Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Ho ho ho, do you get it? The name of this really rather lovely restaurant is a combination of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Thankfully, the food is a lot better than the name.

It's a quirky little place in a nice location right at Oberkampf métro station (just a stone's throw from République). The menu is by no means exclusively vegetarian, but there are many vegetarian and vegan options, with the majority of dishes being served in meaty, fishy, and tofu-y versions. Go for the tofu-y version, yeah?

I had the bobun, that lovely Vietnamese dish of cool rice noodles; salady bits like lettuce, bean sprouts, and grated carrot; peanuts; mint; and Vietnamese 'spring rolls', nems.

With a few more mint leaves and crispier tofu, this would've been perfection. I'm planning to go back and try the vegan yellow curry dish, which comes with a choice of normal or sticky rice. Sticky rice at no extra cost! I also nabbed a spoonful of my friend's banana in coconut milk with tapioca desert, and it was very good. They have a small selection of South-East Asian beers, lots of cocktails, and lots of juices and smoothies. I went for a ginger juice, which tasted mostly of pineapple and only a little of powdered ginger (or maybe ginger syrup?) but was nice nonetheless.

The prices, apart from a couple of the desserts, are extremely reasonable. They also do good deals at lunchtime.

The staff are as eclectic as the menu - Brazilian and Columbian waiting staff, a Filipino in the kitchen, etc. Everyone we met was extremely helpful, friendly and accommodating. Top marks to our Brazilian waiter for speaking French with virtually no accent while serving a vegan, a dreadhead, a blind guy, and an American about to leave Paris after a decade without batting an eyelid.

26 Boulevard Voltaire (map)
Métros: Oberkampf, Filles du Calvaire, République

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Tofu for stir-fry beginners

Three and a bit years ago, my little brother asked me for tofu tips, with a stir-frying angle. It seems a shame to keep this content in a facebook message, so here you have it. Very much designed for inexperienced cooks, and inexperienced British cooks at that:
    • tofu
      i was wondering how to cook it ive tried in stir fry even before the stir fry it doesnt seem to go yellow or if it does it burns to pan any tips?

  • 15 October 2008
    That's my kind of question!

    • Um, this turned into a bit of an essay, but it should hopefully be like the tofu-cooking bible! It's not complicated but I thought I should be thorough!

      1. Make sure you have 'firm' or 'regular' tofu: NOT 'silken'. The silken is the stuff in a little box just out on the supermarket shelves: DON'T GET THAT. Instead, get the stuff that's in the fridges, for example the Cauldron brand. The smoked version is especially nice because you don't have to marinate it at all*.

      2. Cut it up into slices - about 0.5cm thick. It's best to keep the slices pretty long. You'll need 60-100g per hungry person.

      3. Put a good splash of oil into a big flat-bottomed frying pan. Don't use a wok. Let the oil heat up for about a minute over medium heat. It's better to use vegetable oil rather than olive oil, because it has a higher burning point, therefore you shouldn't get black bits. You can tell it's hot enough when you can roll it around the pan easily.

      4. One by one, carefully put your slices of tofu into the hot oil. Give the pan a little shake every so often to slide the tofu round. Apart from that, leave well alone (but don't leave the kitchen) for about 3 minutes.

      5. After 3 minutes, use two non-meltable implements (e.g. wooden spoons) to lift one of the slices up and peek at the underneath side. If it's still really pale, read point 6. If it's nicely golden brown, read point 7.

      6. Too pale tofu: wait another minute or two until you have another look. Bear in mind that the ones in the middle will be browner than the ones at the edge of the pan.

      7. Golden tofu: success! Using your two implements, flip all of the tofu slices over so the other side can get golden brown. This will take slightly less time than it did to get the first side done. Repeat the peeking process, but after 2 minutes this time.

      8. Once both sides are nice and pale brown, you can chuck the veg into your stir-fry. Make sure it's chopped up pretty small. Those packets you can buy are quite good, but you have to add everything at the same time cos it's all mixed up, and some 
      things (e.g. onions) take longer than others (e.g. beansprouts).

      9. Poke it around until all the veg is cooked and add whatever you want (soya sauce, hoisin sauce, peanut sauce, any of those ready wok sauces you can buy, whatever you fancy!).

      * If you DO want to marinate your tofu first, get a biggish tupperware box and fill it to about 3cm depth with soya sauce, crushed/finely-chopped garlic, finely-chopped (or powdered) ginger, a bit of Marmite (mixed into the soya sauce with a fork), and a small bit of chili powder. If you've got more unusual spices like Chinese five-spice or coriander, add those too. Put your slices of tofu in, put the lid on, tip it around a bit and then put it in the fridge. After about half an hour, open it up and flip the tofu slices over, then put it back in the fridge for at least another 30 mins (but you can leave it up to 24 hours if you like). When you're ready to start frying, dangle each tofu slice over the tupperware box for a sec to shake some of the liquid out of it before you add it to the pan.

      Voilà - perfect tofu!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Carmen Ragosta

The Canal St Martin is bobo central. But then we're all a bit bobo at heart. One of the best things about bobos is that they like to eat vegetarian food.

Carmen Ragosta is a fantastic Neapolitan lady who runs a boutique-cum-restaurant named after herself. She's a proud vegetarian, and serves up delicious, simple food made with love in her boutique where she also sells her clothes and accessories made with love. Nothing dead on the plates, nothing dead on the rails.

Although the food isn't all vegan, if you let Carmen know you'll be coming a day or two in advance, she'll rustle up a vegan feast for you. In fact, even if you don't warn her, she'll rustle up a vegan feast for you. I've just got back from brunch with a friend at Carmen's place, and she prepared for me:

A warming bowl of rice laced with basil, hazelnuts, and mushrooms.
A couple of wholemeal tartines topped with sun-dried tomatoes.
The most delicious aubergine I've ever tasted - grilled and marinated with garlic, super good olive oil, and red chillies.
A little cucumber salad, with toasted sesame seeds, turmeric, and more of that superb olive oil.
A pear compote with cinnamon and coconut.

Dessert was more pears, this time with caramel and nuts.

A glass of fruit juice is included in the brunch for €16, and the whole lot is washed down by your choice of tea, Italian coffee, or big/American coffee.

If you warn her in advance that you're vegan, Carmen will make egg-free pasta for you. Vegetarians get a beautiful-looking tiramisu for desert.

Oh yeah, and the coffee was served in red mugs from Habitat with a sausage dog on them. I remarked, 'ah, I've got one of those mugs at home'. She said 'yes, these are Habitat. The mugs are good, but they're not as good as the real thing. PIPPO!' And along waddled Pippo, a beautiful silky sausage dog who lives with Carmen. He's friendly as they come. Apparently there's also a cat, but said cat didn't deign to visit us today.

Go see Carmen - she's fantastic. She speaks English and French with a glorious Italian accent.

Carmen Ragosta
8 Rue de la Grange aux Belles (map)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

More vegetables in the depths of winter

We've done dried beans, and we've done jarred pineapple and peppers. Now, since the big freeze is here, I decided to make a warm salad with decidedly unwarm vegatables. Say it loud, say it proud: There's nothing wrong with frozen vegetables. Especially if you buy the best quality organic ones. So there.

A Frenchwoman would probably call this a poêlée (a 'fryingpanned'). I'm an Englishwoman, and I'm calling it a warm salad. What really makes the earthy beans, chickpeas, and mushrooms sing is the pesto vinaigrette:

Best quality olive oil.

Vegan pesto (make your own in summer or try one of the Israeli brands available in Middle Eastern shops or at the Kosher Franprix in winter).

Red wine or sherry vinegar.

Salt and plenty of pepper.

The pesto does what mustard normally does in a vinaigrette: thickens and allows the whole shebang to emulsify. A post on vinaigrettes soon, I feel.

I served my warm salad (it can't be a 'fryingpanned' - I made it in my brand new Le Creuset casserole) with a side of Scheese on toast, because 'salad' sounds too healthy when it's -5°C outside.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Testing for Terry, gaining weight

I'm lucky enough to be testing recipes for Terry Romero's upcoming cookbook of world vegan cuisine. If the food I've made so far is anything to go by, this is going to be one heck of a book. Here's a sneaky look at some of the recipes I've made so far.

Claypot seitan, rice, and shiitakes:

Utterly utterly perfect rice and peas, served with broccoli and drizzled with green hot sauce:

Naan. Fluffy and perfect:

Amazing, omni-fooling flourless Mexican chocolate torte:

Winter warming stew from the Andes:

And I wonder why I've been putting weight on recently... all these fantastic recipes to cook mean I've never been so busy in the kitchen.

World's best three-minute brunch

Did I mention that avocados are really cheap and delicious at the moment? That fact, coupled with the fact that I woke up earlier than ideal for a Sunday, meant that there was only one possible brunch option when I got home this brunchtime after a trudge through newly snowy Paris:

Oh yes, avocados on toast. There's not really a recipe, but here's what you do:

Toast some good bread.

Drizzle said bread with just a little home-made chili-infused olive oil.

Scoop out an avocado and squidge with a fork onto your toast.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. And maybe add nutritional yeast flakes and/or sesame seeds to jazz it up a bit.