Tag Archives: asian

A Restful Weekend with Bonus Fruit Salad

I know it’s been awhile, y’all, but don’t worry:

From tumblr.com

Life has felt busy lately and not the exaggerated “I’m soooo busy (marathoning television shows)” kind of busy but the kind that involves having a ton to do at work, traveling a lot for work, and having a lot of family and friend stuff going on. It’s the “I haven’t done laundry in like three weeks” kind of busy. Gross.

Anyway, this weekend is finally a quiet one where I have zero plans other than catching up on my life, vegging out, and doing laundry. I can’t complain too much: I did go on one non-obligatory, 100% for myself vacation last month and visited Jen, my sister from another mister.

smarterrestSide story: I had to sneak into Jen’s place in the middle of the night and scared the crap out of her since she was asleep on the couch. (Don’t worry about why I had to sneak in. I just did. MYOB!) Along with screaming very loudly, Jen threw her eye mask at me. I’m so grateful it was just that and not a lethal weapon. Maybe things would have gone better if she had the Sleep Mask Eye Mask By Smarter Rest, which I had the opportunity to try out. This mask blocks out the light better than any other eye mask I’ve used AND it comes with ear plugs AND comes with its own storage bag. It’s also adjustable so it’ll fit no matter how giant or tiny your head is.

One of the highlights of the weekend was making a Filipino dinner for my friends and that included this easy throwback for dessert:


Yum… lychees! Again, this super simple fruit salad consists of canned lychees, a can of fruit cocktail and almond jello. You can add a can of lychee juice if you want it to be more soupy, or ice cubes to keep it cold. Such good stuff! You should be able to find all the ingredients at any Asian grocery store. If you’re in the Charleston area, we picked up our stuff at the H&L Asian Supermarket. BTW–Jen froze, blended and used it to make a refreshing cocktail after I had already gone home. Sounds freaking delicious!

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!


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Dining Out: Karma


We all have our favorite dining spots, but I’m always open to trying something new. In fact, I’ve really been making an effort to go to restaurants that I’ve never been to before. There are so many food establishments out there, especially in and around Chicago. Of course, dining out can be difficult when you’re vegan. It can be difficult when you’re vegetarian! I still see menus that have zero vegetarian options.

This was not the case at Karma, a Pan Asian restaurant located in Mundelein, which is about 35 miles northwest from Chicago.


This was my first time at Karma. Karma has a really great vibe. It’s located within a suburban hotel. The restaurant itself is very contemporary without being pretentious. There’s a great fountain running along the middle of the restaurant. I dined with my sister, but all the other diners were clearly on dates, and there was one lone hotel guest having dinner by himself.


Upon sitting down, we were given a plate of fried wontons (pictured above) that were coated in a sauce with some sort of chili powder. These were really tasty and had a nice kick. I was thrilled to see that they had a delicious-sounding vegetarian entree (and it sounds perfectly vegan-friendly). More on that later.


We decided to order an appetizer. There were other vegetarian options, but I definitely wanted to try the shiitake pot stickers. The mushrooms were blended with ginger, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil and came with a soy dipping sauce and some other mystery sauce. These were so freaking delicious! Not only was the mushroom filling super tasty, they were stuffed really well and had a great texture. I could have easily eaten 4 plates of this.

(Side note: our server informed us that the shiitake pot stickers were recently added back to the menu after being replaced by pork pot stickers for a few years. I’m so glad they brought back the shiitake pot stickers. If anyone from Karma is reading this, keep these on the menu!)


I decided to go with the Udon Winter Stew for my entree. The dish was made up of Kabocha squash, Shiitake mushrooms, ginger, mirin, leeks, carrots, tofu, kombu, and rice. The veggies were fresh and I was especially in love with the squash. I won’t say I was disappointed, but I had to ask for soy sauce to add some flavor. It was a good dish, but a tiny bit of a let down after eating the flavorful pot stickers.

I definitely plan to dine at Karma again. I want to try their salad and eat more of those pot stickers! I liked the atmosphere and the service was great. One more thing: the coffee that they serve at Karma deserves an honorable mention. I don’t know what it was, but it was damn good coffee! Yum! –Melissa

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Vegan Kare Kare 2.0

I haven’t cooked in awhile (I’m a lazy vegan, remember?) but I had a serious craving for kare kare last week. I think it was triggered by seeing the beginnings of my Dad’s garden this summer, particularly the eggplant. I’m so spoiled by the garden! Alas, there are no veggies yet. Thank goodness for grocery stores.

I previously made kare kare using soy curls and it was good, but I wanted to try something different this time. I didn’t want to drop a meat substitute altogether even though all-veggie kare kare would be satisfactory. I didn’t want to use tofu. I didn’t want to use mushrooms. I didn’t want to use squash.

So I used jackfruit — young, unripe jackfruit.

photo (8)

You can find canned young green jackfruit at any Asian grocery store. Make sure you get the jackfruit in brine, not syrup! It’s not to be confused with ripe yellow jackfruit, which is sweet (and delicious in halo halo… yum). I’ve seen unripe jackfruit used in savory dishes. Luminous Vegans has a great BBQ Jackfruit recipe that’s like a vegan pulled pork sandwich. My Mom adds it to dishes. There is a plethora of vegan Jackfruit ‘Carnitas’ Taco recipes on the Internet. With the shred-like texture of the jackfruit, some imagination and an open mind, the possibilities are endless.

Kare kare always seemed really complicated to me when I was younger and I realize now that it’s because of the meat component. You need to boil the oxtail. Sometimes, you need to boil it forever or use a pressure cooker, otherwise it won’t get tender and it’s just nasty. You need to skim out the garbage that shows up when you boil meat. And it takes a long time!

For vegan kare kare, you’re looking at maybe 15 minutes of prep time and 15 minutes of cook time.

Vegan Kare Kare with Jackfruit

1 can young green jackfruit in brine, drained and rinsed
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
eggplant, cut into 2″ chunks (enough to make approx 2 cups, any eggplant will do)
1 cup sitaw (Chinese long beans), cut into about 2 inch pieces — regular green beans are fine, too
bok choy (3 babies or 1 adult)
2-3 tbsp peanut butter
1/2 tsp achiote powder (optional)
salt, to taste

Rinse and chop up all your veggies. for the jackfruit, I cut the chunks that came out of the can in half or in thirds, depending on how big they were. I made them about the same size as the eggplant pieces.

Heat up the pan and saute the onion and garlic in oil. When it gets fragrant, add the jackfruit, eggplant, and 1 cup of water. Mix it a bit, cover, and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Add the sitaw/beans and bok choy, cover, and let it all cook for another 3-5 minutes.


Isn’t it pretty? The thing in the bottom middle is a piece of jackfruit.

When the veggies are just about cooked, stir things up a bit, being careful not to mash up any of the veggies. Then, make a well in the center of the pot and put in the peanut butter. The PB should melt completely. Add salt to taste. Add achiote if you want. It will give the dish a more reddish color. I didn’t add it this time around.


Serve with white rice and bagoong (not vegan!) or a bagoong substitute. If you have the green-floral-border Corelle plates that every Filipino-American seems to have, use that for sentimental value. Follow it up with some halo halo with sweet jackfruit if you can. I’m so hungry now.

I’m pleased with my kare kare and jackfruit experiment, but I have to say that I think jackfruit would work better in sinigang (another Filipino dish) instead. I have yet to try it as BBQ or in a taco. Looks like I’ve got a lot of cooking to do! –Melissa

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The Unadventurous Vegan

I needed to restock on tofu so I visited the giant Korean grocery store today. It was a great day to go since a pack of tofu was only 98 cents (down from $1.28)! In addition, Mori-nu silken tofu is regularly priced at $1.09 a box. I also picked up some soy puffs. I’m not sure what to do with these, but I’m excited to try them out:


I always come across weird stuff in the giant Korean grocery store. A few months ago, I saw this and bought it, but I was so freaked out by it that I never ate it:


It comes in a beef version as well which like roast beef: the perfect imitation meat if I were craving an Italian beef sandwich or something. There was just something really weird about it. I’ll admit that if I had found it in Schmole Broods or Raider Boe’s, I wouldn’t be so put off by it. But I can’t help but be weary of some of the products I find in Asian grocery stores (and I am Asian).

Now, they say to never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, and “they” are right. I found myself lurking in the snack (read: junk food) aisle when I saw something that looked vegan. I was right… and I was also kind of freaked out:

I Googled VegeUSA right away and only found information on their frozen “meat” products, which actually look pretty delectable. These guys scared me, though. They had “steak,” “chicken,” and “pork” at the store. The instructions are to rehydrate them and then use them as a meat substitute. Sounds like soy curls, right? I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I think my shock mostly stemmed from finding these next to chips and crackers and initially thinking that they were chips. Again, I was kind of freaked, so I put them back on the shelf and took it as a sign to not buy any junk food.

While I like to think of myself as an adventurous vegan, there are some things that I am not brave enough to try just yet. My last big leap was probably with tempeh, and I have yet to try seitan. I don’t think I need to try everything: just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for you, right?

Have you tried any of the products above? What did you think? Are there any vegan products that you’re not willing to try? Let us know in the comments! –Melissa

Oh, hey! Don’t forget about our giveaway! It’s a good one!


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Korean BBQ and Mom’s Eggplant Salad

My Mom made an eggplant salad of sorts and I thought it would go really well with some korean bbq.


I previously posted a recipe for vegan korean bbq or kalbi. The original recipe works fine, but I made a few modifications:

1/2 cup soy curls
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2-3 cloves garlic, coarsely minced (you can use garlic powder if you’re in a hurry)
sesame seeds
1 tbsp maple syrup

I set the soy curls in water to rehydrate. Then, I mixed the rest of the ingredients together. Once the soy curls were rehydrated and drained, I mixed everything together and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Then, I cooked the soy curls in a frying pan.


To make the eggplant salad, Mom started with eggplant that was already roasted and cooked it with garlic, onion, chili paste, sesame oil, and salt.

Enjoy with white or brown rice! –Melissa

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Stuffed Bitter Melon (Ampalaya)

This dish originated from a craving for soy curl BBQ, believe it or not. One thought led to another, and next thing I knew, I was grabbing a bitter melon or ampalaya from the fridge and getting to work. I’ve eaten a lot of ampalaya and I’ve eaten it in many, many ways, but I’ve never had it like this.

I made this using one relatively small (6-7 inches) bitter melon, so adjust the recipe measurements as needed if you have lots of melons.

Stuffed Bitter Melon

1 bitter melon
1 cup soy curls (I use Butler)
1 tbsp plum sauce
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
olive oil

I cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise, scooped out its guts, and then put it in a bowl of salt water and let it soak. This helps to remove some of the bitterness. I then took the soy curls and put them in a bowl of water to rehydrate. While the melon and soy curls were both soaking, I minced the garlic and ginger.

When the soy curls were ready, I chopped them into small pieces to facilitate stuffing the melon halves. Then I browned them in a pan for about three minutes. I have started sprinkling Butler’s Chik-Style Seasoning whenever I cook soy curls to give it a more meaty flavor. This is totally optional!

I removed the soy curls from heat, placed them in a bowl, and coated them with the plum sauce, chili garlic sauce, and minced garlic and ginger. While the flavors marinaded for a bit, I got back to my bitter melon halves and rinsed them very well to remove all the salt.

I placed the halves in a baking pan and stuffed them with the soy curl mixture. Then I baked them at 325 degrees in the toaster oven for 10 minutes and raised the temp to 350 for the last five minutes. If you use a regular oven, I would bake them at 350 degrees straight for 15 minutes. You may need to keep it in there longer if you want the bitter melons to be tender. I like my melons with a little crunch.

Oh my goodness. OH MY GOODNESS! This was so delicious. It was sweet, spicy, and subtly bitter. I ate it with some rice, but it’s yummy all on its own. I’m glad to report that this was omnivore-approved. If you don’t have bitter melon, bell peppers would probably make a good substitute.

Let me take a minute to praise Butler Soy Curls. This product has seriously upped my excitement for vegan cooking. You can buy them directly from Butler in bulk or from Vegan Essentials, which is a Turning Veganese favorite.

Soy curls stuffed in bitter melon. Who knew?! Happy eating and experimenting, everyone! –Melissa

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Noodles & Company: Brrring It!!!

While going vegan has resulted in my cooking more than I ever thought I would, I still eat at restaurants. A lot. I have to avoid some of my old favorites –buh bye, Portillo’s– but I’m also super jazzed when my old favorites offer vegan options without me having to sound like a crazy vegan (“uhhh, I will have a quesadilla without the cheese”).

Noodles & Company is a place that I immediately loved because the food is good, portions are the perfect size, there are a variety of options, and the people who work there are always super nice. Always. I appreciate it even more now because they are very informative about their food and have a handful of options for vegans. In addition, you can choose tofu as a protein to add to any of their dishes. I went there for dinner tonight and got the Indonesian Peanut Saute:

This yummy dish consists of a spicy peanut sauce, rice noodles, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, Asian sprouts, cilantro, crushed peanuts and lime. Beware: it’s uber-spicy. UBER-SPICY. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Looks good, right? I’ve never been let down by Noodles & Company in terms of the freshness and quality of their food. Furthermore, they are very forthcoming with their nutrition and allergen information. Click here for their nutrition information. Scroll further down the page for a list of their vegan items. One more thing to say about this place: it’s very kid-friendly, both in terms of kid-friendly food options and atmosphere.

If you’re feeling lazy and adventurous, check out Noodles &  Company! –Melissa

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A Little Soy on Soy Action

I have made a soy sauce/tofu dish before, the delicious Tofustek! which is a veganized version of a Filipino comfort food. I considered making Tofustek! tonight but wanted something a little more interesting. I contemplated how I could season the tofu differently and came up with something surprisingly sexy. And by ‘sexy,’ I mean ‘pretty damn tasty.’

Melissa’s Sesame Tofu

1 block extra firm tofu, sliced into thin ‘steaks’
2 tablespoons soy sauce or your preferred alternative
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
red pepper flakes (optional)
sesame seeds
green onion, chopped

First, I sliced the tofu and set the slices up to dry. While they were drying, I took my empty and rinsed out tofu container, threw in the soy sauce, ginger, lemon juice and red pepper flakes, and mixed them all together. I fired up a frying pan and started heating some safflower oil, just enough to coat the pan. While it was warming up, I sprinkled some sesame seeds onto a plate. I dipped my tofu steaks in the sauce and then dipped them in the sesame seed plate. I only wanted a light sprinkling of sesame seeds, but you can crust it on there if you want (you may then also want to dip your tofu in some flour so the sesame seeds stick better).

As I finished coating each steak, I placed them in the pan. I fried the steaks for awhile — I wanted the tofu to have a sturdy texture. I flipped them every few minutes. When they looked nearly done, I tossed some green onion into the pan and flipped the tofu a couple more times.

I took some leftover rice and fried it up in the pan. It soaked up whatever sauce was still lingering. I still had some sauce and ginger bits left so I threw that in the rice along with some more green onion. I had a side of raw carrots which really complimented the dish. My dessert of fresh papaya made this a dinner to remember.

So easy. So few ingredients. Very flavorful and filling.

Stay sexy, friends! –Melissa

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