October 24, 2013

pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

In the past few weeks, with fall colors in full swing, I noticed the supermarkets were flooded with pumpkin treats. Pumpkin scones, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin granola, pumpkin croissants... I even spotted pumpkin dog treats!

Fall is my favorite season, probably because I was born in October. It could also be because it is such a short season, it makes me appreciate the transient, fleeting beauty it brings. The falling leaves remind us that nothing lasts forever. Maybe such imperfect, impermanent and incomplete beauty deeply resonates with my appreciation for wabi-sabi in Japanese culture.

Sadly, fall is coming to an end (at least in the area where I live). So I thought I celebrate this beautiful season by making (and eating, of course!) something pumpkin. I looked for ideas online and set my eyes on a vegan cookie recipe that was flour-less and sugar-free. For some reason, the recipe did not work for me and I ended up adding a whole different set of ingredients, which resulted in a totally new recipe. I'm not much of a canned pumpkin person, but these cookies definitely turned me onto pureed pumpkin that is readily available in grocery stores. These cookies are moist, flavorful and hit the spot. They are just right.

So here it is, my version of pumpkin cookies that commemorate the fall harvest.

makes about 20 small cookies
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
2 tsp pumpkin spice blend (or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp ginger powder)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

1 cup almond butter (unsalted)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup grain-sweetened chocolate chips


In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients with a whisk.

Place the wet ingredients and salt in another bowl and whisk until everything is well incorporated. 

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. When it is about 80% combined, stir in the chocolate chips. (If you are finicky about the appearance of your cookies, set aside a small handful of chocolate chips so you can garnish them before baking.)

Take a small ice cream scooper or a tablespoon to portion out the dough onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated oven of 350°F for 12 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes. Serve right out of the oven or after they have cooled down (if you can wait, that is).

October 6, 2013

deep-fried spring rolls

Of all the savory dishes that I have made in my entire life, I can probably say that deep-fried spring rolls are the most popular. Everybody loves them. When I made them at my restaurant, I could not keep up with the demand as many people would buy half a dozen at a time. I have had feedback from non-vegans saying that they were the best thing they have ever eaten.

Well, what is not to like? First of all, deep-frying always helps. Inside the perfectly crunchy skin is a flavorful vegetable filling that is so simple but very delicious even on its own.

There are a few pointers in making perfect spring rolls. First, get good quality wrappers. If possible, buy the plain spring roll pastry from Spring Home. It has only four ingredients: wheat flour, water, coconut oil and salt. Very clean. It is widely available through Asian grocery stores. These wrappers were used at the summer conference in the Netherlands so I know they are even sold in Europe.

Now onto filling. Sauté the vegetables on medium high flame and make sure you cook off any liquid. It is tempting to put a lid on it to make it cook faster, but that only traps the moisture. Wet filling can make the rolls fall apart and oil will splatter during the frying process.

Consider the ingredients listed for the filling as just a guideline. Switch it around and have fun with it. I highly recommend using toasted sesame oil to sauté the vegetables and a little bit of finely ground white pepper for seasoning. White pepper adds a little heat and also a distinct flavor. Be careful not to put too much as it can become very spicy. (And of course, you can't undo this process! I learned it the hard way....)

When wrapping the filling, make sure you achieve a tight roll. Use a mixture of flour and water as glue to seal the rolls. Any filling spilling out can cause the oil to seep in, making the rolls greasy. Make sure the oil is nice and hot, too. Dip the tip of wooden chopsticks and if you see bubbles, the oil is ready. Place only a few at a time so the oil temperature does not drop.

OK, enough with the pointers. Here's the list of ingredients and the directions on how to make them. Enjoy!

 makes a dozen rolls
1 TBS toasted sesame oil
2 tsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, sliced thin, white and green parts separated
1 yellow onion, sliced in quarter moons (about 1 cup)

8 oz oyster mushrooms, shredded by hand (about 3 cups) (Sliced shiitake mushrooms are also great.)
1 small carrot, sliced into matchsticks (about 1 cup)
1/2 head cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)

2 to 3 TBS soy sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper

1/2 package of 10" spring roll pastry, thawed overnight if frozen

1 TBS white flour mixed with 2 TBS water

Oil for frying (Use neutral-tasting oil with high smoke point such as safflower oil.)


Sauté the ginger and garlic in sesame oil until fragrant. Add white part of the leek and yellow onion and cook until translucent. Add oyster mushrooms, cabbage and carrot. Season with soy sauce and white pepper and cook off the liquid. Remove from heat and stir in the green part of the leek. Set aside to cool.

Now, let the rollin' begin! Here's the how-to's with step-by-step photos. (Please note that 5" wrappers are used in the photos.)

First, take a sheet of pastry and lay it on a work surface. Place about 1/3 cup of the filling on the pastry. 

Lift up the end close to you and roll over the filling. 

Fold over the left and right sides of the wrapper. 

While holding the sides, roll the whole thing over, leaving a small triangular space on top.

Use a mixture of white flour and water to seal the end. 

Repeat with the rest of the filling. Put the unused wrappers in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate (in which case you need to use them in a few days as they can dry out or mold) or freeze.
Heat up oil in a deep frying pan or a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Place a few spring rolls with seam side down and fry about a couple of minutes on each side. Drain on paper towel. Serve hot. (Not that they aren't good even when they're cold!)

You can also bake the spring rolls. Simply place the spring rolls on a baking pan lined with parchment paper and brush or spray some oil. Bake in a preheated oven of 400F for 10 minutes, flip each piece over halfway through and brush or spray some oil. Return to oven and bake again for 5 to 10 minutes until crispy.