WHETHER IT’S A BANH MI turned into a salad, a soy-sauce-powered chocolate brownie or a rainbow guide to eating dumplings by the season, this is Asian home cooking unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
Crispy Tofu & Coriander Balls
At Kung Tak Lam Shanghai Vegetarian Cuisine restaurant, a looming high-rise restaurant overlooking Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, I sampled a dish of ‘tofu balls’ that felt intensely familiar, almost personal, sparking a faint memory of a childhood food experience. While I can’t quite recall where or when I’d previously eaten these fried tofu balls, it felt important to me, significant enough that this dish now regularly occupies my thoughts. My version pairs tofu with coriander and five-spice powder, a happy marriage of aromatic flavours. The mixture is quite wet so be assertive when shaping them (or use a small ice-cream scoop to help form a ball). The potato starch gives them a nice crispy finish.
MAKES 15 | GLUTEN FREE
- 350 g extra-firm tofu, well drained
- ½ cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- ½ tsp five-spice powder
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 60 g (½ cup) potato starch or cornflour
- vegetable, sunflower or other high-temperature neutral oil
- sea salt and white pepper
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
- 125g (½ cup) vegan mayonnaise (or regular whole egg)
- ½ tsp five-spice powder
- 1 tsp sriracha or chilli sauce
- 1 garlic clove, grated
Place the tofu in a large bowl and mash it up with a fork. Add the coriander, shallot, ginger, five-spice powder and egg, and mix until well combined. Stir in the potato starch or cornflour and season well with sea salt and white pepper. Shape into 15 golf ball-sized balls.
For the five-spice aioli, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.
Pour about 3 cm of oil into a small, deep heavy-based saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the oil is hot (test with a wooden spoon – if the oil sizzles, it is ready). Drop two or three balls into the oil and fry for two minutes on each side, turning regularly until the balls are golden all over. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Continue until all the balls are cooked.
Serve the tofu balls with the aioli and lemon wedges on the side.
Replace the eggs with flax egg. To do this, combine 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 2½ tablespoons of water, then rest for 5 minutes. This will replace one egg, so double the quantities for these tofu balls.
Black Sticky Rice Pudding with Lime-Pickled Pineapple
Rice pudding is a universal comfort food, prevalent across many disparate cultures. From the cardamom- and coconut-laced basmati rice pudding known as kheer in India, to eggy Greek rizogalo and Portuguese sweet rice, Swedish rice pudding, Cuban arroz con leche and sticky Filipino biko, the pairing of rice and milk seems to be a common sweet language. Black sticky rice pudding is one of my favourite Asian desserts – a common street snack in Thailand and Indonesia, it is rich and nutty, with a distinct chewy texture. The hint of salt at the end of cooking is essential, bringing that lovely salty-sweet duality to the dish. I like to serve it with a refreshing lime-pickled pineapple, accented with cinnamon, but you can also enjoy it without fruit. Plan ahead by soaking the rice in water overnight, covered and at room temperature; if you forget to do this, you can soak it in hot water for 30–60 minutes to soften it before cooking.
SERVES 4 | VEGAN & GLUTEN FREE
- 200g (1 cup) black sticky (sweet or glutinous) rice, soaked overnight
- 20g (⅓ cup) coconut flakes
- 400ml can coconut milk, stirred well
- 95g (½ cup) brown sugar
- sea salt
- 300g peeled pineapple, cut into chunks
- juice of ½ lime
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Drain the black rice, then place it in a saucepan with 500 ml (2 cups) of water and a pinch of sea salt. Cover and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 35–45 minutes, until the grains are just tender. If it becomes too dry, add a touch more water. Drain.
Meanwhile, to prepare the lime-pickled pineapple, place all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside while the black rice cooks.
Place the coconut flakes in a small dry frying pan over medium-low heat and toast, moving them around constantly to prevent burning. As soon as they are a light golden colour, take them straight off the heat.
Set aside 3 tablespoons of the coconut milk to use as a topping.
Return the drained rice to the pan and add the sugar and remaining coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the rice is completely tender, but still chewy. Stir in ½ teaspoon of sea salt. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Ladle the just-warm rice into bowls and top with the pickled pineapple and a drizzle of the reserved coconut milk. Top with the toasted coconut flakes and serve. This black sticky rice pudding can also be served chilled.
pineapple: mango or lychees
‘To Asia, With Love’ by Hetty McKinnon, Published by Plum, RRP $39.99, Photography by Hetty McKinnon