October 2008

This subtly flavoured main course is a classic Zen Buddhist dish, found in most Japanese restaurants. Serves 4.

For the vegetarian dashi stock:
1 sheet konbu seaweed
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 litre/ 1.74 pints water

For the tofu:
600g/ 20 oz silken tofu, evenly sliced in oblongs fingers
6 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons plain white flour
Corn or groundnut oil for deep-frying
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

To make dashi:

1. Wipe the konbu with moist kitchen paper and cut into strips.
2. Steep the konbu and shiitake in a saucepan of water and let soak for at least one hour, preferably overnight. Then bring gently to boil over low heat.
3. Just before the water reaches boiling point, the konbu will rise to the surface. Remove it and discard.
4. Increase the heat and boil the stock quickly for 2 minutes.
5. Set aside to cool at room temperature. Then remove the mushrooms, and strain the liquid.

To make agedashi tofu:

6. Drain the tofu on kitchen paper for 30 minutes to 1 hour, taking care not to break it. The pieces should be thoroughly dry.
7. Heat the dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a saucepan, but do not boil – keep the mixture simmering at a very low heat, just below the boiling point. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
8. Sprinkle the flour evenly on a plate, and roll the tofu slices until they are evenly covered with the flour.
9. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a deep-fryer until very hot but not smoking. Fry the tofu until golden brown, and drain on kitchen paper.
10. Place the tofu in 4 individual serving bowls, and ladle over the dashi.
11. Garnish with ginger, spring onions and sesame seeds, and serve hot with rice, vegetables and Japanese pickles.


Panna cotta – literally ‘cooked cream’ – is often cloying, heavy, dull, and not to mention ubiquitous. However, this version is light and refreshing, and suitable for vegetarians as it’s made with vegetarian gelatine. Serves 4.

40g/ 13 oz can coconut milk
150 ml/ ¼ pint double cream
8 sticks lemongrass
Grated rind of half a lime
4 tablespoons caster sugar
7g packet vegetarian gelatine, such as Vege-Gel

To make syrup:
4 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons water
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Juice and grated rind of 2 limes

A few small lemon balm, lemon thyme, or mint leaves to decorate (optional)

1. Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan, along with cream, lemongrass, and lime rind. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Cover the saucepan and leave aside to cool.
2. Once cooled, remove the lemongrass from the coconut milk and discard. Add sugar, and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir quickly and continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
3. Place the saucepan back on low heat, and stir the coconut milk continuously until it is just starting to boil, then immediately remove from the heat.
4. Pour the coconut milk mixture into 4 individual ramekins, levelling the top. Leave in a cool place to set, but do not refrigerate.
5. Make the syrup by gently heating sugar, water, ginger, and lime rind and juice in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from the heat and set aside.
6. When the panna cotta has set, carefully turn it out onto individual serving plates, and drizzle each portion with the ginger syrup.
7. Place panna cotta in the fridge until ready to serve. Before serving, garnish with the scented leaves if using.

Scented with cinnamon, this dish has an Arabic flavour, and is delicious served with alongside courgette and feta fritters. Serves 4 – 6.

4 tablespoon olive oil
2-inch piece cinnamon
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
9 oz/ 225g pumpkin or butternut squash flesh, diced
3 oz/ 75g coarse bulgur wheat
Salt and pepper
6 fl oz/ 175 ml water
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 scant teaspoon icing sugar (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan, and fry the cinnamon stick for 10 – 15 seconds.
2. Add the onion and fry for 2 minutes until lightly brown. Add the garlic and stir.
3. Add the pumpkin and seasoning and cook with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the water and bulgur wheat and bring to the boil. Add parsley.
5. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 – 25 minutes. Take the lid off, and cover the pot with a tea towel. Put the lid back on and set aside for 20 minutes.
6. Fluff gently with a fork, and sprinkle with icing sugar (if using) before serving.

These moreish dumplings – also known as pampushki – are served as street food in Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia. They are usually sweet and made with a yeast dough – rather like doughnuts – but this sweet-savoury version is made from potatoes and is homely and hearty. Serves 4.

1 lb 10 oz/ 750g potatoes, peeled
12 oz/ 300g cooked mashed potato
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

For the cheese and cherry filling:
4 oz/ 100g cream cheese
3 oz/ 75g dried sour cherries
1 teaspoon caster sugar
Grated rind of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper

1. Coarsely grate the potatoes in a food processor.
2. Place in a colander, press down with the palm of your hand, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
3. Put the grated potatoes in a large bowl, and mix well with the mashed potatoes and a little seasoning.
4. Make the filling by combining cheese, cherries, sugar, lemon rind, dill if using, and seasoning.
5. Grease your palm with a little oil, and place a dollop of the potato mixture, spreading it slightly. Put a teaspoon of the cheese and cherry mixture in the middle of the potato round and fold over the edges. The dumplings should be sealed properly, otherwise the filling will leak out, making a mess.
6. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the potato and cheese mixtures. Place the finished dumplings on a tray and cover with a damp tea towel while you are working so that they don’t dry out.
7. Heat the oil, and when very hot, deep-fry the dumplings until they are lightly golden brown.
8. Serve hot as a snack with jams or preserves.

This classic Thai soup will warm you to your bones in cold weather, and will also stimulate appetite like nothing else. Vegetarian tom yam paste is available from oriental stores and, in UK, specialist delis such as the Selfridges food hall. Or you can make your own by roasting red and green chillies together with garlic and shallots, and grinding the mixture with lime juice, soy sauce, salt and sugar. Serves 2.

24 fl oz/ 720 ml instant vegetable or mushroom stock
1 heaped tablespoon vegetarian tom yam paste
2 sticks lemongrass, finely sliced
1-inch piece galangal, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
6 kaffir lime leaves, halved
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1 lime
4 oz/ 100g mixed oyster, shiitake and button mushrooms, wiped with a wet cloth and halved
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
2 birdseye red and green chillies, slit vertically

To garnish:
A handful of fresh basil and coriander leaves

1. Bring the stock to boil in a saucepan, and add the tom yam paste.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients one by one and simmer, uncovered, until the mushrooms have cooked but are still a little crunchy.
3. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with coriander and basil leaves before serving.

Sri Lankan curry powder is found in Indian and Sri Lankan grocers – in London, there are many in Wembley and Tooting. Or alternatively, you can make your own (recipe given below). Curry leaves, too, can be found in Asian grocers. This spicy, unusual dish is ideal for dinner parties. Serves 6.

125 g/ 5 oz whole unsalted cashewnuts, soaked for at least 6 to 8 hours
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 large red onion, minced
20 fresh curry leaves
4-inch stick cinnamon, halved
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 green chillies, finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon Sri Lankan curry powder (see below)
1 tablespoon desiccated coconut soaked in 300 ml/ ½ pint can coconut milk
300 ml/ ½ pint water
½ teaspoon turmeric
50g/ 2 oz frozen peas
Juice of 1 lime
Large handful coriander leaves

To make Sri Lankan curry powder, roast and grind together:
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons desiccated coconut
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli
1 teaspoon rice
20 fresh curry leaves

1. Drain the cashew nuts in a colander.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions, curry leaves and cinnamon, and cook until they are a couple of shades darker. Add ginger, garlic, chillies and curry powder and cook gently for 2 – 3 minutes.
3. Add the cashewnuts and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add half the coconut milk mixture together with the water, turmeric, salt, and peas. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, on low heat for 20 minutes until the cahewnuts are tender.
5. Take the lid off, add the remaining coconut milk mixture and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the lime juice and coriander leaves. Serve with vegetable pilau rice.

This recipe is perfect for those chilly days when you come home from work, you’re too tired to cook, but still crave something nutritious. It’s made in a jiffy! To reduce cooking times even further, boil the water in a kettle and use frozen vegetables and ready-fried tofu pieces. It won’t be quite as good as the recipe below, but it will still taste better – and healthier – than supermarket ready meals. I have given a combination of vegetables that I particularly like in this dish, but you can also use carrots, spinach, peas, shiitake mushrooms, or baby corn. Serves 2.

3 tablespoons groundnut, corn or other vegetable oil
250g/ 10 oz tofu, drained, cubed, and pressed between kitchen paper to remove excess moisture
16 fl oz/ 400 ml water
125g/ 5 oz broccoli, chopped small
125g/ 5 oz mange tout, sliced on the diagonal
1 pak choi, quartered
2 packets instant ramen noodles with sachets of soup mix
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Schichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice pepper), or red chilli flakes

1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the tofu cubes on all sides until lightly golden in colour. Line a plate with kitchen paper and drain the tofu while you get on with the rest of the dish.
2. Boil the water in a saucepan, and add broccoli, mange tout and pak choi. Bring the water back to boil and add ramen noodles, stirring to separate them. Boil for 2 minutes.
3. Bring back to boil, and add the fried tofu, spring onions and the packet soup mix. Boil for another minute.
4. Serve hot in large shallow plates, drizzled with sesame oil and a generous sprinkling of schichimi togarashi or chilli flakes.

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