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Food I found in India

I just spent a couple of weeks in northern India (to attend IBAC). Did I have some great food? Of course I did.

No fancy gastro stuff, just tried the local cuisine. Funny thing is, as an English person and living in East London for more than a decade, I already knew plenty about the food! Or at least I knew more than the other international delegates did. The Indian names, the difference between naan and chapatti and poori, for example, or what's a palak paneer.

Credit's got to go to Sarab Sethi for showing me his favourite street food when we were in downtown Haridwar - aloo tiki, which is fried potatoes and yogurt with sweet and savoury sauces. Kind of like an Indian equivalent of chips with mayo+ketchup, maybe... or maybe that doesn't do it justice! And thanks Phil for the photo:

In the north India region, two staples of the local cuisine seem to be dhal makhani (buttery thick lentils) and paneer (cheese) curry, which we were served often. To be honest, though, those are very rich, too much to eat every day. On quite a few days I went for a lovely dosa instead - a crispy curry-filled pancake, which is from south India originally, and also not an everyday meal but I do like it.

I did have some top dishes locally though. At a dhaba (a roadside caff) we had some excellent-tasting chana (chickpeas) - no idea how they were flavoured so well but they were. The curried brinjal (okra) dishes were good too, nice and fresh-tasting.

In Delhi (at the start of the trip) I found a well-reputed eatery called Khaki di Hatti. They do massive naan breads - seriously massive, I recommend you agree to order the "baby" one when they suggest it! - and I had a great spinach kofte dish there. It was kofte ("meatballs", you might say, though vegetarian in this case) made of breadcrumbs and who-knows-what-else, in a lovely savoury spinach sauce.

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Eating veggie is easy in this region, since so many people are veggie. But then so is eating non-veggie. Lots of places are "pure veg" and in most other places it's really clearly labelled.

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Best veggieburgers in East London

Veggieburgers have come a long way - and London's vegetarian scene has quite a lot going on in the burger department! - so I wanted to try a few of them. I particuarly wanted to work out, for my own cooking, what's a good strategy for making a veggieburger that is hearty, tasty, and, well, frankly, worth ordering. For me, your old-fashioned beanburger isn't going to do it.

So here's my list of top veggieburgers in London so far, mostly in East London. It's not an exhaustive survey, and I might update it, but I wanted to get at least 5 really solid recommendations and then write this up. I'm surprised to find that most of them are not only vegetarian but vegan. Here's the top 5! You should definitely eat these:

  1. Untitled Arancini (Dalston) "vegan burger" - Really tasty and substantial fast food, made of their risotto stuff. A good whack of umami from the aubergine sauce, and good chips too. Highly recommended burger. As this other blogger puts it: "This is a burger where all the elements are nicely thought through - good bun, fresh salad, lots of good chutney [and the burger is] one note in a well-played burger orchestra."
  2. Untitled Mildred's (Camden and elsewhere - Dalston coming soon) "smoked tofu, lentil, piquillo pepper burger" - A great burger with plenty of bite to it, nice smoky burgery flavour. I think the tofu provides the heft while the lentils add texture. It was a little bit dry so I had to add tomato ketchup (nowt wrong with that), and with that in place it was the full package. Just look at it!
  3. UntitledEat17 (Homerton): This was a curious place, housed in the corner of a Spar supermarket, and also serving the Castle cinema upstairs. Anyway they gave me a nice black bean + quinoa burger, with a good crispy exterior. Presumably it's got some beetroot in it too, given the rich purpley colour. The flavour of the burger itself could be a bit heavier, and the chips were too salty as always, but otherwise a very good showing, especially coming from a non-veggie place.
    (BTW I think this is the only non-vegan burger in the top five.)
  4. Untitled Black Cat Cafe (Hackney): "beefish burger" I think they called their vegan burger, but actually to me it had a pleasing chorizo-like taste. The burger is firm and hefty (good), the chips are good, and their vegan mayo tastes great.
  5. Untitled Vx (Kings Cross): a tasty and filling cheezburger, near to Kings Cross station - handy! They're not trying to be fancy-fancy - in fact this burger has quite a McDonaldsy taste to it, except that the burger patty (made of seitan) is more generous/filling than a McD. Good stuff.

...so that's the top list so far. Plenty more to try. Here's something that surprised me: although there are plenty of nouveaux popup veggie burger stalls popping up and down all around, those aren't where I seem to find the best burgers. They get the twitter hype but they don't seem to have got their recipes to match the hype. The list I just gave you is mostly well-established places (and two of them are omni).

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Some other burgers I tried:

  • Mooshies (Brick Lane) - I had the "where's the beef" burger which is made of black bean and quinoa, plus all the trimmings. I was disappointed that the burger pattie had not much bite to it - it was more like "vegan mince" than "vegan burger", splodging everywhere at the slightest provocation. The flavour was nice, the black beans providing a dark enough flavour (more beef-like that a nut-burger or a veg-burger) and the quinoa provided a good bit of structured feel on the tongue. So I think black-bean-and-quinoa is a good idea, but you really need to put those together with something that'll make a good firm patty. Flavour-wise, the mayo left me with an overly vinegary aftertaste, so I hope they do something about that too.

    On a second visit we had the pulled-pork bbq jackfruit which was fine (but my recipe's better ;), and the onion bhaji burger which was really nice - crispy and full of flavour.

  • Greedy Cow (Mile End) - nice fresh-tasting vegetable burger with a nice crispy exterior to the patty. Definitely tasted like they care about their veggieburger. I liked it and for an omni place it's very good indeed, but it's not up in the top league since I'm more interested in the more "meaty" angle on a veggieburger.

  • The Hive Wellbeing (Bethnal Green) - The burger pattie was oddly small, about 1/2 the size of the bun, which was silly. The pattie itself had a lovely clear fresh pumpkin-seed flavour and texture (it's made of mushroom and courgette too). Nice chutney underneath. The flavours overall are savoury and sharp (also from the mustard mayo too) - good, though potentially not for everyone. On a second visit, I found again that the burger was made of good stuff but was kinda awkwardly put together - proportions a little bit off - maybe it's a good recipe, inattentively prepared? It seems to me it could be in the running to be the best, if it were given a bit more care.

  • Vurgers (popup) - I had the "BBQ nut" one, because it looked likely to be the most substantial. It was a decent meal and hefty enough, but way way overseasoned - so much sugar, so much salt, so much acid. I know that "BBQ" largely implies they'll overdo those things, but there's supposed to be more than those blunt notes. The burger was filling and decent but didn't have much bite - it kept its shape through inertia rather than strength, if you get what I mean. Certainly good enough to mention, but not getting near the top, and served in a poncey-seeming location with price to match.

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The best vegetarian recipes of 2016

I've been cooking vegetarian in 2016. It's about climate change: meat-eating is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it's something we can change. So here I'm sharing some of the best veggie recipes I found this year. Most of them are not too complex, the point is everyday meals not dinner parties.

Note: you don't have to go full-vegan - phew. You can do meat-free Mondays, you can try Veganuary, you can give up beef, or whatever, it all makes a difference. It's true that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint but it's pretty unlikely we're all going to go that far, and a more vegetarian diet makes a big improvement. (Here's an article with some data about that...)

So here we go, the best vegetarian recipes of 2016 - as judged by a meat-eater! ;)

Spring

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Summer

  • Asparagus, pea, feta and mint salad - great combination.
  • Pea, mozzarella & lemon tart (from Take One Veg) - wasn't quite as "speedy" as the recipe's name suggested (40 min when I did it...). But maybe it gets quicker once you get handier with the puff pastry. It was really nice, fresh-tasting.
  • Untitled Sweet onion and puy lentil stew - I was so impressed with this, one of those simple meals that if you do it well is really satisfying. The texture+flavour contrast from the onions on top is the key.
  • Grilled orange, carrot & halloumi (from "River Cottage Fruit") - ace, just an ace combination of three flavours, lightly dressed. Easy to make and the ingredients are not exotic. Really handy.

Autumn

  • Untitled Jackfruit "pulled pork". This is extremely handy - it fills a gap that a lot of veggy stuff doesn't, i.e. it's a big barbecue nom with a meaningful texture. Really all you need is to keep a tin of green jackfruit in your store-cupboard, it doesn't need anything else exotic. It's easy to cook (just a pan on a gentle heat for half an hour, really). (However, one tin of jackfruit feeds about me-and-a-quarter. If only we were perfectly size-matched...)
  • Big aubergine and lemon tagine - OH YEAH is really all I've got to say about this.
  • Roast pumpkin and aubergine spaghetti

Winter

  • Butternut squash toad-in-the-hole
  • Untitled Slow-roasted tomato lasagne (from Take One Veg) - great flavour, and easy to make - though the tomatoes take a while to slow-roast, so do note that it's slow even though really easy. Also note that you need loads of tomatoes, you'll be surprised. I was low on creme fraiche so I used half creme fraiche half greek yogurt, that worked fine and makes it a bit lighter.

These are all ones that were new discoveries. Of course there's plenty of standard stuff too. Anyway - pick a recipe, give it a go.

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Vegetarian food in Paris

While in Paris briefly (on my way somewhere else), I decided to go only to vegetarian restaurants. This helps to narrow down the list!

The curiously-named Sense.eat is an Italian veggy restaurant right in the centre of town, just a touch south of the river. Friendly and efficient atmosphere, and lots of really nice flavours. It was a good sign when they served a little starting-taste of creamed sweet potato garnished with wafer-thin slices of yellow beetroot - delicious flavour, expertly done. Then, for my starter, I had a puree of... well I don't really know how to translate what I had, but let's say a puree of some sort of pea, with courgette flowers, topped with fried kale and pumpkin seeds. It tasted ace.

For the main course I went for the fancy-sounding tofu crusted with quinoa, served with a big mushroom and a mushroomy broth. The tofu was fine, but to be honest not really more than the sum of its parts. The mushroom and the broth tasted really deeply though. You can't tell from a photo whether it's just a mushroom or something more, but rest assured it was really flavourful:

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Later the same day I ate in Brasserie Lola. The fun thing about Brasserie Lola is that it's vegan but they basically keep that a secret - you can't tell from outside, in fact you can't really tell from the menu unless you peer really closely and wonder why the cheeseburger involves "seitan".

I had said cheeseburger and chips, and it's good. I also had a nice starter of leeks in vinaigrette. The sorbet I had for afters was a bit marred by being covered in cream (wtf?) but never mind. The place is nice and has a good feel to it, classic French brasserie style.

I've got to give credit to happycow.net for helping me find both these places.

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Vegetarian armoury: things you might need

I've been cooking more and more vegetarian food this year. It's better for the climate and why not. You don't have to give anything up, in my opinion - you don't ned to go full veggy, just go in that direction.

So, to mark World Vegetarian Day here are my secrets, as a meat-eater, for how I'm cooking vegetarian for myself and not going hungry or getting bored. It's not really a glamorous list. The point is everyday eating. These are things that I didn't always have in the past but are now really handy go-to things to have in the cupboard:

  • Halloumi - lasts ages in the fridge. It's a classic veggie standby but the main reason I've added it is I've worked out a few different recipes with it - it's not just a one-trick pony. Most veggies will tell you "just grill it and eat it, it's lovely" but you need to have a few options. One unusual but easy and good is griddled halloumi+carrot+orange - a trick I got from the "River Cottage Fruit" cookbook - those three flavours go together great as a fast warm salad.
  • Black beans - a tin of black beans is really handy. A full flavour, and versatile. My top tip is my "black bean chorizo": Drain & mash 1 tin black beans, marinate with red wine, paprika, fennel, crushed garlic, salt&pepper. Then keep that in a sealed box in the fridge - it lasts for weeks and weeks and you can add a dab to stews or whatever to add a deep developed flavour that sometimes is missing from veggy life. Other things you can do with black beans include putting them in a wrap/taco, using them in stews, salads, you get the idea.
  • Puy lentils (ready-cooked and vacuum packed) - a pack lasts for ever in the cupboard, can be an emergency meal in itself, and is a great ingredient for a roast tomato lasagne, or a stew. The roast tomato lasagne is a great recipe in Take One Veg by Georgina Fuggle.
  • Chickpeas - kinda obvious, but: chickpeas are (a) handy for curries or tagines, (b) can be whizzed up for a nice fresh hummus at the drop of a hat, and as a bonus trick, (c) the water from a tin of chickpeas can be used for those bonkers vegan meringues.
  • Spinach - lasts ages in the fridge, and versatile - it can be salad, or cooked, or put into curries etc.
  • Cauliflower/broccoli - in British cookery, the tradition is to have these as just a veg on the side of your meat dish. But a cauliflower or a broccoli can totally be the centrepiece of lots of good veggie main courses. Cauliflower cheese is an obvious one. Roasted cauli/broccoli makes a good basis for a warm salad like this one. This year has also seen lots of recipes for "cauliflower couscous" or "cauliflower pesto" in which you put a cauliflower in a blender. Not my favourite thing to do with a cauli, I'll admit, but at least it's showing its adaptability.
  • Nuts! I've now got an old ice-cream tub full of different types of nuts. peanuts (plain), almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc etc. again, they last forever, they add protein and sweetness and variety, and yeah loads of recipes.

None of this is big news, especially not to anyone who's already a vegetarian. But if you're a meat eater, try getting these things in stock, and adding a couple more recipes to your inventory.

There are a couple of things not included in that list above. I'm too impatient to spend a lot of time with tofu (I don't see why I should spend ages marinating tofu to add some flavour to it, when I could just fry some halloumi or some paneer instead), though I love tofu in a thai green curry. Avocados are great but they don't last long, they're expensive, and although people do various weird things with avocados (like make cakes from them), I usually find the best thing to do with an avocado is just to eat it!

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Food in the Bavarian Forest

Just back from a trip to the Bavarian Forest - hiking, eating, wandering around. Here are the highlights of what I ate!

Traditional:

  • Pork Schnitzel Wiener art - classic around here, and in Eisensteiner Hof in Bayerisch Eisenstein I had a really excellent one. The meat was tender and flavourful, and the coating delightfully smooth with some lemon juice sprinkled over.
  • At the Schwellhaus'l guesthaus a lovely deer goulash, with red cabbage and spaetzle (soft dumplingy noodles).
  • Trout is a main fish around there, and at Haus zur Wildnis in Ludwigsthal they did a delicious smoked trout salad. For afters a nice traditional pancake, with a date preserve (I think that's what it was!).
  • I also had very nice little pancakes at the Eisensteiner Hof - that time I did manage to write down what they were: "liwanzen" apparently, Viennese. This time served with a nice and tart berry compote.
  • At Poeschl in Bayerisch Eisenstein I had echt Bayerisch brotzeit ("bread time"), having two boiled white sausages, with a pretzel, plus apfelschorle and some baerwurst to wash it down.

Not particularly traditional:

  • Utaty in Bayerisch Eisenstein is a vegan indian restaurant, open only on Friday and Saturday evenings, and with a set menu written in a notebook in a very dear-diary style:
  • Also on a veggie tip - I've been searching for veggieburgers worth making/eating. Most are... a bit meh. At Adam's Brauerei in Bodenmais I had one of the best veggieburgers I've had. So what was it? In fact it was just a straightforward veg pattie, but you couldn't tell since it was overwhelmed by: two slices fried courgette, a fried egg, tomato, cheese, and some micro salad leaves, all in a beautiful "alkaline" burger bun ("alkaline" according to automatic translation of "Laugen-Burger-Broetchen"...) with guacamole on the side. So that's how.
  • Best ice cream was at Cafe Charlotte in Zelezna Ruda. I had a berry one and another one whose name I couldn't translate.

But my special prize goes to this which is... not traditional but has some "tradition" to it:

  • "Country" pizza on the German/Czech border (in the village of Zelezna Ruda, and almost the closest eatery to the border there - a place called Cukrárna Sněhurka), featuring sauerkraut, sausage, ham, and soured cream. Whether a cynical invention or not, it's a great combination, and a nicely done pizza base, I was very nicely surprised.
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Bacup test kitchen July update

OK a brief PAUSE on my vegetarian year as we report back on the latest iteration of our ongoing project to develop the bacup.

Bacup chef

This time I had some of my black bean chorizo in the fridge so we did bacups with a layer of black bean chorizo, then an …

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Getting better at vegetarian food

I've decided to cook more vegetarian food. Meat-eating is one of our biggest contributors to CO2 emissions and climate change, and certainly it's the biggest one that I can do something about. The nice thing is you don't have to go vegetarian - it's not all-or-nothing - just eat a bit less …

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Mushy peas three-way showdown

Lunchtime showdown: three different tins of mushy peas!

  • Harry Ramsden
  • Sainsbury's
  • Batchelors
Mushy peas line-up

All served up with a bit of black pudding.

Mushy peas throw-down

The verdict:

Sainsbury's mushy peas are not very nice - there's a kind of minty flavour (mint is not in the ingredients) which tastes like it's masking something.

Harry Ramsden's …

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How to cook the perfect Lancashire hotpot

Lancashire hotpot is a classic dish where I come from. Lamb, onion, potatoes, slow-cooked.

There's a short version of this post: Felicity Cloake's "perfect Lancashire hotpot" article in the Guardian is correct. Read that article.

Really the main way you can mess up Lancashire hotpot is by trying to fancy …

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