Korean Mung Bean Pancakes (Nokdu Jeon)

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Most people probably have fond memories of their grandmothers’ cooking, even though their cooking might not have been Michelin-star worthy, or it might not have been a culinary firework every time. For me, whatever my grandmothers whip up in their kitchen reminds me of their warmth and love. Their food always tasted different from my mother’s. My mother grew up eating her mother’s amazing food, but hasn’t set her foot in the kitchen until she was married. She learned most of her cooking from my paternal grandmother. Her cooking, could be said, is a direct blood line from my paternal grandmother, mixed with her memories of the taste she grew up with,

Koreans love savoury pancakes. They are made with wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or ground mung beans, and filled with spring onions, seafood, pork, kimchi… you name it. They taste amazing with milky rice wine, Magkoli, on a rainy day. (not sure why?) On chinese new year, or as Koreans call it, “old” new year, both of my grandmothers make stacks of pancakes for the family. My paternal grandmother has always been the queen of mung bean pancakes, and the maternal grandmother makes some mean, crispy kimchi pancakes. As I was making these for lunch today, the smell reminded me so much of the new year’s gathering with my family, which I haven’t enjoyed in over 10 years. My mother says that, to make these pancakes well, one must reach the age of 60+. Well, here’s my vegetarian take on the mung bean pancakes (Nokdu Jeon 녹두전) from my maternal grandmother. Someday, maybe mine will taste as good as my grandmothers’.

Korean mung bean pancakes

*Note: You can leave out the kimchi if you have a hard time finding it, but the pancake definitely tastes better with kimchi. Nowadays, it should be easy to find it in Asian or Korean grocers. It’s usually found in the fresh produce aisle. (In Leipzig, the Asian grocer on Hainstr. has vacuum packed ones)

Makes: 4-6 pancakes
150g hulled and split mung beans (can be found at asian or indian grocers), also called mung dal
5 Tbsp brown rice flour (or rice flour)
A big handful mung bean sprouts
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and re-hydrated in hot water.
1 spring onion, finely sliced
50-70g kimchi, finely chopped (can be found at Asian grocers, in fresh produce aisle)
240ml water
1/2 tsp salt
1 mild fresh red chili, sliced thinly, for garnish
vegetable oil, for frying
For the dip
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1.5 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp water
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
A pinch of chili flakes
1. Rinse the mung beans in several changes of water. Soak them in plenty of water for about 12 hours.
2. In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add the mung bean sprouts and cook for one minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. Squeeze them between your hands to get water out as much as possible. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sprouts with a pinch of salt and sesame seeds.
4. Drain the shiitake mushrooms. Discard the stems. Squeeze out the water. Slice the caps finely and add to the mung beans sprouts.
5. Drain and rinse the mung beans. Add them to a mixer or food processor, along with water, salt, and rice flour. Grind them into a fine paste. Add the paste to the large mixing bowl with mushrooms and sprouts. Add the chopped kimchi. Mix well.
6. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a none-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a small ladle in the pan and flatten them. Flip, once the bottom turns golden and crispy. Cook the other side until golden. Repeat.
7. For the dip, mix all the ingredients together. Serve the pancakes with the dip on the side.

Pomegranate Molasses and Harissa Glazed Carrots with Cashew-Ginger Cream

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Growing up, I was never a picky eater. I ate almost everything, from cow’s milk from 6 month old with no allergy whatsoever, (I still wonder what mum was thinking when she decided to give a baby cow’s milk?!) to fish, kimchi from an early age, and blood soup, according to my aunt. I still have no idea what the soup is, but she claims when I was 3, she saw me eating a small bowl of a pork soup with coagulated blood floating on top, without blinking twice. I definitely wouldn’t eat it now, though. Another story goes, when I was about 2-3, our family went to a restaurant, where a big aquarium with exotic tropical fish was at the entrance. Most kids would have stared at the aquarium and probably admired the beautiful fish, but I saw them as source of food, and said “Mmm, Yummy! I want to eat them all!”.  What a weirdo.

There were few things I didn’t like when I was little, most of them I still don’t like to this day. I thought soy milk was the most disgusting thing ever, I almost puked the first time I tried it. My old flatmate from a few years ago, told me vanilla-flavored soy milk didn’t taste too much like soy milk, but I still found it disgusting. I also despised carrots, raw, or cooked. It took me a very long time to like carrots. I was a teenager when I decided I like carrots when they are cooked, or should they be served raw, they must be grated or julienned. Don’t ask me why. But I still find raw carrot sticks repulsive. My friends laugh at this, of course. I can’t tell you why it’s ok for me to eat grated carrots and not the stick. It could be the aroma, or the texture? Who knows.

The carrot, being one of three components of mirepoix, (the other ones being celery and onion), is sometimes overlooked. I always have one or two laying around in the kitchen, in case I spontaneously want to make a soup or stew, and although when you have sweated the finely chopped carrot in oil for 20 mins with onion and celery, you won’t be able to taste it, but you will notice a difference to a soup when the carrot is missing. Carrots are usually cheap and plentiful almost anywhere you live. They come in beautiful rays of shades, like purple, white, yellow, pink, and orange. They can be paired with many different spices and herbs, and when roasted, the natural sweetness intensifies, especially when they are glazed like in this new recipe. I would have never guessed as a 9 year old that I would ever make a dish where the carrot is the star on a plate. It’s a simple recipe to make for a weeknight dinner. I can also imagine it would be great as an accompaniment to turkey or chicken. Enjoy! xo-A.

Pomegranate Molasses and Harissa Glazed Carrots with Cashew-Ginger Cream

Note: Pomegranate molasses and Harissa can be purchased at turkish/arab supermarkets. Make sure the molasses has as little ingredients as possible. Most of them contain a lot of additives and such.

Serves 2 as an appetizer or a side dish

1 bunch thin-ish carrots (about 8-9), left whole, but halved if they are too thick

For the glaze,

1.5 tsp honey

1.5 tsp pomegranate molasses

1-2 tsp harissa (store-bought is fine)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1.25-1.5 tsp salt

1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed

1/2 tsp caraway seeds

Freshly ground black pepper

1 large clove garlic, grated to a pulp

For the cashew-ginger cream,

60g cashew nuts

40ml water or vegetable stock

A good squeeze of lemon juice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

To serve: A few coriander leaves and/or mint leaves, and a good pinch of roughly crushed pink peppercorns.

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the honey over low heat until they become very runny. Add all the ingredients for the glaze and whisk well. Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper. Lay the carrots on the sheet, brush all over with the glaze until they are well covered. Roast for about 45 mins until the carrots are tender. Toss them gently once or twice for even cooking.

3. For the cashew cream, cover the nuts with boiling water and set aside for about 30 mins. This process will soften the nuts. Drain and rinse quickly with fresh water.

4. In a food processor, add the cashews and the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Add a bit more water or stock if the cream is too thick.

5. Serve the glazed carrots, sprinkled with coriander leaves and/or mint, and a good dollop of the cashew-ginger cream on the side.

Lemongrass and Coconut Tempeh, Coleslaw in Peanut Dressing, and Coconut Brown Rice

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I have three new recipes for you today! Jackpot!

When I first saw a block of tempeh sitting next to tofu at an Asian grocer, I was put off by the way it looked. I vaguely see that there were some soybeans in the block, but the whole thing looked slightly rotten to me. (click here if you don’t know what tempeh looks like). I’ve never given a second thought about buying it until I started reading 101cookbooks.com. This wonderful blog was the first food blog that I started reading regularly and still do until this day. Tempeh showed up once in a while in her post and after a casual googling, I realized this block of off-looking soybeans was in fact a delicious food originating from Indonesia, and has spread to the western world as a healthy meat substitute. It’s fermented and therefore easier for your body to digest. It’s also full of vitamin B-6, iron, magnesium, and calcium. So after trying this recipe  from 101cookbooks, I was hooked. It’s meatier than tofu, and really delicious after being marinated and grilled. I know many people frown upon hearing the word “tofu” but this distant cousin, tempeh, my friends, is a whole different business.

After vaguely trying to plan a holiday to south-east Asia, I have created a marinade for tempeh that includes ingredients from there, and the result was absolutely delicious. Lightly coconut-y, spicy, and the addition of lemongrass and lime leaf made me want to teleport myself to the street food stalls in south-east Asia, although I imagine the food there would be a zillion times better than mine. 🙂 I paired the tempeh with coleslaw with peanut dressing that was inspired by the Gado-gado sauce from Indonesia, and coconut brown rice cooked with galangal and lime leaf. If you have never cooked with tempeh, give this a try. I swear you will be hooked like I did.

 

Lemongrass and Coconut Tempeh

Serves 2

250g tempeh, cut into triangles

1 lemongrass, 5cm from the root, the outer layer peeled, and the soft center part finely minced

1 lime leaf, finely minced

60ml coconut milk from a very well shaken can

1.5 tsp sambal olek or sriracha

1 Tbsp soy sauce

Juice of 1/2 lime

To fry, coconut oil or vegetable oil with high-smoking point.

To serve, a small handful coriander leaves

1. In a medium sized saucepan, bring water to boil. Add the tempeh and steam over medium heat for about 5 mins. This process eliminates the bitterness that might be present in some tempeh, and also it will make the tempeh absorb the marinade faster.

2. In a blender, add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Drain the tempeh and transfer them to a large but shallow casserole dish. Pour the marinade over and coat well. Marinate for 1 hour. It can sit in the fridge for a couple more hours if you want to make ahead of time. Flip once or twice.

3. Heat the coconut oil or vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Lay the tempeh slices in one layer and fry for about 4 mins. Flip and wait for 3 minutes. Pour the remaining marinade and reduce to a thick sauce.

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Coleslaw with peanut-chili-coconut dressing

Serves 4-6 as a side

1/2 head small green cabbage, finely sliced

1/2 head small purple cabbage, finely sliced

3 spring onions, white and green parts, finely sliced

1 large carrot, julienned

1/2 large kohlrabi, julienned

1 bunch coriander, chopped

A small handful mint leaves, chopped

A handful roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

For the dressing,

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1.5 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbs coconut milk

1 thumbnail sized ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

2 small cloves garlic

1.5 tsp sambal olek or sriracha

1 lime, juice only

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp palm sugar or raw cane sugar

1. In a large bowl, mix the chopped and sliced vegetables.

2. To make the dressing, add all the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. Check the seasoning. The dressing at this stage should be a little salty. Not to worry, the vegetables will absorb some of the salt.

3. Toss the dressing and the vegetables thoroughly, preferably with hands.  Leave to rest for 30mins to 1 hour. Scatter the peanuts on the salad before serving.

Coconut Brown Rice with Lime Leaf and Galangal

Serves 2

1 cup short-grain brown rice

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup water

2 lime leaves

A thumb-nail sized galangal or ginger, sliced

1/2 tsp salt

To serve: Lime wedges

1. Wash the brown rice and soak, if possible, for 4-8 hours.

2. In a medium sized sauce pan, bring the rice and the rest of the ingredients to the boil and turn the heat down to low. Steam the rice for 35-45 mins, until tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff the rice with fork.

 

 

Saffron and garlic beans with wine-braised leeks

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It’s finally raining today. The weather has been mostly gorgeous for the past 2 weeks, but even I wished for some rain after reading that the farmers were suffering from a drought. I invited a friend for lunch today and made this dish for the starter. The bright golden, garlicky beans really bring a contrast to the grey and wet weather. The baby leeks I found at the farmer’s market yesterday were braised in wine and butter until the leeks were left with thick and silky sauce, then they were broiled under the grill for a bit because I like the taste of slightly browned leeks. You can leave the step out if you like but I recommend it.

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Ps. My watercress and lentil salad made it to the Guardian Cook section. 🙂 Yay!

Saffron and garlic beans with braised baby leeks

Recipe Note: Go easy on the salt, as Parmasan rind gives enough saltiness to the beans. For vegans, leave out the cheese rind and substitute with 2 tsp of tomato paste instead for the umami flavour. Also, replace butter with olive oil when braising leeks.

Serves 3-4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

For the beans

150g dried white cannellini beans

1/2 medium onion, very finely chopped

1/2 celery, very finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, very finely chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 sprig rosemary (about 10 cm), leaves finely chopped

1/2 tsp loosely packed tsp saffron strands

20g rind of Parmagiano reggiano (leave out if you are vegan)

1/4 tsp salt

700ml water

2 tsp lemon juice

A few grinds of pepper

For the leeks,

8 baby leeks or very thin leeks, white and light green part only

60ml dry vermouth or white wine

100ml water

20g butter

4 small sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

3/4 tsp salt

Pepper

To serve,

20g hazelnuts, toasted, skin peeled, and chopped *

Fruity olive oil

1. Soak the beans in plenty of water for at least 8 hours. Rinse and drain.

2. Add the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the finely chopped onion, celery, and garlic with a pinch of salt. Sautee for 15 minutes until very soft Do not be tempted to increase the heat.

3. Add the saffron and rosemary. Sautee for 3 minutes.

4. Add the beans, water, and the rind of parmagiano reggiano. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and  simmer, with the lid slightly ajar, for 45-90mins or until tender but not falling apart. The cooking time depends on the freshness of your beans, so check after 45 mins.

5. When the beans are almost done, take the lid off and increase the heat to medium-high. Evaporate most of the liquid until there is a thick broth left in the pan.

6. Take the Parmasan rind out. Add the lemon juice to heighten the flavour. Add more salt if needed.

7. For the leeks, Add all the ingredient in a medium sized frying pan. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 10 mins. At this point, preheat the grill in the oven.

8. Take the lid off and boil off almost all the liquid. Transfer the frying pan under the grill and grill for 10 mins, or until the leeks start to turn golden. Do not burn the leeks.

9. To serve, place some beans on a plate and leeks on top. Sprinkle the hazelnuts and drizzle with olive oil.

*To toast the hazelnuts; place the nuts in a frying pan over medium heat. Toast for 10 mins or so, occasionally shaking the pan. Immediately remove from heat and place them in a clean dishtowel. Enclose them and rub them vigorously against each other until the skins come off.

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Crunchy broccoli in chili and garlic oil à la Chinabrenner

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There is a small handful of restaurants in Leipzig that I really like and respect, and Chinabrenner is on that list. It is situated in Plagwitz, a former industrial area of Leipzig, and the restaurant is in an old warehouse building.  My ex flatmate told me about this place many years ago. She used to work around the corner from Chinabrenner, and I remember her telling me about a chinese place where you can get a bowl of stir-fry and rice with a cup of tea for 4 euros that doesn’t taste like boring old oily take away chinese food (!). They didn’t used to have dinner back then, I don’t think. Nowadays, lunch costs 6.50, which isn’t bad actually, and they have great dinner. Soooo good, in fact. It comes with a price tag in the evening, but it is worth going all the way to Plagwitz area for authentic chinese, mostly Szechuan cuisine. (I actually don’t like to use the word “authentic” but it is really that good).

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I went to China on an orchestra tour almost 4 years ago. Despite people telling me about their negative experiences in China, I ate incredibly well there. I ate mostly vegetarian, and Vegetarian Lifestyle in Shanghai was definitely a highlight. I also ate at an upscale Szechuan specialty restaurant in Beijing (not that Szechuan is anywhere near there..) which was also fantastic, and a tongue numbing experience. Since then, I have been interested in cooking chinese. Watching this documentary from BBC with the great Ken Hom and ChingHe Huang made me even more eager to learn.

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One of Chinabrenner’s dishes that all my friends and I order every time, is cold broccoli. The broccoli florets are barely cooked, and they are dressed in a pretty large quantity of spicy chili and garlic oil, sprinkled with a healthy dosage of Szechuan pepper. Man, do those tiny peppers numb your tongue! My attempt at this dish might not taste exactly like at the restaurant, but I think it’s pretty close. I reduced the amount of oil, and added slightly more acidity, making the dish more salad like. The key to this dish is to barely cook the broccoli. I add the florets in boiling water for 30 seconds only, just enough to take out their raw edge. The chili bean paste among other ingredients can be found at Asian stores.  Bon Appetit!

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Crunchy Broccoli in Chili and Garlic Oil

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets and the stalk peeled and chopped into matchsticks
60ml vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 hot chili flakes OR 1-2 dried hot chili, crumbled.
1 Tbsp Shao Shing Wine
2 1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp Rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar or dark chinese vinegar
1 tsp chinese chili bean paste
1 tsp Szechuan pepper, toasted and roughly ground
1 tsp sugar

1. Bring a pot of water and a teaspoon of salt to boil. Add the broccoli and boil for 30 seconds only. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop them cooking. Let the broccoli drain well.
2. In a small frying pan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the minced garlic and chili flakes. As soon as they start to sizzle, turn the heat down to low and let them soften for 10 minutes.
3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Add the garlic and chili oil and whisk to combine.
4. Put the well drained broccoli in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing. Chill for an hour in the fridge and serve.

Decadent flour-less chocolate cake with cardamom and smoked salt

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I went to Dresden yesterday to go to a concert of the Staatskapelle Dresden playing Mahler 9. Afterwards my friends and I have decided to have a girl’s night in. It has been far too long since our last gathering, and we were all very excited. Everyone decided to bring something, and I have offered to bring a chocolate cake. Not just any cake, but my aunt’s flour-less chocolate cake. It’s so decadent and chocolaty that you can only eat a thin slice of it before calling it a day, although I think we all had two servings each last night. I don’t bake all that often, as I rarely have cravings for sweet things and for some reason my kitchen looks like a bomb has been dropped after I bake. But this moist, rich, melt-in-your-mouth cake that I haven’t made in over a year seemed perfect for our gathering.

This recipe was told to me by my mum over the phone over 10 years ago. I vaguely remember her saying that this was from one of her sisters. I scribbled the recipe down in very messy writing in one of my cookbooks back then. I have three aunts on mum’s side and they are all avid cooks (including mum). My second aunt even went to a professional culinary school decades ago and is an accomplished contributor to food magazines, cooking class teacher and cookbook author. The first aunt is the baker of the family, who bakes incredibly delicious cakes for family gatherings, and the third aunt is an excellent cook and photographer who helps my second aunt with making cookbooks and testing recipes. But having said all that, I still can’t remember from which aunt this recipe was from. Sorry whoever’s this was. Please take credit for it in the comment box if you want, dear aunty!

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This chocolate cake is incredibly easy to make. The only slightly annoying part is separating 5 eggs into yolks and whites, without accidentally breaking the egg yolk into the white, which can happen if your stars aren’t aligned right on the day you bake (or just carelessness). If anything gets into the egg white, such as grease or egg yolk, you can say goodbye to beating the whites until firm peak forms. But my mum has given me a tip on how not to ruin the egg whites. I’ll include in the recipe below. The basic recipe remains the same, but I’ve decided to put some crushed green cardamom seeds and smoked salt in the batter. Cardamom is a great pairing with chocolate. It has a very light eucalyptus note, and as it is a member of ginger family, containing a floral and and citrussy note. Cardamom’s fresh and invigorating note cuts through richness in chocolate. Salt is a natural partner of chocolate and it brings out the flavour of cocoa very well. Be sure to use nice finishing salt such as fleur de Sel or even smoked salt which I had luckily in hand in a salt tasting kit given to me by a very good friend a year ago. And last but not least, make sure you buy the best chocolate (preferably certified organic and fair-trade) and cocoa powder you can find. It will make a huge difference in the end!

Happy baking everyone!

Decadent flour-less chocolate cake with cardamom and smoke salt

Note: If you don’t like cardamom, zest of an orange-a classic pairing with chocolate- could be used instead. It will taste just as good!

Serves: 8-10

5 organic/free-range eggs, separated *(see note below)

120g butter

6 cardamom pods

120g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

120ml cream (try to take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before baking)

70g good quality raw cocoa powder (usually found at organic stores or health food stores)

120g sugar (less if you will be serving this cake with sweetened cream)

A pinch of normal sea salt

A pinch of finishing salt such as fleur de sel or smoked salt

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Bring water in a small saucepan to simmer, and place a bowl over the pan but make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add chopped chocolate and butter in the bowl over simmering water and stir until melted.

2. Crush the cardamom pods lightly in mortar&pestle until the seeds fall out. Take the pods out and crush the seeds until they roughly resemble powder. Add to the chocolate and butter.

3. Add the cream to the melted butter and chocolate. Warm through and stir until well incorporated. Take the bowl off the saucepan and set aside to cool a bit.

4. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg whites until lightly firm peak forms. Make sure you don’t over beat it, otherwise the cake might turn out grainy. Set aside.

5. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale.

6. Add the sifted cocoa powder to the yolks and whisk until well incorporated.

7. Add the melted chocolate and butter, and small pinch of normal salt. Stir until well incorporated.

8. In three batches, gently fold in the egg whites.  Make sure the whites are well mixed in after each batch.

9. Pour the batter into a buttered cake pan. (mine was 26cm but I think smaller pans would work just as well). Sprinkle a pinch of flaky salt on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Do NOT over bake. Leave to cool in the cake pan. This cake is best served the day after it is baked, as the flavour will improve.

 

*Separating the egg whites: If the stars aren’t aligned right on some days (so to speak), you might break the egg yolk while separating the egg. This is my mum’s trick. She separates the egg whites into a small ramekin before putting into a big bowl where the whites will be beaten. This way, if you accidentally break the egg yolk, you can get another egg and start again without ruining the other 2-3 (or more…no!!) eggs you have separated before.