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Italian Vegan Summer Feast – A Celebration! (pt 2)

Italian Vegan Summer Feast!  

Here’s part two of our Italian vegan feast, a whole heaving table of vegan delights perfect for a summer celebration.  The idea is that they’re quick and easy to get together and show-off the incredible produce we get when the sun comes out to play.

These are the flavours of summer and I think Italy is one of my favourite countries to eat, wander and marvel.  I’ve never visited big cities I must add, but the chilled life in the Italian countryside is my kind of vibe.  Simplicity and balancing flavours are just second nature to the cooks and magnificence is never far from my taste buds.  Italy is a vegan travellers dream, in fact, any travellers dream.  I agree with the old school maxim, ‘don’t mess with the produce, just let them shine!’ (I might have just made that up).

EATING ITALIA (JUST THE PLANTS GRAZIE MILLE!)

I’ve done a load of travelling in the past year and was lucky to tour around the south of Italy again; Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, just the names alone have my mouth watering.  The south of Italy has so many vegan choices, traditionally, veggie food down there is very popular.  It was a poorer part of the country where people couldn’t always afford meat and dairy, so they got creative with the plants.  My kind of place!  I love the parmesan they make with basically just fried breadcrumbs.  Great texture and crunch.  I also love the ever present mushrooms.

Every restaurant has a range of vegetable dishes, generally simply prepared, sauteed quickly or char grilled.  There is of course, the classic Marinara pizza.  Just tomato sauce and maybe the occasional basil leaf, but the quality of the base is regularly sensational.  There is Arrabiata and its varietals, huge bowls of fresh pasta with a rich tomato sauce and knock out olive oil.  Occasionally a basil leaf.  The tomato foccacia is dreamy, melts in the mouth and I haven’t even mentioned the Antipasto.  Jeez.  Huge, elaborate displays of preserved flavour explosions.  All kinds and colours of olives, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, aubergines, peppers, you know the score but really, if you haven’t nibbled one standing in a Puglian market post espresso, you haven’t really tasted the true antipasto.  The pizza/ pasta dishes mentioned normally weigh in at 5-6 euros in a nice restaurant.  Not bad eh!

I think the markets in the south of Italy are my favourite places for sniffing out fresh produce and generally, just to hang out.  I spend quality time admiring the creations on display.  Did I mention the sorbet, no need to miss out on the evening gelato ritual, the sorbet is normally incredible.  Really, incredible.

Have you ever eaten a peach in Italy!!?  That’s a whole other level and blog post I feel.  Even the plums are a wake up call generally to the potential of fruit and veg.  The sweetness.  In Britain, we’re doing out best really.  Great apples and potatoes.

One of our favourite little restaurants, in a cave overlooking the Amalfi Coast.

Italy has a reputation of being an expensive place to travel, not for me.  There is also a growing vegan movement and even in small towns, I found vegan restaurants, salad bars, kebab shops.  It’s become quite trendy, restaurants advertise vegan options via flashing lights or blackboards.

Basically, all lovers of food and the simpler, finer things in life cannot help but fall in love with rural Italy.  Is that right?  Have you been?  What can I look forward to in the North?  The tastebuds boggle.

Back to our humble little feast with an Italian flava.

See the first post here for the Pepper, Basil & Cashew Cream Cheese Tart, Rosemary Roast Potatoes, Tomato & Balsamic Salad and Italian Style Dressing recipes.

These recipes won a competition on our Facebook vegan cooking page, you’ll find it here, it’s a friendly group where you can share recipes, ask questions and hang out with other good vibe vegans and food lovers.   You’ll also hear first about any events/ retreats that we’re doing along with special offers.

The Bits – For 6-8 as part of the Italian Feast

Aubergine Antipasto

2 large aubergines (peeled)
1 large garlic clove (crushed)
4 tbs olive oil
Large pinch salt
Dried oregano

1 handful sun dried tomatoes (chopped)

——————–

Roast your aubergine in the oven, 200oc, 25 minutes, until cooked and a little caramelised. Toss gently with the other ingredients. Leave to cool and pop in the fridge. Can be done in advance.

Roast Squash & Wholegrain Pasta Salad

Roast Squash & Wholegrain Pasta Salad

8 handfuls wholegrain penne
5 tbs vegan mayo
3 handfuls squash (small cubes)
1 bulb of garlic
1 large handful sun dried tomatoes (chopped)
1 handful parsley (chopped)
1/2 lemon (juice)

Salt and pepper

——————

Cook your pasta. Drain and leave to cool a little.

Roast the squash and garlic for 30 minutes in 200oC fan oven with a little oil and salt and pepper, take the garlic out after 20 minutes. Peel the garlic cloves and mash with a fork, stir into the mayo.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently together.  Season with salt and pepper.

This dish is nice served warm, but also good cold.

White Bean Puree (Vegan)

White Bean Puree

450g white beans
4 tbs olive oil
1/2 lemon juice
1/2 teas sea salt
Parsley

Garnish
Whole beans
Olive oil

————————-
Place all in a blender and blitz until smooth. Check seasoning.

Serve ideally with a drizzle of olive oil and a handful of whole beans on top and maybe chopped soft herbs (basil, parsley) or dried oregano.

 

Serve dishes with

 

Large bowl of mixed salad leaves

Bowl of Olives

Olive oil/ Balsamic

Vegan cheese, like cashew cream, vegan parmesan.

Fresh Foccacia/ Ciabatta/ Any nice bread really

Extra bowl of dried oregano and mild chilli flakes

A bottle of something nice

Sunshine + smiles

Rosemary Focaccia

That’s it!  Enjoy the feast.  If you get to try it all out, or even just a few of the dishes, let us know in the comments below.  We love to hear about your kitchen adventures.

 

Categories: healthy, photography, plant-based, Recipes, Salads, Side Dish, Summer, Travel, Vegan, veganism | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Italian Vegan Summer Feast – A Celebration! (pt 1)

Italian Vegan Summer Feast – Get a load of that!!

We love sharing with you our favourite recipes!  Here’s a whole feasts worth!!  If I had time, I’d blog every night.  I think good recipes are best shared.   I never understand the whole secret recipe thing.  Let’s cook!

The post was originally so long, I’ve had to split it into two.  But don’t be overawed, the recipes are straightforward.  This celebration was a winner over on our Facebook cooking group, click here to join, where recipes are shared and there is much chat plus healthy vegan vibes and stunning food.  Pop over and take a look.

The simple and delicious flavours of Italy make the most out of our summer produce. When the sun comes out, we start getting tasty tomatoes, peppers, and the flavours of the Mediterranean can be found locally in the UK for a short window. I love it! This is a feast designed for a party or entertaining guests/ people you hopefully like, when you want a table filled with a wide range of dishes, not too complicated food that compliments each other.  For me, Italian food goes perfectly with a sunny afternoon and a bottle of something amazing.

THE ITALIAN CONNECTION

The reason for this meal was our relatives visiting from Italy, they live near Lake Como. Jane and I love Italy, one of our favourite places on this big rock, but we’ve never been North.  Can’t believe we’ve got family living in Italy and we haven’t been to see them.  Shame on us.   Since coming back to the UK we’ve been loving kitchen time and trying out ideas from our travels.  I guess the tart is like a pizza, but with a puff pastry base.  When I’m busy, I like working with puff pastry, it’s far too easy.  I’ve just discovered pre-rolled puff pastry.  Wow!  That is pure laziness and brilliance at the same time.   Whack it on a tray, bake, job done.

Here’s some of our Italian travel snaps.

When preparing a menu, we need to think about textures and flavours, how they mingle and benefit from each other. I find writing menu’s really enjoyable and a great challenge.

If you can, present the dishes on large plates or shallow bowls. Spread things out, make them look lovely.

 

Recipe Notes

This is going to take a few hours to get together.  Its a weekend special.

Gluten-free – Just use gluten-free pastry/ pasta for the tart and your favourite gluten free bread.

Additional deliciousness – this tart is awesome with some prated vegan parmesan sprinkle over at the end.  Violife do a parmesan which is scarily like the real thing Jane and I were amazed by it, you could smell the pong upstairs and in the garden.  Just like the other stuff.  Potent.  There must be some kind of genius going on there. Vegan parmesan!! Whatever next. Exciting times in the foody world powered by plants.

(You’ll notice a couple of dishes are missing from the picture above, you’ll find a Chocolate Cake recipe here the Peanut Butter Scones may appear soon.)

 

The Bits – For 6-8 Light Meal

Pepper, Basil and Cashew Cream Cheese Tart (Vegan)

Pepper, Basil & Cashew Cheese Tart

1 pack puff pastry

1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 garlic
salt and pepper

3 peppers – different colours looks nice (sliced)
2 onions (thickly sliced)
2 handfuls squash (chopped into cubes)

 

Cashew Cheese

1 cup cashews
1/2 lemon (juice)
3 tbs nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 garlic clove
Large pinch dried oregano

 

1 handful fresh basil leaves

Dried oregano

3 tbs plant milk (for brushing)

 

—————-

Preheat fan oven 200oc.

Place the peppers, onions and squash on a large baking tray, season with salt and pepper, use two if squashed, and roast for 25-30 minutes.

In a sauce pan, add tomatoes, garlic, season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes, until a thick sauce forms.

Roll out your puff pastry thin on a piece of lightly floured greaseproof paper. Brush with milk. Bake in oven for 12 minutes. Leave to cool slightly.

Spread a layer of tomato sauce over tart, scatter onions, peppers, squash, sprinkle with oregano, black pepper.

Brush the edges of the tart with plant milk, bake for 15 minutes. Can be served hot or cold.

Place all the cheese ingredients in a blender and blits until smooth.

To serve, blob on cashew cheese and tear over some basil leaves.

 

Tomato & Balsamic Salad

Tomato & Balsamic Salad

4-5 ripe tomatoes (chopped)
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 handful basil leaves

——————–

Mix together in a bowl and tear your basil leaves over.

 

Roast Rosemary Potatoes

Roasted New Potatoes & Rosemary

New potatoes (par boiled)
Few sprigs of Rosemary
Salt
2 roasted garlic bulbs

 

——————-

Take your par boiled potatoes, toss them in the rosemary, salt and oil, roast in the oven for 30 minutes. (200oC) until crispy and golden, turning them once.

Serve warm.

 

Italian Style Dressing

8 tbs olive oil
3 tbs white wine vinegar
2 small garlic cloves (crushed)
3 tbs chopped parsley
1/2 teas dried oregano
1/2 small lemon (juice)
Large pinch dried red pepper

——————-

Whisk all together in a bowl or shake together in a jar.  Check seasoning.

 

Buon appetito!

 

This is only half of the recipes, check out the Italian Vegan Summer Feast (pt 2) post for more.

 

Categories: Dressings, healthy, photography, plant-based, Recipes, Salads, Side Dish, Special Occasion, Summer, Vegan | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Msabaha – Lebanese Chickpeas (A new twist on hummus)

Msabaha – Lebanese Chickpeas

The best creation since hummus!?  Or at least equal!  Regardless, an awesome, quick and easy summer dish to be eaten alone with warm bread, maybe a salad and then take it the whole way and make it part of a summer feast.  Tables filled with lovely dishes one of my favourite sights, especially in the garden with a shining topping of sunshine.  Come on sunshine!!

BEIRUT BITES

I ate this mainly for breakfast on a recent trip to Beirut.  Warm, with crisp tomatoes and pepper, plus fresh, thin pitta bread, it set me up for days traveling around the fascinating country of Lebanon.  It’s a simple dish and can be ready in minutes.

Msabaha (some spell it Mussabaha, Msabbacha, Mschabeca, Messabbeha but in Lebanon I saw Msabaha, I hope that makes some sense) is a great twist on hummus, containing most of the same ingredients.  This is a really creamy, more-ish way of serving chickpeas, perfect as a picnic mezza.

I was sharing a table with an American one morning and I recommended the Msabaha, he exclaimed “THIS IS THE NEW HUMMUS MAN!!”  I’m not sure about that.  I don’t think it really matters. It’s just Msabaha.  And it’s just amazing.

CHICKPEA LOVIN’

The Lebanese love, I mean love, their chickpeas.  I excitedly ordered a dish in a bar/ restaurants (there are loads of excellent bars and restaurants in Beirut, especially in and around Gemmayzeh.)  What showed up was basically a bowl of chickpeas, dusted with cumin and a splash of olive oil.  It was delicious, but still, just a bowl of chickpeas straight up.

The main challenge with travelling for me is re-creating the dishes that I loved once I arrive back home. It can be a thankless task, we cannot recreate the chickpeas here, for some reason, they taste so much better in the Med/ Middle East. Also the veg, the cucumbers and tomatoes in Lebanon were a constant sensation. We can’t replicate their fertile soil and sun. But we can try and we can get close.

THE BEST SOUVENIRS ARE RECIPES!

The funny-ish thing about travelling is we go away and sample all of these delicious delicacies and local people are unfazed by the adulation.  It’s like a tourist wandering into a Gregg’s and getting worked up about a pasty.  These kind of dishes are what everyone eats, they’re the working persons food, cheap, delicious,  plentiful and ever present.  In Britain, I think things like good chips and mushy peas, or a cheese and pickle sandwich (now back on the menu with vegan cheddar), or maybe even the perfect shepherd-less or apple pie are our equivalent of hummus, falafels, baklava and the like.  Simple food that everyone loves!  It’s just the culture and the local ingredients that change.  But still, my best souvenirs are always recipes and delicious memories.

Art in Beirut – Sursok Museum

THE GREAT HUMMUS DEBATE – WHICH IS BEST?

Basically, don’t go there!!  In Lebanon, hummus is something of an enigma it seems. I’ve encountered this in other countries, everyone has their own little variation, some say add ice and blend, others say only use a hand masher, some say painstakingly remove the jacket from each individual chickpea.

Most people I spoke to said keep it simple. No garlic, no spices. Just lemon, salt and a little olive oil. The hummus we eat in the UK, especially those pale imitations in the supermarkets, are nothing like those in Lebanon and Egypt. Their hummus is super creamy and perfectly balanced, also, the olive oil is normally very fruity. In my experience, never ask a person from the Middle East who makes the best hummus. It can lead to heated debates, people are proud of their hummus traditions and rightly so. It’s a legend!

In Lebanon, the folk I spoke to would never put cumin  in hummus and many would not dream of garlic.  No, no, no, nooooo!  “Garlic!!  Are you crazy Britishman!!”  Direct quotes from a falafel stand in Beirut.  Meant jovially.

Yotam Ottolenghi, our Middle Eastern guru in the UK, says to use creamy tahini and soak your chickpeas well over night, drizzle the olive oil in after blending for bread dipping etcetc.  It’s perfectly simple and brilliantly complex this hummus stuff.  The truth is, its about balance and knowing what your dream tahini tastes like and the texture you want.  Some like it a little rough, some smooth.   I like mine with a little more tahini.  I’m a proper rebel.  What am I talking about hummus for?  Back to Msabaha……

Remember this though, tahini alone, mixed with water, a little garlic and salt, makes for an incredible sauce for many, many dishes.  Can be called Tarator.  You all probably know how I feel about tahini, I won’t go on about it.  But tahini, well, we should all be eating it at least twice a day in my humble opinion.  More at weekends.  Have you ever mixed tahini with jam/ molasses/ something sweet and spread it on warm toast or drizzled it over things like porridge or muesli?  You’ve got to try it!!  It’s a early morning revelation.

I love the simplicity of legendary dishes like this, so easy to get very wrong and incredible when mastered. I’m no master, but this is a decent effort I reckon. If you’re from Lebanon, please try it and send me your kind and not-too-harsh feedback.  Chokran!!

Beirut has a few ‘beaches’. Thin strips of sand. This man was enjoying himself with his sound system and hookah (water pipe)

Recipe Notes

If you like a thicker sauce, stir in a few spoonfuls of hummus.  This is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

I ate this with hummus, so I didn’t make it really saucy.  Feel free to add more sauce and get those chickers floaty in creamy, decadent goodness.

Cook the chickpeas until they’re nice and soft, melt in the mouth!

I prefer soaked and cooked chickpeas, better flavour, but tinned will do.

I think this dish is best served warm.

I like cumin, so I put it in.

Don’t be shy on the olive oil.  The Lebanese certainly are not.

A nice twist on hummus!  Mussabaha, Msabbacha, Mschabeca, Messabbeha, whatever you call it, it tastes amazing!!

 

The Bits – Enough for 4-6 as a mezza

550g chickpeas (cooked) – 2 tins

1 teas ground cumin

6 tbs light tahini

1/2 lemon (juice)

5 tbs water (more if needed)

1 small clove garlic (crushed)

Salt

 

Toppings 

Sprinkle of paprika

2 cloves crushed garlic (optional but nice)

1/2 handful chopped parsley (use the soft stems also)

Big glug of extra virgin olive oil

 

Salad

1 green pepper

1/2 cucumber

2 tomatoes (all sliced)

Fresh mint leaves (I used basil)

 

Do It

Cook your chickpeas and drain.  When still warm.  Stir the tahini, water, garlic, lemon juice, cumin and salt together, adding the water gradually to make a thin sauce.  If you didn’t cook your chickpeas with bicarb of soda, use the chickpea cooking broth instead of water.  You can make the sauce in advance if you like.

Gently stir the sauce into the chickpeas.  Top with parsley, paprika and crushed garlic if you like.

 

The incredible Baalbek, Roman and Persian monument, on the border with Syria. One of the most incredible historical sites I’ve visited.  Well preserved and totally empty.

Foodie Fact

Tahini!  Why we love it so, other than it tastes awesome.

Tahini is one the best sources of calcium out there, it keeps your skin and muscles healthy, high in vitamin E and many of the B’s, helps with detoxing, full of minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron and more, a great source of protein (even better than nuts), it is highly alkaline, it is high in unsaturated fats and therefore can help with weightloss.  WOW!

Categories: Breakfast, gluten-free, Healthy Eating, Nutrition, photography, plant-based, Recipes, Side Dish, Summer, Vegan | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Summer Rose Syrup

IMG_0501.JPGSummer roses…

This recipe captures the scent, fragrance and wild essence from your garden rose into a syrup so gorgeous and simple you’ll want to keep making it over and over.

In the UK we’re blessed with many herbs and flowers that give food such an extra special unique taste. Elderflower season has come and gone, and this year’s cordial is now frozen into ice cubes for coolers dressings and cakes to be enjoyed well into the summer.

Over the years I’ve been fascinated by cooking with wild-plants that I find in the hedgerows and gardens near wherever I’m living. For some people it is a way of life and the ultimate expression of seasonality.

In America last year I was fortunate enough to meet a herbalist who made her own herbal vinegars, flower coolers, infusions and tinctures. When I tasted for the first time in my life a vinegar made of yellow dock that was so punchy fragrant and utterly indescribably bittersweet, it added such an unique flavour to our roasted vegetable dish, and added so many health benefits I vowed I would make it some day… but right now the roses are in bloom.

IMG_0544

This recipe is so utterly simple and delicious it will put the magic of summer into whatever piece of toast, pancake, yoghurt or waffle you drizzle it over. It makes a lovely icing for a cake.  Full of sugar, just like jam, this doesn’t pretend to be healthy. But as a vegan sweetener or jam equivalent, rose petal syrup can be used in moderation, made in small quantities and appreciated for what it is. I feel it’s a valuable and gorgeous addition to your cupboard.

P1310655

CHINESE ROSE

Recently when we were in China, travelling in the South in Yunnan, we came across a rose delicacy that blew me away and got me very interested in learning more about cooking with roses. It was a Moon Cake, a ceremonial and local delicacy, made with a flaking light pastry filled with chunky rose jam. Served warm and fresh out of a linen-lined basket by a crinkly faced apple-cheeked local. We stood there blissfully at the stall (despite it being close to a main road for passing trade) immersed in rose-heaven…a taste so blissful I want to go all the way back to China just to taste it again, it blew my mind!

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Rose sweeties…

Ever since Lee and I volunteered on an organic lavender and rose farm in Turkey in 2014, I became fascinated with the colossal copper vats where literally tons of freshly harvested rose petals would be made into essential oil. All around Turkey, roses featured highly in every market place in the form of soaps, tea, jams, sweets, and as rose-water, traditionally used by woman and men as a hand spray to lightly scent the skin after a meal.

rose sultan

“What is the scent of the Rose? The breath of reason and intelligence, a sweet guide on the way to the eternal kingdom.” Rumi

The Damask rose is as revered in Turkish society today as it was in the Ottoman times for it’s edible petals and delicious scent. Imagine a scene at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul in the Ottoman times where sultans sip rose sherbet in their thrones, Ottoman woman laze around in rose-scented baths applying oils and creams to their skins. Roses, known as ‘The flower of Heaven’ were a symbol of divine beauty and were used extensively in spiritual ceremonies. Medicines, syrups and sweets made from roses were and still are used every day. It’s all very romantic.

If it’s good enough for a sultan it’s good enough for us too, right?

This recipe was requested by a friend of the BHK, super Simon over at the Heart Kitchen.

Here’s the recipe!

Enjoy, Jane:)

IMG_0524

The bits

1 cup of caster sugar

Half a cup of water

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

2 cups of freshly picked rose petals

IMG_0528

Do it

Shake the rose petals well outside after picking to free the tiny insects. Warm the sugar, water and lemon juice on a low heat until it’s dissolved into a thick syrup. Add the rose petals and stir them in the sugar solution for about 5 minutes or so, then take off the heat and keep stirring for another ten, until the rose petals have gone see-through and the syrup has changed colour.

Strain the syrup through muslin into a jar.

IMG_0542

Serve

This is one of the world’s most delicious drizzles to be enjoyed with pancakes, toast, waffles, ice creams, cocktails, in tea and even in salad dressings!

Articles referenced in this post are here and here

Photograph of Sultan was originally taken by Nurhan Atasoy.
Categories: Desserts, Foraging, Infusions, Local food, photography, Recipes, Sauces, Summer, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Elderflower & Pistachio Muffins with Lemon Curd

Elderflower & Pistachio Muffins with Lemon Curd and loads of Vegan Buttercream

It was Jane’s birthday recently and she loves elderflowers, lemon, mashed potato (that is not a typo) and CAKE, so I thought I’d combine them all. The cake was lovely but I liked the idea of making the recipe into muffins filled with the curd.  So you cut into them and get a nice surprise.  For me, elderflower is one of the tastes of summer in the UK and it’s been a bumper year. We’ve been making many vats of cordial and can’t wait for the elderberry bonza!

You know I rarely bake a ‘normal’ cake, I just can’t handle the sugar overload, but this was a birthday so I let rip.  You know the BHK, we live on the edge!!!  I tend to freestyle with baking which freaks many people out.  I see how it goes.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, but generally, sticking to some rules and with a little experience, things turn out well.  It also leads to new ideas/ creation.  Which is what fuels me in the kitchen.  After all, go back a few years and tell people you’re putting mashed potato in a cake and a few bushy eyebrows would have been raised I’m sure.  In fact, they probably still are.  I like to befriend these bushy eyebrows and I know that when they taste these muffins, they’ll be smiling

I used seived spelt flour here which worked well and had read about mashed potato as a binder years ago. Someone told me about a mashed potato cake and I thought, thats the kind of creative twist that gets me going.  I finally got to try it out and it worked a treat.  Jane’s parents really loved them, so baking with mashed potato will be played with even more in the BHK.  It is light and does help bind the cake together.

Us vegans use a lot of mashed things in our cakes, squash, pumpkin, apple, sweet potato, bananas, I think potato is as good as any and the flavour is suitably bland for a binding agent.  Some people have challenged me about using such binders and saying it will make the cake taste bizarre, I would think about it this way.  A non-vegan cake is normally filled with a load of scrambled egg!  That seems like it will mess with flavour more than a little mashed spud.  It’s just something new, thats all.

Can you guess what the secret filling is?

Vegan lemon curd is nice.  It’s not exactly, bang on, like the other stuff, but it’s getting there and benefits from being so easy to make.  Adding the elderflower cordial to it makes it better for me.  You can keep any leftovers in the fridge and it’s, of course, pretty dang good on toast.

The buttercream was a birthday pressie to Jane really (not the only one I might add!)  Icing sugar and me don’t see eye to eye.  It reminds me of church fares as a child and the cakes were always sickly sweet bits of icing with some sponge hanging off.  Or those flapjacks made with buckets of golden syrup and hard raisins.  I think my favourites were top hats made with marshmallows and chocolate with a smartie on top, but you didn’t need to bake them.  Or rice crispies, they were great.

Basically, this buttercream is old school and no one would be able to tell the difference.  There are some decent new margarine type things coming out, Pure is a good staple choice, plus Suma and Biona always deliver good products.  I just read that ‘I Can’t Belive It’s Not Butter’ have just released a ‘ICBINB It’s Vegan!’ brand, which is slightly confusing but raised a smile.  It is made with ‘real’ ingredients.  One thing that has shocked me in a nice way is the range of vegan ingredients and products in the supermarkets, what a difference a year makes (we’ve been travelling here, there and everywhere fyi).

This recipe over at Wall Flower Kitchen was a particular inspiration. Judging by this experiment, I would use seived spelt flour again, we know that its a good option from a health point of view but I love the flavour.

Our new newsletter comes out on Friday, the first one in nearly six years so don’t miss it!!  We’ll be celebrating summer with hand-picked recipes, light, simple and full of sun.  Sign up HERE.

Filled with lovely vegan lemon curd

Recipe Notes

I have toned down the sugar here, but I think it’s a perfect quantity. Not too sweet.  The icing makes up for that.  We tried the muffins without the icing and they’re ok with a cuppa, but you’re not going to fool any birthday person that they’re not lacking something.

All elderflower cordials are not made equal, especially if you are making your own.  The cordial we used was quite strong.  See recipe at the bottom.

You can use chopped almonds as a topping here, I just like the colour of the pistachios.

Best check that your lemon is unwaxed before using the zest.  If it’s waxed, and you’re just juicing, don’t worry, it will still be nice and lemony.

As you know, all ovens are different.  If your oven is fierce, check them after 16 minutes.

 

Elderflower & Pistachio Muffins

The Bits – For 12 muffins

Dry 

300g spelt flour (sieved)

100g ground almonds

2 teas baking powder

1 teas bicarb of soda

 

Wet

200g sugar

200ml almond milk

150g mashed potato

2 teas vanilla extract

3 tbs elderflower cordial

80ml sunflower oil

 

12 large muffin cases

 

Vanilla Buttercream

15g vegan margarine/ butter

150g icing sugar

1/2 teas vanilla extract

2 tbs plant based milk

2 tbs elderflower cordial

 

Vegan Lemon & Elderflower Curd

1 large lemon (zest and juice)

4 tbsp corn flour(starch)

40ml plant-based milk

3 tbsp brown rice syrup or sweetner of choice

1 teas turmeric powder

3 tbsp elderflower cordial

 

1 handful pistachios (finely chopped or pulsed in a blender a couple of times)

 

Fresh elderflowers (for nice decoration)

Eat in gardens, with sunshine and tea;)

Do It

Vegan Lemon Curd

Make the curd in advance, 1 hour before is ideal.  Place all ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth.  In a small saucepan, bring the curd to a gentle boil, whisking as it warms.   When it reaches boiling, take off the heat and whisk well until smooth.  If you leave it, expect the curd to go clumpy.  Once it is nice and smooth, decant into a container and leave to cool.

Muffin Mix

Add the ground almonds to a large mixing bowl, sift in the flour, bicarb and baking powder.

In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients, including the sugar.

Stir the wet into the dry mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Line your muffin tray with muffin cases.

Using a dessert spoon, spoon enough mix into the muffin cases to fill around 2/3 of the case.  Using a teaspoon, spoon roughly 1 1/2 tbs of curd into the centre of the case.  Making the curd into a round shape before doing this helps.  Now top the muffins off with the rest of the muffin mix.  Don’t overfill the cases, they will rise when baked, fill them until a few millimetres from the top.

Bake 18-20 mins 180oC fan oven. Test with a skewer and look for any wet dough, the curd inside will make it slightly more difficult to tell.

Buttercream

Place the margarine/ butter in a bowl and whisk until creamy,  gradually add the icing sugar, whisking together until you have a thick consistency.  Add the elderflower and milk, whisk again, adding more icing sugar if needed, until fluffy.  It should be thick and spreadable and takes a little work.  If you’re not into whisking, you can use a food processor.  Place in the fridge to thicken up even more.

Allow the muffins to cool on a wire rack and then spoon on the buttecream, spread with the back of a spoon, sprinkle over pistachios, top with elderflowers.

Foodie Fact

Edible Flowers

We don’t eat enough flowers do we!?  Flowers make any bowl, plate and especially salads even more beautiful.

Summer flowers that we can eat include nasturtium, calendula, borage, broad bean flowers, chicory, chives, snap dragon, sunflower, tulip, viola, violets, wild primrose, wild garlic, coriander, cornflower, dahlia, gladioli, daisy, chives, honeysuckle, pansy, rose, sage, courgette flowers.  Quite a list and that’s nowhere near all of them.  Flowers are on the menu!

Flowers like this generally have a light flavour, it’s more about the vibrant look really.  Don’t just wander out and eat any flower though, many are not good for us, some poisonous.

Elderflower

Elderflower is said to have anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it is also said to lower blood sugar and boosts the immune system.  You can also gargle (not coridal) with elderflower, which is quite nice.

Find out how to make our favourite Elderflower Cordial and Elderflower Champagne.  Elderflowers are so abundant at this time of year its a shame not to;)  One thing I haven’t tried is Elderflower Tempura which sounds delicious.  Anyone tasted it?

As ever, if you bake these muffins, we’d love to hear your comments and chat below.

PS – We very rarely get any freebies and have no sponsorship etc, we do this because we love it!  If we mention products, it’s only because we like them and want to share.  If we get free stuff etc, we would tell you.    

Categories: Baking, Cakes, healthy, photography, plant-based, Recipes, Summer, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Smoky Carrot & Red Pepper Pinchos with Avocado Aioli (Mini Spanish Not Dogs)

Smoky Carrot and Red Pepper Pinchos

Complete carrot transformation.  If you’re having a plant-based BBQ, slap these on.  It is impossible to not like them.  No one will believe what you’ve done to a humble carrot.  You made it into a delicious, smoky not dog!!  They will look upon you as some kind of food magician.  It’s a good look.  Go buy a cape.

A super tasty, healthy, plant-based option to that ‘classic’ hot dog thing, given a Spanish style twist here.  Pinchos (mini open sandwiches) are the perfect sandwich for this time of year, light and packed with flavours.  I also like the name.  The Spanish know their way around a sandwich thats for sure.  Pinchos just look amazing when placed together on a platter, especially when mixed up like a sandwich collage.  They are way too enticing to walk by.  If you’ve been to Spain, one of those big and buzzing tapas bars, you’ll know what I mean.  In old town San Sebastien especially, there are some beautiful arrays of pinchos covering every nook and cranny of the bars.

The Alma (Soul) Vegan Festival near Cartagena, Murcia

VIVA VEGANOS!!

You can probably tell by the radiant sunshine that this was not a UK post.  Although Durham is looking very summery from where I’m sat.  I cooked it on the Costa Calida in Spain.

Jane was there recently and attended a vegan festival, small but perfectly formed, this is something brilliant for Murcia.  There were a load of food stalls, live music and plenty of organic local products.  Even artisan beer (the most popular stand).  Apparently Jane and friends were the last to leave.  The artisan beer was just too good.

Murcia, like the rest of Spain, its a highly fishy/ meaty place and there is a growing vegan community and awareness.  Of course, in Barcelona and Madrid, you can find some vegan options, but I still think Spain is one of the toughest countries to be a vegan traveller.

Murcia has always been a little forgotten corner of Spain and poor, therefore, there are some interesting recipes with only veggies.  People couldn’t afford meat, so they made veggies delicious and you can occasionally find these dishes in restaurants, but generally, they are cooked in peoples homes.  I love one dish in particular, Morcilla de Verano – here’s our recipe.  Its a vegan take on the famous Spanish ‘Morcilla’ sausage and everyone loves it.  Even proper jamon heads.

Los Veganos!!

ME AND BEYONCE

I was orginally asked to write this recipe for Shape magazine in the US.  I know it seems strange that I’m doing things for massive lifestyle mags like that, it does to me anyway.  If you’ve followed the BHK for a while, you’ll know that we’ve gone from the growing cabbages and herbs in the middle of nowhere, half way up a hill in North Wales, to the pages of swanky magazines.  I even fed Beyonce once in an article!!  Hahahahaa!  Last year I was in Hello and other mags that I’d never have imagined in my weirdest dreams that I’d end up in.  When I was younger I probably imagined I’d be plastered all over The Rolling Stone, maybe Mojo or the NME (of the 90’s) in a rock star delusion.  Life is just one big strange surprise really!!  And yes, some of my friends think its cool, but most just laugh at me.  Often.  I used to be more Johnny Rotten than Beyonce, but maybe time mellows things out a bit.  I don’t care either way, getting tasty vegan food out there is amazing!  I’d love to cook for Beyonce, Morrissey, Philip Schofield, whoever.  In fact, if we invited Johnny Rotten that could make for an interesting dinner party.

Shape didn’t quite go for the ‘pincho’ thing and instead called them Carrot Not-Dogs, which is cool by me.  This kind of thing has been around for years in vegan-ville and it’s awesome to see dishes like this getting out there.  You cannot, not, ever, not like, not-dogs!  Kids go wild for them!!

Recipe Notes

Ideal for summer light lunches or even bbqs (instead of cooking in a pan, pop them on a BBQ and baste with the marinade).  I’ve popped two methods below, one for a quick roast, and the other, the works; marinaded overnight and pan fried.  Both are delicious, but the marinaded dogs are smokier and look more like the real thing!

I like the way they look when un-whittled down.  Just a straight up carrot.  You can’t pass them off as a hot dog, but who really cares about that?!

For the marinade.  If you can’t track down liquid smoke, don’t fret, we can use some smoked paprika.  A few large pinches will do.

Ripe avocados are best.  I couldn’t get any and was asked to do the recipe at short notice.  You can see that the aioli is not totally smooth.  It’s so much better when silky smooth.

You can quite happily serve these carrot not-dogs with just the avocado aioli or even just a bit of mustard.  A nice idea is wrapping them in a blanched collard/ spring cabbage, kale leaf or even raw lettuce. A great gluten-free, mega healthy option.

Spanish food’s all about bright and vibrant flavours and colours, perfect for summer

The Bits – For 4 as a snack/ tapas

8 small carrots – roughly 5 inches long (cut into hot dog shapes)

1 red bell pepper – nice and sweet if poss. (cut into 1 cm slices)

1 large onions (finely sliced)

2 handfuls spinach leaves (finely sliced)

Cooking oil

 

Marinade

4 tbs carrot cooking stock (or light vegetable stock)

3 tbs tamari or good soya sauce

1 clove garlic (sliced)

2 cm cube fresh ginger (sliced)

2 tbs red or white wine vinegar

2 teas liquid smoke

3 teas brown sugar

 

1 large avocado (de-stoned)

1/2 lemon (juice)

Large pinch salt

 

Dijon Mustard

4 small buns – your favourite type (cut in half)

Mini Spanish Notdogs plus trimmings

Do It

Half fill a small saucepan with water, bring to a rolling boil and add the carrots.  Simmer for 8 – 10 minutes, until a knife pierces them easily, but they are not too soft.  Place in chilled water to cool quickly.  Whisk together your marinade ingredients and pour over the cool carrots.  Cover and place in a fridge over night.

In a frying pan on a medium high, add 1 teas cooking oil and when warm, add your onions.  Fry for 7 minutes, add the peppers, fry for another 5 minutes, until the onions have turned golden brown and sweet and the peppers are soft.  Set aside.

Drain your carrots, keep the marinade.  Wash out the frying pan and add 1 teas cooking oil, place on a medium high heat and add your carrots.  Fry for around 10 minutes, drizzle over marinade regularly and keeping them turning in the pan.  This will give them a nice caramelised look all over.

Put your avocado, lemon juice and salt in a bowl and mash with a fork until smooth.  Alternatively, pop them in a blender and blitz.

Spread a thin layer of dijon mustard on your buns, sprinkle over some spinach, followed by some onions and peppers, a spoonful of avocado and top with a smoky carrot.

The full carrot style

Quick Roast Method

Preheat an oven to 220oC.  Make half of the marinade recipe.  Toss your carrots (whole, these look great just carrot shaped) in 2 teas cooking oil and a large pinch salt.

Place in the oven on a baking tray and roast for 45-55 minutes, until tender and nicely caramelised.  After 25 minutes in the oven, baste the carrots with marinade regularly.

Foodie Fact
Carrots are filled with beta-carotene or Vitamin A.  Which helps us see in the dark.  That’s what we’re told anyway.  This myth came from WWII when the Brits spread propoganda, apparently to confuse their adversaries.  The Ministry of Food (hello George Orwell) even created a cartoon called ‘Dr Carrot’, with sidekicks Caroty George and Clara Carrot (actually made by Disney), to get kids eating more carrots.  In WWII  sugar was rationed in Britain at that time and carrots were sometimes served on sticks to kids as a sweet substitute and used regularly to sweeten desserts.  So you won’t get night vision any time soon, but your eye sight will be helped if you eat plenty of Vitamin A.

Isla Plana – the view from our local cafe in Spain

One of my favourite places in the world, Mojon Beach

Sunset on the Costa Calida, always a pleasure

Music to cook pinchos by……….

Categories: healthy, Lunch, Music, Nutrition, photography, plant-based, Recipes, Side Dish, Summer, Travel, Vegan, veganism | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Everyone’s Lovin’ Jack! Ten interesting facts about jackfruit

A giant jackfruit, found dangling by a restaurant in Goa which cooked up an amazing jack and coco curry

Everyone is loving Jackfruit at the minute, all those pulled jack fruit sandwiches and have you tried jackfruit ice cream? It’s incredible! But how much do we know about this strange fruit? Don’t let the spikes put you off, this is a super fruit in every way!!  I’m lucky on my global wanders to have tried many varieties of jackfruit and different dishes. I’ve never met a jackfruit dish I didn’t like!

Here are 10 facts about this strange, spiky and wonderful fruit:

1) Jackfruit, the yellow bit we eat, is actually called an ‘aril’. It’s a flower and we eat the edible petals. One jackfruit contains hundreds of flowers and one tree can grow 250 fruits per year.

2) Jackfruit seeds are edible and healthy most people roast them. You can also boil them up and make a lovely attempt at hummus. Comes highly recommended.

3) It is said to smell and taste like a cross between very ripe bananas and pineapple, with a twist of apple and mango. It’s a confused fruit! I think that’s quite accurate but there is definitely a custardy, juicy fruit gum-ness there too.

4) There are many varities of jackfruit, some are pithy inside and some are very sweet and tender.

5) In Indonesia, they make chips out of jackfruit, called Kripik.  You can buy them and eat them like crisps.

6) Jackfruit seeds, when roasted, taste like brazil nut crossed with a chestnut. You can boil, bake and roast them.  They can also be ground into a flour.

7) Using jackfruit as a meat substitute is nothing new. In Thailand it’s sought after by vegetarians and historically called ‘gacch patha’ (tree mutton!)

8) In Indonesia, the wood of the jackfruit tree is used to maked the famous ‘gamelan’ drums.  Popular in Bali (see video below).  The leaves are also fed to cattle, but also make a nice alternative to other greens.

9) Every part of the jackfruit tree is medicinally beneficial, the bark, leaves, pulp, skin and roots.  It is also antibacterial and anitviral.

10) Jackfruit is the heavyweight of all fruits, growing to four feet long and weighing in at over 35kgs.  That’s a lot of burger right there!

Cooking wise, the main attraction to Jackfruit for me is the interesting texture, when unripe, nothing else gives that stringy, chewiness when cooked. It is meat-like and an ideal plant-based dish to serve meat eaters.  Also the flavour is totally unique, in fact, Jackfruit is a very strange fruit indeed, like nothing else.  As the world goes meat free (it’s happening!) we’ll be increasingly familiar with Jack.  It’s going mainstream!  Great news as the production of meat is THE number one cause of global warming.

Delicious Indonesian jackfruit dish ‘Gudeg’ – actually being served at breakfast

I’ve been in Goa for a while and jackfruit grows everywhere.  Jackfruit has been hailed as a ‘future food’, due to the fact that it grows so easy and is high in nutrition. It requires minimal fuss and pruning. One jackfruit can feed many and some say it will help to ease the issue of global hunger/ food security. Jackfruit is now being grown in parts Africa for example. But we all know really that there is more than enough food produced in the world, its more a question of distribution and ecomonics. I don’t think jackfruit alone is going to save the day.

For me, the country who does jackfruit the best is Indonesia. I’ve never been to a country where it is used so frequently. Almost every meal I had in a proper place had at least one dish using jackfruit. The dish ‘Gudeg’ is a stand out staple. Of course, it makes for a great dessert. It’s a very useful plant, although I have been warned that in places like Brazil, it can be invasive. This is probably not such a problem in rural Wales as it will only grow in warm places.

Fairly standard Indonesian lunch! You have jackfruit and it’s leaves here, plus tofu and tempeh.  Woah!

I also tried a ‘Pulled Jackfruit Burger’ in quite a cool little place in Yogayakarta, Indonesia. This is a contemporary twist on things and its great. You’ve probably tried one yourself?  I’ll be cooking it when I get back to the UK for sure. Unfortunately, up here in the Himalayas, it’s not a Jackfruit zone. Great organic veggies though.

You can eat Jackfruit raw, I love it like that, but they have to be ripe. It’s also interesting when it pops up in a salad. Jackfruit originated in India and in the South you can find people selling it as a street snack and, of course, in parts of India it’s made into a curry. I know they sometimes make candies/ sweets out of the juice.

Jackfruit is easily confused with the pungent freak that is Durian (see below). Popular in South East Asia and banned from public transport there (it reeks like something gone way rotten and wrong). Durian is an acquired taste and once (or if) you can get over the stink, has an incredible flavour.  When I did the TV show ‘Meat vs Veg’ I was tasked with wandering around the streets of London, trying to get people to try it.  Some did and liked it, but most just looked sickened!  Again, something totally unique. Go to Thailand, try it out. The Thai’s adore the stuff. Durian looks different, bigger spikes and doesn’t grow as large.

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Burger, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Nutrition wise, for something quite starchy, its got lots to offer. It’s low in calories with good levels of Vitamin C and Vitamin B6 (which is quite rare). Its also a reasonable source of minerals and a good source of carbohydrates, fats, protein and has plenty of fibre.  The seeds have plenty of vitamin A.  Jackfruit has zero cholesterol.

Although it’s not exactly local (and you know we love our local produce) I guess there is little difference tucking into a pineapple or mango. Jackfruit is a treat and when you look at the prices, this makes it even more so. I think for a every now and again, taste of something different, you can’t beat Jack!

Cambodian Jack Vendour
https://goo.gl/echunh

You can buy jackfruit canned in most countries and if you buy a whole jackfruit, be warned, they can be a trick customer.  They ooze a white sticky liquid when cut into and it takes ages to pick out the little fruits, seperate the seeds etc.  It is well worth it, the texture of a fresh jackfruit is different from the tinned.

Have you tried Jackfruit? How did you cook it? It seems like a fresh and new ingredient in the UK and beyond that everyone is falling for.  We love it!

To avoid confusion, this is Durian. Bigger spikes. You normally smell it before you see it.

Evidence of its putrid odour. Banned on public transport in Thailand and other countries. Phew!

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Finally, some fascinating and hypnotic ‘Gamelan‘ music from Indonesia:

Categories: healthy, Music, Nutrition, photography, Superfoods, Travel, Vegan, veganism | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Cooling Watermelon, Tofu & Mint Salad

Cooling Watermelon, Tofu and Mint Salad

It’s getting HOT over here!

I realise that most of you don’t need cooling down, but we do. Its baking in our little place in the coconut grove, Goa. This is the most cooling and simple salad I could think of with the added benefits of tasting very awesome and also bags of sparkling nutrition.

We don’t have a kitchen so we’re loving playing with salads, of the fruity sweet variety and killer savoury ones normally with tahini dressing. We’ve a great supply of locally made tahini and tofu, it’s making us very happy. It’s been about a year since I’ve enjoyed one of my favourite things, tahini I could eat on anything and everything.  I love the creamy flavour and it’s of course, one of the best sources of calcium around.

Whilst taking these pictures we had to fend of Indra the local alpha bull geezer, a speckled massive creature with impressive horns. He’s a bit of a punk and loves nibbling things when we sit near the edge of our terrace. His tongue is outrageously long, something like a mighty iguana. Especially good at hoovering up stray bananas.  Cheeky chap, but we’ve a soft spot from his brusque greediness. He eats all of our peelings and I think looks a little happier afterwards. Other animals hanging around the coconut grove today are large woodpeckers, egrets, a family of buffalos, stripy chipmunks, a pack of semi-feral yet friendly mongrels, wild peacocks at dawn, fish eagles, many funky lizards, a praying mantis and probably loads of other amazing little things. Mosquitos, some. Families of geckos, yes. Anyway, we’re a food blog right!…….

If you’re in northern Europe, maybe save this one until summer hits (or turn the heating right up!) If you’re in more southern climes, this one is a light and cooling lunch for two that also looks a bit sexy.


Recipe Notes

The chillies are a great little kick, but optional.

The tofu quality is important when being eaten cool like this. See if you can get some good stuff, the tofu here is rich and creamy, slightly crumbly like feta. Perfect for salads. Add a squeeze of lemon, a little salt and come nooch (nutritional yeast flakes) if you have them for extra feta like cheesiness.

Watermelons are always huge. We’ll only use a little here so why not try cutting it into cubes, freezing it and using it as exotic ice cubes in your favourite juice/ cocktail. Of course, blended up with cucumber, lemon and mint (maybe a touch of sweetness), your looking at a wonderful smoothie.

I’ve seen some people taking the pips/ seeds out of their watermelon.  It’s a total waste of time!  Just crunch them down, they are not bitter at all.


The Bits – For 2 lunch

250g firm tofu (cubed)
1 cucumber (peeled and cubed)
2 cups watermelon (cubed)
2 tbs fresh mint (finely sliced – do this last)
Pinch salt
Squeeze lemon juice

1 green chilli (finely sliced) – optional

Dressing
2 heaped tbs tahini
½ lemon (juice)
Water
Pinch salt

Do It
Cut the melon, cucumber and tofu into similar sized cubes.

Squeeze a little lemon and a pinch of salt over the tofu and toss lightly.

Mix your dressing together with a fork adding drizzles of water and stirring in until a single cream texture is formed.

Mix your mint in with the tofu and place in the centre of a large plate. Surround in layers with your melon and cucumber. Sprinkle over leftover mint and chilli (if using)

Best served with a sunset;) From Zoori’s Place – Anjuna, Goa

Foodie Fact
We’re going to let Macka B take over the foodie fact, so many incredible health giving properties to the humble cucumba!!!!

Check out our latest Vegan Cooking Retreats HERE or join our Vegan Cooking Group on Facebook for more info, recipes and chat

Happy cooking!

Categories: gluten-free, Healthy Eating, Music, Nutrition, photography, Recipes, Salads, Summer, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Jungle Kopi Culture – Sampling Indonesia’s coffee revolution

Traditional village - Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

Traditional village – Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

There are so many striking things about Indonesia; the people are so friendly, warm and welcoming, the incredibly diverse cultures are ancient and fascinating, the landscape varied, and jaw dropping and somewhere steaming away in this heady mix is the coffee, something of a superstar in the waiting.

Of all the coffee giants in the world; Latin America, Africa, India etc, I feel Indonesia is slightly overlooked. Especially Sulawesi. You may see some packs of Java beans out there, but nothing much else. The variety of Indonesia’s coffee cornucopia is poorly represented and we’re missing out big time.

Indonesia has the perfect conditions for coffee (and cacao) growing.  Coffee and chocolate, what a combo!  There is a youthful espresso fuelled movement swinging into existence bringing quality coffee back to it’s roots and cherries, so to speak. Led by the sprawling megalopolis that is Jakarta, there is a growing trendy cafe culture over here, hip and buzzing, Indonesians are getting to enjoy their coffee and not just export it away.  We have been lucky to sample a bewildering array of brews and take in some plantations, each island produces very different styles of beans, within those islands are various regions, each with their own character and the tumbling coffee kaleidescope continues.

Perfect cremas are not always the case though. Many Indonesians don’t drink coffee as we Euro coffee snobs like it. The local brew is something like a long Greek/ Turkish coffee. Needing a few minutes to settle into a dark cuppa with some funky sludge greeting you towards the latter stages. It is normally pretty decent, better than packet instant, but this new roasted and toasted trend is very exciting.  Young guys with hipster quiffs and girls wearing brightly coloured hijabs let loose on Italian-made coffee machines to extract the maximum wow and yum. Jakarta is filling up with bespoke cafes and the big chains are lumbering in; Starclucks are making their insidious presence felt and bizarrely use beans from Guatemala!! Speaks volumes.

Jack fruit burger with sweet potato fries- It's not just the coffee that awesome in Indonesia

Jack fruit burger with sweet potato fries- It’s not just the coffee that awesome in Indonesia

TANA TORAJA – A COFFEE AFICIONADO”S PARADISE

So Toraja is a remote region in Central Sulawesi, one of the largest islands in Indonesia, roughly the same size as France and basically, one big jungle. Toraja is reached by spectacularly rutted and windy roads, a mountainous region famous over here for producing some of the best Arabica in the country and is also home to an incredible tribal culture (see here).

Coffee is not a big deal in Toraja, they may drink it occasionally and most of the traditional houses in villages (see the top photo) had a little ornate wooden pot full of ground coffee. The beans are normally roasted in a steel pan over an open fire, which leads to inconsistent heat and inevitably a mixture of burnt and raw beans. I have tried roasting beans using this method in Luzon, Philippines and is seems that no matter how much care you take, there is little chance of avoiding charred bits with pale interiors. This could be why the Torajan’s didn’t generally cherish their beans.  The same could be said of cacao (chocolate beans) which also grows everywhere, their brilliantly red and yellow pods poking out of the canopy.

A friend told me about a Belgian couple who brought some local people a selection of fine European chocolates. The village Torajan’s were amazed that these bitter little beans had been fashioned into something so delicious. A chocolate revolution is surely the next step for Indonesia’s foodie folk, probably with some cacao smoothies along the way.

Some many Indonesia varieties to choose from, freshly ground to order

Some many Indonesia varieties to choose from, freshly ground to order

One of the largest towns in Toraja is Rantepao and this is were we met two of our coffee superheroes, Mika and Eli. Eli runs a tiny coffee roasting business and cafe with his wife, Kaana Toraya Coffee, using a perfectly eclectic range of machinery that he built himself and techniques he learnt from a Hawaiian tourist in the early 90’s. Eli has made two roasters, the largest one powered by a large water wheel. A stroke of engineering genius. It is very peaceful to sit and watch it in action. The sound of flowing water and the tantalising aromas of coffee beans roasting. The equipment may look a little basic and battered in places, but the outcome is sensational and very high quality. We tried the traditional style of beans, dried leaving the husks on and also the standard washed style bean that we are familiar with, but then the bombshell came calling, Hani! Hani is a technique that I feel would be huge in the coffee shops and nooks of Europe and beyond.

Elli's water wheel powered coffee roaster. Ingenius!

Elli’s water wheel powered coffee roaster. Ingenius!

HANI – A NEW STYLE OF COFFEE

The word sounds like honey and the flavour is like honey, much sweeter and fragrant than a washed bean. It is achieved by leaving the natural juices, released by the coffee berries when being picked and processed, on the coffee bean when drying (over here this is generally done on huge racks under the sun or in small quantities by the side of the road). This means that the berry is darker in colour. Dried pre-roast coffee beans are actually a yellowy green colour. These hani beans smell strongly of honey! It’s magic!! Especially for a vegan!!!

Eli and his wife kindly sold us a small bag of Hani for our backpacks, we are travelling with a little cafetiere contraption that means when we get a bit remote mountain cave or deserted island hammock we can still enjoy a top cup of joe. Eli loves exporting his families organic, hand picked coffee all around the world, if you’re in the business, you’ve got to try some Hani beans! Something truly unique. Also, you will never find a man who smiles more than Eli. Its highly infectious:)

Eli's extra special 'hani' coffee - tastes like honey

Eli’s extra special ‘hani’ coffee – tastes like honey

After being immersed in the full coffee story, from bush to mug, we felt like a little sunset stroll around town. Rantepao is a dusty little place, clustered around a busy main thoroughfare. Tourism has made it’s presence felt and there are a couple of biggish hotels, normally catering for large tour groups. There is an impressive protestant church beside a slightly larger bright green mosque, there is a bustling bazaar selling everything from knocked off Rip Curl t-shirts to locally grown spices and finely carved machetes. On each street corner you’ll find the ubiquitous fried snack vendour, giant pans of oil bubbling away inches from frantic swathes of traffic. Pisang Goreng (Fried Bananas wrapped in a light pastry) are famous here and served in a number of ways, all sweet and tantalising. You’ve also got the usual piles of battered tempeh, tofu, corn fritters and sometimes chicken.

We were enjoying the energy and smiles encountered, many children and teenagers were practicing for their Independence day parades, something like a mass cheerleader-athon mixed with an army cadet march. All mini well pressed uniforms, papier machete tanks and tiara clad back flips. Many proud parents watching on beside Denis’s Massage Parlour, Jane and I causing minor waves of excitement, everyone shouting “Mr, Mr, hey Mr”.  This is a normal reaction to tourists in Indonesia.  Jane is also a Mr it seems! We have now posed for hundreds of selfies which, most of the time, is a real laugh.

From bush to cup, you get the whole coffee experience in Indonesia

From bush to cup, you get the whole coffee experience in Indonesia

JAK KOFFIE – JIMI HENDRIX & AMERICANO

It was by pure chance that we found Jak coffee, not much more than a doorway on a side street. The brilliant graffiti caught our attention. We instantly realised that it was a special little place, the decor was really cool and Mika (the main man) had the biggest, warmest smile on his face. It is not uncommon in Indonesia to find cafes with rows of jars, filled with freshly roasted beans to choose. A rare treat for sure! Mika was playing some great tunes and had painted a large picture of Jimi Hendrix on the wall. Never a bad interior design idea!  The walls are lined with Mika’s work, he’s really a photographer moonlighting as a barista, plus the occasional antique lampshade or red phone.

Mika is very knowledgeable about most things it seems and spoke passionately about local history and culture, bringing life to it all, we learnt more in 1 hour than we did in 1 month of travel. This was the real story of Indonesia, right now, from the people creating the new waves and shapes.  My Americano was mindblowing; rich and deep, made with organic beans from the East of Toraja. Maybe you think a cup of coffee cannot border on or even tickle the mindblowing.  This was a coffee bomb!!  The flavours and aromas were intense.  Having said that, it was my fourth coffee of the afternoon and most things were a little intense.  Mika picks and chooses who he buys from, keeping things fresh, organic and interesting.  I have never seen someone take so much care over making a coffee.  The process elevated to an art form.

Jimi

Jimi

‘NO COFFEE MAFIA PLEASE!’

You have probably not heard about Torajan coffee, primarily because large corporations from Japan and China buy it all up and make it into generic rubbish. This obviously means that prices are low and farmers suffer. There is no fair trade in these parts. Mika is fighting the good fight himself and attempting to showcase what Toraja can really do, saying “NO coffee mafia please!”  We loved his passion which sparked off in all kinds of directions.  He even had signs (see below).

Mika and his friends also bake some amazing cakes; stout brownies, chocolate croissants. The local crowd are loving to experiment with new styles of cooking. Anyone fancy a croissant sandwich?  This is anti-Starclucks world, local people taking control of their produce and making something bespoke and high quality (and a few bucks) with bags of good ethics and integrity.

No mafia coffee please

No mafia coffee please

Jak Koffie is a slightly surreal experience really (in a good way), it’s like steeping through a hip portal, you feel like you’ve been transported to Soho, London or Gothica, Barcelona.   That is until you step outside and are nearly taken out by a twelve year old on a motorbike eating a fried banana. Mika is like Indonesia’s answer to a fully caffeinated, cheery Che Guevara and I wish him my wholehearted best and hope we’ll soon see the amazing coffee’s of Toraja in more Western shops and cafes.

If you’re in Toraja, Jak cafe is a must. An a urban chic oasis in the endless steaming jungles of Sulawesi. You’ve also got to try Hani coffee, a totally new coffee drinking experience.  Rantepao is a great place to sample the old and new faces of Indonesia as they mingle and take flight.  The only negative that we’ve encountered in Indonesia is a short visa and it’s now leave.  Selamat Tinggal!

Jak coffee - one of the best cafes we visited in Indonesia

Jak Koffie – one of the best cafes we visited in Indonesia

 

Jak has no website yet but you can find more info and contact details here.

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Cake Bully Anyone?! China – Weird and Wonderful Menu Options

Walking the Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of China

After reading an option for Sick Kebabs on a menu today in Kathmandu I remembered that we haven’t shared our official Beach House Kitchen Chinese Menu with you. We popped it on our FB pages and our friends chuckled, we think you might too.  This menu has been veganized btw as there were some pretty disgusting things being sold in China.

These are actual English tranlasted menu options that we encountered whilst travelling around China. Some are gristly, some are just plain hilarious. It’s not easy to be vegan in China that’s for sure!

It's a long walk!  The Great Wall;)

It’s a long walk! The Great Wall;)

If you’ve seen it before, there are some new entries on this menu. Please let us know your favourites in the comment section.  Your top three!

Bon Appetit;)

With the Terracotta Army, Xi'an

With the Terracotta Army, Xi’an

THE FALLOW AMUSEMENT RESTAURANT
MENU

Starters

Acid beans

Coke slipped balls

Beijing heaving

Fried ring wish

Sweet man balls out

A fire of coals

Brother yipin elbow

Available Bullfrog brother

Brother signature hairtail

Chairman mao blood flourishing

I miss you tea

Main Course

Flying elephant pizza

Doush drop

Hot szhichuan mother in law pot

Ass vegetables

Brine platter

Mild vinegar sting

Head brine

Rice rope

Exploding cheese

Douzi mashroom

Rape wish rice

Whelk like green tea

Secretary general of crisp

The guanzhong impression

Burning naked oats with ear wire

Jump to the melody of the tongue

Fubage hospitality food

Jing yang let one

Sides

Take the cucumber

Snow covered the volcano

Hand grasp bread

Being soft noodles

Farm style group

Prickly white ash salad

Burn three fresh

Stone bowl of bean jelly

Mung plum porridge

Tonight’s the night lion head casserole

Tomato suck

Cake bully

River crusie on a cement boat (long story), Xingping

River crusie on a cement boat (long story), Xingping

PS – We didn’t actually try any of these (well maybe a couple) and think it’s pretty amazing that many restaurants had English menu’s in the first place.  We were embarassingly bad at Cantonese/ Mandarin.  Thank you China!

 

Categories: photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Dal Bhat Power! What’s cookin’ in Nepal

May I introduce Dal Bhat. If you've been to Nepal, you are already friends.

May I introduce Dal Bhat. If you’ve been to Nepal, you are already friends.

After enjoying the most amazing traditional Nepali lunch earlier I had the urge to share with you all the delights of Nepali cooking.  My tastebuds were dancing and I felt inspired.  We’ve been here for two months now, travelling around, walking in the Himalayas, meeting the most amazing open hearted and kind folk. As usual, we’ve done a fair amount of hanging out in kitchens and nibbling things. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised by what Nepal has to offer and this is all made even more amazing by the fact that so many dishes are plant-based wonders.  Compared to China, life’s a breeze for a vegan exploring these stunning landscapes.

Nepal has a fascinatingly diverse and ancient culture, very distinct from Northern India and surrounding countries.  Nepal is technically a Hindu state, but many people we speak to are Hindu/ Buddhist.  They respect and adhere to some of the beliefs, festivals and rituals of both.  There is a great open mindedness about spirituality and it shows in the culture.  Nepalis are very tolerant, peace loving people and they know how to cook!

Nepal is basically the Himalayas in the top half and some flat lands in the south, there are countless valleys and micro-climates which means a huge diversity of crops; mangoes thrive in the south, millet and potatoes in the north.  There are many ethnic groups, the main ones being the Thakali and Gurung (north) and the Newari (Kathmandu valley) and Terai, further south, Lohorung in the east.  It’s a melting pot of cultures which can only add to the brilliance of the cuisine.

Jane is a big fan

Jane is a big fan

DAL BHAT POWER!
Dal (lentils) Bhat (grains, normally rice) is what fuels this lovely country. Twice a day, every Nepali eats a big plate of Dal Bhat. I’ve never been to a country that adores a single dish so consistently.

Nepalis normally have a nice cup of strong tea for breakfast, maybe a baked good of some description, but the tastiness really kicks off around 11 am with an early lunch of dal bhat with some chutney or pickle (achar) and a tarkari (veg side dish). We love the fact that you normally get some fried greens, mustard leaves are very popular, and also the fact that in most restaurants seconds and thirds are politely enforced. If you turn your head for a second, your pile of rice magically grows.  It’s very rare that you leave a premise without being totally stuffed full of spicy veggies. You will sometimes also get a nice little salad going on and one single, solitary, tooth meltingly spicy chilli. To be eaten raw by the afeciandos and fool hardy. I love em!  Certainly wakes you up.

Dal Bhat is also served for dinner, again an early sitting, 6pm-ish. I like the simplicity of it all. All over Nepal, you hear the pressure cookers hissing in the early morning. The pungent aroma of frying onions and spices are to me something synonomous with the haze of Nepali mornings.  Everyone one knows where they stand food wise, no over complictions, and it must be so easy for the home cook. No one needs to ask whats for dinner! Of course, the veggies vary and the dal morphs from legume to legume, but the combo remains undiminished. Dal bhat rules.

The dal component can mean anything, but mung beans (halved) are very popular. You may also see some rajma (kidney beans – Jane’s recent favourite, see our recipe here) and chana (brown or normal chickpeas).  When I make dal, it’s thick and hearty, but you’ll find in Nepal and India, dal is more like a soup.  If you’re very luck indeed, the restaurant may have a tandoor oven which opens the door to all kinds of stunning breads. Warm and crisp naan being the royality of any tandoor behaviour.

Fortunately for the nomadic vegan in these parts the veggies are very, very tasty. Up in the mountains and in the countryside most people have their own veg gardens that really thrive. The produce is delicious; potatoes, carrots (quite expensive for some reason), spinach, chard, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, long white radishes (like daikon), mustard leaves, bitter gourd, green beans, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber.  We’ve even seen some pumpkin, but it’s a rare and very special event.  A beetroot curry has been savoured on one very special evening.  Even the stuff you buy from bigger Kathmandu markets is packed with flavour. We’ve enjoyed using this abundance in recipes in our little flat in Kathmandu, up in the north, a local neighborhood with dusty roads and a gently chaotic and superbly friendly nature.  We have a little kitchen and a sun trap terrace.

Monkey Temple Stupa - Kathmandu

Monkey Temple Stupa – Kathmandu

WHAT ELSE?

But dal bhat is not the end of the line.  There are also such delights as momos (technically they’re from Tibet, but they are loved all over Nepal and there are many Tibetans living here), things like Chow Mein and Thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) have also made the hop over the Himalayas/ border.  Barley, millet and buckwheat grow well in the cold areas and you’ll find these regularly made into  a range of noodles or tsampa, a flour which is made into a hearty porridge.  This is perfect early morning fuel for a day hiking.  You’ll also find these grains being made into Raksi or Chang, potent distilled moon shine or quite a mellow wine like booze that is mixed with fruit juice sometimes.  It’s perfect chilled with apple juice!  On average, 15p per cupful.

These cooks are superheroes. Nepali cooks are very talented and capable of creating complex menus/ meals with very basic equipment. Plus, this guy was cooking at about 4000m up a big snowy hill.

These cooks are superheroes. Nepali cooks are very talented and capable of creating complex menus/ meals with very basic equipment. Plus, this guy was cooking at about 4000m up a big snowy hill.

THE REAL DEAL

So what was so special about todays lunch?  Thamel is the main tourist area in Kathmandu.  A jumble of lanes loaded with tourist traps of all forms and agendas.  You can get food from all over the world, but pizza doesn’t interest me in the slightest in Asia.  I could eat rice 24/7 anyway, so I’m never in the market for a seeded loaf or crepe when I’m wandering in Eastern parts.

We stumbled across a little old doorway, we ducked in and it opened out into a courtyard with beautifully carved wooden window ledges and perfectly wonky old walls.  Our host was toothless and beaming wearing a traditional Nepali hat.  We knew it was a proper joint, the kitchen was a hive of good natured activity.  I was excited as my expectations soared.

Most Nepali’s eat squating or sat cross legged on the floor, but in more urban restaurants, you’ll get a chair and tourists are always supplied a trusty spoon, although sometimes I like eating with my hands.  Really getting to grips with your food!  Just always remember, right hand only.  Left hand is a no go area for reasons I won’t go into on a food blog.

Safely perched on our chairs, we both went for the Nepali Veg Set or Khana, which is something we love.  It’s like Dal Bhat with a few more trimmings.  I went for dhendho with mine instead of rice, like a thick buckwheat porridge.  An earthy, wholegrain polenta.  The smells escaping the kitchen, a tiny room with very low ceiling, were tantalising.  No less than four pressure cookers were violently hissing, like some kind of out of sync steam train.  The waiters all fussed around us because there was only another couple of people in there and they were big fans of Gareth Bale (he’s a Welsh football player for non-sporties and officially the most famous Welsh person ever).  It’s always very strange to visit some very remote mountain village, lost to the vastness of the mystical Himalayas, and find a picture of Wayne Rooney pinned up beside Krishna in your family hostel reception.  I wonder what Wayne thinks about this kind of hero worship?  I wonder if he even knows!?

Mountain of dhendo! With all the Thakali trimmings

I know what you’re thinking, ‘that’s a big pile of dhendo!’ With all the Thakali style trimmings flavoured with the mighty ‘jimbu’.

Anyway, lunch was ace.  Very traditional and a real taste of the Thakali style of cooking.  An ethnic group from mainly Mustang in northern Nepal (a fascinating region if you’re a culture/ history buff btw) which stretches down to Pokhara.  The Thakali’s love nothing more than flavouring their dishes with the brilliantly named ‘jimbu’.  It’s a member of the allium family, think potent onions crossed with chives, normally used to flavour dal but it was also evident today in the tarkari dishes. A delicious herby twist to the normally spice laden sauces.  The mustard leaves were radiantly green and fresh, there was even some gundruk, something you don’t always get.  Dried and fermented saag, which is a loose term for green leaves but something normally like spinach.  This was all finished off by some pickled white radish and a punchy chutney of tomato and coriander; plus crisp popadoms, some chopped up salad bits, a slice of lime and one of those highly explosive green firecrackers (chillies).  What a feast!  How many textures and flavours can you cram onto a large tin plate?!  All for the modest sum of £1.  You heard me right, £1!  And we still get people writing in asking why we choose to travel all the time.  £1 goes a long way in certain parts of the world and it can certainly buy you some delicious lunch options.

A random, yet delicious falafel wrap in Kathmandu. I may not seek out crepes when travelling, but falafels are always welcome.

A random, yet delicious falafel wrap in Kathmandu. I may not seek out crepes when travelling, but falafels are always welcome.

Other Nepali specialities we’ve encountered include bread made from grains like millet or buckwheat (gluten free options abound), fermented soya beans (kinema).  We stay with an amazing family in Kathmandu, papa is called Raju and he takes wonderful care of us.  He was the first face we saw off the plane from Beijing, escorting us through the tangled Kathmandu streets on his motorbike (a Honda ‘Enticer’).  We love visiting Rajus family home and checking out what his sisters (he has seven!) and Mum are up to in the kitchen.  We’ve had some of our favourite food there, especially the popped, squashed and dried rice (baji) staple.  A dish normally served with roasted peanuts and different tarkaris (curries).  Something very uniquely Nepali and, I must admit, a little strange at first.  More like a pile of crunchy breakfast cereal has invaded your plate.

One of the most interesting dishes that Raju has introduced us to is Yomari (or ‘tasty bread’ – see below).  It looked like a hand crafted parsnip.  It’s actually made out of rice flour dough and stuffed with cane sugar, giving a gooey sweet middle.  It looks really tough to prepare and is loved by Nepalis.  Traditionally made for the Yomaru Puri festival, these funny things are something to do with an offering to the God of Wealth (Kubera).  There are so many festivals and religious rituals going on in Nepal, it’s almost impossible to keep pace.  I’ve never had anything like it, but I always appreciate a parsnip and the exploding soft sweet centre was a treat.

Yomari - a very interesting and unique Nepali sweet

Yomari – a very interesting and unique Nepali sweet

Snack wise, our favourites are the peanuts sold off the back of carts.  Simple but effective.  They are roasted in sand and kept warm in big piles with traditional wood burning clay braziers.  Expertly moved around by the vendour.  A great smell on a brisk January morning.  A big bag is around 50p or less.  We’ve had some tasty samosas and also doughnuts, which the Nepalis call ‘sel roti’.  You’ll also get some dried fruit and roasted soya beans.  There are of course the massive corporations here dishing out crisps and poor quality chocolate.  In bus stations you’ll find men wandering around with big baskets on their heads filled with a selection of warm breads and pastries, all wrapped up snugly in colourful cloths.

Dessert wise, Nepal is probably not going to blow you away.  There are not the volume of sweet shops that you find in India.  Kheer is a constant, sweet rice pudding with dried fruits and coconut, but as a vegan, you’re really looking at fruits.  The papaya is sensational.  I have no complaints.  After three plates of dal bhat, I’m nowhere near the market for dessert anyway!  Randomly, some of the best sweet things can be found half way up mountains.  Little homestays do a roaring trade in fresh apple pie for weary hikers.

Of course, we’re only writing about the vegan highlights here.  There are vastly more dishes that contain meat and dairy.  A vegan must always be aware that many dishes are fried in ghee (clarified butter).  Many Nepalis speak very good English so explaining your needs is reasonably straight forward.  Even though Nepal is Buddhist (Gautama was born in Lumbini in the south) and Hindu, most people are meat eaters, especially in the mountains.  Veggies are harder to grow up there where arable flat land is scarce.  There are some signs in more touristy areas offering vegan options.  I feel that Nepalis are open minded, there has even been discussions about making Nepal an organic only country!  Big ambitions.  But what a great idea.  With an ethical, peaceful Buddhist and Hindu approach to things, I can also see veganism really connecting here.  After all, the veggies are amazing!

We made it up some mountains. Dal Bhat Power 24 hours!! (as they say here)

We made it up some mountains. Dal Bhat Power 24 hours!! (as they say here)

We’re off for dinner in one of our favourite local Newari restaurants where the chef is a genius (he actually wears one of those proper chef white jackets with proud and shiny buttons) with all things spice and they have a tandoor oven that looks like an antiquated space rocket.  When it’s cranked up it actually sounds a bit like one.  The naans melt in the mouth, especially when dipped into a feisty bowl of beans or used to mop up the last drops of tarkari.  I’m getting hungry now……..

See here for more of our Indian/ Nepali inspired recipes.

You can also peep up with our antics on Facebook and Twitter.

Dinner way up in the Himalayas (we slept in a draughty cupboard that night, but dinner was fine.)

Dinner way up in the Himalayas (we slept in a cupboard that night, but dinner was fine.)

 

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, photography, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Visiting Tofu Village – Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The load, hot and crispy end of the kitchen

The load, hot and crispy end of the kitchen – Tofu Village

Jane and I are not fans of tour groups so we jumped on a motorbike and headed out into the countryside around Yogyakarta.  We’d been reliably informed that there would be huge ancient religious monuments, something like the grandeur of Angkhor Wat, and no shortage of tofu (tahu) making villages.  We were ready for some great times, lumps of tofu and stunning temples sounded like a decent way to pass a day.

This southern area is known as the garden of Java. Incredibly fertile and beautiful, lush countryside

This southern area is known as the garden of Java. Incredibly fertile and beautiful, lush countryside

We zig zagged and bounced our way out of Yogkakarta in the early morning, traffic flowing like a crazy vein of buzzing scooters making erratic patterns on rutted tarmac tracks.  We made it to the greener surrounds and went off piste down little tracks lined with rice paddies and folk thrashing their harvest by hand.  The countryside was breathtaking and so very fertile.  After the polluted city, the fresh air and open skies were a delight.

We began to follow our noses, asking the wonderful people of Java for tips and signals.  Many people understand English in Indonesia and they are so very kind hearted.  One chap hopped on his bike and led us over awesome off road terrain to a little village where an old lady was sat on a terrace.  ‘Tahu!’ he excitedly exclaimed and we knew we’d hit our plant-based jackpot.

Firstly - Cook the ground beans and add coagulant

Firstly – Cook the ground beans and add coagulant (great word!)

Tahu (tofu) is a staple in Indonesia, as well as Tempeh (more to come of that in following posts).  Many people in the countryside cannot afford to eat meat regularly and it seems that tofu and tempeh fills the gap.  Indonesians love it and it is available everywhere, mostly in little stalls selling it as a deep fried snack with a cup of Jasmine green tea.  We’ve so far eaten it many ways and have gobbled them all with glee.  The tofu is generally given a quick fry in coconut oil before being re-cooked and the tempeh is regularly served after being simmered with cane sugar.  Sticky and sweet.  In many ways, eating tempeh and tofu in Indonesia is a little like eating Focaccia and Pasta in Italy, this is it’s land.  Where it is from.  There is something intangible there that cannot be recreated.

Put into moulds, then leave to dry on racks

Put into moulds, then leave to dry on racks

The tofu kitchen was actually a mini countryside production plant.  Generations of the family were lending a hand as Grandmother supervised.  For those who know the process of tofu making, it is the same as you’d do at home, just a larger scale.  They made what we’d call ‘firm’ tofu in the UK and sold it straight up cubed or gave big chunks a couple of minutes in very hot coconut oil to crisp up and then stored the finished tofu in water.  All of the heat used was via wooden braziers, the frying pan was heated using a large pile of wood chips.  Very, very hot work but the aromas were a delight.

Chop it up (Jane slightly assisting)

Chop it up (Jane slightly assisting)

The family didn’t speak English and were a little shy.  Our two scrumbled pages of Indonesian and a few sentences got us somewhere, but two big gangly exciteable tourists poking about your work place is generally a little unsettling.  They were absolutely lovely and we got to taste the tofu at each process and it was excellent, as you’d expect.  One thing that I did find surprising is that the soya beans used were from the USA.   I know that the US grows vast quantities of soya beans to feed their insatiable appetite for beef, but I did not imagine that some of it would be feeding the people of Java!  I can only imagine that its cheaper than local soya beans which just seems bizarre, but understandable with our current methods of food production and distribution.  Organic tofu this was not!  Otherwise, this method of making curd from warmed bean milk is completely genius and has long been established (Han Dynasty, China, over 2000 years ago) as a vital way to get nutritious, protein-rich food into diets.  It’s also utterly lovely stuff.

Bubble, bubble......man, this pan was smokin'

Bubble, bubble……man, this pan was smokin’

This was our first time seeing tofu being made in a traditional way and the family had been making the local villages tofu for generations.  It is such a privelege to be able to travel and investigate the food that we love.  Our connection with and understanding of what we are eating grows and we can find new found enjoyment in the wonders of global cuisine.  We’ll never look at a lump of tofu the same again!

PS – We’d love to tell you the name of the tofu village, but we were scooting all over the place and had no idea where we really were.  It’s our little secret, somewhere near Karang.  We’d also just had a jug of thick black coffee from Papua New Guinea which gave us some kind of joy jitters; laughing, jabbering, sweating, dazed, frantic, dry mouth……you know how that goes.

All wood fired in these parts

All wood fired in these parts

Categories: healthy, photography, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Roasted Cauliflower Hearts with Hazelnuts and Creamy Asparagus Sauce

Roasted Cauliflower Hearts with Hazelnuts and Creamy Asparagus Sauce

Roasted Cauliflower Hearts with Hazelnuts and Creamy Asparagus Sauce

I know this may sound complicated, but it ain’t!  A light and simple summer time lunch which is a bit of a looker and won’t have you hanging out in the kitchen or shops for too long. The method is so easy and there are only a handful of ingredients. You want to be outside right, dancing in the sunshine, listening to reggae!!!

This is what you could call a restaurant style dish, I served it recently to some friends and it’s that kind of Saturday night dinner party plate. Dishes like this look much more complicated than they actually are, I think that makes for a good restaurant dish. Making our lives easier in the kitchen doesn’t mean the quality and presentation of food has to suffer. The contrary is generally true. The more chilled and effortless we are in the kitchen, the better the end product. Thats how it works in the BHK anyway!

KING CAULI
Cauliflower is so versatile and its finely getting some real kudos in the ‘foodie’ world. Long overdue! I actually endured the glorious cauliflowers former incarnation recently, that drab and vacuous, steamed way beyond death thing, that graces serving dishes in function rooms across Britain. It was at a wedding. Any flavour that the poor florets had were mercilessly boiled out. What a shame, I only hope they used the stock.

Cauli makes our sauce here super creamy, it actually contains pectin, like apples, which helps to thicken things up nicely. I use cauliflower in soups and stews when looking for a touch of silky creaminess. I’ve even used cauliflower in a chocolate torte which was actually really nice. It was for my Mum’s 60th birthday cake, which was admittedly, a bit of a risk. But no one could have guessed, primarily because I didn’t tell them about the secret ingredient until after they’d eaten at least two slices and showered compliments on the richness of the torte etc. Then I went in, a bit smug. No one was that surprised. They know what I’m like.

Of course, we’re all crazy for roasted cauliflower at the minute and bar maybe potatoes, few veggies can match cauli when it is nicely caramelised and a bit charred around the edges. Yumah!

A plate fit to grace a party

A plate fit to grace a party

Recipe Notes
You’ll probably have a little too much sauce from this recipe. You can thin it down with vegetable stock to make a lovely soup.

If your hazelnuts are not toasted, just pop them on a baking tray and into the oven for 10 minutes. Keep your eye on them.

You can easily cook the cauliflower on a bbq if you prefer. Cauliflower is perfect for all kinds of bbq style behaviour.

Asparagus can be substituted for a number of veggies in this dish. What ever is looking good and seasonal, I’m thinking peas, broad beans, kale, even peppers or squash. Cauliflower is fairly neutral and takes well to many other veggie flavours.

I served this with pan fried mushrooms and spinach with roasted potatoes. Unless you are looking for a light meal, I’d advised some of your favourite, complementarty sides.

The BitsFor 4
1.25 kg cauliflower (a big one)
600g asparagus spears
3 cloves garlic
500ml soya milk (unsweetened)
1 big handful toasted hazelnuts (finely chopped)
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Do It
Preheat an oven to 225oC.

Cut off the asparagus tips (first three-five inches), then chop the stems until you get to the woody bit. Try some, if it’s fibrous, you’ve gone too far.

Trim the leaves off the cauliflower by slicing off the majority of the base stem. Then cut into 3/4 inch slices straight across, use a long knife. Now cut off the ‘hearts’ of cauliflower, basically nicely shaped florets. The more broken, smaller pieces of cauliflower, add to a saucepan for the sauce. This should be roughly 1/2 the cauliflower. Use any leftover pieces of stem for the sauce.

Drizzle some oil onto a large oven tray, add the cauliflower hearts and season with salt and pepper. Toss a little so they are covered with oil and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Until they are well caramelised, I’m talking dark brown colours and charred bits here.

Add the soya milk and garlic to the cauliflower in the saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is just breaking down. Add the asaparagus and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes more then leave to cool. You can do this in advance, preferably before the cauliflower is roasting in the oven. Using a stick blender or food processor, blitz the sauce until nice and smooth.

Just before serving, grab a frying pan, add a dash of oil and on a high heat, cook the asparagus tips. Fry for 5 minutes, until they caramelise and then season with a touch of salt and pepper.

Serve on big warm plates, add a few spoons of sauce to the centre, use a spoon to form a circle/ square (depending on the shape of your plate), form a row of asparagus tips along the centre, with four large cauliflower florets either side. Finish with a good scattering of hazelnuts. Or anyway you fancy.

This kind of dish demands a nice glass of chilled white wine (with or without bubbles).

Enjoy!!!!!

Enjoy!!!!!

Categories: Dinner, gluten-free, healthy, photography, Recipes, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Pea and Mint Hummus

Pea and Mint Hummus

Pea and Mint Hummus

Now that one half (me) of the BHK is rocking Spain, things are going totally Med for a while.  Fresh, vital, packed with sun, light and easy. Tapas basically. Little plates of flavour explosions that tantalise and don’t make you feel like a stuffed courgette. Perfect summer fare.

This is a nice twist on your standard hummus, plenty of lemon to lift it and enliven and a good hit of mint. It looks so vibrant, everyone will want a dip!  The great thing about peas is they freeze brilliantly and a I used frozen peas here.  When frozen, they don’t lose much of their nutritional value or texture, so its all good.

A hummus twist

A hummus twist

In Spain, the hummus wave is really hitting.  We went out with out mate in Madrid, a cool area and all the bars were serving hummus.  It seems like all the cool kids were at the crudites.  I think hummus is such a staple now in the UK, its nice to give it a twist now and again, although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a well made ‘normal’ hummus.  I like mine nice and thick and creamy, with plenty of tahini.  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.

*Warning* – my posts from Spain may get a little erratic at times.  I’m normally tucked away in one of the the few local bars that have wifi.  There is a heady atmosphere of shouting and laughter and I’m no doubt sipping a ferocious black coffee.

Give peas a chance;)

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The Bits – Makes one big bowlful

480g chickpeas

275g peas

1 tbs dried mint

1 big handful fresh mint (finely sliced)

150ml olive oil

4 tbs tahini

1 1/2 medium lemons (juice)

2 big cloves garlic (crushed)

1 teas salt

50ml chickpea cooking broth

 

Do It

Place all ingredients into a blender and blitz until nicely smooth, drizzle in the chickpea broth (or water) until you get the consistency you like.  Remember that the hummus will thicken up in the fridge.  Check seasoning and served with a crazy array of chopped vegetables, flatbread slices, oat cakes, whatever tickles your fancy really.

View from one of the local interent hubs/ bars

View from one of the local interent hubs/ bars.  Life’s a long beach!

Categories: healthy, photography, Recipes, Snacks and Inbetweens, Summer, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Butter Bean, Lemon and Black Olive Salad – A Real Taste of Murcia!

Butter Bean, Lemon and Black Olive Salad

Butter Bean, Lemon and Black Olive Salad

A simple sunshine salad which makes a great quick summertime lunch.  Ideal served as a side or starter, add some chunky croutons or toasted nuts for a more substantial dish.

The sun is coming and with it comes sprouting a host of beautiful fruits and vegetables. Summer is an exciting time of year, we can finally don shorts again and be collectively surprised at how white our feet are! The flip flops are out in force, maybe a vest and we’re into the garden with salads and fizzy glasses. Certainly in Spain, salads are an every day delight.

There is a global constant that baffles me. You visit local markets and shops (this does not apply to the sub-Saharan region) and there are a wonderful selection of fruits and veggies displayed. You then go to the restaurant next door to find that none of the lovely local fruits and veggies are present on the menu. It’s a strange old situation. The world is addicted to potatoes and tomatoes it seems. Murcia is similar. Although this is the ‘garden’ of Spain, and possibly Europe, a Murcian salad consists of onion, tomato and some black olives (plus tinned tuna if you’re particularly unlucky). This is my version of the local salad using things we can all get our hands on.

You can’t just throw things into your finest salad bowl and expect magical results, salads need a little thought. There’s a balance there. I’d say always gently handle and chop your ingredients and toss them together with care. You want a nice combo of flavours and textures, without over doing it. Salads are our chance to showcase amazing produce and whenever possible, lets buy good stuff for our salads. You might be able to hide vacuous tomatoes in a stew, but in a salad, they just look so lame.

Puerto Mazarron market in full swing

Puerto Mazarron market in full swing

DOWN AT ‘EL MERCADO ESTUPENDO’

I’ve just been down to the local Sunday market here in Mazarron and beeeee jeehzus there is a startling array of amazing produce at the minute. Piled up like technicolour forts; melons like beachballs, bewildering varieities of tomato action, gangs of crimson peppers so deep and vivid, every conceivable shade of olive and crispy, fresh donuts (churros). Well, they seem to balance up all the healthy veggie behaviour. Spain is hot in weather and generally, super chilled in attitude. My kind of combo. ‘Manana!’ (tomorrow) is the Murcian moto. Their crest is probably a tranquil terrace scene, but I can’t verify that. Today is for enjoying…..

I rock up mid-morning just after the donut breakfast feast that’s washed down with goblets of brandy or thick coffee (maybe beer) sometimes a combination of them all will lashing of condensed milk and randomly, nutmeg. It’s a coffee called an Asiatico and is more like several desserts in a small glass swimming in a few shots of black espresso. If you’re lucky, you can score a fresh orange juice, but expect at least two funny looks as you make your way back to a wobbly plastic chair in the sun. Sunday is a good day here.

There is a whole host of other items sold at the market; counterfeit cd’s, plants, leggings, trees and the occasional pot or pan or pot plant. There is also a very cool pan pipe band from Peru who belt out all the classics. I must say, I just focus on edibles. I have a routine, I sweep past with an empty backpack, the first pass. I am above temptation. I don’t buy anything. This is a strict regime, fact finding, and essential for quality control and price comparison. There is no Asda price in Murcia, you’ve got to do the leg work and have hawk like instincts. Bargains are fleeting and sometimes well disguised.

I asses the form and then stop for a well earned cafe americano (sometimes plus a few crispy donuts). If I don’t have donuts, the lady will feel sorry for me and give me some anyway. Older ones from the bottom of the pile. A donut constant that I go with. Then the fun begins. I have pockets of small change and throw myself into the crowds of haggling Spanish and Moroccan housewives, all at least half my size and double my strength, who posses pin sharp elbows. Dead legs and worse have been known around the olive stand and especially at the bargain tomato family and always at the toothless apple dude.

Tomatoes - so many new types to try in Murcia

Tomatoes – so many new types to try in Murcia

The olive stand is a piece of work, ran by three generations of a family. It seems they’ll pickle or preserve anything going. Capers, caperberries, garlic, cucumbers, pink pickled onions the size of a cricket ball, the olives are pretty hot too. You’ll always get a few freebie tasters if you offer equally confused and intrigued expressions. Have you tried a purple olive? I went for some bitter bright green local olives today, they love their bitter olives in these parts, stuffed with lemon rind, minced onion and rosemary. Quite a thing I can assure you.

I know each stand intimately by now, after ten years, I’m one of the villages most well schooled veg selector. They all have their stregths and weaknesses and I try to spread the wealth (amounting to a few euros) around. I’d say on average, the fruit and veg here is at least 1/3 price in a UK supermarket. The Spanish supermarkets also charge more than Mazarron market. The market shifts from town to town, four days a week, I’ve been to each location but the Sunday one is the best. People are letting there hair down and there is a sense of celebration, most of the stall owners clutch a cold can of beer, churches occasionally ring bells and you’re never far from a chuckle or guffaw.

It’s a tough old life in Spain guys!! I’ll keep the sunny plant-based correspondence flowing. Here’s what I did with todays haul.

Mazarron sunsets are regularly a bit special

Mazarron sunsets are regularly a bit special

Recipe Notes
For a more filling salad, drizzle some bread with olive oil and toast under a grill. Roughly chop up and toss in a little more oil, a pinch of salt and a few pinches of dried herbs like oregano and thyme. Scatter over the salad before serving.

Pickled garlic is not that easy to find but it is a superstar ingredient. Use a couple of cloves of fresh garlic instead, it’s worth noting that the flavour is different, pickled garlic is sweet and mild tasting pretty well pickled! I find it quite addictive and sometimes just eat it straight up, I find its quite nice served with nibbles.

I find the lemon and a good extra virgin olive oil is more than enough dressing wise.

Spain boasts very fat and creamy butter beans. Seek out some beauties for this salad, they are one of the highlights.

Using pitted olives is a good idea.  An unexpected olive stone is always an unwanted crunch.

Great with some toasted croutons or a handful or toasted almonds

Great with some toasted croutons or a handful or toasted almonds

The BitsFor 4 as main course, 6-8 as side salad/ starter

500g cooked or 2 tins butterbeans (the fatter, the better)
1 small sweet onion or 3 spring onions (finely sliced)
6 medium sized tomatoes (ripe and sweet)
1 handful pickled garlic cloves (roughly chopped)
1/2 courgette (diced)
1/2 cucumber (diced)
1 head baby gem lettuce or similar (sliced)
2 big handfuls black olives

1 handful parsley (finely sliced)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon (juice and zest)
Salt and pepper

Do It
Place all ingredients in a large salad bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and the juice and zest of one lemon. Toss gently together with your hands.

Scatter over the parsley, some salt and pepper and croutons if your using them. Serve with more wedges of lemon if you fancy a little more zing and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling.

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Categories: gluten-free, healthy, Healthy Eating, Lunch, photography, Recipes, Salads, Side Dish, Summer, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Chickpea, Date and Potato Tagine

Chickpea, Date and Potato Tagine

Chickpea, Date and Potato Tagine

Tagine is a great summer time staple, a light stew with lovely spice and hints of sweetness from the dates. The perfect place for brilliant seasonal vegetables, a straightforward and ideal addition to your mid week special board!

In Morocco, tagines are a showcase for the amazing local produce. The stock base is just the cooking juices of the vegetables and a little salt, no added stock needed. You know how good your veggies are, its a good test actually. If this tagine is tasteless, its all down to the produce (add a little veg stock).

I went to Morocco straight from Mexico and I remember being hungry quite a lot. I was travelling on hope and pennies and there was certainly not the range of cheap street eats that you find everywhere in Mexico. It was a bit of a shock to the system. When I found a place that did cook veggie food, normally cous cous or tagine, it was a real find. There was normally then a wait while the cook/ owner went out to but the vegetables and cook the tagine. I travelled in mostly rural areas and this could mean a long wait for dinner/ lunch. Still mint tea always flowed easy and the pace of life in Morocco suits me down to the ground. Life ebbs by nice and easy.

Happy hobs:)

Happy hobs:)

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have a proper tagine (the cooking vessel). That’s fine, we can still call it a tagine (just don’t tell your Moroccan mates!) As you’d imagine, we do have a tagine dish. It is normally used as a fruit bowl and I’m always looking for an excuse to use it. A tagine is actually a brilliant shape and design to cook vegetables and cous cous to perfection. You need very little water as the heavy lid keeps in most of the water, it acts as something like a pressure cooker. I find this especially helpful when cooking cous cous.

I like a good mix of veggies in my tagines and potatoes are very important base to other more glamorous (you know what I mean) veg like aubergine, peppers etc. The potatoes have the added benefit of making the tagine sauce thick when they begin to break down.

The flavour or Morocco (in a little jar), just add amazing veggies

The flavour or Morocco (in a little jar), just add amazing veggies

I always bang on about fresh spice, but it makes a huge difference. Many spices have been lurking around our cupboards for a while and may be past their sensational best. Ras El Hanout is the traditional spice mix used, but you know what, other spice mixes can be added to make a tasty stew. Think garam masala, curry mixes, berbere, jerk style mixes. The basic technique will be the same, just experiment with the spice quantity.

I’ve been cooking all over the UK in the past month, it seems like a different kitchen every night! I love it!! I’ve found most people have really good kitchens and its interesting to try out different ovens and cook with a range of pots, pans and utensils. Most people have some amazing kit, much better than the stuff I’ve got!!!  This tagine was made in Durham a few days ago, my Dad who you probably know by now was like me, a real, full power, carnivore and is now going through a real shift. He’s making his own twelve veggie stew at home. I knew Dad would dig this and he says he’ll be trying it out again soon. It’s always wicked when your loved ones enjoy what you make.

Not Durham!  Sunset from the terrace last night in Spain

Not Durham! Sunset from the terrace last night in Spain

Recipe Notes

Tagines are normally chunky. Cut all the veggies into roughly 1 1/2 inch chunks.

As a variation, you can substitute the dates with dried apricots and use whatever vegetables are good and seasonal, easy to get hold of.

My friend Abdul, who lives in a cave near the Sahara, swears by a nice glug of olive oil when serving a tagine. It adds extra richness and gives the sauce a shimmer.

To make things extra special, adding a few handfuls of greens just before you serve the tagine would be nice. Something like spinach, kale or chard. Spring greens are awesome, just add then about five minutes before serving, they take a bit more cooking.

Do not use a metal spoon or spatula to stir stews, unless you want the vegetables to break down. A trusty wooden spoon is perfect.

We cooked quinoa to serve the tagine with, instead of the traditional cous cous. Gluten free and delicious, its also packed with massive amounts of goodness/ nutrition.

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Simple summer special!

The Bits – For 6-8

2 tbs cooking oil
1 onion (peeled and sliced)
2 inches fresh ginger (peeled and finely sliced)
½ medium butternut squash (peeled and chopped)

4 small potatoes (chopped)

2 bell peppers (deseeded and chopped)

1 aubergine (chopped)

4 large tomatoes (chopped)

250g/1 tin chickpeas
16 dates (de-stoned and cut in half)
4 tbs tomato paste
3 tbs ras el hanout spice mix
1 3 inch cinnamon stick
400ml hot water
Salt (to taste)

Serving
A little good olive oil, fresh coriander and extra spice

Do It

This is an easy one…….

In a large frying pan or saucepan on medium heat, add the oil and fry the onions and ginger for five minutes until soft, then add the other vegetables, cinnamon, spices and some salt. Stir and fry for two minutes then add the tomatoes, dates, tomato puree and water.

Stir gently and pop on a loose fitting lid and cook on a steady simmer for 35-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just breaking down. Season with a little more salt to taste.

Serve with cous cous, topped with a drizzled of olive oil, fresh coriander and a sprinkle of extra spices.

Nice with some greens!  (Isn't everything;)

Nice with some greens! (Isn’t everything;)

Categories: Dinner, gluten-free, healthy, photography, Recipes, Stew, Summer, Vegan | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Roast Potato and Cumin Frittata with a Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad

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Roast Potato and Cumin Frittata with Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad (Vegan)

I had a great time on BBC Radio Wales recently, a little thing they do called ‘Foodie Friday’.  It was the wonderful Eleri Sion show (although Tom was standing in) and we mainly talked about how accessible and incredible a vegan lifestyle is and coconut scones, but I did mention one of my very favourite dishes at the moment, a simple and really nutritious vegan frittata.  Plant power for all!!  I just had to share the recipe.

Tom mentioned that vegan food can be more time consuming to cook than a lump of meat with vegetables, which may well be true for some dishes, but this frittata is so easy and straightforward and as with all vegan cooking, substitutions can be made, things can be swapped, veggies played with, happiness unearthed, taste buds dance a merry jig.  It’s always easier when you’re done it, so lets do it!

This is a lovely light Italian lunch with a twist.  I just can’t help myself!  Cumin seeds are one of my favourite ingredients (along with gram flour) and they bring a subtle and deep spice to this dish.  I know that cumin is not exactly traditionally Italian, but I’m sure they’ll forgive me!  Especially if they get to try this frittata.  Molto delizioso! (Which means pretty dang nice in Italian)

Spring is taking its gentle hold on North Wales and the nights are lighter and the sun is making reappearance after a long winter.  Its such a beautiful time of year and we are naturally turning to lighter foods.

This frittata is a brilliant way to use up gorgeous roasted vegetables, either freshly roasted or leftovers.  The other night, after some very posh curry and chips (see below), I pondered how to use the leftover potatoes.  It’s been a while since our last Spain time and I know Jane loved Potato Tortillas so this was a no brainer.  I know the art of romance, surprise frittata!

Posh chips and curry sauce - a Beach House classic made with local organic roasted potatoes and a spicy masala sauce (recipe from Peace & Parsnips)  Yumah!

Posh chips and curry sauce – a Beach House classic made with local organic roasted potatoes and a spicy masala sauce (recipe from Peace & Parsnips) Yumah!

Roasties!!!!!!!!

Roasties!!!!!!!!

A tortilla is basically a Spanish name for an unfolded omelette.  Most people will cook this in a pan and then grill it (this is also called a ‘Frittata’ in Italy or even a ‘Kuku’ in Iran – confused yet?!) but I’ve made it easier, pop it in the oven and all is well.  In fact, omellete’s seem to be a staple in most countries I visit, from North Africa to India, the world loves an omellete.  Making it a vegan delight is quick and easy.  I’ve cooked this for many non-vegans and they love it, a few glugs of olive oil for richness and no one misses those strange oval chicken things.

Looking good with a plenty of fresh coriander (although parsley is probably slightly more Italian)

Looking good with a plenty of fresh coriander (although parsley is probably slightly more Italian)

THATS LUNCH!

Frittata is very happy when paired with a grain salad and some green leaves.  That’s lunch!  I’ve made a little Farro and Canellini Bean Salad, packed with crunch and the wholesome feel of the farro, served with some top salad leaves from our local organic farm.  When the leaves are this good, with amazing vitality, fresh flavour and texture, I just give them a quick rinse and tear them up with my hands.  Finely slicing amazing salad leaves just seems like a waste.  I love to see their shapes.

FUTURE SALADS

I am constantly blown away by the diversity of flavours in the plant word and salad leaves, sprouts and cresses are a real joy for me.  At the recent Discovering Vegan Cooking Retreat that we ran at Trigonos, we were privileged to try a load of different cress and leaves.  The flavours were all over the shop, many shocking and delightful in equal measure; some subtle, some full-on.  All suggested that in the near future, salads will be getting much, much more interesting.  Trust me, you ain’t tried nothing like this!

Crazy Cress!  Such a diverse range of flavours and colours all wrapped up in tiny, tiny leaves.  Very interesting.

Crazy Cress! Such a diverse range of flavours and colours all wrapped up in tiny, tiny little leaves. Very interesting.  Boom!!    

Recipe Notes

You can also use this gram flour mix for omelette’s cooked in a pan or as a filling for a vegan quiche or tart.  A baked gram flour pancake in Italy is known as a Farinata and its one of the best things ever.

For a lighter frittata, why not add 1/3 teas baking powder to the gram flour and then stir in the water.

Farro is basically Italian Spelt, meaning that some people who are gluten intolerant can handle it.  If you are off gluten, try using buckwheat or even quinoa.

Due to my intense love of veggies, this salad is light on grains.  I like a high veg ratio in any dish.

Farro and Cannellini Salad

Farro and Cannellini Salad – packed with crunch and vitality

The Bits – For 4-6

Frittata

250g roasted potatoes (or similar quantity of any roasted vegetables)

2 small onions

2 tbsp olive oil

¾ teas cumin seeds

½ teas turmeric

150g gram flour

225ml water

1/3 teas salt

Large pinch pepper
Garnish 

½ handful Fresh Coriander or Parsley (finely chopped)

½ handful Crushed Walnuts (optional)

 

Farro and Cannellini Bean Salad

100g faro (I use quick cook type)

1 small kohlrabi (finely diced)

3 handfuls leek (finely sliced)

½ yellow pepper (finely diced)

1 handful toasted pumpkin seeds

1 handful pitted green olives (sliced)

½ lemon (juice)

200g cannellini beans

4 radishes (sliced into thin batons)

1 handful parsley chopped

Couple of pinches of salt and pepper

Very simple salad, torn leaves.  No need to mess.  Delicious!

Very simple salad, torn leaves. No need to mess. Delicious!

Do It

Frittata

Preheat an oven to 200oc.

Grab a 10 inch non-stick baking dish, round looks good but you could always use a square one.  If you are not sure about the non-stickiness of the dish, line it with baking parchment.

Drizzle in a little oil, add the cumin seeds, onions and a couple of pinches of salt.  Toss together and place in the oven.  Roast for 15 minutes, stir, roast again for 10 minutes, stir, roast again for 10 minutes, by this time the onions should be nicely caramelised and golden.  Set aside.

While the onions are in the oven, in a large bowl, add the gram flour along with the turmeric, olive oil and a couple pinches of salt.  Stir together and then gradually pour in the water whilst stirring, until a thick and smooth batter forms.

Add your potatoes to the oven dish, mixing them in with the onions.  Pour over the batter and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the frittata.

Pop in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the frittata is firm and getting nice and golden on top.  Cut into slices and drizzle over a little more olive oil and a sprinkle of coriander/ parsley.  A few toasted walnuts are also delicious.

Can be served warm or cold.

Salad

In a saucepan, bring roughly 1 litre water to a rolling boil, add the farro and simmer for 10-12 minutes.  Until the grains are soft.  Drain and refresh with cold water.  Set aside.

Once the grains have cooled, toss everything together in a big bowl.  Serve with your favourite dressing and ideally, a nice big slab of frittata.

Vegan frittata - ideal and super nutritious Spring lunch

Vegan frittata – ideal and super nutritious Spring lunch

My dressing for this was using pomegranate molasses, english mustard and sherry vinegar, with a light olive oil and a touch of salt and maple syrup.

My dressing for this was using pomegranate molasses, english mustard and sherry vinegar, with a light olive oil and a touch of salt and maple syrup.  Worked nicely!  

Foodie Fact

Did you know that potatoes are a good source of protein, iron, fibre and vitamin C?  I sometimes overlook how nutritious potatoes are.

Gram or Chickpea flour is another ingredient to get excited about (of you’re that way inclined).  I love using the stuff!  It makes for a brilliant egg replacer, when stirred with a little water, in baking and is sooooooooo versatile.  Helpfully, its also gluten-free and packed with nutrition.  High in

When buying gram flour, it may be called Besan (unroasted) or Chana (roasted) flour.  They both have slightly different flavours.  Chickpea flour has twice the amount of protein that wholewheat flour has and six times the amount of protein compared to white flour.  It is also very high in folates and healthy unsaturated fats and is a good source of vitamin B6, iron and magnesium.

Wales is so beautiful in early spring - taken at Trigonos, Nantlle Valley, North Wales

Wales is so beautiful in early spring – taken at Trigonos, Nantlle Valley, North Wales

Categories: gluten-free, Healthy Eating, Lunch, Nutrition, Organic, photography, Recipes, Salads, Spring, Vegan | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Decadent Double Chocolate Cake

Decadent Double Chocolate Cake

Decadent Double Chocolate Cake

A really decadent vegan chocolate cake!  This is one we find any excuse to make.  Its a lovely light and rich cake smothered in a very silky, chocolaty icing.  I think you’re going to love it!!

Nigella Lawson certainly knows her way around a cake and this recipe is based on one from her new book. Thanks Nigella! Jane found it somewhere and is such a fan of sweet things, knew it would be a wonder.  It’s one of those recipes that any non-vegan would be amazed to find out had no eggs or dairy in. The texture is wonderful and the icing is a knockout.  I don’t always tell people things are vegan anyway.  It’s just shining, delicious food.  ‘Nuff said!

THE UK COOKING CREW

People like Nigella, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein really kept me interested in cooking in my mid 20’s.  Mum normally had Rick and Nigella’s knocking around the house and Hugh was one of my favs. I remember him cooking things on open fires with antique looking pots dangling off his land rover and belting out ‘Baba O Riley’ by The Who with some proper chops. He seemed to be having a great time and it was infectious.  I loved the idea of grabbing a bunch of tomatoes from the green house and popping them straight into a pot.  That definitely sounded like the good life.

SIR JAMIE

A lady bought me Jamie’s first book in a hotel I used to work at, she knew I liked cooking and felt that a cheeky chap on a scooter would appeal.  I loved Jamie’s energy, skill and passion.  He didn’t go down stairs, he slid down bannister’s.  He tore stuff up, threw things, chopped things with his bare hands….  His carefree approach triggered something in me, I’d worked in a kitchen that was classically French, with big hats and all.  Simple, fresh and tasty food was where it was at and Jamie made it all accessible and fun.  That was one of the main things, it was FUN!  You didn’t have to take yourself or food seriously and this was surprisingly quite revolutionary.  Well done Sir Jamie (it can’t be long now lets face it with the sugar thing and all!!!)  Just one little question mate. When are you going fully vegan again????!  Jamie recently talked to Tim Shieff and came straight out and said that the future of food is plant-based.  Which was a really bold thing to say for a celeb chef but unfortunately, in his new book, there is not one vegan recipe.  Maybe the next one will be charged with plant power.  Fingers crossed.   I know that he loves vegan food and there are loads of vegan recipes over on Jamie’s site.

I used to try out loads of this crews recipes whenever I wasn’t working, which was quite a bit back then as I was a restaurant manager.  Cooking has always been a way for me to unwind and be creative.  I remember baking loads of Nigella cakes, there was one chocolate orange cake, oh! and who could forget the chocolate and guiness one.  I used to have it routinely for birthdays.  I just made some chocolate and stout cupcakes that I think you’ll like….coming soon.

Being a vegan chef now, I get the same feeling of inspiration that I did back in my early 20’s when I discovered the real joy of playing with pots and pans.  I can now check out these guy’s recipes and take them in a whole new direction.  The world of vegan cooking seems so vibrant and creative at the minute, I feel so lucky to be part of it.  It’s also great to see Nigella taking a step into the world of vegan baking.  There is an almost unlimited scope for brilliant baking without all that other, unnecessary stuff.  All you need is plants!!

THE MAIN EVENT

I make this Decadent Double Chocolate Cake recipe at least once a week in the kitchen and sometimes opt for a slightly less luxurious icing, a standard chocolate butter cream icing made using plant-based spread goes down very well (see below) and is a reasonable economy style option.  The team I work with in the retreat centre get quite excited when they see this on the menu, which cannot be a bad thing (as long as there’s leftovers that is!)

If you try this recipe out, please let us know.  We’ll be over the moon to hear that you’re in a happy chocolate place.

Recipe Notes

The batter is wet here, don’t fret.  Use a tight fitting tin and line it well.  This will mean that the batter doesn’t sneak through.

Please, please (please), please…..do not open the oven door, no matter how curious you get, when baking.  Leave it for 45 minutes before peaking.  This cake is a good sinker, the bicarb makes it shoot up, but until its almost baked, will quite happily sag back down making it a bit on the heavy side.

Ovens vary and this batter takes a long time to bake but thats what gives the lovely crust and gooey middle.  A winner of a cake combo!  It may need another 10 minutes.

Unless its a special occasion, we normally substitute the coconut oil in the cake and icing for vegan sunflower or olive spread.  This works well, but lacks the ultimate richness and shine that coco oil gives.  We’d recommend treating yourself to a nice big jar of coconut oil.  Early Christmas present.

You can see that I also make a version of the cake in a rectangular tin, whatever you’ve got really.  A rectangular cake is easier to portion, but in this instance, is much wider than a circular cake tin.  This means less time in the oven as the mix is thinner.  Go with your cake instincts!

The economy version with a more everyday icing

The economy version with a more everyday icing

Have some fun with this one!!!!!

Decadent Double Chocolate Cake

The Bits – 1 large cake (10-12 slices)

225g white flour

2 tbs chickpea flour

1½ teaspoons instant coffee powder

80g cocoa

300g soft light brown sugar

1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon sea salt

375ml hot water

75g non-dairy spread or solid coconut oil

1½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Chocolate Icing

150g dark chocolate (finely chopped)

75g coconut oil

50g light brown sugar

60ml cold water

1½ tablespoons cocoa

Decoration (optional)

1 tbs edible rose petals or flowers

2 tbs chopped pistachios or almonds

1 tbs orange zest

Do It

Preheat oven 180oC and pop in a baking tray.

For the icing – Put all of the icing ingredients except the chopped chocolate into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.  Stirring and ensuring all is dissolve. Then turn off the heat and add the chocolate, stir until melted and the icing is glossy. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally.

Line the bottom of a 20cm round springform/ loose bottomed cake tin (you will need a leak proof one, this is a wet batter) with baking parchment.

Place the flour, bicarb, salt, instant coffee, chickpea flour and cocoa in a bowl and mix together.

In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, hot (not warm) water, non-dairy spread/ coconut oil and vinegar until all has melted and is combined. Stir gradually into the dry ingredients, adding a little liquid at a time, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45-55 minutes.

Check after 45 minutes. When done, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. This is a fudgey style cake and you don’t want to overdo it.

Transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin.

Give the icing a good stir and check it is nice and thick, yet runny enough to spread on the cake. Pour over the cake and use a spatula to ease the icing to the edges.

A lovely light cake

A lovely light cake

Decorate the cake with scattering of pistachios, orange zest and edible flowers if you have them. Leave to stand for 30 minutes for the icing to set before slicing into the cake.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

This cake freezes well, without the icing. Wrap the fully cooled cake in a double layer of cling film and a layer of foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. To defrost, unwrap and place on a serving plate at room temperature for 3-4 hours. 

Pop some flowers on your cake - you won't regret it

Pop some flowers on your cake – you won’t regret it

Foodie Fact

For loads of information and nutritional facts about chocolate, or more specifically, cacao, head over to our previous post.  We had an almighty chocolate tasting recently and sampled all the wonders of cacao.

 

Categories: Baking, Cakes, Desserts, photography, Recipes, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

Seeded spelt bread & simple tips to make awesome loaves

Seeded Spelt Loaf

Seeded Spelt Loaf

Here’s a simple, wholesome and tasty loaf for all made with one of our favourite flours, spelt.  In the wonderful world of bread making, this Seeded Spelt Bread is one for the beginner but will no doubt be enjoyed by everyone.  There is nothing that can beat the fresh wafts of warm bread floating around your house, although Dad’s mulled wine at Christmas does come close.  Bread wafts instantly makes a house into a home.

Shop bought bread, not even the posh deli style stuff, can come close to a lovely loaf of home baked happiness.  Some things you just can’t buy and I believe that most foods are well worth that little bit extra effort and bread is definitely one of those.

There is something priceless and utterly magnificent about the whole bread making process.  Its magical and only takes a little practice and know how.  I’ve popped a few tips below that will get you started on the road to bread brilliance.  If you’re a keen baker, and lets face it, its become a bit of trend recently, this loaf is simple and yet delicious.

A loaf of bread is surely one of the nicest things you could ever give to someone.  If I enter a persons house and they say ‘I’ve just taken some loaves out of the oven’ it’s like entering some kind of ideal parallel universe where everything is just about right.  I was once made a German sourdough loaf by some friends and I rave about it still.  It was over five years ago but I’ll be taking that loaf to the grave!  I wanted to move into their kitchen and make baked goods for the rest of my days.

In my humble opinion, making bread is one of the most soulful things you can do in the kitchen.  Really, I see cooking for people as a privilege.  Once you get the hang of it, the world of bread is yours to explore.   There is no doubting that bread making can be daunting at first and you’ll probably not knock out a perfectly risen and crusty sourdough loaf at the first time of asking.  But stick to the basics and you’ll make something wholesome and full of homemade goodness.

We don’t eat loads of bread in the BHK, I might bake one morning a week.  At work, I bake bread every morning and its one of my favourite ways of starting a day.  All that kneading wakes the body up nicely.  For me, keeping things simple first thing is always a good idea!  We make fresh bread at Trigonos for breakfast and a nice loaf to go out with soup at lunchtime.  In many ways being a chef is a good workout all round, after a ten hour shift in a busy kitchen the gym looks a little pale and tranquil in comparison.  Playing with pots and pans all day keeps chefs lithe and focused (most of the time).

Breakfast loaves at Trigonos, almost ready for the oven

Breakfast loaves at Trigonos, almost ready for the oven

This recipe has been fully approved by our resident bread expert at Trigonos, Holger.  Holger is a proper loaf lover, master wine maker (he even makes wine out of oak leaves!) and German.  Apparently, spelt is more widely available over there and is sold as loaves and rolls, well named ‘Dinkelbrot’.  I know Holger is partial to this loaf because he always goes back for seconds.  Enough said.  It’s a success!

My favourite picture of Holger - observing the 2015 solar eclipse

My favourite picture of Holger – observing the 2015 solar eclipse

WHAT IS SPELT?

Spelt is one of my favourite flours giving a lovely light and nutty loaf.  It is really different from using wheat flour and is a highly nutritious grain that many people who are sensitive to wheat can enjoy.  Sometimes known as dinkel wheat (a word I appreciate) spelt has been cultivated since 5000BC.  It’s fair to say that folk around here in North Wales have probably been making loaves like this since the Bronze age.

Spelt is basically a sub species of wheat and being an ancient grain, has not been manipulated to meet manufacturing needs (like many variations of wheat have for example).  Spelt is easy on the digestive system as the gluten in spelt is water soluble and breaks down when mixed or chewed.  Being an ancient grain, spelt has kept its hard hull intact.  Many modern wheat grains have no hull which protects the grains from pests and the elements.  These wheat grains have now developed an enzyme inhibitor that keeps pests at bay but effects the way that we digest these grains, as enzymes are an essential part of good digestion.  If you feel bloated or heavy after eating bread, switching to spelt bread may be a good idea.

SIMPLE TIPS FOR AWESOME LOAVES

Bread takes some time and effort, not to mention a little technique and skill:

  • LINING – Line your loaf tin/ oven tray with baking parchment.  If your equipment is not totally non-stick, and that attribute is quite rare, then don’t risk a sticky situation.  Quickly line with baking parchment and you are certain of a simple extraction.
  • PROVING – The texture of a loaf comes mainly from the gluten waking up and doing its thing.   This takes a long proving and some kneading.  You don’t always have to pummel your dough for a long time, you can even leave dough in a fridge or a cool place for a very slow prove, overnight for example.  This allows gluten and flavours to develop and makes for a delicious loaf.  In Wales, it is so cold and we have no central heating, we have no choice but to take it slow.  We have however been known to use a warm hot water bottle to help get our dough woken up.
  • OVEN – Baking in general will mean getting to know your oven.  They are all different and timings may vary.  Where you place loaves/ cakes in an oven has a huge effect on the outcome and results will vary depending on whether the oven is heated by a fan or the main heat source is from the base etc.  It can be trail and error at first and the only way to learn sometimes is an over baked bottom on your loaf.
  • PRESENTATION – Bread looks cool when its a bit rough I believe.  Smooth is nice but try and give the surface some texture by not playing with it too much.  Tears and bobbles are great on bread and add to the texture of an interesting loaf.  You may also like to slash the top of the loaf before the final proving.  This adds texture to the loaf and also looks mighty fine.  Dusting with flour will result in a soft crust and brushing with soya milk will result in a crisp and darker crust.  With wet doughs, the loaf will spread out in the oven a little, this is worth bearing in mind if you have a particular shape in mind.
  • OBSERVE – Its also important to remember to be patient with bread making and flexible.  Observe the bread, whats happening to it?  When proving the loaf, is it rising too quickly or too slowly.  This will all be dependent on the ambient temperature (or you forgot the yeast!!)  Gauge whether the loaf is actually twice the size and amend the timings, less or more.  Sometimes the loaf will take much longer to prove and that is fine and actually preferred.  The key factor is that the yeast wakes up and does its thing, working its magic within the bread.  A quick prove can result in off, sour aromas and big air pockets in the loaf.
  • KNEADING – A wet, sticky dough is always better than dry and floury loaf.  I use oil when kneading the loaf as this will not add flour to the recipe, changing the texture of the loaf.  Many bread makers use dough spatulas instead of hands when ‘kneading’.  The old fashioned image of sleeves rolled up and pummeling an hapless lump of dough is not always the best way to go.  When your dough can stretched easily without breaking, around 8 inches is a good gauge, then its ready.
  • STEAM – Turn your oven at home into a professional bakers oven by adding a cooking tray to a lower shelf whilst preheating and when the loaf goes in, pour some water into the tray.  Creating steam which allows the loaf to develop a nice thick and light crust.  I do this with most loaves.
  • YEAST – This is the magic dust that makes bread rise.  Always keep it separate from salt,  they don’t get along and salt can kill it.  Add them to different parts of the bowl.  You can add your yeast to the warm water before mixing, but I find that it wakes up by itself.

Recipe Notes

I like this loaf with poppy seeds included in the seed mix.  They have a lovely flavour and give a nice bite to the loaf.  You may also like to add dried fruits like dates, apricots or herbs like rosemary and thyme to the loaf.  Spices like cinnamon and even garam masala can be delicious.

Rapeseed is one of my favourite oils and is local to us in the UK.  It has a great flavour that compliments spelt well, but you can use any oil, olive or sunflower etc.

Remember that spelt proves quicker than wheat.  I have proved this loaf twice, but you can easily omit the first prove and go straight for a single 40 minute prove followed by baking.  This is of course quicker and leads to a lighter loaf and ever so slightly crumbly.  Not better or worse really, just different.

This bread can be baked in a loaf tin, this makes it easier to handle as the dough can be quite wet.  If your just starting on your bread journey, go for a 1kg tin here.  Handling a spelt loaf is different from a wheat loaf, it can be quite floppy and needs some gentle encouragement (see below).

Add white flour instead of spelt for a lighter loaf.

Due to the gluten being different in spelt, it does not take as much kneading as wheat.  This can actually break down the gluten in the loaf, as oppose to strengthen it as with wheat.

 

Seeded Spelt Bread

The Bits – For one large loaf (10-12 slices)

500g spelt flour

1 teas yeast

1 1/3 teas salt

1 tbs malted rice extract (or sweetener of choice)

2 tbs rapeseed oil (plus extra for brushing)

2 handfuls mixed seeds (choose from poppy, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp etc)

350ml warm water

 

Do It

In a large mixing bowl add the flour, seeds, salt and yeast.  Stir the sweetener into the water and gradually pour the water into the flour mix. Mixing it in with your hand or a wooden spoon.   Once all of the water is combined and a dough is formed add the oil and brush/ rub all the excess dough on your hands/ spoon back into the bowl and begin to knead the dough.

If your bowl is big enough, its possible to knead it in the bowl.  Otherwise turn out onto a cool surface, ideally lightly oiled.  Knead, it will be quite sticky, don’t worry, just give a good twist and pummel.  A lightly film of oil on your hands helps with the stickiness.  Work it!  Imagine you’re a kid again playing with food.  Its fun!  Give it roughly a couple of minutes kneading.  When the dough is smooth and pliant, you’re ready.

Form a ball and lightly oil it all over, in the bowl, lightly cover with a kitchen cloth and leave in a place that is slightly warmer than room temperature for 45 minutes.  The warmer it is, the more the yeast will come to life, so keep your eye on it.  The key is that the dough doubles in size.

A nicely shaped spelt dough ball, ready for its first prove

A nicely shaped spelt dough ball, ready for its first prove

Now knock it back (or knead it again).  Basically knocking the bubbles out of the bread and getting the gluten going even more.  This will all add to the firm and chewy texture of the loaf.  Form a rough and fat ball.  It will spread out, so tall is good.

Sprinkle or roll the dough in seeds if you like.  Grab an oven tray lined with baking parchment and place your dough on it and leave to prove for 35 minutes, until the dough has almost doubled in size (ideally, in a very perfect world, leaving just a little room for expanding in the oven).

Preheat an oven to 200oc and place a baking tray on a lower shelf.

The loaf ready for its final 35 minute prove

The loaf ready for its final 35 minute prove

This is spelt so the loaf may now look like a fat pizza base.  This is fine.  Using your hands or a spatula, gently form the loaf back together into the shape you prefer, pushing it and tucking it in.  You don’t want to handle it much at all at this stage.  A bit of gentle persuasion is best.  The loaf will be quite thin, nothing like a sphere but should not resemble a gorgeous, 2D frisbee.

Pour a couple of cups of water into a the now hot oven tray (lots of steam) and pop the loaf into the oven on a middle shelf.

(The tray steaming step is not essential).

Bake for 40-45 minutes.  Tap the base, it should sound nice and hollow with a good crust.  If this is not the case, pop it back in for another five minutes and repeat the process.

Lovely light spelt loaf with a good thick crust

Lovely light spelt loaf with a good thick crust

Once baked, leave the loaf on a wire rack (with a few inches of clearance underneath, too close to the surface and you’ll end up with a soggy bottom, which is never pleasant).  I give it at least 30 minutes before tucking in.  If you are in a hurry to cool the loaf down, cut in half or quarters.  This will release the steam making the loaf cool much quicker.

Serve

Makes a brilliant slice of toast and is ideal with soups especially.  I like it best warm with a drizzle of nice rapeseed oil or a little pot of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Just a quick dip in that and then………woahhhhhh!  Lovely stuff.

Foodie Fact

Spelt is a good source of protein, dietary fibre, some B vitamins and minerals, especially manganese with good levels of iron.  It makes for a highly nutritious loaf.

Categories: Baking, Healthy Eating, photography, Recipes, Vegan, Wales | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The big chocolate tasting and the thrills of real cacao

Mid chocolate scoff/ tasting

In the library at Trigonos – Mid chocolate tasting

Come join our chocolate feast!!!!  A group of dedicated chocolate enthusiasts (and keen amateurs) gathered together and tasted some of the best chocolate around.  We tried the finest single estate cacao, raw chocolate and some delicious milk chocolate and I’d like to share our findings and the thrills and joys of real cacao!  Definitely not your average chocolate.

There is a huge difference between a quality chocolate and what we normally find in the shops and we had the rare privilege of trying them all back-to-back and finding out what kind of chocoholic we were!  Some like chocolate with caramel notes, some prefer cacao with a hint of summer berries and we pretty much all loved the wild orange flavour.  Here are the results of an intensive tasting session involving some of Jane and I’s favourite chocolate producers.

One of the cooking demos at the vegan cooking retreat

One of the cooking demos at the vegan cooking retreat – Photo by Ashley Duckerin

We were lucky enough to host this chocolate tasting at our recent vegan cooking retreat.  Having assembled some of the most brilliant chocolate around we all tried to eat a small breakfast in preparation for the chocolate onslaught that lay ahead.  How could we fit it all in!?  There is no spitting chocolate out a la wine tasting (that would be way too gruesome and messy).  This was a stamina event for serious chocolate fanatics and aficionados only.

So much glorious chocolate on one table!!!

So much glorious chocolate on one table!!!

In reality, it wasn’t quite that dramatic.  There was a lot of nibbling going on and plenty of uuuuuuuuming and aaaaaaaaahhhing (in a good way).  A variety of ecstatic yelps and the occasional ooooooooh (thats normally a very good sign).  One thing is for sure, we had some clear winners that shone through and brought much smiles and happiness.

This choc-a-thon saw us taste a variety of chocolate from Willie’s Cacao, Ethicoco, Pana Chocolate and Choco Mama.  These guys are making some of the very best chocolate available in the UK.  I’d also like to mention Essy & Bella’s chocolate, who were definitely going to feature (we love em!) but time caught up on us.

Willie's Cacao specialise in sourcing amazing cacao beans and allowing their individual characters to shine through.

Willie’s Cacao specialise in sourcing amazing cacao beans and allowing their individual characters to shine through.

So let the tasting begin…..

DARK CHOCOLATE WINNER – WILLIE’S CACAO PERUVIAN GOLD ‘CHULUCANAS 70’

We started with unflavoured, unadulterated dark chocolate.  Pure, simple and potentially, absolutely sublime.  For me, as a slight chocolate snob (I am a cook after all) this is where chocolate begins and ends.  I love all chocolate, but this is its purest expression.  All the flavour of the cacao is there (hopefully) and we were lucky enough to be in contact with the wonderful Willie’s Cacao who supplied some sensational, single estate, chocolate bars especially for the purpose of sampling a range of cacao from different regions and countries.  We could really taste how the specific location of the cacao estate affected the flavour of the final bar.

It was clear that Willie’s had the dark chocolate comp covered with bars from Peru, Venezuela, Madagascar, Columbia and Indonesia.  Willie compares good cacao beans to fine wines, each estate capable of producing beans with unique, stunning and individual flavours.  Willie’s Cacao uses just raw sugar cane and natural cacao butter, no soya lecithin that can impair flavour.  Willie even owns a cacao estate in Venezuela and visits all the farms that supply his beans.  I love his approach and passion for chocolate.

It is a rare privilege to taste high quality products back to back, you can really appreciate the difference in flavours and textures.  Willie’s range of dark chocolate it stunning and it was difficult to pick a winner.  Eventually the Peruvian Gold ‘Chulucanas 70‘ came out on top with its distinct raisin-like flavour and deep, dark cacao taste.  A tiny piece is like a taste explosion in the mouth!

Really, all of Willie’s chocolate is a delight, with the pure taste of exceptional cacao in each bar.  He really does make chocolate from ‘bean to bar’ which many producers talk about, but few are scouring the jungles of Latin America and the world seeking new and interesting cacao beans.  Picking a favourite, well it really just depends of how you feel that day, there are flavours like caramel, nut, berries, fruits in each bar.  You’ll just have to have your own chocolate tasting to try the all!

(I have to say that my favourite Willie’s chocolate is the Indonesian Gold ‘Javan Dark Breaking 69’ which didn’t even make it to the tasting.  Very irresponsible of me, it just disappeared somewhere on route. In the car. YUM.)

The intrepid group of chocolate tasters and ace vegan cooks! Photo by Ashley Duckerin

The intrepid group of chocolate tasters and ace vegan cooks! Photo by Ashley Duckerin 

RAW AND FLAVOURED CHOCOLATES – WINNER PANA CHOCOLATE FIG AND WILD ORANGE

We then dove straight into the raw and flavoured chocolates and this was an equally difficult and exhaustive process, with repeat tastings needed to decided a winner (nobody seemed to mind this at all!)  Extra tea was drafted in….  We liked Choco Mama’s Mulberry Crunch flavour an interesting texture and dried mulberries are rarely seen in the UK.  Choco Mama is a small company based in glorious North Wales and we love trying their range of chocolate from our local health food store.  Their chocolate is hand made in small batches with fair trade cacao form co-ops in Bali and Peru.

choco mama

An interesting range of raw and fair trade chocolate made in Wales

However the clear winner in this section was Pana Chocolate’s Fig and Wild Orange.  They already produce a wonderful selection of chocolates with creative and surprising flavours and it seems that there are even more coming soon (I just checked out their website, Hemp and Nib is looking good).  The Fig and Wild Orange flavour received the the most votes by a long way and like all Pana Chocolate is so rich and silky.  We all loved the fragrant orange flavour coming from the orange essential oils.

Pana Chocolate make 'Chocolate that loves what’s within, as well as the earth it came from.'

Pana Chocolate make ‘Chocolate that loves what’s within, as well as the earth it came from.’

Ethicoco’s rich and creamy bar did gather quite a few votes but the majority of people were part of the dark chocolate persuasion and it was always up against it.  As a change, we will definitely be buying a few bars for a rainy day.  I also love the sound of their Chai Latte Flavour and at VegFest this year in London, I tried their range of dark chocolate which was also delicious.  We found that the oat milk makes this bar so creamy and it is not overly sweet, something I cannot forgive in a chocolate bar.  I like to taste the cacao not the sugar!  Ethicoco know their way around a top bar of chocolate for sure.

An aerial view of Trigonos taken from a drone (piloted by one of the course attendees), the retreat centre where the cooking workshop was held - North Wales

An aerial view of Trigonos taken from a drone (piloted by one of the course attendees), the retreat centre where the cooking workshop was held – North Wales – Photo by Ashley Duckerin

HOT CHOCOLATE HEAVEN

To top everything off with yet another dollop of chocolaty happiness, during our story telling evening with Claire, we made a massive bubbling pot of hot chocolate using a block of Willie’s 100% Venezuelan Black Cacao.  You basically grate the entire block (if you’re making for fifteen) over a pan of water and bring to a simmer.  The cacao does need cooking through for a while to allow it to melt and become silky smooth.  You can add some almond milk, but it’s creamy and rich as it is and is packed with pure cacao goodness.  As Willie says “Coffee is a poor mans hot chocolate” and when you try this hot chocolate, you can really see why.  The flavour is intense and the aroma, totally sensational.

I love using cacao in savoury cooking like stews and pies.  There is a ‘Smoked Chocolate and Beetroot Beans’ recipe in Peace & Parsnips which contains very dark chocolate.  You can try adding a few teaspoons of cocoa to a Mexican-style stew, it brings a new and interesting flavour to a bowlful of your favourite beans and goes especially well with smoked paprika or chipotle chillies.

cyl-venezuelan-carenero--e1427891943355

There is a rumour going round that bottles of rum where planted around the library at strategic points and this somehow made it into the hot chocolate.  I have no idea how that happened?!  So the scene is…..an open fire, a group of new friends, a wonderful story unfolding and a mug of rum laced hot chocolate from Venezuela…….it was a very special evening and the best possible way to spend the last night of our retreat.  We all had rosy cheeks and slept like babies.

So tasting chocolate is a hit (we thought it might be!) We couldn’t think of a better way to round off our vegan cooking retreat, with all those whoops and occasional sounds of sheer delight!  Great chocolate does that!!  Highlighting the power that brilliant, plant-based food can have on us.  It can bring so much joy and I’d like to thank all the chocolate suppliers for packing so much flavour, care, love and happiness into each little bar of chocolate.  It was all very much appreciated.

A cacao pod

A cacao pod – where every chocolate bar begins…

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF REAL CACAO

Cacao has been known as the ‘Food of the Gods’ for centuries in the Americas and it’s easy to see why.  The cacao tree produces big pods, where the cacao beans hide and grow.  Inside each cacao bean there is a cacao nib (for chocolate) and cacao butter (for chocolate, cosmetics etc).  Most chocolates are made with extra cacao butter, or things like soya lecithin, added to make the bar smooth.

Cacao is very high in anti-oxidants and essential nutrients although many of these can be lost when processed into chocolate or cocoa.  Some of the apparent health benefits of eating cacao are lowering high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, asthma, diarrhea, preventing wrinkles, liver, bladder and kidney disorders and many more.

The cacao bean is packed full of antioxidants, good fats, carbohydrates, protein, minerals like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc and potassium.  They also contain oleic acid which is a heart-healthy essential mono unsaturated fat, fiber and vitamins E, B2, B1, B5, B3 and B9 as well as small quantities of vitamin A and C.  We think it’s incredible that something as decadent as chocolate, especially raw chocolate, is so wonderfully healthy.

——————————————-

FULL CHOCOLATE TASTING RESULTS – TRIGONOS 4/3/16

Pana Chocolate – Fig and Wild Orange – 15 points

Willie’s – Peruvian Gold ‘Chulucanas 70’ – 5 points

Willie’s – Venezuelan Gold ‘Rio Carabe 72’ – 2 points

Choco Mama’s – Mulberry Crunch – 2 points

Ethicoco – Ugandan Oat Milk and Raisin – 2 points

Pana Chocolate – Nut – 2 points

Willie’s – Venezulean Gold ‘Las Trincheras 72’ – 2 points

Willie’s – Madagascan Gold ‘Sambirano 71’ – 1 point

Willie’s – Columbian Gold ‘Los Llanos 88’ – 1 point

——-

Willie’s – 100% Venezuelan Black Carenero Cacao (as hot chocolate) – Many, many points…….(plus extras with a glug of rum)

Thanks again to Willie’s Cacao, Ethicoco and Pana Chocolate for sending chocolate across to the BHK.  It is always wonderful to sample on the blog the products that we enjoy so much.

PS – Although Willie’s is not certified as vegan, I have spoken to them and they assure me that their dark chocolate it totally vegan.  

Categories: Cooking Retreats, healthy, Nutrition, Organic, photography, Raw Food, Vegan, Wales | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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