Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Going vegan- week 4

I'm going to say it- I am quite enjoying being vegan! Though it is undoubtedly restrictive, it has made me think more creatively about food, and actually be open to some things that I've previously been a bit scathing about. And most importantly, everything I've cooked has genuinely been really tasty (I'm still quite surprised by this).

The Bircher muesli, and salad and bean based lunches are still going strong during the week, as are snacks based around nuts, crisps (one of the most delicious vegan foods), and fruit. Dinners during this week have been particularly successful though. I made a vegetable and cashew nut stir-fry with one of those bags of supermarket ready-prepped veg, a Japanese-style aubergine nasu dengaku, and leftover black pepper tofu. I've only ever eaten nasu dengaku in Teri-Aki before but it looked pretty simple to make. Just fry (or cook by your preferred method) pieces of aubergine, make a sauce by gently heating some miso paste, mirin, and sugar, mix together, and ta-dah- Japanese deliciousness results! The only slight flaw in the plan, was that the Sainsbury's miso paste I picked up was not a 'pure' one and had stuff like ginger in it too. It was still perfectly nice, but I'll make sure I purchase an unadulterated version in the future. I also toned down the amount of sugar I used, as some recipes seem to have loads. I added 1tsp of brown sugar to 2 heaped tblsp of miso and around 4 tblsp of mirin. This suited me, and was plenty to coat my medium aubergine, but you can of course adjust to taste. The sweetness of the aubergine was just the right antidote to the burn of the tofu, and a generous amount of nuts in the stir-fry added texture (and some more protein).

Aubergine made an appearance later in the week too, when I cooked a very simple tomato sauce/stew to go with courgette 'spaghetti', and a cheese-free rocket and walnut pesto.  Courgette spaghetti is just courgette cut into fine strips with one of those julienne peeler things. I must have bought one on a whim years ago, and it's actually pretty handy. It's obviously not essential to have your vegetables resemble pasta, but there is something psychologically beneficial about being able to twirl your food round on a fork. I have made this before, but looking back I definitely over-cooked the courgettes. So everything tasted nice, but the veg had a not brilliant, watery texture. I've learnt my lesson though, so once my two courgette was julienne-ed up, I cooked them in two batches for no more than 3 minutes in some olive oil. Courgettes can basically be eaten raw, so mine were just slightly softened, and cooking smaller amounts at a time meant they they didn't release loads of liquid. The tomato sauce was a basic mix of onion, garlic, and aubergine sautéed in olive oil until soft, and then simmered with a can of chopped tomatoes, some water, a sprinkling of dried mixed herbs, a tablespoon of sundried tomato purée, and finished with some fresh basil.

For the weekend, I thought I'd try and put together some sort of vegan roast dinner. As I don't eat meat anyway, this wasn't actually much of a leap from the type of thing I'd make for a hearty, winter lunch (just with more sunshine). Quorn products aren't vegan, so mini sausages were out, but I instead ramped up my nut roast efforts, made an onion gravy, roasted potatoes and parsnips, sautéed Savoy cabbage, and steamed some broccoli.

Nut roast (enough for 4):

1 170g pack Paxo sage and onion stuffing, made up with water
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
Around 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Around 70g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
Around 70g walnut pieces
1 tsp mixed, dried herbs
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2-3 tblsp olive oil
Generous grind of pepper and a little salt

Cook the onion in the oil until soft and starting to caramelise, and then add the herbs, garlic, mushrooms, and nuts. Season well, and fry until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Make up the Paxo stuffing mix with hot water, and then combine with the mushrooms. You could of course just use an equivalent amount of fresh breadcrumbs and sage, but I genuinely think the Paxo mix (with its extra dried onions, garlic powder, and herbs) adds a flavour boost as well as bulk. The nut roast is basically all cooked, but I assemble it in advance, put into a shallow baking dish, drizzle the top with a little olive oil, and pop into the lower part of the oven at gas mark 6 for around 30 minutes (when the roast vegetables are in). The top should be browned, but be careful not to let it dry out. I have to say that this resulted in an excellent roast dinner.

I also thought I'd try my hand at some vegan baking, but started small with some flapjacks. I took inspiration from this really rather fab food blog, but reduced the amount of syrup (to around 4 tblsp), and added dried cranberries (a generous handful), and around 50g of mixed seeds. I was definitely concerned about using sunflower margarine, rather than butter, and specifically that it would taste strongly of marg. But actually I don't think I would have known the difference. Anything with lots of sugar in it tends to taste mainly of that, and I also had fruit and seeds too. Reducing the amount of syrup did make the flapjacks a bit more crumbly than I imagine the originals were, but there were still robust enough to cut up into pieces. It's also a super-simple recipe, but pretty damn good.

I thought this was going to be my last vegan post, but actually I have a few additional things to write about so there's one more coming!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Going vegan- week 3

So things continue to go well in vegan world. I've stuck with the Bircher muesli breakfast (toast with margarine just doesn't appeal that much), but have switched up the fruit I have with it. I've been a bit pressed for time, so I thought I'd look into a few ready made options for my work lunches. I was delighted to find that Waitrose do a whole range of packaged, salad-y things which are vegan. I think they are actually all labelled as vegetarian, but they don't have any dairy in them.

I added some extra cashew nuts to the Asian slaw, which was properly zesty and sharp, with loads of lime in the dressing, and ideal for the stupidly hot weather we've had recently. Lemon and coriander humus (or indeed houmous) is pretty much a classic now, and went perfectly with the roasted cauliflower salad. These are definitely two salads I will buy again (or try and replicate at home). Anyway, with the addition of some salad leaves, tomatoes, olives, and Ryvita, these three items dealt with my weekday lunch requirements.

For dinners in the week, I accidentally made way too much Indian food. To be honest, I don't think I've ever managed to make a small amount of 'desi khanna', so this was not that surprising. I made Bengali-style greens (but with no ghee) and a Bengali-style malai curry but with mushrooms, broccoli, and baby corn instead of prawns. I also increased the spicing a bit to compensate for lack of seafood, so added in 2 tsp of ground coriander, another of ground cumin, and 1 tsp of crushed chilli flakes (mostly due to running out of fresh chillis). This was served with quinoa cooked with Indian whole spices and cashew nuts, in the style of a pilau rice, and some poppadoms. As expected this was all delicious, and the quinoa worked really well with everything else as a rice-alike neutral grain.

Weekend eating involved the appearance of a now somewhat ubiquitous Linda McCartney product (sausage rolls this time, which are actually quite nice). I also made some quinoa and mushroom stuffed, roasted peppers, which were unexpectedly tasty too (despite not having any melted cheese on top), with the sweet pepper contrasting nicely with the savoury filling.

Roasted and stuffed peppers (I'd suggest half a pepper per person as a side dish)

2 peppers (ideally red or yellow)
1 small red onion, finely sliced
2  medium cloves garlic, crushed
Around 50-75g quinoa
5 or 6 chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
1 tblsp vegan herb cream cheese (optional)
5-6 basil leaves, torn
1 tsp Marigold vegetable bouillon powder
2-3 tblsp olive oil
Around 100ml water, or enough to cook the quinoa

Firstly the peppers- slice each one in half through it's stalk. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and then drop in the peppers. Reduce the heat a bit, and simmer for around 5-10 minutes, until the peppers are tender. Drain, pat dry, and then drizzle over a bit of olive oil. Make sure the sure the peppers are well coated in oil and then put them under a grill until they just start to char and blister a bit. Turn them at least once during the process. If you have functioning oven, you can just oil up the peppers and roast them in there on gas mark 6, but this will take around 30 minutes. While the peppers are cooking, gently fry the onion, garlic, and mushroom, in the rest of the oil. Once they've softened, add the quinoa, the bouillon powder, and hot water to cover. Simmer over a low heat for around 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is cooked, adding more water if needed. Stir in the basil leaves, and cream cheese, and spoon into the peppers. If you wanted some sort of topping I would suggest breadcrumbs, either fried in a pan first and sprinkled on top, or 'raw' drizzled with oil and then grilled.

I've also increased my snacking range, as lots of of savoury, crunchy stuff appears to be effortlessly vegan. I've never had plantain chips before, but they were excellent. And of course, it's hard to go wrong with rice crackers.

For some slightly more extravagant weekend dinners, I cooked an uber-spicy, vegan version of Ottolenghi's black pepper tofu (which has become a modern classic). Making this vegan, just means leaving out the butter, so pretty simple. I  also made quite a lot of cauliflower fried rice and a side of steamed pak choi with sesame oil. As a side note, I didn't bother blanching the cauliflower first this time (and won't bother again). I just sautéed it in a bit of oil and garlic in a non-stick pan, for a few minutes, tipped it out, cooked the other veg, and tipped it back in. This was all fantastic, and again one of those meals which I'd happily eat again, vegan or not.

So veganism so far is proving to be surprisingly delicious.