A plant-based feast for dinner. 

I wanted to push the boat out and make something really nice for dinner: It had to be healthy and a bit celebrational, a feast for the senses. I managed to buy some aubergines, one for each person, so I made a dish of zata’ar aubergine, salads and flatbreads. The main part of the dish, the roasted aubergine, is something my son thought up, having seen a version suggested by the chef Yotam Ottolenghi. (The original uses buttermilk or yogurt, so here is my plant-based  version!) Zata’ar is a lovely blend of strong herbs with a middle eastern flavour. These days it’s not too difficult to find in supermarkets and shops, and using a liberal sprinkling takes this dish to another level.

First of all, the flatbreads: I made a yeast starter with warm water, dried yeast and a teaspoonful of sugar and left it to ferment for ten minutes, then I mixed it into two cupfuls of strong flour, a pinch of salt, the juice and zest of a lemon (I love zest, so I put a whole lemon’s worth in, but adjust to your tastes), some chopped rosemary, two tablespoons of plant-based yogurt. I added a little water until it became a firm dough, kneaded it for ten minutes and left it for half an hour. (If it seems too slack or sticky, add a bit more flour. I’m assuming you have flour. I’ve improvised with oats milled in a food processor or gluten-free flour or rice flour, but strong flour gives best results if you can find some.)

As well as the dough for the flatbreads, I made the aubergine dressing in advance; I poured boiling water on a cup full of cashew nuts, then after ten minutes I drained them and blended them with coconut yogurt, the juice from half a lemon, a good sprinkle of zata’ar, a tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and a pinch of salt and pepper. A pouring consistency is ideal so a little plant milk or yogurt can be added if it seems too thick.

I roasted the aubergines, halved and with several knife-scored cuts in the flesh (with a bit of olive oil massaged in) in the oven on 180°C .They become brown, soft and unctuous after thirty minutes, but it’s a good idea to check their progress after twenty. They shouldn’t need more than forty minutes! Once they are cooked, and a sharp knife goes easily into the soft flesh of the aubergine, sprinkle them with some lemon juice and keep them warm. 

While the aubergines were roasting, I made a couple of salads: a coleslaw with red cabbage, carrots, raisins, walnuts and onions in some plant-based mayo and lime juice; a leaf and tomato salad with lemon juice, oil and zata’ar dressing, and an oil and balsamic three-bean salad with a bit of chopped chilli for some warmth, a small drained can of sweet corn, chopped red onion, chopped peppers and a few fresh herbs (parsley or coriander), with some pomegranate seeds on the top.

The bread, once risen, is divided into six portions and each one is rolled out flat then fried in a very hot pan with very little oil, turning once, so that it is puffy and brown, cooked on both sides.

To serve, put the flatbreads on a large plate alongside the salads. Serve up two roasted aubergines per person, smothering them with the cashew dressing and decorate the top with an extra sprinkling of zata’ar and few pomegranate seeds. Everyone can serve themselves as much or little salad and flatbreads as they like with their aubergine.

It is really delicious, it smells heavenly and it’s an easy meal to cook and prepare. And, like so many of my recipes here, goes just perfectly with a nice, full-bodied red wine too… Happy cooking!

 

Banana Bread  recipe – because we’re all making it

Apparently, during the lockdown, everyone is becoming an expert at making banana bread. There are lots of recipes for plant-based banana bread; some are crumbly and light and some turn out a bit rubbery. I love the idea of using up overripe bananas as they are so nutritious.This recipe makes a delicious, airy banana bread that slices well, stays fresh for several days and is nice by itself or spread with plant-based butter.

You will need two bowls or a bowl and a blender. In the larger bowl, put 250 grams of plain flour, a pinch of cinnamon, a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, 70 grams of brown sugar (or more if you have a sweet tooth), a pinch of salt and you can immerse some blueberries in the dry mix. 

In the blender/ the other bowl, put two ripe bananas, a teaspoonful of vanilla paste, a tablespoon of cider vinegar, four tablespoons of light oil and 60 ml of plant milk – I use oat. Blend or blitz the wet ingredients and then mix the liquid blend into the dry one. Add a bit more milk if the mixture needs loosening a little. It should resemble cake mix, not too thick and not too sloppy. Pour it into a greased loaf tin.

Bake it for 40 minutes at 180* and then check it. The banana bread  may need another ten minutes. It’s done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Let it cool then slice it and eat it.

Now here’s the really interesting part. Making the banana bread sing takes a bit of imagination and any ingredients you have at the back of the cupboard. I found some crystallised ginger and some preserved bitter orange peel. I added these ingredients, chopped, to the basic recipe and it really created a very delicious and special loaf. So, basic banana bread plus anything lying at the back of the shelf that needs using up takes this recipe to the next level. 

Playing about with the ingredients is half the fun. It’s nice to make a crunchy topping with a few smashed up oats and walnuts, a bit of brown sugar and a few blitzed seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin.

If you like, you could also add grated lemon rind, pecans or walnuts, or cocoa powder and chunks of chocolate, or raspberries or blackberries into the flour bowl before you add the wet ingredients, whatever takes your fancy. Put all the mix in a greased loaf tin. Press a few of the berries or nuts into the top of the mix so that they don’t all sink to the bottom.

There’s no end to what you can add to this basic recipe. Toast some sunflower seeds or some almonds and add them to the dry mix: any crystallised fruit goes really well in this loaf. This isn’t just one recipe, it’s so many. Mix it up and play around with anything that needs using up, within reason.

You can make a sophisticated banana bread with a whiskey marmalade filling spread through the middle and topped with plant-based cream cheese and icing sugar frosting. You can make it wholesome for the kids by adding a few ground linseeds or some raisins. You could make it decadent by adding chocolate chips, toffee chunks, bits of cinnamon biscuit, pieces of pear or apple. Have fun. Choose your own favourite.

 

Book and a bite: jackfruit tortillas 

I made this when we were getting a little low on ingredients in the house. We did have a packet of tortillas, a tin of jackfruit, and a few vegetables. With a few salad leaves and some rice, it served three, but could have served four!

Rinse and drain the jackfruit and place it in a bowl. Break it up. Add some tomato puree or sauce, a bit of sriracha or chilli sauce to taste, and some liquid smoke if you have some; you could add a bit of brown sauce or barbecue sauce or soy sauce, some garlic and some seasoning. Mix it all up and spread it on a baking tray, then bake it in the oven for 20 minutes at 180°C.

Then take it out and shred it with a fork – it should pull apart nicely. Add some sliced onions and peppers and bake it again for 20 minutes. It shouldn’t burn but it should dry a little and the onions and peppers should be succulent and soft. Taste it and adjust the seasoning; add black pepper, make it hotter if you wish.

Warm eight tortillas and then divide the mixture between them. I added a dollop of coconut yogurt and some coleslaw made from red cabbage, onions, carrots, an old apple and a dollop of plant-based mayonnaise. You can play with this: if you have avocados or tomatoes or salad leaves or cucumber or plant-based cheese, they will work well with the jackfruit. Or it’s fine as it is, but the extra coleslaw makes it go further.

Roll the tortillas into a wrap, serve them with salad or vegetable rice: I mixed some cooked rice with garlic, onions, sweetcorn and cooked beans.

A spicy sauce, tomato sauce or a dollop of yogurt with lemon and/or mint makes this dish really special. I got my hands on some mole sauce (which my son brought us back from Mexico!) and a bottle of red wine: that sent it through the roof.

‘Any leftovers’ Pizza

If you have any strong white or wholemeal bread flour and you’re making bread, here’s a useful meal you can make from the leftover dough and anything that’s lying in your fridge or larder. The bread is simply half a cup of warm water, a teaspoonful of (brown) sugar and a tablespoonful of yeast in a bowl, left for fifteen minutes somewhere warm and then added to the flour with a pinch of salt. I’d probably use half a kilogram of flour, more if you’re feeding a hungry group or making lots of bread. You can also add other things to your bread – I always put ground linseeds in bread as it adds useful vitamins and oil.

Mix the flour and yeast liquid together and continue to add warm water a little at a time until the mixture becomes dough-like. If it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. Knead it vigorously for a good ten minutes.

Leave the dough somewhere warm to rise for 50 minutes. Divide it into rolls, a loaf, bread-stick twists, whatever you like, but leave some over to make pizza.

Roll out the pizza and put it on a greased baking tray. Spread some tomato puree over it and any of the following you may have left over in the fridge or the cupboard:

  • Plant-based cheese
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Artichokes – tinned is fine.
  • Asparagus
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweetcorn
  • Plant-based chorizo, sliced. (I make my own – recipe to follow soon)
  • Pineapple
  • Peppers, any colour
  • Chillies
  • Courgettes
  • Jackfruit, tinned, shredded and baked in the oven in a nice tomato and chilli sauce
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Tofu chunks
  • Herbs such as thyme, oregano, mixed herbs – fresh or dried

You might want to drizzle a little olive oil on top and add olives.

Bake the pizza in a hot oven, 180*,  for 30 minutes. Check it after twenty.

It’s ready to serve with a green salad or a carrot and red cabbage and onion coleslaw and, if you’re really hungry, bake some herbed polenta or sweet potato chips in the oven at the same time. Flip them over after 15 minutes of cooking.

In the absence of  a football game on TV, I’ll be eating this while reading a good book ….