Monday, 21 January 2013

Red lentil banh mi wraps

When I've been looking for inspiration for vegan food, most have come from Asian recipes. Maybe not surprising as there is an extensive tradition of vegetarian meals in many of the Asian countries. One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes is bahn mi, a baguette often filled with spicy pork pate, pickled carrots, salad, chili mayonnaise and fresh herbs. Banh mi is a perfect example of successful fusion of food traditions, french baguettes with a Vietnamese filling. Vietnam is the only country I visited in southeast Asia where you can find quite nice bread and croissants, a result from its time as a French colony. You can also find amazing ice cream bars, serving not only standard flavours like chocolate or mango, but also sweetcorn and rice (and durian, bleurgh!). Vietnam also has some of the best coffee I ever tasted, marginally beaten by Portugal and Brazil.

Got to stop thinking of Vietnam now, got such itchy feet, want to go travel now now now! Below are two images from when I went to Vietnam in 2009. It's such a beautiful country.

Floating food market on the Mekong river in south Vietnam

Beautiful lanterns in Hoi An

Anyhow, back to banh mi! You can use for example fried tofu instead of meat pate for a vegetarian or vegan take on banh mi, and I found quite a few recipes online using tofu. However, as I've just made the excellent black pepper tofu, and even though that recipe did change my mind about tofu, I didn't feel ready for another dish where the tofu would be in focus. Still, I wanted a filling with a lot of protein, and decided to instead make a filling with red lentils and Vietnamese flavours. To really up the protein, I decided to include tofu anyway, by using soft tofu instead of mayonnaise in the chili dressing.

The pickled vegetables are an essential part of a banh mi, I slightly modified a recipe I found on Post punk kitchen, an excellent vegan blog. The vegetables last for up to one week in an airtight container in the fridge. Beware, the smell when you open up the container is quite awful, but the vegetables are delicious and crunchy.

Although banh mi is traditionally served in a baguette, I decided to continue the food fusion by going Mexican and making a wrap instead. I find it easier to eat this way, and is a more low-carb alternative to baguettes.

The final result is full of Vietnamese flavours, fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables and hot chili. Perfect food to make you forget that its dark, winter and snow :)

Red lentil banh mi wraps (serves 4)
Tortilla wraps
Crunchy salad leaves, like sweet gem, iceberg or romaine
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch coriander
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped

Pickled vegetables
2 large carrot, cut to matchsticks
12-15 cm daikon, cut to matchsticks (can be substituted with radishes)
2 dl rice or white wine vinegar
1 dl light brown sugar
0.5 dl sea salt
1 red chili, finely sliced
1 tsp whole peppercorns, any colour
2 star anise
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced

Banh mi filling
250 g red lentils
5 dl vegetable stock
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chili, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and divided in halves
2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 tsp chinese five spice
0.5 tsp cinnamon
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn in halves (I used fresh, but dry or frozen will also work. If you can't find any, add zest and juice of one lime)
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
3-4 tbsp light soy sauce
neutral oil

Sriracha dressing
200 g soft tofu
2-4 tbsp sriracha (Asian chili sauce, can be substituted with other chili sauce like sambal oelek)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 lime, juice

Start with pickling the carrots and daikon by adding the vegetables, chili, star anise and kaffir lime leaves to a clean airtight glass or plastic container.

Add the sugar, salt and vinegar to a pot and heat up until it starts simmering and the sugar and salt has dissolved. Pour the hot liquid over the vegetables.

Close the container and store in the fridge for at least 30 min before serving. The pickled vegetables will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container in the fridge

Cook the lentils in vegetable stock for 20-25 min until soft

While the lentils are cooking, saute onions, carrots, ginger, garlic, chili, lemongrass, coriander seeds, chinese five spice, and cinnamon in a large frying pan for 10-15 min on medium heat

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, lentils, kaffir lime leaves, and lentils to the frying pan. If it's dry, add 1-2 dl of hot water. Simmer for 10-15 min until most of the liquid has reduced. Stir occasionally and use a fork to lightly crush the lentils

For the sriracha dressing, mix all ingredients together to a smooth sauce. Don't add all the sriracha at once, it can be very hot!

Add salad leaves to a tortilla wrap. Then add the lentil banh mi filling, pickled vegetables, and sriracha dressing. Finally top with fresh mint and coriander leaves, and sprinkle on spring onions

Roll together to a wrap

Smaklig måltid!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Black pepper tofu

This recipe should really come with a disclaimer like "May cause conversion to tofu lover". But maybe you already like tofu? Well, I've never been a fan. I eat it in dishes like Sichuan mapo dofu or Malaysian laksa soups, but I can honestly say that 9 times out of 10 I find it really bland and uninteresting. Anyhow, I felt like I can't do this vegan experiment without cooking with tofu. If nothing else, tofu is a good source of protein for vegans.....

After browsing through quite a lot of recipes, I came across this recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi for black pepper tofu on the new great Swedish vegan blog, Vegoriket (only in Swedish). I love Ottolenghi's new vegetarian series in Guardian, I highly recommend that you look it up! Both his vegetarian and other cookbooks are beautiful, and I think I'll have to go and buy the vegetarian one, Plenty, very soon as I keep seeing recipes from this book on different blogs.

So I decided to try the recipe, and I'm so happy I did as it was amazingly good! I'm now a tofu lover :) This recipe is hot though, if you're not a fan of spicy food, this may not be for you. Still, it is not mouth burning stuff but a nice heat. I've modified the recipe slightly, decreasing the amount of tofu by half as I find 200 g tofu per serving to be quite a lot. If you're hungrier than me, you can up the tofu to 800 g. I also added a little sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. 

If you're not sure about tofu, I really recommend you try this. Not interested in tofu at all? Try this with slices of fried chicken or beef instead, because this sauce is seriously to die for. 

Black pepper tofu (serves 4)
400 g firm tofu, cut in cubes
corn flour
12 small shallots, thinly sliced
8 red chillies, thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
3 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (ketjap manis)
4 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light brown sugar
0.5 tbsp sesame oil
5 tbsp black pepper, crushed (it should be quite coarse)
1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
vegetable oil

Toss the tofu in cornflour, shake of the excess. Pour enough oil to come up to 0.5 cm on the sides of a large frying pan or wok and bring up to frying heat

Fry the tofu in batches, turning the cubes until golden all around with a thin crust. Transfer to drain of excess oil on a paper towel

Remove the used oil from the pan, and add 1 tbsp fresh oil. Add shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger, and saute for around 15 min on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the contents are shiny and totally soft. While cooking, crush the peppercorn using a pestle and mortar, they should be quite coarse 

Add the soy sauces, sugar, sesame oil and black pepper to the pan and stir. Add the tofu and let it warm through for 1-2 min. Finally stir in the spring onions and sprinkle with sesame seeds

Serve with steamed rice or noodles

Smaklig måltid!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Let's talk about milk

Before this vegan month I had really very little experience of non-dairy milk. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of milk, I would never drink a glass of milk on its own. I do however drink milk in coffee, which means that I actually consume quite a lot of milk as I can't function without a large cafe latte in the morning, and preferably another in the afternoon to keep me going. In addition to using milk in coffee, I use dairy products like milk, cream, creme fraiche and yoghurt in different recipes. And then there is cheese, mmmm, glorious cheese.......

Before I disappear into some kind of weird cheesy daydream, let's get back to milk. I'm not going to go into why milk and dairy production is a sensitive issue. Many people have written a lot about this, just google it if you want to know more (but if you enjoy milk, you'll likely to need a strong stomach to continue drinking it afterwards without considering at least briefly if there isn't an alternative way).

Anyhow, so what are the alternatives if you want to drink non-dairy milk? Turns out that there are much more alternatives than I knew! I thought it was just soy milk, but there are also almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, and even hemp milk. All of these different varieties were available at Sainsbury's, pretty impressive actually. Many of these have added calcium and vitamins to reach similar nutritional values as dairy milk. There are fresh non-dairy milks, but also a larger range of UHT non-dairy milk.

I decided to try a couple of different ones. As I don't have a sweet tooth, I only tested unsweetened versions, which removed quite a few options. I selected soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and hemp milk. See below for my comments:

Soy milk - quite neutral in taste, slightly grey colour, tastes OK in coffee but slightly more bitter than dairy milk. Works well in cooking

Almond milk - slight almondy/nutty taste, colour slightly grey/brown, creamy and nice in coffee. Works well in cooking

Coconut milk - this is not the same as the coconut milk bought in cans for cooking! Or, it is the same but diluted and in different packaging. Anyhow, nice white colour with a slight coconut flavour, nice and creamy in coffee. Works well in cooking, in particular Asian flavoured dishes

Hemp milk - slightly bitter taste with greyish colour. The worst of the ones I tested.

My favourite so far for my morning coffee is definitely the coconut milk. I buy an organic coconut milk with added calcium and vitamins, and it's just delicious. A little addition of cinnamon and cardamon to the coffee, and that cold boring commute becomes a warmer and nicer experience. For cooking, I have good experiences with soy, almond and coconut, either one would work with most dishes.

Personally, I feel better without dairy products. Let's just say my stomach is happier and not go into more details than that. I actually think that even if I stop the vegan experiment in February, I will continue drinking non-dairy milk.

For more discussion on different non-dairy milk alternatives, read Replacing dairy milk by Oh she glows. She also has a recipe on how make your own oat milk. Though making my own milk feels like a step to far for me....

So what about other dairy products like yoghurt and cheese, and their non-dairy alternatives? I'll come to that in a later post, but it's a much more negative experience compared to non-dairy milk.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Asian coleslaw

Like many others I've started this new year with new goals and resolutions, determined to make positive changes to my life. The vegan resolution is going really well, it's been such a positive thing that I might continue for longer than just one month. Anyhow, today it was time for the next step, to join a gym again. That's how original I am, like thousands of others, I join a gym in January....

After signing up, I went to Whole foods market at Kensington High Street for the first time. I've thought about it before but never got around to it. Which probably is a good thing for my wallet, because it was so amazing and I wanted to buy enough food to last me for months! Things like freshly made pistachio butter, marcona almonds, red quinoa (which I see in so many recipes but I never find), fresh chantarelles... In addition, a pretty amazing cheese room and nice organic meat selection. I will go there again for sure when I want something special or to indulge. Or if I want something ready made, they had an impressive selection of salads, cold and hot dishes for take away, including vegan dishes.

After browsing through the store for a ridiculously long time, I finally got home and had some of the coleslaw below. Coleslaw is easy to do, well at least once you get past all the peeling/shredding/grating, and a large batch will last for up to 5 days in the fridge. This recipe is again a modification of a recipe from River Cottage Veg Everyday. I made this to complement the sweet potato and peanut gratin, but this could be served with so many different things, from spare ribs to noodle salads to tortillas.

Asian coleslaw (serves 4-6)
0.5 small white cabbage, finely shredded
0.5 small red cabbage, finely shredded
4 medium carrots, coarsely grated
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 bunch coriander, chopped

2 limes, zest and juice
1 red chili, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp light brown sugar

Combine cabbage, carrots, spring onions, and coriander in a large bowl

For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss thoroughly. Leave to marinate for 15-20 min before serving

Smaklig måltid!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sweet potato and peanut gratin

I can't believe that it's already Sunday evening! The weekends are way too short, in particular since I started studying as well. I was supposed to go to a friend's birthday party yesterday, but I was completely knackered after uni and decided to take a nap before going out. Guess I forgot to set an alarm, as woke up really late at night and figured it was quite pointless to go out then. Quite a failure of an evening....

Today I was going to study, but ended up going for coffee with friends instead and then went home to cook. One of the things I've cooked to today is this lovely sweet potato and peanut gratin, which is from a slightly modified recipe in the River Cottage Veg Everyday cook book. The addition of peanut butter, lime and chili gives the gratin a lovely satay-like flavour. I served this with a crunchy Asian flavoured coleslaw (recipe to come soon), a nice contrast to the soft gratin. 

Sweet potato and peanut gratin (serves 4)
1 kg sweet potatoes, thinly sliced
200 g chunky sugar-free peanut butter
2.5 dl milk (I used almond milk)
2 tbsp neutral oil
3 red chillies, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
1 pinch sea salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C and lightly oil a large oven dish.

In a large bowl, toss the sliced sweet potatoes with the oil, chili, garlic, lime zest and salt

Stir milk, peanut butter, and lime juice together

Add half of the sweet potatoes to the dish. Pour over half of the milk and peanut butter mixture

Add the rest of the sweet potatoes, then pour over remaining liquid

Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 15 min. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 min until the top starts to brown and crisp

Smaklig måltid!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Black bean burrito with corn salsa and guacamole

This could possibly be the most amazingly delicious burritos I have ever had, irrespective of with or without meat. I thought I might miss cheese with this, but didn't at all, they are so full of flavour, with rich refried black beans, spicy corn salsa and lemony guacamole. Promise me you'll try this, ok?

This vegan experiment has been a great experience so far, with some great new dishes. I really don't miss meat/chicken/fish or dairy. I find that cooking vegan food is actually easier than I thought, I have definitely not have had to compromise on flavour. Someone asked me if I don't get hungrier quicker eating vegan food, but no, I haven't experienced any difference. The only thing is probably that I have to plan a bit more in advance, but hey, I'm a list maniac and spend at least 2 h a day commuting, I have time to plan...

Regarding milk, currently trying a lot of different non-dairy milk options, will come back to this in a later post.

Black bean burrito with corn salsa and guacamole (serves 4)
Flour tortillas

Refried black beans
2 cans of black beans, approx. 400 g drained weight
2 large flat mushrooms, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp chipotle paste
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch light brown sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 dl vegetable stock

Corn salsa
150 g sweetcorn
2 tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
0.5 red onion, finely chopped
2 small or 1 large lime, zest and juice
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 pinch salt
1 pinch light brown sugar
black pepper

2 avocados
1 small lemon, juice
1 pinch salt
1 small garlic clove, minced
black pepper

Fry the mushrooms in oil in a large frying pan until they start to concentrate and caramelise. Add one finely chopped garlic clove and a little salt, and fry for a few more minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the side

Add onion, red pepper, carrot, garlic and chili to the frying pan, and fry on medium to high heat for 5 min

Add beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle paste, tomato paste, all spices, sugar and salt to the frying pan

Simmer for 10-15 min until most of the liquid has been reduced. Stir occasionally and use a fork to crush the beans into a coarse puree

While the beans are simmering, make the salsa and guacamole

For the salsa, stir together all of the ingredients

For the guacamole, in a bowl, mash together the avocado with the other ingredients

To serve, add refried beans to a flour tortilla and top with salsa and guacamole. Roll together to a burrito

Smaklig måltid!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Fried chili and rosemary polenta with mushroom ragout

One of the reasons I wanted to try a vegan diet for a month was to challenge myself to cook new things and experiment. I've been in a bit of a cooking rut, cooking the same or similar things repeatedly. To get more inspiration, I decided to buy a new cookbook with vegan and/or vegetarian recipes. I went to Waterstones close to Piccadilly circus, one of the biggest bookstores in London. To my surprise, although they did stock quite a lot of vegan/vegetarian cookbooks, none of the vegan books they had were particularly appealing. Most of them had no pictures, and I'm sorry, for me cookbooks are all about raising interest and appetite, and for that I need pretty pictures. Shallow, I know, but that's what I want. Cookbooks are my food porn.

Anyhow, instead of buying a vegan book, I ended up buying River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall instead. And I'm so pleased with this book! Loads of amazing recipes, a third which are vegan and loads of others that easily could be adjusted. In addition, the introduction captures a lot of my own thinking on eating and cooking delicious food with more vegetables and less meat.

I've combined and modified two of the recipes from this book into the below recipe of fried polenta with mushroom ragout. This is a seriously tasty comfort dish, with crisp polenta wedges and a deeply flavourful mushroom ragout. Not a vegan and want to make something really indulgent? Stir in some hard goat cheese, parmesan or mature cheddar in the polenta before you spread it out. The polenta slices would also be great served with a tomato sauce, or eaten as snacks with a romesco or garlic dip.

Fried chili and rosemary polenta with mushroom ragout (serves 4)
1.5 dl quick-cook polenta or semolina
2 dl water
2 dl milk (I used fresh full-fat soy milk)
1 cube vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red chili, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
100 g sweetcorn
salt and pepper

Mushroom ragout
650 g mushrooms (I used a mix of chestnut mushrooms, portobello and large flat mushrooms), thickly sliced
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves chopped
150 ml wine, red or white
150 ml water
1 cube of vegetable stock
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp corn flour
salt and pepper
olive oil

First saute the red chili and garlic for 2 min in olive oil without letting the garlic colour. Add the rosemary and set to the side

Add water, stock and milk to a pot and bring to the boil. Pour in the polenta while stirring. I find it easiest to use a whisk for this

Cook for 4-5 min while stirring until the polenta is quite thick

Remove from the heat and stir in sweet corn and the garlic, chili and rosemary mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste

Tip the polenta on to a cold surface and spread it smoothly into an even disc, about 20 cm thick. Leave to cool completely

While the polenta cools, prepare the mushroom ragout.

Fry half of the mushrooms in olive oil in a large frying pan. When they start to concentrate and caramelise, add half of the shallots, garlic and thyme, and some salt and pepper, and fry for a couple of minutes more.

Transfer mushrooms to the side and fry the other mushrooms in the same way.

Return the first batch of mushrooms to the pan. Add the wine, water, vegetable stock and soy sauce. Simmer for about 15 min until the liquid is reduced to 1/3-1/2.

Stir the corn flour into a little water to form a loose paste, and then stir it into the ragout to thicken the sauce

Taste and add salt/pepper if necessary

Cut the polenta into slices or wedges, brush lightly with olive oil, and fry either in a non-stick pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes on each side until golden, or on a baking sheet under the oven grill

Serve the polenta wedges with the mushroom ragout

Smaklig måltid!