Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Post Cheesey

Ha, ha: the last-saved draft of this blog entry began, 'hard to believe it's Eater (sic.) already, but you had better believe that, just because I haven't been blogging about it, does not mean that I have not been cooking!' 

Dull pic. of nuthin' much cookin'
Indeed, you must believe that many are the blog posts I have begun to compose over the six months or more since the close of last BBQ season and, believe it or not, we fired up the communal BBQ on our roof top for the first time this season only last night. Not, likesay, that your BBQ is strictly my scene, Gene.

Actually, several of my putative blog posts were extensively researched - the lasagne epic; the nut roast saga - but events intervened before they were written up and then the moment passed. Life, as John Lennon might have said, is what you actually eat while you are thinking about recipes. Permit me to summarize the progress of my on-going culinary odyssey.

During Veganuary, starting the year as I meant to proceed, I confronted my sugar habit, again, and once more abstained from eating cheese. I hoped that a month of no sugar in coffee and tea would re-educate my palate and make unsweetened beverages more acceptable. As for cheese, I renounced all dairy for Lent last year and this year I did it again, having breezed through a cheese-free January. In early February, celebrated with a half kilo block of Mature Cheddar and pigged out on cheesey toasties for a fortnight, until I felt fat & queasy.

Don't get me wrong. If we are going to Franco Manca in Brixton Market for pizza before or after the movie, I am having number five, with anchovy and mozzarella. Innit. However, at home fron day to day, I can mostly do without cheese. Engevita Nutritional Yeast Flakes make an acceptable substitue for grated Parmesan, providing that twist of umami to pasta sauces. Mash the flakes into a paste with oil, plus turmeric and other spices and smear it over a cauliflower before baking to make a weirdly cheesey baked cauliflower!

Gotta love vegansidekick.
'If I am not yet quite ready to relinquish all cheese,' I wrote around the Equinox, 'I am so over blocks of supermarket cheddar, in any permutation!' It is not that I want to be vegan - I embrace no 'ism' - but I do recognis-ize the imperative to progressively refine one's diet. My resolutions for this year are to avoid animal products and supermarkets, so far as is practicable and as much as I want to at any given moment.

Abstinence taught me that I prefer to sweeten coffee or tea, but sugar is bad and I'm not convinced that the approved vegan alternatives - agave syrup - are any better. So, I'm going to carry on using honey. I'm not ashamed to say that I buy the cheapest honey, but at least I buy it from Oli's, - the Turkish 24 hour market in Walworth Road - rather than Tesco. I mean, I know it's stolen from the bees of more than one country, both within and beyond the borders of the EU, but it is 100% clear honey, which must be better than refined sugar. Even if, you know, it is stolen from bees; that is currently where I draw the line!

Nor a Sainsbury's Loco!
Swerving Tesco is facilitated by my involvement with Fareshares, where I continue to volunteer on Wednesday afternoons, when we re-stock, and do the 4-6pm shift on Thursdays behind the counter in the shop. I also run the Facebook page - another reason why this blog has been quiet - and use this image as a profile pic. Indeed, Fareshares is the anti-Tesco, a perfect example of non violent direct action against corporatism and a durable model that should be widely copied. Why doesn't every neighbourhood have its own Fareshares?

My involvement with Fareshares has been hugely rewarding, not financially - although I benefit from the same discounts as y'all - but in terms of community relations and personal nutrition, as I continue to try. My conversion to the creed of coconut oil has been a real game changer, in terms of getting away from animal fats. It has become my default cooking fat and I have been known to spread it on toast.

I think my lingering attachment to animal fats is mostly about that unctuous way they coat one's tonsils. Over Lent, last year, I succumbed to an urge to splurge cow grease on my toast while on retreat with no lovely coco to go to for that peculiarly comforting mouth feel. Even now I furtively stash a block of unsalted butter in the fridge door for spreading on toast, mostly, and melting into mashed potatoes when the Vegan Police aren't looking. Don't tell anyone!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Oh no, not BBQ!

Za'atar vs. achar

And so another BBQ season sizzles to its climax with the annual Nothing Hill Grates jerk chicken championship, held over the August bank holiday w/e. I & I, naturally, does not do ckicken, nor jerked 'n' charred flesh of any kind. For me, Carnival can only be about booming bass bins, contact highs and grilled corn cobs. 

This year, what with the rain and all, I stayed dry at home & griddled my own corn, smeared with coconut oil & spiced with red achar masala and green Za'atar from Palestine: the red of the chillies; the green of the wild thyme & the gold of the griddled corn cob. As Bob Marley may say: got to have Kaya now, before the rain comes falling down.

I swerve barbecues because they are irredeemably meaty, but there was a time when I was well into cooking over coals. One fine Summer, on any given Sunday, I ran a rib pit in my back yard, using the bones of the previous week's ribs to make stock for the next week's sauce, using Paul Prudhomme's recipe (swapping pork for chicken stock, obvs.) and marinating each rack of ribs over Saturday night. Indeed, I still feel a pang when I stumble upon an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and that guy with the peroxide hairdon't is tucking into BBQ briskett. Sigh, as Homer Simpleton might say.

Back in the 1980s when living in Manhattan (and earning my corn by cutting up meat in a restaurant prep kitchen) Papaya King was a second home. Now, the nearest I get to a Kosher frankfurter is vegan hot dogs, Tofu Wieners in particular. A case of these was mistakenly delivered to FareShares but they went in the ‘fridge anyway & became a big hit: “Just like real the real thing,” according to one ingenuous volunteer.

Fat Gay Vegan provoked quite a response when he asked Facebook followers to ‘share photos of your latest vegan hot dog accomplishments... I wanna see them all!’ There were some mighty fine hot diggety dawgs, but I side with the self-proclaimed ‘Vegan hot dog queen’ who confessed, ‘My obsession with sauerkraut on vegan hot dogs is slightly out of hand.’ She sounds like my girl!

Tofu wiener griddled in mini baguette mit sauerkraut & bbq sauce.

This Summer, I've recreated the classic hot dog by griddling the sausage and serving it in a toasted bun, with mustard + sauerkraut. 'Kraut is incredibly good for you, honestly, but it must be served warm and not so sloppy that it soaks the bread. Likesay, the Tofu Wieners, which are supposed to be heated in hot water for three to four minutes, are good for griddlin', but the Vegusto hot dog is squeezed into a plastic skin that must be removed before going near a grill, so steaming 'em is the only way to go. One can then sear the steamed sausage on the grill, but it is a birrova faff. Good flavour, though.

Griddled veggie skewers.
Bun-wise, I like the mini baguettes sold X3 for a quid in the Vietnamese supermarket on Walworth Road. As a French colony, the Viets learned to make fresh bread with no fat in it twice daily, which is great if you can get the bread at breakfast time. However, Longdan has craftily centralised its baking in Leyton and its delivery van has been known to travel to the Elephant via Kingston, so the bread's half a day old already. Getting the buns for my Steely Dan listening party on the roof - at which BBQ veggie skewers were served in mini baguettes, split & toasted and smeared with humous - eventually entailed the manager phoning to advise me of their arrival!

For reasons too dull to explore, I failed to photograph the finished veggie skewer sandwich, but it was a beautiful thing, you may believe. The trick with your veggie skewers is to part roast the peppers, & I used radishes, and to marinate the mushrooms overnight. Cubes of haloumi are an option for non-vegans (on the left, below). Soak the skewers overnight before assembling your kebabs, so they don't burst into flames on the barbie. Actually, I took my griddle up to the roof, so my skewers never actually saw flames. Can you believe I purveyed all those shown below, with humous in mini baguettes, and didn't snap  pic. aof a single one? They were snatching them out of my hand!

Veggie skewers served on the roof, 14.06.14.

I can't end my Summer recipe round-up without mention of vegan mayonnaise. It's really easy to emulsify soya milk, honest. I make it using a stick mixer in a pint glass. You’ll need twice as much oil as soya milk and don’t use good olive oil, except perhaps at the end, to give your ‘mayo’ some class. Start with mustard powder and a splash of apple juice concentrate, add the soya milk and then mix in the oil slowly, blending continuously, until it has a mayonnaise consistency. Pour it over new potatoes, mix it with shredded cabbage & carrot to make coleslaw, or chopped celery, apple & hazelnuts to make Waldorf salad. Happy days!

Vegan coleslaw & potato salad.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Automatic Green Chickpea Curry

These 'automatic' recipes are becoming facile & predictable: soak the peas overnight, then bung 'em in a pressure cooker with green curry paste & coconut milk. Cook!

Going vegan for Lent, I totally got into using coconut oil instead of butter. Actually, it has been a revelation & I don't know why I didn't get it before: saturated coconut fat is better than butter! I love the unctuous flavour that cooking with ghee imparts, but coconut oil is just as satisfying, plus it doesn't come from animals. Doh!

Pertinently, for me, cooking with coconut oil also does not promote hypertension, nor lead to the onset of Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, forty days of abstinence from dairy products has brought down my blood pressure. I did miss cheese, but won't go back to gorging on cheddar and Parmesan. I didn't miss butter, except for a few days during a fortnight when I was away on retreat with no coconut oil to gargle with in the mornings!

I experimented with oil pulling for the benefit of Fareshares' newsletter and have stuck with it, somewhat. Any oil will do, but coconut tastes best. One swooshes it around for 20 mins before expectorating into a bin (not the plumbing, esp. not my overloaded Victorian pipes!). I don't have to defend my rituals, but I am convinced the swooshing does, you know, promote oral hygiene and that.

Any road, I now have a pot of Biona Organic Raw Virgin Coconut Oil on the kitchen counter where my old mum - who became diabetic - would have kept her dripping jar. All my automatic pressure cooker recipes now begin with a dollop of coconut oil, not butter, in the bottom of the cooking pan.

This is a fast version of the green chix curry I frequently do. If you want to serve short grain brown rice with it, as I am wont to do, you'd better get that going first because it will probably take 45 minutes if you let the cooked rice  steam and become properly plump. If you're using quicker rice then follow the destructions innit.

Start by frying finely diced red onion in the coconut oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker before adding the soaked chix, green curry paste and coconut milk, either from a tin, or you might use creamed coconut, re-constitued with boiling water. I prefer the latter because you can mix it up as thick as you like and stir the green curry paste into the hot milk, gauging the end taste, Or you can just pour in a tin of milk and add a dessert spoon of greenn curry paste.

Living at London's cosmopolitan Elephant & Castle, with its dynamic Sino-Viet comminity, I can score green curry paste from a variety of ethnic outlets that also deal in bean sprouts, coriander and limes, but actually I went to Morrisons for those items, where I purchased a coriander plant for 99p. I figured it would do me for a few meals, at least, and I might be able to keep it growing. But I left the plant out over night on a window sill in my dank back yard and a snail ate most of it! Seriously.

I garnished my curry with cubes of fried tofu: those very same fried cubes that are pictured to the left. Frankly, they are superfluous to the recipe and I've only included the photo because its a better shot than the plate at the top of the page. Still. I have become partial to fried tofu cubes. There are those who will tell you that tofu has no flavour, but Sriracha, aka 'cock sauce' has heaps of chilli 'n' garlic flavour and firm fried cubes of tofu are an excellent vehicle for it, I find. Pan fry the tofu in toasted sesame oil, diluted with reg. veg. oil, plus minced ginger and/or garlic, as you like it.

Cook the curry in the pressure cooker until it steams, turn down the gas and cook on for 15 mins more, then turn the heat off and leave the cooker to cool & its pressure to dissipate. Turn out the cooked chickpeas in their creamy 'n' spicy green coconut sauce into a saucepan with a lid, chuck in a handful of bean sprouts and return to the heat with the lid on. We want those sprouts to wilt somewhat and lose the edge off their crunch.

Chop the coriander and cut the lime unto wedges.
Then put  it all on a plate and enjoy!