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”

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.

Red rice risotto with rainbow roasted veg

I have a bit of a gripe about risotto. It’s not that I don’t like it, far from it; it’s a regular weekday staple in our house. It also tends to be the go-to dish for restaurants wanting to offer a vegetarian or vegan option. It’s a safe option, but safe can also be boring. And that’s the gripe! At the risk of sounding ungrateful, it doesn’t take much imagination to create a normal run-of-the-mill risotto, and equally it doesn’t take much to jazz things up a bit. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons for going out for dinner?

So why am I posting a risotto recipe? Well, if I can knock up a super tasty and slightly different risotto, I’m sure a professional chef can too! This recipe is packed full of flavour and textures as well as a whole host of wonderful nutrients that will make your body sing with joy! And it doesn’t need a pile of butter and cheese to make it taste good. The star of the dish is the rice – red rice.

I first discovered red rice whilst living in India. The little organic shop I visited down the road had a selection of different types all locally grown. It was quite an education browsing the shelves! Red rice has two key benefits over it’s more common relative, brown. The taste and the nutrients.

Taste wise, red rice has a slightly nutty earthy flavour that comes through in the dish but doesn’t dominate. It holds it’s texture well but is still quite starchy so becomes slightly sticky like arborio rice when cooked. On the nutrients side, because it’s a whole-grain it still contains the healthy fibre and bran, as well as protein and essential omega 3 fatty acid. Then there’s a whole host of micronutrients like manganese and magnesium, similar to whole-grain brown rice. The key to red rice is it’s colour.

Red plant-based foods contain special phytonutrients called anthocyanins, the same as those found in strong  red and purple veggies like red cabbage, red onions and radicchio. These phytonutrients are very active anti-oxidants and help mop up damaging free-radicals that harm the body. There’s much research going on about these wonderful nutrients and just how they work in the body. There’s a growing body of evidence that shows they are particularly good for eye health and inhibiting the growth of tumours. I get very excited about phytonutrients and their wonderful effect on the body!

Most of the veggies in this risotto are roasted whilst the risotto is cooking and then laid over the top. This helps to preserve and develop the flavours and nutrients rather than them getting boiled away. It doesn’t take any longer than adding them the traditional way, as both can be done at the same time. The watercress pesto is an added final extra dollop of flavour just to top it all off. It’s eye-catching colourful, deliciously tasty and completely dairy-free.

Red rice can be found in large supermarkets and independent health food shops, so have a look out for it and next time you’re planning risotto for tea, give this version a go – your taste-buds and body will be very happy if you do!

Red rice risotto with roasted rainbow veg (serves 4)
300g red rice rinsed and soaked for 20 minutes or so
6 medium carrots, rinsed and sliced in half horizontally
2 red peppers
5-8 asparagus spears (if in season) trimmed and sliced in half if they’re fat or 1 large courgette sliced lengthways
dash of olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 fat cloves garlic, finely diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
up to 1500ml vegetable stock
100g peas, defrosted
salt and pepper
fresh oregano (optional)
watercress pesto to serve (optional)

Red rice takes a bit longer than arborio rice, so start cooking that before roasting the vegetables. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large pan and sauté the onion for 5 minutes until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and continue to cook. Drain the rice then add to the pan, stirring well to coat with the onion and garlic. Stir in the thyme then pour in half the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Once most the stock has been absorbed, add more to cover and continue cooking. Repeat this until the rice is soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed then add the peas and cook for another few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Whilst the rice is cooking, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Whilst it is warming up prepare the vegetables. Arrange the carrots and pepper on a large baking tray, drizzle a little olive oil over the top and place in the oven. Add the asparagus once the carrots and pepper start to soften, about 10 minutes before the end. Once soft and caramelised, remove from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or so. Remove any blistered skin from the red pepper and cut it into slices.

If you are using pesto, follow the recipe here, replacing the basil leaves with a bunch of washed and trimmed watercress.

Once the rice is cooked, stir in the fresh oregano (if using) and check the flavour – add more salt and/or pepper as need.  Serve the red rice risotto in bowls then layer the roasted vegetables on the top. Finish with a dollop of watercress pesto (if using) and serve.

Cauliflower and carrot tart with pesto

I often get asked where I get my recipe ideas from. The answer is – all sorts of places; magazines, recipe books and menus are the most obvious sources of inspiration. Seeing something I like the look of but can’t eat is also a great starting point, as this really triggers my imagination and creative juices – these are the dishes that really surprise people. And then sometimes I just wake up in the morning and get hit by the thought “I wonder if……?”

That happened recently. I had been thinking of what to do with some lovely young fresh carrots that had arrived in my Riverford veg box; that must have stayed with me overnight as when I woke I had a picture in my head of a roasted carrot tart. I’ve done lots of different type of plant-based, whole-food and dairy-free pastry, but this time I wanted something slightly different, a stronger flavour that would complement the sweetness of the young carrots. So as I lay in bed my mind wandered over different veggies that would work in a pastry. The first thought was cauliflower, but having made a cauliflower pizza crust in the past that seemed to take way too much effort for the outcome, I dismissed this. But I kept coming back to it and it just seemed the obvious answer. The challenge was to make it less onerous and more tasty!

Cauliflower is an amazing veg, that’s for sure. One of the most wonderful things for me is how cheesy it can taste when roasted. I first discovered this whilst making a cauliflower soup and we still use a thicker version as a cheese sauce from time to time – check out this blog post from 2014 here if you want to see how. My kids (young adults really) love it, although we do debate whether using cheesy cauliflower sauce for cauliflower cheese could be considered a kind of cauli cannibalism!

To make cauliflower the right texture to form into a pastry it needs to be cooked. Boiling cauliflower makes it all watery and farty though, bringing back bad memories of soggy school dinners! So I steam the lovely florets until they are slightly soft and then leave them to cool before popping in the processor with the other ingredients.

Once combined with the ground almonds and flaxseed, the cauliflower becomes more of a thick paste than a traditional pastry, so you need to spoon it out onto the baking tray rather than roll it. If it seems too wet, then add some more ground flaxseed – every cauliflower is a different size and will have a different water content, so use your own judgement to get the right consistency. The thicker it is, the quicker it will firm up ready for the carrots to go on the top. And remember that flaxseed takes a little time to absorb water, so it’s important to leave the mix to settle before deciding if you need to add more. One other important thing to remember is to lightly grease the baking tray, even if it’s a good non-stick one, otherwise the crust will stick and fall apart when you try to lever it off (she says from disappointing experience!)

As the pastry cooks, it develops a wonderfully savoury flavour; if you want more a cheesy kick then add some nutritional yeast into the mix, but remember if you have a yeast intolerance, it might not be for you! After about 15 minutes of baking, the pastry should be lightly browned and firm on the top. Don’t try to flip it over or it will collapse, just arrange the roasted carrots on the top and pop back in the oven for the rest of the time. By now, the base should be crispy brown on the edges, firm top and bottom but still soft on the inside.

This may have been an early morning ponder, but I am really happy with this dish – it’s different, not too difficult and super tasty. Ticks all my boxes for a yummy recipe! Why not give this a go, and let me know how you get on?

Cauliflower and carrot tart with basil pesto (serves 3-4)
8 medium carrots
For the ‘pastry’:
1 medium cauliflower cut into florets and steamed
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
For the pesto:
2 tablespoons walnuts
1/2 pack basil
1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil
1 clove garlic crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
water

Place the steamed cauliflower florets into a food processor and pulse a few times until broken down. Add the ground flaxseed, ground almonds, garlic powder, salt and mixed herbs and blend until fairly smooth. Leave for 5 minutes to enable the flaxseed to absorb some of the water from the cauliflower and thicken the mix. Spoon the mix out onto a lightly greased baking tray and spread out into a rectangle approx 1 1/2 cm thick.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Scrub and trim the carrots and slice in half lengthways. Arrange on a separate baking tray. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

Place the carrots and cauliflower base trays in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or so until the base is lightly browned and the carrots start to soften. Remove both from the oven and arrange the carrot halves on top of the cauliflower base in a line, then return to the oven and cook for another 12-15 minutes until the base edges are crispy and everything is nicely browned.

Whilst the tart is cooking, make the pesto topping by placing the walnuts, basil, garlic and salt in a small hand blender pot and blitzing until broken down in to a thick paste. Add the olive or flaxseed oil and a little water and blitz until nearly smooth. Add more water if it’s too thick – you want it to be of a spoonable consistency.

Once the tart is ready, remove from the oven and leave to set for a couple of minutes. Spoon the pesto over the top in lines or dollops and scatter some extra basil leaves over the top if so desired. Cut in half and serve.

Lentil and buckwheat bake

Just in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m all about eating amazingly tasty food that just so happens to be good for the body too. Just as well, as I use the food I eat to keep myself healthy, and keep my multiple sclerosis under control.

Near the end of last year, I took on the role of Ambassador for the OMS programme, setting up and running a support group for people living in my county (Sussex). OMS stands for Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. It’s a seven step, research-based programme that empowers people with MS to manage their condition with diet and lifestyle, as well as medication if needed. Food is a major part of the programme; the research indicates that a mainly whole-food plant-based diet is the way to go, which is why I wanted to get involved, as that’s my thing! This programme has had a fabulous impact on people’s lives, but it can be challenging, so being an Ambassador means that I can help give support to others nearby, and it also helps me too.

Yesterday we had our latest meet up. Everyone brings an OMS-friendly dish to share. We had a veritable feast, including three different cakes (I of course had to try them all). I had been pondering for a few days about what to take, but then remembered a recipe I had made years ago for my then boyfriend (who is my now husband!). This was in early days of veggie cooking, and I remember it was a bit too hard-core for him. He’d never heard of buckwheat and wasn’t very impressed with my ‘hippie’ offering. The recipe has been improved and refined since then so I decided to see how it went down with the OMS group. Fortunately, everyone loved it, and wanted the recipe, hence this blog post.

Buckwheat benefits from being soaked if you have time, in order to remove some of the phytic acid that can make it less digestible for some people. Phytic acid is a naturally occurring enzyme found in grains, seeds, pulses and nuts that prevents the produce from growing until the conditions are right. This is good for storage, not so good if you struggle to absorb nutrients due to poor gut health. Different foods have different amounts. Cooking often removes most of it; soaking beforehand also helps too – if you remember! Sometimes even an hour in some warm water will help. If you do that with buckwheat, you’ll see the drained water contains a cloudy gloop. That’s the phytic acid making an exit. If you don’t have time, don’t worry too much – the buckwheat gets a good boiling before being baked.

This dish takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes in total to make, so might seem a bit too much like hard work. Don’t be put off though as it can be eaten hot or cold, and freezes really well, perfect to grab for a packed lunch or quick evening meal. Play around with the flavours to fit your tastes. I like the addition of a few chilli flakes to give it a bit extra pizzazz.

So if you fancy a tasty, versatile, thoroughly fibre and plant protein packed meal, this lentil and buckwheat bake is for you. If you would like to know more about the OMS programme, or discover your nearest OMS group, check out their website here.

Lentil and buckwheat bake (makes 9-12 slices depending on how you cut them)

100g buckwheat groats***

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 small bay leaves
1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
175g red lentils
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon tamari
800ml water or vegetable stock
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
salt and pepper

Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan and toast the buckwheat groats for 5 minutes or so until they release a nutty aroma and start to brown slightly. Turn off the heat and tip out onto a plate to stop any further toasting.

Grab a medium-sized saucepan and heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom. When bubbling, add the onion, carrot and bay leaf. Sauté for 5 minutes over a medium heat until both start to soften. Stir frequently and don’t let the onion stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if needed. Add the chopped tomato, herbs and tamari and cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the red lentils and toasted buckwheat. Mix together well and cook for a minute, so the flavours start to absorb into the lentils. Carefully pour in the water or vegetable stock, bring to the boil, pop on the lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the fluid has been absorbed and the mix is thick and gloopy. You  may need to remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to evaporate the last bit of water.

Whilst the mix is simmering, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a square baking tray or dish with baking paper.

Once the mix is thick and gloopy, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and stir in the chilli flakes, nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper. Check the flavour and add more seasoning if needed. Spoon the mix into the prepared baking tin – you may wish to sprinkle a few more chilli flakes over the top if you like a little kick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes or so before cutting – if it’s too hot the mix will fall apart when you cut it.

Using the baking paper, transfer the bake onto a board and cut into 9 – 12 slices (depending on how big you like them). Can be served hot or cold, keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days and freezes well.

*** Soak for 1 hour or over night if needed. Rinse well and pat dry on some kitchen roll before toasting. You will need to toast for about 10 minutes.

 

Creamy leek and mushrooms bakes

One of the things I really missed when I changed to a dairy-free, whole food way of eating was creamy sauces, especially the type used for pie. At first, I didn’t know how to create that sumptuous richness and depth without using a whole load of dairy or fats.

After lots of trial and error, I have to say this is my favourite – a delicious leek and mushroom creamy sauce made with a combination of soaked cashew nuts and silken tofu that gives the right balance of lightness and creaminess. And the white wine helps as well!

One of the difficulties with food intolerances is that one recipe doesn’t always work for everyone. I strive to make my recipes flexible for everyone, so if you’re nut-free, just use all tofu, if you are soy-free, just use all nut but add more water. If you are yeast-free, then I’m sorry the wine is out – replace the fluid with a good quality vegetable stock instead. If you are nightshade free, try celeriac slices on top instead. And if you don’t like mushroom, or leek, then use your veggies of choice. Sorted!

This may seem like there’s lots to do, but time-wise this will take you about 40 minutes in total, so why not give it a go and indulge in some super-tasty creaminess for dinner this week? Enjoy.

Creamy leek and mushroom bakes (serves 3-4)
3 medim sized potatoes, washed, skin on
2 good sized leeks, washed and sliced
250g mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
100ml white wine (make sure it’s vegan if you are dairy/egg/fish free)
100g tofu
50g cashew nuts, soaked for a couple of hours
salt and pepper

First cut the potatoes in half, place in a pan of boiling water and cook until you can just about put a knife through them. Drain and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut into thin slices.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, then heat a couple of tablespoons of water or a teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the leeks for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften and brown slightly. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the juices flow out the mushrooms. Stir in the thyme and pour over the wine. Let this simmer for a couple of minutes.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place in a blender with just enough water to cover and the tofu. Blend to smooth then pour into the pan and stir to combine. The sauce will thicken as it heats through. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the sauce starts the stick to the side of the pan, turn off the heat and pour into one large serving dish or 3 individual ones. Cover with the potato slices, making a pattern if you so wish. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on top. Serve with a selection of green vegetables.

 

Spaghetti squash and lentil bake

If you only shop in a main-stream supermarket, you could be forgiven for thinking there is only one type of squash – butternut. Not that I have anything against them, they are gorgeous! But there are so many others to choose from that it’s a shame not to experiment.

Every autumn, I order a squash box from Riverford. They grow a variety of different squashes and it’s great fun trying them all out. Fortunately, they come with a handy leaflet so you can identify which is which. For whilst most squashes have a solid flesh, spaghetti squash does not, and it can ruin a recipe if you accidentally choose the wrong one (she says from previous experience!).

Spaghetti squash looks from the outside like a normal type of gourd – long, oval-shaped with a pale yellow or dark ivory coloured outer skin. When you cut them in half, the flesh is a pale yellow, and looks solid. But once cooked, it’s a whole different story! The flesh fragments and comes away in long thin strips, very similar to spaghetti but a completely different texture. In fact, there are a number of recipes that use spaghetti squash as a pasta replacement. It works well, as long as the squash is not over-cooked – if that happens, it becomes rather watery and indistinct.

Being part of the squash family, spaghetti squash is still packed with betacarotene, folic acid and potassium. It has a light, sweet flavour – nowhere near as sweet as other squashes or pumpkin though. I think it pairs brilliantly with green lentils and sage; this recipe is a super-tasty comforting autumnal dish that jointly makes the spaghetti squash and lentils the centre of attention.

Spaghetti squash and lentil bake – serves 4

1 large or two small spaghetti squash
2 small leeks
2 medium carrots
1 large celery stick
2 bay leaves
4 medium mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, crushed
400g tin of cooked green lentils
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (make sure it’s vegan) or tamari
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 tablespoon dried sage
salt and pepper to taste
Topping:
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs (fresh/dried/gluten free)
2 tablespoons dairy-free parmesan (click here for recipe)

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Chop the spaghetti squash in half and de-seed. Wrap the halves in foil and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until soft and the flesh starts to come away with a fork. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.

In the meantime, finely chop the leek, carrots and celery stick. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water or olive oil in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan and sauté the vegetables with the bay leaves until they start to soften slightly. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for another minute. Dilute the tomato puree with a little water and pour into the pan with the Worcestershire sauce. Stir well. Drain and rinse the lentils, then add to the pan with the sage and season with salt and pepper. Stir will, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are well cooked and the flavours developed. Turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves.

Make the topping by combining the breadcrumbs with the dairy-free parmesan. Put to one side.

Once the spaghetti squash has cooled slightly, scrape the flesh out with a fork and add it to the cooked lentil mix. Take care not to damage the skin. Gently combine the squash with the lentil mix. Check the flavour and add more seasoning or herbs if needed. Spoon the mix back into the squash skin shells, distributing evenly, and sprinkle the breadcrumb mix over the top. Put back in the oven to bake for another 15 minutes until the top is crispy and lightly browned.

Serve with green veg and mashed potato (if you’re really hungry!). Enjoy.

Tomato and roasted aubergine baked gnocchi

It’s been unseasonably wet and cold here in the UK – summer seems to have gone elsewhere and we’ve been fast forwarded to autumn. Fighting the urge to put the heating on, it seemed a good idea to turn to some comfort food, using one of my favourite seasonal veggies, aubergine (eggplant).

I am a big fan of aubergine for both flavour (or rather it’s ability to absorb it) and texture – I love how the flesh goes all gooey and soft when cooked but the skin stays firm. It’s packed full of nutritional goodies like  B vitamins and manganese, but more importantly it’s purple! That means glorious phytonutrients that act as anti-oxidants and support cell processes to keep us healthy. One specific one, nasunin, is thought to help protect the fats found in cell membranes from being damaged; this is particularly important in the brain, so aubergine really is brain food!

Two fat bulbous aubergines arrived in the veg box this week; my daughter is also finally home for the summer, so of course I’m smothering her in mummy-love via her stomach! So this dish is perfect as it contains many of her favourite things – gnocchi, aubergine and cashew cheese.

If you’ve not made cashew cheese sauce before, then it’s really worth it! We have given up buying dairy free cheese as, to be honest, they generally taste unpleasant and are packed full of altered fats and flavourings – not good for anyone with food intolerances as you just can’t tell what is in there! This recipe does contain nutritional yeast, although it can be omitted if you cannot tolerate it. As yeast is one of my food intolerances, this is quite a new (and welcome) introduction to my diet. Even though it contains inactive yeast, I can only tolerate a little from time to time, but that is progress! It adds a lovely cheesy flavour and acts as a source of vitamin B12 which can be lacking at times in a plant based diet. If you do omit it, just add a bit more salt to enhance the flavour.

This dish really hit the spot; it’s rich, it has depth and just ticks all the boxes for comfort. It also contains surprising few ingredients for the flavour – the richness comes from roasting the aubergine and garlic, as well as adding a little tamari (use coconut amines if you cannot tolerate soy). I confess I am yet to perfect the art of making home made gnocchi – mine turns into tough, heavy lumps – so I used shop bought. Make sure you check that it’s dairy free, as many brands add in milk powder, and doesn’t contain a huge long list of additives. There are some good gluten free ones around too in the supermarket, but again make sure they are completely plant based.

This is definitely a multi-tasking recipe – the gnocchi, roasting and sauce making can all go on at the same time so it doesn’t take all day to make! The recipe serves 3 good portions, just double if you’re cooking for more, or want left-overs – and you will because it’s just so tasty! Enjoy – and don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

Tomato and roasted aubergine gnocchi with cashew cheese sauce (serves 3)

1 large aubergine, cut into small chunks
1 clove of garlic
dash of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 tablespoon tamari (or coconut amines)
pepper
500g gnocchi
For the cashew cheese sauce
80g/1/2 cup cashew nuts, soaked for minimum 1 hour
125ml/1/2 cup water
2 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
Himalayan salt
white pepper

Bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil, add the gnocchi and bring back to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until it’s bobbing at the top of the pan, then drain well and transfer to a baking dish.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Cut the top off the bulb of garlic and peel off some, but not all of the outer layers. Place the chopped aubergine into a baking tin with the garlic bulb in the middle. Drizzle over a dash of olive oil, or water if preferred, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the aubergine is soft and gooey. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Whilst the aubergine is cooking, heat a few tablespoons of water in the bottom of a saucepan and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften – do not let it burn. Add more water if needed. Pour in the tomatoes, herbs, tamari and tomato puree, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid off (this allows some of the fluid to evaporate and concentrates the flavour). Once the aubergine is roasted, add it to the pan. Careful cut the roasted bulb of garlic open and squeeze a few of the squidgy cloves into the sauce – I used four cloves to really enrich the flavour. Save any left over in the fridge for another recipe. Leave the sauce to simmer for a few more minutes whilst you prepare the cheese sauce.

Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place them in the bowl of a small blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth. Add more seasoning, nutritional yeast or water as need to get the flavour and a good pouring consistency.

Pour the tomato sauce over the gnocchi and stir carefully to combine. Spoon the cashew cheese sauce over the top and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until everything is piping hot and the sauce starts to brown. Serve with a green salad and a big smile!