23 September 2010

One of the highlights of the summer just ended was the Val de Jazz festival, held in a group of towns along the Loire valley between Gien and Sancerre.

This year’s performers included a brilliant and hilarious group of guitarists, Les Doigts de l’Homme, and the sublime, superlative, supercharged Johnny Clegg. The icing on this musical cake was a tempting array of sweet and savoury pastries that replaced the usual sausage and chips.

I instantly fell in love with the kokas, tiny turnovers stuffed with tomato, red pepper and garlic, and decided to have a go at making my own.

After several failures (mainly because my vegan version of the hot-water pastry suggested in the recipes I found was too crumbly), I had the idea of using my samosa pastry instead. Not only did this work a treat, it also taught me that this pastry can be baked rather than fried – which will significantly cut the fat content of my next batch of samosas.

If you can find it, chapati flour (known as ata or atta) makes a pastry that is particularly easy to handle. Otherwise wheatmeal flour (or a mix of plain and wholemeal) also works well.

Kokas 1

For 16 kokas

200g (7oz) chapati or wheatmeal flour
4 tbs sunflower oil
Pinch of salt

2 red peppers
400g (1lb) firm-fleshed tomatoes
4 large garlic cloves
1 tbs olive oil
½ tsp ground fennel
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp soya or other plant milk
Pinch of turmeric
½ tsp nigella seeds (kalonji – optional)

Start by cooking the peppers whole under a grill or in a very hot oven, turning them now and again, until the skins start to blacken and come away from the flesh. They will take about 20 minutes. Remove them from the heat, cover with a clean teacloth and leave to cool. This can be done well in advance.

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the sunflower oil and rub it in roughly. Add 4 tbs of cold water, or just enough to form a ball.

Knead the pastry for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic, then wrap it in clean film and leave to rest on the work surface for at least an hour.

Remove the skins, stems and seeds from the peppers. Peel the garlic and tomatoes. Crush the garlic with a knife and roughly chop the peppers and tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a – preferably non-stick – frying pan. Add the fennel, let it sizzle for a second or two, then put in the vegetables. Fry until the mixture is fairly dry and just starting to stick to the pan. Season to taste.

Leave the mixture to cool, then stir in the cider vinegar.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (Gas 6).

Divide the pastry into 16 pieces. Roll out each piece into a round about 10cm (4in) across. Put a good teaspoonful of the vegetable mixture in the middle of each round, dampen the edges and fold the pastry over to make a turnover. Seal and crimp the edges.

Put the soya milk and turmeric in a small glass jar and shake well. Brush the kokas with this liquid and sprinkle with nigella seeds (you could also use cumin seeds, paprika or another spice).

Arrange the kokas on a tray covered with baking parchment and bake for about 20 minutes.

Avocado gaspacho

10 September 2010

Gaspacho d'avocats

I was feeling pretty pleased to have come up with a recipe that anybody could eat – this soup is dairy-free, nut-free and gluten-free as well as suitable for raw foodists – until someone pointed out that I couldn’t serve it to people who are allergic to nightshade family vegetables like tomatoes, aubergines and peppers.

Well, all you have to do is leave out the pepper and that’s the problem sorted. Unless you happen not to like avocados…

The original recipe, from Elisabeth Luard, used dairy milk. Obviously it could be replaced by plant milk but I prefer this version made with water which lets the fresh flavours of the vegetables shine through.

If you have a glut of tomatoes at the moment you could put some of them in as well, although they do rather spoil the soup’s beautiful colour. However, if you’re still lucky enough to be eating outside in the evenings it’s unlikely anyone will notice.

Serves 4

1 cucumber
1 small green pepper
2 or 3 spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
3 ripe avocados
1 tsp salt
Juice of a lime

Roughly chop the cucumber, pepper, spring onion and garlic, and put them in a blender with just enough water to whizz to a paste. Rub the paste through a sieve, pressing hard to extract as much juice as possible.

Jus vert

Pour the resulting green liquid back into the blender (the pulp left in the sieve can be used for another dish). Peel the avocados, take out the stones and remove all the flesh, scraping the inside of the skins well because that’s where the richest green colour tends to lurk.

Put the avocado flesh in the blender with the salt, lime juice and 500ml (1 pint) of water. Blend again, adding a bit more water if needed to make the soup thick but pourable, and empty into a large jug. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Aubergines with chickpeas and preserved lemon

3 September 2010

When I first learned to prepare aubergines, cooking gurus used to advise inflicting all kinds of torture on this innocent vegetable.

First, we were supposed to leave them covered in salt "to get rid of the bitter juices". All this ever achieved was over-salty and pitifully flabby aubergines. In any event, I’ve never heard anyone complain about aubergines tasting bitter – and even if they do harbour a hint of bitterness, isn’t that one of the five flavours needed in any self-respecting recipe?

Next, we were told to fry our victims in unseemly amounts of oil, leaving them brimming with calories and hard to digest.

I don’t know if these brutal practices persist nowadays… luckily I haven’t seen them mentioned on any food blogs recently.

It’s true that if you fry aubergines in the traditional way, they will keep on soaking up oil as if it were going out of fashion. They can be baked whole, which works well if the recipe requires them to be peeled and mashed, but then they never acquire that appealing russet tinge.

For most aubergine dishes, I prefer to slice and bake them for half an hour or so with just a little oil. They emerge from the oven a lovely hazelnut colour.

Citrons confits
Recently I had the good fortune to find some preserved lemons – an ingredient I’d often read about but never used – and the idea of pairing them with aubergines soon sprang to mind.
Some chickpeas added substance while a selection of whole spices underscored the flavours – with a stick of cinnamon linking the Indian and Middle Eastern influences.

Serves 4

100g (4oz) chickpeas
2 largish aubergines (about 700g or 1½lb)
2 tbs olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
A stick of cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ fenugreek seeds
700g (1½lb) firm-fleshed tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
Half a preserved lemon

Start the day before by leaving the chickpeas to soak overnight, then cook them for about an hour and a half in fresh water. Reserve the cooking liquid. You could speed things up by using 250g (8oz) of tinned chickpeas, but be sure to rinse them well.

Heat the oven to 200°C (Gas 6). Cut the aubergines into slices 2-3cm (an inch) thick and brush them with one tablespoon of the oil. Place them on a non-stick baking tray and cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through.

Aubergines cuites au four

Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic, and skin and chop the tomatoes. Heat the other spoonful of oil in a large sauté pan. Throw in the whole spices and let them pop for a few moments, until you can smell the aromas. Add the garlic and stir and fry briefly. Add the tomatoes, grind in some black pepper and leave to cook gently for about 20 minutes. (Don’t add salt: there’s enough in the lemon).

Cut the aubergine slices into four and dice the lemon. Add both to the sauce, along with the chickpeas and some of the chickpea cooking liquid or water if it’s starting to stick. Cook on a low heat for another half an hour or so, stirring from time to time.


Remove the cinnamon and serve with rice, quinoa or couscous. As with so many similar dishes, this one is even better reheated the next day.

I used the other half of the lemon to flavour pasta with courgettes and garlic. I also put some in salads. I’d be fascinated to hear about other ways with preserved lemons so if you have a favourite way of using them, do pass it on!

* sweet, salty, tart, bitter and umami (the latter is the rich, savoury taste found in mushrooms and soya sauce).


25 August 2010

As soon as I saw the photos of lavashak on My Persian Kitchen, I was itching to try this Iranian delicacy. Made only with fresh fruit, it seemed the perfect partner for nuts and crackers to take along on long hikes or bike rides.

When a friend gave me several kilos of little wild plums that had fallen from a tree in her garden, my curiosity about lavashak could wait no longer.

Known in English by the uninspiring name of fruit roll, the slightly offputting fruit leather and the even less appealing fruit jerky, lavashak is the quintessential childhood memory of a sweet treat for many Iranians.

It can be made with any stone fruit, such as plums, cherries, apricots and peaches. Sugar and spices may be added, but I wanted to try the plain version first. The result was just as delicious as I’d imagined: intensely fruity and mouthwateringly tart.

Lavashak p

The lemon juice can be left out, but I have the impression it helps the paste set better, as it does with jam.

For a tray of lavashak

1 kg of stone fruit
1 tbs lemon juice

Wash the fruit and remove the stones (I used a cherry stoner for my tiny plums). Put the fruit in a large, preferably non-stick, saucepan with the lemon juice and cook over a very low heat until you have a thick paste. Puree the paste in a processor or put it through a food mill.

Line a baking tray with silicone paper and oil it lightly. Spread the fruit paste evenly over the paper. Put into an oven set as low as possible and leave it for an hour, watching it carefully to make sure the edges don’t start to burn.

Leave to cool and cover with a clean teacloth before putting it out in the sun for two days.

If it’s really hot where you are, leave out the oven stage and just put the lavashak in the sun for four days.

When it’s ready, the lavashak should be glossy and only very slightly sticky to the touch. Cut it into strips, roll them up and keep in a plastic box in the refrigerator.

Warm potato salad with cucumber

19 August 2010

Salade pdt conc comp

This lazy lunch was put together with whatever ingredients fell to hand: garden vegetables helped along by a few items from the larder.

I served the salad with crispbread. Another time I might add some oven-dried tomatoes or stoned black olives.

500 g (1 lb) new potatoes
1 tbs sunflower seeds
2 tbs tahini
1-2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs soya yogurt
1 tbs maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small cucumber (or half an ordinary cucumber)

Boil or steam the potatoes in their skins. Meanwhile, dry-fry the sunflower seeds in a cast-iron pan until golden.

Strain the potatoes and cover the pan with a teacloth to absorb excess moisture while they cool a little.

Put the tahini in a small bowl and gradually add the lemon juice, stirring continuously. The mixture will thicken at first. When it starts to thin out, stir in the yogurt and maple syrup, and season to taste.

Cu the potatoes into chunks. Peel the cucumber and cut into chunks of a similar size. Put both vegetables in a salad bowl and mix in the dressing.

Sprinkle the salad with the toasted sunflower seeds and decorate with a few sprigs of basil (the variety in the photo, called Purple Delight, has a particularly intense flavour).

Italian lemon cake

10 August 2010


This cake has a firm, unusual texture, somewhat reminiscent of a scone. Fragrant with lemon and not too sweet, it can be dunked in coffee for a wonderfully self-indulgent breakfast. You could also serve it after a meal with a sweetish wine like a muscat or just enjoy a slice with a cup of tea.

This is my version of the recipe for ciambella given by Marcella Hazan in her Second Classic Italian Cookbook. I veganised it by replacing the eggs in the original recipe by a ripe pear. Instead of butter, I used a mixture of cashew paste and groundnut oil.

What makes this cake rise so satisfactorily is the cream of tartar, an ingredient that used to be common in the UK but which I tried without success to track down last time I was in London. However, a quick google suggests it should be available from the big supermarkets.

500 g (1lb 2oz) plain or wheatmeal flour
2½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120 g (4oz) cane sugar
A pinch of salt
3 tbs cashew (or almond) paste
4 tbs groundnut oil
The grated zest of a lemon (preferably organic)
A very ripe pear (or 150 g of unsweetened stewed pear or apple)
1 tsp soya milk (or other plant milk)
1 tsp agave syrup

Preheat the oven to 190°C (Gas 5). Line a baking tray with silicone paper.

Combine the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, melt the cashew or almond paste with the oil over a very low heat. Pour into the flour mixture and stir well. Add the lemon zest, the peeled and cored pear, and enough water to give the consistency of pastry. Knead lightly.

Roll the dough between your hands to form a "sausage" about 30 cm long. Place it on the baking tray and pinch the two ends together to form a circle.

In a small bowl, whisk the plant milk and agave syrup together with a fork and brush the cake with this mixture.

Ciambella avant cuisson

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown. Slide it gently onto a cooling rack and leave until completely cold before slicing. It tastes even better the next day.

Chana dal and okara croquettes

1 August 2010

We eat a lot of dal – it’s easy to prepare as long as you remember to put it to soak overnight first. It’s also worth making in large amounts because it’s so versatile. Any leftovers can be diluted to make soup, frozen or turned into croquettes.

Since I started using my Soyabella regularly – which means there’s okara to be used up most days – I had the idea of including some in the recipe.

I’m especially fond of chana dal with its earthy taste and rich yellow colour, but any other type of dal (mung dal or urad dal, for instance) could be used instead. If you don’t live near an Indian grocer, lentils also make good croquettes and don’t need to be soaked.

For these croquettes I used a hazelnut okara, but any kind would do. If you don’t have okara, just leave it out.

Dal croq 4 redim

For 8 croquettes

180 g (6oz) chana dal
Stick of cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic
Chunk of fresh ginger
1 leek
1 carrot
120 g (4oz) okara, with most of the liquid pressed out
1 tsp salt
Small onion
2 tbs groundnut or sunflower oil
1 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
30 g (1oz) oat flour (or more)

Soak the dal overnight in plenty of water. Drain and rinse it well, then put it in a large saucepan with the cinnamon, turmeric, peeled garlic, finely chopped ginger and enough water to cover by 4-5 centimetres (2 inches). Bring to the boil and remove the scum that comes to the surface. Simmer gently for an hour and a half, or until the dal is soft, adding water if necessary to stop it sticking to the saucepan. Remove the cinnamon stick. At this point the dal should resemble a thinnish puree.

Meanwhile, chop the leek and carrot into small dice and cook in a little water for about 5 minutes. Drain and add to the dal with the okara and salt. Continue to cook the dal gently until it forms a thick paste. Watch it carefully, stirring often with a wooden spoon.

Chop the onion finely. Heat 1 tbs of the oil in a small saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the onion and fry to a rich brown.

Pour the contents of the pan – oil and all – into the dal, stir well and leave to cool. It will be easier to work with if you have time to put it in the fridge for a while.

When you’re ready to eat, divide the paste into eight and space the pieces out on a worktop sprinkled with oat flour. Shape the croquettes, working quickly and adding more flour whenever the paste threatens to stick.

Heat the rest of the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the croquettes for about 5 minutes a side, until well browned.

Herb and cashew nut sauce

21 July 2010

Sauce fines herbes

This sauce puts baby new potatoes into the luxury league. You could also serve it over pasta, or use it like a chutney for perking up just about any dish.

It started life with a handful of fresh-plucked herbs: persil, chives, tarragon, mint, marjoram and thyme.

Fines herbes

As I added other ingredients, it struck me that the combination resulted in something rather like a vegan tartare sauce. It would be even closer to this classic if a chopped gherkin or two were added.

Any herbs you come across in the garden or at market would be at home in this sauce, just as long as they’re really fresh.

Makes about 5 tablespoons

A handful of herbs (mine weighed 20 g)
20 g cashew nuts (about 12)
3-4 tbs olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp capers
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Chop or snip up the herbs and put them in a small bowl.

Toast the cashew nuts in a cast-iron frying pan, then crush them in a mortar. Rinse the capers well and chop them finely.

Add the nuts and capers to the chopped herbs along with the other ingredients, season to taste and mix well.

For a new potato salad, add the sauce to a kilo of potatoes as soon as they’re cooked and serve the salad lukewarm.

Water chestnuts with kochujang

9 June 2010

One of the most enjoyable aspects of eating vegan is discovering new ingredients and learning how to use them. Sometimes, though, I find it interesting to take a fresh look at the meat dishes I used to cook.

As I’ve never liked meat, I would make it mostly for guests and I’d always try hard to disguise the taste. This strategy works brilliantly with spicy food, and nobody seemed to mind when I replaced the pork in this Korean dish (which is adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe) with button mushrooms, and most recently with water chestnuts.

Korean veg 2

Sometimes I double the quantities for the kochujang (also known as kochuchang, gochujang, and so on), because it keeps well in the fridge for several weeks. The main ingredient, miso, is a fermented soya paste available from Asian grocers. I use an organic version that also contains rice.

Serves 4 to 6.

For the kochujang

4 tbs red miso
1 tbs paprika
½-1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbs sugar


A fat chunk of fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic
Large tin of water chestnuts
1 onion
1 red pepper
1 courgette
2 tbs oil
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp tamari

Mix together the ingredients for the kochujang and add just enough water to make a thick paste.

Chop the ginger and garlic very finely and add to the kochujang. Drain the water chestnuts and mix them with the paste.

Chop the onion and pepper into fair-sized pieces (as if you were going to thread them on skewers for kebabs). Cut the courgette into thick slices.

Heat the oil in a wok or large sauté pan and fry the onion until the edges start to brown. Set aside. Briefly fry the pepper, then the courgette. Add the kochujang paste and chestnuts to the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the oil just starts to separate out from the sauce.

Add the reserved onions, lime juice, rice vinegar and tamari, plus a few spoonfuls of water if you think it’s needed to make the sauce the right consistency.

Serve with Japanese rice.

N.B. Don’t add salt to this dish: the miso already contains plenty.

Instant fruit ice

22 May 2010

Last summer our solitary peach tree decided to bear fruit for the first time – so much that we couldn’t eat it all.

Peach tree

So I froze several kilos of peaches, plunging them in boiling water to remove the skins, then cutting them in half to take out the stones. Just the thing for making tarts and crumbles in the middle of winter, right?

Errr… not quite.

Once defrosted, the peaches slumped into a brown, sticky, watery gloop, devoid of scent and completely inedible.

What was needed was a way of using them while still frozen. I let them defrost just enough to be able to separate the halves, then whizzed them in the food processor to make this quick ice. We enjoyed it, but it must be said that it doesn’t taste particularly of peaches.

If you know a way of freezing peaches without ruining them, I’d love to hear about it.

Cashew nut paste (I use the Jean Hervé brand, which is organic and contains nothing but finely ground cashews) is one of my ingredients of choice at the moment. It sticks to the roof of the mouth in a way that may not appeal to everyone, but for me that’s part of its toffee-like charm.

I’ve tested this ice successfully with bought frozen fruit like raspberries and redcurrants, and with fruit from the garden cooked prior to freezing, such as quince, rhubarb and apple.

Pictured below: scoops of raspberry, apple and peach ice.


You can adjust the amount of syrup according to taste and the tartness of the fruit, and vary the nut paste (almond and hazelnut are good, but don’t give quite the same smoothness) and milk (try almond, oat or soya).

For about 500 ml (1 pint)

200 g (7oz) frozen fruit
120 ml (5 fl oz) plant milk
2 tbs cashew nut paste
2 tbs agave syrup

Take the fruit out of the freezer and leave at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, or until you can separate the pieces.

Put the milk into a food processor, followed by the nut paste and syrup. Add the fruit pieces, and process until you have a smooth puree with no lumps.

If you do this quickly enough, you end up with a soft ice, rather like an Italian ice, which can either be eaten straight away or poured into a plastic tub and put in the freezer for a few hours to firm up.