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Blog Words : Food & Drink | 03 October

3 vegan Asian street food recipes

Nutritionally balanced and ridiculously tasty, these vegan dishes have been adapted from street food recipes all over Asia

Nasi lemak

You will see this hugely popular dish on every Malaysian menu. Traditionally, it was the meal for a big and hearty Malaysian breakfast, often served with anchovies and eggs, but now it’s eaten at all times of day.

Nasi lemak simply means ‘creamy or rich rice’, which refers to cooking it in coconut milk with pandan leaves. The leaves have a savoury–sweet hint of vanilla. Using smoky tempeh and macadamia nuts creates a protein-rich but deeply flavoured vegan sambal.



Serves 3-4

3 pandan leaves
400 g/21⁄4 cups jasmine rice
400 ml/13⁄4 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt

For the paste:
5 large dried red chillies/chiles
100 ml/scant 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
2 small red onions, roughly chopped
2 large red chillies/chiles, finely chopped
4-cm/11⁄2-in. piece of galangal, peeled and finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon ground galangal
2 tablespoons vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce and a pinch of seaweed flakes
8–10 macadamia nuts

For the tempeh sambal:
1 tablespoon vegetable or groundnut/peanut oil
2 small red onions, finely chopped
100 g/33⁄4 oz. Smoked tempeh, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons vegan fish sauce or tamari
65 g/scant 1⁄3 cup soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp or paste, or 1⁄2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate mixed with a little water
1 teaspoon salt

Accompaniments:
500 ml/2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
1 banana shallot, sliced into rings
2–3 tablespoons peanuts
3–4 banana leaves or 12 pandan leaves, to serve (optional)
lime wedges, to serve


Tie the pandan leaves together in a knot and put them in a rice steamer with the rice, coconut milk, 200 ml/scant 1 cup water, and the salt. Mix well, then cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, bring to the boil in a pan and simmer for 8 minutes or until the rice is almost cooked, then remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan with a clean dishtowel and replace the lid. Leave to stand for 10–12 minutes. Once cooked, remove the leaves and fluff up the rice with a fork. Cover and set aside.

For the paste, put the dried chillies/chiles in a bowl, cover with hot water and let soak for 10–12 minutes. Drain. Put all the paste ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend to a smooth paste. To make the sambal, heat the oil in a wok, and fry the paste gently until the oil starts to separate. Add the red onions and cook until they start to soften, then add the remaining sambal ingredients and mix well. Cook gently for 20 minutes.

For the accompaniments, heat the oil in a wok or pan over medium heat. Add the shallot rings and fry until crispy and brown, then remove and drain on paper towels. Toast the peanuts in a dry pan over medium heat for 1–2 minutes, stirring, until golden.

To serve, line each plate with a banana leaf or pandan leaves, if using. Scoop the rice into an individual portion-sized dome-shaped bowl and press down, then turn it out onto the leaves. Repeat with the other servings. Place a large spoonful of the sambal to one side of the rice. Add a small scoop of peanuts and a scoop of pickled cucumber to the other side. Finish with the crispy shallot rings on top. Serve with lime wedges.


Somtam ricepaper rolls

I made this dish for the critic’s menu during MasterChef 2011. Although both John and Gregg liked the dish, I followed a very authentic approach and created something that was far too spicy for the average Western palate, giving both Gregg and Tracey MacLeod, a much-respected food critic, the infamous chilli hiccups.

It’s up to you to adjust the amount of chilli you want to use. I like it super-hot, and it balances against the sweet and salty flavours, but use fewer chillies if you want something with less heat.



Serves 4

150 g/heaped 1 cup unsalted peanuts
2–8 red bird’s-eye chillies, to taste, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 green papaya, peeled, deseeded and grated
1 small carrot, grated
a large handful of green beans, trimmed and cut into 2.5-cm/1-in. pieces
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons vegan fish sauce or vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, or light soy sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons grated palm sugar/jaggery
12 sheets of Vietnamese rice paper
a handful of fresh coriander/cilantro or basil leaves and/or edible flowers (optional), to garnish


Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6. Scatter the peanuts onto a baking sheet and put in the preheated oven for 8–10 minutes until the peanuts are golden brown and well roasted. Set aside. Put the chillies and garlic in a large mortar and grind with a pestle to make a paste. Set the paste aside in a small bowl.

Put the papaya, carrot and green beans in the mortar, and pound gently. Add the cherry tomatoes and pound again for a few minutes until smooth. Add the vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and sugar, and continue to pound until all the ingredients are well mixed. Stir in the chilli and garlic paste.

Set up a large bowl of hot water next to the chopping board. Soak each rice paper sheet for 2–3 minutes in hot water or according to the packet instructions just prior to filling and rolling as follows. Soak the paper until soft, then lay it on a clean dish towel and pat it dry with paper towels. Put it onto the chopping board and put about a twelfth of the papaya mixture in the centre, leaving a 3-cm/1¼-in border all the way round.

Fold in the sides, then roll the paper tightly to create a cigar shape. Repeat with the remaining sheets of rice paper and papaya mixture. Slice the rolls in half at an angle. Serve six pieces per person. Garnish with the herbs or edible flowers, if you like.

Tibetan broth with traditional momos

Serves 4 as a main, or 6 as an appetiser

3 carrots, roughly chopped
1⁄2 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 main stem from a broccoli head, roughly chopped
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
8 mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 or 3 bay leaves, to taste
a handful of fresh parsley stalks
10 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon groundnut/peanut oil
a handful of fresh coriander/cilantro, chopped, plus extra to serve
Tibetan Sepan, to serve


For the dumpling wrappers:
200 g/11⁄2 cups ‘00’ flour,
plus extra to dust
a pinch of salt


For the filling:
2 all-purpose potatoes, such as Maris Piper/Yukon gold
11⁄2 teaspoons sesame oil
5-cm/2-in. piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
300 g/11 oz. kale or cavalo nero, thinly sliced
1 shallot or spring onion/scallion, finely chopped
1–2 teaspoons light soy sauce, to taste
1–2 tablespoons
Shaoxing wine or dry Sherry, to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground white pepper



To make the dumpling wrappers, put the flour and salt in a bowl and gradually stir in a little water (about 120 ml/1⁄2 cup) to make a stiff dough. Knead well for 5–10 minutes and let rest for 30 minutes.

Put the carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, celery, broccoli stem, tomatoes and mushrooms in a large pan and cover with water. Add the bay leaves, parsley stalks, peppercorns and soy sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 40 minutes. Leave this broth to cool and then strain into a jug/pitcher. (This broth can be used immediately as a soup base or frozen for later use.)

Divide the dumpling wrapper dough into 16–18 lime-sized balls. Dust a work surface with flour. Roll out the dough thinly to about 3 mm/1⁄8 in. Using a 7.5-cm/3-in. cookie cutter, cut out the dumpling pastry rounds.

To make the filling, boil the potatoes in water to cover for 15 minutes or until tender, then drain and mash. Heat the sesame oil in a deep frying pan/skillet, then add the ginger and cook for a few minutes. Add the kale and cook until completely soft, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Set aside to cool.

Return the broth to the pan and reheat for serving. Using a pastry brush, moisten the outside edge of a pastry round with water. Add a teaspoonful of the filling to the centre and, holding it in the palm of one hand, use the other hand to fold it over to form a half-moon shape, and then crimp the edges by making little folds with your thumb. Alternatively, the dumplings can be folded like little money-bags. Holding the wrapper with filling in the palm of one hand, bring all the edges together then twist the top to seal.

Repeat with the remaining wrappers. The dumplings should be cooked the same day or they can be frozen and cooked from frozen. Put a large pan over high heat and add the groundnut/peanut oil. Put the dumplings in the hot pan and cook until the underneath starts to turn golden brown. Add 145 ml/generous 1⁄2 cup cold water, and quickly cover with a lid.

Steam the dumplings for 7–10 minutes (depending on the size of dumpling and the thickness of pastry) until they are translucent. Ladle the hot broth into bowls and add three or four dumplings to each. Scatter a little fresh coriander/cilantro on the top. Serve with Tibetan sepan, which can be added to the soup at the table to taste.

Recipes taken from Vegan Street Food by Jackie Kearney (photography by Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small) – out now