In celebration of the release of Meera Sodha's new cookbook, East, an exploration of inspiring and intriguing vegan and vegetarian recipes from across the East, The Happy Foodie team has been trying out recipes from the book. From tarts to tofu, read on to see what we thought...
Who: Assallah Tahir, Editorial Assistant
What I made: Caramelised Onion Ramen
What I thought: I love caramelised onion, and from the moment I saw the recipe I was desperate to try this unusual-sounding ramen dish. I always thought ramen would be really difficult to make, but this recipe couldn’t be easier. The onions will need 30-40 minutes to break down, and then after that it’s a whizz. You simply add the stock and chillies to the onion-garlic mix, bring to boil and chuck in the remaining ingredients, saving the veg till the last minute or two of cooking. (Confession: I fluffed the eggs in this attempt - if you’re adding eggs, you’ll probably want them soft-boiled.)
The result is a soup that is deliciously sweet, slightly spicy and with a healthy dollop of umami - addictive and very difficult to eat without noisily slurping it up. I cooked this for my family on the weekend (though you could easily make this on a weeknight too) and my picky-eater dad, who had never eaten ramen in his life, was going in for seconds!
Apart from the choi sum, the only ingredients you may need to go to a larger or a Japanese supermarket for are the cooking sake and the miso - but both of these ingredients will last you.
Who: Sapphire Rees, Campaigns Officer
What I made: Paneer Kofta with a Tomato and Cashew Sauce
What I thought: Cheesy carbs are always a winner in my book, so as soon as spotted that these kofta offered both paneer and potato, I was sold. I’d never made kofta before, but I was surprised at how straightforward the whole dish was to pull together – I was able to make the kofta while the sauce simmered, and the whole thing probably only took around 40 minutes (and I’m a slow chopper!) I did lose one kofta to a crumbly death in the frying pan, but I soon learned that if you squeeze them together quite tightly when rolling them into balls, they behave much better.
I had this on a weekend evening, and a big bowl of the kofta in their sauce is perfect to curl up with when you want something comforting with a big flavour hit. Make sure you have something delicious to mop up the sauce with at the end – you won’t want to waste a drop.
Who: Juliet Annan, Publisher, Fig Tree
What I made: Tomato, Pistachio and Saffron Tart and Bombay Rolls
What I thought: I went a bit pastry mad cooking from East, mostly because I actually had the puff pastry in the fridge anyway – but these two recipes for Tomato, Pistachio and Saffron Tart and Bombay Rolls are just brilliant – enormous fun to make as no anxiety inducing making pastry from scratch required. Making both recipes was like a very enjoyable session at pottery class rather than cooking – it was all about making them look wonderful. I am not sure I achieved that.
But oh my! did they ever taste delicious. The tomato tart not only looked a jewelled tile but it tasted extraordinary - underneath a layer of tomatoes and a layer of onions lurked an incredibly subtle and delicious pistachio paste, which when cooked together with the other ingredients was just a fantastic mouthful.
The Bombay rolls looked like glorious Chelsea buns. They were divine – rolled around a sharp mixture that was like the finest cheese and coriander pickle sandwich – only rolled around with delicious puff pastry.
All eaten very quickly by grateful recipients over drinks.
Who: Rose Poole, Senior Campaigns Manager
What I made: Peanut Butter and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Pad Thai
What I thought: I have always been reluctant to make my own pad Thai at home just because I can never turn the tofu into that crispy, chewy goodness that you get in restaurants and I often get the sauce to noodle consistency a little off - but this recipe from East is a game changer.
Using the firmest tofu I could find and frying with a good amount of rapeseed oil on a high flame gave me the most perfect result I could have wished for, and the pad thai sauce! A satisfying combination of 6 tbsp of peanut butter with syrup (I used agave instead of brown rice syrup), tamarind, lime and soy sauce, producing the most beautiful salty/sweet sharpness that marinated the noodles, tofu and broccoli wonderfully.
Adding all the ingredients gradually makes all the difference – normally I would chuck everything in - but with this recipe, everything has time to cook – particularly the ginger, garlic and chilli which you can really taste at the end.
Paired with a glass of white wine, I enjoyed a huge bowlful of this on the sofa on a Saturday night.
Who: Indira Birnie, Senior Manager, Penguin Audiences
What I made: Mushroom Mapo Tofu
What I thought: I've long been a fan of Meera Sodha's vegan Guardian column (and regularly cook from it) so I was very excited to get a copy of East. The pro: everything looks amazingly delicious and lots of lots of the recipes I earmarked to try out soon looked like they'd be very simple – no overly long ingredients lists or complicated techniques here. The con: it's quite hard to decide what to actually cook first because everything looks so incredible.
I finally settled on the mushroom mapo tofu, and after a fruitless search for chilli bean sauce (next time I'll probably order it off the internet as my local supermarket didn't have it), headed back home to get started. There's a moderate amount of chopping but it's actually pretty simple once you've got that out of the way. As I didn't have chilli bean sauce I substituted a mix of gochujang and sriracha – I'm not sure how different that made the end result but it tasted great nonetheless. It's deeply umami (my favourite), and that citrusy and slightly-numbing feeling really comes through from the Sichuan peppercorns. I'll definitely be cooking from East again before too long.
Who: Jessica Lockyer-Palmer, Marketing Manager, The Happy Foodie
What I made: Burmese Mango Salad with Peanut and Lime
What I thought: The combination of rich peanut, acidic lime, hot chilli, spicy ginger, sweet mango and verdant veg in this recipe had me from hello. Despite being made up entirely of fruit and vegetables, the punchy dressing and complex mix of flavours made this salad really substantial. I followed Meera's advice and added some crisp tofu to the mix, but I could happily have devoured it without and been most satisfied. Tracking down a mango firm enough to julienne was more of a challenge than I had expected but don't settle for even the smallest infirmity in the flesh and definitely invest in a julienne peeler if you don't have one, it made a real difference to the prep in this recipe and resulted in gorgeous ribbons of brightly coloured carrot and mango. I'm now off to happily eat the leftovers for lunch...