Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Going vegan- week 4

I'm going to say it- I am quite enjoying being vegan! Though it is undoubtedly restrictive, it has made me think more creatively about food, and actually be open to some things that I've previously been a bit scathing about. And most importantly, everything I've cooked has genuinely been really tasty (I'm still quite surprised by this).

The Bircher muesli, and salad and bean based lunches are still going strong during the week, as are snacks based around nuts, crisps (one of the most delicious vegan foods), and fruit. Dinners during this week have been particularly successful though. I made a vegetable and cashew nut stir-fry with one of those bags of supermarket ready-prepped veg, a Japanese-style aubergine nasu dengaku, and leftover black pepper tofu. I've only ever eaten nasu dengaku in Teri-Aki before but it looked pretty simple to make. Just fry (or cook by your preferred method) pieces of aubergine, make a sauce by gently heating some miso paste, mirin, and sugar, mix together, and ta-dah- Japanese deliciousness results! The only slight flaw in the plan, was that the Sainsbury's miso paste I picked up was not a 'pure' one and had stuff like ginger in it too. It was still perfectly nice, but I'll make sure I purchase an unadulterated version in the future. I also toned down the amount of sugar I used, as some recipes seem to have loads. I added 1tsp of brown sugar to 2 heaped tblsp of miso and around 4 tblsp of mirin. This suited me, and was plenty to coat my medium aubergine, but you can of course adjust to taste. The sweetness of the aubergine was just the right antidote to the burn of the tofu, and a generous amount of nuts in the stir-fry added texture (and some more protein).

Aubergine made an appearance later in the week too, when I cooked a very simple tomato sauce/stew to go with courgette 'spaghetti', and a cheese-free rocket and walnut pesto.  Courgette spaghetti is just courgette cut into fine strips with one of those julienne peeler things. I must have bought one on a whim years ago, and it's actually pretty handy. It's obviously not essential to have your vegetables resemble pasta, but there is something psychologically beneficial about being able to twirl your food round on a fork. I have made this before, but looking back I definitely over-cooked the courgettes. So everything tasted nice, but the veg had a not brilliant, watery texture. I've learnt my lesson though, so once my two courgette was julienne-ed up, I cooked them in two batches for no more than 3 minutes in some olive oil. Courgettes can basically be eaten raw, so mine were just slightly softened, and cooking smaller amounts at a time meant they they didn't release loads of liquid. The tomato sauce was a basic mix of onion, garlic, and aubergine sautéed in olive oil until soft, and then simmered with a can of chopped tomatoes, some water, a sprinkling of dried mixed herbs, a tablespoon of sundried tomato purée, and finished with some fresh basil.

For the weekend, I thought I'd try and put together some sort of vegan roast dinner. As I don't eat meat anyway, this wasn't actually much of a leap from the type of thing I'd make for a hearty, winter lunch (just with more sunshine). Quorn products aren't vegan, so mini sausages were out, but I instead ramped up my nut roast efforts, made an onion gravy, roasted potatoes and parsnips, sautéed Savoy cabbage, and steamed some broccoli.

Nut roast (enough for 4):

1 170g pack Paxo sage and onion stuffing, made up with water
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
Around 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Around 70g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
Around 70g walnut pieces
1 tsp mixed, dried herbs
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2-3 tblsp olive oil
Generous grind of pepper and a little salt

Cook the onion in the oil until soft and starting to caramelise, and then add the herbs, garlic, mushrooms, and nuts. Season well, and fry until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Make up the Paxo stuffing mix with hot water, and then combine with the mushrooms. You could of course just use an equivalent amount of fresh breadcrumbs and sage, but I genuinely think the Paxo mix (with its extra dried onions, garlic powder, and herbs) adds a flavour boost as well as bulk. The nut roast is basically all cooked, but I assemble it in advance, put into a shallow baking dish, drizzle the top with a little olive oil, and pop into the lower part of the oven at gas mark 6 for around 30 minutes (when the roast vegetables are in). The top should be browned, but be careful not to let it dry out. I have to say that this resulted in an excellent roast dinner.

I also thought I'd try my hand at some vegan baking, but started small with some flapjacks. I took inspiration from this really rather fab food blog, but reduced the amount of syrup (to around 4 tblsp), and added dried cranberries (a generous handful), and around 50g of mixed seeds. I was definitely concerned about using sunflower margarine, rather than butter, and specifically that it would taste strongly of marg. But actually I don't think I would have known the difference. Anything with lots of sugar in it tends to taste mainly of that, and I also had fruit and seeds too. Reducing the amount of syrup did make the flapjacks a bit more crumbly than I imagine the originals were, but there were still robust enough to cut up into pieces. It's also a super-simple recipe, but pretty damn good.

I thought this was going to be my last vegan post, but actually I have a few additional things to write about so there's one more coming!

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