Saturday, 18 December 2010

Vegetarian Manchurian, making the best of left over Chinese

It’s really annoying when you order food online/over the phone, and what you get is not exactly what you expected. It’s even more annoying when the take away can charge ridiculous prices for their food because they’re the only restaurant that deliver in the area, and accept card. Anywho, so I believe one has to at least try and make most of a shit take away. So when I had loads of disgustingly sweet Kung Bo “Seasonal” veg and fried rice left over from my Chinese take away last night, I thought even though it was shit, I was going to try and rectify it by turning the two very dull dishes into one very excitingly tasty dish: vegetarian Manchurian.

The kung bo “seasonal” veg already had in it (nothing seasonal at all):
Pak Choi
Water Chestnuts

I drained the veg of the horrible sauce, and to add a bit more flavour, I added:

Chinese Five Spice
Chopped Chilies
Grated carrots
Roughly chopped Spring Onions

I blended all the above in a food processor. To make the mixture thicker and well bound I added some rice flour. I used a teaspoon and shaped the mixture into roughly formed balls. I deep fried in batched of 8, careful not to over crowd as this can cause sticking and could also mean lack of colouration. I wanted the rice in the mixture to give the balls a dark brown exterior, and a nice crisp coating. When cut open, they should retain a moistness, although the rawness of the rice flour should be cooked off. It’s essential that the oil be kept over a consistently medium flame and that the balls be around the size of a golf ball. This should ensure well-cooked Manchurians.

To make the sauce, I fried some thinly sliced garlic and chilies in some oil till the garlic started to turn slightly brown. I then added some Saracha sauce, light soy sauce, and honey. I let the mixture bubble and reduce till it became a sticky constancy. I added the Manchurian balls, turned the heat off and rolled the balls so they were coated. I didn’t want them sitting in the sauce for too long as they would start to absorb the liquid and lose they’re crunchiness. Lastly I garnished with a healthy hand full of spring onions.

I personally think as a dish, it can be eaten by it’s self, but just to bulk it our I had it with some left over noodles from the night before…. Happy Eatings : )

Saturday, 4 December 2010


I designed a poster for a concept website where people can get recipes for umami sauces, depending on their region (locally sourced/grown food), seasonality and choice of ingredients. The aim is for people to realise the variety of flavours there are out there and the ways they can make their food more interesting by using the taste of umami, even with limited ingredients.


So with all my research into the umami flavour, I wanted to great a sauce that could be used in cooking as a way of enhancing or bringing out the natural flavour of ingredients when used in small amounts. When used in larger amounts, the flavour of the sauce would mask any nasty tastes of unpleasant foods, that would be eaten for nutritional value (eg, brussel sprouts, soya, offal).

I looked into ingredients that could be found in England, and suitable ways of preserving them. Making a sauce seemed the most convenient. Most of the ingredients used are easily preserved in their state, but I had a few cherry tomatoes which was given to me by a friend who has started growing indoors.

Soy Extract (umami ingredient)
Mushroom Extract (umami ingredient)
Cherry Tomato Puree (umami ingredient)
Anchovies (umami ingredient)
Scotch Bonnet
Szechuan Pepper
White wine vinegar

I started by frying off 4 garlic gloves, 4 shallots, 2 scotch bonnets and a table spoon of Szechuan pepper, until the oil was flavoured. I then added Mushroom extract and soy extract and let simmer on a low heat for about 10 minuets.

I removed the whole ingredients, and let the concentrate cool. The whole shallots, chillies and garlic could be saved and used in future cooking. As the umami flavours of the soy and mushrooms would have been absorbed, the shallots, garlic, and chillies can be used in other dishes to enhance flavour.

In another pan, I started by frying off a few fillets of anchovies. Once melted, I added my cherry tomato puree. I stirred in the soy and mushroom concentrate, added a couple of table spoons molasses and two table spoons white wine vinegar then left the sauce to simmer for an hour. Once cooled. I poured into my bottle.

I made a label to stick on my bottle:

I spread some of my special sauce on toast before grilling with cheese on top. It’s a delicious sauce, with complex, deep flavours. It gives simpler dishes a fuller flavour. Only very little has to be used as the glutamate levels exceeds roughly about 600mg/100mg from my calculations. This is seven times more then cheddar cheese, and half as much as marmite.

I developed this idea as a sure guarantee of having a tasty meal in the case of a poor harvests, unavailability of certain ingredients, and a way of preserving. If we were to become self sufficient, simple solutions like these would help keep people creative in the kitchen.


Umami is said to be the 5th taste along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami, is hard to describe best many do by calling it subtly savoury. Umami was first discovered by the Japanese scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1907. He did some research into why dashi (a Japanese stock made from Kombu- a type of seaweed), tasted so good. He found that Kombu was high in glutamatic acid, and this was the what gave dashi its delicious flavour. Dr. Ikeda termed this distinctive flavour, Umami. With further research, a wide variety of foods from around the world were discovered to have high levels of glutamatic acid: like tomatoes, anhovies, beef, asparagus, green tea, mushrooms etc.

“Those who pay careful attention to their tastebuds will discover in the complex flavour of asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, a common and yet absolutely singular taste which cannot be called sweet, or sour, or salty, or bitter…” - Dr. Kikunae Ikeda

Dr Ikead, successfully managed to isolate the glutamatic acid from kombu, and from this created sodium glutamate, better known as Monosodium Glutamate. The company Dr Ikead worked for, the Ajinamoto Coperation, took this discovery forward and produced a marketable product. Ajinamoto was sold as a flavour enhancer and spread world wide. Being cheap and as readily available as salt, the product was much welcomed in less developed parts of the world. Places where harvests were less predictable, and where the range of ingredients were limited.

There has been a lot of bad press surrounding MSG, and this tends to be because of its use in manufactured products. There are no serious or harmful effects from it, although claims of migraines have been reported, but this is due to high levels of consumption. Until recently, MSG could be bought in supermarkets, but due to our change in food attitudes, this is no longer available. Many restaurants, though, still use MSG as a way of keeping the level of food consistent. This is an example of a great discovery taken out of context. We have very little room for “unnatural” ingredients, but if we were put in a situation where we had limited food, and a lack of choice when in came to ingredients, would we too re-think an ingredient like Monosodium Glutamate?