Vegan MoFo day 12: Turning Japanese

I used to have a love-hate relationship with Japanese food. Love because, well, for the most part it’s delicious. Hate because I’ve never known suffering like I did when I sat through the annual peace ceremony in the scorching summer Hiroshima sun with the worst hangover I’ve ever experienced- and then, try as I might, couldn’t find any suitably greasy food to help deal with it.

It was on this trip to Japan to represent my university at an international student’s conference that I was introduced to Japanese food beyond teriyaki and sushi. On my first day in Hiroshima, the conference coordinators (before taking us to the open bar that caused aforementioned hangover) treated us to a local street food specialty at a hole-in-the-wall ‘restaurant’. That specialty was okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki and spicy tempeh nori rolls

Okonomiyaki is difficult to describe. Is it a pancake? Is it some kind of pizza? Who cares? What is really is, is a mish-mash of vegetables formed into some kind of pizza/pancake shape, fried and topped with zesty okonomiyaki sauce. I used this recipe from Veg News to recreate this dish. A few substitutions had to be made- namely, potato for nagaimo- and the recipe suffered for that. There’s also a typo in the online version of the recipe. I took a stab at the quantity of flour needed, but may have gotten it wrong since this was a bit gummy in the middle. But the edges were tasty- not as crisp as the okonomiyaki I sampled in Hiroshima, but not bad for a first try.

Since Chadwiko is a late bloomer when it comes to Japanese food and has only just recently jumped on the sushi bandwagon, I served this with the spicy tempeh nori rolls from Veganomicon. Filled with spicy tempeh broken down to resemble tuna, with avocado and spring onion, these are always a winner. And bonus- easy enough to make that Chadwiko has even promised to attempt his own one night.

All he needs is an apron and a headband tied around his forehead and I’ll feel like I’m right back in Hiroshima- but I think I’ll leave the hangover behind this time.

Vegan MoFo day 11: A meal from the medina

Chadwiko and I tend to take an approach that can only be described as ‘well, while we’re there…’ when planning travel. This is how our planned trip to Germany at the end of this year has somehow reached across Europe to Spain, and finally ended up taking us to Morocco. Maybe growing up in Australia is to blame- when the nearest major town is an eight hour drive away, the novelty of being able to cross entire countries in that time is definitely something to be exploited to its fullest whenever possible.

When listening to the stories of friends who have travelled in Morocco, one vital piece of information stood out for me- in Marrakesh’s Jemaa el-Fnaa square, the country’s finest delicacies and most questionable treats are available as street food. And the most authentic tagines don’t come from fancy restaurants, but from hawkers in busy, smoky stalls.

Given our love of street food, this prospect was too much to pass up. And, admittedly impatiently, we couldn’t wait for our Moroccan fix.

Moroccan vegetable tagine with almond couscous

I dragged out Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian for the tagine recipe. I bought the book about six months ago after crumbling in the face of an onslaught of recommendations, but hadn’t made anything from it. Excuses, excuses- but it’s an intimidating book. Almost 800 pages and with very few photos, it’s hard to know where to start. The use of English translations for the names of foreign dishes also detracts a bit- a dish called ‘lentils in a sauce’ is hardly enticing. But this dish was a great start.

I made a couple of modifications to the recipe- namely, I used a casserole dish rather than an authentic tagine (why buy a Chinese-made tagine here for upwards of $60 when I could get a real one for a fraction of the price in a few months’ time?), and I doubled the spice mix. The introduction to the recipe advised that it was a mild tagine. I’m not the hugest fan of ‘mild’, and this definitely better suited my tastes with the doubled spices. This was super flavourful for such a simple dish to put together (so simple that I, subtly and while nudging him in the ribs, let Chadwiko know that he could probably make it).

I served this with some quick couscous with flaked almonds, and concluded that this might just be the perfect weeknight meal. There’s a lot to look at in the Marrakesh medina, so it’s little wonder that the resident hawkers would want to get their tagines slow-cooking, leaving them plenty of time to take in the sights.

In preparation for our trip, we should probably pick up a phrase book and try to learn a few words in French and Arabic to get us by- but I think I’ll be fine as long as I can say ‘vegetable tagine, please’.

Vegan MoFo day 10: Who needs the steakhouse?

One of the most popular restaurants back in Adelaide, my hometown, is an Argentinian steakhouse. I’m not sure that there’s anything on their menu that doesn’t contain meat, so my expectations for the vegan-friendliness of Argentinian cuisine have always been low. Like so much of Latin America, though, Argentina’s saving grace may just be its fondness for empanadas.

Sure, the ones you’ll find on the streets of Buenos Aires aren’t likely to be vegan. But when Viva Vegan has so many fabulous recipes for homemade vegan empanadas, there’s really no reason to complain. Not only are they delicious, but fun and deceptively impressive!


For dinner at a friend’s house tonight, I made two kinds of empanadas. The first were empanadas humitas, or creamy corn-filled empanadas. I first made these earlier this year, and they’ve been one of my favourite dishes ever since. The herbs in this recipe, particularly chives and dried basil, come together to make this empanada into so much more than the sum of its parts.

While empanadas humitas are common across Latin America, the second empanadas were more of an Argentinian specialty. Dense, meaty and complex, these were filled with seitan, mushrooms, olives, raisins and a powerful blend of spices. These were a risk- Chadwiko hates mushrooms and kalamata olives, while we both detest raisins. I compromised by whizzing these ingredients in the food processor rather than chopping them- the power of electricity reduced these to tiny, unnoticeable pieces. No chunks of unwelcome flavours, just a blend of ingredients that really worked together. The empanadas humitas are still the favourite, but these were a fun change. And I’m sure this won’t be their last appearance in my kitchen.

With not one, but two portable pockets of Argentinian deliciousness, who really needs that old steakhouse anyway?

Vegan MoFo day 9: Bollywood bites

Before we met, Chadwiko was convinced that he didn’t like Indian food. Luckily for him, I knew that that just wasn’t possible, and I helped him to see the error of his ways. Indian food is now a staple in our home, and was always going to feature in this year’s Vegan MoFo. But we needed something new, a genuine street food beyond the familiar curries. Google had the answer, and the answer was chaat.

Chaat, we learned, can be almost anything, as long as it’s sold by the roadside. But soon we came to see that aloo chaat- no, not the Bollywood movie that I came across while searching for recipes- is a dish of fried, spiced potatoes served with mint and tamarind chutneys, and is an Indian favourite. Our dinner was planned!

Aloo chaat, onion pakora and naan

While tonight was a lesson in Indian street food, it was also a reminder that street food, more often than not, isn’t pretty. There’s a lot of brown mess here, but if someone handed it to me in a paper bag on the side of the road, you wouldn’t hear me complain.

The aloo chaat itself is fairly simple- I used this recipe. But it’s chaat masala, a spice blend made from kala namak (black salt), amchoor, cumin, pomegranate seeds, mint, ginger and asafoetida (among others) that sets this apart from boring old potatoes. The prominent amchoor, or dried mango powder, gives this a hint of a fruity edge- the kind that makes you stop and wonder just what’s in there that makes this taste so different.

The onion pakora and naan recipes both came from Asian Vegan Kitchen. The pakoras, though messy, were a success. The chickpea flour used in the batter made these super delicious. But the naan was a bit of a  letdown. It wasn’t bad as a flatbread, but it sure wasn’t naan the way I know it. I had originally intended to try out the recipe in World Vegan Kitchen, but noticed at the last minute that the dough needed eight hours to rise (a moderate inconvenience). Next time I’ll give that one a go, and we might have better luck.

So this one was a little rough-looking. But hey, that’s life on the streets for you. And it’s what’s on the inside (of my mouth) that counts.