipes even if I'm currently living in a cold city where spring has just come.

There are three (3) recipes for three different flavours in this post -- Mochavocado (chocolate and coffee), Mangocado (mango), and Avocadurian (durian, obviously). Try all or some of them depending on what you fancy.


If you follow one recipe strictly, you will be have:

- 2 ice cream servings

Mochavocado (pictured above)
- 1 whole large avocado (flesh only) 
- 1 teaspoon of nama shoyu or tamari (or plain soy sauce if you don't have either) 
- 50g of melted dark chocolate (ideally 70% and above) 
- 2 tablespoons of agave nectar, maple syrup or coconut sugar 
- half a cup of coconut cream 
- 1 shot of espresso

Mangocado (pictured below)
- 1 whole large avocado (flesh only) 
- 1 whole ripe large mango (flesh only) 
- 3 tablespoons of overnight-soaked steel-cut oats 
- 1 heaped teaspoon of grated turmeric (half teaspoon if powdered)

Avocadurian (pictured below)
- 1 whole large avocado (flesh only) 
- 5 tablespoons of durian flesh

To make:
Throw everything in a blender and blend until smooth. Then use an ice cream maker and churn until it turns to ice cream. If you don't have an ice cream maker, freeze it for at least four (4) hours. A good tip is to take it out every half hour for the first 2 hours; lightly blend it; and put it back to freeze. This is to make sure your ice cream is well-aerated and does not harden into a solid block.

- For Mangocado - Turmeric is not absolutely necessary and I must say it adds a bit of a distinct flavour and you will be able to tell what it is if you know turmeric. I use it primarily to mask the persistent green colour. Plus, it's also really good for you.
 - For MochavocadoSoy sauce (nama shoyu or tamari) kicks out most of the avocado taste and enhances the flavour profile of chocolate. I've tried making the ice cream without it and while it's also good, it's not quite as good. You may omit it if you have a problem with soy.
- For Avocadurian - If you don't like durian, don't make it.



Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Mushroom Stir-Fry with Asian Style Tomato Sauce

vegan dish

Following the ouster of all non-European teams from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals season, I felt the need for a healthy distraction. What better way than cooking awesome vegan food?

Oyster Mushroom Stir-Fry with Asian Style Tomato Sauce on a Bed of Lamian Noodles

If you follow this recipe strictly, granting that this is the only food item eaten for a meal (with your preferred carb staple, of course), you will be able to feed:

- 1 hungry person, or
- 2 not-very-hungry people

You will need:

For the Mushroom Stir-Fry
- 150 g of mushrooms (oyster, champignon or portobello), rough cut 
- 1 teaspoon of garlic, finely chopped  
- 1 tablespoon of scallions, finely chopped 
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce (more or less to taste because it depends on what kind and brand you use, I use Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy Sauce
- 1 or 2 tablespoons of neutral-flavoured oil (vegetable or sunflower oil is ideal; pomace olive is acceptable; coconut oil is NOT OK as it's too overpowering)

For the Asian Style Tomato Sauce
- 4 fresh medium ripe roma tomatoes (or alicante tomatoes or whatever medium ripe tomatoes you have, but make sure they are all ripe and red, otherwise, you can forget about cooking this), quartered 
- 1 teaspoon of garlic, finely chopped  
- 1 tablespoon of scallions, finely chopped 
- 1 teaspoon of ginger, grated 
- 3 pieces of bird's eye chilli (more or less, depending on your heat tolerance; you can also use whatever spicy chilli you have), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce 
- 1 or 2 tablespoons of neutral-flavoured oil 
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil

Let's do this!
1. In a wok (or pan, if you're not Asian), heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of neutral-flavoured oil in high fire. DO NOT WAIT FOR SMOKE POINT, duh. As soon as it heats up, add scallions and stir for around 15 seconds. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds or until it turns a bit brown. Just a bit brown, not burnt! Add mushrooms and soy sauce. Stir. Cook until the mushrooms are done. Make sure there is still quite a bit of liquid (from the mushrooms). Don't let it dry up too much; that's not what we want. Turn off the heat. Remove everything from the wok. Transfer into a bowl and set aside. 
2. In the same wok (no need to wash, don't be fussy), add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of neutral-flavoured oil. Throw in the chilli. Stir for 30 seconds and cover your mouth when you sneeze. Follow the same sequence of adding spices in. Add the ginger together with the garlic. Add the tomatoes in. Stir everything around in super high heat until the tomatoes are well softened. Rub the tomatoes on the sides, deglazing the caramelised bits from the mushroom thingy you just cooked. Press down on the tomatoes to release flavour and liquid. Reduce heat to low, but not super low. Simmer covered for 5 minutes. Now, I know woks don't normally have lids, so figure something out! Make sure the liquid doesn't dry up; it's a sauce, not a paste. Turn off the heat. Add the sesame oil and mix. 
3. Mix everything together. Adjust the taste to your liking. You may use a bowl or just the wok. Simply add the mushrooms back in after turning off the heat.

Tip:  This is best eaten with rice or pre-cooked plain lamian (ramen) noodles. You may eat it with other types of Asian noodles like saang mein, shahe fen, banh pho or khanom chin. You may also eat it with pasta. Heck, you may even eat it with bread if you feel that you must. However, you must resist the urge to eat it with mashed potatoes. Come on, have a little respect!

Champignon Mushroom Stir-Fry with Asian Style Tomato Sauce

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Bean Stew Secret

A chef at a vegetarian restaurant in Bolivia once told me that the secret to great chilli is to grill the tomatoes whole until the skin burns and ruptures. Cut them in half, sprinkle a pinch of salt on the inside of each piece and let them sit for at least 15 minutes before throwing them in your pan to sauté in olive oil with onion and garlic.