Category Archives: Entrees & Small Food

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.

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.

 

leek asparagus tart

Braised Leek and Asparagus Tart with Polenta Crust

I’m back in the cooking mood! After feeling a bit kitchen-lazy the last couple of weeks, I got back into the swing of things yesterday while helping the amazing ladies from Las Vegan and Big Sky to cater the Animal Activists’ Forum social. It was a fun day making canapés, actually my favourite kind of food to make. So much fun in fact that while I was laying awake all night as I always seem to do, I found myself writing a list of everything in the fridge and pantry, and scribbling down ideas for new dishes. I came up with a dozen new canapé ideas before I got onto the practical ideas, because while my brain is always very awake when I should be sleeping, it’s rarely helpful.

This recipe came to me around 5am as I was getting hungry for breakfast, and made it to the top of the list because I wanted to go for a picnic today. A perfect warm and sunny spring day, the birds were singing and the air smelled of flowers. And polenta tarts are perfect for picnics; they are best at room temperature, they are sturdy and travel well (once cut into pieces), and you don’t have to worry about keeping them in the fridge. Hooray! Plus they are gluten free, which is excellent, because most of my favourite picnic foods revolve around the bread I can no longer eat.

Of course, in typical Melbourne fashion by the time the tart came out of the oven a thunderstorm had rolled in. Bye bye picnic. It was sad times, until I ate this tart, then I was very happy again. This tart might be great for picnics, but it’s just as delicious when you eat it inside. It’s great for a rustic brunch or lunch or at a BBQ. It would also fit well into an Italian restaurant style antipasti plate (where each diner is served an individual tasting plate of 3-5 antipasti).

Ingredients

2 large leeks (mine were very large, if in doubt use 3)

3 bunches of asparagus (approx 21 spears), woody ends snapped off

5 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped

A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 cup vegetable stock

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup vegan parmesan

Olive oil for cooking

Salt and pepper to taste

For the crust

1 cup polenta (aka cornmeal)

4 cups water

A generous pinch of salt and a little more for good measure

2 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup vegan parmesan

Method

1. Make the crust

Line a rimmed baking tray with baking paper

Bring the 4 cups water, the salt and the oil to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add the polenta to the boiling water while whisking. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue cooking over a low heat until thick and creamy, approx 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and beat in the vegan parmesan. Check salt and adjust if necessary.

Pour the polenta onto the tray and spread into a rectangle approx 30 x 20cm. Try to concentrate more of the mixture at the edges if you can, but make sure the middle is 1 to 1.5cm thick. Leave to cool and set a few minutes, then form a crust by pinching up the edges. Leave to set 30 minutes (or longer, you can make this in advance).

2. Preheat the oven to 200C/190C fan forced

3. Remove the tough dark green leaves from the leeks (but keep the light green parts). Cut the leeks in half, then slice lengthwise 5mm thick. Wash very well. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the leeks. Sauté until softened and starting to brown a little, then add the rosemary, bay leaf, stock and water. Stir to deglaze, then cover with a lid. Allow to braise until all the liquid has absorbed and the leeks are meltingly soft. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan. Keep stirring until you have creamy dip like mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Place the set polenta crust into the oven and bake 20 minutes to crisp up. Remove from the oven and spread the leek mixture evenly over the top. Place the asparagus spears on top, pressing them in a little. Brush with a little olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Return to the oven for another 20 -25 minutes, or until the asparagus spears are nice and tender and the polenta crust is nice and crispy.

4. Remove from the oven and leave to cool at least 10 minutes. Use the baking paper to lift the tart onto a serving board and let cool to lukewarm before slicing. This tart is best served at room temperature. Garnish with a little fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice before serving, if desired.

mushroom calamari new

Oyster Mushroom ‘Calamari’

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

I first encountered oyster mushroom ‘calamari’ at Yong’s Green Food. There was really no question we would order them, with Fabio being the former seafood lover that he is. I have never eaten calamari, but working in hospitality I have delivered more plates of it to customers than I could count, so I figured it must be really good. Fabio definitely thinks so, and even I  must admit that while I am quite put off at the idea of eating octopus tentacles, the perfectly golden crumb, light crunch and dipping sauce always appealed to me. Needless to say, I had high expectations.

Unfortunately, and as much as it pains me to say this about my beloved Yong’s, I was disappointed. The idea may have been nothing short of genius, but what was delivered wasn’t what I was hoping for. While tasty, the use of King Oyster mushrooms unfortunately resulted in some very rubbery ‘calamari’. King Oyster mushrooms act almost identically to scallops and calamari when cooked: overdone and they bounce. The rice flour batter was also too thick and not light and crispy like I was hoping for. In fact I think batter was the wrong way to go all together.

Despite my initial disappointment, however, I knew that oyster mushroom calamari had too much potential to be forgotten, so I decided to make my own version at home. I used regular oyster mushrooms rather than the king oysters  to avoid any chance of rubbery-ness. I also crumbed them with rice crumbs (for extra crunch) instead of battering, and lightly seasoned the flour for a flavour boost. These are OUT OF THIS WORLD good. Seriously.

This was one of those recipes with instant success, that I have made over and over as a starter at dinner parties. It makes great finger food, and is suitable for whatever style of cuisine I am serving as the main. They can be made with just the seaweed seasoning below (my favourite), salt and pepper seasoning, cajun seasoning, garlic salt, or just a touch of regular salt, depending on what you want to serve them with. They can be served with aioli, mayo, chilli sauce, Lebanese garlic dip or vegan tartare. So many possibilities! Be sure to make more than you think you will eat, because these vanish at an astonishing speed. Everyone who tries them raves about them, and my dad even said they were better than real calamari.

To be honest I almost selfishly kept this recipe to myself, but if this post helps to keep octopi in the ocean and off people’s plates, then that is reward enough.

 

Ingredients

200g Oyster mushrooms

A third of a sheet of toasted nori

Good pinch sea salt

1/2 tsp fine chilli powder

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup plain flour or GF flour

1 1/2 cups rice crumbs, Orgran brand preferred (or Panko crumbs if you don’t have access to them)

1 cup soy milk mixed with 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar OR cold aquafaba

Sunflower or canola oil, for deep frying (approx 3 -4 cups)

Salt to taste

Method

1. Preheat oven to 150C and place an oven tray inside.

2. Slice mushrooms into strips around 2.5cm wide. It doesn’t matter if some pieces are different shapes or slightly larger. Place into a large bowl and toss the flour through, until all the mushrooms have a light coating.

3. In another bowl, place the aquafaba or soymilk-vinegar mixture. Place the rice crumbs in a third bowl.

4. Take around 2 tbsp of the rice crumbs and put into a mortar and pestle. Crush up the nori sheet with your hands into the mortar. Add a pinch of salt and the chilli powder. Grind until the nori is in tiny pieces/powdery. Add this to the rest of the breadcrumbs. Season with black pepper and mix well.

5. One at a time, dip the mushrooms strips into the soymilk/aquafaba, shake off the excess and dip into the breadcrumbs. Make sure they are fully coated. Place onto a plate or tray in a single layer and repeat until all coated. If you aren’t going to fry them straight away, put them in the fridge

6. Meanwhile, heat approximately 5cm of oil in a wok over medium heat until hot but not smoking. When the oil is hot enough, a clump of crumb placed in the oil will bubble rapidly. Fry the mushrooms in small batches of around 7 or 8 until golden and crispy and place on paper towel to drain. Transfer the fried mushrooms to the tray in the oven to stay crispy while you fry the rest.  Each batch should take around three minutes to fry. You may need to adjust the temperature of the oil throughout frying to keep it at the right temperature.

7. Sprinkle with a little salt and toss and transfer to a serving plate. Serve immediately and sneakily eat a few before you take them to the table (getting extra is the cook’s privilege).

meatballs1

Middle Eastern Style Lentil Balls

Makes approximately 30 

Just a quick post today, as I hadn’t planned on doing one. However, this was one of those unplanned successes that had to be written down before I couldn’t remember how I made it.

I actually made these lentil balls to go into a spicy freekeh soup inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in Jerusalem (which I will post tomorrow), but they are also really delicious on their own with a yogurt style dipping sauce, so I am posting them separately.

I unfortunately made the mistake of leaving this batch in the oven for a little too long while we were stuffing our faces with the first batch (no matter how many times it happens, I never seem to remember that my oven timer doesn’t work), so they look a little cracked in the photo, but luckily they seem to be very forgiving and only developed a thin layer of crunch on the outside. If you are as absent minded as I am about these things, rest assured that it won’t be noticeable at all if you’re going to put them in the soup (which I highly recommend).

 

Ingredients

1 cup whole red, brown or puy lentils, soaked and rinsed

300g tempeh

1 cup breadcrumbs

3/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 2 tbsp water (OR equivalent volume of flax goo)

1 onion, very finely diced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

Ground allspice to taste, approx 1tsp

Ground cinnamon to taste, approx 1/2 tsp

Sea salt to taste (I start with 1tsp)

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tbsp tamari/soy sauce

Olive oil, for cooking

Method

1. Boil the lentils until they are soft but still retain their shape and drain well. Place into a food processor and pulse until about half are mashed (or mash with a fork). Set aside

2. Preheat the oven to 180 C

3. Place the tempeh into a food processor and pulse until it resembles minced meat. Don’t turn it into a paste, you want some texture.

4. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in an oven safe pan over low heat (preferably cast iron). Cook the onions until translucent and lightly golden, and add the tempeh, garlic and tamari/soy sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, for approx 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid to allow the tempeh to steam for 10 minutes. Wipe out the pan because you’re going to cook the balls in it.

5. Add the tempeh and all remaining ingredients to the lentils and mix well. I use my hands. You should have a fairly stiff and moist mixture. Form the mixture into ping-pong sized balls. You will get around 30.

6. Heat 2 tbsp oil in the pan over medium heat and add as many meatballs as will fit in one layer (I had to do two batches). Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, tossing frequently, until all brown all over. This should take around 20 minutes. Move the pan into the oven and cover. Cook a further 15 minutes and turn out onto a plate.

These are ready to serve, although I really recommend waiting 5 minutes before biting into one. Seriously, things that come out of the oven are really hot, no matter how good they smell, a lesson it seems I just cannot learn.

tuna salad-3

Vegan ‘Tuna’ Salad

Total time: 20 minutes, plus 4 hours soaking

Special Equipment: Food processor with large bowl

I first made vegan ‘tuna’ salad to help Fabio with his transition to veganism, as tuna was one of his favourites. Now, I have never had real tuna, but I have a fair inkling that this doesn’t actually taste like the real thing. Never the less, Fabio is now tuna free, and this salad is a regular feature in our lunch boxes. It is darn tasty, full of good fats, protein and omega 3s, free from animal suffering, and as an extra bonus doesn’t stink like tuna. This is my current favourite sandwich filling and cracker topping.

I’ve seen quite a lot of vegan tuna recipes out there, using all manner of combinations of nuts, seeds, beans and chickpeas. I have kept my version raw optional, using sunflower seeds and walnuts. I say optional, because this recipe calls for regular non-raw vegan mayo because it’s way cheaper and tastes better. You can of course substitute raw mayo if you prefer.

This ‘tuna’ salad makes an excellent filling for a one handed sandwich on its own (I don’t know about you, but multitasking on my lunch break is a regular occurrence for me), but when I have two hands to eat with I often throw in some thinly sliced radish, grated carrot, lettuce and some extra mayo for a full sized meal, or skip the bread all together and have it as a salad. It’s also great rolled up in a lettuce leaf with sweet chilli sauce, or eaten out of the container with a spoon when I get home from work. This keeps well in the fridge for at least a week, not that it ever lasts that long at the rate we eat it.

Ingredients

1 cup sunflower seeds, soaked at least 4 hours

2 cups walnuts, soaked at least 4 hours

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil (or flaxseed oil if you want those extra omega 3s and don’t mind the taste)

1 handful each of fresh parsley and dill

2 sheets nori, thinly sliced

2 large sticks celery, roughly chopped

2 large scallions, sliced (optional)

1 small red capsicum, or a combination of red, yellow and green capsicum, roughly diced

1/2 cup fluffy, creamy vegan mayonnaise, or more if you feel like it :)

Salt and black pepper to taste

Method

1. Rinse and drain the sunflower seeds and walnuts. Try to remove as much of the moisture as possible. I put them in my salad spinner and pat dry with paper towel

2. Place the walnuts, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, dill and nori into the large bowl of your food processor. Process until you have a fine, thick paste (around 3 minutes in my food processor). You will need to scrape the sides down a few times throughout.

tuna salad-1

3. Add the celery and pulse until very finely chopped and evenly combined. Add the scallions and capsicum and pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed into the mixture.

tuna salad-2

4. Remove the blade from the food processor and pour in the mayonnaise. Mix well with a spatula and season to taste. Easy peasy!

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.