Award Winning Spinach and Mushroom Quiche

This weekend past was the annual Animal Liberation Victoria vegan bake-off, and as the winner in 2015, I was asked to do a cooking presentation this year.  Although I was happy to be asked, I had no idea what to make. Cooking is easy, but cooking on stage in front of a crowd of strangers and having to make it entertaining without long silences is another matter. I’m nervous about talking in front of people, bad at making decisions, and have always been a spur of the moment kind of girl. Most of the time when I cook I don’t even know what I’m making until half way through. The idea of planning a cooking demo was really starting to make me panic, so I just put it out of my mind.

Of course, the time then came when I had to give my final answer and what I’d be cooking, with just a few days to go. I’m much better at taking control and making decisions when there’s no time to think (I’m really good in a crisis, but you wouldn’t want me planning your wedding unless you like living life on the edge). And so I chose: A quiche and spiel about the science of replacing eggs in cooking.

Of course, I’d never made a quiche before, nor had I ever had a vegan one I’d liked. But hey, I thought, how hard could it be? Not at all hard as it turns out, once I decided to trust my instincts and use tofu instead of chickpea flour.

Let me digress here for a minute and talk about my love-hate relationship with chickpea flour. I always have it in the house because it can work as a great binder in baking, makes a semi-decent excuse for a breakfast omelet pancake type thing when there’s nothing else, and mixed with grated veggies and water makes some healthy muffins for my dog. However, I just cannot get on board with this burmese tofu thing. I have tried it several times, and no matter how long it cooks for, it never stops tasting faintly of chickpea flour, and I do not enjoy that flavour.

Despite this, I made several attempts at a quiche filling made with chickpea flour over the last week, one mini muffin tin at a time, thanks to what seems to be the most popular vegan quiche recipe around. However, while I admit the texture is smooth and it firms up nicely, that chickpea taste is just overwhelming. My housemates loved it and said I was crazy, but that’s just one of the downsides of being a super-taster.

It also doesn’t set properly if you add anything else, and the eggs in quiche are really mostly to hold all the cheese and vegetables together. I would never dream of making a quiche without a lot of cheese and spinach in it. So that’s a fail on the chickpea flour quiche, just not my cup of tea.

Anyway, as soon as I went back to my good old traditional tofu, I had a huge success. This is the quiche that I made for my demo,  and is hands down the best vegan quiche I have ever eaten by streets. I would confidently serve this to anyone, not just vegans. Full of stretchy ‘cheese’, delicious mushrooms, spinach and onions, set perfectly with a bubbly brown top in a crisp almond crust, there’s nothing not to love. Topped with chopped sundried tomatoes before serving, it’s a 10/10.

Oh and the demo went fine in case you were wondering. I barely made it to the bake-off in time, forgot my quiche pan, turned up in batter covered jeans and a ridiculously sparkly jumper, had no idea what I was going to say or how long it would actually take to make the quiche, but luckily when I’m nervous and unprepared, stuff just comes out of my mouth and it nearly always goes well. I’m living life by winging it and I’m loving it.

Ingredients

For the crust

2 cups almond meal

1tbsp ground chia seeds

2tbsp aquafaba

2 scant tbsp olive oil

Large pinch salt

For the cheese

1 cup single cashew cream

1/2 cup water

1 tsp sea salt (NOT table salt)

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

2 tbsp tapioca starch

For the rest of the filling 

250g frozen spinach, defrosted

4 cups sliced mushrooms

1 medium brown onion or 4 French Shallots, finely chopped

1/2 tsbp white miso

Squeeze lemon juice

250g traditional AKA soft tofu

2 tbsp corn starch

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

To Garnish

Handful sun dried tomatoes in oil, chopped

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C or 160C fan forced
  2. Make the quiche crust: Place the almond meal, salt and ground chia into a 23cm quiche tin and mix well. Add the olive oil and aquafaba and stir until it starts to clump together, then get in there with your hands and smoosh it all together until you have a sticky dough. Press evenly into the tin around 3 to 4mm thick. Prick the base all over with a fork and bake in the oven for  12 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until soft and browned. While that’s happening, squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the spinach and finely chop it. Once the onions are browned, add the mushrooms and crank up the heat. Add a pinch of salt and toss well until cooked and browned but do not cook them until they release their liquid. Turn off the heat, add the spinach, miso, lemon juice and mix well.
  4. Place the tofu, nutritional yeast and corn starch into a tall bowl or container and use a stick blender to blitz it until smooth. And I mean smooth. Set aside
  5. Place the cheese ingredients in a small heavy based pot over low heat and whisk together. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens. This is supposed to take several minutes. Swap the whisk for a rubber spatular and continue to mix well, stirring and scraping constantly until the mixture starts to bubble. Once it looks like a pot of stretchy melted cheese and slides off the spatula easily it’s done. If unsure, taste a bit – if it tastes powdery you need to cook it a bit longer.
  6. Pour just over half of the cheese mixture into the pan with the spinach and mix well. Add the tofu mixture and stir until thoroughly mixed in. Pour the mixture into the crust and smooth over. Spread the remaining cheese mixture evenly on top. Bake for around an hour, until the top looks nice and golden and is firm to the touch. Allow to cool to room temperature before removing from the pan. Top with the sundried tomatoes and serve. It’s best cold or at room temperature.
Mexican lentil soup

Mexican Lentil Soup

I think this year is going to be my year of soup. I’ve finally learned to appreciate it after being a life-long soup avoider. It’s all because of smooth soups, which while often delicious, generally make me feel queasy and too full, but actually leave me very hungry 30 minutes later. Oh and there was that traumatic experience when I was a child and I was forced to eat a whole large tin of tomato soup concentrate. That is a memory that continues to haunt me until this day. In fact, even thinking about eating smooth soups makes me feel ill. Perhaps I’m odd, but I can’t be the only one.

However, I do enjoy non-blended soups from time to time (especially my Moroccan chickpea and lentil soup). My general aversion to soup has meant I don’t make them very often, and are usually the last thing I think about making, but their convenience has made me see the light: One pot, minimal prep time, jam-packed full of nutrients, and easy to eat with only one hand while wrapped in a blanket on the couch (possibly the most important thing for winter in an old house without heating). Now I’m craving hearty creations such as this one like there’s no tomorrow. But hey, why am I preaching to you about soup? You probably already like it or you wouldn’t have clicked on a soup recipe.

This is a pretty simple recipe, but very delicious. It’s also quicker cooking than most soups , making this a great weeknight option. The secret to this soup is adding the liquid smoke to the oil before frying the onions, so don’t skip it. It mimics the role of the traditional fried bacon of Mexican lentil soup very well.

Ingredients

2tbsp refined coconut oil (and I mean refined – no coconutty taste)

1/2 tsp liquid smoke, plus more to taste

1 large brown onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup each of finely diced red and green capsicum

1 medium carrot, finely diced (you do NOT want big chunks, I’m talking 1 or 2mm dice)

4 large cloves garlic, smashed with your knife and roughly chopped

1-2 jarred jalapeños (in vinegar), minced, depending on your heat tolerance. I use two.

1 cup whole red (aka brown) lentils, soaked at least 8 hours

1 400g tin diced tomatoes

2 cups vegetable stock

3 cups water

1 heaped tsp sugar

1 two-fingered pinch ground cumin

1 two-fingered pinch dried oregano

2 -3 tsp nutritional yeast (yes I mean teaspoons. You don’t want it to taste it, it’s purpose is a flavour enhancer)

3 large handfuls baby spinach

Sea salt to taste

Garnish options

Chopped coriander, chopped spring onions, sweet cherry tomatoes, grilled corn, guacamole (highly recommended), corn chips, none. Whatever your heart desires.

Method

Place the oil and liquid smoke in a large saucepan and heat over low heat. Add the onions and cook until clear and well browned. Add the capsicum, carrot and garlic and cook another two minutes. Add the tomatoes and lentils and stir well.

Add the stock, water, cumin, oregano, sugar and 1tsp salt to the pot. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Stir in the nutritional yeast and allow to simmer away until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Taste and add a little more liquid smoke if you want. The flavour does cook off. Adjust salt to taste, add the spinach and stir until wilted.

Eat all the soup

braised beef seitan-2

Tender and Delicious Red Meat Style Seitan

So I’m not going to claim to be back again. I seem to do so after every long absence, then after one or two posts I lapse into my lazy ways. In fact, a few weeks ago I decided I wasn’t going to do this blog anymore. I’m short on time, and while I’d love to be able to cook full time for a living, that just isn’t a reality right now.

However, it seems that while my interest in this blog is sporadic, when the inspiration hits, I just can’t help but share it with you all. So I have decided that I won’t pressure myself to post here, but that I will keep this site to post when I feel like it. And I’ve had more than enough inspiration in the last week to motivate me.

Last week, I went to the Herb and Chilli Festival in Wandin, Victoria. If you’ve never been, you really must go next year. I went expecting to find a few good chilli sauces, but found so many more than a few. I came home with enough to last me two years, and that was showing restraint. Among the highlights currently sitting in my pantry are jerk mustard (oh yes), smoky chilli-stout sauce, habanero-mango salt and a sensational peach and chilli chutney. And it was that peach and chilli chutney that inspired this post, because I just couldn’t bear the though of not spreading it on a sandwich of vegan roast beef. All those months of sticking to my gluten free diet, and I was undone by a chutney.

And so, with the excuse of an Easter feast, it was time to whip out the gluten flour, as I only do on special occasions. I had never planned on sharing my seitan recipes here, having always intended to sell the finished products, but what can I say, I feel like spreading the love today.

This seitan recipe is incredibly versatile. Once you steam it, you can cook it in a number of ways and use it in a number of recipes. You can roast it and use it for sandwiches, braise it for a melt in your mouth, tender and succulent dish, turn it into a ragout, put it on skewers on the BBQ, or fry it up as a ‘steak’ with your favourite sauce. It has a delicious flavour on its own, but is not so strong you can’t add any sauce you like.

The featured picture is from tonight’s preparation, which has been braised, and it was incredible. This is what it looks like after steaming only. Just look at that tender goodness.

Seitan beef steamed

Ingredients

4 cups sliced mushrooms (a flavoursome variety like Swiss Brown)

1 cup grated beetroot

1 cup cannellini beans

3 tbsp tamari

3tsp onion powder

2tsp garlic powder

1/2tsp dried parsley

1/2tsp celery seeds

1/4tsp dried sage

1/4tsp dried rosemary

2tbsp tomato paste

3tbsp olive oil, plus extra for cooking  the mushrooms

2 cups porcini stock, cold

Salt and pepper to taste

3 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten flour (all brands are different, I can only vouch that this recipe works with this brand)

Method

1. Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt cook until soft and browned. Throw the mushrooms into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the beetroot to the pan and cook a few minutes until soft. Add this to the food processor. Process into a paste and scrape it into a large mixing bowl.

2. Put the cannellini beans into the food processor and blend until you have a paste. Add this to the mushroom and beetroot mixture. Add the tomato paste, herbs and spices, olive oil and tamari and mix well. Add the porcini stock, stir until smooth, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember with seitan to ‘over season’, because the gluten flour has a strong flavour of its own.

3. Add the gluten and mix in. Once you’ve mixed with a spoon, get in there with your hands. Make sure it’s really well mixed in. You will have a very soft, moist dough. Form into two logs and roll each log up in foil, sealing the ends by twisting shut like a bon bon. Steam for one hour then leave to cool.

If using this recipe for sandwich meat, move the logs straight to an oven tray (still wrapped in foil) and bake at 180C for another hour. For all other recipes, allow the seitan to cool inside the foil and then use as desired.

Stroganoff

Stroganoff

Serves two hungry people

I’m on a mission at the moment. A mission to be as productive, efficient, healthy and as successful as I was in my 20s. I want to do it all: Find a career doing something I actually want to do (read – designing self-sustaining tiny eco houses), get my fitness back to the ‘crazy’ level, pay off my debt, buy some land of my own, learn another language, travel to all the places I haven’t been yet, and eventually own my own restaurant.  Plus, I’d like to live in a clean, organised house, minimalist house, wake up with enough time to do my hair and makeup, and eat well.  I’m working full time, have started a business on the side, am back at the gym, have written a chore schedule that I intend to stick to, will be enrolling in German classes within the month, and have banned takeout more than once a month, amongst other things.

All of this means that I can’t spend as much time cooking during the week as I would like, and need to limit preparing meals to 30 minutes from start to finish. But I don’t want to eat toast, or processed foods, I’d like to maintain this blog and I still want it to taste damned good. And so, I have added a new category to this blog, to keep me true to my mission: Quick Weeknight Meals.

I’m kicking this off with the good old family favourite, stroganoff. Ridiculously easy, with minimal washing up, creamy and satisfying. Mushrooms are actually the best thing ever.

Ingredients

1 bag Swiss Brown or other full flavoured mushrooms, sliced (around 4 -5 cups if I had to guess)

2tbsp olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

3/4 cup cashews, soaked

3/4 cup vegetable stock (or vegan chicken or beef style)

1/4 cup porcini stock (available at Italian supermarkets)

1/4 – 1/3 cup lemon juice (to taste)

2tbsp tamari

1/2tsp sweet smoked paprika

Heaps freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste if needed

Instructions

Heat the oil in a pan over low heat and add the onion. Cook until browned, then add the garlic. Stir another minute, then add the mushrooms. Crank up the heat to med-high and brown the mushrooms. Cook until soft, then add the tamari and paprika. Continue to cook another few minutes, season with plenty of black pepper and reduce heat to low.

Meanwhile, place the stock, cashews and lemon juice into a high powered blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the mushrooms and stir well for a couple of minutes. It will thicken and reduce quickly. Season to taste and serve over pasta. I like to stir baby spinach into the pasta because greens. Garnish with parsley or chives.

Fondant Slice-2

Torta Paesana

Serves up to 16 

Fondant Slice

Move over brownies, you’ve been replaced. Well, to be fair, there is room in your life for both, but I prefer this. Why? Because it’s less sweet, but outrageously rich, and you can shave off really tiny slices at a time to make you feel like you’re eating less of it (the photo was taken while the cake was still warm due to the likelihood of rain, the texture totally changes when you put it in the fridge). Plus, since you store it in the fridge it keeps for ages, and it’s the best thing ever with an espresso. Oh and it’s gluten free and you can’t even tell.

I actually created this by accident, when I felt like doing a little aquafaba experimentation. I was browsing through a French gastronomic magazine when I came across a recipe for fondant cake. This ‘cake’ is essentially chocolate and eggs mixed together, and I thought, what if I tried my combination of chickpea flour and aquafaba to replace the eggs?

I didn’t really expect it to work the first time, but I was bored and had a cupboard full of chocolate. So I made it, and unsurprisingly it didn’t turn out like the original. I think silken tofu will be the key with fondant cake. But I put it in the fridge figuring I’d do something with it anyway. Later that day I got a hankering for something sweet, so I reached in and pulled off a chunk. O.M.G. It was good. I had accidentally made a gluten free torta paesana and improved on the original. My housemate proclaimed it the best chocolate dessert ever, and my dad who was visiting ate the entire container I gave him before he got home. Dark chocolate lovers, this is the dessert for you.

Since then I have added all kinds of nuts and rum soaked fruits, because why wouldn’t you, and measured it all out for you.  It’s pretty versatile, so you can serve it with coffee or with some ice cream or cointreau cashew cream for dessert. In fact it’s a great make-ahead dessert and it feeds a lot of people because you only need a tiny slice. It is pictured here with walnuts, because that’s what I had, but my absolute favourite is with pinenuts. Seriously try it, it will blow you away.

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate (I use 70%, because I don’t like it too sweet. Feel free to use a sweeter one if that’s what you’re into)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup vegan butter, margarine or refined coconut oil (all give equal results)

1 tsp vanilla extract

7tbsp chickpea flour

10tbsp aquafaba

1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Couple pinches salt (omit if using salted aquafaba)

1 cup nuts (pinenuts highly recommended, walnuts a close second, followed by hazelnuts)

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 150C. Grease a 9 inch springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper

2. Place the nuts (whole if pinenuts, roughly chopped if walnuts) onto a baking tray a roast for 5 minutes or so until they start to release their oils and are lightly golden. Watch them like a hawk, burnt nuts are nobody’s friend.

3. Place the chocolate in a bowl over gently simmering water and stir with a metal spoon until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and beat in the butter/margarine/oil until melted.  Add the sugar and vanilla and mix well. Add the nuts and chickpea flour and beat well.

4. Pour the aquafaba into a deep bowl with the vinegar. Whisk very rapidly until it’s all white and foamy, kind of creamy, and somewhat thick. You don’t need peaks. Pour this into the chocolate mixture and quickly fold in. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and place in the oven immediately. Bake 45 minutes-1 hour, depending on your oven. It should be firm to the touch and have a really thin skin on top that is slightly cracked, like brownies. Leave in the tin to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge, still in the tin, until chilled. Remove from the tin and serve.

 

shepherd's pie-2

Hearty Gardener’s Pie

 

Serves: a crowd
shepherd's pie

I am a summer person, through and through. I am cold blooded and I love the heat. I love the beach, tropical fruit, cold beer and flowers. It is my intention to move to the tropics as soon as I am able. I just love that humid heat.

So, it may not surprise you to hear that winter for me is a long, depressing time full of misery, being constantly cold and nose-drippy, with aching bones and what seems like an eternity of darkness. I have spent winters in the northern hemisphere and while I realise the Melbourne winter is relatively mild, it’s still too much for me. However, I do love winter food.

As soon as the mercury drops below 20C it’s time to pull out the snuggly jumper and crank up the oven, start slow cooking those stews and pies and roasting potatoes. And so it is that I made a gardener’s pie (aka meatless shepherd’s pie) in the middle of an Australian summer.  There is nothing more comforting than gathering around the table with a steaming dish of hearty lentils and crispy, creamy potato, scooping it into a delicious mess on your plate. Plus, there’s always leftovers for the next couple of days, which makes a great work lunch.

I know that there are thousands of vegan shepherd’s pie recipes out there, but one more can’t hurt. This one is so flavoursome and doesn’t require beef or chicken style stock, which not everyone has access to, usually contain palm oil and are loaded with MSG. However, you can use whatever stock you wish if you have a beef style one that you love.

The gardener’s pie might be a humble dish, but I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like this. Make it in a large dish for an everyday weeknight meal (less washing up) or individual ramekins if you want to make it a bit more special. I’ll leave you with a restaurant insider’s tip: the meals are often not that special, but appear special because of the presentation. Place this in individual ramekins or those adorable mini casserole dishes  and pop them on a plate with a little salad garnish and a decorative swirl of dressing, and your dinner guests will be suitably impressed.

Ingredients

2 cups dried whole red aka brown lentils (I used green this time because I was out, but it’s better with brown and looks prettier too), soaked 2-4 hours, rinsed and drained

3tbsp olive oil

2 medium carrots, grated

6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 brown onions, finely diced

2 cups frozen peas

1 bouquet garni

2 bay leaves (yes, two more in addition to the boquet garni)

3/4 tsp celery seeds

1L vegetable stock

20g dried porcini mushrooms

5 cups thickly sliced Swiss brown mushrooms

1 cup porcini soaking liquid

4tbsp tamari

1tbsp dark brown miso

2tbsp cornflour, dissolved in 3 tbsp cold water

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups water, if needed

For the potato topping

10 Dutch cream or desire potatoes, peeled

1/2 cup non dairy milk (I use unsweetened rice milk or cashew milk)

1/2 cup non dairy butter/margarine

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Instructions

1. Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with 2 cups water for around 40 minutes. Strain through a paper towel lined sieve, reserving the soaking liquid, then rinse the mushrooms and squeeze out. Chop finely

2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until almost caramelised. Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook until the mushrooms are browned. Add the carrots, porcini mushrooms, bay leaves and celery seeds and cook a few minutes more. Add the lentils, peas and vegetable stock and stir well, scraping the bottom to de-glaze. Add the porcini soaking liquid and the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Add the tamari and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the lentils are soft and the mixture has thickened, stirring every few minutes, around 30 minutes. You may need to add more water so it doesn’t dry out. Add the miso and a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper and season to taste. Once you are happy with the flavour, add the cornflour slurry.

3. Meanwhile, place the potatoes into a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Mash well and then add the non-dairy milk and butter. Mash well until super creamy. Add more milk and butter if you think it needs it, it will depend on the size of your potatoes. Season generously with salt and a little white pepper, to taste.

4. Remove the bay leaves and bouquet garni from the lentil mixture and pour it into your pie dish of choice. Blob the mashed potato all over the mixture and squash together. Run a fork across the top to make grooves for extra crispiness. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt (again, for more crispiness). Place into a hot oven until the top is crispy (around 20 minutes) and allow to cool a few minutes before serving so you don’t burn everyone.

Smoked eggplant rolls

Babaganoush-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls with Spiced Tomato Sauce and Herbed Cream

Serves 4 as an entree, 2 as a main

These days I often find myself with not much at all in the fridge. It’s so difficult to get to the organic grocer after work, and they never have any veggies left on the weekend. I have started supplementing with some conventional produce from the local fruit shop, but they have no flavour and I really do hate eating pesticides, so I buy as little as possible.

And so it was that I found myself with nothing but two eggplants in the fridge last night. Luckily, eggplant is one of the most versatile vegetables out there, and can easily become a spectacular dish without any of its vegetable friends.

Like most people I’m sure, if I have more than one eggplant, one of them is going to get smoked and turned into baba ganoush. I mean, who doesn’t make baba ganoush on a weekly basis? It’s right there with hummus. But I didn’t want a bowl of dip, because I had nothing to dip into it. Luckily eggplant stuffed with eggplant is a legitimate thing.  Now I could happily just eat eggplant stuffed with baba ganoush on its own, but that isn’t much of a weekend dish, so I raided the fortunately well stocked cupboards and here we have it, a spectacularly delicious but incredibly easy meal.

All of the elements on the plate can be made in advance, however the different temperatures are important. The spiced tomato sauce should be warm, the eggplant slices should be warm, the baba ganoush should be room temperature and the cashew cream should be chilled. The combination of hot and cold, sweet and salty and smokiness is what makes this dish shine. But don’t worry, it’s actually incredibly easy to coordinate, and you will have a restaurant quality dish to serve as a starter at your next dinner party.

Ingredients

The baked eggplant

1 large eggplant, sliced 7mm thick lengthwise (you should get 8 slices, or more)

The babaganoush/Smoked eggplant filling

1 large eggplant (really large – use two if unsure, you can always adjust the seasoning accordingly)

3 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped

Handful fresh parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

The tomato sauce

3 tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large brown onion, very finely chopped

2 heaped tbsp tomato paste

2 cups passata

1 heaped tbsp brown sugar

3/4 tsp ground cumin, or to taste

1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste

1/4 tsp paprika, or to taste

Scant 1/4 tsp ground ginger

Dash cayenne pepper or hot chilli powder

Salt and pepper to taste

The lemon-herb cream

1/3 cup cashews, soaked a couple of hours, OR pinenuts (better but expensive) OR a combination of both

1/3 cup water

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

a few sprigs fresh parsley

a couple sprigs fresh mint

Splash olive oil

Salt to taste

To garnish

Finely chopped Sicilian green olives (or other mild green olives), around 8

Fresh mint, chopped (a few tablespoons)

A few sprigs parsley

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 200C

2. Make the lemon-herb cream

Place the pinenuts/soaked cashews, 1/3 cup water, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt into a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Add the parsley and mint and blend again until the herbs are very finely chopped. Scrape into a bowl/container and adjust seasoning to taste. It should taste good on its own, and be quite refreshing. Place in the fridge to chill

3. Make the babaganoush

Place the eggplant directly onto the flame on your stove. Leave to blacken and char, then turn to do the next side. Repeat until all the skin has blackened and the eggplant is soft and collapsing. It should look like this:

IMG_0167

Allow the eggplant to cool to room temperature, then peel off the skin. A flew flecks are ok if you miss them, but no big bits. Place the flesh into a food processor and add all remaining ingredients. Pulse until creamy and the parsley is finely chopped. Adjust seasoning to taste and set aside.

4. Make the tomato sauce and bake the eggplant

Place the eggplant slices onto a baking paper lined tray. Brush both sides of each slice generously with olive oil and then rub a small pinch of salt into each side. Don’t go overboard, you aren’t rinsing this salt off. Place the eggplant in the oven and cook 10 minutes, then flip and cook another 10 minutes or until soft and slightly browned.

While they’re baking away, heat the olive oil in a pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until clear and sticky and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the tomato paste and spices and mix well. Add the passata, sugar and a big pinch salt and stir well. Bring to the boil then reduce to a rapid simmer. Cook, stirring often, until it is quite thick, around 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, then set aside to cool five minutes before serving.

5. Assemble

Spread a couple of spoonfuls of tomato sauce in the middle of four plates. Take a few spoons of babaganoush and place them at one end of an eggplant slice. Roll up and repeat for all slices. Place two rolls on top of the tomato sauce. Spoon a few teaspoon full amounts of the lemon-herb cream around the edge of the plate. Top with a sprinkling of finely chopped olives and a tablespoon or so of roughly chopped mint*, then garnish with a sprig of parsley. Serve immediately.

*A note about presentation. I was incredibly rushed to get this photographed, as Fabio was heading out the door with the camera, so I didn’t have time to properly dress the plate. I was also hungry and wasn’t going to save any for the next day to photograph later, so I had 30 seconds. I didn’t finely chop the olives or put enough mint on for the photo, but I did to serve. Follow the instructions, not the picture.

Quinoa tahini-mint salad-2

All the Good Stuff Quinoa Salad with Tahini-Mint Dressing and Za’atar

Serves 3-4

 Quinoa tahini-mint salad

 

I know when you write a food blog you’re supposed to have this whole story behind what you make, like the mystical journey of a pea that was destined to become bruschetta or something, but honestly, that is rarely the case for me. When I do my grocery shopping, 90% of the time I just buy what’s fresh and cheap with no idea what I’m going to make with any of it. I then get hungry, open the fridge and throw something together.

If I’m inspired by something, it will usually be the memory of a dish I’ve eaten before, or something I see on a restaurant menu that sounds good but that I’m too stingy to pay for. And so, it often happens that I have a recipe all ready to post, but nothing interesting to say about it apart from ‘this is yummy’. Sometimes I sit in front of the computer for an hour thinking about what to say and then give up. Sometimes things aren’t particularly special and are just straight up, honest good food that taste great and that’s the end of the story.

This is one of those dishes and one of those days. Loosely inspired by the Monkey Salad at Israeli street food joint Tahina, this is easy, yummy and filling but light enough for the scorching hot days we’re having at the moment. So yeah. Here it is.

Ingredients

1 cup quinoa, washed well

1 small head broccoli cut into florets (around 3 cups). Use the stalk too, it’s the best part

1/2 head cauliflower cut into florets (around 3 cups)

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1.5cm cubes

Kernels from two fresh cobs sweetcorn

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp chilli powder

Pinch ground cumin

Olive oil as needed

A few pinches za’atar

 Dressing

Scant 1/4 cup tahini (the runny, pouring consistency kind)

Juice of 1 lemon (just less than 1/4 cup/around 45ml)

1/4 cup water

Big handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Large tsp rice malt syrup

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 220C. Place the sweet potato onto a tray and drizzle generously with olive oil. Toss through a pinch of salt and some black pepper. Place in the oven and bake until nice and soft and a little bit caramelly on the edges, around 30 minutes.

Place the cauliflower onto a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Don’t be too stingy with the oil. Mix the paprika, chilli and cumin together with a pinch of salt and toss through the cauliflower until well combined. Move to one side of the tray in a single layer. Toss the broccoli with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and place on the other side of the tray. Roast until the edges are nice and toasty, around 20 minutes.

Set veggies aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, place the quinoa into a saucepan with 1 3/4 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, stir and reduce heat to low/  a very gently simmer until the water has been absorbed. Stir, cover with paper towel and a lid and leave for 10 minutes. Remove lid and paper towel and fluff with a fork. It should be perfect.

3. Heat a little oil in a pan and throw in the corn. Cook until they start to brown. Set aside

4. Mix all dressing ingredients together in a bowl. You’re going to want to mix the lemon juice into the tahini first, then gradually add the water mixing well after each addition to avoid lumps. If it’s too thick add more water as needed. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

5. Toss the veggies and quinoa together in a large bowl/platter. You can serve this warm, at room temperature or cold, so whatever tickles your fancy. Drizzle with the dressing or serve it separately at the table. Sprinkle with za’atar and serve.

Holy Grail Mushroom Burgers

Holy Grail Charred Mushroom Burgers

 

Holy Grail Mushroom Burgers-2

Makes around 10 burgers, depending on size

Special equipment: food processor and cast iron pan/grill plate

I know this is my second mushroom and walnut recipe in a row, but I couldn’t hold off posting these. These are the tits.

I originally made these for our New Years Day BBQ lunch. Unfortunately the BBQ itself was a spectacular failure, much to my disappointment. I got myself a shiny new coal Weber for Christmas, and I was so excited to use it having not had a BBQ for five years. But then the coal wouldn’t light, and when we finally did get it going the heat was gone in five minutes. So much for that. Luckily these burgers, which I cooked on the stove instead, more than made up for all of it. My house mate said these are better than any mock-beef patty he has ever tried, and that these while not trying to be a meat replica fill that role perfectly. Maybe even better than my beetroot burgers.

And so, I made them again today, some kind of record for me as I usually don’t like to eat the same thing more than once in a month. I just couldn’t stop thinking about them, and how good they would be with tomato relish and my Swiss melt. Sorry, that recipe isn’t ready to share yet, but the combination was perfect. Seriously, these are freakin’ delicious.

Oh, and did I mention they’re gluten free? You heard me.

Ingredients

Approx 500g Swiss Brown mushrooms, thickly sliced

1 heaped cup walnuts

1 1/2 cups packed cooked short grain brown rice

1 large brown onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp porcini powder (or you can use dried porcini mushrooms soaked, drained, squeezed, chopped, a small handful)

2-3tbsp tamari,  or to taste

1 really heaped tbsp shiro miso

A couple pinches dried rosemary

1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup chickpea flour

Salt and olive oil as needed

Instructions

1. Place the walnuts on a tray and roast at 200C for 5 minutes or until just golden and toasted. Set aside.

2. Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a pan over low heat (cast iron is best, as always). Add the onion and stir well. Cook slowly until sticky, soft and mostly brown. Add the garlic and a splash more oil and cook another minute or so. Crank the heat up high and add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and the porcini. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown and delicious smelling but still fairly firm, around 5 minutes. You don’t want them to release their liquid.

3. Place half the walnuts into the bowl of your food processor. Process until you have a rough nut butter. This takes just over a minute in mine. Add the rest of the nuts and pulse until fine. Add the mushrooms and rice and pulse until chopped small. Do not puree.

4. Place the mix into a large bowl. Add the paprika, miso, tamari, rosemary and pepper and adjust to taste. Make it stronger than you think is perfect, because the flavour will be ‘watered down’ when you add the chickpea flour. Add salt if necessary and mix in the chickpea flour. Leave to stand 10 minutes (or longer). You are going to have a sticky mess, but don’t worry, they firm up A LOT as they cook.

5. Heat a little oil in a cast iron pan over med-low heat. It really needs to be cast iron because the char on these is half the flavour. Seriously do not skip  this. Scoop 1/3 cups mixture into your hands and form into patties. It’s worth doing them all at once and putting them on a baking paper lined tray, because your hands are going to be messy. Fry a few at a time on a fairly low flame, not turning until the underside is a nice dark, golden brown with a bit of char in it, as shown in the photos. You’ll need at least 5 minutes on each side. Don’t be tempted to turn the flame up, you need to cook them slowly or they’ll taste like raw chickpea flour (yuk!) and be all sloppy. Nobody wants that.

6. Stick them in a toasted bun with your favourite condiments. I used tomato relish, vegan Swiss melt made from cashews and secrets, lettuce and tomato. They’re bangin’ with mayo and mustard too. Or ketchup. Whatever floats your boat.

mushroom walnut pate-3

Truffled Mushroom & Walnut Pate

Time: Approx 25 minutes plus soaking            

Makes: Around 3 cups (or 3 times what is shown in the photos)

mushroom walnut pate-2 mushroom walnut pate

Wow, I think I must be the world’s worst blogger. I just realised it’s been over two months since my last post. Terrible. My excuse it that since going back to full time work, I have been incredibly lazy busy (well both are true), and am lucky if I cook dinner twice a week. I haven’t adapted to being able to make post – worthy food in 20 minutes from start to finish, which is all the time I’m willing to spend after being on my feet all day, because it’s just not how I cook. I’m working on it though.

So, in the spirit of getting back into my blogging responsibilities, today I’m posting a recipe that I’ve been meaning  to publish since last Christmas. Perhaps even longer, since the first day I made it. Or maybe I was never going to publish it because I was going to sell it at my market stall, if I ever had the time to do that. But because it’s the season of giving, I give it to you now.

This pate is just so good that I’ve never gotten around to photographing it. It always disappears so quickly when I make it that the task is just about impossible. However, determined to at least post something from this year’s spectacular Christmas feast, this this time I was prepared. I took a third away and hid it so I could finally get a photo today, when nobody knew it existed. I then became very popular for the second day in a row when I revealed it for lunch, also part of my devious plan.

This pate is really easy to make, but is incredibly special. You could put this in a jar and give it to someone as a gift. I’ve fed this to mushroom haters who have devoured it within minutes, pate haters (yes they exist apparently, so weird) who were quickly converted, and to myself, the harshest critic of all, who will sit there with a whole baguette and eat it all if nobody stops me. It’s so, so yummy. So go ahead and make this and become a hero at your next potluck, dinner party, wine and cheese night, Christmas lunch, picnic, you name it. We all like to be worshipped once in a while.

Ingredients

375g Swiss brown mushrooms, cleaned

20g dried porcini mushrooms

1 1/4 cup walnuts

3/4 cup cashews, soaked a few hours, rinsed, drained

1/2 cup porcini soaking liquid

3 tbsp olive oil

2 French shallots, chopped

4 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped

Pinch dried thyme

3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Grated fresh black truffle* or black truffle oil, to taste

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

* A note about truffles: While they are technically a vegan ingredient, in most parts of the world, truffles are harvested using dogs or pigs. These animals are trained to seek out truffles, and work for their livelihoods.  Some may be treated very well, as members of the family, but others won’t be. They are usually specially bred, which creates all kinds of issues, including puppy farms, adding to the number of unwanted dogs who are killed each year, and the question of what happens to those who don’t pass their training or are too old to continue. For this reason, while the flavour is far inferior, artificial truffle oil is the far more ethical way to go. That being said, I often receive free truffles through my work or friends in Italy, and I use them. You may be able to find foraged truffles which are not ethically problematic, or truffles from farms which don’t use animals. This is one of those ethical issues the individual needs to decide for themselves, but be aware if you are making this for a vegan, they may not eat real truffle.

Instructions

1. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl with 1 1/2 cups of cold and let soak for an hour (or more, more won’t hurt it). Drain them in a mesh sieve lined with a piece of paper over another bowl to reserve the liquid. Remove the paper towel and rinse the mushrooms well.

2. Heat the oven to 200C. Place the walnuts on a tray and roast in the oven for around 5 minutes, or until golden and roasty smelling. When roasting nuts I check them every other minute because they go from toasted to burnt in a flash. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for ten minutes or so.

3. Heat the olive oil in a pan over low heat and add the shallots. Cook until translucent then add the garlic and dried thyme. Cook another couple of minutes until soft. Add the porcini mushrooms and cook another minute. Meanwhile, place the Swiss mushrooms into the bowl of your food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the mushrooms to the pan with a pinch of salt and saute until cooked. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved porcini soaking liquid and cook, stirring often, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Place the walnuts and cashews into the bowl of the food processor and blitz until they form a fairly fine, crumbly paste (not a nut butter, not a crumb, somewhere in between). Add the mushroom mixture and parsley, a splash of olive oil and blend until smooth but not a liquid. It will be a medium-stiff paste. Remove the blade and give it a good mix with a spatula. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the truffle to your desired truffliness. Place into a covered dish/jar in the fridge to chill for at least a couple of hours before serving. If you want to serve it fancy style rather than in a dish, line a bowl with glad wrap before pressing the pate in, then turn out onto a plate. Serve with thin slices of toasted baguette.

 

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