Monday, March 28, 2011

My best friend and a new friend

Last week I posted recipes a couple of times but my heart wasn't really in it. In fact, my passion for cooking over this time has diminished as we have been trying to come to terms with some heartbreaking news at home.  

A couple of weeks ago we noticed a sizeable lump on our beloved dog Jasper's hind foot and although we immediately made an appointment with our vet to have it checked out, we didn't really think it was anything to worry about. He is quite an active dog and it was probable that he could have injured himself on a walk, playing in the back yard or that he had been bitten by an insect.

Our vet was very concerned when he examined it and warned us about the worst case scenario - bone cancer. The next day Jasper went back for a biopsy and x-rays of the lump as well as his lungs, this is the first place that this type of cancer usually spreads to in dogs. Thankfully there were no signs of any tumours in his lungs but the vet was rather perplexed with the foot x-ray, stating that he had never seen anything like this type of growth before.   

After a long wait for the results we were finally told that Jasper has an extremely rare form of bone cancer (parosteal osteosarcoma). Osteosarcoma is very common in large breed dogs however the strain that Jasper has is so rare that our vet had never come across a patient with this condition and the pathologist who diagnosed it from the x-ray had only seen 3 cases in her career. The prognosis for parosteal osteosarcoma is better than a standard osteosarcoma as the cancer is slower to spread to other parts of the body.  

We basically had 3 options to consider, the first was to do nothing and to watch this horrible tumour grow, slowly debilitate our baby and in a matter of weeks he would have to be euthanised when the pain was too great. The second was to have his leg amputated, try to rehabilitate Jasper with three legs and hope that the cancer has not spread further. The third was to be referred to an oncologist, where they would probably perform more tests, the amputation and possibly chemotherapy. 

What a decision to make. Do you put your pet through such a huge change just so he can be around with you longer? Jasper is a perfectly happy and healthy dog in every other way. When we asked the vet for his opinion, he said if it was his dog he would have the leg amputated. This was extremely helpful as it was the decision we had been leaning towards but not quite able to commit to. As we were unable to see an oncologist in a timely fashion we opted to have our vet perform the amputation.

It has been a very difficult 6 months for us with our pets. Last September, we lost our first pet ever. Our 11 year old cat Samba died rather suddenly after experiencing kidney failure. In February, our other 11 year old cat Monty went missing for a few days and returned with a severe bladder infection that saw him hospitalised for days. At 8 years of age, we were definitely not expecting anything to go so wrong with our beloved dog.   

When this ordeal started, I immediately recalled a similar story that another blogger wrote about last year, Vaishali @ Holy Cow. I re-read her posts about her dog Lucy and found inspiration in the fact that Lucy had gone through an amputation due to osteosarcoma, recovered wonderfully and is leading a happy life today!

I wrote an email to Vaishali to tell her about Jasper's story and to ask some questions about Lucy and her recovery. I was astounded when I received a reply just over an hour later and as well as answering all of my questions, Vaishali was so sincere and caring in her response. I felt compelled to write again a few days later to let Vaishali know what our latest plans were and to send through a photo of Jasper. Again she replied promptly with further helpfulness. 

On Sunday night, I decided to cook a few things from the Holy Cow blog as a thank-you to Vaishali for all of her support and assistance over the last week. It is so nice to know there are people around that care so much for animals that they are willing to help a stranger out going through such a difficult time. 

I chose to make some Vegetable cutlets (spiced potato and vegie patties) as I knew the boys would like them and Spicy Urad Dhal because I love trying out different dhal recipes. Unfortunately I forgot to buy some coriander so this was omitted. I also subbed a diced carrot for the green beans in the patties. The cutlets were served with an eggplant pickle which was a nice compliment. These dishes were both nicely spiced and it was a delicious meal.

Jasper had a nice weekend, we went for a couple of short walks to some of his favourite haunts, he had a bath, spent lots of quality time with his family and has a nice new comfy bed (which he already loves) for when he comes home on Tuesday night. It will be a long lonely night for us all but at least we have heard that his surgery went well, we know he is in good hands that we trust and he is starting his road to recovery. After so many tears and uncertainty, at the very least we have given our precious boy a chance to live... 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lentil & vegetable colcannon pie

Lentil vegetable cottage pie has been on our repeat list for some time and this wasn't the first time it has been given a make-over. As I missed out on making a St Patrick's Day type of meal last week plus there was a quarter of a cabbage still left from my recent cabbage meals, I decided to turn my old cottage pie into Lentil Vegetable Colcannon Pie.

It's one of those recipes where the filling always fluctuates depending on what vegies are in the fridge. Last weekend, I picked up a couple of dirt cheap bags of red capsicums and mushrooms, however they do need to be used sooner rather than later. This was the first time red capsicum has been a cottage pie ingredient and I probably wouldn't use it again as it made the filling a bit sweeter than usual. Carrots, mushrooms, zucchini and peas seem to blend in without a problem.

It was quite a while ago that I first tried making colcannon so I did a quick recipe search to refresh my memory. One recipe used a method of boiling a quarter of a cabbage and then chopping it after it was cooked which I liked the sound of so this is what I ended up doing.

The pie turned out to be quite a success! When you play around with beloved recipes sometimes it doesn't turn out favourably however this was an exception. Both man and son liked it better than our standard cottage pie so I will make it this way again next time there is spare cabbage around...

Lentil & vegetable colcannon pie

1/2 cup dried brown lentils (or 1 x 400g tin and skip the first step)
1/4 cabbage
5 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 red capsicum, diced (some frozen peas or diced zucchini works better)
5 button mushrooms, diced
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon dairy-free margarine
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Place lentils in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Drain and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add 1/4 of an unchopped cabbage. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the cabbage has changed colour and softened slightly. Remove with tongs and drain. Chop roughly when cool enough to handle. Add the potatoes to this pot and cook for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook until softened. Stir through the garlic for a minute, then mix in the carrot, red capsicum and mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally then add the tinned tomatoes, basil, oregano, bay leaf and tomato paste. Simmer covered for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables have softened then stir through the lentils. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

Heat the dairy-free margarine in a large saucepan and cook the shallots for a couple of minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the potatoes and mash thoroughly, drizzling in soy milk slowly until a smooth consistency is achieved. Mix through chopped cabbage, nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper.

Place the lentil and vegetable mixture in the bottom of a 30cm x 20cm casserole dish and spread evenly. Add the colcannon and smooth it out to the edges so it entirely covers the filling. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the colcannon is starting to brown.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lentil filled tortillla parmas

When I gave Lentil Tacos from Where's the Beef a try a few weeks ago they were very popular at home and a welcome change to the tomato and kidney beans combination I generally serve up with our Mexican meals. Half a packet of tortillas were begging to be used so I made plans to cook some more of these tasty lentils and cook them as baked tortillas similar to these ones.

Instead of the usual layering of roasted capsicum and cheezly for the topping, I decided to make up a salsa to smother on top of the tortillas. The tomato salsa and vegan cheese topping meant that they kind of took on the form of a Mexican style parmigiana. Well that's what I likened them to anyway! They were a nice change from our standard baked tortillas and will definitely get another showing.

I made one and a half times of the lentil filling as I wasn't sure whether the original quantity would be enough to stuff 6 tortillas. Turns out that the original quantity would have been ample, but now there are some spiced lentil left-overs which suits me fine!

Lentil filled tortilla parmas
(Filling adapted from Yeah, that Vegan Shit via Where's the Beef)

Lentil filling

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced finely
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (could have increased this to 1 teaspoon)
1 1/2 cup dried brown lentils
4 cups vegetable stock

Tomato salsa

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion diced finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small red capsicum, diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 large tomato, diced small
1/4 cup store bought salsa

6 tortillas
100g nacho flavoured cheezly
Guacamole, for serving
Vegan sour cream, for serving

Heat olive oil in a saucepan, then add the onion and garlic and cook until softened. Stir through the cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, salt and chilli powder and cook for a minute until fragrant. Mix in the lentils and stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender. If there is still too much liquid at the end of this time, remove the lid and cook uncovered for a few more minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion, garlic and red capsicum and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the cumin, smoked paprika, diced tomato and salsa and cook for about 5-10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place spoonfuls of the lentil mixture in the centre of each tortilla. Fold the edges of each tortilla over the filling, then tuck in the other sides to enclose the filling completely, turn over and place into a baking tray. Top each tortilla with tomato salsa and cheezly. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheezly has melted and the tortillas have browned slightly. Serve with guacamole and vegan sour cream.

A day of breakfasts...

Saturday turned out to be a day of two breakfasts, a mid-morning one and the other in the evening. Our weekend breakfasts tend to be tofu oriented more often than not so it was time to branch out and give something else a shot. The man has always been quite partial to baked beans so I wanted to provide him with some beans that had fresh ingredients and none of the crappy preservatives that are added to the tinned variety.

The night before I had made preparations by simply soaking some dried navy beans in water. The next morning, the beans only required a quick simmer for 30 minutes in which time the sauce to cook them in was being prepared. After that it was a matter of combining the two and placing the pot into the oven for an hour. The recipe that I used was adapted from Cheater Baked Beans in Veganomicon and after reading Cindy's post I adjusted the amount of sweetener (golden syrup in my case) to a little under half and threw in some smoked paprika to give it a smoky flavour.

This was my first attempt at home-made baked beans and I was thoroughly impressed with how they turned out. A dash of liquid smoke could also be a good addition next time around to give them even more delicious smoky flavours.

There has been a block of smoked tofu in my fridge for a couple of weeks and the way that I like to use it most is in a scrambled tofu. Several times recently my plans to make this haven't come to fruition so I decided to make a scramble on Saturday night for dinner. Tofu scramble more often than not is a brunch item for us although there have been a few occasions where it has made it to the dinner table.

Tofu scrambles are rarely made the same way twice as I usually incorporate vegies that need using up along with whatever other flavours take my fancy on a given day. Half a batch of seitan was looking for a home so this was fried up in chunks and then sliced into bite-sized pieces. A tin of kidney beans was thrown in to give this meal an extra protein boost.

After this wonderful day of breakfasts, there was no cooking required the following morning. A simple reheat of left over beans and scramble meant that both were on the brekky menu with no effort required...

Smoky baked beans (Adapted from Veganomicon)

200g dried navy beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
1/4 cup (scant) golden syrup
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf

Place the navy beans into a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak overnight. Drain the beans, rinse thoroughly, then place into a saucepan with fresh water, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the olive oil in a medium casserole dish, add the onions and sauté for about 10 minutes or until slightly browned. Add the garlic and stir through for a minute. Mix in the tinned tomatoes, golden syrup, mustard powder, salt, allspice, smoked paprika and allspice and simmer for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes are softening.

Drain the beans when they have finished cooking and add them to the tomato mixture. Cook in the oven for an hour, stirring once about half way through.

Serve on toast with tofutti cheese slices or with fresh parsley or other fresh herbs of your choice.

Tofu scramble

Olive oil
1/2 batch steamed red seitan (from Viva Vegan)
2 spring onions, chopped
1 small red chilli, copped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
300g smoked tofu, crumbled
125g firm tofu, crumbled
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 small carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Heat some oil in a large frying pan and cook the seitan in batches on both sides until browned. Allow to cool a little then chop into bite sized pieces.

In the same frying pan, add a little more oil and fry the spring onions, garlic and chilli for a minute or two. Add the tofu, soy sauce, smoked paprika, cumin, carrots and zucchini and cook, stirring until the vegies have almost cooked. Mix through the kidney beans and cook for a minute or two more.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Loving Hut

A trip to Ikea last Friday evening had me in two minds for dinner options - back to Thanh Nga Nine for some delicious Vietnamese food or to give the Loving Hut a try. I'm satisfied with our choice to visit the Loving Hut despite not being blown away by all of the dishes we tried...

The traffic into Richmond was horrendous and by the time the man and I arrived at the Loving Hut we were extremely hungry. The place was only about 1/4 full when we walked in but became progressively busier during our dinner.

We started with some spring rolls and fried dumplings. The spring rolls were incredibly crispy and along with their dipping sauce were a fantastic start to the meal. The only problem with the serve was the odd number of rolls which meant that it couldn't be split evenly. The fried dumplings were OK but the ginger and 5-spice in the filling 
was too overpowering for my liking. 

Then we were onto the mains. The man selected the rendang which arrived first so we tucked into this straight away and it was sensational. It's a meal I wouldn't recommended if you are not a mock meat fan as this makes up the majority although there were a few potatoes and carrots included as well. The sauce had a wonderfully spicy coconutty flavour, of which I could have drank a whole bowl and I would have indulged a lot more if I wasn't waiting on my laksa... 

When the laksa finally arrived, my stomach was getting to the point where it really didn't need much more food and I could tell that the man was not going to be very helpful with assisting me in tackling this almighty bowl. The laksa turned out to be a disappointing choice, mainly because the broth seemed to be lacking in the blend of intricate flavours that makes a good laksa shine. My other gripe with it was that there was only one type of vegetable included, green beans. The other components of the bowl were fried tofu puffs (not my favourite type of tofu), different varieties of mock meat and two types of noodles.

The service throughout was attentive and cheerful, however the wait staff were a little bit confused about which meals were ordered at each table. The sequence of meals was also rather strange, one entree came out first, followed by the other entree served with one of the mains and then a long wait for the laksa. It was a cheap feed, the bill coming in at a bit over $30 for 2 entrees and 2 mains! The rendang and spring rolls are definitely an incentive for us to revisit the Loving Hut and one of their many tofu dishes might be a better selection next time.

Unfortunately there are no photos to share as my camera wasn't with me and I'm blaming my hunger for forgetting to take some phone pics. ;-)

Loving Hut was also reviewed soon after it's opening by Shawna, K @ In the Mood for Noodles and Katie Carrot.

Loving Hut
Shop 10, 242 Victoria Street
9427 8916

Dal Makhani with Punjabi Cabbage

Indian food has been sorely neglected in my kitchen recently. We all used to love frequent Indian feasts at home, however the only way I seem to be able to get my troops enthused about it these days is to make koftas (which I have just promised to make again soon). Give me a bowl of nicely spiced dal any time and I am a happy camper.

The first time I sampled Dal Makhani was in a restaurant and I loved the creamy texture even though it was not spicy enough for my liking. I searched for a while and tried a few different versions and made up my own based upon these recipes. A girl of Indian heritage that I used to work with advised me that Dal Makhani is also known as the "Royal Dal" as it is commonly served at special occasions and weddings.

With a surplus of cabbage left-over from last night's cabbage rolls, I knew exactly how some of this could be put to good use. Punjabi Cabbage is another great vegie side I have made several times from my cookbook, The Food of India. It is a rather spicy dish so I decided to cut back on the spices by half this time. This turned out to be a bit too mild so it probably needs to be somewhere in between.  

The Dal Makhani was also toned down a little from how it used to be prepared and this time the result was perfect, so creamy and a nice balance of spices. It turned out to be one of the best dal recipes that I have prepared so I will stick to this formula in the future. A little planning is required as the dried lentils and kidney beans need to be soaked for about 8 hours prior to cooking.  

Dal Makhani

1 cup of dried black urad dal/black lentils
1/3 cup of dried red kidney beans
1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews
1 tablespoon dairy-free margarine
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
10 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 tomatoes, diced
salt to taste
fresh coriander leaves - finely chopped,to garnish

Soak the lentils and kidney beans together for 8 hours. Drain the water and rinse thoroughly. Place into a medium saucepan and fill with water until the pulses are covered and there is about 2cm of water above them. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered for 1 hour.

Place the cashews in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for 1 hour.

Heat the margarine in a frying pan. Add cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle, then add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes until softened then add turmeric, curry leaves, chilli powder, coriander and half of the garam masala. Stir for a minute then mix through the diced tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes have softened.

When the lentils and kidney beans have cooked for an hour, stir through the tomato and spices mixture. Add salt to taste, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. 

Place the cashews into a blender with a small amount of water and process for a few minutes until the mixture has a smooth and creamy texture.

Stir the extra garam masala, cashew cream and coriander through the lentils and serve. Use extra coriander for garnish.

Punjabi Cabbage (Adapted from The Food of India)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped finely
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups green cabbage, finely shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dairy-free margarine

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the cumin seeds until sizzling and fragrant then add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli, fry until softened but not browned. Add the turmeric, 
salt, pepper, ground cumin and coriander to the saucepan and stir through. Mix in the cabbage, stirring thoroughly until all the leaves are coated in the spices.

Cook for 10 minutes with the pan partially covered, stirring occasionally until the cabbage is soft. If the cabbage becomes too dry and starts sticking to the pan, add 1-2 tablespoons water. Stir in the margarine and season with salt, to taste.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ottolenghi Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls have been on my radar to cook again and blog about for a couple of reasons. The first being that they were really nice when I first made them and also because Yotam seems to becoming increasing popular on the blogosphere.

I observed my mother-in-law making cabbage rolls containing meat some time ago which I had never tried in my life. She gave me the idea that I may be able to find a vegetarian version and after searching on the net, I was thrilled to find Yotam's cabbage rolls as there were a few of his recipes that I had already tried successfully.

The original recipe uses ricotta as part of the filling so the natural substitution for this was tofu, nutritional yeast and lemon juice. It is a rather time consuming dish to put together, however once the cabbage rolls are prepared there is an hour of free time to prepare a side dish or two.

It probably wasn't the best decision to serve these with couscous as there are enough grains contained within the cabbage rolls. There was half a packet of pearl couscous in the pantry which I love and had been wanting to use for some time so this became our side dish. It was made up of 2 cloves of garlic, diced carrots and red capsicum, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon harissa, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and a cup of vegetable stock. When the couscous was cooked, I added half a tin of lentils and a tablespoon of coriander. This resulted in a tasty, mildly spiced side dish.

The cabbage rolls turned out beautifully again, however I think they would be even nicer with double the amount of tofu, nutritional yeast and lemon juice and the rice reduced to 1/3 - 1/2 cup. This is what I'll be trying next time...

Cabbage Rolls (Adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe via The Guardian)

1 tablespoon Nuttelex or other dairy-free margarine
45g vermicelli (recipe states not to use the rice variety but that's all I had!)
3/4 cup basmati rice
1 1/4 cups water
Salt and black pepper
1 medium white cabbage
40g pine nuts, toasted, chopped
125g firm tofu, crumbled
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 x 700ml jar passata
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 - 1/2 cup water, to rinse the passata jar
1 tablespoon sugar
Extra parsley, chopped

Melt the margarine in a small saucepan over medium heat. Break the noodles into rough 2cm lengths and add to the pan, stirring continuously. When the noodles start turning golden, stir in the rice, water and half a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to sit for 10 minutes, then remove the lid to let it cool down a bit.

While the rice is cooking, remove 12 leaves from the cabbage. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for about 5 minutes, until semi-soft (I do this in batches). Rinse under cold water, drain, pat dry and set aside.

Heat the oven to 180C. Add the pine nuts, tofu, nutritional yeast, mint, parsely and garlic to the rice, season to taste and stir with a fork. Make a parcel with each cabbage leaf, filling it with a generous amount of the rice mix and rolling it up so that the filling is totally enclosed.

Arrange the cabbage parcels close together in a baking dish. Mix the passata, white wine vinegar, water, sugar and some seasoning, pour this over the parcels, and sprinkle with parsley. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the sauce is thoroughly bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for five minutes before serving sprinkled with extra parsley.

Pita Bread

You know you are food obsessed when after reading the front page of the Sunday paper the next thing you turn to is the weekend feature which contains two or three recipes. Most of them are meat related so it's a pleasant surprise when you do stumble upon something without. It seemed apt after my failure with turkish bread the day before that in Sunday's paper there would be a recipe for pita bread. Today was the day to make amends!

The only ingredient lacking from my pantry was semolina so I decided to use some polenta and hope for the best as the quantity required wasn't huge. The dough was fairly straight forward to put together and it was nice change to fry the bread (rather than bake) and watch it puff up in a matter of minutes. This is a technique I have previously used in making Indian flat breads.

The pita bread turned out to be really nice and was excellent to use with the little bit of zaalouk that didn't make it to the BBQ. The batch I made was half of the recipe below which made 5 decent sized pitas. I will definitely be using this recipe again! 

Edited to add: I have made this recipe heaps of times now and always use semolina which gives the bread a better texture. You can also substitute half of the plain white flour for wholemeal if you prefer.

Pita bread (Adapted from Karen Martini's recipe - Sunday Age 13/3/2011)

7g dried yeast
20g sugar
375ml warm water
2 teaspoons salt
500g plain unbleached flour
100g fine semolina (I used polenta)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra

Place the yeast and sugar into a small bowl and pour in 125ml of warm water. Stir briefly to dissolve the sugar then set aside for 5 minutes. Combine the plain flour, semolina and salt together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture, remaining 250ml of warm water and a tablespoon of olive oil. Work the flour into the wet ingredients with your hands until combined, then tip out the contents onto a clean bench dusted with flour. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and springy, then return the dough to the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Allow the dough to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and knead on a floured bench for a minute. Divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and roll each one into a ball. Roll each ball into a thin circular shape using a rolling pin, dusting with flour as necessary to prevent them sticking to the bench. Prick the dough with a fork in several places. I usually have about 3 pitas rolled out before I begin frying and roll the rest as I'm cooking.

Fry the pitas in a preheated non-stick pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes on each side until lightly browned. Stack the cooked pitas on a clean tea towel, placing a tea towel between every second one to absorb the moisture.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Whilst browsing through my recipes recently, I discovered an interesting sounding dip which had been torn out from a Sunday paper many moons ago. Zaalouk is a Moroccan roasted eggplant and tomato dip with spices, the ingredients sounded like a good blend and something that was a little different so I decided to bring this along to a family BBQ along with the quinoa salad.

It is a rather time-intensive snack to put together, however there is a lot of down time throughout the process. Slightly charring eggplants over a flame, then roasting the eggplants, followed by removing their skin, slow-roasting of the eggplants plus the tomatoes, and finally frying the eggplants and tomatoes with spices. Phew, that is quite a process for a simple dip!

After sampling the zaalouk with some rice crackers, I was very happy with how it had turned out. I knew it would taste so much nicer with some Turkish bread and decided to give this a try. The result of the bread was not up to scratch as it turned out to be rather dry and not at all soft and spongy like nice Turkish bread is, so I will be looking for another recipe next time.

The sad part about the dip is no-one was able to sample it as soon after our arrival a flighty young cat jumped onto the bench and knocked the dish containing the dip off. The dish smashed, made an almighty mess and that was the end of the zaalouk! Being the animal loving person that I am, it was impossible to stay cross with naughty little Tom for long. I'll definitely have to make this again for a gathering, next time 
hopefully everyone will be able to try it!  

Zaalouk (Recipe by Karen Martini from the Sunday Age)

3 eggplants
10 ripe roma tomatoes, core removed
200ml extra vigin olive oil (I used about half or less)
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon harissa
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 bunch coriander, chopped finely
1/2 bunch mint, chopped finely
Nigella (kaloonji, black cumin) seeds, for garnish

Preheat oven to 200C. Rest eggplants over a naked gas flame to blacken the skin, turning over on all sides for 3-5 minutes. Place eggplants on an oven tray and roast for 15-20 minutes. Remove and scoop out flesh with a spoon, discarding the skin.

Place eggplant in a clean roasting dish, Add tomatoes and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Reduce oven temperature and 150C and slow-roast from 1 hour. Remove and allow to rest for 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, pull off tomato skins with your fingers. Remove eggplants and tomatoes from the oil and set aside.

Place 3 tablespoons of the roasting oil (skimmed from the top of the roasting dish) in a large frying pan and cook garlic over medium heat for 2 minutes. Grind spices in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan. Stir in eggplants and tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes or until thickened. Add harissa, season with salt and allow to cool.

Transfer mixture to a serving bowl or plate, add lemon juice and drizzle over more roasting oil. Stir herbs through the dip and add nigella seeds to garnish.

Quinoa and black bean salad

An article on The Age directed me to this salad a while ago which I have brought along to BBQ's several times. It's a nice salad full of lovely flavours and packed full of protein. This time I changed it up a little by using red and white quinoa, modifying the spices a little and using less oil. It makes quite a decent quantity and the leftovers keep well for days in the fridge.

I also made a dip to bring to the BBQ which will be written up in another post soon...

Quinoa and black bean salad (Adapted from a recipe on

1/2 cup white quinoa
1/2 cup red quinoa
1 x 400g tin black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 x 310g tin corn kernels, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper, to taste
1 small red capsicum, seeded and chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve. Place quinoa in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is cooked. Fluff quinoa with a fork and transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool.

While quinoa is cooking, in a small bowl toss beans and corn with red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Add beans, corn, capsicum, spring onions, garlic, cayenne, smoked paprika and coriander to the quinoa. Mix thoroughly.

In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, salt, cumin and oil. Drizzle over salad and toss well. Salad may be made a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Viva Vegan Love - Seitan, Potatoes, Rice

Viva Vegan hasn't had much attention at home for a while so it was about time to dust it off and give some more of these tasty Latin food recipes a whirl. This time I decided to stick with a tried, tested and loved seitan recipe and delve into a new side dish and rice recipe.

Latin shredded seitan (with the chipotle adobo variation) was an instant winner the first time it was brought to the table. You do need to be organised for this meal as the seitan has to be prepared the day before. Other times I have served this with the pan-grilled vegetables in chile-lime beer which has also been a wonderful complimentary partner. A different side dish that had been on my mind to try for some time was the Peruvian potatoes with spicy "cheezy" sauce. A lack of aji amarillo (yellow chilli) paste meant that this was out of the question until a jar was tracked down in a trip to Casa Iberica.

There are a few rice dishes I have tried from Viva Vegan and none have been particularly successful with my crew so it was with trepidation that I settled upon the Cilantro-Lime rice for tonight. Coriander or cilantro is one of those things at home that either doesn't get noticed or there can be a stark contrasting whining remark - "Is there coriander in this?" Apparently coriander is good in some things but not everything. I'll be damned if I can figure out when it's right to add it in or leave it out, however I had a faint memory of serving a rice side with coriander that wasn't popular, so this time I decided to mix a bit through my serve only.

The whole meal was sensational as they always seem to be on a Viva Vegan night. The seitan was just as tasty as last time, the peruvian potatoes were another delicious differently spiced vegie side which I would make again. The cilantro-lime rice had a lovely tangy flavour, definitely the best rice side that I have tried out of Viva Vegan and highly likely to be repeated. I'll leave you with the rice recipe as the ingredients are easy to source as oppose to the other recipes and I think this rice could be an easy way to jazz up a standard rice and beans type of meal like this one.

Cilantro-lime rice (from Viva Vegan)

1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon salt (only if using water)
Freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, lightly packed
1 green onion, green part only, sliced very thinly

In a heavy pot, combine the rice, vegetable stock or water, olive oil, lime juice, zest, salt (if using) and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to the boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot. Cook for 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice grains are tender.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle the rice with cilantro and green onion. Fluff the rice, working in the chopped herbs. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recipe error or am I becoming a chilli wuss?

Surely it couldn't be the latter!!! Spicy foods full of chilli have always whetted my appetite although I have been toning it down a bit recently for the sake of others...

I had no intention of writing up a post when I set out to make this Red Lentil Thai Chilli soup from Isa's blog. The recipe stated that it made quite a large volume so I decided to make a half batch as a trial. As I was working out quantities the chilli powder seemed like it was way too much so I decided to halve it and use 2 teaspoons instead of 1 tablespoon. After an initial taste test the soup was still extremely spicy, it was edible for me but I wasn't confident about how it would fare with the others.

What do you think based on the original full recipe? Would you add 2 tablespoons of chilli powder to a soup that only contains 1 litre of stock, 800g of tinned tomatoes and 400ml of coconut milk? Not to mention there are already 2 tablespoons of Thai red curry paste as an additional spicy ingredient. My theory is that tablespoons may have been a typo for teaspoons, although after reading through the comments no-one else seemed to have an issue. Perhaps the chilli powder I purchased from a local Indian spice shop has a lot more heat than the powders available in the US...

The Melbourne weather being so interchangeable has been a fantastic excuse to start the soup season early this year. It's great to have a pot of soup ready for lunch days when there are no left-overs around. I must try this soup again with less chilli (will try 1 teaspoon for a half batch) as the other ingredients (especially a squeeze of lime juice at the end) make it an extremely flavoursome hearty meal.

Glamorgan Sausages (Selsig Morgannwg)

This recipe has few ingredients and at first glance appears like it could be rather bland, however it is one of the many gems that I have made several times from World Vegetarian Classics by Celia Brooks Brown. Given to me as a gift from my sister-in-law, this was one of the first vego cookbooks to adorn my shelves. Each chapter has an interesting introduction about the cuisine of the region followed by a focus on some dominant ingredients. Another thing to love is each recipe has it's own introduction some of which contains interesting facts or history, like the following...

"The true original vegetarian sausages with no high-tech meat mockery, these aren't far off modern 'analogue meat' and have a remarkable texture and flavour. In his diary of Welsh adventures from 1862, Wild Wales, George Borrow ate them in Glamorganshire, South Wales. Waking up to a miserable morning and having to put on still-wet clothes, the sausages cheered him up: 'The breakfast was delicious, consisting of excellent tea, buttered toast and Glamorgan sausages, which I really think are not a whit inferior to those of Epping.' (Epping sausages were a renowned pork sausage of the time.)"

Every time I pull out this book and browse to the Glamorgan sausage recipe, I always read about George Borrow's vego sausage experience in 1862 and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

A few vegan substitutes were required this time around and I was hoping that the sausages would still work equally as well as their vegetarian counterpart. Ground flax seeds mixed with water were substituted for the eggs, soy milk for the milk, and cheezly plus nutritional yeast for the cheese.

The sausages did turn out just as nice as I previously recalled them to be. As bread is one of the major components of the recipe, they aren't really the type of sausage that you would want to have in a piece of bread. They are best served along with some mashed potatoes and veg, roasted vegies or salad. Fried onions are also a great compliment and we have always found that a good chutney/relish makes the best topping.

Glamorgan Sausages (Adapted from World Vegetarian Classics)

3 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 leek (white part only), finely chopped
50g grated cheezly
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds, mixed with 6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup cornflake crumbs or packaged breadcrumbs
Olive oil, for frying

Mix the fresh breadcrumbs, leek, cheezly, nutritional yeast, parsley, salt, pepper and mustard in a large bowl. Stir through the flax seeds/water mixture until well combined. Test the mixture by squeezing a little in your palm, If it's too crumbly to bind together, drizzle in a little soy milk.

Divide into 10-12 balls, then form each ball into a sausage shape. Toss each sausage in flour, shaking off the excess, then dunk into soy milk and coat with the cornflake/bread crumbs. Place the sausages on a plate and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Heat some oil in a frying pan over low-medium heat or warm up a BBQ grill. Add the chilled sausages and cook, turning gently until golden on all sides.

Serve with tomato relish/chutney, or tomato/BBQ sauce also works well.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Home-made agnolotti with tomato basil sauce

Preparing this meal was like a 2.5 hour rollercoaster ride and when it was finally time to disembark, I was exhausted! It was a journey that instigated a range of emotions during it's many ups and downs and twists and turns - excitement, frustration, impatience, fear, and finally relief. The result of this marathon effort was a totally rewarding dinner that was gobbled up by all in no time, the only disappointment was my failure to capture a decent picture of the completed dish.

My dear mother-in-law offered to give me her pasta machine some time ago. She had only used it once and found it rather difficult to work with on her kitchen bench which she believed wasn't long enough for the job. After we spoke about my cannelloni experience of rolling the sheets out by hand, she immediately pulled out the machine for me to take.

In hindsight, I should have started with something simpler but I had a stubborn fixation to christen this machine with some agnolotti. Filled pasta with a simple garlicky tomato and basil sauce is high up on my list of pasta favourites which is why I wanted to try a home-made variety with great urgency. Latina filled pasta used to be a quick and easy occasional meal of convenience as a vegetarian and is something I have been craving lately.

Most of the processes involved with the meal were simple and took very little time. The pasta dough was the first cab off the rank and once again I used Keira's simple recipe which results in a perfectly pliable dough. While the dough was resting, I made a tomato basil sauce, a tofu "ricotta" and spinach filling for the pasta and some garlic "butter" for garlic bread. No problems here either!

When it was time to make the pasta, things became a little bit more interesting... For starters, the clamp wouldn't attach to my bench securely which meant that whilst rolling the sheets, it would unfasten at times and result in a sheet of uneven thickness or the sheet would break half-way through! When the sheets were made to a satisfactory standard, the lid of a jar was used to cut out circles from the sheets, the pasta circles placed on a small dumpling press, a heaped teaspoon of tofu "ricotta" was placed in the centre which was then enclosed with the press to give the agnolotti a neat finish. This was an extremely tedious procedure and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the last piece of agnolotti was formed.

Finishing the meal was a piece of cake, my only concern was that the filling could explode from the pasta as some of the agnolotti appeared to be very thin and delicate. This only occurred to a couple of them so I was pleased with the success rate. I chose to cook them in individual serves as each batch only took a couple of minutes and I wanted to keep a very close eye on these babies. There was NO WAY all this effort was going to be destroyed by an overcooking mishap!

I had a sudden realisation whilst packing up, that the clamp fits the other side of my bench perfectly (pictured below) where the bar stools are usually located, all I needed to do was stop for a moment and think outside the square. This night was definitely a learning experience.

I'm looking forward to more experiments with the pasta machine, both with different styles and types of flours. Next time I might choose something a wee bit simpler until I get the hang of it...

Tofu "ricotta" and spinach filled agnolotti

Pasta dough (from Around the World Vegan)

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup water
olive oil

Place the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the water into the well and work the flour into the water slowly until a firm dough has formed. Knead the dough on a clean bench for 10-15 minutes until it has a smooth and elastic consistency. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and rest for 30 minutes.

Tofu "ricotta" and spinach

350g firm tofu
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
100g fresh spinach

Steam the spinach until just wilted. Allow to cool then squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible. Finely chop the spinach.

Crumble the tofu in a bowl. Add the nutritional yeast, basil, oregano, salt, lemon juice and spinach and mix well.


Use a pasta machine or rolling pin to roll out thin sheets of pasta. Cut out circles of pasta using the lid of a jar or a cookie cutter then place each circle into a small dumpling press, add a heaped teaspoon of tofu "ricotta" and seal. Place the agnolotti onto a lightly floured plate and refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Simple tomato basil pasta sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
350mls tomato passata
12 large basil leaves, chopped
salt, to taste 

Extra basil, to serve

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the onion and cook over a medium for a few minutes until the onion has softened. Stir through the garlic for a minute then add the tomatoes, tomato passata and basil. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or longer to concentrate the flavours further. Add salt to taste. Serve with some extra chopped basil.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mexican baked tortillas

This used to be a regular meal sometime ago and was our standard Mexican fare until I became a little more adventurous with this cuisine. The recipe was only used the first couple of times it was made and has been fiddled around with countless times over the years. So when I tried to track down the original photocopied recipe as my intention was to give credit to it, the recipe was nowhere to be found! From memory I think the spice mix is the main thing that has been changed. Sometimes other vegies/pulses have been added in such as mushrooms, zucchini, 1/2 tin lentils, depending on what need to be used up. It is also lovely with black beans instead of kidney beans if you have them handy. 

A chipotle chilli in adobo sauce was added to some tofutti sour cream this time as I wanted to try this blend after skipping it last week when making Lentil Tacos from Where's the Beef. This created a lovely smoky, slightly spicy flavour through the sour cream.

Guacamole has been mentioned in my blog before here, here and here. I have tried various recipes but most of the time I like to keep it uncomplicated with a mashed avocado, juice from half a lime and salt to taste. In the past I have added some chopped tomato, red onion and coriander, however I like the avo + lime + salt combination these days as it's nice and smooth and the flavours are simple but delicious!

Mexican baked tortillas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chilli powder (or normal chilli powder)
1 teaspoon paprika (use smoked paprika if you have it)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 corn cob, kernels removed or 1 cup frozen corn kernels or 1 x 310g tin corn kernels
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 tortillas
2 x Always Fresh 
roasted red capsicums, cut into strips
100g grated cheezly (any melting variety)

Preheat oven to 180C. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then mix in the cumin, chilli powder, paprika and oregano and stir through for another minute. Add the corn kernels, kidney beans, tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for about 10 minutes until the corn is cooked and the mixture has thickened.

Place 1/6 of the mixture in the centre of each tortilla. Fold the edges of each tortilla over the filling, then tuck in the other sides to enclose the filling completely, turn over and place into a baking tray. Top each tortilla with slices of roasted capsicum and grated cheezly. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheezly has melted and the tortillas have browned slightly.

Serve with guacamole and vegan sour cream.