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Potluck Staples 4: Smoky Vegan Gumbo

Do you like dishes that are spicy and packed with flavour? If you said “yes”, you might really like this gumbo. If you said “no” to the spice bit – don’t worry, you can always adjust the chilli levels in this recipe!

Some of you who don’t hail from North America may also be wondering what the hell “gumbo” actually is. Gumbo is a stew that originated in Louisiana in the 18th century. It’s thick and hearty and flavoursome after simmering for ages in a big pot of awesomeness – and it’s actually the perfect kind of dish for a large gathering. You can throw almost any ingredients in a gumbo, and there are different traditional types (Cajun vs Creole) — or, you can be a bit non-traditional, like this one. I’ll leave you to research more of the cultural and culinary history of gumbo if you want, but I really just want to help you make and eat it.

Like my last “potluck staples” series recipe for mushroom pho, this one is vegan. You may wonder why I have so many vegan sharing-friendly dishes up my sleeve. In 2014, right after my April Veg Challenge month, I decided to organise a multi-course vegan dinner for friends and acquaintances, for several reasons – to showcase how delicious food with no animal products in it can be, to raise some money for a deserving animal welfare organisation, and, you know, to just have a fun night filled with food, drink and laughter.

Everyone had such a good time, we decided we had to do it all again (and again, and again); but since just three of us made all four courses for over 20 people, and it was exhausting, we thought it might be a lot better to turn it into an everyone bring-a-plate affair for future events. It would mean moooore food, more variety, and everyone would get to share their favourite dishes! (And we still gave some people the option to not bring anything and just donating more to our chosen charity instead, as cooking’s not everyone’s cup of tea).

A couple more dinners later, with friends-of-friends joining in, we’re pretty much an established club now – in fact, we actually have a Facebook group! And we’d love to grow even more – so join us, if you’re interested? You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian – everyone is more than welcome, you just have to like food and not be a horrible person. The next event is on Saturday, August 29th, 2015. If you want to come feast with us, book here and join the Facebook event!

/shamelesspromotion *ahem*

Right. Gumbo.

Smoky Vegan Gumbo

Serves: A lot of people
Prep and cooking time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Note: Gumbo is usually served with rice. The recipe below is only for the stew itself, so just cook rice as you normally would! In the photo above, I’ve served the gumbo with wild purple rice, and it worked a treat!

The Shopping List

½ cup plain white flour
½ cup canola oil
1 large or 1 ½ medium onion
7 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery
mixed chillies (habanero, poblano, jalapenos etc – quantity depending on your preferred spice level)
1 large or 2 small carrots
2 zucchinis (ie. courgettes)
8 cherry tomatoes
10 okra
1 litre vegetable stock
200mL craft beer (preferably dark ale)
2 cups tomato passata
1 tub tomato paste
chipotle sauce
Mexican-style chilli sauces – eg. habanero, jalapeno
liquid smoke (optional – available from gourmet food stores, eg. The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market, Melbourne)
1 medium pack of medium-firm tofu
200g vegan sausage (optional)
1 bunch fresh thyme

dried spices
smoked paprika (good quality)
ground cumin
allspice
nutmeg
dried oregano flakes

Make the thing

  1. Make a roux with a 1:1 ratio of the flour and canola oil.
  2. When roux turns beige or very light brown,
  3. Add:
    onions (diced)
    garlic (minced)
    celery (chopped to 1cm sections)
    finely chopped chillies
    1 litre vege stock
    ^ Stir constantly, cooking for 5 minutes

  4. Then add:
  5. carrot (chopped chunky)
    zucchini (sliced to 1cm sections approx)
    roasted cherry tomatoes (pre-roast these in the oven until caramelised before adding)
    okra (chopped 1cm sections)
    1-2 cups tomato passata, to your preference
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 minutes

  6. Then add spices:
  7. smoked paprika
    ground cumin
    allspice
    nutmeg
    dried oregano flakes
    thyme (preferably fresh, chopped)

  8. Add sauces:
  9. tomato paste to taste
    chipotle sauce, if you have some, otherwise one of those mexican chilli sauces like habanero, jalapeno etc. Chipotle is the best as it gives off a really smoky flavour
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 minutes

  10. Theeeen add:
  11. More vege stock IF required
    A nice craft beer (optional – but a deep, dark ale will give this an amazing flavour)
    Medium-firm tofu in 2-3cm cubes
    Sliced vegan sausage (optional)
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 mins

  12. Then (last bit) add:
  13. A dozen or so drops of liquid smoke

  14. Keep cooking for another 5 mins or so or until the gumbo has been going for at least 40 minutes in total, excluding the roux-making time at the start.

Potluck Staples 3: Vegan Pho (Faux Pho)

Pho is a big part of my life. Really. I cannot live without it. If you set me the difficult task of naming my top 5 favourite foods, it probably wouldn’t quite make the cut – I love it, but mostly pho just one of those comfort things. A failsafe fix for a crappy work day.

Once a week, I sacrifice half my lunch break just to get the tram into the city to have pho for lunch. My pho-buddies and I constantly talk about our noodley love in front of other friends (I use “talk about” loosely here – mainly it’s just exclaiming “PHO PHO PHO!” at inappropriate moments) some of whom are vegetarian or vegan; and ok, let’s face it, I’m not sorry. But one of my main instincts is always to spread my love of food and it makes me sad that they have no way of finding out what we’re on about.

In fact, in spite of the large Vietnamese population in Melbourne, a fair few people even among ominvores, are still unaware of what pho is or have just never tried it. I figured that the best way to share my love of the magical bowl of awesome was to bring it to a potluck, and to spread the love even further by attempting a vegan version.

When I’m not eating out, I rarely eat any meat or dairy on weekdays and as such, I’m not unfamiliar with making delicious vegan meals. But what I had never done at home before is make a vegan version of a dish which is traditionally supposed to be totally based around meat!

Pho was worth making an exception for, though. I went on a search for vegetarian/vegan pho recipes online and the results were all miserable. There were definitely some out there, but most were disappointingly inadequate or unauthentic.

But how, you ask, can you possibly make a vegan version of a meat-based dish “authentic”? Well, I too, was skeptical at first, but then I realised that there’s so much more to pho than just its beefiness! Most important of all are the fragrant spices in the stock – their quantity in ratio to each other and to the amount of stock and the stewing time are all factors that can make and break pho. The depth of flavour of the broth is obviously important, but the stock base doesn’t absolutely have to be beef! Then, after serving, all those extras such as that squeeze of lemon, slices of fresh chili, that squirt of sriracha sauce, dollop of chili oil, drip of fish sauce, handful of mung bean shoots and sprigs of Vietnamese mint become the indispensable, customisable “personal touch” component of the dish.

The problem with the recipes I found on the internet was that they were for the most part created by vegetarians who had never tried traditional beef pho, or people generally unexposed to Vietnamese food who just heard about this “trendy” dish and tried to create a “healthy” version. I was determined to piece together my own recipe which kept as many elements exactly the same as the authentic version as possible, substituting only the “beef factor”.

I decided to use mushrooms as the base for the broth, as they’re powerful enough to form the depth of flavour needed, as well as being physically “meaty” enough to substitute actual beef slices in the dish. Making a mushroom consomme would provide the necessary clarity of stock! In addition, mushrooms also contain high levels of glutamate, the magic behind the “umami” taste and can be described as “naturally occurring MSG”. This is pretty important as in a vegan version I wouldn’t be able to include the traditional ingredient of fish sauce, which is extremely rich in glutamate/umami. In addition, I decided, based on the concept of umami, to make “vegan fish sauce” which could be used in the dish and also added as a condiment by the diner in whatever quantities they liked. This all eliminated the need to add any actual MSG (which I would never do anyway, but many Vietnamese restaurants do do).

Experimentation time. I had one test day, which was only a reasonable success after a couple of “saves”, and a second, almost perfect run on potluck day. The main issues in the test run had to do with the consomme – one recipe recommended that I pre-soak the vegetables and mushrooms in olive oil to soften them, which rendered the resulting stock too oily even after several filtrations and skimmings. Then, the cooking time of the final broth with dry spices had to be adjusted – on first try, the spices overpowered the consomme and I realised vegetable stock was more delicate than meat stock and needed less time to infuse with spices, so I set about diluting the over-spiced parts of the stock by pouring half it out, making more consomme and adding that to the original. Of course, the next time I simply reduced the cooking time – we can’t treat it like regular pho as the spices overpower the mushroom broth, which is a little more delicate than beef stock!

DON'T soak your stock vegetables in olive oil, just soak in water!

DON’T soak your stock vegetables in olive oil, just soak in water!

Who thinks I should just shut up and get on with sharing the recipe before I tell my life story?
Ok. Don’t be put off by the length – there are a lot of ingredients, but the techniques are simple.

Vegan Pho with Mushrooms (Indie’s Faux Pho)

Things to note

Serves: 10-12 snack or potluck serves
Prep time: Approx 40 minutes Cooking time: Approx 2.5 hours, on and off (you can wander off and do stuff?)

The Shopping List

Vegetables etcdon’t be shocked at how much mushroom you’ll need!
4 cups (about 400g) button mushrooms
5 cups shitaake mushrooms
2 cups mixed other mushrooms (recommended types include oyster mushrooms, shimeiji and enoki)
2 white or brown onions
2 shallots
1 large (or 2 quite small) carrots)
1-2 stalks celery
1 bulb garlic
2 cm thumb of ginger
6-10 fresh red chilies
3 lemons
Several handfuls of mung bean sprouts

Herbs
Half bunch fresh coriander
1 bunch Vietnamese mint
1 bunch Thai basil
A few bay leaves

From the Asian Grocers
Premium soy sauce
Sriracha sauce
Hoisin sauce (optional)
1.5 cups wakame (a type of fresh seaweed – other types may also work)
Nori flakes (a type of dried seaweed) or Japanese seasoning packets containing nori
Miso paste
Sesame oil
2 trays silken tofu (very soft)
2 large packets (or 600-800g) thin to medium Vietnamese rice noodles, sometimes called “rice stick” – try to buy the best brand, as they’ll have a much better texture

Dry spices
Peppercorns
Star anise
Cloves
Cassia bark
Cinnamon stick
Cardomom pods
Fennel seeds
Coriander seeds
Palm Sugar
Saffron (optional if you’re on a budget)
Salt

From the health food store
Dark agave syrup
Try here

The mushroom consomme base

Please note these ingredients are already mentioned in the shopping list above, this just separates them out so you know what to do with them, when and where.

Part 1
3 cups button mushrooms, roughly quartered
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, roughly quartered
2 cups approx additional mixed mushrooms (I used oyster and enoki)
1 onion, sliced in half rings
2 shallots, diced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
2 long stalk of celery, thinly sliced
3 litres cold water

Part 2
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, roughly quartered
1 cup button mushrooms, roughly quartered
3/4 cup premium soy sauce
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp salt

Part 3
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 tbsp saffron

  1. Soak Part 1 ingredients with a pinch of salt in water for approx 2 hours at room temperature.
  2. Transfer to a soup pot. Add the cold water and bring to a light boil on medium heat, uncovered.
  3. Turn the heat down to very low, cover with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes
  4. Add half of the coriander from Part 3 and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Turn heat off and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  6. Strain the broth through a sieve/colander lined with 2 layers of muslin cloth.
  7. Transfer broth back to the pot.
  8. Add in the remaining Part 2 ingredients.
  9. Continue to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
  10. Add the rest of the ingredients (coriander and saffron) from Part 3 and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
  11. Remove bay leaves. Strain the broth through a sieve/colander lined with 2 layers of muslin cloth. Put aside.

Note that if you’re vegetarian but not vegan, and you want an even clearer stock, you can use the “egg white method” of clarification (Google will help!)

Vegan fish sauce (phish sauce)

While the mushroom consomme is simmering away, you can quickly whip up the vegan fish sauce on a separate element on the stove.

Why does a drop or two of fish sauce make such a difference to already great Asian dishes? The key is that word again – umami. I order to reproduce the impact of fish sauce, I needed to find ingredients that were high in glutamate in order to make my vegan “phish” sauce.

What’s needed for this (again, these ingredients are already in the shopping list above)
1 1/2 cups wakame seaweed
3 cups cold water
5 cloves garlic, crushed/minced
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 cup premium soy sauce
Nori flakes or nori-based seasoning
1.5 tbsp miso
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp salt

  1. Pull apart the wakame so the strands are separated
  2. Combine seaweed, garlic, peppercorns and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Lower heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Strain out the solid parts through double muslin, and return the liquid back to the pot.
  4. Add the soy sauce and nori flakes, bring back to a boil and cook until mixture is reduced by almost 1/3, or for 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in miso and mix very well until fully dissolved. Simmer for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Strain again through a double layer of muslin.
  7. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then pour into a bottle and shake well.
  8. Place aside as we’ll use it in the next part of the recipe!
Spices for pho (quantities here are from my first semi-failed attempt - refer to recipe for the quantities you should use)

Spices for pho (quantities here are from my first semi-failed attempt – refer to recipe for the quantities you should use)

THE BROTH

What you’ll need here (all ingredients are already listed in the shopping list)
2/3 (approx) onion – sliced in rings
Ginger – finely sliced
Garlic, 5 cloves, minced

4 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cassia bark (approx 5cm)
1 cinnamon stick, bruised
1 cardomom pod
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon palm sugar
1.5 tablespoons dark agave syrup (or to taste – if you can’t find agave, can replace with coconut sugar or more palm sugar)
3 tablespoons vegan fish sauce (from recipe above)
2+ tablespoons salt (or to taste)

2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced attractively
2 tubs of silken tofu, sliced into approx 2cm squared cubes

  1. Prepare a slow cooker, or large stockpot or soup pot.
  2. Heat up a frying pan on medium for 2 minutes.
  3. Throw in the dry spices (star anise, cloves, cassia bark, cinnamon, cardomom pod, fennel seeds, coriander seeds) and toast for 3-4 minutes or until fragant. Then throw the spices into the slow cooker/stockpot
  4. Turn up the heat on the frying pan a little to medium-high, then throw in the onions, ginger and garlic to sear until sweetly fragrant. Also place these with the spices in the slow cooker or stockpot.
  5. Get the mushroom consomme we set aside and bring it back to a gentle simmer in a separate pot, adding 1 cup of water to it at the same time.
  6. Pour the mushroom broth onto the spices, onions, garlic and ginger.
  7. Add the salt and palm sugar.
  8. Turn the slow cooker to “low” or “auto” setting, or if using a pot, low heat. Cook for 15 minutes.
  9. Remove just the cinnamon stick and cardomom pod from the broth, leaving the rest of the spices.
  10. Add the agave syrup and vegan fish sauce.
  11. Add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and tofu.
  12. Continue to cook on low for a further 15-20 minutes until mushrooms are quite soft.

Almost there! Putting it all together

What have we got left?
Good quality thin Vietnamese rice noodles for 6 half-serves
Thai basil, many sprigs
Vietnamese mint, many sprigs
Chillies – as many as you want chopped, deseed optional
Several handfuls of Mung bean sprouts
Sriracha sauce
Hoisin sauce (optional – I don’t usually use it personally)
Vegan fish sauce, the bottle we made earlier
3 lemons, quartered (total 12 wedges)

  • While the pho broth is simmering, you can start to cook the rice noodles. Cook in two batches unless you have a very, very large pot, as, like with pasta, you need enough room to bring it to a rolling boil. Make sure it still has a little bite to it and don’t let it get too soft and soggy.
  • When the broth is done, serve by placing noodles into a bowl then ladling pho on top of it.
  • Serve with the mint, Thai basil, chopped chillies, bean sprouts, lemon wedges, on a plate in the middle of the table for free use, along with fish sauce and sriracha sauce.
  • Inhale this amazing dish like there’s no tomorrow!

Deliciously served in little plastic bowls at potluck! And look, someone's wearing Black Milk Campbell's soup leggings!

Deliciously served in little plastic bowls at potluck! And look, someone’s wearing Black Milk soup leggings!

So, that’s it! I hope I haven’t completely scared you off. This really is a fairly easy recipe once you get the hang of it. A big pot of my faux pho lasted like ten minutes at a potluck where there ended up being tons of left over food, even though three quarters of the attendees were omnivores.

Try and rope your significant other into chopping vegetables for you, and you’ll have a much easier time of it, I promise!

Potluck Staples 2: Taiwanese beef noodle soup

There are several famous traditions of beef noodle soup in East Asia but whether it’s patriotism or familiarity or something else, I’ll always prefer the Taiwanese version. Sitting at a wobbly little wooden table, dented metal stool under me, on a street corner somewhere in Taichung, scooters whizzing past… and in front of me a steaming, aromatic bowl of beefy, spicy soup with tangy mustard greens and elastic noodles. For me, this is the ultimate comfort food, far beating a big cheesy burger or creamy pasta which is heavy on fat and light on flavour.

A small, potluck sized serving of Taiwanese stewed beef noodles

A small, potluck sized serving of Taiwanese stewed beef noodles

Welcome to part 2 of my Potluck Staples series. This is the second dish I made for my colleagues for a shared lunch I unwisely arranged in the middle of a busy period at work. Because it consists of hot soup and freshly cooked noodles, it’s not something that’s suitable for every kind of potluck unless you have access to a kitchen – however, I have the luxury of living about 10 minutes from my office! I also made crispy roast pork belly – check out that recipe and post here.

Much richer and more of a guilty pleasure than Vietnamese pho, the Taiwanese take on beef noodles is a dish of national pride. Though my take on their take might differ from the old recipe of many a Taiwanese ama, to me it at least tastes like the most faithful adaptation of the street food I love that I can remember ever eating outside of Taiwan. Once upon a time, I scoured the internet for decent recipes and over the years I have pieced them together, with touches of my own, to create this. I’ve never written it down before, so every time I make it, it’s a tiny bit different. Now I’d love for others to give it a go!

I make my beef broth in a slow cooker, as it allows me to leave it going for much longer and allow the flavours to really develop – the recipe will be based on this technique but can easily be adapted to cooking on the stove on very low heat.

Taiwanese stewed beef brisket noodles (Niu Rou Mian)

Things to note

Serves: 6 (or 10 snack serves)

Prep time: About 30 minutes, unconsecutive. Cooking time: 8+ hours, but mostly unattended

What you’ll need

From the Asian grocers
At least 3 tbsp chilli bean sauce (adjust according to how spicy you prefer it to be – I personally use almost a third of a jar as I love chilli)
1 cup premium soy sauce, or ¾ cup dark soy sauce
½ cup rice wine (cooking wine)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 -1.2 kg wheat noodles, preferably medium or thin. If using dried noodles, buy the kind that are white and straight, in long packs, rather than “curly” in squares like instant noodles.
Optional: Taiwanese mustard greens to serve on the side (you can also pre-prepare this yourself if you aren’t short on time – here is a good recipe). Unfortunately, this time I had time to neither buy nor prepare any :(

From the market
800 – 900g boneless beef brisket, cut into approx 4cm cube pieces, trimmed of any large bits of fat
Beef bones, rougly 1 kg (your local butcher will be happy to give you some from the back if not on display) in fist-sized pieces
2 cups beef stock or chicken stock – homemade or store bought fresh from the butcher, not tinned, cubed or powdered (this is optional, but will boost flavour depth)
1-2 cups chopped chillies (to taste) – any red chilli, chopped finely. NB: most of this will not go into the soup, but will be served on the side for the diner to add to their taste
8 garlic cloves – minced
1 medium brown/yellow/white onion – sliced into half-ring slithers
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, any kind
Ginger – amount to taste, but no more than 2 cm – very thinly sliced or chopped finely
1½ cups chopped spring onions, the green parts only
1 bunch coriander – chopped finely

Rice wine for cooking, chopped chillies, spring onions, coriander, tomato, ginger, garlic and various dried spices including tangerine peel (the funny looking stuff)

Chopped chillies, spring onions, coriander, tomato, ginger, garlic and various dried spices including tangerine peel (the funny looking stuff)

Spices
4-5 star anise pods
2 tsps sichuan peppercorns (normal black peppercorns can be used if you can’t find these)
2 cinnamon sticks
6-7 cloves
3-4 bay leaves (fresh preferred but dried is ok)
4 black cardamom pods
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
Dried tangerine peel, 3-4 pieces (from your Asian grocer)

⅓ cup brown sugar, or to taste
Salt (to taste)
Cooking oil for sauteing

Making the base broth

  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and quickly boil the beef bones for about 4 minutes to remove any surface impurities – this is an optional step but makes for a clearer, “prettier”, stock. Pour out the water.
  2. Boil 2 – 2.5 litres of water in a kettle. Set the slow cooker to “high”. Place the bones inside the cooker and pour the boiled water over it, making sure the bones are fully submerged. (If using the stove, bring a large pot of water to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and place the bones inside)
  3. Add salt to taste
  4. After leaving on high for 20 minutes, turn slow cooker setting down to “low”, or “auto” if it has this setting. Leave for at least 5 hours, or overnight. (If using a stove, simmer on the lowest possible heat for 2-3 hours).
  5. Remove the bones and discard them. Skim some of the fat off the top, but not all – leaving some in will help lock in flavour later on in the cooking process. Strain the stock through a very fine sieve, or loosely woven muslin cloth.
  6. Clean/wash the slow cooker or pot you have used.
Beef bones and chopped chillies

Beef bones for making stock

Now the soup, with everything!

  1. Take the strained stock from the previous step and transfer it back into the slow cooker (or a large stockpot on the stove) while it’s still hot. If you’ve allowed the stock to cool down or you’re doing this step on a separate day, you will need to bring it back to the boil in a pot before adding it back to the slow cooker. If the liquid is hot but not boiling when starting out, begin the slow cooker on high setting and turn down to low after 20 minutes (and proceed with other steps while waiting).
  2. Add all the dry spices to the broth except for the bay leaves – the star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, tangerine peel and five spice powder
  3. Add the soy sauce, the rice wine and the (other pre-prepared) stock
  4. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and parboil the tomato(es) until soft – 5 minutes should do it. Remove from the water and in a bow, crush it roughly with a spoon.
  5. In a pan with a small amount of cooking oil, add the sliced onions and minced garlic and saute for 1 minute…
  6. Add 1 tbsp of the chilli bean sauce (leave the rest), ½ cup (or more) of the chopped chillies, ½ of the chopped spring onions and a few slices of ginger to the pan. Saute for a further 2-3 minutes or until everything smells amazing!
  7. Transfer all the sauteed contents of the pan to the broth simmering in the slow cooker. Add the remaining chilli bean sauce, or however much you prefer.
  8. Heat up a different pan (or clean the original) on high heat with a very small amount of cooking oil. Once the oil is hot, bring the heat down to medium, and transfer the beef brisket pieces to brown the cubes on all sides. If the pan isn’t large enough, you may need to do this in batches as the beef pieces should only fill one layer of the pan! Only sear the meat, do not cook – 4-5 minutes total per batch should be ok for these small pieces. This browning process brings out extra flavour that will be reflected in the resulting soup.
  9. Add the browned beef to the soup in the slow cooker, along with any juices from the pan. Make sure the meat is fully submerged in the broth.
  10. Add the brown sugar.
  11. Add salt to taste.
  12. Add ⅓ cup of the chopped coriander, and then finally, add the bay leaves, leaving them to float on top of the soup.
  13. Slow cook the beef soup for 2 hours on “low”, then check the meat’s “doneness”. Cook for a further 20-30 minutes if necessary. (If using the stove instead, simmer on the lowest heat setting for 1 hour before checking.)

  14. Once the soup is done, remove and discard all the “solid” bits other than the beef – this means the star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, tangerine peel, bay leaves, tomatoes, onion slices and ginger pieces. Then remove the beef brisket and set aside for a moment.
  15. Strain the broth through a fine sieve or muslin. Add the brisket back in!

Taiwanese stewed beef noodles

The last stretch: noodles, serve and eat!

  • Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions and drain – fairly firm and al dente is best, as they will continue to soften in the broth after being served
  • Prepare 6 (or however many) bowls. Place a portion of noodles into each bowl, and then spoon a portion of the soup and beef onto the noodles, minimising “splashage” in this order.
  • Garnish with a little pinch each of the remaining chopped coriander, spring onions, chillies and optional mustard greens. Serve extra of each on the side so the person eating can adjust to their own taste.
  • Omnom…

Potluck Staples 1: Crispy, juicy, roast pork!

Like the genius that I am, I decided it would be a good idea to schedule a potluck lunch at work one business day before going on leave. You know, while I was busy handing over my work and trying to get last minute errands done before Mexico.

No matter how busy, lazy or broke I am at the time of a looming potluck, I can never bring myself to show up with frozen sausage rolls, store bought food or even a lazy cake – like it’s some sort of cardinal sin for me to contribute those things. Luckily, I have a little repertoire of easy go-to dishes up my sleeve that are delicious crowd-pleasers, but that I can whip up fairly quickly in my sleep. They’re like wardrobe basics, or dressing to a formula on a morning when you just can’t be bothered but still want to look presentable.

Siew yoke (crispy roast pork)

One thing that I’ll often make is my take on Chinese crispy roast pork, or “siew yoke” – it’s hugely popular with omnivore friends and acquaintances from all walks of life and I always get asked for the recipe!

Siew yoke (crispy roast pork)

I still never know what to do when this happens – see, I don’t write, use or keep recipes. I can explain what goes in a dish in terms of ingredients, but for the rest of it – from quantity to preparation steps to cooking time – I just go by instinct, common sense and experience. There are lots of factors you can only consider at the time of cooking (which is why many inexperienced cooks follow recipes to the letter but still have disasters), and I feel like it’s a huge hassle to have to jot all that detail down.

In the end, I decided to write up my siew yoke recipe – my first written recipe ever – figuring it couldn’t be that hard. It’s just roast pork! Ha! So here it is – not as simple as I’d like, and you’ll have to forgive the guesswork vagueness of the quantities as I never measure anything and add stuff in more than one go.

This is the first of two posts based on two dishes I had to conjure up for this recent potluck – the next will focus on Taiwanese stewed beef noodle soup.

Indie’s Crispy Siew Yoke

Things to note
The key to great, crispy, crackling is the complete absence of moisture in the pork skin before cooking. In this recipe, we do a few things to ensure we dry out the skin as much as possible.

When choosing your pork, buy free range at your local farmer’s market. Try and find one which is neatly trimmed and cleaned (some butchers do a lazy job of trimming hairs etc.) and very close to the same thickness all the way through the cut of belly.

Prep time: About 20-30 minutes, unconsecutive. Cooking time: About an hour
The cooking times and temperatures in this recipe are all based on a 1 kg piece of pork (give or take about 100g).

What you’ll need

  • 1 kg free range pork belly
  • Chilli bean sauce (in a jar from most Chinese/Asian grocers)
  • Red fermented bean curd (in a jar from most Chinese/Asian grocers – sounds odd to the uninitiated, but this is essential!)
  • Chinese five spice powder
  • Rock salt
  • White pepper
  • Garlic – minced
  • Brown sugar
  • Premium soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
Left to right: soy sauce, rock salt, five spice powder, red fermented bean curd, chilli bean sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil

Left to right: soy sauce, rock salt, five spice powder, red fermented bean curd, chilli bean sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil

Prepare the marinade

Mash up 4-5 pieces of the fermented bean curd
Mix with about:
   2 tablespoons of the chilli bean paste
   About 2 tablespoon of soy sauce
   Plenty of minced garlic to taste
   2-3 tsp of brown sugar, melted
   Good sprinkle of salt
   Five spice powder – depends on how much you like it, but you don’t need very much
   About 2 tsp of sesame oil
Mix well!

Crushing the fermented bean curd

Crushing the fermented bean curd

Now, the Pork!

  1. Clean the pork, trim any excess hairs and make sure the skin very dry
  2. Pour the marinade into a dish big enough for the pork and deep enough that it goes at least 2/3 up the height of the meat while lying flat
  3. Put the pork into the dish, meat side down so that it’s in the marinade – make sure skin side is up and does not touch the liquid at all!
  4. Brush or rub marinade on the sides of the pork that are not already covered by marinade (again, being careful with not touching the skin on top).
  5. Score the skin of the meat with a sharp knife – vertical scores about 2-3cm apart. Make sure not to cut too deep.
  6. Cover the skin with salt – lots of it! This is to bring out all the moisture in the skin so that it “crackles” well!
  7. After 20 minutes, you’ll find that the skin has “sweated”. Rub off this moisture with a paper towel (pat dry), add more salt, repeating this process about 3 times
  8. Meanwhile, marinate for at least 2 hours, leaving it in the refrigerator. I find it better if it’s 4-5 hours. Longer than this and the acids in the marinade can start to “cook” the outermost layer of meat, making the bottom couple of millimetres quite tough
  9. If you have time to marinate for 4 hours or more, leave the pork in the fridge uncovered to further dry out the skin.
  10. If the skin hasn’t had sufficient time to dry out before cooking, GET OUT YOUR HAIRDRYER! That’s right: hairdryer. You’re going to be a piggy stylist. I would probably do this step regardless. Blow dry the pork skin for approximately 15 mins on LOW HEAT or cold setting. Make sure it’s not too warm, or it’ll start to cook the meat!
  11. Preheat the oven to 190°C (if you have an old oven with bad heat circulation, you might want to try 200).
  12. Repeat the salting/sweating/drying process from steps 6-7 one more time.
  13. Sprinkle a bit of Five Spice powder all over the skin, just a little bit, but spread evenly all over. Cover with a thin but even layer of salt.
  14. Wipe/clean the marinade off the pork meat, making sure it’s dry
  15. Place the pork directly on an oven rack, so that the juices will drip through it. Put a roasting dish or whatever on the rack underneath to catch the juices. You can make other things, like gravy, with this afterwards.
  16. Roast on 190°C for 10 mins on fan
  17. Turn the heat down to 180°C and roast for a further 20 mins.
  18. Wipe off any excess salt and moisture (if any) from the skin. Turn the oven setting to “Grill” (or “Broil”, if you’re in America). Grill for 22 minutes. The reason for this is that the grill setting focuses on heat from above, which is what is going to make that crackling crackle!
  19. Turn the oven setting to “Fan Grill” (or grill or broil if your oven doesn’t have that setting) and the temperature up to 200 and grill for 3 minutes. If you don’t have fan grill, leave it on “grill” but turn the heat up to 220 for these last 3 minutes. This will direct heat from the top of the oven straight onto the skin of the pork, helping it blister and finishing off the crackling nicely.
  20. Remove from oven rack and place on a large wooden chopping board. Allow the pork and juices to rest for about 10 minutes.
  21. Slice pork along the vertical scoring, and then again horizontally along the same intervals so that from a birds-eye view it looks like 3cm square pieces, as per the second photo above and the one below.
  22. Serve! Gobble!
Slice the pork so that the crackling layer is in 3 cm squares

Slice the pork so that the crackling layer is in 3 cm squares

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