Category Archives: Vegan

Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie - half eaten!

We’ve had the Vegan round for tea again.

And it’s autumn. Time for comfort food. And mushrooms.

  • 500g mixed white and chestnut mushrooms
  • 20g dried porcini
  • one onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • a pinch of dried mint
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 250ml rioja
  • 1/2 tbsp plain flour
  • 400g tin of lentils
  • a small sprig of thyme
  • a bay leaf
  • some brandy
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 100ml almond milk
  • a knob of sunflower spread
  • 2 spring onions
  • fresh nutmeg
  • a few splashes of olive oil for frying

Soak the porcini in a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for at least an hour. Chop the spring onions finely and gently heat in the almond milk, then leave to infuse until needed.

Quarter the mushrooms and sauté briskly on a highish heat with a pinch of salt. You may need to do this is batches. When they’ve taken on some colour and are starting to squeak sprinkle with chopped rosemary, add a splash of brandy and tilt the pan to flambé. Let the mushrooms drain on kitchen paper. Next sauté the onions gently, adding the garlic and dried herbs  once the onions have softened. Add the tomato puree and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Return the mushrooms to the pan. Add the wine one glug at a time, allowing each to bubble away before adding the next. Sprinkle in the flour and combine well. Cook for a few minutes more then add the porcini soaking liquor. Chop the soaked porcini finely and tip them in. Add the bay leaf, ketchup, and the sprig of thyme tied up with string. Taste and season. Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for half an hour, until reduced and thickened. After 20 minutes add the lentils. If you have time allow this to cool – it’ll become firm and will be easier to top with your mash.

Boil the potatoes then mash, adding the strained, infused almond milk and sunflower spread. Season well with salt, pepper, and a good grating of nutmeg. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprig, and top the pie with the mash. This time I textured the top with the tines of a fork. Sometimes I’ll scallop it with the tip of a palette knife, like the one below. Finish in an oven at 190 degrees C for about half an hour, and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

We ate this with Delia Smith’s caramelised fennel, and some peas, and vegan and carnivore diners alike requested seconds!

Cottage pie with scalloped top

PS – you could add some finely diced carrots and celery once you’ve softened the onions. I – mistakenly – thought our guest didn’t care for either. 

Vegan Raita

cucumber

Old Friend: “I’m in town next weekend if you’re free.”

WFTTD: “Great, come to us and I’ll rustle up some supper.”

Old Friend: “OK thanks. By the way I’m vegan now. Bye!”

Er, WHAT…?!

Three decades ago as a student I entered into a shopping / cooking sharing arrangement with a vegan friend in my halls, and memories of my margarine and soy milk bechamel for a veggie lasagne haunt me still. I have not knowingly prepared a full on vegan repast since.

Still, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity, and all that.

And in this case opportunity took the form of a cauliflower curry – more on which later – and all the trimmings. Sharwood’s green label mango chutney [the best mango chutney money can buy IMHO] is mercifully free of any animal ingredients, and I found some poppadoms which were vegan, gluten free, GM free, in fact so free of anything it’s a wonder they existed at all. But cooling, creamy, cucumberful, yoghurty raita? Challenge Opportunity time!

Time, in fact, for tahini. Turns out this sesame seed paste is a vegan staple for producing creamy dressings and so forth when cream itself is considered beyond the pail. I’d say “who knew?”, but lots of you probably already do.

You will need

  • A cucumber
  • Half a red onion
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • A small handful of mint, and the same of dill
  • Tahini
  • Water

Finely chop the red onion and leave to sit in the lemon juice for half an hour or so. I spiralised my cucumber, because spiralising is the most zeitgeisty way of reducing a whole vegetable to smaller, more fork-friendly parts, and because I like playing with the spiralising thingy, but do feel free to just chop it into pieces of your desired size. Chop the herbs, add to the cucumber pieces, and tip in the onion and lemon juice. Mix well. Add the tahini a tablespoonful at a time, stirring to mix – I used about four tablespoons. The lemon juice will cause the tahini to thicken slightly, so add a splash of water here and there as you go until you achieve your preferred consistency. Season with salt to taste, and chill.

This worked so well that I’ll do it again, for vegans and omnivores alike. Until I meet a vegan who is sesame intolerant, when we’ll be looking at a whole new  set of opportunities.

With thanks to my good friend RJ for sharing his vegan know-how and advice.

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Baked Figs

Figs ready for baking, with ginger wine, honey and rosemary.

It’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting a heart attack. Frankly Monty Python had more of an inkling about the Spanish Inquisition, and we all know how expected that was. Yes, I had the genetic predisposition and lived the lifestyle – but ticking all the boxes doesn’t always win you the main prize. Not always…

This time though I knew I must have hit some kind of jackpot because blue lights started flashing, sirens wailed and the machine wired up to my chest made frequent, frantic beeping noises. Turns out this prize was life-saving, piercing-edge, percutaneous surgery, and the specialist teams at the West Middlesex and Hammersmith Hospitals have earned – in every sense – my undying gratitude.

So now I’m faced with a choice food-wise: renounce totally anything enjoyable but potentially naughty and live out my days in the epicurean equivalent of a hair shirt, or expend some additional effort on finding foods that are both healthy and beautiful [whilst admitting the odd something sinful from time to time]. Actually you make the same choice several times every day, this sort of thing just has a way of turning decisions into DECISIONS.

Well I’ve made mine. And I will not go hungry into that good night.

I served this with a splodge of low fat crème fraîche, which would actually have been my choice before all the cardiac kerfuffle.

Feeds three or four

  • 12 ripe medium-sized figs
  • 100ml ginger wine
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • a good drizzle of honey, about a tablespoon and a half [vegans can replace with a sprinkling of brown sugar]
  • a few small sprigs of rosemary
  • crème fraîche to serve [optional]

Slash the figs with deep, quartering cuts almost all the way through, and arrange snugly in a shallow dish. Whisk the spice and vanilla into the ginger wine and pour over the figs. Drizzle the honey over and into the figs, strew the rosemary sprigs about, and bake in a 190C oven for 25 minutes to half an hour. Baste with the juices once or twice during cooking, and spoon over plenty as you serve.

Love Marmalade…?

You’ve still time to make this for Valentine’s Day and give your loved one a hearty breakfast! [sorry, had to get that one out of the way]

Orange marmalade with heart shaped peel pieces

A couple of years ago I saw some marmalade with heart-shaped peel pieces advertised in the run up to Valentine’s Day. It was only being sold in Fortnum and Mason’s so the schlep to the shops was a labour of love in itself, though it turns out this was as nothing when compared to making your own! But of course nothing says “I love you” quite like giving of your time, blood, sweat and tears. And as January and February make up the brief Seville orange season the timing is perfect for the feast of Saint Valentine.

Marmalade making has a bit of a reputation as a dark art where the magical mystery of the bitter orange’s own pectin provides the set, and timing and temperature are crucial components. Perhaps this is why for several years I’ve stocked up on Sevilles and then watched them shrivel before they could be preserved for posterity. Well not this year!

You’ll find any number of recipes online, I opted for that of baking guru Dan Lepard which you can find here. I didn’t think my oranges were providing enough juice for the amount of peel, so I juiced the same quantity again, but then used their peel too so I had the same ratio but double the quantity! When it came to cooking though I didn’t want to use too much water and ended up juicing a few more, and the result is certainly intensely orangey with a good balance of bitter and sweet. The main thing to get right seemingly is the liquid to sugar ratio [Dan gives detailed instructions], and to save every pectin-rich pip.

To make this Valentine’s version follow Dan’s recipe and these additional notes…

  • Equip yourself with a small heart-shaped cutter which you can find in the sugar crafts and baking section of your local cook shop.
  • Cut the heart shapes from the peel after their overnight soak in the orange juice. I found this worked best cutting with the pith side up, outer skin side down. If using a plain metal cutter [as opposed to a fancy plunger version] press down through a cloth, or you really might risk investing blood and tears!
  • Take some time to pare out about half the width of pith from the peel with a small sharp knife [not mentioned in the recipe] if you like a less chunky bite. I kept the papery internal membranes from the oranges too and threw them into the pot wrapped in muslin – I’ve no idea if this does any good but every other bit of the orange seems to have something to add so it seemed a shame not to!
  • You will end up with odd bits of off-cuts of peel when you’ve cut out the hearts. Don’t waste these but tie up in muslin too and add to the cooking liquor.
  • If you want a very clear jelly strain the juices through muslin before cooking. I didn’t, it’s up to you.
  • When the jelly is still hot and quite liquid the peel may congregate towards the surface. For more even distribution wait until the marmalade has cooled and set a little, then stir.

Now all you need is some pretty ribbon for decoration and voila – love in a jar.

Marmalade to spare? Why not try my brioche pudding recipe.

Coronation Potato Salad

Who’d have thought we’d be wanting salad recipes in October? I’d planned to pack this away with the barbecue and pull them both out next summer, but the weather says otherwise…

Coronation Potato Salad

It all began with the cucumber pickle. Susie’s cucumber pickle, which had recently arrived at the shop and which was so good that a meal had to be created around it. It would make a great accompaniment to burgers or other barbecued meats, but I plumped that day for poached salmon. And I love potato salad with poached salmon but wanted something with a bit more poke to stand up to that pickle. Coronation potato salad was the answer.

If you’ve ever made Chicken Elizabeth, the correct name of the dish devised for the coronation of Elizabeth II by the Cordon Bleu cookery school, you’ll know that it’s not bright turmeric yellow as we usually see now, but a purpley burgundy colour thanks to the reduction of red wine and apricot jam which is added to the mayonnaise. But having changed the principal ingredient from chicken to potato I’m sure you won’t mind if I take a few liberties with the rest!

These quantities are a rough guide which you can adjust to vary the levels of spice, sweet and sharp. For around 250g of baby new potatoes I used:

  • 2 tbsps mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsps natural yoghurt [for a vegan version use 4 tbsps soya yoghurt]
  • 1 tbsp Sharwood’s green label mango chutney
  • Half a tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1 to 2 tsps curry powder
  • Half to 1 tsp chilli powder
  • Half a tsp of ground coriander
  • A few finely sliced spring onions
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Some chopped coriander or flat leaved parsley to garnish

Mix everything except the chopped herbs together, taste, season and adjust. You might want to add the curry and chilli powders in half teaspoon increments as you can always add more, whilst removal is more problematic. Add the cooked and cooled potatoes and stir to combine, adding the chopped greenery at the end.

Normal autumn service [casseroles and the likes] will undoubtedly be resumed shortly.

One Year Older – Any The Wiser…?

Well blow me down, but a whole year has gone by since my first post on Independence Day 2010 [so Happy Birthday to America too while we’re about it]. I really had no idea what to expect when I started all this, but to the thousands of visitors I’ve now welcomed along the way I’d like to say a huge thank you for your support during my first year in the blogosphere.

Looking back I find that I’m clearly more interested in purple foods than I ever realised [I’m going to have to add that as a tag now!] and a quick glance at the tag cloud over to the right tells me that garlic, cream, eggs and butter are frequently featured. A quick glance at my waistline could probably have told me the same.

Looking forward, I see also that the tag ‘recipe’ has been the most used to date and so far these have mainly been my own. In future I think I’ll also tell you more about my experiences with other people’s, and maybe even include the odd review or opinion piece. Travel, too, will hopefully also feature more.

But for now, summer fruits are everywhere – so let’s have pudding!

To fill a 1.1 litre pudding basin

  • 6 or 7 slices day old white bread
  • About 1kg mixed summer fruit [I used strawberries, raspberries, black currants and blueberries, but vary according to what you fancy or is available]
  • 3 tbsps sweet fruit liqueur* [plus more to finish]
  • 3 tsps caster sugar [or vanilla sugar]

*I had some crème de framboises lurking in the drinks cabinet but I can highly recommend one of the offerings from Bramley and Gage if you’re shopping.

Put the fruit, liqueur and sugar into a pan and cook gently for about 5 minutes so that the fruit juices start to run but the fruits still retain some body and shape. Using a sweet fruit liqueur like this significantly cuts down on the amount of sugar you’d otherwise add.

Drain the fruit in a sieve into a bowl to catch all the juices. Cut a circle from the middle of one slice of bread. Remove the crusts from the other slices and cut through the middle at an angle, thus:

Shows the angle at which to cut bread slices for summer pudding.

Dip the circle of bread into the reserved juices and place in the bottom of the bowl. Do the same with the cut pieces and arrange in overlapping layers around the sides. Fill with fruit, and top with more juice-dipped pieces of bread, tucking the ends of the side pieces over this base. Sprinkle over a little more fruit liqueur if it’s for a grown-up party! Wrap with clingfilm, set the bowl into a shallow dish to catch any drips, place a saucer or small plate on top, and top this with a heavy weight [or a couple of tins of beans].

Refrigerate for 24 hours, and when ready to serve unwrap, place a plate over the bowl and invert. A couple of sharp taps or a good shake should see the pudding break free from the bowl, usually with a satisfying ‘schlurping’ sound.

If you have juices remaining reduce them in a pan to a syrupy sauce and pour this over the pud. And if you’re in the mood add another sprinkle of the fruit liqueur too. All you need now is some clotted cream. And a spoon.