Sep 2013

COURGETTE KUGEL

COURGETTE KUGEL

Foolishly I have trusted the weather forecast. Who wouldn’t want to trust the promise of summer’s last attempt to stick around? The reality is that the freshly washed clothes that I left (ok forgot) outside overnight got even wetter than they were from the washing machine. I guess I have to admit that the autumn has taking its rightful reign. At least last two days were mild enough to sit outside in the afternoon.

Autumn also means I will have to get myself organised for my final year of college. Exciting as it is I am also a bit nervous (understatement) about taking clients for the fist time. Last year we were the observers in the back of the classroom, this time we will be in the hot seat. My plans to revise over the summer didn't seem to materialise too well so I am trying to catch up now.

Part of the being organised is getting food prepared for the weekend so that it is easy for my husband and kids to cook a meal when I get back from college in the evening. My courgette kugel is such a recipe. You can make it ahead and just simply stick in the oven when needed.

Kugel is a traditional Jewish bake, pudding or casserole, usually made with egg noodles or potatoes, sometimes rice. It can be sweet or savoury. I like the comfort of such food. This is a vegan version of a kugel. It is creamy, rich and comforting as if made by a Jewish Grandmother.

I have also made this recipe with four courgettes instead of the 2 leek/2 courgette combo. It was as good. Nice thick tomato sauce complements the kugel perfectly. And of course salad and green veggies. This makes a big batch so any leftovers should be cooled quickly and reheated thoroughly. Enjoy!

kugel

COURGETTE KUGEL
Serves 6

ingredients
kugel
2 fat leeks
1 1/2 cup basmati rice
2 courgettes
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup cashew nuts
1 pack of silken tofu (300g, 10oz)
1 Tbs tahini
4 sun dried tomatoes
1 Tbs nutritional yeast
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste

method
  1. Thinly sliced the leeks and place together with rice into a large sauce pan. Cover with water, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Drain the rice and leek mixture and set aside.
  3. Grate the two courgettes and mix with the rice and leeks.
  4. To make the sauce blend together the water, cashews, tofu, tahini, sun dried tomatoes and nutritional yeast. Season.
  5. Place the rice mixture into a large baking dish, add the sauce and mix well.
  6. Bake at a 180C oven for 40-50 minutes, until set and golden brown on the top.
  7. Serve with a tomato sauce, salad and some green veggies.

kugel-detail

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SWISS CHARD AND MUSHROOM LASAGNE

SWISS CHARD AND MUSHROOM LASAGNE

The weather is slowly starting to turn, we even had to put the heating on in the mornings, it has been rather cold in the morning. Walking the dog today I had to brace myself against a very icy wind. No, I am not complaining, I am looking forward to cooking comfort foods. Vegan mac and cheese, bean goulash, curries and chillies, soups and of course lasagne.


swiss-chard-lasagna

My Swiss chard lasagne serves 6 people generously and has a fraction of the traditional lasagne calories and fat. There is no traditional white sauce (butter, flour, milk), no cheese, no meaty sauce. You may ask whats left? Delicious tomato sauce, ”meaty” mushrooms, ricotta like Swiss chard and tofu layer. And to top it off my “cheese” cashew and tofu sauce with a sprinkling of pine nuts. You can make this dish totally oil free or if you wish you can use 1-2 Tbs of oil. I am giving the option in the recipe. I used 1 tbs to saute the mushrooms but my tomato sauce was made without any oil.

I have also used whole wheat lasagne noodles. I didn’t cook them first but decided to let the lasagne stand for about a hour before baking it. The key to soft noodles is to make sure the tomato sauce is not too thick, I have also used the mushroom liquid that leeched out during cooking, I spooned some over each mushroom layer. Apart from moistening the noodles it adds extra mushroom flavour to the dish.

This is a perfect recipe to get the kids involved in. My daughter enjoyed making the Swiss chard layer and layering the actual lasagne. I will admit the end result didn’t look as neat as I would have liked but there are times I have to let go of being a control freak in my kitchen. Rough edges or not it tasted great.


SWISS CHARD AND MUSHROOM LASAGNA
Serves 6

ingredients
500g (1lb3oz) chestnut (brown) mushrooms, sliced
1tbs rapeseed oil (optional)
12 whole meal dried lasagne sheets
2 Tbs pine nuts
2 Tbs rapeseed oil (optional)
tomato sauce
1 tbs rapeseed oil (optional)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbs tomato puree
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1tsp oregano
125ml (1/2 cup) water

Swiss chard tofu layer
400-440g (1lb) Swiss chard
300 (10oz) g firm tofu
1 tsp dried onion
1/2 tsp garlic
1 Tbs nutrition yeast
salt to taste

“cheese” sauce
100g (3 1/2 oz) tofu
125ml (1/2 cup) cashews
125ml (1/2cup) water
1 tsp each dried garlic and onion powder
salt to taste



swiss-chard-layerchardlasagna

method

  1. First make your tomato sauce. In a medium sauce pan, heat about 60ml (1/4) cup of water or 1 Tbs rapeseed oil. Cook the onion and garlic till softened. Next add the tomato puree, cook for a minute.
  2. Next add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 20-30minutes.
  3. Make the Swiss chard layer. Wash the Swiss chard thoroughly, than roughly chop it. Put all the chard into a large pot with a lid and cook till wilted. This should take just a few minutes. You don’t need to add any extra water as there should be enough residual water from washing the chard.
  4. When the Swiss chard has wilted, tip it into a large colander. Using the back of a large spoon squeeze out as much of the liquid from the chard as you can.
  5. Put the chard and all the rest of the ingredients for the Swiss chard layer into a food processor. Process till well combined and has a texture of ricotta cheese. Set aside.
  6. Next cook the mushrooms. Heat 60ml(1/4 cup) water or 1 Tbs rapeseed oil in a large frying pan. Cook the mushrooms till softened, about 5-8minutes.
  7. To make the "cheese"sauce put all the “cheese” sauces into a blender and process till smooth. Set aside.
  8. Now assemble the lasagne.Use a baking dish that is large enough to fit 3 lasagne noodles side by side (I have to snip off the corners of the lasagne noodles to fit them in snuggly). Start with 1/4 of the tomato sauce. Lay 3 lasagne noodles on top of the sauce. Next spread 1/3 of the Swiss chard mixture, 1/3 of mushrooms and another 1/4 of the tomato sauce. Continue with the noodles and rest of the layer until everything is used up. The last layer should be lasagne noodles.
  9. Top the lasagne with the “cheese” sauce and sprinkle pine nuts on the top.
  10. Bake in 180C oven for 40min. Let sit for about 10min before serving this will make it easier to serve the lasagne.

Ready for the oven
chardlasagna2
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VEGAN SPANAKOPITA

VEGAN SPANAKOPITA

Cooking is my way to be creative. I am no good at drawing, my piano playing days are a distant childhood memory and when I sing my kids cover their ears. When it comes to food there are so many ways to get my creative juices going, I get inspired by ingredients or world cuisines to create new dishes. I love to “veganise” my old favorites or sometimes I have a go at recreating dishes I enjoyed in a restaurant.

My vegan spanakopita came to life as a mixture of the above processes. My husband and I had a rare opportunity to enjoy an evening meal out together (minus kids). We chose a Lebanese restaurant that featured many vegan mezze dishes on the menu. One of the mezze’s we had were delicious filo pastry tringles filled with lemony spinach. Few days later I came across Jamie Cooks Morocco while flicking through the TV channels. Jamie Oliver was making a sweet almond filo pastry “snail”. This is when the cogs in my brain started to turn. I love the way the “snail” looked and with my Lebanese spinach triangles still on my mind I thought of the traditional Greek recipe spanakopita, a filo spinach and feta cheese pie. I could see the spinach, the filo, tofu instead of feta, some pine nuts and lemon juice coming together. Surely I was onto a winner.

Trust me, this recipe is not as complicated as it looks, just be careful not to let your filo pastry dry out. Do not answer the phone or the door. Work fast and you will end up with a dinner party masterpiece. Spare pair of hands is a bonus, I had my daughter on hand. Serve with some homemade tomato sauce, salad and maybe some Greek olives for a super Mediterranean meal.

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VEGAN SPANAKOPITA

Serves 6

ingredients
1 kg (2.2lb) frozen spinach
2 large young onions with stems (or 6 spring onions, scallions), finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried oregano
250g (9oz) extra firm tofu, grated
100g (4oz) pine nuts, reserve 2 Tbs
juice of a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

270g (10oz) filo pastry, 6 large sheets (if frozen defrost first)
2-3 tbs olive oil


IMG_6695

  1. First let your spinach defrost. I take it out of the freezer several hours before cooking, set a large colander over a bowl, place the spinach into the colander and leave in a warm place. If I am impatient I just pour some boiling water over it.
  2. When the spinach is fully defrosted squeeze out as much water as you can. The most efficient way is to put it into a clean tea towel and twist and squeeze until most water runs out.
  3. In a large bowl combine the spinach, onion, garlic, dill, oregano, grated tofu, pine nuts (minus the 2 tbs) and juice of a lemon. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Prepare a large baking tray, you can oil it or line it with some baking paper.
  5. This is the fun bit. On a large clean surface ( I use my dining table), prepare the pastry. Lay the first sheet on the table, brush lightly with olive oil. Lay the next sheet in a way that it creates a long rectangle, make sure you overlap the shorter edges by about 5cm (2inches). Brush with oil. Repeat with the third sheet. Lay next three sheets on top of the first layer, brush with oil. You should be left with a very long double layered rectangle.
  6. Next place the filling evenly into the middle, creating a long line, see picture. Wrap the pastry around tightly but carefully, creating a long tube, like a strudel. Don’t worry about small tears. Make sure the seam is down. Next secure the edges by folding them over. The filling is not runny so don’t worry it won’t run out.
  7. Shape your your strudel into a coil creating a “snail shell”shape. Slide onto a baking tray. Brush with some olive oil (or non-dairy milk), sprinkle with pine nuts and carefully transfer onto a tray. (Extra pair of hands to hold the tray is very helpful at this point)
  8. Bake at 180C for 35-40 min, or until the pastry is golden brown.
  9. Transfer onto a serving platter and cut into wedges.

IMG_6702

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FIERY BLACK BEANS

FIERY BLACK BEANS

We don’t tend to include beans in the list of superfoods, but they certainly are worthy of the name. I do think the word superfood is misused for marketing and shameless profiteering. Even the health food industry is governed by money and you are more likely to profit from the latest miracle seed or berry from the South American rainforest than something so ordinary as a bean. In my view all vegetables, beans, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds are all superfoods.

Beans offer a great nutritional value for money. Especially if you buy them dried, just as I did to make my fiery black bean recipe. A half a kilo pack of black beans will easily serve 8 people. Black beans are packed with protein and don’t be fooled by being told beans are not a high quality protein, black beans do contain all the essential amino acids. They are a great source of iron and calcium, 2 of the minerals people think you can’t obtain from a vegan diet in adequate amounts (I get tired of hearing this). Beans are also full of fibre, one nutrient most people aren’t getting enough. They are not only cholesterol free but have been shown to help reduce cholesterol, balance blood sugar and even have cancer fighting phytonutrients.

Many people get intimidated by cooking beans from their dried state. Cooking some types of beans can indeed be a bit frustrating. My Achilles heel is cooking dried Egyptian broad beans, I have now given up on them and buy these in a tin. Most beans are however more straight forward. First soak soak soak. Soak the beans over night (not longer than 24hrs) and drain the water. If you forgot to soak your beans it or simply don’t have the time, place the beans in a large pot with about 2- 3 x the volume of water. Bring to a vigorous boil for 10min, turn them off and let the whole thing stand for at least couple of hours. Now you can proceed as you would with the beans that had their long overnight bath. The first method results in more nutritious beans as the soaking makes minerals and vitamins more available.

Cooking times have to been taken lightly, they will vary due to size or freshness of the beans. I go by taste, my personal preference. And I will disagree with the TV chef Gino D’Campo, beans really shouldn’t be al dente, they should be cooked through. Even if this means that some of your beans fall apart during the cooking process. I like to use a piece of kombu seaweed in my beans, this is said to make the beans easier to digest (less flatulence), it also adds to the flavours. Other flavourings I often use are: bay leaf, thyme, parsley, rosemary, onions, leeks, carrots, celery, garlic. These are best fished out and discarded when your beans are finished. Last time I cooked my black beans I searched for the kombu but it had melted into the beans. One way to add iodine to your diet :) In many recipes you can use the cooking liquor (i.e. stews, soups, dips), it is usually full of flavor. I have used my cooking liquor in my fiery black bean recipe below.

fiery-black-beans

FIERY BLACK BEANS
We had these with some chipotle spiced tomato sauce, guacamole, salad, tomatillo salsa, corn tortillas and even baba ghanouj. You can also just serve them with rice and fruity salsa. Add some stock and a bit of lime juice to any leftovers for a quick fiery soup.

Serves 8

500g (17oz) of dried black beans
piece of kombu seawead (I used 2x 1cm strips cut from a large sheet)
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs rapeseed (canola) oil or 80 ml (1/3 cup water)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped into small dice
2 cloves garlic, finely choppped
1 red Cayenne chilli pepper (deseed for a less fiery meal), finely chopped
1 chipotle chilli (soaked in boiling water for 30 min), finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp oregano
salt to taste

  1. Soak the beans overnight and drain. (or use quick cook method described above)
  2. Add the beans, kombu, bay leaf and water to cover the beans with 2x volume of water, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gook gently till beans are soft (about 40-60min).
  3. In a large casserole heat the oil (or water) and add the onion, pepper and garlic. Cook till softened. Add the chillies and cook for further 2 minutes.
  4. Next add all the spices and cook for further minute.
  5. Using a slotted spoon remove the beans from cooking liquor and transfer to the casserole dish. Add about 1 cup of the liquor together with some salt and pepper.
  6. Simmer gently for about 30-60min, add some more of the cooking liquor if the beans start drying out and stick to the bottom of your casserole.
  7. To serve in tortillas make sure all the liquid has cooked out but beans are still moist. If you serving these with rice you want a bit more liquid in your beans that will serve as a sauce.

fiery-black-beans-2
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