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!

Nettle and wild garlic soup

There’s nothing like getting free food; even better when getting that freebie involves a walk outside in the fresh spring air. Foraging for seasonal goodies gives you just that – but you do need to know what you’re looking for, as there’s no labels on leaves!

I love the idea of going out and picking freshly foraged food, but also rather hesitant as I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I even went on a foraging course a couple of years and learnt loads, but never followed it up so forgot it all! So I tried again, and spent a fabulous few hours in the company of fellow foraging enthusiasts organised through The School of the Wild and guided by the super-knowledgable and passionate Alice Bettany, a herbalist practicing in East Sussex.

We wandered around an area at Stanmer Park and learnt about the benefits of plants which are generally viewed as weeds like dandelion, daisy and cleavers (sticky willies!), then learnt how to make nettle sauerkraut, medicinal balms and even made our own tonic.

I left fired up and enthusiastic, and more than a little sunburnt! As soon as I was home, I grabbed a bag and a pair of gardening gloves to protect my hands and disappeared off into my local countryside, literally two minutes away from my house. I’d been thinking about making nettle and wild garlic soup for ages – now was the time to do it!

New nettle growth is everywhere at the moment, so they’re not hard to find! I disappeared off the beaten track a bit to avoid potential dog pee and car pollution problems and found loads of lovely new patches sprouting up, just collecting the tip and top leaves as these are the freshest and easiest to digest. Nettles have some amazing nutritional properties: Alice had explained they were full of iron, so really good for anaemia or even if you’re a bit run down. They also have lots of vitamin C, so not only a great anti-oxidant by will help get the iron absorbed into the body – a great partnership! Despite the inflammatory reaction we get from the tiny hairs on the nettle stems (their natural protection against foragers!), nettles are really good at reducing hay fever and can help reduce joint pain in a similar way to NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen) but without the side effects. Pretty good for a weed!

If you want to know more about the marvellous properties of nettles, here are two good article to have a look at https://draxe.com/stinging-nettle/ or https://morningchores.com/stinging-nettle-benefits/

I had discovered a patch of wild garlic after my previous foraging session, and despite some initial difficulty eventually found it again. As it’s getting popular with chefs, these patches are being coveted in some areas! Wild garlic has long shapely leaves with noticeable lines going through it. When you rub or break the leaf, it smells just like garlic. It has beautiful little white flowers growing proud in the centre of the patch – these are really what tell me where the wild garlic is! They too can be eaten and have a strong, pungent flavour. Patches are often found by streams and running water in the shade. Be careful though and don’t get the leaves confused with something called Lords and Ladies; poisonous if eaten and can give you a very nasty allergic reaction. So if you’re not sure, don’t pick it!

Wild garlic can be a super healthy addition to your diet whilst it’s in season (Spring). It’s an antibacterial and has lots of vitamins A and C along with an array of minerals and phytonutrients. It’s particularly good at reducing blood pressure, so if you already have a really low blood pressure, be careful how much you consume!

This is super easy and surprisingly tasty, and so vibrantly green and packed full of wonderful nutrients, it makes you feel better just looking at it! Seasoning is definitely needed, so make sure you taste as you go along to get the best flavour for you. If you can’t find any wild garlic, just make it with nettles, it will still taste fabulous and give you a seasonal spring in your step!

Nettle and wild garlic soup

1 large onion diced
2 smallish medium potatoes, diced
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
4 handfuls of fresh nettle leaves
2 handfuls of fresh wild garlic leaves
750ml water
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Flaxseed oil, toasted pumpkin seeds, wild garlic flowers (optional garnish)

Heat a little oil or water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan and sauté the onion and potato until they start to soften. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another minute. Pour in enough water to cover the veggies, bring to the boil then pop on the lid and reduce the heat for 10 minutes or so until the potato is partially cooked. Add the fresh nettles (don’t forget to have rubber gloves on!) and the wild garlic leaves and enough water to cover. Pop the lid back on and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until everything is cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Leave to cool slightly, then puree with a stick blender. Add the lemon juice and serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds, wild garlic flowers and flaxseed oil (if you so wish). Enjoy the fresh, green goodness.

Raw salted caramel cheesecake

I’ve never had a dairy-based salted caramel cheesecake – I was dairy free before salted caramel was a bit thing! But if it takes anything as good as this, then I can see what the fuss is about.

This lovely alternative is a delight, and can be eaten in the safe knowledge that all the ingredients are whole food and plant based, and therefore good for your body as well as your tastebuds. The caramel is rich and deep, not too sweet, but definitely hits the sugar receptors. This sweetness comes from the dates – and there’s a lot of them in this recipe! So I am never going to claim this is a low calorie number (it is dessert after all!), but it is packed full of fibre and nutritional benefits – minerals like iron and zinc, phytonutrients that are particularly good for gut health and a reasonable smattering of B vitamins. The type of fibre contained in dates also help keep beneficial bacteria happy; a happy gut = a happy body!

You may notice that I use Himalayan salt in the recipe – that’s my preference, but feel free to use whatever type you like or have in the house at the time. Don’t decide you can’t make this if you’re missing the salt I’ve specified, that would be too sad!

There’s lots of claims and counter claims on the internet about the benefits or otherwise of Himalayan salt. Having read around the subject, I’ve decided in favour of the pink salt as it is less refined and contains slightly more natural balance of sodium chloride with other trace minerals. As for the claims about energy levels, health benefits and potential elemental toxins, that’s for everyone to decide for themselves (I do, however, have my Himalayan salt lamp next to the modem in the house – it looks pretty in the hall and if it helps manage EMF in the house, why not?).

Back to the recipe. There are a lot of stages in this cheesecake, but each stage doesn’t take too long so don’t be overwhelmed. It really needs making the day before, but you can always make it a few hours before hand and pop it in the freezer if needed. Or prepare in advance and freeze, ready to pull out when you have the need for a salted caramel cheesecake! I would advise leaving the chocolate layer off if you are planning on freezing, and adding it just at the end once it’s defrosted with the decorations. Or you can omit the chocolate layer altogether, it will still taste wonderfully delicious and indulgent. Enjoy!

Raw salted caramel cheesecake (serves 10)

For the base:
140g oats (gluten free if needed)
80g ground flaxseed
130g dessicated coconut
240g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the caramel:
180g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
60-80ml water or dairy free milk
4 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt

For the cheesecake layer:
260g cashew nuts (soaked for at least 2 hours)
80g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
125ml coconut milk (the thick part is best)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the chocolate topping:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
To decorate:
Frozen black/red currents, freeze dried strawberries

You will need a 23cm springform cake tin.

Unless you are using super sticky and expensive Medjool dates, you will probably need to soak your dates in hot water for 10 minutes or so to make them easier to blend. Weigh out the dates for each component in separate bowls and soak them whilst you’re getting everything else ready. Don’t forget to drain them before you start!

For the base layer: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blitz until combined and sticky. Add a little of the date soaking water if it doesn’t come together, but not too much as you don’t want it too wet. Press the dough into the base of the springform cake tin and up the sides slightly using your hands. Try to spread it out equally and firmly. Place the tin in the fridge to chill whilst you make the next layers. Remember to clean the processor bowl before moving on!

For the caramel: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until a thick, creamy caramel is formed. Check the flavour and add a little more salt if needed – remember this is salted caramel so you need to use more than feels normal. Pour out into a bowl and try not to eat it all whilst you make the next layer!

For the cheesecake: Wash the food processor bowl again then add all the ingredients for this layer and blend together until thick and creamy. This may take a few minutes, depending on how long you have soaked the cashew nuts for. Carry on until the mix is smooth and not grainy (means you have to keep tasting it!)

To construct, remove the tin with the base from the fridge. Pour in the caramel to cover the bottom equally, then cover it with the cheesecake mix. Grab a thin spoon or chopstick and gently swirl it around in the mix to slightly combine the two levels – you should see a little caramel swirl appear on the top. Place in the fridge to set for at least 6 hours, or cover and pop in the freezer.

For the chocolate topping and decoration: Melt the coconut oil so it is liquid. In another bowl, mix the cacao and maple syrup together – it takes a little hard stirring to get them to combine. Add the coconut oil and stir well. Taste. If too thick or not sweet enough, add more maple syrup. If too thin or not chocolatey enough, add more cacao powder. Pour the chocolate sauce over the top, spread out equally to the edges, decorate with scattered berries and freeze-dried strawberries and return to the fridge to set.

To serve, release the clip on the side of the cake tin and very carefully push the cheesecake up and away from the sides. Leave on the base of the tin to serve (it’s safer!). Cut into slices with a sharp knife. Decorate each serving with an extra sprinkle of freeze dried strawberries or fresh berries. Enjoy!

 

 

Sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry

Veggie curries are always on the menu in our house. They can be super quick and easy to make as well as full of rainbow plant based ingredients packed with nutrients and flavour. They are also perfect for using up veggie odds and ends that you don’t know what else to do with, thereby cutting down on food waste. And of course they are easy to make dairy and gluten free.

Whilst in India, I learnt some top tips about prepping for curries that made life easier, as there can be rather a lot of peeling and chopping. That’s where a small blender comes in handy for getting ingredients like onion, ginger and garlic ready – a quick peel, a couple of rough chops, a little tip into the blender pot and a few whizzes later you have a fine dice ready to cook. If you add a little water, you can also create your own paste, cutting out the need for any oil if you want to go oil free too. And as the veggies are prepped small, they don’t take as long to cook, saving you time.  It also makes the sauce smoother, especially useful if you have someone in the house fussy about lumpy bits!

I also discovered asafoetida in India, otherwise known as Hing (which is much easier to say and spell!). This is another India spice commonly used in veggie dishes that has a very pungent and savoury flavour. In fact, if you take a sniff of the pot, it may put you off. But in cooking, it mellows out and adds a depth to the taste of your dish. You can buy it in most larger supermarkets or local Indian stores. And you only need a little, so a pot lasts a long time. It’s really worth a try.

Asafoetida aids the digestive system, as does ginger and cumin, also part of this dish. Add that with the anti-inflammatory properties and general fabulousness of turmeric, this dish is not only wonderfully tasty, but can help the body heal too. That’s even before the impressive phytonutrients found in the sweet potatoes and spinach are looked at.

So why not give this rainbow curry a go one evening and let the flavour soothe your tastebuds and the magic within soothe your body!

Sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry (serves 4)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 inch piece fresh ginger
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
400g tin chickpeas rinsed and drained
400g tin chopped tomatoes
200g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste.

Peel the onion, garlic and ginger. Chop a couple of times and put in the bowl of a small food processor. Wash the chilli, deseed and chop a couple of times then put in the pot. Blitz for a few seconds until chopped into tiny pieces.

Heat a large pan on a medium heat and sprinkle the asafoetida on the bottom for a minute until you smell the pungent aroma. Add a little oil or water then tip in the blitzed veg. Sauté for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown – don’t let it burn or the garlic will be bitter. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and simmer for a couple of minutes, then stir in the sweet potato and cover with the tomato sauce. Add a little extra water if needed, but not too much as you want a dryish curry. Turn down the heat, pop on the lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer again for another 10 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked. Stir in the spinach, pop the lid back on and simmer for another couple of minutes until the spinach is fully wilted and incorporated.

Season with salt and pepper as needed and serve with some steamed brown rice or chapattis. Enjoy!