Grape molasses

19 December 2010

It doesn’t seem so long ago…


…that I was looking for a way of using all these grapes. I first read about grape molasses on Joumana’s blog, Taste of Beirut, and it was Vita of Cretan Gastronomy who gave me the recipe.

Like the rest of Vita’s blog, this was in Greek, but I wasn’t going to let a mere language barrier stop me making this healthy sweetener… With a pinch of advice from Vita in English and a glug of Google Translate, I soon had the simple ingredients and method sorted.

One word raised some momentary doubts about the accuracy of the translation: did the recipe really call for ash…? Vita assured me that what was needed was wood ash, which is used to clarify the juice and thereby avoid using the traditional eggshells.

Jus de raisins 3

Start by extracting the juice from 2 kilos of grapes. I used the centrifugal juicer for this, as a masticating juicer would crush the pips and make the juice too thick and sticky. Put the juice in a saucepan with a tablespoon of wood ash (I had carefully removed this from our wood-burning stove). Bring the juice to the boil and skim off all the foam that rises to the surface.

Jus + cendres

Let the juice settle for 24 hours, then strain it through a coffee filter, leaving behind the deposit at the bottom of the saucepan. I was left with just over a litre. Pour this into a clean saucepan and reduce over a low heat until it starts to thicken (I ended up with about 200ml).

This was the result: molasses with no added sugar but retaining the iron and potassium in the grapes. It keeps well in the fridge and can be used to sweeten yogurt or drinks, or to replace sugar in baking. I’ll definitely be making more next year.


Pasta with broccoli and vegan pepperoni

2 December 2010

One of my many purchases at Paris Vegan Day was a packet of "Vegi-Schnitzel with Paprika", a sort of vegan pepperoni made from wheat protein and marketed by the Swiss brand Vegusto.

Imitation meat usually leaves me cold but the sautéed cubes offered to Sunday’s visitors turned out to be surprisingly tasty – perhaps because they reminded me of late-night pepperoni pizza shared long ago with colleagues as we struggled to meet deadlines.

Anyway, while the snow fell outside this week I used one of my two Vegi-Schnitzels to spice up a simple dish of pasta spirals with broccoli. The other one wound up in a pitta bread sandwich spread with hummus.

Unfortunately, Vegusto don’t seem to have distributors in the UK or US but I expect you could use a similar Redwood or Wheaty product.

Pâtes brocolis-saucisse

Serves 2

200g pasta
1 tbs olive oil
Small shallot
Slice of celeriac or a stick of celery
1 "Vegi-Schnitzel with Paprika" or similar (40g)
Half a tin of tomatoes
1 tbs tomato puree
1 tsp tamari
200g broccoli

Finely chop the shallot and celeriac or celery and fry in the oil until golden. Add the schnitzel chopped into dice and let it brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and tamari and leave to reduce a bit.

Wash and trim the broccoli. Cut the larger florets into two or three pieces lengthways. Peel the central stem and cut it into slices crossways. Steam the broccoli while the pasta cooks (7-8 minutes).

Drain the pasta and coat with the tomato sauce, then gently stir in the broccoli. The schnitzels are already well seasoned so no salt or pepper is needed, but you might like to try a few drops of toasted sesame oil sprinkled over the broccoli.

Neige 3.12-1

Paris Vegan Day 2010

30 November 2010

As I left the hugely successful Paris Vegan Day on Sunday to catch my train, crowds of people were queueing outside, waiting to get in. Inside it had been packed right from the start as visitors moved between the various levels, trying to see as much as possible.

La Bellevilloise, this year’s venue, was much bigger than last year’s but it was still on the small side for an event that has rapidly reached the proportions of a full-scale exhibition.

Deborah Brown and her team had taken up the challenge of organising a Paris Vegan Day to match the growing interest in veganism.

On the agenda were talks, cookery demonstrations, lots of different foods to try and buy, along with other products not tested on animals, cruelty-free fashion parades, films and music. According to the French Wikipedia, the event attracted about 4,000 people curious to find out more about the vegan lifestyle – twice as many as the organisers had expected.

It was a real pleasure to be surrounded by like-minded folk and I returned home feeling that veganism is finally coming of age in France…


7 November 2010

Guacamole comp

Every year when I pull up the tomato plants in the greenhouse, I keep a few green tomatoes to make a big batch of this guacamole.

Tart and tangy, it freezes easily and makes a welcome addition to a selection of nibbles to serve with drinks on a cold night. Although nothing stops you eating some straight away, of course…

The traditional accompaniment to guacamole is plain or spicy tortilla chips but we prefer the extra-crunchy Kettle Chips which, I’m pleased to report, are now available in France.

For 4 small plastic tubs (200ml)

4 ripe avocados
1 shallot (about 25g)
2 green tomatoes (about 150g)
3 tbs cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
Groundnut oil (or other mild vegetable oil)

Peel the shallot and chop it roughly with the tomatoes before whizzing them together in a food processor. Peel the avocados, remove the stones and scoop out the flesh. Process again – how long will depend on whether you prefer your guacamole smooth or chunky. Add the vinegar and salt and mix again briefly.

Divide the mixture between four small plastic tubs (I used some that had contained glacé cherries) and pour a thin layer of oil over each portion. This stops the guacamole from discolouring. Put the lids on securely and freeze.

When you defrost a portion you can either mix the oil into the guacamole before serving or pour it off and keep it for cooking or making salad dressing.

Recipe adapted from Mexican Vegetarian Cooking by Edith Metcalfe de Plata (Thorsons, 1983).

Happy World Vegan Day!

1 November 2010

The freezer and larder shelves are full, and apples, pumpkins and walnuts have been brought in for the winter. Still, it’s hard to believe on such a mild, sunny day that the darkest third of the year has begun, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

Wherever you are, it’s a day of celebration because 1 November every year is World Vegan Day – a chance to share the delights of vegan food and tell others about the advantages of a vegan lifestyle.

Today is also the first anniversary of this blog, which was launched to coincide with this important date in the vegan calendar.

The celebrations continue throughout World Vegan Month, and in France the end of November sees the return of Paris Vegan Day.


The 2009 event was a great success, attracting about 400 visitors. Such was the interest that this year’s Paris Vegan Day has moved to more spacious premises with a view to welcoming the 2,000+ people expected to attend. If you’re in or can get to Paris, it’s all happening at La Bellevilloise, 19-21 rue Boyer, 75020 Paris, from 11am to 11.30pm on Sunday 28 November.

Now let me see… if the statistics continued to expand at the same rate, the number of visitors would reach 250,000 in 2013 and top the million mark in 2014! Veganism in France would no longer be viewed as weird, but as a growing trend, as it already is in several other countries. It may not work quite like that, but I can dream, can’t I?

Paris Vegan Day features product stalls, talks, workshops, cookery demonstrations, fashion parades, a photo contest, activities for children… You’ll find all the events listed here, along with other information about this unique day.

It would be great to see you there!

The juice championships

30 October 2010

Here are the competitors: two juicers that work in different ways. On the left is Le Duo from Magimix, my old centrifugal juicer that’s still going strong after ten years. On the right is the new arrival, the Champion 2000+, a classic masticating juicer made in California.


So why have I bought a new juicer when the old one still works? Mainly because I’ve read so many positive reviews of masticating juicers generally, but especially of the Champion. It’s said to produce more juice of higher nutritional value because it generates very little heat and doesn’t damage the cell walls of the ingredients. (This site gives more information about how the two types of juicer work).

I’m not equipped to measure the vitamins in my juice, but I decided to compare the two machines according to various criteria, starting with:

The Magimix would obviously be more suitable for a small kitchen as it takes up only half the space of its rival on a worktop or in a cupboard. Of course if you put it away, you’re less likely to use it regularly…

Ease of use
Similar for both machines. You do have to cut the ingredients into quite slim slices to fit them into the funnel. Even a fat carrot can get stuck.

The Champion has the advantage if you want to make a lot of juice in one go because the pulp is pushed out continuously. With the Magimix, the pulp is retained inside the machine, which needs to be cleaned every now and again to keep it running smoothly.

The main sales argument for the Champion is that it makes a lot more juice than a centrifugal machine. To reassure myself I hadn’t wasted my money, I made the same juice in both, using exactly the same weight of the same ingredients: 250g of apples and 250g of carrots. This is a particularly quick and easy combination. I obtained 300ml of juice from the Magimix and 350ml from the Champion – 12.5% more. I can see this difference would be significant if I were making juice in industrial quantities, but it hardly shows in a glass:

Jus x 2A

The juice from the Champion, on the right, is thicker and smoother. Some people may prefer to thin it down with water. The juice from the Magimix soon throws a slight deposit, which can easily be stirred in.

Obviously you should unplug the machine as soon as it stops running, and use the pusher to force ingredients into the funnel rather than your fingers… A clear message in red type on the Champion reminds you about this.

Even so, two other dangers ought to be mentioned. The cutting blades of the Champion are only just inside the hole where the pulp comes out. It would be far easier for tiny fingers to explore this opening than to poke around in the funnel higher up. The Magimix, on the other hand, has a nasty habit of suddenly starting to bounce around on the work surface when the amount of pulp inside has built up somewhat (the first time this happened, it gave me quite a shock!), and it could easily fall off if close to the edge… It’s another reason never to leave a machine of this kind running unattended.

The pulp
Pictures speak louder than words:


It’s not just that the Champion produces less pulp, but it’s really well ground up and compacted so it takes up less space.

The pulp from the Champion, on the right, is ready to be used in recipes for biscuits, cakes, vegetable fritters and so on.

Ease of cleaning
Both machines are easy to clean as long as you do this straight away after making the juice. I prefer to put the juice in the fridge while I rinse the parts under a warm tap (washing-up liquid is seldom necessary), even if this means waving goodbye to a few vitamins. You soon get the knack of using a brush and small sponge to clean out the waste.

Which only leaves the little matter of:

Prices vary, but on the whole masticating juicers cost two to three times as much as the centrifugal kind. Are they worth it? For the moment I’d say yes, but there are lots of issues to consider and the answer may not be the same for everyone.

Is it vegan to own cats?

18 October 2010

Here are two of the four reasons why I’ll only ever be an aspiring vegan:


Calico (left) and Sesame are no longer quite as young as they were when this picture was taken, but they’re still just as gorgeous.


The third reason, on the right, is called Jeton. Aged two, he’s the cuddliest cat imaginable. The picture below shows reason number four, Cressida, the most recent arrival and not yet one year old. She’s such a keen hunter that she could have been called Diana or Artemis… There’d be no point buying this feline family tins of vegan catfood – they know the "real thing" is freely available outside.


Now apparently true vegans don’t believe in exploiting animals in any way, and that includes pet ownership. I understand and respect this point of view, but I’ve always had cats and I’d find it very hard to live without them.

On the face of it, there’s no reason to feel sorry for our cats. They come and go as they please, with the freedom to explore a large garden and much further afield. Yes, but… they’ve been neutered, they’re vaccinated and fed regularly, so they don’t have the same kind of freedom as a cat born in the wild, even though the latter is bound to lead a more hazardous and often less comfortable life.

Anyway, thanks to Sandrine of the Végébon blog, who had the great idea of collecting links to pictures of other bloggers’ cats in this post. I look forward to seeing your cats, and/or reading your views on whether "proper" vegans should own them…

Roger’s Russian salad

11 October 2010

Roger had made two bowls of Russian salad: a vegan version for me and a more conventional one for his other guests. My salad was much admired – the chunks of beetroot gleaming like jewels in their vinaigrette coating while the colours of the other salad were muted by mayonnaise.

We all agreed that what made the flavour of this salad so striking was the contrast between the very tart apples from Roger’s garden and the other ingredients. As there’s no shortage of apples in our garden either right now, I soon came up with a salad along similar lines.

Salade russe 2

If you have to buy apples, I think Granny Smiths or Egremont Russets would work well in this recipe.

Shortly afterwards, I happened to read that what we in Europe call Russian Salad was invented by a French chef working in Mocow in the 19th century, and is still known in Russia and the United States as "Olivier Salad".

Serves 2

400g (about 1lb) waxy potatoes
A large, tart apple (mine weighed 200g – 8oz)
A large cooked beetroot
Half a cucumber
1 or 2 shallots
1 tbs cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Boil or steam the potatoes in their skins. Peel them once they are cool enough to handle, then cut into largish dice. (I like to add the dressing to potato salads while the potatoes are still warm, as they absorb the flavours better that way, but it’s not vital.)

Peel and dice the apple, cucumber and shallots. Mix with the potatoes, then add the diced beetroot.

Shake the vinegar and mustard together in a small glass jar. Add the oil and shake again. Add salt and pepper to taste, then pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix together gently.

Beating the heat for animal rights

6 October 2010

The Sedan-Charleville is the oldest town-to-town road race in France. To celebrate the 90th event on Sunday, Christelle – a tireless campaigner for the Association Végétarienne de France (AVF – the French vegetarian organisation) – had assembled a group of runners supporting animal rights.

The idea was for participants to wear a t-shirt from the charity of their choice: veg*an groups or animal welfare or protection organisations. I’d decided to wear my black Vegan Society t-shirt with the slogan "Vegans go all the way" and a French version pinned to my back (the saucy subtext is untranslatable, but it still sounded very fitting for a race).

Knowing that finding vegan food at motorway service stations and hotels here was highly unlikely, I started preparing for the trip on Friday, making sure I’d have enough food to last the weekend. Here’s what I took:

For my evening meal on Saturday, bulgur and vegetables with a kochu chang sauce.
For dessert, the dish we now call "Virginie’s rice pudding". The recipe is on her blog. I halved the amount of sugar, left out the calvados and used grated apple instead of pear (we have loads of apples at the moment).
Salade avocat
I made this cucumber and avocado salad to set me up for the five-hour drive ahead. Rather than have bread on the side, it seemed simpler to chop some into the salad.
Just in case I got peckish: some fruit and a packet of oatcakes.
Most important of all, a sustaining breakfast/brunch for Sunday. I mixed oat flakes, banana and a little plant milk to make a pancake baked in the oven.
As I usually don’t run further than the half-marathon distance of 21.1 kilometres, the 24.3 kilometres from Sedan to Charleville were something of a challenge, as was the undulating route along the valley of the River Meuse (in northern France, near the Belgian border). But the biggest challenge came from the weather: a sunny 25°C makes for a lovely October afternoon, as long as you’re not racing in it… Christelle, Kate and I weren’t alone in realising right at the start that this was going to be a tough one. But we knew it was in a good cause – in fact several good causes.
Christelle, who’s leading our little group in the photo, sported the AVF logo on her shorts and top, and the message "Saying out loud what animals suffer in silence" on her back. Kate, left, was wearing an anti-bullfight t-shirt (and horns on her head to underline the point). And that’s me on the right.

Kate crossed the finish line in 2 hours 40, followed a few minutes later by Christelle and then me. In view of the heat, we were all pleased to have finished in under three hours.
There may have been only three of us, but the interest we got from spectators showed that many people are sensitive to the suffering of animals, even if they still eat them… And as Christelle commented: "It’s good to be in at the start of something." Walkers and cyclists are also allowed to take part in the race, the support along the way is fantastic, and it’s a chance to visit the historic towns of Charleville-Mézières and Sedan.

So who’s volunteering to join us for next year’s race?

One season pizza

27 September 2010

It took me a while to get used to pizza without cheese but now I find I prefer it, especially with a tangy tomato sauce, some really good olives and lots of veg. The other day I thought I’d go one step further and make a pizza without tomatoes.

I also decided to keep my environmental footprint to a minimum by using only vegetables from the garden: one of the first pumpkins, the last ears of sweetcorn, some courgettes, two small onions and a few sprigs of sage.

Pizza veg2

As I don’t grow my own wheat, I bought some local flour which had covered 80 kilometres to get to the nearest organic shop before I brought it another 30 kilometres home. The olive oil had travelled a bit further, but it was still produced here in France.

This recipe makes two pizzas, for two to four people, depending on how hungry they are. You could prepare the second while the first is cooking, then keep the first one hot so as to serve them together. But it’s more fun to eat the first pizza and make the second one afterwards. The dough will come to no harm, and those pining for more conventional toppings can add other ingredients to their half, third or quarter.

You could also rub a little oil on the second piece of dough, put it in a plastic bag (leaving room for the dough to rise a bit more) and put it in the fridge for 24 hours.

Pizza 1 saison
250g (8oz) unbleached flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp olive oil

Toppings: vegetables from your garden, market, local organic shop or weekly veg box.

Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a bowl. Add 150ml (5 fl oz) of warm water and mix to a slightly sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a teacloth and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Pour the oil onto the work surface. Remove the dough (which will already be more elastic) from the bowl and knead for about a minute to incorporate the oil. Cover with the upturned bowl and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Knead once more for just a few seconds, then cover again with the bowl and leave for an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables.
(I baked the pumpkin and onion pieces with a little oil for about 20 minutes at 200°C, simmered the sweetcorn for five minutes and sliced the courgettes fairly finely).

Preheat the oven to 230°C (Gas 8). Put in a pizza stone to heat up, if you have one.

Divide the dough into two pieces. Leave one under the upturned bowl and roll out the other, using plenty of flour, to a circle 30-35cm (12-14in) across (I use a rolling pin but if you’re feeling adventurous you could try throwing it in the air like an Italian piazziolo).

Remove the pizza stone from the oven or line a baking tray with parchment paper (there’s no law that says pizza has to be round). Carefully transfer the pizza base to the stone or tray. If it stretches too much, simply pull it back into shape or don’t bother – the taste won’t be affected. Arrange the vegetables on top as quickly as possible and bake the pizza until the edges start to turn golden (in my oven this takes about 12 minutes).

Enjoy sprinkled with some flakes of Maldon salt and a drizzle of olive oil.