I attempted Veganuary this year. I lasted three days. But the reason for my downfall was not the aching lack of bacon or creamy yoghurt, but milk. And, more specifically, milk in tea. Say what you will, almond milk just doesn’t taste the same. As I drink on average about five cups of tea a day, this was a bit of a problem. I have been trying to consume less dairy, so have almond milk on cereal, but I realised pretty quickly that completely cutting out dairy was going to be a challenge that I didn’t particularly want to deal with. Especially alongside dry January, which is going much better (apart from an ill-considered encounter with a boozy tiramisu, which I’m not sure counts).
However, I am trying to eat more vegetables, and less meat. This seems to be more problematic for people to grasp than just saying you’re a vegetarian. I do eat meat, I’m just deliberately trying to eat less. I have recently found myself inadvertently cooking vegetarian and vegan food, as I’m focusing on vegetables as the centerpiece of the dish, rather than meat. This beetroot dip is laughably easy, and a great way to shoehorn lots of raw veg into an easily digestible form. It can be eaten as it is, with toasted pittas to scoop it up with, or as part of a salad with some grilled halloumi, maybe. The nigella seeds (not marketed by Ms. Lawson, they’re also known as ‘black onion seeds’) are optional, as they can be hard to get your hands on. We found some and thought they’d act as a brilliant colour contrast to the vibrant purple of the beetroot.
Cauliflower has never held much of an appeal for me: the boiled, bland florets often taste of nothing much. But Ottolenghi, the God that he is, has revolutionized the vegetable for me via the simple suggestion of roasting it. The gently charred edges give the cauliflower a delicious smokiness that makes them take on a completely different taste than when they’re cooked in any other way. Ottolenghi combines roasted cauliflower with pomegranate seeds, celery and all manner of interesting embellishments in his salads, but I’ve gone for a more simple approach.
Romanesco is the Italian cousin of the common cauliflower, yet much more exciting. It’s vibrant green spikes mean that it barely looks edible, but is in fact delicious. This is a laughably simple recipe. Given the Italian origin of Romanesco, I stuck to a broadly Italian theme, combining it with punchy garlic, lemon and crunchy hazelnuts. The garlic and lemon are added at the end, letting the heat of the roasting tin cook them slightly, but not too much, so they retain a bit of a punch.
1 head of Romanesco cauliflower
60g whole hazelnuts
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C. Divide the Romanesco into florets and put in a roasting dish. Drizzle over 1 tbsp olive oil, a splash of water and some salt and pepper. Roast for half an hour. Put the whole hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the top shelf of the oven for 8 minutes, until the skins are starting to crack and peel away. Rub off the skins by rolling the nuts in a clean tea towel. Roughly crush them in a pestle and mortar, then mix into the cauliflower. Whisk together the lemon juice and zest and crushed garlic with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Pour over the cauliflower and stir, allowing the heat of the roasting tin to cook the garlic slightly.
One of the many good things about this collaboration is working with someone who knows the perils of trying to fit a food blog around a full time job. I’ve been doing lots of food photography for my new job (more on that in a later post), meaning that I’m finding it difficult to summon the energy to also do it in my spare time. Paris and I decided to fit in our next Vegessential session one evening after work. We were both knackered, and were seriously contemplating not bothering, but we ploughed on. It was then that we realised that there being two of us makes the whole process much easier.
One of the many up-sides of doing a post together is you’ve got someone to help you make all the decisions. It made me realise the sheer amount of decisions involved – about ingredients, quantities, cooking methods, camera angles and styling. It’s great to have someone to offer their opinion on the exact placement of a piece of torn pitta, or an errant pomegranate seed. In fact, we spent the majority of the time precisely arranging the pomegranate seeds to look artfully scattered.
Armed with our trusty beetroot once again, we set about making beetroot falafel. I’ve never had this before, but Paris has, and assured me that it’s delicious. It was. Basically, you just whack everything in a food processor and whizz briefly until it comes together, then roll into balls and fry. We seriously contemplated leaving them raw, as we had to restrain ourselves from eating all of the mix before it was fried. But in the end went for a shallow fry in sunflower oil, until the outside edges began to crisp up. The real winning ingredient was the dates, giving the falafel a sweetness that complemented the beetroot really well. Have a look at Paris’ post on Avocado Please here.
I have just got back from a very spontaneous trip to Portugal. So spontaneous that I didn’t know I was going until about three days before I went. One of the nice things about this is that it avoids all the pre-holiday anticipation, which inevitably peaks just before you go, leaving the actual arrival slightly anti-climactic. In this case, I was boarding the plane from a satisfyingly rainy Bristol before I knew it.
Usually, I at least try and learn a few words of the language before I go abroad – as it irritates me when some British people insist on speaking English everywhere (‘ham, egg and chips please, mate’) without the slightest consideration of the local culture. Not having time to learn much Portuguese beforehand, I had to hastily cram in the essentials on the plane ride over. ‘Por favor’, ‘Obrigada’, and ‘Desculpe’ (please, thank you and sorry) seemed to suffice in most situations.
We stayed on a beach hut, actually on the beach (they weren’t lying), which was a mere five minutes drive from Faro Airport. The beach is essentially an island in itself, separated from the mainland by a bridge, and contains a smattering of restaurants, one shop, and lots of beach huts dotted along it. It seemed to be a top spot for kite-surfing (you can just about see them in the bottom picture) so we had a very impressive display at just about Prosecco time every evening. We found a particularly good beach café bar, that was so good we returned every day. One of the main reasons for our frequent visits was the ‘gambas’: shell- on prawns swimming in fiery olive oil. They are always accompanied by mountains of bread, which increased in quality with each of our visits, to dunk in the bright red oil.
So the minute I got back, suffering twinges of withdrawal from not having had gambas in over twelve hours, I set about recreating them. I had bought back some chilli oil (piri-piri, just like in Nando’s, although slightly more authentic) and some peppery olive oil. I got some raw prawns from the local fishmonger and I was good to go. Using raw prawns definitely helps, although I find them slightly intimidating, as they produce a lovely juice that mingles with the olive oil. Not quite the same as when eaten on a Portuguese beach, but they’re still pretty delicious.
I have recently upped from the sticks and moved to Bristol. Having lived in a small, and I mean really tiny, village for the past year and a half, living in a city again is exciting. The fact that I can walk to one of many bars just around the corner, have a couple of pints, then walk home again, is a novelty that I’m still getting used to (i.e. doing at every opportunity).
One of my favourite things about exploring a new city is working out all the options when it comes to shopping for food. Luckily, I live near a fantastic road (Gloucester Road, for those in the know), with plenty of brilliant veg shops, butchers, delicatessens and wholefood shops. All you could ever need really. Living near shops is another novelty for a country bumpkin like me, as my nearest shop in Devon is a 15- minute drive away.
It was on one such trip to the veg shop that I found some of this lovely kale. I promptly bought a bag stuffed full of it, and set off home feeling a little smug. I love kale. My love for it preceded the Californian-superfood-make-a-breakfast- smoothie-out-of-it craze. My favourite way to cook it is like this – simply stir-fried with garlic and seasoned with soy sauce. The addition of walnuts is optional – you could use another nut or seed, such as almonds or sunflower seeds, or leave them out entirely. It was just my attempt at making this more of a ‘dish’.
One of my stocking fillers this year was an empty glass bottle with the words ‘Home-infused Olive Oil’ on it. Right, better get to it then. I decided to use the classic combination of punchy raw garlic and fragrant rosemary. The scent of rosemary is evocative, for me, of childhood summers spent running around the garden, pulling up reams of herbs and flowers in a very destructive manner.
The herb pot outside the back door has been stripped of its overflowing summer bounty by the inclement weather. However, the woody rosemary clings stubbornly on, its tough stems bracing against the fierce winter wind. I plucked the reluctant leaves from the plant, gave them a wash and squeezed them to release their aroma.
This is only one possible ‘infusion’- I have also tried chilli oil, where one or two (depending on your spice threshold) dried chillis are added to the oil. You could also try another herb, such as basil, oregano or thyme. The oil is best if left for at least a day to let the flavours infuse. As it is used, keep topping up with more oil, giving it a good shake, and it might even last until next Christmas.
When browsing on one of the many food blogs I follow, I came across a suggestion that the only way to really smooth hummus is to peel the chickpeas. That’s right PEEL the chickpeas. Your first reaction, as mine was, might well be that life’s too short. I even considered just putting in the recipe that you should peel the chickpeas, but chucking them in whole myself. But then, I guess that would be cheating.
So peel them I did (I’ve included a picture of my beautifully peeled chickpeas as proof of my efforts). You can actually get quite into the rhythm of squeezing the chickpeas and popping them out of their skins – although don’t do it when you’re in a rush, or you’ll probably just give up and bung them in whole.
This is not only the first time I’ve peeled chickpeas when making hummus, it’s also the first time I’ve measured all the ingredients – usually I just blend random amounts until it looks about right. I’ve made a few amendments to the basic hummus recipe of chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste) and olive oil, to make the result slightly more interesting. I’ve added roasted garlic and honey for sweetness, and wine wine vinegar for a bit of a kick.
I knocked up a batch of olive oil crackers to serve with the hummus. They are sprinkled with Nigella seeds – which, by the way, are also called kalonji black onion seeds. They are nothing whatsoever to do with Nigella Lawson, although she likes to pretend they are.