I have little restraint when it comes to food that I can convince myself is healthy. This includes dates, malt loaf and pistachio nuts. Oh and yoghurt-coated apricots. That’s just yoghurt and fruit, right? I recently realised I’ve been spending a small fortune on tiny jars of cashew nut butter, as I scoff down the calorie-dense paste by the spoonful, straight from the jar. I’ve toured round all the different nut butters, including the slightly bizarre apricot kernel butter, and decided that my top two are definitely almond and cashew. But the fact remains that to buy them is horrendously expensive. So I found a recipe and decided to have a bash at making some.
Making my own almond butter wouldn’t be financially viable without Scoop Away, which is an amazing wholefood shop where you literally scoop everything into bags, which is then priced by weight. When I first discovered the shop, I went a bit over the top, buying lots of random things that I had never seen before, such as yoghurt coated honeycomb, in industrial quantities. Even now I visit the shop weekly, and have to reign myself in when faced with the yoghurt- coated section. So I scooped what seemed like a reasonable amount of almonds into a bag, later realising that I had bought over double the quantity needed for the nut butter, having lost all sense of proportion when scooping.
Making almond butter is ludicrously simple. You need a powerful food processor to get the creamy consistency, and simply roast the nuts in the oven for a few minutes, then put them in the food processor and leave them to it. I was convinced that it wasn’t going to work at first, as I just had ground almonds whizzing round the processor bowl for the first ten minutes. But then, suddenly, the oil is released and the almond powder mushes together to form the butter. One of my favourite things to do with the butter (other than eat it straight from the jar) is to stuff pitted Medjool dates with a spoonful, then put them in the fridge to set. In my experience, it’s impossible to eat less than five of these in one sitting.
When Paris and I cook together, we make a lot of wholesome, healthy things. Like, a lot. There has been beetroot falafel, chargrilled apricots with chard and cous-cous, quinoa porridge…and those are just the ones we blog about. There has been many a grain salad Tuesday (#gst) in which we discuss our upcoming blog collaboration over various disgustingly virtuous, vegetable-based creations.
But just occasionally, a hankering for something a bit less holy raises its head. More specifically, something that contains (stage whisper) sugar. Not even brown sugar, which for some reason seems healthier than white. No, this cake was made with the sin of all sins that is white refined sugar. The hashtag #refinedsugarfree will most definitely not apply. So there.
This recipe is vegan, so all is not lost. Mashed banana and oil seem to do the trick of binding all the ingredients together, giving a convincing cake texture. It is denser than a cake made by beating the hell out of butter and sugar, but with a banana cake I feel that a bit of density goes with the territory. This is a great way of using up those bruised, blackened bananas lurking at the bottom of the fruit bowl (although a few were so far gone that we had to admit defeat and consign them to the compost).
Have a gander at Avocado Please.
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.
I was having a gentle browse through my food cupboard the other day, as I often like to do on an evening, and I realised that have 5 different kinds of nuts. Not to mention two different kinds of nut butter. This strikes me as quite excessive. But nuts, in my opinion, are a great addition to any meal. I have always been a devoted fan of peanut butter. The wholenut, crunchy variety in particular. I’ve recently discovered the joys of cashew nut butter, which is a whole new level of amazingness. You can only buy it in tiny, and ludicrously expensive, jars. But man is it worth it.
This is yet another vegan miracle. Frozen bananas whizzed up in a blender make ice cream. No joke. It’s apparently quite a thing, and has it’s own hashtag on Instagram (#nanaicecream). This is what Paris and I made to go with our chocolate and beetroot muffins. The first time we tried it the bananas weren’t frozen enough, so it melted into a sloppy mush, and I remained skeptical. But on the second try, with really well frozen bananas, it worked. The bananas get broken up into small pellets, and then when mixed with the tahini and cashew butter they form a deliciously creamy ice cream – without any cream.
It’s quite a revelation to be able to wolf down copious amounts of something that greatly resembles ice cream without much consideration for calories. A liberating experience, as far as ice cream goes. Considering the ‘ice cream’ is ninety percent banana, there isn’t an overwhelming banana taste. The cashew nut flavour complements the banana really well, and the occasional crunch of a nut is all the more welcome. And it’s pretty much guilt free.
If someone had said to me a year ago that I would bake a vegan muffin that tasted ‘just like the real thing’ I would have given a derisory snort of disbelief. But in my new wholesome existence, thanks in no small part to becoming friends with Paris (the founder of the lifestyle website called Avocado Please, nonetheless), I have opened my mind to the possibility that you can bake something delicious without butter. Yes, some things will always need dairy – cheese scones for example – but muffins, I have recently discovered, are not one of them.
For our last Vegessential recipe using beetroot, we opted for the well-known and loved combination of chocolate and beetroot. We used a combination of ‘Beyond Dark’ 85% chocolate chips and melted chocolate, for a double whammy of the good stuff. The beetroot gives a deep, rich flavour and provides the moistness that is so essential for a good muffin. There is a ‘secret’ ingredient that flummoxed everyone who tried to guess it: avocado. This binds the mixture together, and gives the muffins a smooth, buttery texture. Paris sums the muffins up rather well, describing them as combining ‘a vibrant purple complexion, an earthy aroma and nutritional brilliance’. Well said, Paris.
The styling team (me and Paris) had great fun creating ‘muffin chaos’ shots on my bedroom floor, arranging bits of muffin haphazardly in amongst chocolate chips and beetroot leaves. The chocolate drops melted in the sweltering July heat, leaving shiny little circles on the slate that we gleefully scooped into our mouths once we’d finished the shoot. That thing that is slopped on the side of the muffins is a rather remarkable banana and cashew ice cream (recipe coming soon.)
You can find the recipe on Avocado Please here.
You will require a muffin tin and an open mind.
I wanted to make something to stave off the inevitable hunger pangs that reliably hit around 4pm everyday. I have started eating fruit when this happens, which helps to a certain extent, but I inevitably also follow it with random handfuls of dried fruit, nuts and seeds. So I decided to combine these into a snack that would give me energy, whilst also being substantial enough to keep me going until dinner. It is also a desperate bid to get rid of a jar of ground mixed seeds that I have hanging around, which I am not particularly fond of – I end up finding small pieces of hemp seed painfully lodged in my gums after sprinkling them on my morning porridge.
I tipped pretty much the entire contents of my food cupboard into these – beginning with oats and mashed banana, then joyfully pouring in the ground seeds, tahini, peanut butter, cashew nuts, ground almonds, and anything else that needed finishing off. I also found some dried sour cherries hidden behind the pasta that I had bought on a whim several months ago, then completely forgotten about. I opened them and discovered, after chomping down on one rather hard, that they still contained their stones. So I spent a rather tedious hour soaking the cherries in boiling water, then popping out each stone individually.
This sort of thing is all the rage among the nutrition and exercise obsessed, who see them as the perfect ‘post-workout’ snack. There are numerous versions of homemade ‘energy bites’ and ‘high-protein snack bars’ out there, with increasingly ridiculous names – the best one I found was ‘healthy almond joy protein bars’. No joke. This version is raw, which gets a whole host of people on board. ‘Raw’ food is seen as superior by its advocates, as cooking is thought to ‘denature proteins’ amongst other evil things. I’m not prepared to jump on that bandwagon just yet (well, never), but I simply wanted to see if everything would stick together without the need to cook it, more out of laziness than health concern. Turns out it did, although they were much easier to shape into balls than press into bars, leading to the dubious name of ‘seed balls’.
My friend Sally is a committed vegan. Although I would never want to adopt it as a lifestyle choice, I have recently begun to relish the challenge of vegan cookery. It’s fair to say that some experiments have come out better than others- this one was more successful, and more edible, than the green tea tofu ‘cheesecake’ disaster.
Main courses are relatively straightforward – we made a lovely Japanese vegetable curry with coconut milk – but it’s desserts and cakes that present more of a challenge. It makes you realise what a vital role eggs play in binding ingredients together and helping things to rise. The strategy I opted for here was to use almond milk to bind, and baking powder to help with rising, but it is still quite dense.
This torte is quite intensely chocolatey (chocolate being the primary ingredient), so needs to be served in modest slices. Some soya cream would be a good accompaniment to lighten things up a bit. The caramelised almond topping adds a pleasing crunch as a contrast to all the gooey chocolate beneath – you can use either honey or agave syrup depending on how much of a hardcore vegan you are.