Recipe: Falafel-stuffed Roast Tomatoes

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I adore falafel, but I don’t adore having to fry them all the time. I was looking for a way to cook them with less fat. I was considering baking them, but worried about them drying out. Then I hit upon the idea of stuffing tomatoes with the falafel mix and then roasting the tomatoes.

Though I say it myself, it was one of my better ideas. You get all the flavour of fresh falafel (and there is nothing better), the mix is soft and moist inside the tomato and then crispy and crunchy where it sits on top. Also, no frying smell! If you want to make falafel for a dinner party, you don’t have to start frying them at the last minute while you guests are there. If your falafel always fall apart on you, this if fool-proof!

Fat-free, fool proof falafel? It might start a trend!

Falafel stuffed tomatoes photo DSCN1702_zpsb07925bc.jpg

Ingredients
100g chickpeas (dry weight), soaked overnight in water
1/2 red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 handful fresh parsley
salt & pepper
6 medium tomatoes
olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Add the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, chilli, cumin, coriander and parsley to a food processor.
Chop until finely textured.
Season with salt and pepper.
Slice the stalk end off the tomatoes and hollow out the inside.
If the tomatoes won’t stand up, carefully cut a little bit off the end to make them stable.
Fill each tomato with the falafel mixture, with a little rounded heap on top to go crispy in the oven.
Put on an oiled baking sheet and place in the oven.
Roast for 30 minutes.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over them. Or don’t, if you want them fat-free.

Serves 2 as a light lunch with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Report: London Vegan Festival 2014

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I went to the London Vegan Festival held at Kensington Town Hall on 17th August. I’d never been to Kensington Town Hall so I was surprised to find 70s brick civic centre rather than Victorian mock gothic. It did mean that everything was nicely accessible, but they need to get the air conditioning fixed – the rooms were very hot.

There were three main exhibition rooms with a good showing of the usual Three Cs – Chocolate, Cosmetics and Campaigns. I come at Veg*nism from a food perspective, so the food stalls are all par for the course for me, but I will admit to being a little startled at seeing hunt saboteurs stalls.

Stalls that stood out for me as I shuffled round in the crowds (it was very busy!) were:

Conscious Chocolate, who produce vegan raw chocolate bars. Their Mint Hint bar has a lovely truffle texture with a nice level of mint flavour.

I kept on my personal campaign to find a vegan ‘cheese’ that doesn’t taste of sick. Vegusto had a stall and I have to say their cheese isn’t bad. It tastes of processed cheese, which is a step up on most of the competition I’ve tried. I came away with a tube of their No-Moo Melty. This does go soft when heat is applied and tastes like processed cheese. I wouldn’t rush back to it, but if you’re desperate for something cheesy this might fit the bill.

In addition to the stalls there were talks on various subjects related to veganism and animal rights/welfare. I went along to one given by Paul Gravett on “How Special Branch spied on the Animal Rights Movement”. Paul gave a good talk (mercifully powepoint free!) about his experience of the members of Special Branch who infiltrated the animal rights movement in the 80s and 90s. It was interesting and a little chilling to find out just how plausible these infiltrators were and deep they were in the organisations they were spying on. They weren’t just sitting in meetings and taking notes, they were organising the meetings, running the mailing lists and driving people to demos and actions. As a side note, if you’re running any kind of movement, watch out for helpful men with vans – this was a common factor in several of the infiltrators.

One thing that struck me at the festival was not only how many people attended, I’m sure it must have been over a thousand, but the range of people. All ages, all classes (by the clothing) and all ethnicities. Any idea that veg*nism is a white, middle-class thing can be completely dispelled by standing outside and watching who goes in. This is a far more diverse movement than you might think from press coverage.

Recipe: Potato, avocado and dill salad

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I love potato salads, but I don’t always want the creamy or mayonnaise dressing that frequently goes with them. This one uses creamy avocado instead. The lemon cuts through the richness with just the right amount of acidity and the dill adds it’s fragrant mellowness as a high note.

A handful of ingredients, very little prep and a great taste at the end of it. This is my kind of cooking.

Potato, avocado & dill salad photo DSCN1686_zpsa1dec079.jpg

Ingredients
250g new potatoes, cooked and chopped into bitesize pieces
1 avocado, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Mix together thoroughly until the avocado starts to break down and little and coat the potatoes.

Serves 2 as a side salad

Recipe: Vegetarian Piedmontese Peppers

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There was a time in the mid-late 90s when this roasted pepper dish was ubiquitous at British dinner parties. It featured in St Delia’s Summer Collection TV series and book, but I don’t think that’s why it was so popular. It’s because it’s a simple, delicious recipe with great flavours and is very forgiving as a starter. You can prepare it well in advance. If the guests are late an extra ten minutes in the oven will not mar it, or you can take it out and it will taste just as good cold as hot and every temperature in between. It featured in the first dinner party I ever gave.

It’s taken me a while to post this recipe, principally because I needed to find a substitute for the anchovies that pack such an umami punch in the original. I decided to use a mixture of capers and olives a la grecque and they work very well indeed. If you can’t get olives a la grecque then black olives would do, but you’d have to add some salt before cooking.

I don’t normally use extra virgin olive oil in cooking, but this is one time where you want your best ingredients. It’s not one for a low-fat diet, either I’m afraid. I have tried it without the oil and it just doesn’t work.

Piedmontese Peppers photo DSCN1682_zps2fd354cf.jpg

Ingredients
2 red peppers
2 medium tomatoes, skinned and halved
4 olives a la grecque, chopped
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, sliced
8 tsp extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
4 basil leaves

Heat the oven to 180C.
Take each pepper and cut in half lengthwise through the stalk.
Keep the stalk on each half, but scoop out the seeds and white pith.
Put the halved peppers in a shallow roasting tin, cut side up.
Divide the tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and olive oil into four and fill each half pepper.
Sprinkle with black pepper, but no salt if you’re using olives a la grecque
Put in the oven and roast for 45-60 mins, checking after 45 mins to make sure they’re not burning or going dry.
Serve with a basil leaf on each half with the juices poured over.

Serves 2 as a starter with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices

Review: Veggie pub food

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Every time I see Tom Kerridge doing his jolly ‘mine host’ act, I want to throw something at the TV. This is the man who proclaims he produces proper pub food. But if you go and look on the website for his pub, there’s not a single vegetarian main course on it. Oh, apparently a (note the singular) vegetarian option is available on request. And he’s been challenged on it before and claims he works with the customer if they contact the pub in advance. Sod that for a game of soldiers – I want to arrive somewhere for lunch without having to turn it into a military operation.

Vegetarians of a certain age will remember the wars of attrition with pubs, where you either got cheese and tomato pizza and liked it, or the snooty ‘Oh, we’re far too busy to cater for vegetarians.” I’ve flounced out of more pubs in a strop than you’ve had hot dinners!

I’m not a great pub person, as I don’t drink much, and I hate noisy places where I can’t hear what people are saying. But of late I’ve been taking far more notice of what pubs offer veggies.

This not very scientific survey started at the Hunter’s Lodge in deepest Somerset. This is truly the pub that time forgot. It’s a cavers’ pub and it doesn’t look like the décor has been touched since about 1952. But the food does what it says on the tin. The tasty cauliflower cheese comes with hunks of bread the size of doorsteps. The cheese and onion roll has exactly that – about an inch of each. The menu’s not long, but it’s good, hearty rib-sticking food – and perfect if you’ve been grovelling around in caves under the Mendips.

Good, rib-sticking cauliflower cheese at the Hunter's Lodge

Good, rib-sticking cauliflower cheese at the Hunter’s Lodge

I spent a couple of days in London last week. On the second night, Anth and I met at the pub right opposite the museum, the Museum Tavern, where the clientele always seems to be a mix of tourists and museum folk. I think Anth was wondering why I was so keen to eat there. It was because I wanted their vegetarian fish and chips, which I’d had on a previous visit when my eating companion then had gone for the fish and chips – and I got unreasonably excited at trying the veggie version. The ‘fish’ is battered halloumi marinated in lemon and coriander. And very nice it was too, with a light batter, decent fat chips and peas (mushy or garden).

Veggie 'fish' and chips at the Museum Tavern

Veggie ‘fish’ and chips at the Museum Tavern

One of the things I can never understand about pubs is how some of them make such heavy weather of vegetarian food. The Railway Inn in Cheltenham – known to me and my mates as the sausage and mash pub – is an example of how to make everyone happy with the minimum of effort. And yes, the menu is mainly sausages and mash. There’s a choice of getting on for 20 sausages, of which three or four are vegetarian. You then choose from four or five different types of mash. Then there’s either meat or veggie gravy. And you can add baked beans or peas for an extra quid. The food comes garnished with parsnip crisps, and you get a selection of mustards brought to the table. It’s one of my favourite places to go.

Sausages and mash at the Railway Inn

Sausages and mash at the Railway Inn

With Sunday lunches, I want something tasty as my main, served with roast potatoes and plenty of vegetables. I got taken to the Bell Inn in Shurdington on the edge of Cheltenham by my dad and stepmother for a birthday treat. My eyes lit up when I saw that the veggie option on the roast menu was spinach, feta and pine nut Wellington, with a spicy tomato sauce. And yes, yes, proper roast potatoes and a bowl of decent mixed veg (broccoli, cauliflower, mange tout, carrot and swede).

Sunday lunch at the Bell Inn

Sunday lunch at the Bell Inn

Sometimes you don’t want sun-dried tomatoes, fannied around with squash, or goat’s cheese. You want whatever your meat-eating mates are having.

The Hunter’s Lodge Inn
Priddy, Somerset

The Museum Tavern
49 Great Russell Street, London

The Railway Inn
New Street, Cheltenham

The Bell Inn
Shurdington Road, Cheltenham

Recipe: Courgette Salad with Thai Dressing

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This is a lightning quick salad to produce, even quicker if you don’t skin the broad beans.

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Ingredients
For the Dressing
Juice of half a lime
1 small red chilli, chopped
1cm slice of fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar

For the Salad
250g broad bean pods
1 Courgette, grated
2 spring onions, chopped
75g mangetout, sliced
1 tbsp chopped mint
2 tbsp chopped coriander

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl and leave to stand.
Simmer the shelled broad beans for no more than 5 minutes.
Put the beans in cold water and then slip the skins off.
Add the courgette, beans, spring onion, mangetout and herbs into a bowl.
Spoon over the dressing and toss thoroughly.

Serves 2 as a side salad

Recipe: Summer Hand Rolls with Mango and Peanut Sauce

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I love spring rolls, but they’re not the healthiest of options as they’re deep fried. Summer rolls, hold no such worries and, with a supply of rice paper wrappers (available at bigger supermarkets) are easy to make at home.

Allegedly.

Actually, making them at home makes you realise how mean the filling has to be if you want the rolls to close properly. And you have to have pretty good origami skills to make them. This has tended to put me off making them. Then I found a picture of summer rolls that were open at one end. They looked a lot easier to make (just as sushi hand rolls take a lot of the terror out of making sushi at home) and were just so fresh and vibrant that I had to give them a go.

The fillings for the rolls are what I had in the fridge at the time, so use the recipe as a guideline rather than a fixed standard. If you didn’t have mango for the dipping sauce, a ripe peach or nectarine would do just as well. If you don’t want to make rolls, the sauce would be great with a plate of crudités.

Summer Hand Rolls photo DSCN1671_zps77bd5306.jpg

Ingredients
For the dipping sauce:
1/2 mango, finely chopped
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbps vinegar (wine or cider)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
1 birdseye chilli, chopped
1 tsp sesame oil

For the rolls
4 rice paper spring/summer roll wrappers
1/2 medium carrot, chopped into matchsticks
1/2 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
Handful of watercress
5cm piece of cucumber, deseeded and thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
6 mangetout, sliced
1 stem of mint leaves, roughly chopped

Put all the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

Half-fill a wide bowl or deep plate with hand-hot water.
Dip a rice paper wrapper in the water and hold for a few seconds until it starts to go a little flexible.
Remove the wrapper from the water and put on a clean surface.
Place a few of each of the vegetables in the centre.
Fold over three sides of the wrapper leaving one side open.
Repeat for each of the other wrappers.
Serve alongside the dipping sauce.

Serves 2 as a starter (but not at an elegant meal!)