A Collaboration with Nilufer Tea, The Best Organic Tea (ft. recipe for the most ideal pairing)

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Title says it all. Bleary-eyed from 5 hours of sleep, a neatly wrapped bundle in the post set my mind and palate into gear for the day. It’s been ages since I last indulged in a cup of tea, breathing in a subtle fragrance, meditating on steam. Now that I’ve been back in Singapore for a while it hasn’t occurred to me to have anything hot; dinner is typically preceded by a frigid green juice or iced water. Nevertheless, tradition transcends change of climate, and so I settled down to a long lost habit. Sent so kindly by the folks behind Nilufer tea, an organic herbal tea brand I am so grateful to have become acquainted with the past week, I decided it was only appropriate to enjoy them with the chewiest, chocolate-pumped salted cookies, of which recipe I recently developed. The best organic herbal tea, I learned, is borne out of love, sweat, and quality. This is quality tea, I repeat, which uses non-pesticide herbs & flowers with premium dried fruits. How stunning is that.

Straight from the hands of independent Japanese tea farmers, Nilufer has put itself a head above the crowd of conventional tea brands by capitalising on ethical business, involving itself in every step of the tea-making process, from laboured harvest to artisan packaging. I was stunned by the simple array of complex flavours to choose from– red rooibos, chamomile, herbal fruit, rose and ginger rooibos tea. I absorbed its ethos in its entirety as I placed a delicate ginger rooibos teabag into my mug.

Going vegan, as I have mentioned before, is not just about the food, but a keen awareness. Of where I am, what I’m doing, what is happening all around–I am now sitting outside in our little garden, feeling the cushion beneath me, beige and smooth, still learning to live comfortably with the dense air, as if packed solid with noise that does not move, as Sebastian Faulks beautifully puts. That awareness naturally involves awareness of one’s use of resources, and so though I am not as tea-crazed as some of my English friends, with a cup of tea comes an appreciation of the here and now, instilling some sense of emotional granularity, and the lesser need to constantly compare oneself with everyone else, caught up and blind in the world of faster, bigger, better. Every second is your own. I was therefore excited to collaborate with a brand whose ethos resonates so well with this sentiment; Nilufer’s organic approach rooted in sustainability would similarly appeal to many other vegans in Singapore. Learn more about the best organic herbal tea before treating yourself. Revel in that rare authenticity.

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Their rose tea was alluring and fragrant, which, by the way, also restores female hormonal balance and peace of mind. Perfect after an insanely busy office day. A touch of hibiscus accentuates a heady floral aroma with a hint of strawberry. Chamomile, one of my long-time favourites, is mixed with orange, ginger and lemongrass in an exotic blend for a more revitalising, mid-work kick. Chamomile also stimulates the production of enzymes in the gut for efficient digestion, complementing my passion for a gut-friendly plant-based diet.

My personal favourite was the very first flavour I tried– ginger rooibos. Red rooibos and peppery ginger up the ante here with spice and tingling earthiness, red rooibos itself being a potent antioxidant to help fend off oxidative stress, burnishing your beauty routine with several minerals for rapid skin regeneration and hair growth. All sounds pretty wild, but after meditation on each flavour, I for one am more inclined to believe.

Scrolled starry-eyed through their website. Thorough health and beauty articles (on Nilufer Tea blog) are written to pad out their wellness ethos. Do also check them out on Nilufer Tea Instagram and Nilufer Tea Facebook.

Now for cookies. Which, in my opinion, are perfect with this tea. Before I went vegan I was hooked on one particular recipe, and I was swimming in the conviction that nothing, ever, could beat it.

Until I went vegan and developed this baby (haha).

The chew is what will get to you. The secret here is the resting time in the fridge and top quality chocolate. The idea is that this gives the sugar in the cookies time to mix into the other ingredients and so, upon baking the next day, the sugar caramelises more efficiently and you get a deeper caramel flavour and chewier texture. Your cookies also spread less because the chilled cookie would have more solidified that melted fat. That means making the batter the night before is most ideal if you want to wake up to a glorious, familiar wafting fragrance and cookies with the best shape, form and flavour. No need for any flax/chia egg or funny flour (though by all means play around with buckwheat spirulina charcoal flour if you feel inclined to). The ingredients shine through in their simplicity and natural affinity for each other. Salt and sweet. Each bite is chockfull of chocolate, of which varied size and thickness offers such complex mouthfeel. The middle is dense, dark and sinfully chewy.

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Chewy Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 12 medium-sized cookies)

Ingredients

250g plain flour, or use half plain flour and half whole-wheat/oat flour

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

200g good quality dark vegan chocolate (use Lindt’s 70% or another vegan brand), chopped into chunks

110g soft, dark brown sugar

100g white/coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

coarse salt for sprinkling (I use Maldon)

1 tsp vanilla extract

100ml plain vegetable/canola/sunflower oil

80ml hot water

 

Directions

Line two baking trays with parchment paper and set aside for the time-being. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the chopped chocolate. In a separate medium bowl, mix the oil, vanilla, water and two sugars together with a fork. Tip this into the dry mix and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is just combined.

Using an ice cream scoop for consistency, scoop your batter onto your lined baking trays. There should be 12-14 even balls. Press the balls down slightly with your fingers and liberally sprinkle salt over each one. Place the trays into the fridge to firm up for at least 10 hours or overnight (important, as stated before these instructions!!). The next morning, bake the cookies in an oven preheated to 180C (350F) for 12 minutes, no more and no less. There will be a little raw better on a wooden skewer stuck into a cookie- fret not, that’s what you want! The first time I did this I was sure it couldn’t be that raw, but the insides do firm up a little once you take the trays out of the oven and let the cookies cool completely

I’ll repeat that- let the cookies cool completely. The cookies may have a bit of rise but they will eventually deflate. The result? Inch-thick, ridiculously chewy, stretchy cookies, loved up with hand-chopped chocolate for an intense flavour and complex texture. These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, though I promise they won’t last that long.

No-bake Chocolate Coconut Bars

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Treats. They right a lot of wrong in the world.

Exactly this time last week I had the privilege of eating alone during my lunch break in between working hours, and I wrote down a few realisations:

  • Eating alone is a thing to be celebrated
  • Korean is possibly favourite cuisine (this may change in a couple of weeks)
  • I need to travel more when its pretty parts and cultures still exist
  • Talks with old friends who still ride on the same wavelength, energy and compassion are incredibly underrated and never dull. These are the occasions which one should be happy to steal away time. The world needs more Real People Conversations. This world should thrive on that bravery,
  • At the lab where I’m undertaking an internship, it is invigorating to tend to the invisible. To pipette precisely, up and down, take exact volumes. This precision forces me to think about things in detail, making me aware of my surroundings and in awe of the big picture that is the Earth’s beauty and mysteries. Detail is a meditation.
  • Some people never go through an awkward tween phase
  • Some pairings like coconut and chocolate are meant to be, like the zip on my Laurice pencil case and removable cap of an ink pen.

To accompany solitude and writing is my iced black cuppa, the one thing that has stayed true to my lifelong affair with breakfast, foam from Nespresso dispensing interrupted by crushed ice.

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An old friend returned from studying overseas and, upon sampling one, two and three, could not believe they were vegan. The chocolate mousse layer is of the perfect consistency- a small finger press gives way to a tender indent, holding firm without being flimsy. These bars are sticky, sweet and devilishly good, but the opaque richness of the coconut cream provides a slight bitterness to offset and ripen the other flavours instantaneously on your tongue.

No-bake Chocolate Coconut Bars (Adapted from this delightful raw tiramisu recipe)

Ingredients

For the base:

8 pitted dates (medjool dates are ideal; I typically freeze a stock and microwave the necessary amount when needed)

210g cashew nuts

pinch of salt

3 tbsp water

4 tbsp liquid/melted coconut oil

1/2 tsp instant espresso powder

For the chocolate mousse layer:

420g cashews, pre-soaked and strained (simply soak them the night before in enough water to cover them in a bowl)

8 pitted dates

120ml almond/cashew milk

100ml maple syrup

7 tbsp cacao powder

7 tbsp liquid /melted coconut oil

2 tbsp white tahini

2 tbsp instant espresso powder

pinch of salt

For the coconut cream:

2 cans coconut cream, left in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight

Directions

In a food processor, blend together the ingredients for the base. Line a 9×9-inch pan with parchment paper and press the mix down with your knuckles until you get an even layer. Place the pan in the fridge to stiffen while you make the chocolate mousse filling.

Make sure the food processor has all the remnants scraped out, but you don’t have to clean it. Put the ingredients for the chocolate mousse layer into the processor and blend until you get a smooth and even filling. Take out your pan from the fridge and smooth the mousse layer on top. Take your cans of coconut cream and open them– there should be thick, spoonable white cream on top. Take it and spread a thin layer on top of the coconut mousse layer. Save the liquid left behind for things like curries! Put the pan in the freezer to stiffen.

Put the pan in the fridge an hour before serving to soften the layers a little and to make it easier to cut.

 

Blueberry Oat Breakfast Crumble

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The forgotten satisfaction of a textural orchestra first thing in the morning.

A crisp blueberry oat breakfast crumble. A warm middle, roasted and earthy, bleeding with blueberries, crying golden, glistening. 

Different mornings must heed to different needs. It’s like lunchtimes away from the office, discovering the magical brilliance about the combination of eggplant (qie zi), lotus root (lian ou), overcooked white rice, tofu (dou fu) and broccoli (xi lan hua). But mornings are the best. Sometimes it’s a dripping bowl of warm oats with a cold splash of almond milk. Other times it must be crunch-and-cream action, like crispy brown toast dipped into thick coconut yoghurt, opaque and lustful. Just this morning I indulged in the simple pleasure of crispy brown toast topped with tahini and marmalade. Nowadays I’ve tended to be more inclined to a scene of willing sogginess, dipping toast into coffee or letting my cereal and granola soak for a little too long in milk, sugars seeping out to sheen the white pool.

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It bubbles and glistens. This crumble offers it all. There is no need for time to drag crunch to sog like in the case of morning cereal.

As I dug into the gooey bottomed crumbled with a crisp, sugared top, creamy coconut yoghurt glazing all edges of my spoon and crumble, it occurred to me once again how much I adore the solitude and satisfaction of breakfast.

When I know breakfasts like these are good for me and the planet, there is simply no loss. It’s good to be a little aware, you know, of what you put inside yourself and how you feel about every bite. I used to think it so stupid and time-wasting to care so much. But you only start to care when you question. Which is more eco-friendly– the paper towel or blast dryer? These are actually very important questions.

I therefore take no shame in vaunting this one.

Blueberry Oat Breakfast Crumble (makes one or two small servings)

Ingredients 

3.5 tbsp coconut/oat/plain flour

3.5 tbsp whole rolled oats

pinch salt

1.5 tbsp maple syrup

120ml plant milk of choice (almond/rice/coconut/hemp etc, I used almond!)

handful of fresh blueberries

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. In a large ramekin (or two smaller ones), mix all the crumble ingredients together with a fork. Bake in the oven for 20-22 minutes. Once out let cool a while before digging in with some coconut yoghurt or ice cream!!

Fudge Brownie Waffles

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I had the pleasure of being interviewed earlier on in the week by the lovely Rachel Loh, the name behind lifestyle blog Willow. Working on the theme of disconnection, it boasts a bevy of detail I would not typically reveal online, even in my instagram posts or elsewhere. It was so much fun answering and I would love for you to check it out here.

 

So last Saturday I came back from a rather disappointing visit to a relatively new café, and needed a fresh pick-me-up in the sweltering heat. But the heat also means light, and I’ve found great solace in my mornings alone journalling, the light yellowing the pages, coming and leaving of its own accord.

As it appears, flowers still grow in the dessert. This recipe was borne out of angry determination; I oft find myself thinking about veganism and how it should be made approachable or the norm to more people around me, and figured introducing classic favourites is the way to go. Who in their right mind would refuse a good, gooey brownie? Forget about it being ethical or healthy or whatnot, it tastes good, right? Food opinions are volatile, changed by taste alone. The line between veganism and sin-like lusciousness and satisfaction must be blurred. I never wanted to go vegan for the longest time because my idea of vegan food was worms and cardboard. That’s what some vegan cakes really taste like, anyway. But this is never always the case. Surprise yourself, and surprise others.

 

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Simply put, the highlight of anyone’s day.

The theme is approachability, guys. This is the sin everyone is looking for in an acceptable form. Double chocolate brownie waffles studded with chocolate, crisp-edged with a tender, gooey middle.

It’s not just a one-bowl wonder, it’s a time-saving wonder. If you’re like me and typically have to rush off to work by 8.30am in the morning, simply make the batter in less than 5 minutes the night before, let rest in the fridge overnight and scoop out batter for the waffle-maker the next morning. You could even just bake these for fudge brownie cookies in a 180C oven for 10 minutes. I say that like I actually did it, but do tell me if they work, because I can’t be the only one to have fun while making some (necessary) mistakes, right? The batter is like unexpected cash, you can do way more with it than you might initially think. For example, I made a fudge brownie waffle sundae by sandwiching two waffle bits with coconut ice cream (I love Luna and Larry’s!) and drizzling it with some chocolate sauce, which I made just by mixing some cocoa powder, icing sugar and almond milk together. How wonderful is experimentation. How life-giving and meditative.

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Ingredients (makes 6-7 medium-sized waffles)

125g all-purpose (plain flour)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

30g cacao/cocoa powder

1 large mashed banana (125g), or two small mashed ones. Alternatively, you could use the same weight of applesauce.

40g (a large handful) of vegan chocolate chips, I used these

40g white/coconut/maple sugar

 

Directions

Simply put all ingredients in a bowl and mix until everything comes together. Turn your waffle-maker on and let it heat up according to its instruction manual. Grease it well! Take a heaped tablespoonful of the chocolate batter and put it in the centre of your waffle maker and let cook on a medium-high heat for at least 5 minutes. This is important in making sure your waffles turn out as crisp as possible, You can check after 3 minutes– if the waffles still feel soft to touch then leave it for another few minutes.

Separate your waffles with paper towels to absorb any condensation. You can freeze these waffles for future consumption or leave at room temperature in an airtight container for 1-2 days. If eating the next day and the waffles are left out on the counter, toast them for those crisp edges once more; they would’ve softened within the day.

And now for some fun!

If you’re making a waffle sundae (as pictured above), simply sandwich two waffles or waffle halves with some dairy-free ice cream and drizzle with some chocolate sauce. I did this by mixing a heaped teaspoon of cocoa powder, 3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar and a couple teaspoons of almond milk. Play around until you get a relatively thick, dribbling consistency.

 

 

Berry Pillow Pancakes

It feels so good to be back. Writing on this platform. Gone are the heavy-duty library mornings, scrambling to memorise any and every little exam-related detail. Content- too much of it. Second year is over!!

Though I am back in a work routine once more, the sudden overwhelming heat and humidity equating to occasional brain fog and angry lethargy, there’s a prevailing zest for life and all there is to offer here at home. Tuesday demanded my favourite classic– a recipe that’s been tested and loved by so many friends and plenty of family members. It’s what my sisters scream for whenever I am back, what defines their Sunday mornings.

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My classic pillow pancakes, stuffed with warmed berries, topped with thick coconut yoghurt, crushed frozen raspberries (like granita!) and homemade granola given to me by a kind friend. 

My favourite part about making these never gets old. You ladle tablespoonfuls of batter onto a hot pan, let it spread. Once you see a few bubbles around the edges and on the surface, you flip and watch the whole pancake rise a little, like a soft inhale. The ratio of dry ingredients means that even if the batter turns out slightly thinner than what you would like, which has happened a couple of times to me, the pancakes still turn out perfectly fluffy and well-risen every single time.

Tender, fluffy rounds of perfect. The berries in here lend a nice tang in each bite. Highly recommend eating with coconut yoghurt and maple syrup, for a symphony of stodge and creaminess (sans any guilt of course), and something with a bit of crunch for textural variety.

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Berry-stuffed Pillow Pancakes (makes around 11-12 medium pancakes)

Ingredients

188g all-purpose flour

2 tbsp white sugar (I like to use coconut or maple sugar here)

generous pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 banana, mashed

50g frozen mixed berries

50g unsalted vegan butter (or 45g canola/vegetable oil)

1 tsp vanilla extract, or the insides of half a plump vanilla bean (or a skinny meek one)

240ml plant milk– almond/cashew/soy/rice

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt and leavening agents). Take out your berries from the freezer and leave to thaw while you prep the rest of the ingredients. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in a microwave and set it aside, letting it cool. In another medium bowl, whisk together the mashed banana, plant milk, vanilla (or insides of a vanilla bean) and melted butter. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and mix briefly with a wooden spoon or a normal dinner spoon. Continue to mix until everything is just combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy.

Preheat your pan on medium heat and ready some butter. You know the pan is hot enough when you flick a little water onto its surface and there’s a clear sizzle. At that point, generously butter the pan and ladle tablespoonfuls of batter. I didn’t have to wait for bubbles to pop before flipping; the batter is thicker than usual and there’s no need to wait. Flip the pancakes when you notice the edges stiffening a little, or when you can slide your spatula whole underneath the bottom of the pancake. It will rise a little upon flipping, as if that action gives it life, and hence, breath. The surface should have a brown mosaic thanks to the hot butter. Once the second side is done (will take no more than 20 seconds), let cool on a paper towel. As mentioned above, these freeze wonderfully, so you can make a whole batch, have a small stack and stash the rest in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Easy!

Serve with more frozen berries, coconut yoghurt and maple syrup.