Red bean soy smoothie

I’ve blogged earlier about various azuki/ red bean recipes and how versatile an ingredient they are. In my recent attempts at making Chinese snacks and Japanese wagashi, red beans are a very common ingredient.

Inspired by the packaged red bean milk 紅豆奶 and green bean milk 綠豆奶 I saw in convenience stores everywhere in Taiwan, one of my favourite ways to consume red beans (and green mung beans) is in a smoothie with whatever type of milk I have on hand – cow’s milk, soya bean milk, oat milk, rice milk etc. It’s a great breakfast food, sustaining and healthy.

Red milk soya milk

The best part about having red bean soya milk is that both the red bean and soya milk can be easily made at home with as little sugar as you want. I usually omit sugar completely and even with no sugar at all the smoothie can be very yummy!

Follow the instructions at Just Hungry for making soya bean milk and do have a look at Zlamushka’s helpful slideshow on how to make soya milk. Just Hungry also describes how to make red bean paste, however I do it slightly differently. I soak the beans in at least two and a half times the volume of water for a few hours – not as long as 24 hours – until they swell up, then I cook them in fresh water without salt or sugar in a mini electric crockpot, adding more water if it gets too dry.

Chunky red bean paste (as described in Just Hungry’s instructions) tastes better in various snacks and sweets (such as the familiar Chinese tau sar/dou sha bao 豆沙包, in steamed or bread bun versions, and Japanese botamochi/ohagi) but I’ve found that it’s more useful to blend the cooked red beans into a smooth paste. When you want to make a smoothie, the smooth red bean paste can be easily mixed by hand with the soya bean milk to the desired consistency. A mini whisk for beverages is very useful for this (available in Daiso).

I used to drink my red/green bean smoothies cold, but in the last couple of years I’ve noticed how cold foods upset my digestive system. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cold foods and drinks are generally to be avoided as they are too cooling/yin. Do note that green mung beans are also classified as yin in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Red azuki beans are more neutral in yin/yang terms and therefore a better choice.

However, the wonderful thing about red/green bean milk is that it’s also delicious hot! Think of warm Chinese red bean desserts, such as the glutinous rice balls in sweet red bean soup I made earlier or the Korean version. After mixing the red bean paste & soya bean milk from the fridge, just heat up the smoothie in the microwave or on the stove and it’s ready to be enjoyed ^_^.

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Rice bento for dinner

Bento dinner 080106

Contents:
1) Japanese short-grain brown rice (genmai), topped with toasted pine nuts.

2) Miso pumpkin dish, which I’ve described here. Leftover from lunch, so all the fish cooked together with the pumpkin had already been eaten up.

3) Chicken and French beans stir-fried with salt and garlic. I packed the chicken and beans separately here, with the chicken in the middle and the green veg on the right side.

4) Plain omelette, rolled and sliced.

5) Fruit: guava in brown silicone baking cup, pear in orange cup. I didn’t really need to use the silicone cups as the box has built-in sections but I accidentally split garlic from the stir-fry into the small sections and I didn’t want my fruit to taste oily and salty :P.

This was a successful bento in various ways. I managed to include items in five colours (goshiki, one of the principles of traditional Japanese cuisine and bento, read more here), maintain a reasonable balance of yin/yang and it was tasty too.

There appears to be much less rice here than the proportions recommended in bento books: four parts rice, two parts protein side dish, one part vegetable side dish no. 1, one part vegetable side dish no. 2 [4:2:1:1], or as Just Bento explains, “4 parts rice to 2 parts protein to 1 part other ingredients”. However, I’m not a huge rice eater, mostly because I usually eat brown rice which is more chewy and filling than white rice. Also, one eats more rice when the dishes are very salty, spicy or have heavy gravy, but this is virtually never the case with my barebones, food-intolerance-friendly meals. I put in this bento the amount I usually eat in one meal, about three-quarters of a one-bowl sized microwavable plastic container from Daiso which is specifically meant for rice (it has an uneven surface in the bottom so that the cooked rice won’t stick).

Recently, I commented on using a box of the appropriate size. This E-Z Lock box from Lock & Lock has very handy divisions but is actually too big for a single meal for me. The large compartment is 610ml, which should contain my entire meal, including the fruit (I actually ended up the fruit much later, after I got home).

The two smaller compartments (145ml & 200ml) are good for packing other foods for a snack before or after the main meal, which is something that I often need to do as well. With the separate, water-tight compartments of this box, you don’t end up with the problem, which I described here, of the “Part 2” food rolling and spilling inside a half-empty container.

This dedicated lunchbox is also practical because it’s shallow. This allows the food to be packed tightly, right up to the lid, so that it’s held in place whilst being carted around. In this case, the food still wasn’t packed tightly enough to be held in place so I put an anti-bacterial plastic sheet between the food and the lid – more to hold the stuff in place than because I feared it would go bad :)!

Many of my Lock & Lock boxes, even though they have the appropriate volume, are too deep for the foods to be nicely laid out side by side. The solution for rice bento is to use the rice as a base and layer the side dishes on top, in the manner that Frank Tastes has done here. Deep boxes are also useful for thick sandwiches, or packing them sliced in half with the attractive cross-section face-up, like this bento, also from Frank Tastes.

Quick links to useful posts

As the postings accumulate on this blog, it’s getting a bit hard for me to navigate back to pages with useful reference information, so I’ve set up a new tabbed page, ‘Useful posts‘, to compile a list of internal links.

Bento dinner: rice and side dishes

Bento dinner rice dishes

Contents:
1) Thai Hom-Mali brown rice (which I’ve commented on here), shaped with heart and star shaped rice moulds from Daiso. Topped with the garlic, sliced leek and juices from the pork stir-fry
2) Pork stir-fry with garlic, sliced leeks and salt. In red silicone baking cup.
3) Tamagoyaki with chopped spring onions, fried sliced shallots and salt. Unlike conventional tamagoyaki, there’s no soya sauce, mirin or sugar used here.
4) Cauliflower stir-fried with sliced carrots and salt. In green silicone baking cup, also used extra cauliflower florets to plug in the gaps in the box.


On bento box size


Lunch in a Box
and Just Bento have detailed guidelines on how to choose bento boxes of the appropriate size. In my experience, the recommended sizes are actually fairly accurate in terms of how much I can eat at one meal.

The bento here is in a 870ml square Lock & Lock box which I’ve often carried (as you can see here). From experience, I’ve discovered that when tightly packed, it’s way too much food for me. This one was a dinner bento I brought to a friend’s house party and there was more than enough for dinner plus a midnight snack when the conversation carried on till late.

To have one bento box worth of food to last two sittings isn’t a good idea because the food needs to be tightly-packed to stop it rolling around inside the box. After eating up half or most of the food, the remainder inevitably becomes an unappetising mess by the ‘second sitting’. Much better to pack two smaller boxes: one about 600ml for the main meal, and another 250ml-300ml box for the extra snack.

 

Water chestnut fritters 炸馬蹄條

Water Chestnut cake

This was another one of those almost-disasters, or a cooking adventure if you look on the bright side :). It’s Project No. 3 in my exploration of alternative flours and different ingredients as part of food rotation to deal with food intolerances. The new flour used here is Water Chestnut Flour (click on link to read more).

I found similar recipes in two different cookbooks: Dim Sum by Chan Chen Hei and 糕&炒年糕 by 金華, and ended up following the latter recipe simply because the quantities of ingredients were in round numbers and hence easier to measure out :). The book also has step-by-step photo instructions.

The ten water chestnuts I had purchased, after peeling, weighed 150g, which determined that I would have to base the rest of the ingredient quantities around that, i.e. half the amount stated in the recipe.

Ingredients

125g water chestnuts [I used up all 150g that I had on hand]
125g water chestnut flour
70g caster sugar [reduced from the original amount of 200g! and it was still too sweet!!]
500ml water
[omitted 12g custard powder]


Method

1) The instructions are to mix water chestnut flour and custard powder with 125ml of cold water and mix evenly into a smooth batter.

However, I have commented here on the ‘nasties’ in custard powder, which is basically a combination of corn flour, flavourings and yellow colouring – usually annatto or tartrazine, which can both cause a whole host of allergic reactions.

So I had to figure out what to substitute the custard powder with. Decided I could forgo the fake custard taste and artificial yellow colour, but thought the thickening function might be important so I added one teaspoon of cornflour to the water chestnut flour.

I later discovered the reason for using cold water: because on heating, the flour immediately thickens and hardens into a semi-solid!

2) Chop the water chestnuts. Chef Chan Chen Hei’s instructions say not to dice them too finely or you’ll lose the crunchy texture of the water chestnuts in the final product, but also not to cut them too coarsely or the dish will look rough.

3) In a pot, bring to the boil the remaining water, adding the caster sugar and chopped water chestnuts. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved.

4) Add the batter slowly whilst stirring the boiling liquid all the while. Keep stirring constantly until you have a smooth, thick paste.

This is where I made a total mess of the dish :P. As I was trying to scrape the last traces of batter out of the bowl, I didn’t realise that what had gone into the boiling sugar liquid had solidified into a big clump! Some of it turned transparent but there were white bits where the batter had become trapped with a solidified outer layer.

Taking the pot off the stove, I tried to break up the solidified bits but it was impossible and I finally had to resort to using a handheld blender to try and break up all the bits. In the process, the water chestnuts pieces were also pulverised of course. It was impossible to get a smooth liquid but when it all seemed reasonably even in texture, I proceeded with the recipe instructions.

5) Pour the cooked batter into a square or rectangular dish. You may want to line the dish with cling film for easy removal of the steamed cake later. Place the dish in a wok and steam over high heat. The instructions said 45 mins, but Chen Chan Hei’s book says 20-25 mins. Since I was using half the quantity, I set the timer for 15 minutes. The dish had turned translucent after 15 mins but I left it for an extra 10 mins just in case.

6) After steaming, cut the cake into slices. I found that the cake became more firm when it cooled.

7 ) Can be eaten cold, reheated by steaming, or fried. I found the dish tasted too sweet at this point, and gave me the feeling of being rather yin. So although I had planned to eat it after steaming, I decided to fry it in batter to counter the sweetness and ‘cooling’ effect.

Batter ingredients & method (from Dim Sum by Chan Chen Hei)
— 1/2 quantity

150g all-purpose flour
1/4 Tbs baking powder
10g cornflour
water
50ml cooking oil [this seemed like a frighteningly huge amount so I just used 1 Tbs :P]

Combine dry ingredients with enough water to make a thin, smooth batter. Leave to stand for 30mins then test consistency again, adding more water if necessary. When ready to use, stir in the oil. Cut water chestnut cake into strips, dip into batter and deep fry.

Verdict: Really need to try again!!

At a basic level, the dish was surprisingly palatable despite the disaster halfway. Tiny scraps of crunchy water chestnut were still occasionally discernible, but as you can see in the photo, the texture was lumpy, resembling sago pearls. That can be quite nice too, but obviously that’s not what this dish is supposed to be like.

The fried batter was nice and crispy, but just sooo oily, it gets a bit heavy to eat more than two pieces or so. You can cut down the amount of fried batter by cutting larger pieces (like the larger piece in the background of the photo) but then in this case, there would be way too much overly-sweet water chestnut cake in proportion to the unsweetened batter.

6/12/07 update: Just thought of another way to eat the steamed water chestnut cake. I really don’t want to make the fried version again because it’s simply too oily for my taste. I wanted to find some way to tone down the excessive sweetness of the water chestnut cake, so unsweetened red bean soup seemed like a good idea. Since the water chestnut cake has a texture somewhat like sago pearls (actually, it’s closer to the crispy+chewy texture of Chinese shredded jelly fish salad), anything you can put sago into would also work here. In theory it worked OK, but I think the taste of this water chestnut cake just isn’t that appealing to me so I didn’t enjoy the red bean version very much either :(.

Brown sugar steamed buns 黑糖饅頭

I felt like something ‘cake-y’ today and decided to try these mantou (manju in Japanese) for the first time. This is taken from a Japanese wagashi recipe book, 日式和菓子.

In the cookbook they looked sort of like muffins, but are steamed instead of baked. Actually I made the mistake of turning on the oven to preheat it, and only realised when I got to the end of the recipe that these are steamed buns! *duh* :P!

Brown sugar bun

The recipe is dead simple using only a few ingredients, and it took only half an hour from start to finish to make. I adapted the recipe based on similar ingredients which I already had on hand at home. If you follow the original instructions, this is a dairy-free cake, although it does use wheat flour.

Ingredients

50g brown caster sugar [I used sticky dark brown sugar and reduced amount from original 80g]
250g low-protein flour 薄力小麥粉 [used white cake flour]
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk [original recipe uses soy bean milk but I had none at home so used cow’s milk]
handful toasted pine nuts [used to substitute the mustard seeds for sprinkling in original recipe]

1) Sift the flour and baking powder. Mix dry ingredients including pine nuts.

2) Add milk to dry ingredients. I had to add about one or two dessert spoons extra to get the dough to bind properly.

3) Place dough in moulds (I used silicone baking cups), sprinkle seeds for garnishing.

4) Steam buns on high heat for 15 mins.

This was a very interesting experience as I’ve never made steamed buns before. Firstly, the dough was a most unusual rubbery consistency. I was surprised that familiar ingredients of sugar, flour and milk produced this texture. You can see from the photo that steaming gives the finished product a shiny exterior.

The final buns weren’t the light, fluffy mantou shown in the cookbook photo. They were dense and chewy – quite nice actually, but not what I imagined. I wonder why? Perhaps it was because I added the pine nuts as an afterthought and had to mix the dough further to work them in evenly, despite the fact that the dry ingredients & milk were already fully combined – overworking the dough could have knocked out the air. Another possibility has to do with the amount of liquid; I have no idea what the consistency of manju dough should really be like so I couldn’t go by feel at all.

2/1/08 update: Just read in one of my cookbooks that when making steamed sponge cakes, during the steaming process, the water must be really boiling vigorously on high heat. If not, the cake won’t rise properly.

My friend commented that the chewy texture reminded her of Ma Lai Koh, which is made in quite a different way using a yeasted starter dough, eggs, and a long list of ingredients including alkaline water (鹼水,gaan sui in Cantonese).

Verdict: taste OK, but need to work at getting the texture right.