I’m always thrilled when classes include recipes on local favorites. I think we Singaporeans tend to be too enthralled in debating which stalls offer the best tasting whatever-it-is rather than understanding the mix of flavors and the balance of ingredients used that produce that overall wonderful taste. Perhaps fewer Singaporeans will even know how to make these local favorites within their kitchens (myself included at the moment!!) so am certainly jumping at any opportunity I can to soak up food knowledge pertaining to my local heritage!
Two out of the three recipes during this class are dishes we commonly buy outside. I mean, who bothers to make Otah anyway?? And Lei Cha, probably one of the few real healthy options one can hope to find at hawker centres, with its seemingly finicky array of toppings and complex green herb soup may give one the impression that it is best prepared by those who really know best.
Well, today’s class helped diminish my ignorance towards these two foods somewhat. I was especially intrigued with the Vegan Otah we learnt as it implies I may too to be able to enjoy it even after becoming vegan.
We start of with a common routine of mashing tau kwa! We’ve used tau kwa much in our Chilli Miso Ramen so this isn’t new to us. For this vegetarian otah, minced taukwa and finely chopped Bunashimeji mushrooms form the bulk and are our vegan substitute for the mackerel.
Other seasonings are added in as well to heighten umami like nori flakes, black bean sauce and Su G powder (an MSG replacement available in healthfood/organic shops made of dried mushroom) among others. Then dissolved arrowroot starch is added to help bind everything together.
It’s dried out Kaffir Lime Leaves! Their citrusy smell was pronounce as I popped open the lid to take a peak 😀
V placed them in the fridge to let dry out completely which is incidentally also the trick to allow the leaves to retain their bright green color. Dehydrating the leaves also allows them to be ground to a fine powder which was essential to incorporate thoroughly into the Otah mixture.
Once all that mixing is done (am I glad we weren’t involve in the Chilli paste and kaffir lime leaf prep as that would’ve been too lengthy for my liking), what’s left is to form long patties on our pre-blanched banana leaves. The leaves have to be blanched to make them more flexible and less prone to tearing when folding.
Then fold up the sides and secure the ends with toothpicks!
Our finished otah came out looking a nice appetizing orange color thanks to the chilli paste and paprika used. The baked banana leaf smell was seriously irrestible!The finished product (color is yellowish due to lighting) was really spicy from the chillis, but more than that had a lovely fragrance from all the goodness of the lemongrass, kaffir limes leaves and galangal. I wonder why we don’t see more of these local herbs in our own kitchens! The overall texture was still kind of like a mush, albeit firmer from the baking but of course will never be able to replace the original (not like that matters to me!!). It was however very stimulating and mouth-watering in taste, also a little on the salty side which would make it a fabulous accompaniment to rice.
Thunder Tea Rice (Lei Cha)
This is another dish that requires a somewhat lengthy preparation since many ingredients are involved. Being the real healthfood advocate that V is, she showed us how she prepared her own Cai Po (pickled turnips)!
She actually used Sengiri Daikon, a common dried food product in Japan (used in stews), which she rehydrated then pickled in some salt and sugar. The daikon shreds are then finely chopped and dry-fried until crisp. Wow, talk about 100% homemade here!
While we’re at frying things up, V also cooked the rehydrated Shiitakes with black bean sauce, liquid aminos and sesame oil. That really gave the mushrooms a lot of flavor!With the rest of the veggie toppings chopped up, all we’re left with is preparing the ‘Cha’. I’m no Lei Cha connoiseur and recipes for making the soup are either difficult to find over the net or not consistent with one another. Our soup consists purely of soaked cashews, lots of mint, basil and coriander leaves. Other recipes may use green tea and roasted peanuts too.
Blitz cashews with some water to create a milk, then add herbs in and blitz till smooth. It helps to have a high-powered blender to completely pulverise everything for a silky smooth soup.
I suppose one benefit of serving Lei Cha is that the ingredients can be prepared in advanced and the toppings simply arranged onto hot rice. The soup also requires addition of hot water after the herbs and cashews are blitzed which further helps warm the dish up further.
For those who are new to Lei Cha, you pour the soup over the rice, mix everything up and tuck in! Quite similar in style to Bibimbap though I’ve gotta say Lei Cha is milder tasting and definitely low-fat, the perfect monk food?! I found that since this dish is overall quite bland in taste, the mushrooms and Cai Po do have to be seasoned very well and generously heaped to cover for the entire dish. The soup was really delicious from the trio of herbs though I wished we hadn’t diluted the base with more hot water for a more concentrated flavor.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Lentil Sauce
This was definitely the simplest dish we learnt during this class, and dare I say something that could easily make its way onto one’s daily repertoire of dishes? This consisted simply of portabello mushrooms oven-grilled with a mild lentil sauce made with assorted bell peppers heaped onto them.
The mushrooms are as simple as bunging them bottoms up on a tray into a hot oven. You know when they’re done when you see a pool of delicious, nutritious mushroom water inside the caps. Mushrooms contain lots of water which ooze out when they’re cooked through!While the mushrooms were grilling, V cooked the soaked lentils in some water till soft and slightly mushy. In this case, we didn’t want a lot of leftover water so only a little was added and more topped up only when needed. Finely chopped bell peppers were added for color and sauteed together.
Seasoning was a simple affair with the addition of black bean sauce and liquid aminos (by now I notice these must be V’s favorite seasoning ingredients) and most importantly organic tomato sauce for a little oomph factor 🙂
Tada, it’s done! To plate, place mushrooms on a plate with blanched broccoli and carrot, then spoon filling into the caps.
Also sprinkle liberally with your favorite healthfood toppings like the seaweed Furikake.
The mushrooms were really juicy and the lentil sauce makes this so wholesome and nourishing. In fact, some of us were guilty of heaping the sauce all over everything on our plate ala soul food style and attacking the contents of our plate with gusto!
Time flies but next week will be our last week with cooking with V who has taught us much — not just recipes but also her own unique experience and take on health and wellness. Stay tuned for more raw vegan recipes such as nut cheese, raw pizza and vegan rojak!