‘Chasing the Sun’: travelling to two gorgeous locations and finding fabulous festivals, fun and food.

As the worst of lockdown is over, despite wide predictions of another possible ‘wave’, we are all looking forward to the summer and the chance to travel again, whether it is to the nearest beach, or to see much-missed friends, or to somewhere distant but safe. It will be lovely to spend time in the summer warmth after a cold, socially distant winter, and we all need to celebrate with much-missed friends and family. It has been tough for most people, and even tougher for so many more.

When I wrote ‘Chasing the Sun, the novel came from a desire to take my readers to stunning locations. From the cold separation of locked down Britain, I wanted to offer the warmth and fun of Spain and Mexico, the chance to join Molly and her sister Nell on their holidays in the sunshine. Molly, a widow, realises on her seventieth birthday that she is restless and doesn’t know where her life is taking her. It’s a perfect reason for a journey of self-discovery, chasing the sun metaphorically, and location is everything.

The great thing about going on holiday is the chance to kick back, relax and enjoy life a little: Molly and Nell spend time on the beach, sampling good food and wine. They visit fabulous locations and meet interesting people; there is the opportunity for fun, mischief and romance. I hope that the reader will enjoy going with them and sharing some of the things they enjoy.

In Spain, Molly eats octopus. I’ve never eaten ‘pulpo’ and although I do research many things by trying them out, but this is definitely not one of them. The sisters enjoy the best Spain can offer them, including sunsets, beaches, boat trips and sangria. I’ve tried all of those…

Then Molly moves on to Mexico, and I was lucky while writing ‘Chasing the Sun’ that my son was living in Mexico City. I’ve been to Mexico myself, but it was useful to be able to call him and ask questions about the local climate, what time the sun sets, what does the local mole taste like. He was the source of all sorts of useful research information, including inside information about El Día de Los Muertos, as he was there during the celebrations and could talk to Mexican people about the cultural importance and vibrancy of The Day of the Dead. I wanted to bring the local colour to readers.

When I created the tapas bar, Sabores, meaning Flavours, I tried to bring a very different taste of Mexico through a plant-based café that served new and exciting dishes. I have made all of them myself, and I’ve included a few recipes at the end of the book, just in case some readers were interested in trying them. The carrot canapé is quite easy, and most of the others aren’t too difficult except for the vegan scotch egg, which is fiddly. Most ingredients aren’t hard to source, especially by using the internet, and the plant-based chorizo using vital wheat gluten and the cashew cream cheese are well worth the effort. I hope readers will enjoy sampling some new food.

The most exciting thing for me during the journey to Mexico, even more thrilling than dancing the bachata and riding horses Western-style, is visiting Chichén Itzá. It is a very atmospheric and beautiful place so, when Molly goes there to see the sun rise with two friends, I wanted to express how breathtaking it is there.

In short, I’d love us all to fly off on a plane to Spain and Mexico right now if it was safe, but it isn’t. So, it seemed to me, that the best way to travel is vicariously, through the pages of a book, and to enjoy good times with Molly and Nell. Molly’s attempts to chase the sun take her to two wonderful sun-soaked locations. The beaches, the food, the people and the culture of both Spain and Mexico are charming and fascinating. I hope you’ll enjoy travelling there between the pages and that, for you too, the summer will be one of sunshine, laughter and fun, whatever the coming months bring.

Sharing my New Year’s Eve buffet with friends, in the only way currently possible…

Apparently, the entire month of January is celebrated by many as Veganuary, a time when people eat vegan food for a month. Perhaps it is a fresh dietary choice for some, perhaps it is an antidote to the Christmas excesses for others, or even just curiosity, but I thought I’d share my New Year’s buffet on a blog post as a way of celebrating plant-based food. After all, I can’t invite you round at the moment.

The triumph of the buffet table was the deliciously savoury and sweet focaccia bread, topped with apple and onions. The loaf was straightforward focaccia or pizza dough, rolled out and topped with thinly sliced apples, onions, parsley and thyme, gently fried first in olive oil. The bread was cooked in a medium oven for 20 minutes until golden brown and risen. Loved by all who try it, it’s a winner.

I also defrosted some filo pastry and then I sauteed onions, garlic, mushrooms, adding chopped chestnuts and a handful of spinach, then a handful of plant-based cheese, and seasoning the lot. This was the filling for several sheets of pastry, rolled over to make a long sausage shape, then cut into chunks and baked for 20 minutes in a hot oven.

Along with a mixed bean salad with peppers and tomatoes, a green salad, a rice salad with peas, and a few dips such a hummus and some garlicky aioli, I also served a few more savoury dishes. I fried some onion bhajis in a gram flour and water paste, spiced with turmeric, cumin and coriander, and some samosas stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, peas and spices. These were served up with chunky mango chutney.

Finally, I made some dim sum buns, stuffed with mushrooms, peppers and onions cooked with garlic and ginger, wrapped in a coconut milk and flour dough and steamed for fifteen minutes. These were served up with a tangy sweet and sour chilli sauce.

I made a pan of glühwein, warmed spiced red wine with fruit chunks, and after the buffet I brought a plant-based tiramisu to the table. It was a spiced sponge, with cinnamon and ginger, covered with a whipped mixture of coconut milk, plant-based cream cheese, coffee and kalua coffee liqueur, topped with chocolate.

I’m looking forward to my next book launch in April, for Chasing the Sun, or maybe the one after that later in the year, when I’m able to invite people round, and we can share a good buffet together. It’s a great feeling, to spend time planning and making a buffet for others, then to offer a variety of finger food and watch people pile up plates with their choices and enjoy nibbles.

Next time, I may add some little curried pies or mini quiches, some mini pizzas or a sliced vegetable tofu frittata. I might also add an interesting plate of no-pigs in blankets with my own home made ‘ba-con’, an eggless scotch ‘egg’ and some salmon-free canapés with herby cream ‘cheeze’ made from cashews. Watch this space, as I’m bound to blog anything that works well enough for me to want to share it with guests at some point in 2021.

As I see it, if I can’t invite you round and offer you a plate of food, the next best thing is to share it on a blog.

With warmest wishes to you all for a Happy New Year.

(Apple and onion focaccia bread.)

Plant-based roast with stuffing: recipe and serving ideas

I’ve never been a great fan of ‘imitation meat’, so when I heard about a turkey-style roast, I thought it wouldn’t be something I’d want to make. I’m not keen on the fibrous meaty texture of many plant-based meat replacements, but working with vital wheat gluten means that you can add a variety of flavours to the dish by including savoury and tasty ingredients to the wet mix below, such as brandy, marmite and a variety of mushrooms. 

So last weekend, as an experiment, I made a prototype vital wheat gluten roast and it went down well for Sunday dinner, served with crunchy roasted potatoes, lots of veg and some unctuous mushroom gravy. It wasn’t hard to make either and, although it’s a bit time consuming, it is worth the trouble: the roast is quite big and it lasts for three days. It can be eaten cold in sandwiches and hot, fried and coated in breadcrumbs with mushrooms for breakfast, so it’s versatile and useful. Make it at least a day before you want to eat it.

To make the roast: 

You need to blitz the following wet ingredients in a blender:

1 cup drained chickpeas (half a tin)

Half a cup of dried mushrooms such as  porcini,

Half a cup of white wine.

2 tbsp miso 

2 tbsp maple syrup

One cup plant milk of your choice – I use oat

1 sauteed onion or shallot and 3 sauteed garlic cloves

Half a pack of silken tofu (about 4oz)

Thyme, rosemary, sage. Any herbs you like – onion salt, if you wish, even tarragon or paprika.

Seasoning, as you wish – I use pink salt and white pepper…

Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ones below and mix to a dough:

Two and a half cups of vital wheat gluten

One cup of gram flour

2 tbsp of nutritional yeast.

Method.

Knead the mixture by hand for at least  twelve minutes or put it in a machine with a dough hook. Don’t under-knead or it will cook into a piece of rubber. The dough should be just firm and stretchy. If it’s too wet to handle, add a little more gram flour.

Roll it out on a gram-floured surface by whacking it with a rolling pin, until it’s a half-inch-thick rectangle and then let it rest. Stretch it by hand if it springs back. 

Now make the stuffing – 

Saute a large onion and some garlic, and add to it half a tin of chickpeas, a couple of handfuls of chestnuts, a handful of blitzed breadcrumbs, a handful of chopped dried apricots, cranberries, chopped hazelnuts, a cooked mashed sweet potato, some cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper and a good pinch of thyme. Mash it all up to form the stuffing so that it’s still a bit chunky. Use some white wine if you need it to make it a little softer. Place the stuffing mixture in a  line down the centre of the ‘roast’ rectangle and roll the dough over lengthways so it makes a single roll. Close the ends. Then rub olive oil on the outside and then roll it all in some dried herbs – I use a mixture of parsley, thyme, onion salt and a pinch of cayenne or paprika. If the roast’s too big, you can cut it in half and make two smaller roasts and freeze one after it’s cooked, which is what I did.Wrap the roast in cheesecloth and tie it up with cooking string.

Put the roast in a baking tray containing liquid: some water, white wine, (make it all up to 6 -7 cups,) a bayleaf, rosemary, thyme, sage, some dried mushrooms, a chopped onion, garlic, a bit of celery, carrot, and bake it for two hours, turning after an hour. The liquid will need to be topped up regularly during the cooking process as the roast needs to be steamed and kept moist, or it will burn.

After two hours, take it out of the oven and let the roast cool, then strip off the cheesecloth. 

I rub the surface of the roast with oil and then brush it with maple syrup to glaze it, and maybe sprinkle on more herbs. You can keep the roast, wrapped in foil, in the fridge for a few days.

To cook the roast, put it in a medium oven for 30 minutes. I used a baking tray with a little white wine and water on the bottom and laid it on a few chopped onions so it wouldn’t burn.

It goes really well (cut into not-too-thick slices) served with onion or mushroom gravy, lots of seasonal veg, roast potatoes, red cabbage and plant-based yorkshires. 

Serving ideas.

If you have some roast left over, it’s nice cold in sandwiches with salad, mayo and slices of tomatoes,or fried, coated in breadcrumbs, for breakfast with spinach, tomatoes and a huge chestnut mushroom.

I’ve also used leftover roast to stuff a round, home-baked loaf, with the top cut off and the crumbs hollowed out, then the inside is layered with slices of roast, cranberry sauce, plant-based mozzarella, walnuts, beetroot, a little plant-based mayo, a few breadcrumbs and some home-made pickle.Stuff the inside of the loaf with the layers, replace the lid and wrap it. Later, you can cut it into wedges as an alternative to sandwiches or for a Christmas buffet.

My plant based fish ‘n’ chips recipe… Friday nights won’t be the same again.

I’m not a fan of meals such as fish and chips. I am one of those strange people who don’t like chips, deep- fried or greasy foods, and so I seldom make anything that involves frying. However, I’m so pleased with this recipe, which isn’t greasy at all, that I’ll make it again.

For three people, you’ll need one tin of banana blossoms, which you can find in most supermarkets now. You’ll also need some nori (seaweed) flakes or blitzed-up nori sheets, which impart a ‘fishy’ smell but not too-strong a taste. Again, these ingredients aren’t hard to source. I buy them in supermarkets or local shops.

Also, this dish is ridiculously easy to make from scratch and doesn’t take too long.

To make the plant-based ‘fish’, put some gram (chick pea) flour, some nori flakes and some garlic powder in a bowl. I haven’t included exact measurements – a cup and a half of gram flour and a tbsp of the other two are a rough guide if you need one. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and a cup of panko breadcrumbs or your own home-made crumbs from blitzed bread.

Rinse the banana blossoms under water to get rid of the excess brine and keep them as intact as you can. Shake the sieve but keep the banana blossoms damp, then shove them around in the gram flour mixture to coat them. Wrap the end bits around themselves and don’t worry if the pieces aren’t identical or neat. Put the ‘fish’ in the fridge for half an hour or so.

I air fry the chips – I suppose you could deep fat fry them or use oven chips. For me, air-fried chips are crispy, very dry and not fatty.

Then I cooked a couple of cups of frozen peas, drained them, added chopped mint and a couple of tbsp of vegan cream and roughly mashed them, then I added some ground black pepper and a tbsp water to loosen the peas.

I fried the ‘fish’ in 2 inches of sunflower oil in batches of two, flipping them once, until they were brown.

I served the lot with some lemon mayonnaise dressing. You can make your own or dress up a brand mayo with a squidge of lemon juice and some chopped herbs such as parsley or coriander.

This dish is easy to make, very tasty and a crowd pleaser. I’ve never been one for trying to copy conventional meat or fish meals but when it tastes this good, and banana blossom is accessible and relatively cheap, there’s no reason to hold back.

This may become a regular Friday night thing!

Guilt-free bramble crumble (and dutch apple cake)

I don’t like puddings but everyone else I know seems to love them. At this time of year, when it becomes a bit damp and cool, puddings are a go-to comfort food. There are a lot of apples around at the moment and blackberries are in abundance and free if you’re prepared to pick them from the hedgerows and fill your fingers with thorns in the process.

I’ve found a way to make an apple and blackberry crumble so that it’s nutritious and not full of bad fat.

Nice apples are important – something tart like a Bramley works well. Don’t bother with eating apples. Slice them thin in a large-ish dish, sprinkle with a small amount of brown sugar and then place the washed blackberries on top. I usually do two layers, apple, blackberry, with a bit of sugar on both.

For the topping, I mix some oats, a pinch of sugar, some blitzed walnuts and seeds (sunflower and pumplin, usually, and a tbsp ofcinnamon, in a bowl. I add a tbsp good oil and mix it all up, then spoon the crumble mix gently on top of the fruit.

Baked in the oven for 45-50 minutes in a medium oven, the crumble becomes golden brown, with the juices from the fruit bubbling away underneath.

You can serve it with whatever you like – I usually offer plant-based crème fraiche or yogurt or ice cream. (Or all of these…)

Of course, when I say that the crumble pudding is guilt-free, what I really mean is if you have walked miles to pick the berries before the meal and if you haven’t stuffed yourself with a massive roast dinner first and if you haven’t gorged two huge portions of the pudding piled with cream, then it’s probably quite healthy…

NB. Apples also go really well in a dutch apple cake. It’s easy to make a plant-based one with chunks of apples inside using most plant-based cake recipes, and I use the crumble oat and nut ingredients on top of the cake to make it crunchy and delicious. Again, it’s quite healthy as long as your single portion isn’t the whole cake…

The ultimate and best (plant-based) Sunday roast ever

I make roast dinners for large numbers of people quite a lot: nut roasts, nut wellingtons, nut parcels, steamed puddings, vital wheat gluten roasts, all sorts of centrepieces find themselves alongside crispy pototoes. zingy vegetables, gravy, delicious yorkshire puddings, but this one is my favourite roast dish to date. It features chestnuts at the heart of the meal, although you could substitute walnuts or a mixture of nuts and seeds if you prefer, but this works so well with pre-cooked chestnuts. It’s a great meal for a celebration, for Christmas, for Thanksgiving, or just for that special time when families get together and you want to push the gravy boat out.

Preparation

Parboil enough peeled and chunked  potatoes (Maris Pipers work well)) for everyone sharing the meal. Drain the potatoes. Put them in a big bowl with a few chunks of sweet potatoes. Add olive oil, salt, black pepper, lemon juice and leave to marinade.

Make the roast: blitz a packet or tin of drained (cooked) chestnuts, two slices of brown bread, herbs of your choice (thyme, sage, parsley), a little water, a little oil (a tbsp), a shake of soy sauce, a couple of tbsp of brandy, black pepper and then stir in some sauteed onions, garlic, celery and chopped mushrooms. Mix together and put it in some greased individual pudding dishes, one for each person. This should feed four with one individual roast each but I know some people may want to make twice as much. The individual roasts go in a bain marie, a tin containing water, to cook later.

Prepare the gravy. Make a roux out of plant-based margarine and flour or, if you prefer, use a heaped tbsp of cornflour in water to thicken the gravy. Saute onions, garlic, mushrooms and celery; add a little water and a tbsp marmite. Blitz the lot (or most of it if you like bits in your gravy, as I do) then add a little more water, the thickener (roux or cornflour/water mix) and cook gently until the gravy thickens, darkens and bubbles. (I always add a glug of either marsala or, if I can’t get any, blackcurrant or blackberry liqueur to my gravy. Don’t ask why, but it really works well!)

Prepare your veg: broccoli, kale, carrots, beans, peas, whatever you like, in a steamer ready to go.

Prepare the yorkshires – blitz 2 cups self-raising flour, two cups plant milk (I use oat…) and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour a little oil in each ‘pudding hole’ of a yorkshire pudding tray.

Forty/ fifty minutes before you want to eat.

Put the potatoes, covered in a little oil, on a tray into the top of the oven on 190. NO need to pre-heat.

Put the bain-marie containing the individual chestnut roasts in the middle of the oven.

25-30 minutes before you want to eat.

Shake the potatoes in the tin so that all sides will roast evenly. Move them down the oven to the centre shelf – I put them on top of the individual chestnut roasts to stop the tops of the roasts burning. Put the Yorkshire pudding tray with oil on the top shelf of the oven. 

Eighteen minutes before you want to eat.

Take out the yorkshire pudding tray. Pour the yorkshire pudding mix into the sizzling fat. Put the tray back on the top shelf. The mixture makes between 9-12 yorkshires, depending on the size of the tin. Turn the oven up to 200. Check the potatoes and give them a vigorous shake.

Ten minutes before you want to eat.

Steam the veggies. Season. Add some fresh herbs to the potatoes if you wish. Check the chestnut roast is almost done – firm to the touch or you can insert a tooth pick (but do remember to take it out again!)

Five minutes before you want to eat.

Reheat the gravy. Check the food in the oven is almost ready. Depending on your oven, you’ll be ready bang on time or you may want to cook for another five to eight minutes. The yorkshires will be crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. The veg needs to be just cooked. Drain them and add a pinch of seasoning if it needs it and some lemon juice, then cover and  leave them until you plate up.

To serve

Invert the chestnut roasts and put the potatoes and veggies on plates.  Add the yorkshires. Smother the lot with gravy, just how you prefer it: a lot, a little, everywhere, just on the chestnut roast. A bottle of red goes down very well with this meal.
wine

Lockdown suppers: more ideas for dinner when the cupboard is almost bare

Out here in the sticks, we have a food delivery once every nine or ten days. Day ten’s last supper, before the food van arrives, usually involves a hearty stew of whatever gnarly bits and pieces are left over in the vegetable rack and the fridge. My mother used to be proud that she could make something out of nothing and I’m the same, although the word nothing for my generation means I may not have all that much in the way of fresh produce, but we are fairly well-stocked for spices, herbs, condiments, cans of beans and rice. ‘Nothing’ in my mother’s day meant exactly that – hardly any food at all, so I cook with the realistion of how lucky I am. 

The first seven days were fine. I have tins in the larder and a few items in the freezer such as plant-based sausages, home-made vegan chorizo and a bag of peas but they are just there to embellish any dish I cook. So by day eight, the fresh produce was becoming a bit dog-eared, the couple of remaining potatoes were sprouting. There were a few veggies in the rack: a butternut squash, a couple of  onions, a beautiful big celeriac gifted fresh from my neighbour’s garden, a few sweet potatoes. At the back of the fridge, I had a couple of unhappy mushrooms, a damp carrot or two and a few ends of celery and leeks.

That night I made a leek and onion quiche: the pastry was easy to make with the last of the plain flour, some plant-based margarine and shortening rubbed in, salt, white pepper and a little cold milk. I left the pastry in the fridge wrapped well for a few hours as that really improves the crumbly texture when cooked. I sweated off some onions, garlic, leeks in a little olive oil, turned the pan off and added plant-based cheese, then in a blender I whisked a small carton of silken tofu, a tbsp of plant-based milk and some nutritional yeast. I then combined this mix with the cooked onion and leek mixture and poured it all into a greased quiche tin lined evenly with my pastry, rolled out and placed in just before.

It was baked in the oven for 40 minutes at 180;  the quiche turned golden brown and the leek mixture set perfectly. I left it to cool for a couple of hours as I always find this improves the texture and taste, and warmed it up again for ten minutes with some chunks of sweet potatoes (with a little oil, salt and black pepper, some lime juice) roasted in their skins the oven 20 minutes earlier. I made a  creamy coleslaw, using the last chunk of red cabbage I’d found in the fridge, some onions, carrots, walnuts, raisins and mayonnaise.

By day nine, I decided it was time for the celeriac to step into the limelight. I slow-cooked a few lentils and some old vegetables – a sweet potato, a potato, a drained tin of sweetcorn, broccoli, onions, a bit of leek, some kale that had seen better days and some frozen peas. This was much improved by a dollop of harissa, a bit of paprika, some grated lemon zest, a dollop of coconut yogurt. The peeled celeriac was chopped, steamed and then put in the blender with a bit of plant-based margarine, salt, pepper and the last dregs of a pot of horseradish I found at the back of the fridge. (Celeriac mash is delicious with just a little salt and pepper, but a dollop of mustard would replace the horseradish and take it to the next level.) Served with the slow-cooked stew, it makes a really tasty meal.

Which brings me up to the last meal before the night-time food delivery: the butternut squash was roasted in the oven and added to a pan with a little oil, some sweated onions and garlic and anything else I could find in the fridge, which wasn’t much, (three pieces of kale, three green beans, one very wrinkled mushroom and a bit of celery) plus a tin of chickpeas and a curry sauce made from spices that I roasted in the pan beforehand: fresh ginger, chilli, garlic, fenugreek, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, garam masala and turmeric. These spices, blended into a paste with the last of the coconut yogurt and a spoonful of tomato puree or, in this case, ketchup because I was out of puree,added to the vegetables will create a thick and delicious sauce. I always make curry hours before I eat it and then serve it with rice, home-made naan and papadums.

The alternative is usually to saute the onions, then cook all the vegetables gently with some red lentils and vegetable bouillon. Put the lot in a dish, taste and season the gravy and smother the top with potatoes mashed with mustard and black pepper. This dish is much improved with the addition of a dollop of marmite, brown sauce or even soy sauce to the gravy; a bit of plant-based cheese on top is good too. The picture above shows the shepherd’s pie just before it goes in the oven – it’s another great stand-by dish to make when there are only old bits of vegetables left in the house.

Now the fridge is virtually bare and the vegetable rack has only one onion and one potato. Later, when the delivery van arrives, we will be ok for food for another week, or maybe ten days. I look forward to food deliveries with excitement now in gthe same way  I look forward to Christmas. It’s a joy to have fresh food in the house. Thank goodness for all those key workers who bring things to our door so that we can stay safely at home: where would we be without them?

 

 

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.