Culinarily speaking I’m pretty much up for making anything, but nothing puts me out of my comfort zone more than being asked to make vegan food! So when Masters of Malaysian Cuisine invited me to feature a veganised version of a Penang street food dish, I quaked in my proverbial cooking boots.
Whilst I’m in no way adverse to vegan food per say, I’m unabashed of my love of meat with the Malaysian in me always eager to sneak in a bit of belacan here, or some oyster sauce there. In term of diet and cooking, vegan food is an almost entirely alien proposition to me – especially when it comes to veganising Malaysian food. Whilst veganism is well catered for in the West, any vegetarian/vegan who has visited Malaysia knows all too well that our local cuisine is a veritable meaty minefield! From kailan swimming in oyster sauce, to sayur lodeh spiked with prawns. Malaysian vegetable dishes are rarely actually vegetarian, much less vegan: typically it’s a case of the meat vs. vegetable ratio, favouring the latter – hardly ideal for those who shun meat! Nevertheless, even in Malaysia, times and tastes have evolved, and the market for healthier eating has taken root, resulting in a desire for veganised Malaysian recipes. So, I too had to put my belacan away, get with the times and do the unthinkable: make a beloved Malaysian dish vegan!
Choosing a suitable dish was, in the end, perhaps the hardest part of this exercise. So many of my favourite street food options seemed indelibly meat-based, and without an intimate knowledge of suitable meat substitutes, I found it difficult to reimagine most without the offending ingredients. In the end I settled on one of my favourite Indian street food dishes – Pasembur, or Indian Rojak. Though traditionally made with prawn fritters and sliced eggs, this piquant salad seemed ripe for veganising! With the gravy already sans meat, it was a simple matter of substituting the offending prawns with mushrooms, and omitting the egg – easy changes which ultimately have little or no impact on the dish itself.
Vegan or not, pasembur is a sweet, spicy, and crunchy delight, and an absolute must-try!
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Watch the video on how to make this dish below!
Pasembur (Indian Rojak)
Time: 60 minutes
1 block firm tofu, drained
Oil for deep-frying
150 g bean sprouts, blanched
4 boiled eggs, sliced (omit for vegan version)
2 boiled potatoes, sliced
½ cucumber, shredded
4 Iceberg Lettuce leaves, shredded
Prawn or Mushroom Fritters:
100 g Shimeji mushrooms
150 g self-raising flour
½ cup water
1 tsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground white pepper
3 dried red chillies, soaked in hot water till soft
¼ red onion, chopped
½ brown onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp tamarind paste, mixed with 750 ml warm water
1 large orange sweet potato, boiled
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Roasted peanuts, crushed
Toasted sesame seeds, crushed
- For the fritters, combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat till a thick batter forms. Bring the oil up to a medium heat, then deep fry the batter in batches till crispy. Drain well and set aside.
- Slice the drained tofu into four, then carefully add to the hot fritter oil. Deep fry till golden. Drain well and set aside.
- For the sauce, pass the boiled sweet potato flesh through a fine sieve. Grind the softened dried chillies, garlic, red and brown onions into a fine paste – add a splash of oil to help form the paste.
- Heat some oil in a large wok, then add the paste. Sauté till fragrant and the oil separates, now add the tamarind water. Bring to a boil, then add the pureed sweet potato – mix well. Now add the sugar and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes, then take off the heat and leave to cool.
- On a serving platter, combine the blanched bean sprouts, boiled eggs (if using) and potato slices, cucumber, and lettuce. Chop up the mushroom fritters and slice the tofu, add these to the platter.
- Ladle over the sauce, then top with a mixture of crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, and crispy shallots.
- Serve immediately with some extra sauce on the side.