Potato, leek and mushroom ‘gratin’

Food waste is big news. And so it should be. It’s estimated that 18 million tonnes of food ends up in landfill every year in the UK alone. Globally the figure is a mind-numbingly huge 1.6bn tonnes, almost a third of what’s produced. At a time when food poverty still affects one in nine people, that just seems wrong.

And as the UK government formally declares a climate crisis, food waste comes high on the agenda of things we can do to make a different. Climate scientists state that reducing food waste is the third most impactful thing we can do (eating a plant-based diet is top of the list!). Which is good news. And there are some great initiatives going on that help get unused food to those who need it (like Fareshare) and even apps that enable you to find someone local who wants your unwanted food (like Olio). Continue reading “Potato, leek and mushroom ‘gratin’”

Sticky ginger-garlic aubergine

I love aubergine. Unfortunately my husband can’t stand them. He’s very tolerant of my plant-based experiments, but sadly aubergine is his red line that can’t be crossed! Which is not too much of a problem as there are so many other delicious plant-based foods to play with. Plus he’s often away, so aubergine becomes my indulgence when he’s on his travels.

He’s not the only one who can’t or won’t tolerate aubergine. Some people find it too bitter (although this is much less of a problem now than in the past as cross-breeding has removed much of the bitterness) whilst others can’t stand the texture, particularly when it’s over-soft and mushy. Then there are those who are sensitive to produce from the night-shade family which includes aubergines. Continue reading “Sticky ginger-garlic aubergine”

Creamy mushroom pasta

Following on from my ‘brain food’ post yesterday (plant-based foods that are particularly good for the old grey matter) I wanted to share one more with you – mushrooms. According to an article on the BBC website this week, a research study suggests that people who eat mushrooms more than twice a week have less age-related cognitive decline that those who didn’t. This means they performed better on memory and recall tests, good news for mushroom lovers!

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The study was small and the research cannot make a direct cause and effect link (so hard to do as there are so many other factors to take into account). However, it does suggest there is something in mushrooms that can benefit the brain. As with all fresh produce, mushrooms contain a whole array of micronutrients and phytonutrients. In fact, mushrooms as medicine is a huge area of research at the moment. Continue reading “Creamy mushroom pasta”

Spicy Indian pancakes

It only seems like a few weeks since I wrote my last pancake post for Shrove Tuesday, and yet here we are again. How time flies!

Last years post shared my top tips for achieving perfect plant-based pancakes – click here to check it out. This year I thought I’d give you something a little different, inspired by my time in India. They’re dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free plus wonderfully tasty – suitable for everyone! Continue reading “Spicy Indian pancakes”

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

The snow may have gone, but it’s still definitely winter! Whilst my husband sends me pictures of brilliant blue skies and crisp white snow from his skiing holiday, I sit here looking at a dull grey February day, the type where you wonder if it’s ever really going to get light.

There are signs of spring though – I snapped these brave little snowdrops yesterday outside a friends house – and I’ve notice the daffodil leaves beginning to sprout. All hopeful signs of better weather to come.

In the meantime, comfort food is needed! Something to warm, sustain and give you a little hug on the inside. This deliciously quick mushroom and lentil stew should hit the spot. Packed full of rainbow veggies, it tastes wonderful and provides a whole range of helpful anti-oxidants and nutrients that help support the immune system. Not only that, but it contains a range of fibre that helps keep helpful gut microbiome happy too. That’s important, as this time of year can be hard for people suffering from depression and low mood. Recent research from the Gut Project suggests that the make-up of gut bacteria and psychological health are directly connected. So the food we eat really can make a difference to how we feel.

I’ve used tinned lentils for this recipe, purely to save time. If you want to cook your own, feel free to do so, just add extra water and give yourself more time. Using tinned makes this a quick plant-based and gluten-free mid-week supper when time is short. This also freezes well, so get ahead of the game and double the amount, keeping half aside to freeze for another day.

I’ve added a little balsamic vinegar to the recipe. This is optional, to add a little extra flavour. If you cannot tolerate vinegar, then try a little tamari or even vegan Worcesteshire sauce, but take care not to overdo it, as they are strong flavours that easily dominate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe; it certainly hit the comfort food spots for me! Let me know what you think if you make it – don’t forget you can now print it out now I’m using the WP recipe maker plug in. I hope it makes it more user friendly. And remember, winter always turns to spring!

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

Quick and tasty, this is a perfect mid-week plant-based dish. Serve on pasta or baked potatoes (it’s particularly good with sweet potato) and a seasonal green like broccoli or kale.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Keyword: comfort food, dairy free, dinner, gluten free, plant based, vegan
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, red or white diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 large celery stick diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fat clove garlic finely chopped
  • 200 grams mushrooms sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian herbs
  • 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 400 grams tinned cooked lentils rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat 2 tablespoons water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if it does
  • Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and add the herbs. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the tinned lentils and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the bay leaf and serve.

Beany ‘cheesy’ pasta bake

How’s 2019 treating you so far? You may be sticking with a determination to lose weight, or trying out Veganuary or similar plant-based eating programme. It could be you’ve started training for a marathon or half marathon (yay go for it!) or been stuck in bed with one of the nasty winter bugs going around and just want some comfort food.

Good news – todays recipe will hit the spot with all of these situations, and more – like you just want something super tasty for dinner!

One of the wonderful things about eating whole-foods is the focus is not on one nutritional element – the protein, fat or carbohydrate content. Rather, it’s on how all  the constituent elements work together as a team and provide the right balance of nutrients for over all health. With no refined products, this dish is full of lovely fibre, making it filling, satisfying and something your gut will just love. Because, as researchers are discovering, gut health is key to overall health, including weight management, mental wellness plus prevention and management of chronic health problems.

So although this dish contains pasta, it doesn’t make it the devil incarnate as some ‘low-carb’ enthusiasts might declare. Wholegrains retain more of the original beneficial elements like complex carbohydrates that feed friendly gut bacteria, slow release energy to power your body’s processes and even proteins, minerals and, in some forms, essential fatty acids. If you have a gluten sensitivity, then rather than wheat-based pasta, choose brown rice or other gluten-free options (but take care it’s not too refined).

If you’re trying plant-based for the first time, I’m sure you’ve already been asked ‘where do you get your protein from?’. Beans are a fantastic source of plant-based protein. But because whole-foods have more than one macronutrient, they also contain complex fibre and other nutrients too. Nuts are another great protein source, as well as fats, as is tofu. So there’s plenty here, no chance of missing out.

On top of all that, this recipe is full of delicious vegetables, packed with minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients. All these nutrients support the body right at cellular level, maintaining your internal equilibrium but also helping you to heal and then stay well. So if you’ve been feeling a bit under the weather or you’re training hard, these nutrients will work together to help you feel great.

Ultimately, though, the key thing about this dish is that it tastes absolutely delicious. And after all, isn’t that really what we get out of eating? It is for me! There’s no joy in eating dull, bland food no matter how ‘good’ it’s supposed to be. Whole plant foods retain their wonderful flavours, so even if you’re restricted in some way, ‘on a diet’, have food intolerances, a health problem or training for an event, you never have to miss out on taste!

So why not give this one a go this week? To help you get more from the recipes, you’ll notice I’ve changed the format so you can adjust number of servings or print it out – no more sticky fingers on the iPad screen. Hope it works well for you! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Print Recipe
Beany 'cheesy' pasta bake
Course Main Dish
Servings
hungry people
Ingredients
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 sticks celery diced
  • 2 small carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely diced
  • 4 medium mushrooms chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4 florets broccoli chopped
  • 400 grams tin borlotti beans rinsed and drained
  • 150 grams whole-wheat pasta or gluten free alternative
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce
  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 100 grams silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Course Main Dish
Servings
hungry people
Ingredients
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 sticks celery diced
  • 2 small carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely diced
  • 4 medium mushrooms chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4 florets broccoli chopped
  • 400 grams tin borlotti beans rinsed and drained
  • 150 grams whole-wheat pasta or gluten free alternative
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce
  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 100 grams silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Instructions
For the pasta and beany sauce
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the dried whole-wheat pasta. Pop on the lid, turn down the heat and cook on a gentle boil for 20 minutes until al dente. Turn off the heat, leave to rest in the pan for a couple of minutes then drain and keep warm in the pan until the beany sauce is ready.
  2. To make the beany sauce, heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large non-stick pan and sauté the onion, celery, carrots and red pepper until soft, around 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for another couple of minutes.
  3. Mix the tomato puree with 50ml of water. Add the oregano, chilli flakes and diluted tomato puree to the pan and stir well. Simmer for 5 minutes on a low heat then add the chopped broccoli florets and beans along with a little salt and pepper. Continue to cook on a low heat for up to 10 minutes until all the veggies are cooked and soft.
  4. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pan and stir well to ensure its all covered with the beany sauce.
For the 'cheesy' sauce
  1. Drain the cashews and place in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to cover then blend until smooth. Add more water if it's too thick. Taste and add more flavourings as needed.
To finish off
  1. Pre-heat the grill to high. Tip the pasta beany sauce into a large serving dish. Pour the cheesy sauce over the top - there will be a lot but that's ok as you want it to create a good layer. Place under the grill for 5 minutes to brown, then remove and serve straight away - a green salad on the side will finish it off perfectly!

Stuffed nut roast

It’s day 8 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, into the second week already. I hope you are enjoying the posts and feeling inspired to try something new this Christmas period.

If you’re new to whole-food plant-based eating you may be wondering what in the world you are going to eat for the big event – Christmas dinner. There are various pre-prepared and fake meat options available to buy, but to be honest none of them taste quite as good, or are quite as cheap, as making your own.

If you want to try something different, Christmas chestnut tartlets are really delicious. But if you want to stick to something more mainstream, then nut roast is your answer. I already have a simple nut roast on the blog from a few years ago. This one today is a slightly different take on that; still simple and definitely delicious.

Now you may have noticed that I’m not one for using things that come in a packet. Having food sensitivities means that most products are not an option. Rather surprisingly, stuffing is one that I can eat, or at least some brands are ok. And I’ve never quite worked out how to make my own that tastes right, so it’s good to have something to fall back on.

Most standard stuffing mixes like Paxo contain wheat, so if you are intolerant to wheat or gluten, it’s be to go for specific gluten-free options like Mrs Crimbles. Also, if you avoid fats like palm oil, then beware of some supermarket brands as they tend to be on the ingredients list. Again, Mrs Crimbles might be the option here as there’s no added refined oils.

Even so, any stuffing mix is not exactly packed with lovely nutrients – most of them have been lost in the processing. But if you’re anything like me, the rest of the meal is a rainbow array of veggies and whole ingredients.  A small amount of stuffing wont’s cause too much harm in the big scheme of things (unless that’s all you eat – then there’s other problems!).

What the stuffing does add is additional flavour and texture, breaking up the nut roast a bit and just making it a bit more interesting and festive. Bake it long enough for the oils in the nuts to help create a lovely crust on the outside whilst remaining soft on the inside. I’ve found that this nut roast goes down well with non-veggie family and friends which is a big plus. 

So if you’re planning on serving a nut roast this Christmas, why not give this one a go? And if you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Stuffed nut roast (serves 6)

  • 200g mixed nuts (I used brazil, cashew and almond)
  • 170g pack stuffing mix
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 medium leek, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
  • 2 tablespoon tamari or 1 teaspoon marmite
  • 50g oats
  • salt and pepper

Place the nuts in a food processor and grind so the nuts are finely chopped. Try to avoid over-grinding to a powder as you want a little texture without big chunks of nut. Make up the stuffing mix with the correct amount of  boiling water stated on the box. Do not add any oil or dairy-free spread. Mix well and leave to one side to firm up.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the base of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, leek and carrot with the bay leaf for 10 minutes with the lid on to retain the moisture. Stir regularly to makes sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a little more water and drop in the garlic and mixed herbs. Stir well and cook for another minute.

Stir in the chopped nuts, tamari or marmite and oats. Mix well, adding a little water if needed to help combine. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently so the mix doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin with olive oil. Spoon half the nut mixture into the base of the tin, pressing down well in the corners. Spread the stuffing mix over the top then finish off with the remaining nut mix. Make sure you spread out each layer well to get a good spread. Place the tin in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and it feels firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Slide a knife around the outside of the nut roast to loosen it from the tin and carefully turn the tin over onto a chopping board. Tap the bottom of the tin and ease out the loaf. Leave to cool for another couple of minutes then cut into slices and serve.


Rainbow dal

If I ever ask my family what they fancy for dinner, more often than not the answer is dal. Ever since our time living in India, it has become a firm favourite for all of us. And we’re not the only ones as the page with my simple dal recipe (find it here) is one of the most frequently visited on the website.

As you have probably gathered by now, I love a bit of rainbow eating. Adding a variety of colourful vegetables to dishes can increase their micro and phytonutrient properties enormously. And dal is the perfect base for a rainbow make-over, so it just had to happen!

Just changing from white to red onion improves the phytonutrient profile, as the red pigment contains anthocyanins. These tiny chemicals help support cell functions and act as anti-oxidants, neutralising free radical activity. Essentially, they contribute to supporting our health. There are a huge number of different types of anthocyanins, and as with all phytonutrients they work best together as a team, hence why whole-foods are always the best option.

Sweet potatoes and spinach contains their own variety of micro and phytonutrients too, as does turmeric, tomato and the curry leaves. In fact this rainbow dal really is a veritable smorgasbord of pigments! Add in the fab fibre content and this dish really is one that will make both your taste-buds and your body buzz with joy!

The most important thing about this rainbow dal, though, is that it tastes gorgeous! Adding the extra vegetable gives it more body and texture, so all the senses are cared for. Serve it with a good dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and some steamed wholegrain rice and it will fill the hungriest of stomachs too.

So next time you’re cooking up a dal, bring a bit more rainbow power to the dinner table and give this one a go. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Enjoy!

Rainbow dal – serves 4
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato
10-12 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
225g yellow split peas
750ml water
150g spinach
for the tempering:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 dried red chillis and/or 2 fresh red chillis sliced lengthways
2cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander

Chop the onion and tomatoes, finely chop the garlic. Peel and dice the sweet potato.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan until bubbling then add the onion. Lower the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped tomato, curry leaves and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the sweet potato. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the ground tumeric, lentils or yellow split peas and a good pinch of salt. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes then add the water. Pop on the saucepan lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the water is absorbed, the sweet potato soft and the dal is thick and sumptuous. Add the spinach leaves and cook for another couple of minutes until wilted.

Heat a small non-stick pan and add the cumin and black mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to pop and release their aromas (about 1 1/2 minutes), turn off the heat and add the dried red chillis and ginger. Shake the pan and let them cook in the residual pan heat. After a couple of minutes, tip the tempering into the dal, stir well to combine and heat through gently.

Finally, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the fresh chopped coriander then serve.

Delicious plant-based Pad thai

It’s supposed to be the first day of autumn today. After a couple of weeks of distinctly autumnal weather, today’s glorious sunshine surely signals that summer has just a bit more to give. That’s good news as I’m defiantly not ready for the colder temperatures and early evenings just yet.

I’ve had a real hankering for pad thai recently, a dish that reminds me of hot holidays and sultry evenings out during our time in India. I know it’s not an Indian dish, but during that time I seemed to have it on a regular basis, giving it a particularly warm place in my memory!

The flavours in Pad Thai traditionally come from fish sauce and tamarind. To make it fully plant-based and super tasty, I prefer a peanut-based sauce. And I use a mix of tamari and lime juice rather than tamarind for the deeper flavour, just because they are more common stables in my kitchen. Blitzing the sauce all together  takes seconds and by using brown rice noodles that take only a couple of minutes to soften this really is a rapidly assembled dish that doesn’t miss out on those distinctly Asian flavours. I guess this sauce is more like Gado Gado and tastes wonderful with simple steamed veggies and rice.

Peanut butter supplies a good helping of fats in this dish. Sources of whole fats are a key feature of a whole-food plant-based way of eating – as long as the peanut butter in your jar is 100%. To make it cheap, most brands of peanut butter include extra refined oils, salt and often sugar. None of these are needed and turns this simple nut butter (even though it’s not a nut!) from health food to junk food in one foul swoop.

So what’s the solution? The easiest is to buy only 100% peanut butter. Unfortunately, this can be more expensive, although some home-brand supermarket versions are now available at a good price. The other solution is to make your own – it’s not that difficult and once you’ve made it once, you’re suddenly much more mindful about how many peanuts are needed to make just a small amount of peanut butter. I’ll do another blog post soon showing you how. There is something rather wonderfully satisfying about making your own; I’ve found I eat less now I’ve seen just how many peanuts are in one spoonful of peanut butter.

As soon as anything is ground down and processed, it’s difficult to calculate how much you are actually eating. Even eating a handful of shelled peanuts means you are probably consuming more than you would if you were shelling them yourself. Anything that Mother Nature has wrapped up in packaging should be eaten with more care. After all, if you are sitting eating nuts that have to be shelled, you can’t eat palmfuls at a time and you reach satiation point way before the packet has gone, unlike shelled (and often salted) nuts that are just so easy to wolf down.

If you cannot tolerate peanuts, then almond butter will work but the underlying flavour will be slightly different. And if you’re completely nut-free, try some sunflower seed butter instead. Again, a slightly different flavour but worth experimenting with.

Back to the Pad Thai. Apart from the yummy sauce, it’s the textures that tick my boxes, with lightly stir-fried broccoli or beans and lovely fresh crunchy bean sprouts mixed with sweet red pepper. It’s a definite rainbow in a dish. Make sure the tofu you use is extra firm otherwise it will just crumble in the pan rather than brown. Smoked works as well as plain, if you fancy something different, or leave it out all together if you just fancy the veg.

Of course, this dish can be made any time of the year, not just summer. In fact, it’s the perfect bit of warming sunshine on a cold winters day! Do let me know if you make it – and if the sun shines for you too!

Plant-based pad thai (serves 2)
2 nests of brown rice noodles
1 red pepper, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 spears broccoli with stems, sliced
handful of green beans, sliced
100g bean sprouts
100g extra firm tofu cut into small chunks
handful of chopped fresh coriander
handful of chopped peanuts
chopped fresh red chilli (optional)
For the sauce:
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
juice of 2 limes
4-5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Place all the sauce ingredients into a small blender bowl and whizz until thick and well-combined. If it’s too thick, add water to loosen. Place the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes until soft. Drain.

Heat a little water in a non-stick frying pan and fry the tofu until it starts to become lightly browned. Tip into a bowl, then add a little more water and stir fry all the vegetables except the beansprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften but remain crunchy.  Return the tofu to the pan along with the beansprouts and noodles, mix together well then pour over the sauce. Cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Serve in large bowls and garnish with fresh coriander, peanuts and red chilli if using. Eat straight away.