Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Two-course Vegan, Asian-Inspired Feast

Asparagus Tempura


Miso Tofu with Asian Salad

Asparagus Tempura

Miso Tofu
I tend to not use tofu very often, as it has eggy/wibbly tendencies which I'm not too sure about, but this version being roasted in the oven after being simmered in a marinade firms it up no end. The recipe was originally from Good Food magazine (read it here), but was a non-vegan version containing egg.  I used more tofu to compensate for the egg which, handily enough, also corresponded with the pack size of the most readily-available brand of tofu (Cauldron).

I felt very virtuous while doing the supermarket shop for this one, as many of the ingredients are available in seasonal British versions right now - radishes, asparagus, even yellow/orange and green peppers.

These two courses are both completely vegan and are intended to be relatively quick and easy to whip up. For that reason I've suggested using a ready-made sweet chilli sauce rather than making your own dipping sauce, but feel free to make your own if you're not in a rush. This recipe, for example, sounds dead nice.

You may notice in the picture of the tofu that only one piece of it appears to have any miso glaze on it. This is because I ignored the pan while watching telly, and let it reduce too much into a thick, burnt-ish jam - so don't do that.

Serves 2

For the tempura

What you need

50g plain flour
Half a tbsp cornflour
75ml lager or fizzy water
1 bunches of asparagus
any flavourless oil for deep-frying e.g. sunflower oil
sweet chilli sauce for dipping (or a dip of your choosing!)

What to do

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, and get a pan of water onto a rolling boil. Drop the asparagus in and let it cook for 2 minutes, then drain. Blast with cold tap water to stop the cooking process, or better yet drop it into a bowl of iced water. Leave to one side.

Add enough depth of oil to deep fry into a wok or deep frying pan - you need less than you think, a couple of inches should do it - and put it onto a medium heat while you make up your batter.

Sift the flour and cornflour into a mixing bowl. Grab a balloon whisk and gradually pour in the beer or fizzy water, whisking all the while with the other hand. Get a friend to do the pouring if you're not terribly ambidextrous.

Check whether your oil is up to temperature - they say until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. I didn't have any bread, so a beansprout had to do, but the effect was much the same. When you're happy that the oil is hot enough, get a plate ready with a layer of kitchen roll on and grab a slotted spoon. Coat each piece of asparagus with the batter one at a time before dropping it in.

I would suggest doing the tempura in small batches - each should only take around 3 minutes to start browning. Fish them out as they're done with the slotted spoon, before transferring to the kitchen roll plate to soak up any excess oil.

Serve with your dipping sauce.

For the tofu

What you need

400g firm tofu (I used a 396g block of Cauldron tofu, close enough)
1 tbsp miso paste
150ml mirin
75ml soy sauce, plus 1 tbsp for the dressing
150g beansprouts
6 radishes, thinly sliced
half an orange or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
handful of pea shoots
handful of plain roasted peanuts
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
half a tbsp caster sugar
a nubbin of grated ginger - about half a cm
1.5 tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil
1 crushed garlic clove

What to do

First of all, press the tofu to squish some of the liquid out of it - take it out of the packaging, wrap it in some layers of kitchen roll and put it under a biggish book or two. Leave it to press while you prepare the salad, as you do want it quite firm for this recipe.

Next, prepare the salad. Blanch the beansprouts in boiling water for two minutes, then drain and flush with cold water to stop them cooking. Transfer to a large bowl with the sliced spring onions, radishes and peppers.

For the dressing, whisk together the rice vinegar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, the ginger, garlic and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Then pour in the oil in a steady stream, whisking all the while so it combines properly without separating (emulsifies, if you want to get technical). Stir the dressing into the veg and pop it in the fridge until you're ready to serve.

Unwrap the tofu from its kitchen roll, and cut into 8 triangles - cut once width-ways down the whole block so you have two thinner halves, then cut each half into 4 triangles.

Now you can start preparing the glaze for your tofu. Put the tbsp of miso paste in a mug and add 2 tbsp of boiling water, then stir with a fork until smooth. 

Get a large, deep-ish frying pan and pour the miso 'stock' in. Stir in the mirin and soy sauce, then bring it to the boil. Once boiling, add the tofu in a single layer. Let it cook for 15 minutes, turning the tofu over halfway through.

Turn the oven on at 200 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment. Fish the tofu out of the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon - but don't turn off the heat - and transfer to the baking tray. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes. While it's cooking, keep the heat on under the miso until it reduces and becomes syrupy - this will be your glaze! Keep an eye on it as it easily reduces down too much - which is exactly what happened to me! Just take it off the heat when it looks like the consistency you want.

When the tofu is done cooking, allow it to cool slightly and spoon the glaze onto each triangle, spreading it with the back of the spoon.

Pile the beansprout salad onto each plate, with the tofu slices arranged on top. Scatter over the peanuts and pea shoots.

Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Chickpea Patties with Carrot & Watercress Salad and Raita


I think it's often tempting for veggies to ignore foods that are typically seen by meat-eaters as being 'What Vegetarians Eat.' For example, a jowly colleague at a work buffet might loom over your shoulder chortling about the 'rabbit food' you've stacked your plate with, and commenting on how "no wonder you're all so pale when all you people eat is bloody lentils, hurr hurr," and you instantly feel like never eating lentils again just to spite them. Chickpeas are probably among the foods which have suffered on this count, but I feel more well-disposed towards them when I remember how cheap, versatile and tasty they can be.

On one of my weekend trips back up North I managed to put together these chickpea patties. Most of the ingredients are typical store-cupboard stuff, so they make a good Emergency Tea! They're very easy, very cheap and very versatile - you can serve these as shown, in a burger bun with all the trimmings, or the same mix in smaller balls as a snack or party food. If you don't have time or can't be bothered to make your own raita, the shop-bought versions are perfectly good.

You do, as with most burger-type things, need a food processor. They take up a lot of space but they're dead good.

Serves 2

What you need

For the chickpea patties

1 can of chickpeas
2 slices of stale-ish bread, torn up
1 free range egg, beaten
3 spring onions, roughly chopped
Half a bunch of coriander, leaves torn off the stalks
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 red chilli, de-seeded if you want to reduce the heat, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

For the side salad

1 carrot, grated
Large handful of watercress

For the raita

100ml pot of plain natural yoghurt
About 1/4 of a cucumber, diced into small cubes
Handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
A pitta bread each to serve (if you like)

What to do

It's best to do the raita first, then that can be chilling in the fridge while you do the rest. Put the diced cucumber in strong kitchen roll or a clean tea towel, and squeeze some of the water out of them. This helps to avoid a sloppy dip! Stir the cucumber and chopped mint into the yoghurt, and put in the fridge until you want it.

Drain the chickpeas and put in the food processor, along with the egg, the torn-up bread, spring onions, coriander, garam masala, cumin, chilli, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Whizz it all up until it is smooth enough for your liking - use your preference here, some people prefer a few big lumps of chickpea.

Put a large non-stick frying pan on to heat, with a thin coating of oil, ready for your patties.

When I make this it's usually too runny to treat like a burger and form the patty shapes before you fry, so I take big tablespoons of the mixture and put them straight into the hot pan. You should get 4 out of the mixture - 2 each. You can shape them a bit with the spoon once they're in. Give them about 5 minutes on that side, then flip them over. Using the biggest spatula/slice you can find and flipping them in one swift movement means they're less likely to fall apart. Fry for 5 minutes on the second side, then transfer them onto some kitchen roll while you plate up.

Put the pitta breads in the toaster, if you're using.

Add a big handful of watercress and another of grated carrot to each plate (the raita dip also does well as a salad dressing), then add a big dollop of raita, the patties and a toasted pitta bread.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Spiced Butternut Squash and Rice Noodle Broth (vegan)

Sorry for long silence - I've been working between Yorkshire and Hampshire so I feel like I live on a train at the moment, and feel a teeny bit fried.

Although I normally don't bother with recipe books with too much meat going on, there are some proper gems in Jamie's 15 Minute Meals. He's got his detractors, sure, but I find myself quite fond of him, especially now he's stopped saying 'pukka' all the time.

I haven't actually managed to produce anything edible in the stated 15 minutes, but that's more because I split my kitchen time evenly between actual cooking and dancing around to David Bowie with my spatula guitar rather than anything else. 

This broth is a veganised version of the Thai Chicken Laksa recipe in the book - ex-chicken, fish sauce etc. A note on fish sauce - I'm aware that there are veggie alternatives but have never come across any in a shop... I did for one brief moment of madness consider using Henderson's Relish instead, but decided to just omit it in the end. 

Anyway, this is coconutty, warming and quick (even if not 15 minutes quick) so I hope you give it a try.

Serves 4!

You pretty much can't get out of having a food processor for this one. If you don't have one, you can get one for about £15 quid in Asda (a pants one, but you know) and they're dead handy.

What you need

About 800ml vegan stock e.g. Marigold Vegan Bouillon
Half a butternut squash, peeled and grated - use food processor!
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
a nubbin of ginger
1 red chilli (remove seeds if you don't like too much heat)
1 tsp turmeric
About 4 spring onions, topped and tailed
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut butter (original recipe says a teaspoon - I misread it and used a tbsp - much better!)
1 tbsp soy sauce
300g rice noodles - choose your thickness, I used fine
400g tin of coconut milk
Juice of a lime 
a big handful of fresh coriander
Bunch of asparagus - none in the picture you may notice, as I didn't have any in. Such is fate

What to do

Bring the stock to the boil in a large pan. When at a rolling boil, tip in the grated squash.

Bung the garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric, spring onions, sesame oil, peanut butter, soy sauce and most of the coriander (reserve some leaves to sprinkle over) into the food processor, and whizz it all together until it's a fine paste. Tip it in with the stock/squash. Add your rice noodles.

Cut the asparagus in half and add to the pan, along with the coconut milk. Bring it to the boil and let the asparagus cook to your liking - couple of minutes at most really - then add lime juice and more soy sauce to 'balance the seasoning', as Jamie puts it (very cheffy). 

Turn the heat off and serve, sprinkled with the reserved coriander leaves.

Done! 'Pukka!' *groan*

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Griddled Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes

If you have never tried polenta before, please allow me to inform you that it is THE BOMB. Compared to other carb-type stuff, it's pretty low calorie, it's as cheap as 'owt, it's a complex carbohydrate which is apparently a good thing (something something glycaemic index??) and it's gluten free.
It also needs very little adornment other than stock and garlic or herbs to flavour it. Intrigued? Good.

You can buy polenta from major supermarkets (definitely Sainsburys) and health food shops, either in its ground form or even as a ready-made block. Italfresco sell a ready-made version in Sainsburys which is all ready to be sliced and griddled, and costs 75p. Ground polenta is occasionally called fine cornmeal, but it amounts to the same thing. The main thing to check is the cooking time - some grades of polenta/cornmeal apparently take up to 45 minutes of stirring - no thanks. For this recipe, I used Suma's polenta (health food shop) which only needs stirring for one minute.

I've added cheese to the polenta here but it's dead easy to veganise - just omit the cheese and make sure your stock is vegan (for example, Marigold vegan bouillon).

This recipe only really has 2 main ingredients so, apart from beans on toast, it's one of the cheapest and easiest meals for two I can think of.

If after this you're in my club of Polenta Enthusiasts, try some different stuff - add different things to the polenta as it's cooking, eat it in its gloopy porridge-y form, use it as a hotpot topping, as a pizza base...

Anyway. I shall stop enthusing about cornmeal products because it's getting a bit sad. Have fun!

Serves 2

What you need

100g quick-cook polenta
500ml water
2 cloves of garlic,crushed
a good vegetable stock
250g cherry tomatoes - a mix of colours is nice if you can get them
olive oil
50g grated cheddar cheese (optional)
fresh basil
salt and pepper

What to do

Boil the kettle. Add a tiny drizzle of oil to a deep saucepan and add the crushed garlic - just heat it through to take the raw edge off, no need to brown it.

Add 500ml of the boiled water into the pan with the garlic and turn the heat up high to bring it back to the boil. Crumble in a vegetable stock cube, or if you've got 500ml of home-made vegetable stock hanging around then use that instead (if you're fancy like that).

When the pan has reached boiling point, pour in the polenta slowly in a thin stream, stirring all the while. It's easier if you pour the polenta from a jug.

Keep stirring for 1 minute (or however long the packet advises) - watch out because it will bubble like a crazy volcano, but that's normal. When the polenta has thickened, season it generously with salt, pepper and anything else you like (e.g. fresh or dried herbs if you have any knocking around) and add the cheese if using. Stir to combine, then pour into something with a wide, flat base like a roasting tin.

Leave it to cool a bit, then refrigerate it for about half an hour - it will solidify and you'll be able to slice it.

While the polenta is cooling, slice your cherry tomatoes in half and transfer to a roasting tin with a slug of olive oil. About 15 minutes in to the polenta-cooling time, put the tomatoes in the oven at 160 degrees. They need to be in for half an hour, so when the polenta comes out of the fridge you'll have another 15 minutes to slice and griddle it - tweak the timings as you like.

Bring the polenta out of the fridge when it's had its half an hour, and slice it into wedges. Brush a heavy griddle pan with a little bit of olive oil - if it's non-stick, this isn't always necessary - and put it over a high heat until it's outrageously hot.

Add the polenta slices and griddle for a few minutes on each side until they have nice char marks.

Serve the polenta slices with the roasted tomatoes, then scatter with a torn-up handful of fresh basil.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Baked Pasta Rolls/Sideways Canneloni

Hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and New Year!

This recipe is probably the only good thing to have come out of eating nothing but restaurant food for two months (apart from increased fatness-linked winter warmth). My colleagues and I ate at Jamie's Italian on a couple of occasions and enjoyed it - however it's not exactly great for veggies, because although there are a few options which are either veggie already or easily adaptable, nothing is labelled and they are pretty indiscriminate with the Parmesan so you have to just trust the knowledge of your waiter/waitress when it comes to making a choice!

This recipe is an amalgamation of what I ended up eating in Jamie's Italian - which they called Honeycomb Canneloni - and a recipe from Jamie's website called Squash & Spinach Pasta Rotolo. I've picked the best of both worlds when it comes to the filling - half have a spinach and feta filling, half have aubergine and sun-dried tomato. There's no reason why you can't experiment with different stuff, let me know in the comments if you hit on something incredible! I've labelled the recipe steps which relate to the different fillings, so you can ignore one and double the quantity of the other if you like.

Although it's pretty fiddly - I felt like I had 10 thumbs when I was trying to do the rolls - it looks really pretty and is a great variation on boring old canneloni.

Serves 4

What you need

olive oil
6 fresh lasgne sheets (or dried, pre-boiled)
300g fresh spinach
1 onion (chopped)
half a standard-size block of veggie feta
pinch of nutmeg
500ml passata
50g mature cheddar or 25g faux-parmesan
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 aubergines
a good handful sun-dried tomatoes
a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
salt & pepper

What to do

Aubergine filling - First, slice both the aubergines in half vertically (stalks removed) and score across the cut side in a criss-cross pattern like you would a mango. Place in a baking dish. Drizzle each half with a tablespoon of olive oil (sorry for chronic unhealth but aubergine is such an oil sponge) and place in the oven at 180 degrees for about half an hour until soft all the way through. Set aside to cool.

Spinach filling - While the aubergines are doing, you can be sorting your spinach. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and add the onion. Fry until softened and starting to brown at the edges, then add the spinach and put the lid on the pan. Leave for about 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted, then season liberally with salt, pepper and the nutmeg before taking off the heat. Pour off any excess liquid that's come off the spinach.

Aubergine filling - When the cooked aubergine is cool, scrape the flesh out of the skin and mash it with a fork. Cut up the sun-dried tomatoes (I find scissors easiest) and stir them in. Season with salt and pepper. 

Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan (So much oil! So many pans! I know, I know) and add the crushed garlic. Wait until it's sizzling but not burning, then pour in the passata. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. 

Now for the fiddly part. Lay out one lasagne sheet at a time on a plate or board. It helps to spray or brush the surface with a small amount of oil to stop it sticking. Make sure both your fillings and the feta are within reach.

Spread the lasagne sheet with your chosen filling - alternate fillings when you change sheet to make sure it's half and half - adding a crumbled handful of feta to the spinach one, then roll up like a tiny pasta carpet. Slice each roll into three, and place each roll carefully into the pan with the passata. Place them side by side until the pan is full.

Grate over your cheese of choice and scatter over the basil if you're using. Bake in a 180 degree oven for around half an hour until golden brown.

Serve with garlic bread or a green salad, depending on the degree of January diet austerity you're enforcing.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Lentil, Spinach and Red Wine Pie - Emergency Christmas Recipe

I've been away from home working for two months. All I have eaten during this time has been restaurant food and hotel breakfasts. By consequence, I am a) as fat as a lord and b) anxious to get back in the kitchen and away from whatever TGI Fridays consider to be a viable vegetarian option. This is, by the way, the reason for the long blog silence - the closest I've got to any type of meal preparation since October has been peeling a banana.

Christmas is tomorrow - TOMORROW - so this post is mainly for meat eaters who have a surprise veggie guest and are freaking out about what to feed them. This pie works really well either as one big pie for a centrepiece, or you can split it down into individual pies (as pictured) if there are just one or two veggie guests. The quantities can be really easily messed about with as long as you keep to the same proportions, and it's really easy to veganise - just use a white vegetable fat (e.g. Trex) in your pastry instead of butter, omit the cheese, and make sure your red wine is vegan - Sainsburys and the Co-op have clear labelling on their own-brand wines.
There's no pastry bottom to this pie, just the lid, to avoid a Bake-Off style soggy bottom crisis. 

I think people tend to panic the most either when they are new veggies planning their first meat-free Christmas, or when they are meat eaters catering for a vegetarian guest. Just remember that there are lots of options beyond the traditional, and largely detested, nut loaf. If your entire family is meat-free, remember that you don't have to stay traditional - why not just bung on a big tapas spread, or curry, or Thai .... anything which lends itself well to sharing! 

To make a 4-person pie, or 4 individual pies
NB this recipe is about a million times easier if you have a food processor
Don't forget to allow time for the pie filling to cool!

What you need

For the pastry

225g plain flour
100g butter, cubed and at room temperature
75g grated mature cheddar
1 tbsp cold water

For the filling

2 tbsps olive oil
2 400g cans of puy lentils
1 onion, chopped
1 small carrot, diced (food processor!)
1 small celery stalk, diced
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 175ml bottle of red wine
100ml stock
1 tbsp plain flour
A handful of fresh spinach

What to do

First, make your pastry. If you are lucky enough to have a food processor, tip all the pastry ingredients in then pulse it until it looks like breadcrumbs. Roll into a ball - if it's too crumbly add more water, if it's too wet add more flour - wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge until it's needed. If you don't have a food processor, rub the fat into the flour with your hands until it looks like breadcrumbs, add the cheese then do as above.

Now, the filling. Heat the olive oil in a largish saucepan then, when it's up to temperature, add the onions, diced celery and diced carrot. Fry over a medium heat until softened and just starting to brown - don't let the onion brown too quickly. Add the crushed garlic and the rosemary then fry for another minute before adding the flour. Cook for a further minute so you don't get that raw flour taste. 

Add the red wine and stock to the pan. Bring it to the boil then reduce the heat down to a simmer. Leave it, stirring occasionally until it's thickened - about 10-15 minutes.

Add the spinach and lentils into the pan and leave to cook for a final 5 minutes before taking off the heat. You now need to leave it to cool - if you add a pastry lid to boiling hot filling it will just collapse into mushy goo.

Towards the end of the cooling time, you could occupy yourself by rolling out the pastry and cutting out one or more lid shapes, and turning the oven on at 170 degrees.

When it's cool, transfer the filling into your pie dish/dishes of choice and lay over your pastry lid. Brush the top with beaten egg if you like, although of course not if you're vegan. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes - definitely check after 15 as pastry can go from golden-brown amazingness to burnt like THAT. 

Serve with whatever trimmings you fancy - we went for herby new potatoes and green veg - and enjoy!

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Spinach Pasta Soufflé Bake

I am back from the horrible wilderness of exam time. I haven't posted anything in absolutely ages, but I honestly haven't produced anything that was even worth eating, let alone blogging! We have been living on convenience food while I frantically tried to learn how to do accounting in time to pass the exam. But it's over now, and what better way to welcome myself back into the kitchen but with a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's wonderful Veg Every Day.

This is a tasty cross between a pasta bake and a soufflé, with the added bonus of spinach and a decent amount of cheese. Absolutely impossible to veganise though unfortunately, there really is no substitute that I'm aware of for the wizardry of beaten egg white.

We're still dieting too, I make this just under 400 calories a portion if you use semi-skimmed milk and low fat cheese, which is pretttty good for something involving the unholy trinity of pasta, butter and cheese.

For the original recipe and plenty more brilliant stuff besides, Veg Every Day is available here.

I also realised while photographing this that there is no way to make this food look good. Oh well.

Serves 4

What you need

1 onion, chopped
100g pasta of any shape - except spaghetti, that would be weird
200g fresh spinach
50g butter
50g plain flour
300ml semi-skimmed or whole milk
3 eggs, separated into yolk and white. Hugh suggests one extra egg white but that strikes me as unnecessary ballache, and problem of spare egg yolk. Up to you.
60g mature cheddar cheese
salt, pepper, nutmeg

What to do

Heat either a small amount of olive oil or some frylight, and fry off the onion until soft and golden. Set to one side.

Put the pasta on to boil, following the pack instructions for cooking time, then drain and again set to one side.

Wilt the spinach - easiest way is by putting it in a colander and pouring boiling water over it. Make sure to really squeeze as much water as you can out of the wilted spinach or you'll have a very soggy bake. Try either squashing it with a potato masher or putting it in a clean tea towel and squeezing (flush it with cold water first if you do that, or you'll burn your hands! Stating the obvious but you never know!). Use kitchen scissors to snip the spinach into pieces. 

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When melted, add the flour all at once and whisk furiously with a balloon whisk until any lumps have gone. Cook for one minute, then add the milk little by little, whisking all the time. Keep whisking until the mixture has come to the boil. You should have a thickish bechamel sauce. Turn the heat off, then stir in the onion, egg yolks, cheese, nutmeg, spinach, salt and pepper. Stir the cooked pasta into the sauce.

In a pristinely-clean bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the egg whites until they are at the firm peaks stage. Stir a spoonful into your spinach and pasta mixture just to loosen it, then carefully fold the rest of the whites in, taking care not to knock too much of the air out.

Transfer the lot to a baking dish and bake at 190 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. 

Have fun!