You had me at halloumi

Boy, have I eaten well over the last few days. Steak, chicken, cheese, ham, chocolate doughnuts – I could go on. Before you ask, I haven’t fallen off the wagon; it’s all as fake as Donald Trump’s newsfeed. Yup, plant-based eating has moved on a lot in the two years that I’ve been vegan.

When I first ditched the meat, eggs and dairy two years ago I would never have dreamed of eating substitutes. I kind of fell into the trap of ‘clean eating’ (bleeurgh) and although it was just a phase, I still turned my nose up at processed foods, even if they were vegan. Eventually though, curiosity (and Instagram) got the better of me and in the last six months, I’ve relaxed a bit and eaten a lot of vegan ‘junk’ food. When I’m not scoffing fishless fingers and ‘chicken’ nuggets (thank you, Quorn), you’ll find me in the biscuit aisle – damn you, Oreos. Sure, my jeans are tighter, but it’s nice that I no longer feel like I’m missing out.

And so I move on to the subject of vegan halloumi – yes, you read that correctly. Demand for plant-based cheeses is higher than ever and Violife has a new range, which includes a Wensleydale-type cheese with cranberries or blueberries – and a much-hyped halloumi.

I dabble in a bit of dairy-free cheese now and then but it’s halloumi, in all its salty squeakiness, that I really crave. I’m not going to lie to you: this doesn’t taste like the real thing. It’s tasty and keeps its shape when fried or grilled but it’s more sticky than squeaky and needs a good bit of seasoning to really sing. I’d eat it again though.

Whether you’re trying the Violife version or just eating the regular stuff, halloumi goes really, really well with fruit. In this salad, I’ve paired it with watermelon but nectarine or blueberries would work just as well. I used D’aucy lentils (one of the best canned version around in my opinion) but own-brand green or brown ones will do. Obviously, you can cook them from scratch but using canned saves a bit of time.

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Halloumi, lentil and watermelon salad

Serves 2

Takes 15-20 minutes to make

 

Ingredients

1 packet halloumi (vegan or dairy), cut into long slices

1 can (400g) lentils, drained

2 small courgettes, cut into wedges

1 bag watercress

As much watermelon as you like

1 large handful pine nuts

1 large lemon

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

 

Method

Place two large pans on a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil to each one. In one pan, add the courgettes and a good squeeze of lemon juice and cook for five minutes until brown, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the other pan, fry the halloumi slices with a squeeze of lemon for around ten minutes, turning frequently – they’ll be ready when they’re brown on both sides. Meanwhile, add the drained lentils and watercress to the other pan with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and warm for five minutes. Return the cooked courgettes to the pan and heat for another minute. Remove the halloumi from the pan and lightly toast the pine nuts for a minute or so. Serve the lentils with the halloumi and watermelon and scatter over the pine nuts and parsley with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper.

Let’s get ready to crumble

Hello autumn, my old friend. Summer’s on its way out and my favourite time of the year is fast approaching. This season of mists and mellow fruitfulness* is a delicious dalliance of chilly skies and warm and toasty glows – carpets of copper-coloured leaves, bonfires burning bright and sunny squashes.

I’m getting a bit carried away, I know. It’s not here just yet, and in some ways, I’m quite glad as this autumn I need to get fit. In October, for the first time in four years, I’m running a half marathon and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m such a fair-weather runner (actually, I hate running come rain or shine) that I only put on my trainers when I have a race coming up. This means that I’m pretty out of shape and have just over six weeks to train. Help. It could be worse, I guess. On the radio this morning, John Humphreys told listeners that he runs with his eyes closed. At four o’clock in the morning.

When I’m not putting my legs and lungs to the test, I’ll be in the kitchen cooking or eating. Cold and dark nights call for comfort food and nothing quite beats a crumble. This one’s dead easy to make and is a nice way to enjoy summer fruits while they’re still in season. I used rhubarb, strawberries and blackcurrants, but raspberries, blueberries and peaches or nectarines would work a treat, too – or even a bag of the summer berries you can find in the freezer aisle of most supermarkets.

*Keats describes this season better than anyone in the sublime To Autumn.

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Summer fruits crumble

Ingredients

For the fruit filling

400g summer fruits

1 tsp ground ginger

50g light brown sugar

 

For the crumble topping

150g flour

50g porridge oats

100g vegan margarine, cold from the fridge

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C (gas mark 4). Stew the rhubarb with a little water and sugar for about ten minutes, then add the strawberries and blackcurrants and heat for a further five minutes.

To make the crumble topping, sieve the flour into a bowl, then stir through the oats and rub the margarine into the dry ingredients until your mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Place the fruit mixture in a large ovenproof dish the scatter the crumble topping over and bake for 40 minutes. Serve with vegan ice cream, custard, cream or on its own.