Goreng Pisang on Toast

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There are too many things, upon my arrival in the homeland, this special little red dot, that I was much too eager to get into again (jet lag came, stole all my energy and enthusiasm. But now that that’s gone, each day seems a refreshing beam of light, a hopeful promise). But yes. Café hopping, family and friends aside, it’s all about food. Old flavours, fun memories, revisited. That’s what I missed. There’s always something to be aware of, to be curious and excited about. Right now I’m deeply appreciating, here in Singapore, access to good food at much cheaper prices, and the cool and quirky Asian/pan-Asian delights one can find anywhere, in the basement of any big mall (my favourite is the Takashimaya one, for the record).

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A recent tea party I had with my dear friend Charlie at an Airbnb café– how cool are these? They specially made vegan chocolate avocado mousse for me, and the accompanying chai tea was sublime. 
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My favourite place for good sourdough– The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough at Bukit Timah. Thick almond butter and honey on thick, crusty toast. The sort of thing I actually will pay for once in a while, it’s that good.

It’s a time to revisit, guiltlessly, all the sweet flavours I missed. Black sesame, durian, matcha galore. Endless. Gorgeous! One of my favourite food thingys that I used to have on a regular basis, aside from durian puffs and dark chocolate taiyakis, was goring pisang (fried banana). My grandmother still occasionally buys them from the hawker centre, and are too, too perfect with a cold dollop of vanilla bean ice cream, or just on their own as they are.

It feels downright weird to be back. With no dissertation to complete, I am officially a graduate (ok not entirely, the graduation is in October, but still). Now, there’s a space in my head, one that need not necessarily be filled all the time. A space to feel, to think, to scroll through all the emotions that have been mashed together for too long in the days leading up to some exam, or assignment, or thesis. Because sometimes scrolling through emotions means putting rationality on the back-burner. This feels so free. This feels like a good, long, abdominal breath. And true enough, it is important to take time, intentionally, to do this daily, or at least weekly. But it’s also good to get away from it all entirely, take a break even from blogging, as I did the past two weeks. Routine, a good one, is a conscientious way of re-organizing one’s priorities. But sometimes a little break from routine allows for reflection on the meaning of the routine itself, instead of being on autopilot all the time. It’s sort of like atoms in a certain structure. The bits that make up the structure may be strong and sturdy, but breaking away and re-organizing them in a smarter and more efficient manner may leave you with a structure even stronger than before).

Now let’s go bananas. It’s all about the right banana and the right batter. The two must complement each other– too ripe a banana will leave you with mushy bits of nothing, while the batter should comprise ice-cold water, rice flour and corn starch for the perfect degree of crispiness. Then everything is fried, and I don’t think you can go wrong by either shallow or deep-frying, because it’s still a fried banana, and you can’t go wrong with that, can you?

Traditionally, these golden beauties are eaten with ice cream or with a custard, but that Monday I decided to bung it on some toast layered with fresh, thick coconut yoghurt, peanut butter and jam, and my taste buds were on absolute fire. The combination of the creamy yoghurt, tangy and sweet with peanut butter and jam, cradled the crisp, wispy outer layer of goring pisang batter. You think about it, and the whole thing seems or sounds a little silly. I mean, fried anything can’t really go wrong. Or just leave the poor banana alone, for goodness sake. Why coat it, why ruin it? But that’s the fun of experimentation, is it not? I’ll breathe down the back of the traditionalist for as long as I can, challenging the norm. If we can fry bananas, or mars bars, or friggin’ tea bags, then why not put them on something and call it a meal? Like your usual pb&j toast. The coconut yoghurt really is just for fun. The whole thing is just fun and delicious, so let’s just leave it at that.

 

Ingredients

2-3 ripe (but not too ripe!) bananas, sliced in half (along the breadth, not down the long centre)

40g plain flour

2 tbsp each of rice flour and cornflour

¼ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

5 tbsp ice-cold water

vegetable oil for deep frying, of which a tablespoon you will mix into the batter

*optional accompaniments: bread slices (use whatever bread you like but whole-wheat or sourdough is preferable), coconut/soy yoghurt, peanut butter, jam

 

Directions

Mix all batter ingredients (everything listed above except for the bananas) in a shallow bowl. The batter should be smooth, without any lumps. This can be done by adding the water slowly, in thirds, and whisking well in between. The batter should not be all that thick– if it is, add a little more water to thin it out.

Add your cut bananas to the batter and coat them well with the help of a fork or spoon. Meanwhile, heat 1.5-2 inches of vegetable oil in a wok/frying pan. Add enough so that the bananas will be just covered. You can also save some oil by using less oil and turning the bananas halfway through. Once the oil temperature has reached 180C (320F), and you can do this with any candy thermometer, add the coated bananas and fry until they are visibly golden-yellow. 2-3 bananas are perfect for this recipe because too many will make the temperature of the oil drop a little. Once visibly golden and crispy, take the bananas out with a pair of tongs and place them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil. Be careful this whole time, the oil may spit and hurt you. These are best eaten immediately or at least the same day they are made. For this twist, toast your bread slices, then add a tablespoon each of coconut yoghurt, peanut butter, and finally the jam. I like strawberry jam, but that bit’s up to you. Then cut your fried bananas in half lengthwise, then put them on the piece (or pieces) of toast. Take a bite. Savour that. Love that.

Red (Adzuki) Bean Hand Pies

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So I brought these little hand pies to my mum and two friends for a taste test, and we were all floored. One of my friends, who doesn’t have the biggest sweet tooth, started off with an ‘omg, these are incredible’, before pausing and commencing to talk specifically about the balance in texture and flavour of his delicate, puffed-up pie. ‘I like how it’s mildly sweet and soft in the middle, and crazy crisp everywhere else. Not too sweet either. Whoa.’ I couldn’t agree more. As my mum and I shared one, a tingling warmth rippled through my being. There is nothing like sharing a delicious treat with those you love.

London’s cold spell was brief and impactful. Harsh winds and cancelled train rides aside, the most beguiling thing was to watch my gloved hand traverse the page in my diary, just this time last week. Not once did I ever have to write in my diary with a shivering hand.

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And so comfort had to be in tow. No question about it. Tinker tinker, tinker tinker. A brief encounter with the adzuki bean reminded me how powerful it can be in conjuring up such profound memories and nostalgia. Native to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, it is especially common in Japan, where it is used in a variety of different desserts. Red bean mochi and red beans scattered in my ice kachang were some of my favourite desserts as a child, ones I appreciate now more than ever in London, where Asian desserts are still rather uncommon. If one is so lucky to find them, they still tend to bear ridiculous prices. Another reason to make these yourself at home!

The best thing about these hand pies, cute filling aside, is the delicious, outrageously crisp crust. Complementing it is the just-right sweetness of red bean paste, smooth and sticky. You could customise the filling by adding things like soft dates (deglet/medjool) and nuts for some interesting dimension and a different mouthfeel.

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Red Bean Hand Pies (makes 10-12 little hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the red bean paste:

200g (1 cup) adzuki beans

240ml (1 cup) water

pinch of salt

200g (1 cup) granulated sugar

 

For the puff pastry:

280g (about 2 and 1/4 cups) plain flour, and have a little bowl with some extra flour set aside for sprinkling later on (sub: half white and half whole-wheat, or use a gluten-free flour such as coconut or rice)

120ml (1/2 cup) vegan butter (sub: coconut oil)

120ml (1/2 cup) cold water

pinch of salt

1 tbsp sugar

 

Directions

The night before you make the pies, soak the adzuki beans in the water. In the morning, drain the beans, place them into a saucepan. Add fresh water to the saucepan until there is about an inch of water covering the beans. Turn on the heat and let the beans come to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook the beans for about 45 minutes. During this time, start making the pastry. You could use a food processor but I prefer using my hands in a bowl to get a good feel of the dough. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter/coconut oil and squeeze it into the flour until you get floury clumps. You don’t have to make sure everything comes into clumps, you should just have a relatively dry and crumbly mixture. Add a quarter cup of water to start, then add the rest slowly until the dough just comes together in a large clump. The mixture will be quite dry. Add more or less water until you get to this point. Put the dough in a bowl and place this in the fridge.

After 45 minutes of cooking the beans (give them a stir every once in a while), add half of the sugar and salt. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Squeeze one of the beans– if it breaks easily then you’re on the right track. If not, never mind, just continue cooking until most of the beans are easily smushed (I LOVE that word). Continue cooking until most water is evaporated. Add the rest of the sugar and cook for another 5 minutes before taking the pan off the heat. Use a fork to smush the beans more into a paste. Leave the beans to cool in the fridge; this is also when the paste (termed anko in Japanese) will thicken.

Preheat your oven to 190C. Lightly flour a work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out your dough until about half a centimetre thick. Using the edges of a glass cup, cutters or a measuring cup, cut 5-inch circles in the dough, starting from the edges to save space. Take your bean paste from the fridge and place a heaped teaspoon of the paste in the centre of one circle. Wet your finger to draw a thin layer of water along the borders of the circle surrounding the paste, then place another circle of dough on top. Pinch the pie along its sides to seal the pie. Using a fork, make little fork marks (or claw marks, as I like to call them) around the edges, then flip the pie and do the same on the other side. Repeat until dough is finished. And now for the important part!! Brush the tops of the pies with water– this will make the tops super crisp once out of the oven. Then sprinkle some sugar on the tops, and place the pies in the preheated oven. Bake them for at least half an hour. Check on them at 25 minutes– if they are already golden-brown take them out, but mine took 30 or so minutes.

 

Mochi Pancakes and a Matcha Ritual

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I meant to be writing this on a train to Durham, best beanie on, heart on my sleeve. Instead, I’m sat snuggled in a jumper at home, hoodie on, tea on my sleeve. The train was cancelled, everything was delayed, and my heart was pumping with an anger and impatience it wasn’t used to. Acceptance is typified as the answer to frustrating situations, which in itself is frustrating once things don’t go as perfectly planned. Acceptance, a lighter heart, and a laugh that starts out as fake to try and persuade yourself,  before reifying the humour of day-to-day disappointments, making it all ok again. Small hiccups in a big world. I had a conversation with a sweet old lady as we sat waiting for the next District Line train, shivering from our covered heads to toes. This is Earth’s payback for what we’re doing to it, she exclaimed. And to an extent, I agree. I smiled in the cold. There’s only so much we can do, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do.

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Exams are done!! On Friday I used up the ink of three pens, and now it’s time to use up all my flour. More time to potter around in the kitchen, experimenting with different sweet and nourishing recipes, putting more time and effort into this blog, my baby, my alter ego. These spurts of creativity, life-giving and soul-satisfying, perfectly balance the head-banging revision one can endure in the space of a couple given days. After my recent trip to Austria, where I was gifted with some gorgeous fresh matcha (Attila Hildmann). And so started my daily matcha ritual, complete with the whisk, bowl, meditation, everything. It has replaced my Nespresso ritual, that crutch, but now I can’t look back. The harder shots of black are welcome once in a while, but the strong emerald brew gives a lasting, strong mental energy which I especially needed the last few weeks. The earthy scent and potency of fresh ground matcha twirling in rich heated almond milk, lightly sweetened with maple syrup, is the best thing to ease yourself into a hardcore (or easycore?) day.

So here’s a recipe for my favourite matcha latte, which may be jazzed up with some froth on top and some smears of hot chocolate, if you please. It goes perfectly with my new pancake recipe– MOCHI PANCAKES. Yes, you read and heard right. Made with rice flour and a good deal of soluble protein for stretch and the perfect balance of light and heartiness. Funny how being in Germany and Austria made me think of Japan so much. The hospitality, cleanliness and attitude in both countries are fairly similar, perhaps. Or maybe it was because I was surrounded by clean, white lines and it all resonated with the minimal simplicity I find so appealing in Japan.

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These pancakes are delicate and tender, a far cry from the fluffy ones I’m used to making but nonetheless delicious. Perfect with pear, tahini, a homemade red bean paste (watch this space, might refine that recipe to be posted soon!) and soy yoghurt, as pictured above.

 

Matcha Latte (serves one)

Ingredients

1 tbsp matcha powder (I use the Attila Hildmann brand)

2 tbsp hot water

240ml (1 cup) plant milk of choice

1 tsp maple syrup

Optional: 2 tbsp hot chocolate powder or chopped dark chocolate, and a scoop of either vegan vanilla ice cream/whipped cream to top.

 

Directions

Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. While waiting for it to come to a boil, whisk the matcha and water together in a small bowl. I use my cute little matcha whisk from Kanuka Tea for a good, thorough whisk. Pour the matcha mixture into a large mug, add the maple syrup, then pour in the hot milk. Mix everything together with a teaspoon. For some extra fancy schmancy, add the hot chocolate powder or chopped dark chocolate to the bottom of your mug first, before pouring in the matcha mix and milk. Then after pouring in the milk, top with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream that will melt on top of the hot matcha to create a sweet, frothy top.

 

Mochi Pancakes (serves 2-3 people)

Ingredients

70g plain flour+50g rice flour

50g porridge oats (or substitute coconut flour/almond flour/any other gluten-free flour)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp ground flaxseed

6 tbsp water

5 tbsp melted vegan butter/coconut oil (just melt it by putting the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and nuking it for 30 seconds or until you can see that it’s mostly melted)

pinch of salt

3 tbsp white/brown/coconut sugar

350ml plant milk of choice (I use a mix of rice and soy)

 

Directions

In a small bowl, make your egg– mix the flax and water and set it aside to thicken. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients– flours, oats, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Then pour in the milk and butter. Mix briefly, then add the flaxseed mixture, and continue mixing until everything is well combined. It should be quite a wet and drippy mixture. If not, add more milk until it reaches that consistency. Heat a pan on medium pan, add a pat of vegan butter and let melt. Once it is sizzling a little, dollop tablespoonfuls of batter onto the pan (or griddle if you have one) and let the first sides cook. Flip once you see bubbles form on the surfaces. Let the second sides cook for 20-30 seconds before removing and placing on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess moisture, or if you’re making a big batch for guests and you want to keep the pancakes warm ahead of time, in a warm oven until they arrive and you are ready to serve.

Matcha Coconut Adzuki Bean Tart

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The week in a nutshell?

Well.

Perhaps an abundance of small happenings and details that cumulated to form the realisation that the smallest changes can indeed lead to drastic changes. Things like goal setting and reading affirmations out loud (even if just in a whisper) have a tremendous impact on how you start and go through your day. Meditation. Another thing I’ve gotten into again, more recently. So many things which, just 2 years ago, I may have scoffed at, brushed aside as heeby-jeeby, loco, substance-less stuff. An amazing Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library, and finally becoming a member of the Wellcome Library. Delicate, lasting pleasures.

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I here conclude that centre of mind should be centre of gravity. Slip-ups happen, a day isn’t always that great, and that’s ok. Walk off the woes. Write. It’s about returning to those small, good things, and staying confident in their life-giving properties which may only be discovered upon closer inspection. Like pouring tea into your teacup, or savouring your first bite of dinner, or reading without your phone buzzing. There is a secret bonhomie even in the most inane things, or inanimate objects.

So I made this tart on Monday, and there is one last slice in the fridge. Waiting there for me, as I sit here typing in Waterstones. Stiffened just to the right degree, with a thin blanket of coconut cream gently melted before the drizzle, and lovingly homemade sweet red adzuki beans. Can you tell Japan is still on my mind?

With matcha, coconut, black sesame and adzuki bean, there’s a lot going on, but there’s a lot going on well. Ecstasy possessed me upon my finding these beans in a health shop near where I stay. They take quite a while to cook but the result is so worth it. These rigid, dark beans are harder, darker and smaller than your normal red kidney beans, and add a nice firm texture to any soft, sweet dessert. Dense and more earthy in flavour. In fact, you could throw these guys into your lunchtime salad or pasta and it probably wouldn’t be half bad (here’s to a new idea for tonight). The filling is not too rich, achieved by mixing coconut cream, coconut yoghurt and plant milk in the right ratio. You could do it all just with coconut cream, but that would totally overwhelm the addition of matcha. The light blend ensures all the flavours come through at the same time. As I wrote in my journal that day, it is ‘so sweet, matcha-y and creamy…!!’ Clearly I was too excited to English properly. Also, no baking needed! Just a little fridge hibernation, so make this the night before to enjoy the next day, or in the morning if you’re the sort who has time at home, and enjoy later on.

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A creamy matcha coconut tart with a black sesame crust and sweet adzuki beans (Japanese red bean)

Matcha Adzuki Bean Coconut Tart (makes one 7/8-inch tart)

Ingredients

For the crust:

35g roasted black sesame seeds

2 tbsp (50g) tahini

8 large medjool dates (120g)

100g raw cashews

 

For the filling:

2 tbsp matcha powder

150g coconut cream, from a package or scoop out the solid bits from a tin of coconut milk, and save some extra to drizzle on top

150g coconut yoghurt or any other plant-based yoghurt of choice, e.g. soy/almond etc

120ml almond milk (or any other plant milk)

50ml (45g or 3-4 tbsp) maple or agave syrup

4.5g (about 1 tbsp) agar powder or vegan gelatin

half a teaspoon of fine salt

 

For the bean topping:

100g adzuki beans (pre-soaked for 2-3 hours, or you can soak them while your tart is setting in the fridge)

5 tbsp granulated/coconut sugar

water

Directions

Using sesame oil or any other oil/margarine (sesame works well here because it matches the flavour of the crust but you don’t have to, really), liberally brush the base and all corners and crevices of your tart tin. Your tin should have a removable bottom. The liberal oiling is important because it’s easy for the sticky crust to stick to the sides! Now in a food processor, blend together all the ingredients for the crust. Wet your hands to stop so much of the batter sticking to them, and press the mixture evenly into your tart tin. Use the bottom of a glass to help, if you want. Set aside for now.

In a saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Place on high heat and bring to boil. Once it is boiling, immediately reduce heat to low, let the mixture simmer for 30 seconds, then take off the heat. Pour this on top of the prepared black sesame crust and spread evenly. Place the tart into the fridge to set nicely.

Meanwhile, make the adzuki beans. Wash your saucepan. Take your pre-soaked beans and place them in the saucepan. Fill with water until the beans are just covered, then cook on medium-high heat for an hour. Now go read something, chat with your mum or watch an episode of Friends. When you come back, the beans should be relatively soft. If not, cook for another 10 minutes. There should still be a little resistance when you use a wooden spoon to break a few beans. Now add the sugar and stir until everything is dissolved. Take off the heat and set aside.

Finally, drizzle some extra coconut cream on the tart, then top with the cooked beans. Et voila! Serve cold from the fridge and enjoy with some green tea or coffee.

And to end on an inspirational quote…

‘Consistency is the playground of dull minds’

Rice Cake Molasses Granola

The kitchen seems to have closed upon the death of last week’s get-up. But the smell lingers. It’s rich, dark, carnal. I sit here now recalling the life-giving things of everyday. After making this last Saturday, I hopped over to a new cafe which I implore all of you to check out for some downright good, authentic Danish bakes, then to Piccadilly’s Waterstones for a good 5 hours just to read my heart out, the perfect excuse for not doing work I was meant to be doing. How sad it is to find joy in the unruly, yet how perfectly OK with it I am once or twice a week. It’s true that meaning and mental enlightenment can arise from nothing when given work to do, yet there’s a wild freedom only found in self-direction, reading and exploring things one would only find outside of a lecture theatre, as exciting a lecture may be.

With granola-making on the agenda last Saturday, I shook off the morning grog and effortlessly persuaded myself to Waitrose. Right opposite, to get some oats and rice puffs for a little bit of fancy. I came across a most moreish-looking granola recipe in Honey&Co’s cookbook just earlier in the week, overcome with fiery instinct. Rice puffs are something I always took for granted. Child’s play, too light to be in anything except standard mass-produced granola or cereal bars. This, however, seemed to take granola to something of a new level, choked with Mediterranean spices and a sultry undertone of rarity. Just as I was about to leave the house, my peripheral vision caught sight of these chocolate rice cakes I brought back from Germany just the previous week, and I knew something had to be done with those babies. A mini brainwave hit– why not crush those and chuck them in the granola instead? So I chucked off my shoes and got to work. It was going to be fun.

Starts off all sticky after everything is incorporated, and even seems a bit ‘leaky’ once taken out of the oven, but success is trust. Cooling will let the clusters form, and that’s where all the fun’s at, right? Each huge, outrageously crisp cluster is a thing of dreams. A heavy hand with the molasses will do the caramelisation process, and you, too much good. And of course, like all granola recipes, this is so easily customised. Raisins, nuts, chocolate, add and subtract as you will. How to granola: douse in milk, languish, enjoy.

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Rice Cake Molasses Granola (makes one large batch)

Note: all bracketed substitutions are vegan

Ingredients

80g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter)

120g blackstrap molasses (sub: a rich, dark honey)

110g light brown, soft sugar

100g chocolate-covered rice cakes, chopped into thick chunks (sub: 70g plain rice cakes and 30g chopped chocolate)

70g oats or muesli

150g nuts of choice , chopped (I used walnuts)

100g dried fruit of choice (I used torn dates and raisins, though if you abhor either like many a friend of mine, then feel free to substitute with whatever else you would like, and this recipe works well even without any dried fruit!)

1 tsp cinnamon

optional: 1 tsp ground ginger

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and line a large baking tray with parchment. Combine the butter, molasses and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Take off heat, then pour in the rest of the ingredients.

Transfer to the pan and flatten a little so everything will cook more evenly in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then take out and let cool for another 10. You will notice a bit of molasses leakage, almost like a liquidy mess at the size. Not to worry, for this is expected. Leaving the pan to cool will rest everything and harden it all up nicely. Use a spoon to break everything up a little, but not too much– leave the large clusters! Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy with liberal drizzles of milk, topped with fresh/frozen fruit for a good adjacent tang.