Mezze magic

A few Saturdays ago I invited some of my gal pals over for a long overdue catch up. Cue free-flowing fizz and lots of screeching. The vibe was informal and relaxed (think cosy kitchen supper) so I decided to make a Middle Eastern feast; basically food to graze on that wouldn’t distract us from getting all the gossip.

I consulted my growing library of cookery books and after some deliberation, opted for houmous (naturally), falafel, a broad bean dip and a couple of salads. I thought I’d share these recipes so that you can get a little taster from these books – try before you buy if you will.

These dishes are really easy to make and require barely any actual cooking but if you’re serving them all together, preparation is key as there is a fair bit of chopping, grating and opening tins (I’m lazy, ok?) involved.

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Not the best of photos but I was too busy entertaining, darling…

Houmous

This was actually the first time I’d made my own houmous. You see, I’ve never been that au fait with food processors but my lovely housemates have one that they let me use. Let me tell you, it’s a game changer. Here’s an easy peasy recipe from Deliciously Ella’s first book. Yes, she’s very ‘clean eating’ but I like Ella’s approach to creating quick, healthy and tasty food.

To make the houmous, chuck two 400g tins of chickpeas, a clove of garlic, two teaspoons of ground cumin, the juice of two lemons, a few generous glugs of olive oil and some salt and pepper into a food processor and blend. That’s it. This makes a large bowlful.

Broad bean and avocado dip with lemon and thyme

My sister Jess bought me Peace and Parsnips: Vegan Cooking for Everyone by Lee Watson for my birthday and boy, was it a good present. It’s a lovely book to look at and will give you lots of plant-powered inspiration. So far, I’ve only made this dip but I’m really looking forward to trying some more of Lee’s recipes, especially his amazing-looking burgers.

Making this dip is another job for the blender. Boil or steam 300g of broad beans (I used frozen), let them cool and then chuck in a food processor with two ripe avocadoes, a clove of garlic, the juice and zest of one lemon and a bit of mint and thyme. As you blend, gradually add three tablespoons of olive oil. This makes a large bowlful.

Falafel

I’ll admit that I have a bit of a girl crush on Áine Carlin: she’s super cool, wears beautiful vintage clothing and makes delicious vegan dishes. I want to be her. Her second book, The New Vegan, is full of fuss-free food and looks like an Instagram feed on paper.

To make Áine’s falafel simply blend two 400g tins of chickpeas with two spring onions (I used half a leek instead), two garlic cloves, a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of plain flour, the juice of half a lemon, two tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of fresh coriander. Once it’s blended, make little patties (you should get about twelve depending on how big you make them) and pop onto a baking tray into a preheated oven at 200C. Bake for twenty minutes then turn the patties over and cook for another twenty minutes.

Carrot, beetroot and sesame salad

This salad is from Deliciously Ella’s second book and is really fresh and colourful, which is usually a sure fire-sign that something’s healthy – unless you count M&Ms. It’s also a doddle to make.

Peel two beetroots and three carrots, and grate. Mix the grated roots in a bowl with four tablespoons of sesame seeds, three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons of maple syrup and some salt. This should serve four people if served as a side.

Warm kale, chickpea and orange salad

Another one of the ‘clean eating’ brigade, Madeleine Shaw describes this salad as a ‘nutritional powerhouse’ but never mind that, it’s delicious. It comes from her book, Get the Glow.

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan with a finely chopped white onion and two teaspoons of ground cumin and sauté over a medium heat for five minutes. Add a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger plus salt and pepper and stir for a minute. Add a drained 400g tin of chickpeas and cook for a further five minutes, stirring constantly. Add some chopped kale (three or four leaves will do) and a grated courgette to the pan and cook for another five minutes, stirring every so often. Just before serving add the zest and juice of one orange and more salt and pepper. Serve warm. This should serve four people if served as a side.

Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

This is one of Ottolenghi’s simpler recipes – he is known, after all, for his lengthy lists of ingredients. This recipe is from the magnificent Jerusalem.

Preheat the oven to 220C and mix cauliflower florets (use a whole head) with three tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread out onto a roasting tin and roast on the top shelf for 25-35 minutes then transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool down. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C, place 30g of hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast for 17 minutes. Allow the nuts to cool a little then roughly chop them and add to the cauliflower. Add another two tablespoons of olive oil, 50g of pomegranate seeds, half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and allspice, a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and two teaspoons of maple syrup and stir the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, add some parsley and serve warm. This should serve four people if served as a side.

As an extra dish, I made some bulgur wheat (with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice) with chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries and pistachio nuts. I added a bit of parsley and mint too. This would work just as well with couscous, buckwheat or quinoa.

If you’re after some easy eats for entertaining, you can’t go wrong with mezze. Just make sure you make lots – more is more, especially when it comes to houmous.

Cassoulet

Is it just me or is it freezing out there? I walked home from work this evening, trussed up in my winter coat and scarf with my little hands in gloves, and when I got home my fingers were still numb and blue. My terrible circulation may have been a factor in that though.

Tonight is one of those nights when you just want (need) a bowl of something warm, a glass of red and Corrie.

This one pot wonder is my vegan version of the classic cassoulet dish. I’m not normally one for meat and dairy substitutes (I think there’s a reason why no one’s thought to host a vegan cheese and wine evening ever) but you can get some decent veggie sausages made by Cauldron and Linda McCartney. I used Linda’s red onion and rosemary sausages but this recipe can be made with pork ones for all you meat eaters or even with mushrooms instead.

The weather forecast for this weekend doesn’t look promising so you could make this on one of your four (yes, four!) days off when it’s cold and wet and you’re suffering from a holiday hangover. I’m full of the joys of spring, me. Happy Easter!

  

 Sausage cassoulet

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of oilve oil or coconut oil

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1 small potato, peeled and finely chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon of chilli flakes

1 teaspoon of paprika

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

A handful of whole cherry tomatoes

4 sausages (veggie or meaty)

1 tin of cannellini beans (or chickpeas or lentils)

A slosh of red wine (optional)

2 teaspoons of tomato puree

Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spring greens or spinach, roughly chopped

 

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the chopped onion and potato if you’re using it and cook on a very low heat stirring occasionally. After about five minutes, add the garlic, chilli flakes and paprika then after a minute or so, add the tinned tomato, then fill the empty can halfway with water and add to the sauce. Now’s the time to chuck in some cherry tomatoes too if you’re using them. Put a lid on the pan while it’s cooking.

Preheat the grill. Cook the sausages following the packet instructions – obviously, if you’re cooking meaty ones it’ll take a bit longer and make sure they’re not pink in the middle! When they’re cooked, remove from the grill, let them cool for two minutes then slice into bite sized pieces and chuck in the pan. Open your tin of beans (or lentils), rinse and drain and add these to the pan. At this stage, you can add a slosh of red wine should you wish and some tomato puree. Give the stew a good stir and return the lid to the pan.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can leave the stew cooking for as long as you like providing that you keep it on a low heat and stir it every so often. If you’re in a rush though, it’ll be ready in 10–15 minutes.

If you want, add your leafy veg at the very end and cook for an extra 5-10 minutes. If you’re doing this, turn up the heat, add a bit of water and stir, then return the lid to the pan. You could also serve this with bread, mashed potato, baked sweet potato or on just on its own. I chose a large glass of red. Enjoy!

When life gives you lentils…

Dahl makes me think of two things: Roald Dahl (obviously) and Neighbours. Like many of you, I grew up with the Australian soap and I loved the Kennedy family, although less so their pet galah (as in flaming galah, the phrase favoured by Alf Stewart in Home and Away) which for some reason was named Dahl and rather irritating.

Anyway, tonight I made dahl (or dhal – what is the correct spelling? I’d like to know) because it’s mid-March and it’s freezing. I’m also skint as it’s approaching pay day and I have six weddings and almost as many hen dos to attend this year – so go figure.

I’ve just come back from a weekend in Northumberland to celebrate my friend Ruth’s wedding. It was a lovely break but I’m knackered and in need of nourishment.  I decided to make what I call my ‘anything goes’ dahl as it’s super speedy to make and it’ll last me until pay day. Go on, get the violins out…

Lentils are a great food cupboard staple, as they’re cheap, super filling and a good source of protein.  I also cleared the fridge of all the veg that’s been sitting there for weeks so out came the manky carrots, the courgette and half an onion. I contemplated beetroot but couldn’t be bothered with the mess, plus have you ever tried grating beetroot? It’s such a workout.

I served mine with cauliflower rice (because a. I’m feeling fat and b. I had half a cauliflower languishing in the salad drawer) but you could have this with ordinary rice or just on its own. FYI, you can use a food processor to turn the cauliflower into ‘rice’ but I used a grater as it’s just as quick and easy.

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Here’s the recipe for both. I hope you enjoy.

For the dahl…

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp olive oil or coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed or very finely chopped
20g root ginger, finely grated
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp dried coriander
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp curry powder
180g (dry weight) red lentils, rinsed well in a sieve under a running tap
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder (I use the vegan one)
1 courgette, grated (plus chuck in any other veg you have that needs eating up, such as beetroot, carrots, and even parsnips and potatoes – just make sure that you grate it or slice it finely)
Method

First of all, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and soften the onion. When it starts to turn translucent, add the ginger and garlic. Stir well and once they start to release their aroma, add all the spices. Stir well and add a splash of water if they start to catch. After a minute or so, add the lentils and the salt and stir well. Add the vegetable bouillon powder and 500ml boiling water. Cook for about 10 minutes over a medium heat until the lentils turn pale yellow, then add the grated courgette and 300ml more boiling water. Give it another good stir but don’t be too vigorous or you’ll slop dahl all over yourself. Thank God I’m wearing black as turmeric is a bitch to wash out.

Simmer over a medium heat for 10 more minutes until the courgette is tender and the lentils are cooked, adding more water if it seems too dry.

For the cauliflower rice…

Ingredients

1 cauliflower

1 tbsp of coconut oil

Salt and pepper

Half a lemon

 

Method

Roughly chop the cauliflower into small pieces and grate using the rough part of a box grater. Heat the coconut oil with 2 tbsp of water and sauté the cauliflower with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes until cooked through. Stir in 2 tbsp of juice and serve with the dahl.

Porto

As much as I enjoy my job, my workload has been eye-wateringly heavy recently so last weekend I popped over to Porto for a little holiday with my pal Al. I had high hopes for Portugal’s second city which is famed for its port, is postcard pretty and regarded as Lisbon’s cooler little sister. I was a tiny bit disappointed that it was cold and rainy but I was naïve to think that anywhere south of the UK would be suitable for al fresco dining, even in February.

Now, Al and I are both big into our food but she’s not a vegan and I was a bit worried about how we could both enjoy eating out in Porto. Thanks to a bit of research and some top navigational skills from Al (have I mentioned that I have a terrible sense of direction?), we just about managed it.

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The perfect Padron peppers

We arrived late on a Thursday afternoon and by the time we got down to Porto’s waterfront it was approaching evening and definitely wine o’clock. We popped into a little place for red wine and feasted on bread, olives and some of the nicest Padron peppers I’ve ever had.

 

There was a football game on which meant that none of the locals were out and this caused a few problems when we tried to find a lively spot for dinner. We stumbled (two glasses of red wine on an almost empty stomach can have that effect on a girl) into a little place called Casa de Santo Antonio where we made friends with the waiter who fed us olives, broad beans and some lovely carrots cooked in cumin. I then tried tempura green beans (a Portuguese speciality) and a hearty stew made of black-eyed beans. Much more red wine was consumed.

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Will you look at this vegan sushi?

Not surprisingly, the next day we were a little bleary eyed and by the time we’d sorted ourselves out and left the apartment it was lunchtime. Walking in the rain with a rumbling stomach looking for a vegan-friendly place to eat isn’t much fun (sorry, Al) so we were lucky when we took a punt on Clerigos Vinhos e Petiscos. This is a restaurant that serves all types of cuisine, from pizza to sushi and steak. There are even vegan options marked clearly on the menu. We both went for the sushi and boy was it good. It’s not often you see so much thought and creativity put into a vegan dish at a restaurant and I was impressed by the fillings which included strawberry, mango, avocado, cashew nuts and seaweed.

 

Porto wine
Big glasses

After an amble around the city’s modern art museum and an amusing if slightly stressful experience in a taxi, it was time for another drink. We were very lucky to be in town during the Essência do Vinho wine festival and we decided to take full advantage of it. For the bargain price of 14 euros we were given an empty wine glass and let loose in the beautiful Palácio da Bolsa where there was stall upon stall of Portugal’s fine wines and ports. We had some great chats with some of the wine producers and learned rather a lot (who knew that vino verde isn’t actually green?) but you can guess how it ended.

By about nine o’clock, we most definitely needed something to soak up the booze and headed to Da Terra, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant (thanks to Ed for this recommendation) which offers an all you can eat buffet for about 11 euros each. All I remember is that I inhaled my dinner and ate far too much, but it was tasty and good value. I think.

After a big sleep, we woke relatively unscathed by the previous night’s exploits and a big breakfast of tomatoes on toast made using ingredients from the local supermarket soon sorted us out. We’d booked a table at a fancy restaurant for dinner so after walking around Porto (it’s not a big city so we did this a lot) we decided to go to the rooftop restaurant at the Ferreira Borges Market. It might be a cool hangout but the service was terrible and we waited ages for some pretty substandard food. Al’s sausage was undercooked and if there was a lesson in how not to prepare tofu, this was it.

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Tasty tagine

Dinner at Cantinho do Avillez was more of a success. It was a very intimate experience as the tables are squished together but a large gin mare (think goldfish bowl-sized G&T with rosemary and orange) soon put us at ease. I started with a beetroot ceviche with avocado which lacked substance but the vegetable tagine with orange couscous was warming and benefitted from the addition of prunes – sexy they ain’t but they are sweet. The fruit salad with Mojito foam was a light and refreshing way to end the meal.

 

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Fruit salad with Mojito foam

Mind you, after a porto and tonic (basically port and bitter lemon), the bottle of red we shared and more drinks afterwards, I was still hungry. We ended up back at the apartment eating crisps and watching US election coverage (go Hilary) and the Portugese equivalent of Senedd TV.

 

 

On our last day in Porto the sun finally made an appearance so, ever so slightly the worse for wear, we headed over the Dom Luís Bridge which has stunning views of the river and the city. It’s a pretty hairy experience with a hangover, mind. We decided a long and leisurely lunch would be a good way to while away a few hours but were wary of wandering into one of the tourist trap places on the river so ended up at Taberninha do Manel. The food wasn’t anything to write home about (more beans, bread and chips, plus an apple, walnut salad ordered minus the cheese) but it filled a hole. Unfortunately we were sitting right next to the door which kept opening and poor Al was freezing cold. To add to insult, the waitress pretty much bullied us into leaving a tip so it wasn’t the nicest of experiences.

I’m really pleased that I managed to eat well on this holiday and pleasantly surprised by the many vegan options available in Porto. I probably ate too much bread – (wo)man shall not live by bread alone – and we never made it to the port lodges, but it was a relaxing break, and we laughed loads and ate and drank well. Plus it was nice to come home still capable of fitting into my jeans. Result.

Welsh cakes

Happy St David’s Day!

I’ve just come back from a long weekend in Porto with my friend Alys and it was amusing to observe people there trying to figure us out when we spoke Welsh. Al’s an exotic beauty (she’s half Italian) and I’m tall, blonde and milk bottle pale so people must wonder where on earth we’re from.

I’ve always been glad to be Welsh and I like the fact there is no one way to define our identity. I, for example (and I’ll whisper it), don’t particularly like the rugby but I do like Tom Jones. Perhaps Wilfred Wilson summed it up best when he said that:

To be born Welsh, is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth but with music in your blood and poetry in your soul.

My nana had this poem up on the wall in her kitchen in Aberdare and whenever I see these lines I think of her. Anyway, as it’s St David’s Day, I’ve made some Welsh cakes – or pice ar y maen as they’re also known. I’m a very nervous baker (no, I can’t believe that I used to have a baking blog either) and I’d like to practise more even if it does mean getting flour everywhere.

I searched the internet for vegan Welsh cake recipes and decided to go with this one from The Vegan Taff.

Making these was a much less traumatic experience than my recent pancake disaster but this being me, the recipe didn’t quite go to plan and at one point I thought I’d seriously messed things up. I must have added too much almond milk as the mixture resembled cookie dough and I ended up eating rather a lot of it (hey, it was stuck to my hands and I hate waste – not that I needed more sugar and fat after this weekend) but I just about rectified things by adding more flour. The mixture was still a tad too elastic though and kept sticking to the rolling pin.

The recipe’s not perfect (personally, I’d add a LOT more sugar to the mixture) but this is a quick and easy way to make Welsh cakes and the end result is tasty even if mine don’t look very pretty.

The old adage goes: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Well, I couldn’t be bothered. My first attempt at Welsh cakes will be just fine with a bit of jam for added sweetness but I’ll definitely be making them again.

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Here’s the recipe if you fancy giving them a go.

 

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine like Vitalite
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar plus more sprinkling later
  • 1/4 cup sultanas
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • A splash of rice milk
  • A mixing bowl
  • A rolling pin
  • A large non-stick frying pan (if you have a griddle that would be perfect)
  • A plate
  • Cookie cutters (a cup or glass would do fine)

 

Method

  1. Measure all of your ingredients out and add them all to a large mixing bowl, except for the milk and fruit.
  2. With your fingers, rub the mixture together until it becomes like breadcrumbs. It should be crumbly and even with no lumps of butter.
  3. Add the dried fruit and mix it in.
  1. Add a small dash of milk and mix it in with your hands. Add a tiny bit at a time until the crumble mix turns into a dry dough. It should be dry enough that it doesn’t stick to the bowl, but wet enough that it will stay in a ball.
  2. Flour up your work surface and place the dough on it.
  3. Flour up your rolling pin before rolling the dough until it is approx. 1cm thick. You don’t want them too thick or they won’t be cooked through.
  4. Using your cookie cutter cut out your shapes. You should get about 18 good sized ones out of this dough.
  5. Pre-heat your non-stick frying pan or griddle on a medium heat, don’t turn it up too high or the outside will cook too fast. If you don’t have a non-stick pan you can use a normal one, just remember to lightly grease it up first. You don’t want to fry them, we’re just heating them through.
  6. Once they’re cooked they should be dry not greasy and firm not soft, and of course beautifully golden brown.
  7. It will take 2-3 minutes either side for them to be golden brown and properly cooked. Once you’re done put them on a plate and sprinkle with caster sugar either side while they’re still hot so it sticks.