A stark contrast in the kind of food as well as volume we cooked and brought home compared to last week’s Raw Vegan class, is the focus on whipping up healthy, non-greasy versions of common local dishes geared especially towards the average omnivorous and Singaporean taste buds. While emphasis last week seemed centered on maximising nutrition, which may be more of an importance for existing vegetarian/vegans, this week’s emphasis takes into consideration the circumstances of those who might like to eat more healthily but find it difficult to leave their love affair for usually not-so-healthily prepared local foods behind, or even vegetarians/vegans who would like to slowly introduce (or sneak in!) healthy, less processed, wholesome, nutritious food into their family members’ diets with less of a backlash! 

Vegan Chicken Rice
We started off with preparations for the Vegan Chicken Rice, which was already making my mouth water since the week before by the sheer thought of being able to replicate this nostalgic childhood favorite of mine. To digress a bit, it may appear strange to think that a vegan would remember meat dishes with fondness, or even remember the dish as delicious considering his/her current dietary inclination. But whether the memory of a particular food contains meat or not is really secondary compared to the feelings imprinted on one’s mind when the food was consumed or even the kind of favorable associations linked to it. Eating and thinking of food is really a perceptual affair involving our own biases regarding what is suitable, favorable or even safe to eat, rather than just a daily routine of filling the stomach. A question I would like to ask people is this: how is the way you currently eat informed by such social discourses of what is right to eat (eg. what your grandma says, what advertisements show, what is read on the internet)?

Anyway, back to the droolsome sound of Vegan Chicken Rice, preparation actually starts way in advance of about 2-3 days when the tau kwa must be froze for 1 day and subsequently defrosted in the fridge an additional 1 day before one makes the dish.image

This is not a revolutionary technique as I have also seen recipes calling for tofu to be frozen beforehand to produce firm cutlets reminiscent of the texture of meat. Anyhow, my first time getting personal with defrosted tau kwa was quite eye-opening to say the least – it became noticeably more compact, firmer, yet porous and sponge-like enough for one to squeeze quite a bit of liquid from it.

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Chicken Rice ‘Chicken’ – Tau kwa and king oyster shrooms left to stew in a flavorful broth for around 40 minutes.

We sliced them on the diagonal as we did the king oyster mushrooms, known for their meaty texture and therefore common use in mimicking seafood dishes (check out vegan calamari!) which went into a flavorsome broth prepared using a mix of kombu and shiitake mushrooms and sauteed ginger. The ‘chicken’ is then left to stew for a good amount of time until most of the liquid is absorbed.image

The rice requires an assembly of spices and herbs but other than that really doesn’t require much more of your time then simply tempering the the spices and herbs before adding in the soaked brown rice to mix.

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Sauteing minced ginger, lemongrass, cloves and star anise to flavor the ‘Chicken’ Rice.

Then transfer to the rice cooker, salt the rice and top up with the right amount of water. It’s amazing to know that with just a few spices and herbs, rice takes on such an alluring fragrance! This is really an ingenious technique to transform people’s impression of brown rice as coarse and flavorless to soft and mouth-wateringly tasty, especially as the earthy notes of brown rice give an added depth to the ginger and spice flavors.imageimageAnyway, brown rice always tasted awesome on its own and it seems to be that most of the time the ‘brown rice’ served in healthy food stalls outside use unpolished rather than brown rice, which is of an inferior grade, yielding a comparatively coarse rice that is also lacking in flavor.image

Definitely pick a good jasmine brown rice, preferably organic. I recommend Thai Hom Mali Brown Rice which has a most irresistible fragrance and leaves a slight chewy texture.

Brown Rice Beehoonimage
Next, our Brown Rice Beehoon was a cinch to make compared to the traditional way of frying the beehoon and then wrestling with it as it sticks to the pan. First, the spices are tempered slightly before our veggies ingredients added in to saute for a while.

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Seasoning (some vegetarian ‘G’ powder and black bean sauce) is added toward the end together with water to create a slightly wet-cum-soupy mixture. Once veggies are cooked, they are removed from the pan whilst the soaked beehoon is added in to cook and absorb the water.

This process eliminates the need for lots of oil used during the traditional method as the vermicelli doesn’t stick to the pan and furthermore absorbs all the flavors from the cooked veggie broth created earlier so frying the beehoon to give better flavor becomes redundant. Once the beehoon is cooked through, the veggies are dumped back in and thoroughly mixed.image

Cooking beehoon this way essentially makes anybody’s life ten times easier, ten times less messy, and probably many times healthier with that whole load of veggies thrown in. People on conventional diets love dissing veggies with their deluded perceptions of blandness and sissyness. Well, get a load on the variety used in this beehoon, with sliced black fungus, mushrooms, french beans, carrots and cabbage! The proportions yielded a very voluptuously satisfying veggie-fied beehoon that was pleasing and nourishing to the stomach, without loads of oil. The lemongrass and galangal used also gave a mildly different but pleasant twist to the usual, rather neutral-tasting soy sauce flavored beehoon. CAM00547

Also interesting was the goji berry garnish used at the end that was an appealing and colorful finish. They also added a flash of bright sweetness to this simply flavored dish. While I found that some technique and experience is needed to correctly gauge the length of cooking time of the beehoon as well as amount of water needed so that the beehoon neither turns out too dry, too wet or sticks to the pan, this would be an excellent dish to cook for a simple weekend lunch or potluck meal.

Chilli Miso Ramen
Last of all, we tackled probably the simplest dish of all – the Chilli Miso Ramen. I confess I had lofty expectations of something looking reminiscent of what you’d get from one of those Japanese ramen restaurants with a rich and thick gut-busting soup so was slightly surprised to see that what we prepared was a relatively dry rendition. It was actually more in the style of our local bak chor mee as we used minced tau kwa to imitate the minced pork.image

Aside from the sauce, which is where most of the flavor from this dish comes from, one needs to prep the organic ramen noodles, which come in dried sticks and need to be boiled a few minutes. Vegetables like julienned carrots and chopped cai xin are also blanched beforehand. I suppose one can really use any vegetables one pleases.imageOnce all that is out of the way, the sauce is put together in literally minutes! Start by sauteing in a little oil the finely chopped rehydrated shiitakes, minced ginger and tau kwa. Followed by the seasonings of chilli miso paste and black bean sauce, which are healthier substitutes and which contain no additives or preservatives unlike their conventional counterparts like oyster sauce.image

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Chilli miso paste/fermented soy bean paste for making healthy meat-less bak chor mee!

In case you’re wondering, these sauces and pastes can easily be found at local organic shops that feature a range of taiwanese health products.

Once the sauce is done, V plated up the noodles, tossing them with some organic Ponzu sauce and sesame oil to flavor and whet the appetite. Then the blanched vegetables are scattered over and lastly the savory sauce is ladled generously over. A sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds to finish and its ready to tuck into.image

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I really liked this for its simplicity, both in preparation and in the flavors. Little oil is used at all and this dish does phenomenally well without it as the components themselves are allowed to shine. The noodles were springy (or some say Q), the vegetables remained fresh as they were only blanched and not overcooked unlike the miserable variety one sometimes encounters outside. Plus the delicious savory sauce made light and fluffy because of the minced tau kwa was just nice to cover the relative blandness of the noodles and veg. V remarked that this used to be one of the more popular dishes at her cafe and I can totally see why. It’s so light and more-ishly delightful!

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Next week we’ll be returning to more Raw Vegan food with raw vegan laksa, a basil pumpkin salad and an apple spice tart. Stay tuned for more updates!

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