Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Super-warming sweet potato, red lentil and chickpea soup

Back from a blustering three-hour bike ride last week, my boyfriend went out to buy the best loaf of bread he could find, whilst I gathered everything tasty in the kitchen into one massive pot. Seasonal, ridiculously filling and warming, this sweet potato soup would make a perfect low-key Sunday lunch- add the spiced soy yoghurt and some warm sour dough bread if you've got hungry friends in tow.

Makes enough for four servings

One sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped small
200g red lentils
1 tin (drained) chick peas
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of tumeric
Around 300-400ml vegetable stock
One chili, chopped small
Handful of coriander, roughly chopped
Few glugs of olive oil

To serve: warm bread and soy yoghurt topped with any remaining coriander and cayenne pepper.

In a large pan, sweat the onion for a few minutes, before adding in both types of potato. Add in the red lentils, chili, spices and seasoning, and mix so all the flavours can begin to combine. Pour in the vegetable stock and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes.

Once the potatoes and red lentils are cooked through, take off the heat and blend with a hand blender or food processor. Now add in the chick peas and half the coriander (saving the rest to garnish on top or to mix in with the yoghurt), season to taste, and serve up.

P.S. If you're on Pinterest, pop over to the Guac & Roll page, where I'll be pinning lots of the recipes I come across, along with plenty of my own photos and works-in-progress from the blog. (Makes for perfect browsing with a big bowl of sweet potato soup too!)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Beetroot and potato cakes for a birthday brunch

Brunch is full stop the best meal of the day. This beetroot and caramelised orange salad recipe with potato cakes and spicy yoghurt is everything a good brunch should be: sweet, savoury, great as an alternative to a fry up and yes, slightly ludicrous.

This recipe is based on one I found by Riverford Farm head chef Jane Baxter- I veganised the potato cakes and simplified quite a few of the different flavours going on, so you’re just left with a huge plate of  brunchtime. I think the crazy colours and sizzle of potato cakes make this a perfect start to a birthday; it’s great with coffee, tea and funnily enough, a LOT of cava.

NB- To speed up the recipe, mash the potato the night before, or better, just make too much with dinner and save a bowl-full of leftovers.

Makes a lot for two people, or enough for four


For the potato cakes:
Bowl of mashed potato
150 gram flour (chickpea flour)
100ml Soy yoghurt
Pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of cayenne
Sunflower, vegetable or olive oil for frying

For the salad:
300g beetroot, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp sugar
2 oranges, peeled and segmented

For the yoghurt dip:
Half pot soy yoghurt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika
Handful of coriander, chopped, and some to serve.

Preheat the oven to 200C and once hot, roast the beetroot in a tablespoon of oil, along with salt and pepper, uncovered for around 45 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together to mash and gram flour, adding in the almond milk, bicarb and cayenne pepper, and season well.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and drop a tablespoon-size of the batter mix into the pan. I did one at a time to the pan wouldn’t get too crowded. Cook for two or three minutes on either side, and then leave on a plate while repeating with the rest of the mixture, until you have around 12-16 pancakes.
By now the beetroot should be nearly done- in a saucepan heat the orange juice and sugar until it boils, then reduce until it becomes a syrupy texture. Add the beetroot and coat in the juice, along with half of the orange segments.

For the yoghurt mix, add the chopped coriander, paprika and cayenne pepper to the yoghurt and stir.
To serve, pour the warm beetroot into the centre of the dish, add the potato cakes at the side, topped with the yoghurt mix and the leftover orange segments.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Autumn at Borough Market

Get down to Borough Market while it still looks as beautiful as this- squash piled sky high and more apple types than I could count. I caught the bus down with my Mum a few weeks ago and we battled through the Saturday morning crowds with mulled wine in tow at Turnips' stall- well worth it to see all those tomatoes! 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Leftovers unite! Black eyed bean stuffed pepper bake with balsamic polenta

Stuffed peppers are one of those recipes I find myself veering away from if I have friends to cook for. Like anything involving tofu, tahini or nuts that need to be soaked over night, if I'm tired of the vegan cliche, my non-vegan friends are probably bored to tears. However, when faced with a glut of bell peppers and a pan of leftover rice, I couldn't see another way out. These stuffed peppers are in no-way revolutionary, but very easy, tasty and deceivingly exciting when placed in the middle of the table- the peppers will stay soft and juicy from being cooked next to the rice, and the onions and black eye bean eyed bean mixture is great with the tang from the balsamic polenta.

Makes enough for three- or use a pepper per person (and say that really fast)

One pepper per person, halved
Around 100g cooked rice per person
2-3 small red onions or shallots, left whole
2 tins black eyed beans
2 carrots, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 chili, chopped
Pinch of thyme

For the balsamic polenta
1.6 cups of polenta
2 cups water
1 cup almond milk
1 cup vegan margarine
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Place the halved peppers in a large oven-proof dish, spooning the cooked rice around them to cover the bottom of the dish.

In a large saucepan, heat a little oil and add one chopped onion, chili and the garlic. Allow to sweat for two or three minutes before adding the chopped carrot and thyme. Once the carrot has begun to soften add the black beans and heat just enough for the oil to coat everything and begin to cook together. Season to your own taste then turn off the heat.

Spoon the black bean mixture into the peppers, adding the raw onions in between, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Put the dish in oven and cook for about 20 minutes.

During this time you can make the polenta- click here to follow the Guac & Roll recipe from October, but before allowing to cool, drizzle balsamic over the top of the polenta, allowing it to sink into the grain while it sets.

Once the rice is cooked and the peppers are beginning to brown, take out of the oven and serve with a few spoon-fulls of polenta on the side. A perfect way to use up the cupboard stores!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Homemade rosemary plait bread with vegan potato and leek soup

When I was 14, I circulated a petition around an entire school assembly. It wasn't for a change in uniform or longer break times or whatever- it was because I wanted soup for lunch. In the days before Jamie Oliver's coup of the nation's canteens, when Turkey Twizzlers roamed free and the vegetarian option was a spoonful of cheese, I worked out the mark-up on soup would be through the roof for someone that did it properly, and went to see the head chef of school dinners to ask why he didn't. He told me he needed 30 signatures from me, "real names" of people that would actually eat soup for lunch, and then they would think about it. I delivered 207 to him the next day, and soup made its much-awaited debut on the school dinner rota the next week. Unsurprisingly, it was gross: industrial-sized packet soup thinned down with boiling water served in polystyrene cups. In retrospect, I should have just made and sold my own.

Good soup is easy to get right, and here's a recipe I would have used to feed the masses at lunchtime- the bread is fragrant and just the right amount of stodginess to mop up the naturally creamy potato and leek soup.

Makes enough for six

For the soup
1 onion, chopped
6-7 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
3-4 leeks, washed and chopped
500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Few glugs of olive oil

For the bread
Sainsbury's Crusty White Bread Mix
Few sprigs rosemary
Olive Oil
Warm water

The bread will need to prove so start by following the instructions on the packet for the bread, adding in the rosemary as you knead it.*

While the bread is being left to rise, begin the soup by sweating the chopped onion in a large pan with some olive oil for about three minutes. I always add the leeks first as I like them to fry a little in the olive oil to start to bring out their flavour. Now add the potatoes and stir through with the oil, onion and leeks, before adding 500ml of vegetable stock. Allow to simmer.

At this point it will probably be time to knock back the bread and knead it again. I chose to do a plait as my bread tin is currently being used to store a vegan haggis (!?) but I think the crusty mix would also work well as individual rolls.

Following the instructions, allow the bread to prove once more and turn the oven on to preheat at the required temperature. Once the bread is ready and in the oven, blitz the soup with a hand blender and season to taste. I love eating the bread almost scolding hot, with lots of pepper to contrast the leek flavour. Lunch for under £3 for 6 portions, and no petitions in sight.

*I feel a major pang of shame writing the words 'follow the instructions'... I am working on some of my own bread recipes from scratch, I promise, just not on chilly, hungover Sunday mornings.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Nut roast alternatives: Vegan haggis

Mark: Mmmm. Why toast when you can roast?
Jeremy: Another roast? That's the third today.
Mark: What's nicer than a roast?
Jeremy: Yeah, but, chain-eating roasts?

I'm not quite at chain-eating status yet, but with sooooo much amazing autumnal produce from Growing Communities, there seems to be enough food for at least three ginormous roast dinners every week. I'm not complaining, after all what's nicer than a roast? 

At the start of Autumn my friend Jenny suggested I tracked down some vegan haggis to try with a roast dinner. I haven't come across any in a shop yet, so instead, I've been working on my own recipe. Despite not having any of the traditional meat products in it, this haggis recipe is perfect when a nut roast just won't quite cut it, and I can confirm it also tastes amazing alongside tatties and neeps.

It's essential to watch The Life Aquatic while cooking Sunday lunch.

n.b. the ingredients list does look almost Ottolenghi in length, but most of these things will be hiding in your kitchen supplies- feel free to change the nuts or beans to ones you have in- the Vegetarian Society recipe I based this on asked for hazel nuts instead.

Makes enough for four


1 onion, chopped 
Few glugs of sunflower or vegetable oil 

4 carrots, very finely chopped

Handful of mushrooms, finely chopped

50g red lentils

600ml vegetable stock

25g mashed, tinned red or white kidney beans

35g ground peanuts

35g ground cashew nuts

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp dried curry mix

200g fine oatmeal

Salt and pepper

Decide how you are going to cook and serve the haggis- I greased with oil four pie tins, a bread tin, and also some muffin tins, I'd say the pie tins were the perfect size portion. 

Preheat the oven to 190C. In a large pan sweat the onion in the oil for 5 minutes, then add the carrot and mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the lentils and about three quarters of the stock.

With the remaining stock, blend in the kidney beans and add this to the pan, along with the nuts, soy sauce, lemon juice and seasoning. Mix well and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Now add the oatmeal and reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the mixture as the oats tend to stick to the bottom of the pan, so add more stock or water if needed. 

Garlic roasted beetroot to go along with the haggis

Spoon the mixture into your chosen tins and bake in the centre of the oven for around 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops go crispy.

The haggis freezes really well and just takes half a day to defrost in the fridge, so if you make extra you can store away for another roast- a perfect excuse!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Home truths: on battling temptation in Florence

A few photos from a recent teensy-tiny mini break to Florence with my best friend Rach. And now for some home truths: it was the hardest place as a vegan that I've visited so far.

Obviously I was expecting to have to navigate around towers of ice cream and fresh egg pasta, and after nearly a year of veganism it always gets easier to say no, but somehow, when everyone around you is taking their food so refreshingly seriously, it was even more frustrating when I couldn't try what I'm sure would be some of the best produce in the world.

I guess it's an unsaid fact of being vegan, especially after more than 20 years of eating otherwise- it's not an overnight change, and sometimes, when taken out of your comfort zone, those die-hard convictions get harder to locate. It's something I've rarely heard any of my other vegan friends discuss, and yet I'm sure we all have weeks or holidays or even a bad Monday morning when it would be so much easier to not be vegan.  No-one brings it up because no-one wants to admit that dramatically altering your entire lifestyle, whilst you believe it's the right thing to do, can also feel totally alienating and sometimes even isolating. When I started this blog I wanted to give an honest account of a vegan lifestyle, which is why I think it's also vital to deal with the reality of when being vegan isn't as easy as it should be.

You don't start hating cheese, eggs, or crème brûlée over night after deciding to change your diet- you just begin to stop thinking of it as the food you'll chose to consumer again. And I think it's that choice, and your reasons for making it, to keep a hold of. If you keep the facts, figures, reality, and more often than not- Ellen DeGeneres' voice in your head, you'll make it through.

So I ordered bruschetta and chamomile tea as main courses, and of course even this was done to perfection. I also chose pizza without cheese and just vegetable toppings, and a lot of olives and grapes to see me through the day. Just visiting the Mercato Centrale every morning was enough of a sensory overload- wheel barrows full of sundried tomatoes, the smell of porcini mushrooms heavy in the air. There are a few restaurants in Florence that specialise in vegan and vegetarian cooking, so if you're planning a visit soon I'd recommend giving those a try.

As for my trip? Well, I didn't get to eat my body weight in ice cream everyday like Rach, but I did get to drink a ton of out-of-this-world black coffee from every street-side kiosk I came across, and I came back more certain than ever of my convictions. And there's few things more important than that, right?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The mighty minestrone

It's bright, it's cold, it's time for minestrone. Perfect for sick days and hangovers alike, I love cooking up a huge pot and just leave it covered on the hob over the weekend. The word minestrone comes from the idea of a big and very substantial soup, and is believed to PRE-DATE the Roman Empire! Woah there. Although there are many recipes using meat stock or leftovers from other dishes, the earliest origins of minestrone are said to be when the Latin tribes of Rome lived off a vegetarian diet by necessity, making minestrone vegan by default, which is truly the best kind!

Makes enough for four

1 pack of Pedon Italian-style minestrone with pasta (or use your preferred pulses and teensy pasta)
3 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped,
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
1 carton chopped tomatoes
Handful fresh and ripe tomatoes
1 handful chopped basil
Salt, Pepper
Vegetable stock

In a large pan, sweat the onion for 3 minutes in a good glug of olive oil until it starts to go translucent, then add the carrot, garlic and minestrone mix. Add a little more olive oil to make sure everything is covered in it, then pour in around 300 ml of vegetable stock (or enough so it covers the entire mix, with an extra inch of water in the pan- as the pulses and pasta will absorb this). Leave on a medium heat for about 10-20 minutes (as per instructions for the pulses you have used).

While the minestrone is cooking, chop up the tomatoes into small chunks, along with the basil.  Add along with the carton of chopped tomatoes to the soup.

Leave to cook for another 20-30 minutes until the pulses have absorbed all the flavour and the soup has thickened up- season to taste, then eat with plenty of doorstep bread.

Pronto! Perfect minestrone.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Chapatis from scratch

For five years now, Wednesdays have been Curry Wednesdays. It was the first thing we decided as new flatmates and somehow it's just always stuck. We used to plot the menu for an entire week, often not finish making it until way past midnight and rarely even make a dent on the masses we'd cooked.

I've finally managed to scale down productions to just one, or maybe two (who can say no to dahl?), but after discovering how to make chapatis, I feel I might still be cooking into the small hours for quite a few more Wednesdays to come. It's not that they take long to make or are fiddly in the slightest, they're just really fun and one is never enough for me.

The recipe below is the simplest form, and then once you've mastered that, just add whatever you feel like- maybe a little curry powder, plain soy yoghurt (works just as well as dairy yoghurt) cumin, chopped coriander...or whatever takes your chapati fancy.

Makes enough for 12

2 cups of wholemeal flour or chapati flour
1 cup warm water
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp sunflower/vegetable oil

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, then gradually add in the warm water. Next add the salt and any flavourings you wish to add also.  Work the mixture until it is all combined in a soft dough, and if you have time, leave aside this for 10-30 minutes. If you're making a curry along side this, I would get all the ingredients cooked now, until you are just waiting for the curry to reduce- then everything should be ready at the same time.

Chop the dough into segments- you should be able to get 12 from this recipe. On a well floured surface, roll the chapati out until it is as thin as you can handle it. The dough seems to absorb a lot of flour so keep the rolling pin and surface well covered if it starts to stick.

With a dry frying pan on a medium high heat, add the chapati and heat until it starts to puff up- then flip it over and do the other side. In this time it's easy to roll the next chapati, as long as you keep an eye on the pan.

Stack all your chapatis on the side, and while this is going on check on your curry if you are making one. I chose sweet potatoes, green lentils, spinach and chickpeas for last week's curry night.

Once you have finished all the chapatis, serve up warm or with a soy yoghurt dip. These also taste great the next day microwaved along with any curry leftovers- so remember to hold a few back!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Braised red cabbage, apples and onion

Maybe it's my Polish roots coming through, but to me, there are few flavours more perfect than salty cabbage and tangy vinegar, especially against comfort foods like mashed potato or sausages. For my first go at braised red cabbage, I adapted a Delia Smith recipe, making it vegan, shorter in preparation time, and without the need to bake it in an oven.

It might take a bit of time to do all the layers, but I found if you're roasting vegetables, once they are all in the oven and cooking away, this recipe can be done in the meantime while the rest cooks, and will keep in the fridge for about 3 days, and freeze even better. The sugar creates the most amazing caramalised burnt bit happening at the bottom of the pan, while the cabbage at the top is really pink and flavoured with onions and the spices.

Makes easily enough for four
Half a large red cabbage, or as much as you fancy, shredded to give long, thin strands
2 red onions, chopped small
2 red apples, no need to peel, but chop small
1 clove garlic chopped tiny
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 pinches brown sugar
Glugs of vegetable or sunflower oil
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Chose a pan with as high sides as possible, like a wok or I used a pressure cooker, as it needs a lid also. Pour a glug of oil in the bottom of the pan, to cover it and stop the sugar burning. Then cover the bottom with the shredded cabbage, a third of the apple, onion, garlic, nutmeg, cinnamon, and brown sugar and then season. Repeat this two more times or until you've used everything up. It doesn't need to be totally even, it will get stirred around no doubt- but it means all the flavours will combine in the most tasty way in the pan.

Finally, pour another glug of oil and the white wine vinegar over it all, and place a lid on top. Every ten minutes or so, come back and stir, making sure nothing is stuck to the bottom, but otherwise this can simmer away for half an hour, until everything else is done.

I had this with vegan mash, spinach, roasted carrots, parsnips, onions, and Linda McCartney sausages and I would do it ALLLLLLL AGAIN.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A lunch bunch

Working from home sure does have its bonuses- ridiculously tasty lunches such as this one being a case in point. Cous cous salad, broad bean falafel and hummus all from Sainsbury's, who get extra snaps for their amazing vegan labeling, and bought by my Dad, who gets snaps for spending 20 minutes deciphering ingredients lists in the hummus aisle.

Anyway, falafel aside, here's a few links related to veganism that I've been perusing lately, which are the perfect length for a lunchtime read (i.e. the time of day where it's okay to spill cous cous all over your desk after missing your mouth as you're looking at the screen and not the spoon... good work).

So, what is an ethical vegan? By Sali Owen, or, No, it's not like the time you tried the South Beach diet.

Forget meat – there's a world of vegetarian food out there By Lagusta Yearwood, let's talk tamales yeah?

Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists By John Vidal, looking at a new recipe to feed the future, and some great stats on agriculture for the next person that tells you soy beans are also bad for the planet.