Some of my favorites have been the healthy, vegetarian classes taught by personal chef, Alyssa Moreau. I always end up learning new things from Alyssa--whether using cashew milk in curries for a tasty non-dairy option, to the best tofu and other products to buy, and of course I always end up loving her healthy, full of flavor vegetarian and vegan dishes. I have to list this past Saturday's class "Low Fat Chinese New Year" as one of my all time favorites; with some unfamiliar (to me anyway!) ingredients to work with, lots of fun and absolutely delicious food that I enjoyed all weekend.
We made three dishes: Stuffed Lotus Leaves, Taro Dumplings and Stuffed Tofu as well as had two demo/tastings, one for Chow Fun Stir-Fry and the other for Almond Cookies. It was a fabulous morning, spent with my cooking partner and new friend Julie. Julie, a new cook (and a blogger too: Advice2Love and Lux Travel & Everyday Discovery), was enthusiastic and there to learn and we had a great time cooking, talking and laughing together. These are not my best pictures ever--I get too caught up in the cooking, and my camera ended up with bits of mochi rice stuck to it--but it was all good fun.
OK, how cool are these giant lotus leaves?! For our Stuffed Lotus Leaves, they were soaked over night to make them pliable, cut into fourths and then filled with a mixture of mochi rice (sweet, short-grain sticky rice), carrots, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and diced soy chicken cutlet, and seasoned with ginger, shoyu and sesame oil. Then they are folded into little packets, tied with string and steamed in a bamboo basket. (Guess what is going to replace my metal steaming basket very soon?). When the packets are opened to enjoy, the rice mixture is tender, sticky and infused with delicious flavor. So good and so easy, I will seek out the leaves in Chinatown to make more. The rice-veggie mixture can also be changed up with different ingredients--maybe some brown rice for me next time.
If I had to pick a favorite dish, it would be these little steamed Taro Dumplings. I have always avoided taro--usually because it seems to end up as sticky, bland poi here and I am not a fan. Too bad because Taro is packed with good for you nutrients including vitamins E and B6, potassium and manganese and it is high in fiber and low in saturated fat, and cholesterol. For these dumplings the cooked taro is combined with diced water chestnuts, rehydrated fungus, ginger, green onion and cilantro, and seasoned with shoyu, a little sugar and some sesame oil. Spoonfuls are placed in round won ton wrappers and formed into little flower like dumplings which are steamed on cabbage leaves so they don't stick to the steamer basket. Finally they are served with a shoyu-rice vinegar dipping sauce spiked with ginger, chili paste and sesame oil. Being a somewhat lazy cook, I have stayed away from making dim sum or steamed dumplings but these were very easy to make. I am envisioning experimenting with all kinds of different fillings.
For some reason I didn't end up with any prep pictures of our Stuffed Tofu (just one in the pan at the end of the collage below and a couple on the plate at home), but it was another delicious dish. Super-firm tofu is cut into squares, one corner of each square is slit and then the filling is stuffed into it. The filling is a combination of tempeh and seitan (pressed, fermented soy beans and wheat gluten respectively, and if you aren't familiar, they both taste better than they sound!), along with water chestnuts, green onions, ginger, arrowroot or cornstarch and shoyu. The tofu is then pan-fried until lightly browned on both sides and then simmered in a sauce of fermented black bean, water, cornstarch, shoyu and a little sugar. Towards the end of cooking, green beans are added to the sauce and the finished dish is garnished with cilantro.
Also in the photo collage above is the wonderful Alyssa in the flowered apron, the almond cookies she demonstrated, and one of me and cooking partner Julie that Alyssa took. (BTW: Not sure what is up with my eye and the hairstyle is called "Deb got up extra early to be parked and at the Farmer's Market before class and didn't bother to wash and style her hair" ;-) Also why I kept the picture size small!)
The Almond Cookies were delicious and much better than the sometimes too hard and oddly yellowish almond cookies you can buy in Chinatown or get at Chinese restaurants. The ground almonds and whole wheat pastry flour give them a nice texture. I will leave you with that recipe as I think it is most accessible if you don't have access to some of the different ingredients in the dishes above. If you want to attempt any of the other recipes, give me a shout out.
By Alyssa Moreau
(Makes 20-24 Cookies)
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (1/2 cup can be rice flour)
1 cup almonds (ground to 1 1/2 cups almond meal)
1/2 cup cane sugar (could also use maple or date sugar)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3-1/2 cup light oil (start with 1/3 cup and add more if dough feels too dry)
1/2 cup apple juice or water
2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almonds for blanching*
*To blanch almonds, place in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain. Slip off skins and cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flour(s), almond meal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine oil, juice and extracts. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well until it forms a cohesive ball.
Form dough into balls and flatten slightly. Place a blanched almond in the center of each cookie and push it into place. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on rack.
As you can see, I ate very well the rest of the weekend--in fact only half of my demo cookie made it home and on a plate--the other half was consumed in the car on the way. Wonderful class, wonderful culinary program! I am looking forward to the Saturday after next since I was crazy enough to sign up for back to back classes and will be cooking Middle Eastern delicacies and then Japanese "Okazuya" (which means side dish or little comfort food dishes). Fun!