Savoury pumpkin scones

I often get asked where the ideas for my recipes come from. Sometimes, I just make things up on the spot, others are inspired by something I have read or seen in a magazine or on the internet. Occasionally, an idea rumbles around in the back of my mind for a long time then suddenly comes together. These pumpkin scones are in that category.

Before my dairy-free and plant-based days, I had an amazing recipe for pumpkin scones that I think appeared in a Riverford veg box. They were delicious. It disappeared when we packed up our house for storage whilst we were overseas never to be found, and no longer on the Riverford website (or not that I could find anyway). Now I cook mainly fat-free as well, I wanted to work out how to successfully replace the fat ingredient, using pumpkin puree as an oil and egg replacement; a few attempts resulted in very dense, bullet-like scones. Not  for general consumption!

Finally, I cracked it! These savoury pumpkin scones are seriously satisfying and tasty, as well as super healthy. And they are just like normal scones in texture and weight, not a bullet in sight! Perfect for lunch or afternoon tea, they’re also fabulous dunked in a warming winter soup.  Definitely worth the time spent thinking about them!

Savoury pumpkin scones (makes 6x7cm wide scones)
400g spelt flour (use plain gluten free if needed)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme or sage
150g pumpkin puree*
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tablespoons of water
4 tablespoons rice or soya milk
a few pumpkin seeds for decoration

* I make my pumpkin puree by roasting a few slices of pumpkin or squash with the skin on in the oven, covered with tin foil (the steam helps it cook and retain it’s fluid). When cooled, I removed the skin and then mashed it in a bowl before adding the other wet ingredients.

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas mark 6. Line a baking tray with parchment or a silicon baking mat.

Mix the pumpkin puree, olive oil, flaxseed and water and the rice milk together in a bowl. Make sure they are well combined. In another bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt and herbs and mix together well. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and cut in with a knife until the mixes start to combine, then use your hands to bring it all together.

Remove from the bowl and knead gently on the worktop until you have a soft dough. Carefully flatten the dough with your palm until it’s spread a bit and 3cm thick. Using a 7cm wide cookie cutter, cut out your scones and place onto the baking tray. Re-knead the dough and flatten a couple of times until you have used it all up. Brush the tops with dairy free milk and add pumpkin seeds for decoration. Bake in the oven for 14-18 minutes until lightly golden on top and firm on the bottom. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a tray. Enjoy!

Sweet potato falafels

We have a bit of thing for falafels in this house. It’s one of our weekly staples – they’re easy to make, taste amazing and can fill up even the hungriest of teenage boys. Lunch, dinner or snack, there’s always a good time for a falafel! I’ve had my basic recipe up on the blog for a few years now (see http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/fabulous-falafels/), so time to add in some extra flavour, and nutrients, with my sweet potato version.

If you saw my last post with the pretty infographic (having discovered canva.com, there will be more of these!), there are loads of reasons to add sweet potato into your meals. The downside of falafels is that they can sometimes be a little dry; adding in sweet potato takes that risk away. You end up with a moist and tasty little bite that benefits from being baked rather than fried (as so many shop or restaurant bought falafels are).

Initially, I steamed the sweet potato but this just added texture rather than flavour, and extra effort. By baking the sweet potato, you just need to plan a little more. If you know that falafels are on your menu in the week, and you have the oven on for something else, wrap the sweet potato in some foil and pop it in to bake. Once ready and cooled, just keep in the fridge until it’s time to make your falafels.

To mix it up a bit more, you could use butter beans or even cannelloni beans; they still have great amounts of fibre and minerals, but I tend to still to good old fashioned chickpeas. And if you’re up for some experimentation, remember to save the fluid drained from the tin; this is known as aquafaba and is an amazing egg white replacement (I feel another infographic coming on!).

I like to serve these lovely falafels wrapped in some crisp lettuce with salads and plant based mayo on the side. Or you can go for wholemeal pitta breads or wraps if you need to fill hungry tummies! So give these gorgeous little bites a go – they’re dairy free, gluten free and fully plant based. And, of course most importantly, taste delicious.

Sweet potato falafels (makes 12)

1 medium sweet potato, baked, cooled and peeled
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 handfuls fresh coriander and/or parsley, leaves and stems
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic, crushed or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chickpea/gram flour
salt and pepper

Place the cooked sweet potato, chickpeas, herbs, spices, garlic and seasoning into a food processor and pulse a few times until combined – you want a little texture. If the mix is too wet, add the chickpea flour to thicken.
Shape into small patties and place on a baking sheet. Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to set.
Heat the oven to 180ºC. Remove the falafels from the fridge and bake in the oven for 8 minutes. Turn, then bake for another 8-10 until lightly browned and firm.
Can be served hot or cold.

Chilli sweetcorn baked polenta

Here’s my next instalment of ‘what to do with lots of sweetcorn and courgettes at the end of a good summer?’ series. This dish is focused on sweetcorn, and is a double corn recipe using both fresh off the kernels with dried and ground corn.

Polenta

Polenta is one of those products that can delight or dismay, depending on how it’s cooked and the texture. I had never really tried it until I went along to an Italian cooking demo whilst living in India. Yes, you read that right! It might sound a bit random, but there was a great Italian restaurant (called Toscano) in the mall next to our housing compound, run by two French brothers. I know you’d expect them to be Italian, but hey, in that’s how things roll in the awesome global mix that is Bangalore! It was a bit of an expat retreat serving familiar European dishes with an Indian kick (i.e.; lots of chilli) and pizzas that kept the kids more than happy.

As it turned out, I couldn’t actually eat the finished polenta dish they were demonstrating as it contained breadcrumbs, which was a shame but avoiding deep fried food is never a bad thing really. But what I did learn was how to prepare it from scratch and how to maximise flavour without overloading it with butter and cheese, perfect for the dairy free diner.

The top bit of advise, as always, was the simplest – keep tasting until you get it right, and use good quality ingredients. I’ve since lost the recipe demonstrated that day, but I was so glad to see how to make it, plus I gained valuable tips on what to do, and not do, in cooking demos!

I used to get quite confused about the difference between polenta and the ground maize used for Mexican dishes and featuring on mainly American recipe sites. Basically, polenta is ground cornmeal, just slightly more coarse with less of the healthy outer grain removed, so theoretically should contain more fibre and nutrients, but modern processing methods may make that assumption defunct! In the US, it’s often frowned upon as some cornmeal is made from genetically modified corn, plus different coloured corn contains less nutrients. If you want to know more, check out this article to help make things clearer http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-cornmeal-and-polenta-word-of-mouth-211404

The good thing about polenta is that it’s gluten free, so useful if you need to be careful, and still has a useful amount of fibre to help transit the sugar content through. It can be used as a base for other dishes like cakes, bread or crunchy coatings, as well as just made up in it’s own right.

The nutrition in this dish really comes from the fresh corn kernels – those bright yellow buttons are packed with phytonutrients that are good for the eyes and contain anti-oxidants, as well as a load of insoluble fibre that the friendly bacteria in your gut just love to munch on. I used this as an accompaniment to a courgette based chilli dish and they complimented each other perfectly, but you could serve it with a fresh salsa, avocado dip or fresh summer green salad – any rainbow dish will do, for lunch, dinner or a snack. So why not give this a try and let the sun shine from your plate!

Baked chilli polenta

Baked sweetcorn chilli polenta
2 cobs of sweetcorn
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g polenta
750ml vegetable stock
1 heaped teaspoon ground oregano/Italian herbs
1 red chilli finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed chilli
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Grab a 23x30cm baking tin, grease and line with baking paper.
Next, cut the corn off the cobs. Heat a dash of olive oil in a medium sized pan and sauté the corn for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t stick. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the polenta and cook for a minute, stirring continually. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly with the heat on low so that it steadily thickens without sticking to the pan. You need to get rid of all the lumps. It’s ready when the texture is smoother and no longer grainy. This takes about 10 minutes or so – be patient and have a cup of tea to hand to keep you going! It should become really thick, but not so thick you can’t move it around, so add a little more stock if needed, but don’t go mad otherwise the mix will be too loose. When you’re happy with the texture, stir in the herbs, chill, baking powder and nutritional yeast if you’re using. Season with salt and pepper and mix really well to make sure everything is combined. Taste and add more flavour as needed. Your could stir in a little extra virgin olive oil as well at this point but it’s not essential.

Spoon the mix out into the prepared baking tin and smooth down the top so it’s equally spread out – a bit tricky as it’s so sticky. With the recommended size tin, it should be about 5cm thick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a dark golden crust has formed. Remove from the oven, rest in the tray for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to firm up. Once it’s cool enough to handle and set, peel off the baking paper and cut into shapes. If it needs warming up, pop back in the oven to warm though for a few minutes and serve. Enjoy!

Sweetcorn and courgette fritters

Sweet corn and courgettes are right in season at the moment, and it’s a bumper crop. I love sweetcorn. Ripened during the long sunny (hopefully!) summer days, fresh corn is so sweet and succulent it’s a joy to eat. Sometime it can be hard to buy unprepared cobs in the supermarket, so I like to get my sweetcorn elsewhere – farmers markets or shops, greengrocer or veg box schemes are all good sources of cobs still covered in their husks. That way you get to unwrap them, revealing the vibrant yellow kernels voluptuously packed in tight, clinging to the side of the cob, ready and waiting to be eaten.

Courgettes are prolific this time of the year, especially if you manage to beat the slugs and snails to grown them yourself, or if you get a veg box delivered. Although they tend to be available most of the year, I prefer them at this time as they tend to be less watery and more flavoursome. Not that I used to like them – whether it’s my tastebuds that have changed, or it’s the courgettes, but I used to find them bitter and quite unpleasant. That all changed when I went on honeymoon to Egypt (a few years ago now!). The hotel’s restaurant always had a buffet style service, and courgettes were served in a huge vat, just lightly cooked with nothing added. It wasn’t just the cooking that was light – the courgette skins were a really pale green, almost white, as if they had been bleached by the searing dessert sun. And maybe the sun also altered the flavour, as these had all the courgette taste, but none of the bitterness. Suddenly I was a courgette fan.

Which is a good thing, as they are packed full of super nutritious goodies like vitamin C and potassium as well as fibre, and of course lots of water. They are really useful veg to have around as they can be used in a whole range of dishes, either as a base ingredient or the main star.

But no matter how much I love both sweetcorn and courgettes, when there’s a lot of them about at the same time, it can be a challenge to find new ideas to use them. So to help out, I’m going to do a few extra posts over the next few days with some ideas for you to try.

The first are these gorgeous sweetcorn and courgette fritters. Now fritters are not usually on the menu at home as traditionally they contain milk, eggs and are fried in loads of butter or oil. But after a little playing around, this recipe still deserves the title of fritter even though it’s dairy free, gluten free, plant based and baked so oil free too. The good news is that they taste amazing, and are gulped down in a flash at home – phew! Great for a light lunch served with a zingy dip or served up with different vegetables or salads to make a more substantial main meal.

To make these fritters beautifully caramelised without frying, I use a silicon baking mat instead of an oiled baking tin or pan frying. Whole healthy fats are really good for us, but refined oils are not as their altered molecular structure can be harmful to our bodies, and cooking oil at high temperatures affects that structure even more. The silicon baking sheets cook everything really well and still gives a gorgeously browned outside, plus nothing sticks – very clever! It’s an essential item in my kitchen cupboard now and would highly recommend them.

So if you fancy ‘frittering’ away a little time, give these a go and see what you think. There are loads of flavour combinations you could use – let me know if you try something new.

Baked sweetcorn and courgette fritters (makes 12)

1 large cob of corn, cooked
1 medium courgette, grated
3-4 spring onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons chickpea (gram/besan) flour
1 tablespoon polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if needed)
90mls dairy free milk
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Place a silicon baking mat onto a large cookie tray. Place the grated courgette into a sieve and press out some of the fluid (not too much as it will contribute towards the total fluid content). Place the squeezed courgette, sweetcorn, spring onion, garlic and chilli into a bowl, mix well and put to one side. In another bowl, mix the gram flour, polenta, seasoning, baking powder and ground flaxseed together. Pour in the dairy free milk and whisk together to form a batter. Leave for a few minutes to allow the flaxseed to swell and absorb some of the liquid.

Tip the veggie mix into the batter and mix well until everything is combined and holding together well on a spoon (i.e. not too runny). If your mix is a bit thick, add some more dairy free milk, if it’s too runny, add a little more chickpea flour. Let the mix sit for a minute or two.

Dollop a heaped spoonful of mix onto the prepared baking tray and spread out a little with the back of the spoon. Repeat until the mix is used up. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so until the top has set. Flip the fritter over and cook for another 10 minutes until the base is browned. Serve with freshly made chunky cucumber guacamole (link here soon).

Winter warmer – celeriac

It’s that time of year when comfort food is a must. The end of January means we’re ploughing our way through winter but the weather is still grey and cold, the nights long and Spring seems a long way off. I treated myself to some sneaky winter sun by nipping back to India for a week; the winter weather in Bangalore is near perfect for me – bright blue skies, high 20s in the day, cooler in the mornings. Coming back to a fresh north wind, snow showers and minus 0 temperatures is my penance!

Having left the family home alone, I was expecting the fridge to be bare yesterday lunchtime – fortunately the Riverford vegetable box had arrived so there was lots of fresh produce to play with. Soup was definitely in order, and there on the shelf waiting for me was one of my favourite veggies – celeriac.

A member of the same family as celery, the bulbous roots are cultivated rather then the stems and leaves. I feel a bit sorry for celeriac as it just a bit bobbly and ugly – it reminds me of The Ood on Dr Who! But as the saying goes, true beauty lies within, and underneath the cracks and bumps lies clear, creamy flesh that tastes rich and satisfying when cooked. Of course, it can be finely sliced and used in salads or remoulade, but that’s another blog post.

Celeriac is under-rated as a winter root vegetable – nutritionally it’s packed full of fibre, essential for a healthy gut, as well as potassium, vitamin C, K and B, some magnesium and manganese. If you want a potato substitute, it works brilliantly as a mash and has a lower GI as it releases it’s sugars more slowly, great if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic. It also has minimal fat content, and of course no cholesterol, so combined with the high fibre levels, works brilliantly to help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels (the bad stuff!).

As the oven was on for a long time at Christmas, I baked a celeriac whole and served it up as a whole so everyone could help themselves, spooning out the creamy flesh straight from the foil. It was delicious. If you want to do that, it takes about 2 hours 20minutes, depending on the size of your root. Clean the outside skin as much as possible and rub with salt and a little olive oil. Drop a couple of garlic cloves on the top and then wrap up in tin foil. Place in an oven on a baking dish at 180oC and bake for 2 hours, then open up the foil and cook for another 20 minutes. The celeriac should be soft to the touch. Take out of the oven and cut open, add some non-dairy butter if you so desire and serve as it is.

But that is not the recipe for today – now you have two for the price of one! This celeriac and apple soup is fabulous and really quick and easy to make. It’s comforting, warming and filling – all the things you need on a winters day – packed with minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients to keep you healthy, low in fat and simple carbs, so it won’t make you fat (unlike so many winter comforts!). Serve with some chopped almonds, chives and a good sprinkle of black pepper. Serious comfort, dairy free and delicious!

Celeriac and apple soup
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 medium celeriac
2 apples
1 teaspoon thyme
1 litre vegetable stock
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper
toasted sliced almonds and chives (optional)
Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in a large pan and sauté the onion and celery. Whilst this is cooking, peel the celeriac and apple and chop into small chunks – both start to oxidise when open to the air, so you want to work fast so they don’t get too discoloured. Add both to the pan with the thyme and continue to sauté for a few minutes on a low heat to caramelise a little. Add the stock, season and simmer for 20 minutes or so until all the veggies and apple are soft. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then blitz with a hand blender until smooth. If the soup is too thick for you, add more stock or some non-dairy milk. Reheat and serve, garnished with almonds and chives if you so desire. Enjoy!

Farinata or frittata?

I have to say, I’ve become obsessed by food! I love reading articles, recipes, blogs and watching various food programmes on the TV. And as for recipes books – well my collection is growing! Sitting down with a cuppa and a pile of recipes is the perfect way to spend a few minutes.

The constant thought in the back of my mind is “can I eat this?” Eating dairy and yeast free, and now completely plant based, can create a number of challenges, but with a bit of imagination and creativity, it’s amazing what you can come up with. Although I have to say, experimentation can be accompanied by disaster!

Recently, I was browsing a vegan cookbook and I came across a recipe for farinata, something I hadn’t heard of before. Originating in Northern Italy, farinata is a type of flat bread that’s made from chickpea flour and baked at a high temperature so that it’s crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. The thing that had caught my eye though was the featured photo looked like pizza!

For once, I decided to follow the recipe diligently, even down to the recommended tin size. This was where things didn’t quite add up though. The photo showed a really thin base with a topping of tomato, onion and olive delicately resting on the top. However, the batter was really deep in the tin, and all my toppings just sank! So I baked it anyway, a bit grumpy that things were not going to work out.

I was right, it didn’t turn out as expected – but it certainly wasn’t a disaster. I ended up with a plant based version of a frittata, so egg-like in texture and taste it was a real surprise. My grumpiness soon turned to delight.

Perfect for breakfast, lunch, picnic or a light supper, this dish is pretty simple to make, you just need to plan ahead a little as the batter has to sit for a couple of hours. And as it’s make with chickpea flour, it’s got lots of fibre as well as protein and various minerals so it’s a really healthy, cholesterol free alternative to eggs. As for the filling, you could add whatever you would to any frittata. I’ve stuck with tomatoes, olives and onions as the combination tastes great.
My only problem is what to call it, as I don’t think it’s either a farinata or a frittata. Why not try it – seriously tasty as well as healthy, and maybe you can think of a good name!  And in the meantime, I will try to make a thin farinata with the toppings on top…..maybe that pizza alternative is close!

Tomato, olive and onion farinata/frittatafarinata
250g chickpea flour (gram flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
450mls warm water
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
black pepper
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion diced
handful black olives, halved
sprig fresh rosemary and oregano, chopped
chilli flakes (optional)

Stir the chickpea flour and salt together, then stir in the warm water until well mixed and no lumps. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm for a couple of hours, or even overnight (I put it on the draining board which is above the dishwasher – gets slightly warm and worked perfectly!). When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220oC. Put one tablespoon of olive oil in a 20×20 baking tin and pop in the oven to get really hot. Stir the rest of the oil into the batter, then pour into the sizzling hot tin. Sprinkle the topping ingredients equally over the batter – they will sink into it, season with more salt and pepper and finish with a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you so desire. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the top is lightly browned and coming away from the side of the tin. This can be eaten hot, or left to cool. Don’t over cook as it dries out and eat the same day if possible as it won’t be as good tomorrow. Enjoy!farinata

Broad bean spread – surprisingly good.

Bearing in mind I eat a plant based diet, it’s just as well that I like most vegetables. And as time goes by and tastes change, I’ve found those that I didn’t like when I was younger seem to be more palatable today; celery is an example of this. I couldn’t stand the stuff and had no idea how people could just munch away on celery sticks and nothing else to disguise the flavour. Nowadays, I have to admit I’ve discovered it’s not as bad as previously thought, and can munch away quite happily with the rest of them!

Broad beans, however, have been more of a challenge. I developed a real aversion to them, maybe connected tochildhood memories of my dad’s vegetable patch. I can’t remember him growing anything else but broad beans (which I’m sure is not true!) and vividly recall having them served up as a vegetable, forcing myself to eat them so as not to offend his wonderful green fingered efforts. But to me they were bitter, woody nuggets that had an odd tangy aroma and I really didn’t enjoy them one bit.

My dad eventually gave up growing veg and so for years I managed to avoid broad beans; if they appeared in a dish at a restaurant I would pick them out and leave them on the side as even the smell of them was too much.

Broad beans seems to have become quite trendy in the last few years, popularised by celebrity chefs and featuring as a seasonal crop in my weekly veg box. But still I managed to avoid them, changing my box order to ensure they didn’t get delivered. Browsing through recipes recently, I realised that maybe the broad beans of my childhood could have been more tasty if they had been served in a different way.

The beans come in a large, thick fibrous pod that, unlike other beans, can’t be eaten. Once shelled, they have a greyish-green outer cover – if the beans are very young and tender, apparently this layer tastes ok, but if the beans are larger and more mature, it’s bitter and unpleasant – the feature of my childhood memories! Broad beans have to be double podded. This may be well known, but it was a revelation to me!  Once shelled, they should be popped into boiling water and simmered for a few minutes, drained and refreshed with cold water. Then the outer skin comes off quite easily to reveal gorgeously vibrant, tender green beans underneath.

Now, they still have a ‘broad bean taint’ to them, but they certainly taste quite different, and the bitterness changes to a fresh, almost sweet taste. For me, I still can’t eat them by themselves, but fortunately they combine well with other flavours, particularly mint for a vibrant, spring flavour. Which is good news, as broad beans are actually really good for you and a great source of protein in a plant based whole food diet. On top of that, they are an amazing source of fibre, essential for maintaining gut health, as well as a whole range of B vitamins, iron, manganese and potassium, although some of that will be lost in the cooking process.

Even though I find broad beans slightly more acceptable, I still avoid having them; last week I forgot to change my veg box order though, and a whole bag of them arrived. Eating dairy free and plant based can sometimes create lunch time challenges, especially with sandwich fillings; sometimes even hummus can get boring.  So I decided to create a broad bean based spread; I found a couple of recipes but they included a large amount of oil which I try to avoid. So instead, I just went the natural route and simply combined broad beans, mint, peas and a little seasoning. It makes a green gloop which has a fabulously rich but fresh flavour and is amazingly healthy with no added fat and all that great fibre.

With a taste like this, I seem to have become a broad bean convert – give a go and see what you think.

Broad bean, pea and mint spread
300g broad bean, podded150g peas (frozen is fine)
handful fresh mint
small clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
Bring a pan of water to the boil and simmer broad beans for a few minutes until the skin starts to wrinkle (try to ignore the strong broad bean aroma that reminds you of your childhood!). Add the peas near the end to cook for a couple of minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. Once the eans are cool enough to handle, peel off the tough outer layer. Put the beans, peas, mint, garlic, salt and pepper into a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add extra seasoning if required. Serve either on toasted baguette, baked potato, as a dip, with a salad, or however you so desire.