Zhenjiao (fried dumplings)

I lived in Taiwan for five months a year ago, teaching English to five-year olds. While I missed Western food while I was there, I really got into Taiwanese food culture. It’s so different – most people don’t have ovens, so no roast veggies or lasagne – and many people don’t cook, because they don’t have the time and it’s cheaper to eat out. On almost every pavement in Taipei there is a street food stand or plastic tables and chairs set outside a small restaurant. It’s like that in other countries in Asia – Thailand and Vietnam are the same – where street-side eateries are at the centre of food culture. Taipei has some amazing night markets, where you can find everything from oyster omelettes are centred around food. There’s a constant smell of frying and some overwhelmingly pungent food aromas (like the retchingly unavoidable fermented tofu). My favourite street snacks were dan bing (savoury pancakes fried with an egg and served with chilli and a dark salty sauce), manto (steamed sweet buns), tsong tse (sticky rice in bamboo leaves), bhao zhe gaolizai (steamed dumplings filled with cabbage) and shue jiao (small steamed dumplings). (My pinyin spelling is probably terrible, so if you know the correct spelling of these please let me know!)

I met Taiwanese expats Lisa and Mingwei Tsai recently, and I was so excited when they invited my boyfriend and I to make Taiwanese dumplings with them in their kitchen, because I’ve so missed them and I can’t find them anywhere in Cape Town.  Mingwei owns Nigiro, the tea house inside Origin (tel 021 421 1000) on Hudson Street in De Waterkant, where, in addition to drinking fabulous tea, you can eat Lisa’s fat steamed dumplings (bhao ze gaolizai), which are better than any I ate in Taiwan.

These dumplings are a bit of work, but so worth it. Make them with a couple of people if you can – it makes the work much quicker, and more fun.

The recipe makes 50 small dumplings.

For the dough

150 g bread flour
150 g cake flour
225 ml water
A pinch of salt

For the filling

1 cabbage, chopped
A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped
3 carrots, grated
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
Sesame oil
Mushroom extract
Chinese five spice

Fry the mushrooms in a bit of oil until softened and add to the cabbage. Mix in the carrot and celery and drizzle over some sesame oil. Add 4 tsp of salt, a grinding of black pepper and generous pinches of Chinese five spice and mushroom extract.

Make the dough by combining the ingredients together to form a dough-like consistency.

Flour a large work surface and roll out the dough quite thin. Cut circles with a glass or a cutter and fill with filling. Press the edges of the dough together to form a crescent-shaped parcel, and make sure that the edges of firmly sealed.

To cook the dumplings, cover the bottom of a large saucepan with a thin layer of oil. Cook the dumplings in batches, laying them out on the bottom of the saucepan in one layer. Cook on a medium heat, adding a ladle of water from time to time and putting the lid on to steam them. They are ready when they’ve gone a bit crispy and have turned golden brown.

To serve, make a dipping sauce of soy sauce mixed with freshly grated ginger. Drizzle over chilli oil if you like a bit of heat.

Moroccan butternut and chickpea soup

I dreamt up this soup on a miserable rainy day a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s the first thing I crave when the weather turns horrible. It’s a really filling, warming soup, spiked with Moroccan spices and chilli. It’s really good with salty feta crumbled on top and served with toasted, buttered rye bread.

moroccan soup

Serves 4

  • 1 kg of peeled, chopped butternut
  • 1 onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of harissa pasta
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed ginger
  • Half a cup of red split lentils, rinsed well
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 1 tin of chopped, peeled tomotoes
  • 5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped roughly
  • Tumeric
  • Cumin seeds
  • Cinnamon
  • Chilli flakes
  • Fresh coriander leaves and some feta, to serve
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable stock powder

Fry the onion in a bit of oil until it starts to soften. Add the harissa paste, garlic, ginger and a sprinkle of tumeric, cinnamon and cumin seeds. Fry until the spices become fragrant. Add the carrots, butternut and the tin of tomatoes. Fill up the empty tin with water and add that too, along with the stock powder. Turn the heat up to high. Let the soup boil for about 10 minutes, and then add the lentils. Keep it on a high heat, and stir occasionally. Once the butternut starts getting mushy, squish it and stir into the soup. The soup is ready when the butternut has melted into the liquid. Add the chickpeas and a pinch of chilli flakes if you like. Serve the soup with crumbled feta and coriander leaves.

Baked chocolate chilli figs

I love figs, and I try to eat as many of them as I can during their short season. I always plan to make something really yummy with them, but I just end up eating them as they are or squished on toast with lots of butter and a drizzle of honey. We’re almost at the end of fig season and this may be my last chance at a fig recipe for the year. It’s ridiculously simple and easy, but really quite delicious. I’m coming to the realisation that the moreish chocolate-chilli combo goes with just about anything, but it’s really superb with baked figs. Serve this late summer/early autumn dessert with Greek yoghurt, marscapone or vanilla bean ice-cream.

baked chocolate chilli figs

Serves four

12 fresh figs
50 g dark chilli chocolate (I like Lindt)
1 tbsp of butter

Cut off the stalks, and make a criss-cross cut in each fig. Break up the chocolate and put a shard inside each fig. Top off the figs with a tiny blob of butter. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until the chocolate has melted and the figs are releasing their juices.

Mexican bean chilli with corn rice

What’s a vegetarian cooking blog without a bean recipe? I don’t actually eat a lot of beans but when I do I always make  Mexican-inspired dish. This bean chilli is ridiculously simple and it’s really cheap to make too. I like the addition of corn rice, but I often have it with plain brown rice or tacos. It’s all about the condiments with this dish – make sure you have plenty of avo, fresh coriander, sour cream or smooth cream cheese, and fresh limes or lemons.

mexican bean chilli

Serves 5

400 g courgettes, chopped
600 g fresh tomatoes, chopped finely (you can use canned if you prefer – just use two tins)
6 spring onions, chopped
1 tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
1 tin of butter beans, drained and rinsed well
1 onion, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp chilli flakes (less if you don’t like heat)
1 lemon or 2 limes
A handful of fresh coriander
1 cup brown rice
4 corncobs
1 tsp oregano
olive oil
Avo, smooth cottage cheese or sour cream, and more fresh coriander, to serve

Start off by making the rice. In a large pot heat a slug of olive oil for a few seconds and then add the rice. Add 3 cups of water and bring to the boil. Add the oregano, turn down the heat and let the rice simmer with the lid on for about 35 minutes, without stirring. Slice the corn off the cobs and add to the rice after 30 minutes. Cook for 5 minutes with the lid on and then turn the heat off but leave the pan on the stove for a further 5 minutes, also covered.

For the bean chilli, fry the onion until soft in some olive oil. Add the courgettes, spices and garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes until the courgettes start to get soft. Add the tomatoes and turn the heat up. Let it cook away until the tomatoes have turned mushy and you can crush them easily. Turn the heat down a bit, add the beans and cook for a further ten minutes before putting in the chopped yellow pepper. Cook for about five minutes more.

Serve the bean chilli on the rice with chopped spring onions and fresh coriander on top.

Quinoa and veggie mush

I didn’t know what to call this dish, because it’s not quite a stew and it’s too mushy to be a pilaf. Mush sounded most appropriate, although it’s not an overwhelmingly appetising name. Don’t let it put you off – I think this is the best way to eat quinoa. I am a huge fan of quinoa, and I ate it a lot when I lived in London. It’s really expensive here in South Africa, so I haven’t been cooking with it that much. I keep reading about it in local food magazines and websites though – it seems to be the new healthy food du jour – and I remembered how much I love this dish. This is one of Joe’s made-up recipes, and it’s super adaptable. Make it with whatever veggies you have around. It’s really nice with a bit of cheese – I like feta or mozzarella.

Quinoa and veggie mush

Serves 6

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tin chopped peeled tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • 250 g chopped courgettes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 chopped aubergine
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly
  • 1 cup of quinoa, rinsed
  • 80 g feta
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes

In a large saucepan or wok fry the onion and garlic in a slug of olive oil until softened. Add the aubergine and a bit more oil. Aubergine really soaks up oil so if it starts getting too dry, I add some balsamic vinegar. Fry for about five minutes, and then add the courgettes. Cook these for a further three minutes, and then add the quinoa, the tin of tomatoes, puree and half a cup of water. Boil away until it starts getting thicker and then add another half cup of water. Stir until all the water is absorbed and then add another half cup of water. Continue until the quinoa is cooked – you can tell when the grains become translucent. Season with black pepper and stir in the chilli (add more than a teaspoon if you like a bit of heat). Take the pan off the heat and stir in the baby spinach. Serve with a sprinkle of feta and basil leaves.