Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spicy eggplant

My biggest problem when cooking for a crowd is that I get so caught up in cooking I often forget to take photos! It was almost the case this time as out of the three curries made, I only took a quick shot of one. Even though this isn't the greatest photo, I'm glad to have captured something otherwise I wouldn't have felt inspired to write about this dish.

Not much was changed from the original recipe, in fact the only alterations I made were to use lebanese eggplants in place of regular eggplant as well as reducing the amount of oil considerably. I was dubious about pieces of standard eggplant holding together after initial frying and then cooking in the curry sauce. Leaner shaped lebanese eggplants had an advantage as after they were cut, a strip of skin was present in every piece which made them more robust. The amount of oil in the recipe was listed as 310ml which seemed way more than necessary, particularly as we had fried pakoras on the menu. I cut this back to just under half by using what felt right and measuring along the way. A decent portion of oil was still used in the making of this dish as eggplants really do love to soak it up.

Even though this curry is called spicy eggplant, I didn't find it overwhelming spicy. Like most curries it developed a lot of flavour overnight and I enjoyed the leftovers that can be seen above even more. The other curries I made were my old favourite dal makhani which I hadn't made for the man's family before and Palak "paneer" from Holy Cow. The paneer substitute was made with marinated and fried tofu cubes, it's something I have tried before but not revisited for a while. All of the curries received many compliments yet I have a strong feeling that the pakoras were the stars of the night.

For dessert I made individual orange vanilla custard fruit tarts from Wrapped in Pastry which were thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who tried them. I regret not taking a photo of them on the night as the custard had broken up a little by the next day. This photo taken days later will have to suffice.

Oh, one last thing! I have finally created a Twitter account and am in the process of getting that up and running. If you are on twitter, feel free to follow me and I'll return the favour.

Spicy eggplant (Adapted from The Food of India)

800g lebanese eggplant
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
400g tin diced tomatoes
10 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon kaloonji (nigella seeds)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

Slice the eggplants lengthwise into halves or quarters depending on their size, then into pieces about 5cm long. Sprinkle the eggplant pieces with salt and allow to rest for 30 minutes in a colander. Rinse well with fresh water and pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Place the garlic, ginger and 1/3 of the tinned tomatoes in a blender and process until smooth.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep sided frying pan on medium heat and place as many slices of eggplant that will fit in a single layer. Cook until browned on both sides, then remove and place in a colander. Repeat until all of the eggplant is cooked. This took me 4 batches.

Heat the final 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan and add the fennel and kaloonji seeds.When the seeds begin to sizzle and smell fragrant, pour in the contents of the blender, then add the remainder of the tinned tomatoes, coriander, cayenne pepper, turmeric and salt. Stir frequently for 5 minutes, then add the eggplant pieces. Mix the eggplant through the sauce gently so the pieces don't fall apart. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve it as a cold dish.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Raita for curry night

When the man and I were gobbling down gobi pakoras a couple of weeks ago, we decided it was time for us to host another curry night with his family. It was a great excuse to eat some more pakoras and spread their deliciousness around. This time I decided to experiment with some other vegetables and used some broccoli and sweet potato as well as cauliflower.

Terry's coriander chutney was perfect with the pakoras last time so I had to make it again. I also wanted to try a second dipping sauce this time, something cooler and not as spicy for people with lower heat preferences. After searching for vegan raita recipes, I settled on using a tofu based one from Vegetarian Times. It was very simple to put together and after an initial taste test I was concerned that there was still a slight taste of soy present so I added a bit of garlic just in case. I have found in the past that blended tofu sauces and dips develop more flavour after sitting in the fridge for a short period. The garlic may not have been entirely necessary in this recipe although no-one seemed to mind it either.

I made a small portion without cucumber as one of the dipping sauces for the pakoras and added cucumber to the remainder which was used as a cooling condiment on the dinner table to have with our curries. The pakoras were a huge success, particularly the broccoli and cauliflower ones even though the batter didn't work out quite as well as it had previously. Perhaps it wasn't a wise idea to mix it up too far in advance prior to using it.

Stay tuned for another post about our curry night soon!

Tofu raita with mint and cucumber (Adapted from Vegetarian Times)

224g silken tofu
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons brown rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 thai green chilli, seeded and minced
1/2 lebanese cucumber, diced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Place the tofu, olive oil, lemon juice, brown rice vinegar and salt in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer the contents to a bowl and stir through the garlic, chilli, cucumber, mint and cumin. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thai pumpkin and lentil soup

When it comes to pumpkin, the man and I are in total agreement. The only way we appreciate it is roasted or in a Thai flavoured pumpkin soup. There are so many recipes around for Thai pumpkin soup that are essentially a standard pumpkin soup with curry paste and coconut milk added. I've made soups like this before so I decided to create my own this time with additional ingredients to enhance the Thai flavours.

I had some Thai green chillies and lemongrass in the fridge that needed using up and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Red lentils have been finding their way into a lot of my blended soups recently as I love their thickening quality, the nutritional value is just an added bonus. Our little kaffir lime tree had a couple of leaves stripped off for this purpose and I chose to use some Thai thin soy sauce in place of vegetable stock. The Thai thin soy sauce isn't an essential ingredient, regular soy sauce or vegetable stock could be used in it's place which is how I have written the recipe.

It turned out to be fairly spicy which is exactly how I planned it. The amount of chillies could be reduced or omitted to suit personal tastes. I loved the slight undertone of the kaffir lime and lemongrass in this soup and enjoyed an extra squeeze of lime halfway through my bowl.

Thai pumpkin and lentil soup

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Thai green chillies, sliced finely
3 tablespoon vegan red curry paste (Maesri brand)
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water (or use vegetable stock if not using soy sauce)
1 kg jap pumpkin, cut into chunks
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemongrass
3 tablespoons Thai thin soy sauce (or regular soy sauce or omit and use vegetable stock)
165ml tin coconut milk
fresh coriander leaves, for garnish
lime wedges, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a stockpot and add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat until softened then stir through the garlic and chillies for a minute. Add the red curry paste, lentils, water (or stock), pumpkin, and kaffir lime leaves. Trim the end of the lemongrass and remove the outer layer, then pound the stalk gently using the back of a knife so that it releases more flavour into the soup. Add the lemongrass stalk to the pot, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 20 minutes.

Discard the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves then transfer the contents of the pot to a blender and process in batches until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pot and place on low heat. Stir through the Thai thin soy sauce, coconut milk and lime juice. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with wedges of lime.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Purple Patch

Purple Patch is a relatively new vegetarian cafe in the bayside suburb of Sandringham. It has been on my radar to visit since where's the beef recently reviewed it. There aren't many vegan friendly cafes on my side of town and although this one isn't really that close to home, it's in an area that we pop into frequently to purchase coffee beans.

The staff at Purple Patch were very friendly and extremely thorough in explaining all of the menu items and how they could be made vegan. I had my heart set on a breakfast styled meal as we rarely go out to a cafe for brunch and was a bit disappointed that there wasn't a big brekky fry-up, tofu scramble or some home-made baked beans on offer.  

After much indecision I settled on the flatbread with lentil hummus, avocado, tomato and olives (without feta). Whilst the bread was lovely, fresh and warm and the hummus had a nice flavour, everything else on the plate was very simple and underwhelming which made the whole meal feel lacking. My soy latte was filled with a lot more foam than milk yet I didn't mind as it meant that the coffee was nice and strong.

The man ordered the chilli bean and cheese quesadillas which were made with vegan cheese on request. He enjoyed the quesadillas and kindly gave me a few bites to sample. The beans were delicious, mildly spiced for chilli lovers like us and the tortillas were lovely and crispy. The man's long soy macchiato was strong and well made which kept him happy.

It wasn't until paying the bill that I looked over the options again and regretted not trying something on the lunch menu. Perhaps a Thai curry or Ethiopian stew would have suited my taste better!

Purple Patch hasn't had a lot of attention in the blogosphere and only seems to have been reviewed by where's the beef so far.

Purple Patch
19 Bay Road, Sandringham
9598 2378

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gobi pakoras (Cauliflower pakoras)

Whilst I cook Indian meals on a fairly regular basis there are so many types of Indian foods I still haven't attempted to make at home. I generally rotate between vegetable based curries, several different dals, koftas and occasionally flatbreads. Apart from samosas and onion bhajis, Indian appetisers haven't really featured in my kitchen. Pakoras popped into my mind the other day when I was brainstorming something different to serve with my old favourite dal makhani. I have always enjoyed these spicy fried snacks in restaurants.    

After flicking through my cookbooks I couldn't settle on a recipe so I searched around the internet as well. The common theme was a 1:1 ratio of besan (chickpea flour) to water, bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice. The spices seemed to be the factor that gave these recipes their individuality. This research was quite interesting yet I still couldn't decide on a recipe. I ended up following one from an older cookbook of mine that has been a bit hit and miss at times and added a few extra spices I had liked the sound of in other recipes, kaloonji (nigella) seeds being one of them. 

This pakora batter could be used with a variety of vegetables, at the time I had an abundance of cauliflower and decide to use that solely. Coriander and tamarind chutneys as well as raitas were mentioned as being ideal condiments. I enjoyed testing a coriander chutney for Terry Hope Romero several months ago and whipped up a batch to have with these pakoras, this was a perfect match. The three of us couldn't quite make it through the quantity in this recipe as we also had dal to eat. It was difficult to show restraint as the pakoras were incredibly tasty. I highly recommend eating these on the night they are prepared, reheating the leftovers in the oven crisped them up a little yet they weren't as fantastic as they were fresh from the wok.

Gobi pakoras (Cauliflower pakoras)  (Adapted from The Essential Asian Cookbook

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
3/4 cup chickpea (besan) flour 
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kalooni (nigella) seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 - 1 cup peanut oil, for frying 

Mix the chickpea flour, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, kaloonji, cayenne pepper, salt and bicarbonate of soda together in a large bowl. Pour in the water and lemon juice and whisk until a smooth batter forms.

Heat some oil in a wok or deep sided frying pan. Drop a tiny bit of the batter into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the batter it's ready for frying. Dredge the florets in the batter, then place into the oil and cook in batches for about 5 minutes or until golden. Remove the florets and place on paper towels to drain the excess oil. Serve immediately with a chutney or vegan raita of your choice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wrapped in Pastry

Wrapped in Pastry by Leigh Drew was released at the most perfect time for me, just before Mothers Day. My fellows were totally aware that I was planning on buying this cookbook and bought it for me as a gift. The man ordered a signed copy and was stunned when he received a personalised signed copy addressed to him with a message to "cook with no fear". The message had us in stitches of laughter as nothing could be further from the truth!

We had a fairly quiet day on Sunday so I jumped straight into making some of Leigh's recipes. I don't have a lot of experience with pastry making although I do love eating it. Ready made puff pastry sheets are usually  my preferred option for when the pastry cravings hit. I started with lemon and passionfruit tarts which used a sweet shortcrust pastry. The pastry was a breeze to put together although rolling it out after the resting period took me a while. The lemony filling required little effort and as I don't own any tart cases, I made mini tarts using a muffin tray to make the cases. They were really lovely with a wonderful tangy flavour from the lemons, just my type of sweet.

I wasn't quite up to the challenge of making another type of pastry that day yet I really wanted to try the chickpea, leek and mushroom pies. My solution was to make individual pot pies, placing the filling into ramekins and popping a puff pastry lid on top. They were a perfect way to get my boys interested in chickpeas which they aren't usually that keen on. I think the flavour of the leeks in the delicious creamy filling won them over.

I had already tried Leigh's sausage rolls a few days after she posted the recipe as a sneak peek. I've been a big fan of the where's the beef sausage roll recipe for a long time and love how simple it is to put the filling together, the only problem is that it's not suitable for people with nut allergies. This was the first vegan sausage roll recipe I was attracted to that didn't contain nuts so I had to try it. Even though they took considerably longer to make, it was worth the effort as they tasted fantastic and entirely different to ones we are so used to.  

Wrapped in Pastry has a great mix of sweet and savoury vegan recipes, with gluten free options for the sweet and regular shortcrust pastry. It only contains 20 recipes so I won't be posting any of the recipes on my blog as I would like to support an Aussie vegan cookbook author, instead I encourage you to order a copy from Aduki.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Burmese curry

A Thai/Burmese restaurant in our neighbourhood gave us an introduction to Burmese food many years ago, namely Burmese curries. They include many similar ingredients to Thai curries although they don't typically use coconut milk or kaffir lime. I used to reproduce one at home with the aid of a cookbook recipe that would have my boys raving that it tasted exactly the same as the one down the street. These curries were always meat based so it's something I've been keen to replicate with the aid of some mock meat.

This was in fact my second attempt at a mock meat version. When I first gave this a shot and it didn't taste quite right, I realised that I had used the wrong recipe. There are a couple of Burmese curry recipes in my cookbooks and I had completely forgotten which one I used to make. This time it turned out much closer to how we can recall it tasting although it still wasn't perfect in my mind. It was a dry curry rather than saucy which may have been due to using mock meat; that stuff really seems to absorb a lot of liquid.

People who aren't fond of mock meat may find that this recipe works well with tempeh which is something I will try at some stage. The amount of chillies could also be decreased to suit personal spice preferences. It was perfectly spiced for us which means it could be too spicy for others with lower heat tolerance. It's also quite a simple meal to put together. Preparing the paste is the most labour intensive task and once that's out of the way, it's just a matter of simmering with the occasional stir.

Burmese Curry (Adapted from Taste of Thailand by Kit Chan)

3 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
3 small shallots, roughly chopped
2 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons roughly chopped ginger
1 teaspoon roughly chopped galangal
2 teaspoons Golden Mountain Thai thin soy sauce (or use soy sauce)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
300g "beef" chunks
1 cup water
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind puree

Pound the chillies, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger and galangal into a rough paste with a mortar and pestle. Add one teaspoon of the Golden Mountain Thai thin soy sauce and the brown sugar and continue to pound until it the paste is relatively smooth.

Heat a pan over medium heat, add the "beef" chunks and the paste and stir frequently for 5 minutes. Stir in a cup of water along with the turmeric and dark soy sauce. Cook over a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The curry will be quite dry after this time.

Add the remaining teaspoon of Golden Mountain Thai thin soy sauce and tamarind puree and stir well. Serve with steamed rice and stir-fried Asian greens.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Smoky cauliflower and tofu bacon soup

The weather has been cold enough for weeks yet it's taken me this long to get back into the swing of making soup. There have been heaps of leftovers from dinners recently to satisfy our lunch requirements so there hasn't been any need to cook up a batch of soup, until now.

I had a head of cauliflower in the fridge and looked up a recipe I posted last year for a creamy cauliflower and tofu bacon soup which was delicious. After scanning the ingredient list I wanted to make a few changes so it ended up being a slightly different version. Last time I used some Tofutti better than cream cheese and in hindsight didn't think it was really necessary as blended cauliflower is very creamy on it's own. For this version, I ditched the Tofutti, increased the quantity of nutritional yeast flakes and added some red lentils and smoked paprika. Smoked paprika was something I mentioned in my previous post as being a potential addition so I took my own advice on board!

When I was seasoning the soup at the end, I remembered Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe had used leftover tofu bacon marinade in a pumpkin soup she had made. Unfortunately I recalled this after adding some salt and only used a little as a final touch. Never mind, the rest of that marinade went into some refried beans on another night which gave them a lovely flavour.

Which soup did we like the best? Well, it's difficult to say as this one is fresh in my mind and the others don't have the best memories when it comes to food. This soup seemed just as creamy and the smokiness from the paprika, marinade and tofu bacon melded together wonderfully. I prefer these ingredients over the previous version which means it's the winner for me.

Smoky cauliflower and tofu bacon soup (Adapted from my other recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, diced or 2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red lentils
5 cups vegetable stock
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon left-over tofu bacon marinade (optional, or bump up the quantity of smoked paprika)
8 slices precooked tofu bacon, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped roughly, for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot and saute the onions until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute then mix through the lentils. Pour in the vegetable stock and add the cauliflower florets. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 20 minutes until the cauliflower florets and lentils are tender.

Transfer the contents of the pot to a blender and process in batches until very smooth, alternatively use a stick blender to process the soup in the pot. Return the blended soup to the cooking pot and stir in the nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, salt, marinade and 6 slices of chopped tofu bacon. Reheat on a low temperature and season with additional salt (if required) and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the remaining 2 slices of chopped tofu bacon in the microwave for 30 seconds. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish with tofu bacon, parsley and freshly ground black pepper.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nostralis Wholemeal Vegetarian Pizza

Nostralis has been on my radar to try for quite some time as it's the closest veg*n pizza place to my house. On a Saturday evening when the man and I were on our way home from doing errands, he wanted to know what was for dinner. As he didn't seem enthused with any of the quick meals that were on offer, I suggested that we try Nostralis.

I wasn't feeling very hungry until we walked through the door and were overwhelmed with the glorious aroma of pizzas. It's been such a long time since we last had pizza from a store (at least 18 months!) so my stomach changed it's tune immediately. When the pizzas were ready we had a 15 minute drive home yet we couldn't quite wait that long to try some. After stuffing down several slices of pizza in the car, we had to put a lid on it (pardon the pun) and bring some home to the young man who was waiting patiently with the oven preheated.

The Vegie pizza was similar to what standard pizza places would offer on a standard vegetarian pizza; onion, mushrooms, capsicum, olives. It had a substantial covering of tomato on the base and also included a decent amount of garlic and herbs which gave it so much flavour.

The Mexican pizza was topped with beans, onion, capsicum and chilli. The chilli kick in this was nice although I was disappointed with the lack of tomato in the base.

We always used to love a Margherita and couldn't pass up one of our old favs. This was just the way we like them to be - tomatoey, cheesy and herby.

Nostralis has 20 veg pizzas to choose from which are all made with wholemeal bases. Vegan cheese (cheezly) is available on request as are gluten free bases. We played it fairly safe with our selections on this visit, the vindaloo pizza sounded really interesting although we weren't sure if we would like the banana and sultanas that came with it. Maybe we'll be more daring next time around...  

I'm also looking forward to visiting over warmer months as there is a huge park over the road which would be perfect for enjoying pizzas in!

Nostralis doesn't seem to have received many blogger reviews. In the Mood for Noodles gave it the thumbs up twice a couple of years ago which is most likely how I found out about it!

Nostralis Wholemeal Vegetarian Pizza
55 Hawthorn Road, North Caulfield
9528 4961
Open Tues-Sun 5:30-10pm
Pick up only and payment by cash only

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Broccoli dal

This may not look like the most attractive meal in the world although it's delicious flavour has been enough to warrant this being repeated several times and that's saying a lot in this house! The concept of a creamy broccoli dal in Vegan Yum Yum interested me when I first purchased the book even though the amount of spices seemed lacking. I originally trialled the recipe with double the amount of spices which was nice yet I felt it could use some further improvement and began tinkering further.

During my second attempt, I discovered that my cumin seeds had run out. I used ground cumin instead and was on a kalonji/nigella seed craze at the time and added some as well. As you can see from the photo, I'm still hooked on these tasty seeds and also find them to be a tasty addition to saffron rice. I wasn't expecting the meal to be such a hit because a plate of dal doesn't usually excite the others as much as me. I didn't record quantities of ingredients used that time and it's been a challenge to win them over with this meal since.

It has taken a few attempts to rediscover the version that wowed my dal sceptics and I still received minor criticism this time that the broccoli to dal ratio was slightly low which was most likely due to using small heads of broccoli. My recommendation is to use medium or large sized heads of broccoli in order for the broccoli to work it's magic into this meal. Other notable tweaks I have made to the original recipe include the addition of some ground coriander and using blended cashews in place of soy milk to provide a thicker creamier texture. I also prefer to throw roughly chopped broccoli in the pot and blend the whole lot briefly at the end rather than finely chopping the broccoli at the start and serving the dal in a chunkier style.

The recipe below makes a decent sized pot of dal which would be enough to feed four without a side dish. I've been in the habit of making at least 2 curries when we have Indian food so there are always heaps of leftovers, as they reheat wonderfully and taste even better after the flavours have had a chance to meld further. We enjoyed broccoli dal on this occasion with spiced vegetable patties from Holy Cow and have previously loved it with "butter chicken" too.

Broccoli dal (Adapted from Vegan Yum Yum)

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon kalonji/nigella seeds
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Indian chilli powder/cayenne pepper
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium-sized heads of broccoli
1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat the peanut oil in a large saucepan and add the black mustard and kalonji seeds. When the seeds begin to sizzle, stir through the onion and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add the turmeric, coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper. After another minute, stir through the lentils then pour in the water. Add the salt and roughly chopped broccoli stalks and florets to the pot. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, about 20-25 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the saucepan into a blender. Process the mixture and when the broccoli has broken down, pour everything back into the saucepan and return to low heat. Rinse out the blender and add the cashews with the water. Blend the cashews until they become smooth and creamy and pour this into the saucepan. Add the garam masala, lemon juice and additional seasoning, to taste.