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Coconut mung dhal

A storecupboard dhal with hints of southern India, inspired loosely by more authentic sources such as this one.

Serves 2, takes about 70 minutes but with a big gap in the middle where you can get on with other things.

  • 100g mung dhal
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp chilli seeds
  • 1/2 tsp asafoetida
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 handful methi (fenugreek leaves), or a handful of spinach, kale or other green leaf
  • 1.5 handfuls dessicated coconut

For the tarka:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (or some veg oil)
  • 1/4 an onion
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds (optional)
  • 2--4 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 red chilli (optional)

Take a large frying pan, warmed to medium hot, and toast (dry-fry) the mung dhal in it for about 5 minutes until they smell toasty and turn slightly pink/orange in colour. Keep shuffling them so they don't burn. Then pour them into a sieve (make sure you don't melt it if it's plastic), and rinse and soak them in cold water briefly.

Take a deeper pan with a lid, and warm it up medium hot, with the cinnamon stick in the dry pan. When that's had a minute or so, add the mung beans as well as about 400 ml of water. It needs plenty of water. Also add the turmeric, chilli seeds, asafoetida and salt. Bring this to the boil and then simmer it for about 45 minutes, part-covered with the lid. Make sure it doesn't boil over, but that aside you don't need to worry about it too much.

After 45 minutes the mung dhal should be soft and swollen and the chalky texture should be just about gone. Turn off the heat, and stir in the methi and 1 handful of the dessicated coconut. You can leave this to sit for a while, to absorb -- you can just do the rest whenever you're ready to eat.

When you're almost ready to eat:

If you have a hand blender, use that to blend about a quarter of the mixture in the pan. This gives some thickness without mushing everything. You can also use a potato masher or suchlike. Then, put the dhal back on a very low heat -- do not allow it to boil.

Make the tarka: in a frying pan (perhaps the one you started with!), get the oil nice and hot. Finely slice the onion and the chilli, and put them in to fry until caramelised and a bit crispy. Also add the other tarka ingredients after a couple of minutes.

Serve the dhal in bowls, with the fried tarka sprinkled over the top. Eat with bread (e.g. roti/chapati) or as part of a larger meal.

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Herby-chickeny jackfruit fritters

We had gorgeous jackfruit fritters in a London pub. Somehow, they got them extremely chickeny tasting. Impressive! I had to try and replicate the effect.

So what we're doing here is lovely juicy jackfruit fritters, making sure there's not too much stodgy dough getting in the way. It's flavoured with herbs, but specifically with those flavours that remind you of chicken and stuffing: sage, thyme, onion. I'm using a mixture of fresh and dried herbs according to availability - you could change it around. You really need at least some of the herbs to be fresh, because they're not just there for flavouring, they provide leafy green body to the fritters too.

I use chickpea flour (gram flour) to hold the fritter together and to help give it a moist chew. You could try other types of flour but I don't think they'll give the same effect.

You need to get the ingredients as dry as possible - the less excess water, the better the fritter will hold together. So, try washing and draining your jackfruit and herbs early, and leaving them to drain for a good while. I also pat the jackfruit dry with kitchen paper.

Serves 1-2, takes 30 minutes.

  • 1 tin green jackfruit in water
  • 2 tsp onion granules, possibly more
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 small handful fresh parsley
  • 1 small handful fresh sage
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint (i.e. less than the other herbs)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a twist of black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 2 tbsp chickpea flour

Drain the fackfruit pieces as well as you can, cut off any very hard bits and discard, and then chop the rest roughly - it should end up as pieces a bit like chicken kebab meat, smaller than bitesize but still chunky. You can squish the pieces a little with your fingers, so that they break up a little and expose more surface area, and also look less like triangles.

Put the fresh herbs in a blender and pulse to chop them finely. (Or use a big knife and chopping board!) If you're using the blender, you do not need to discard the stalks for the parsley, but you will do for the others that have harder stalks.

Mix everything except the flour together well in a medium bowl, ensuring the herbs and other flavours are well-distributed over the jackfruit pieces. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour.

When there's about 15 minutes before time to eat, sprinkle the chickpea flour evenly over the mixture, and mix it all through well. You're aiming to give the mixture enough flour that it's going to hold together well, but you do not want the flour to take over from the jackfruit. You're not making a dumpling! The flour should absorb pretty quickly into the mixture

On a flat surface, divide the mixture into two balls, then squish and compress them with your hands to make two compressed, burger-y shapes. Let this sit for a few minutes to absorb and to start to hold its shape, while you prepare other things.

In a large flat frying pan, warm up some veg oil ready for frying. You'll be shallow frying, but don't be stingy with the oil - you need enough oil (maybe about 1mm depth?) such that the surface of the fritters will form well. Very very gently, and without breaking or reshaping them, manoeuvre the fritters into the pan. Don't disturb the frying fritters too much, especially at first - let them get a surface from frying. They'll take about 5 minutes one side, and then you delicately turn them and give them 5 minutes the other side.

Serve as a starter, or as a midweek meal with chips and salad.

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Levantine aubergine pizza

This flavour combination was fabulous - the hot deep flavour of muhammara (from Turkey/Syria, so I'm told) and the herby zesty za'atar (ours is from Palestine) make a great complement to the classic taste of grilled aubergine. We're not from the Levant so don't take this as authentic, but this is evocative and quite easy.

Muhammara is a fiery dip, and mixing it with mascarpone (or similar) in a ratio os 1:2 gets the heat just right for this, in our opinion, though you may wish to tweak it! Serves 2 hungry eaters, takes about 30 minutes (aside from making the pizza dough, which is optional to do it yourself).

  • One 12" pizza base (we made a square one, using Jamie Oliver's recipe, with: 250g strong white bread flour; 160g warm water; 3g yeast; 1 flat tsp sugar; 1 flat tsp salt)
  • One medium aubergine
  • 120g mascarpone cheese (to veganise the recipe - use Oatly creme fraiche :)
  • 60g muhammara
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 flat tsp za'atar
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 5 cherry tomatoes

Heat your oven to 200 C.

Put the pizza base out onto a lightly-floured baking tray. Mix the muhammara and mascarpone together, and spread this evenly over the pizza base, leaving the edges clear like you normally do with pizza.

Slice the aubergine in half down the middle, then slice thinly to make semicircle slices (about 3mm thick). In a bowl, toss the aubergine slices with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Then lay them out nicely on the pizza, to make a scallop pattern - don't just pile them on, you want each aubergine piece exposed equally to the heat. You'll cover almost the whole pizza.

Sprinkle the za'atar evenly over the aubergine pieces, then drizzle the remaining olive oil evenly over the top. Put it in the oven for about 20 minutes, until it's looking lovely.

Chop the tomatoes into little quarters. Take the pizza out of the oven, and dot the tomato pieces all over, then also sprinkle the parsley over. Leave the pizza for a minute before eating! It's too hot, and also it's good for the tomatoes to take up some of the heat.

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Curried roast cauliflower with carrot coriander puree

This was a great dish making a centrepiece of the cauliflower with Indian spicing. I made it up based on something that looked nice on Masterchef. A notable non-cauliflower-lover gave it top marks so I'm sure you'll love it too.

Serves 2, takes about 50 minutes, plus extra time at the start to marinate.

For the rice:

  • 1/2 a mugful basmati rice
  • 1 small handful whole roast almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 small handful sunflower seeds
  • 1 small handful green lentils, cooked
  • 100ml coconut cream, or 200ml coconut milk

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 medium-to-small head caulilower, leaves and some of the base removed
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder

For the carrot:

  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 small handful coriander leaves
  • 1/2 tsp oil
  • Pinch of salt

First, marinate the cauliflower. You can do this way in advance, e.g. 2 hours - but give it at least half an hour if you can. Mix the coconut oil, vegetable oil and all the dry spices. Chop the cauliflower into four big quarters - remember, you want these to come out whole at the end of the process, try to cut them so they'll stay entire. Now marinate the cauliflower in the oil and spice mix, turning it a few times to try and get all the surfaces flavoured.

When there's about 40 minutes until service, turn on the oven to 180 C. Oil a baking tray or baking tin and pop it in the oven to pre-heat.

Now start off your rice. Wash it in a sieve or suchlike, washing it until the water runs clear, then leave it to soak in fresh cold water for 10--20 minutes. Make sure all the bits you need for the rice are ready.

Take the baking tray out of the oven - be careful of the hot oil - and lay the cauliflower pieces flat-side down into the hot oil. Return to the oven. They'll cook for about 30 minutes, and halfway through you'll want to turn them so that "the other" flat side is down in the oil.

Drain your rice and put it in a pan that has a tight-fitting lid (it's handy to oil the pan a little, in advance). Add all the other ingredients to the rice pot, as well as 2/3 mugful of cold water (or less, if you're using coconut milk - 1/3 mugful?). Bring this to the boil, stir, then turn the heat down to the lowest it can possibly go and put the lid on. You now need to leave this un-disturbed for 20 minutes for the rice to absorb. Meanwhile you can get on with the carrots.

Slice the carrots into very thin coins and put them in a pan with a little oil and 100ml water. Bring to the boil, salt, and cook vigorously for about 12-15 minutes until soft.

Drain the carrots. If you've still got the bowl in which you marinaded the cauliflower, you can pop the carrots in there to pick up any leftover spice. If not, don't worry. Put the carrots and coriander, together with a dash of water (e.g. from cooking the carrots) and a dash of oil, all into a blender and blend to a smooth puree. Check seasoning, add a bit more salt if needed.

To serve: with a big spoon, scoop the rice out to make a mound. Take the puree and spread it over the plate next to the rice. Take the cauliflower pieces from the oven and place them on top of the puree.

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Lovely vegan carrot date and walnut cake

I veganised a recipe handed down from my mum, and it's great. It's very soft and moist with a dark sweetness (from the dark sugar) that goes really well with the other flavours. Plus it keeps for a good while, and easy to make from mostly store-cupboard ingredients.

I've been making it for years - here's the original recipe - but now I wanted to VEGANISE it. It worked!

The most exotic thing involved is the ingredient that I used to replace egg: chia seed. You can also try flax seed. This other website has a nice guide on how to make "chia egg" or "flax egg" - there is something in these seeds that makes a glutinous substance that can bind a cake together.

It's a very easy recipe. The cake mix looks quite strange when you put it in the oven - a big blob of grated carrot, mostly! But it becomes a big brown dark and moist cake.

The end result is great. Compared against the non-vegan version there's a different texture - the edge of the cake is chewy/crispy in a nice way, I find.

  • 225g (8 oz) dark soft brown sugar
  • 180ml (6 fl oz) vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds - whole OR ground
  • 175g (6.5 oz) self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder (or 1 of bicarb - I need to check this)
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely grated
  • 50g (2 oz) chopped walnuts
  • A handful (about 6) dates, whole or chopped
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar

Make sure the walnuts and dates are quite finely chopped. It's nice to have big bits but they can tend to make the cake fall apart, which is more of a risk with this vegan version.

Line an 18cm (7 inch) round cake tin with greased greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF, gas mark 4).

If your chia seeds are whole, grind them up in a pestle and mortar. If they're already ground, that's fine, and you might like to include a small sprinkle of whole seeds as well to add a bit of variety to the texture. Add water to the chia seeds, about the same volume of water as chia. No need to wait to let it "set" or anything like that.

Put the sugar into a mixing bowl and gradually whisk in the oil, then whisk in the chia mixture too. Add the flour, cinnamon and baking powder/bicarb and stir the mixture well, beating out lumps to make the mixture as smooth as you can. Add the carrots, nuts, dates and cider vinegar, and mix.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes, until the cake is risen and firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven, leave to stand in the tin for 3 minutes, then turn out onto a wire tray, peel off the paper and leave to cool.

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Mushroom and aubergine biryani

This evening, took the time to make a nice mushroom and aubergine biryani. It takes a little time to prepare the onions and the marinade, but this method cooks the rice beautifully and makes a great one-pot dish.

Serves 2. The recipe here is based on a biryani recipe in "Indian vegetarian cookery" by Rafi Fernandez (p109). - And if you're wondering if 2 onions is too much for 2 people, well I wondered too, so I checked it against three other recipes before I tried it. It is indeed the right amount!

For the marinade:

  • 80g yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

Plus:

  • 2 medium white onions
  • 1/2 an aubergine (chopped into thin bitesize pieces)
  • 120g mushrooms (chopped into mediumthickish pices)
  • 155g basmati rice (ideally the rice with wild rice in too)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp cumin seed
  • About 8-10 strands saffron
  • 1 handful coriander leaf, chopped
  • 2 tbsp oat milk

Fry the aubergine pieces in not-too-much oil, just a touch - just to get a bit of colour on them.

With a fork, beat the yoghurt with the other marinade ingredients in a decent-sized bowl. Toss the mushroom and aubergine in this paste, making sure they're covered well, and leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes - could be much longer if you like.

Slice the onions into 5mm halfmoons, and fry them in hot oil for up to 10 minutes to crispy. Drain them on kitchen paper.

Rinse the rice. Parboil the rice (5 mins) with bay leaf, cinnamon, cumin seed and saffron. Then drain it and run the cold tap over it a little to stop it cooking. Don't do too much, no need to wash the flavour away.

In a pan with a tight-fitting lid, put a glug of oil and/or butter. Spread it around to make sure the bottom of the pan is coated. Now place a small scattering of rice, then the mushrooms+aubergine in a layer. Then half of the remaining rice, followed by most of the fried onions as a new layer (keep some fried onion for garnish), and finally the rest of the rice. Pour the milk over the top, gently making sure you get it evenly all over.

Now put the pan on the heat. Turn the heat down to the lowest it can go, and put the lid on. Let it cook gently for about 40 minutes - do not stir it ever, and do not open the lid.

To serve - turn the contents of the pan out onto a plate. Garnish with the leftover fried-onion, and coriander leaves.

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Two easy mushroom tarts

Two flat mushroomy tarts, really easy to make and vegan too. This recipe makes "half of one half of the other" but you can concentrate on just one or the other if you like.

The creamy one is a bit more savoury, while the tomato/pepper one is sweeter. They …

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Vegan chorizo carbonara

OK, "vegan chorizo carbonara" - I think neither the Italians nor the Mexicans will forgive me for this one! But it's a veganuary experiment and I like it.

Thanks to veganuary I'm learning about chia egg, and here it really does work to provide the gloopy egg-like saucing. The chia also …

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Black bean chorizo

I've been using "black bean chorizo" in my cooking for years. It's based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "tupperware chorizo" recipe - it makes a densely-flavoured black bean paste, not as firm as real chorizo but with the same kind of flavour depth.

It keeps in the fridge for a long time (let's …

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Chilli sin carne, using pulled jackfruit

My amazing chilli sin carne (inspired by this version) is easy to make.

Photo of chilli dish

The only tricky thing is "pulling" the jackfruit at the end of the cooking - it's a bit labourious but it makes a massive difference to the way the food tastes in the mouth afterwards. Please don't skip …

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