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I don’t usually have a particularly sweet tooth, and I also tend to find Asian desserts to be a bit ho-hum. But Singapore and Malaysia may have changed those opinions forever, because the world of kueh has opened up for me. It all started in Singapore, where Kenny suggested that we buy some little cakes right after our massive blow-out meal at Chomp Chomp. We laughed, because really we couldn’t have eaten a wafer thin mint at that point. But Kenny insisted that we take some back to our hotel, so we bought two tiny, jewel-like green cakes. And sure enough, an hour later, in our hotel room, we thought why not, they’re very small…They proved to be absolutely delicious morsels, combining sweet sticky rice, coconut custard and pandan layers. When I reported this back to Kenny, he said that Singaporeans have a finely-tuned sense of when the human body will be ready to ingest just a little more food. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dukes-at-Komedia

As a film-loving Brightonian, I’ve long been a fan of the Duke of York’s cinema, but it has always struggled with the size limitations of the admittedly lovely building. Late last year, they opened up a new space at the Komedia with two screens and a cafe-bar and I was thrilled to hear that they now have a kitchen serving snacks and more substantial meals. I’ve always thought that more cinemas should serve proper food: I often want to eat something before a film but don’t necessarily want an elaborate ‘dinner and a movie’ situation. Being able to meet friends for a drink, a light meal, and a film all in one place is a no-brainer and happily the Duke’s at Komedia has pitched it just right. There’s a varied menu but their central concept is the hotdog: not the questionable Coney Island variety but the modern, reinvented hipster dog with locally-sourced sausage and inventive punchy toppings. Its rare to see American food done well in the UK so clearly I had to investigate… Read the rest of this entry »

veggie mapo

I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for my vegetarian and vegan readers–who impressively continue to read despite my love for all things porcine–so I wanted to post a little something meatless to start the week off. Lemur friend the Geek Goddess gave me Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice as an un-birthday present (because she is the kind of awesome friend who knows you are stressed out and responds with cookbooks!) and it has a brilliant range of vegetable dishes from Sichuan province and beyond. I particularly loved her simple meatless version of ma po tofu: meat works more as a flavouring than as a main component of the dish in its traditional form, so it is actually relatively easy to replace the meat with other umami flavours. The real pleasure of ma po tofu for me is the contrast of soft, cooling tofu with the fiery, oily, tingling chili and Sichuan peppercorn sauce and this version focuses your attention on precisely that experience. I know there are people out there who are yet to be converted to tofu and I think this might be one of the dishes to do it. It’s making my mouth water just looking at the picture. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Rosh Hashanah and regular readers will know that I have a real love for holiday cooking. Jewish New Year is celebrated with apples and honey, and one of the traditional dishes is a dark and moist honey cake. Some people don’t like honey cake because bad versions tend to be dry. It can also be very heavily spiced with cinnamon and cloves, which I  find a bit overwhelming. So in thinking about honey cake, I wanted to start from a recipe I knew would be good and moist and I also wanted to think about ways to alter the flavours a bit to my own taste.

I began Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which she herself adapted from Marcy Goldman’s Treasure of Jewish Holiday Baking. But I wasn’t keen on the idea of whisky and I wanted a rather different flavour profile. So instead of the traditional spices, I made a chai masala – the aromatic spice mix that goes into Indian tea. Chai masala has some of the same notes as a spiced cake – cinnamon and cloves – but it adds to them cardamom, mace, ginger and nutmeg. I love masala tea and its blend of peppery and perfumey spices with sweet tea seemed like rather a good combination for a cake. I also replaced the booze with apples, partly to keep tea the predominant liquid flavour and partly because I wanted to add a bit of New Year apples to the mix. Read the rest of this entry »

I was thrilled to be Freshly Pressed on my last post – that’s included in the WordPress editors’ daily picks. And welcome to new readers who liked the Vietnamese Chicken Curry post and have decided to stick around! I hope you enjoy the blog. Unfortunately Mr Lemur is away shooting a film so I am without both camera and photographer for a few weeks. Boo! For now, we will all have to put up with my iPhone photography. I know, it’s a hardship, but we soldier bravely on…

I came across black rice noodles in our local ethnic food store the other day and was intrigued. I love black rice but I don’t cook it very often as it is fairly time consuming and many of the uses I know for it are desserts. (I adore Malaysian pulut hitam, or black rice pudding with coconut milk, for instance, but I rarely make it myself.) I was immediately drawn to these deep black noodles. I knew they wouldn’t produce the exact satisfying chewyness of a black rice grain on the teeth but I figured they might combine the glutinous qualities of glass noodles with a deeper, wholegrain flavour.

Read the rest of this entry »

The lemurs have been on a bit of a vacation, here in the dog days of August. I know, we weren’t long back from Rome when we were off again, this time on a trip I’ve been excited about for months. Somehow, I learned that the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Centre in Jersey has a significant Madagascan wildlife collection and that, in particular, they have a lot of lemurs. My response? OMG squeeee!!!111!!!1! Yeah, here at The Lemurs are Hungry, we are kind of lemur crazy and it turns out, so is lemur friend Thrifty Gal. So, as a belated birthday jaunt, Thrifty Gal and I cooked up a plan to visit Jersey and see the lemurs. The Durrell Centre has a splendid offer that for just £50, a party of up to five people can go backstage with an animal keeper and get up close and personal with their choice of animal. So we booked flight and hotel and headed off to St Helier with very few other plans in mind.

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My green-fingered cousin sent me some rhubarb in the mail. When I saw her last week in Edinburgh, she offered to pop some of her bumper crop in the post for me but I didn’t quite believe she would do it. Next thing I knew, a large brown paper envelope was plopping through the door, filled with healthy stalks of rhubarb. I’m a big fan of this maligned fruit, in large measure because of the spectacular rhubarb pies my grandmother used to make. My nana was a great baker and her pastry was short, buttery, but not sweet. It was a great match for rhubarb, which she sweetened with mildly horrifying handfuls of sugar. The resulting pie set me up for a lifetime of rhubarb love but it’s not an everyday dish.

I’ve done a rhubarb compote before on the blog, but this is a neat technique that Lemur friend K shared, which he got (in some fashion lost in the midst of time) from iconic cookbook editor and writer Judith Jones. Here, the rhubarb pieces don’t break down but keep their shape and colour, while their liquid turns into a delicious ruby syrup. It’s very simple, but I had never done it this way before and it really is a cut above your regular compote.

Rhubarb compote

Start the day before you want to eat your compote. Slice the rhubarb into inch long chunks, put in a large bowl and sprinkle on as much sugar as you usually like (hint, more than seems initially reasonable, less than a Scottish grandmother would add).

Leave to sit overnight. The next morning, you’ll find the rhubarb has released a bunch of liquid.

Pour the whole lot into a pan and heat over a medium-high heat till boiling. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the rhubarb for about five minutes. If you are relatively gentle you’ll find the rhubarb keeps its shape and doesn’t break down as in a normal compote. It will also cook very quickly.

Remove the rhubarb carefully with a spider and reduce the remaining liquid to a thick pink-red syrup.

Pour the syrup over the rhubarb and enjoy with yoghurt and granola for breakfast, or with cake or on ice cream.

I’ve been proselytising my friends about my new tofu press. I get one of two responses when I tell them that my tofu press is the best thing ever. Either they ask why one needs to press tofu at all, or they ask why I don’t just use a pile of books to do it. (I admit that I might have more than usually nerdy friends –  not only do they spend their time pressing tofu but they have all lit upon the piles of books that surround them as the best means to do the job.) The thing is this: pressing tofu gives you a whole new insight into the delicious potential of this much-maligned food and pressing it evenly and thoroughly without the faff of trying not to soak your history of art books is worth a few bucks, people! Read the rest of this entry »

Last week the Lemurs visited Thrifty Gal in South London, and went to a restaurant I’ve had my eye on in a while: Asmara in Brixton. I love East African food and I used to eat at Ethiopian restaurants in New York and – perhaps surprisingly – in Iowa City. African cuisines have been fashionable in certain upscale food circles for a while, what with the success of Marcus Samuelsson and the emergence of South African food, but most people still haven’t embraced local African restaurants in the same way that East or South Asian cuisines have been popularised. It’s a shame, as Ethiopian and Eritrean food is delicious and healthy, with lots of grains, pulses and greens and sophisticated spicing. Of course, Thifty Gal is ever leery of strange ethnic restaurants and it’s really a sign of her friendship and generosity that she comes along with me on these forays. What she wants are white tablecloths and a nice bottle of wine, but what Asmara offers seemed to me like a fair trade: half the menu is vegetarian so she got a level of choice unprecedented in non-vegetarian restaurants. Read the rest of this entry »

As I mentioned in my rambutans post, my cooking recently has been led by some unusual ingredients turning up in Asian supermarkets. On a recent trip to London, I stopped into one of the Gerrard St Asian stores in the hope of catching some winged beans. They did have winged beans but they looked nasty and brown at the edges so sadly I had to pass them by. However, what did look nice and fresh was banana flowers, an ingredient I don’t recall seeing before in the UK.

Regular readers might remember my fascination with the ready-shredded banana flowers in the Mekong Delta. At first, I had no idea what the giant piles of curling vegetable were: they looked a lot like Roman puntarelle but clearly weren’t. Eventually, someone told me what they were and the next time I was in a restaurant, I ordered the banana blossom salad. Like most Vietnamese salads, it was light and fresh, but at the same time complexly flavoured with layers of herbs and aromatics. And like Southeast Asian salads in general, it’s not like a Western salad so much as a category of main dish that’s mostly uncooked. A good Asian salad contrasts nicely with a thick curry, a crispy fried dish, a hot stir-fry. You might not come across a banana flower too often, but if you live somewhere with a good Asian market, they make for a tasty crisp side dish that uses all the fresh herbs you can lay your hands on. And if you don’t have any banana flowers, this is still a nice dish with cabbage or endive (or I might even be tempted to try it with jicama).

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Goi Bap Chuoi)

  • 2 banana flowers
  • 1 little gem lettuce
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 shallots
  • 5 small red chilies or to taste
  • bunch of Thai basil
  • bunch of mint
  • bunch of cilantro (or Vietnamese coriander if you have it)
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts
  • 3 tbsp Asian fried shallots

for the dressing:

  • 3 tbsp fish sauce*
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 limes

* For a vegetarian version, use 2 tbsp soy sauce and be prepared to add more salt if necessary. A bit less soy sauce is good here as it can be a pushier flavour if you’re not careful – you might also want more lime.

Your first order of business is shredding the banana flower. Take off the outer, purple leaves till you are down to the fresh green ones. Now, I am going to tell you to put the slices directly into a bowl of cold water with lime in it to prevent discolouration, but the thing is you’re going to assume that this is like a pear or an apple. Trust me, it is not. These suckers turn a gross, dirty grey brown within seconds of exposure. It’s a kind of awesome and yet horrible decay in fast-motion. Also, there are flower buds in between the leaves that you don’t want to eat, so you can’t just slice through the whole thing like a cabbage – you need to take off one leaf at a time. These issues are slightly in tension with one another. So to shred the flowers, I ended up taking off one leaf at a time,  slicing it and dumping it in the water. This may not be the best way but it worked decently for me. I’m open to better suggestions…

Once that’s done, you can shred the lettuce at a more relaxed tempo. In Vietnam, they cut the banana flower with the stems of morning glory but crispy small lettuce seemed like a good alternative. Slice the shallots thinly and put in a big serving bowl.

In a cast-iron skillet, toast the sesame seeds and then peanuts till golden, then cool. Wash and tear the herbs, and mince the chilies.

To make the dressing, mix fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and a glug of warm water till the sugar has dissolved. Taste for balance and add more of anything you think is needed.

Finally, drain the shredded banana flower and mix everything in the bowl. Top with fried shallots.

Serves 4, ideally as part of a meal with other components.

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