Quick avocado and broccoli pasta

It’s a curious truth in life that some good things come into occurrence by sheer fortune or spontaneity. Such is often the case in cooking: when I’m in need of a quick fix, and don’t really want to invest much time in chopping, simmering and the like, new dinner ideas are born – often with pleasantly surprising results. One such outcome came about after a recent afternoon of hummus-making and cake-baking – after spending a few hours in the kitchen, my mind and belly wanted something speedy, simple, and unformulated. Thus, this avocado and broccoli pasta came about.

I’d planned on making a broccoli and avocado pesto, a recipe I’ve had my eye on for quite some time; but after already washing that damned food processor, and hazarding my index finger, I was not inclined to get it all out again. Instead, I attempted a deconstructed variation of the recipe, taking around fifteen minutes from start to finish. Coating broccoli in creamy avocado, all doused in bright and simple flavours, made an excellent and speedy dinner.

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To serve one, you’ll need:

  • Half a head of a small broccoli
  • Half an avocado, or one whole small one
  • Half a tin of butter (lima) beans
  • One garlic clove
  • Handful of pine nuts
  • Half a lemon
  • Spaghetti
  • Chilli flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Boil a large pan of water, and put in your preferred quantity of spaghetti (85-90g, for me). As it cooks, chop the broccoli into florets; and with five minutes to go, pile it into the pan to boil. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water, before returning the pasta and greens to the saucepan.

In a dry pan, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned all over. Slice the garlic, tip the pine nuts into a bowl, and fry the former in a little oil, until aromatic. Transfer both to the pasta, along with the drained beans.

Peel and slice the avocado into wedges, and mash with a fork. Place in the pan, squeeze in the lemon juice, and season well with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. Use a fork and spoon to toss everything together well, and add more seasoning if needed. Serve in a bowl.

Typing this up reiterates just how easy this meal was. Lemon, chilli, salt and pepper are a very simple combination, my fail-safe seasoning for pasta dishes and salad; so this a good recipe for a quick and protein-packed lunch / post-gym meal / dinner. Enjoy!

Cauliflower and two-potato curry

I’d place a fair wager that there’s something in the human genome which renders us forever partial to the humble potato. Hearty, satisfying, filling, there’s something about the potato which makes us put a complete and deep trust in it as the redeemer of our stomachs; like a loyal dog, it never fails us. Or, like proper home-baked bread, the potato has been a part of our diet for so long, and for so many is still a staple, that when eaten, it spreads a resounding comfort across both body and soul.

This revelation came to me as I tucked into a steaming plate of cauliflower and potato curry. It’s a dish I’ve made before, but I knew first time round that there was room for improvement, and here it is (thank you Jamie Oliver): the addition of sweet potato and chickpeas, along with removing the tomato and adjusting the spices.

Such a curry is the most perfect remedy for when you are really hungry – not when you’re only half-hungry, or you’re only eating because it’s dinner time, but when you could eat a metaphorical horse. It’s remarkably simple and quick to make. I sized up portions, seeing as I was ravenous, and that doing so was hardly going to make me put on weight.

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To serve 2, you’ll need:

  • one head of cauliflower (Jamie suggested one between four – which amounts to a measly three florets each)
  • 300g white potato, and 100g sweet potato
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • one red onion
  • one green or red chilli
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 2 tbsps butter (I left this out, to make it vegan)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp curry powder or garam masala
  • 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas (or cooked from dried, if you have the time)
  • 200g spinach
  • Alpro plain yogurt
  • 1 lime

Begin by chopping the cauliflower into florets, and boiling in salted water for five minutes. Drain, setting aside some of the water. Then slice the potatoes into chunks, and boil for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, finely slice the garlic, onion, and chilli. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan (it must be large, in order to fit everything in), and fry all gently until softened.

Add all of the spices, and stir to coat. Season, before adding the drained potatoes and cauliflower, along with the reserved water to loosen the curry up. Simmer for ten minutes, before adding the chickpeas and wilting in the spinach handful by handful.

Serve with lime wedges and yogurt.

There it is: my perfect potato curry. When all else fails, remember your roots and turn to the potato.

Vegan Pad Thai

It’s not often that after scraping my plate clean, I pat my belly and say, “That was one of the best meals I’ve ever made.” But it has happened again, an occurrence I put down to a solid recipe and my (almost) having followed it to a T. In my last post, I made the Buddhist Chef’s terrific vegan chocolate cake, and was so impressed that I decided to try out more of his recipes. I saw this Pad Thai as a sort of stir-fry, and had some inhibitions of the absence of ginger and the addition of sugar – but the flavours were beautifully balanced. It’s a sweet, aromatic dish, one which will leave you eager to make it again.

 

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To serve 2:

  • 1 cup / block of firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup / 30g cornstarch (cornflour)
  • 2 French shallots (I’m sure the Chef can forgive you if you use non-French)
  • 2 spring onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 tomato
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp cane / brown sugar (I used only 1 and a half)
  • 1 tsp chilli paste / dried chilli flakes / 1 fresh chilli
  • 4 cups / 300g rice noodles
  • 2 cups / 200g beansprouts, or any mix of veggies – I used broccoli and peas
  • 1/2 cup / 65g peanuts
  • 2 tbsps rice wine vinegar
  • oil for frying  – vegetable or rapeseed is good.

 

Begin by draining the tofu, and wrapping it in a clean tea towel. Place something heavy on top – a pile of books, big sack of pasta, a cat – and leave to press for at least ten minutes.

Julienne (is this the most beautifully-named way to prepare your veg?) or grate the carrots into a bowl. Slice the spring onions, and finely chop the onions and garlic (with the chilli, if using fresh). Dice the tomato.

Unwrap the tofu, and slice into bite-sized chunks. After coating them in cornstarch, heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan, and fry until browned. (This is a fantastic way of achieving really crispy tofu, without deep-frying in huge quantities of oil.)

Remove the tofu, add a little more oil, and throw in the shallots, onion, garlic, carrots, and tomato. Sauté for five minutes. Meanwhile, cook the noodles as according to packet instructions.

Then, add the soy sauce (I used tamari – I think it gives a better flavour than it’s gluten-containing cousin), sugar, and chilli. Return the tofu with the beansprouts or other veggies (I stir-fried some broccoli before adding the onions) and the rice wine vinegar. Crush the peanuts into the pan, and continue cooking for three more minutes, stirring well. Serve in big bowls and eat with chopsticks, if you are so dexterously endowed.

 

 

 

Big fat Chocolate Cake

What are Sundays for? Let’s be honest – unless we’re working or studying – even if we’re working or studying – Sundays can often drag. And what’s one of my favourite ways of utilising free time, to the benefit of myself and other people? Cleaning. Yes, that – but, preferably, baking.

As part of my eager search for vegan bakes, to prove that it’s possible for cake to not contain any animal products and still taste like cake, I chanced upon this recipe from the Buddhist Chef on Facebook. His video of the cake being made was more than enough for inspiration: before it was even mid-way through, I’d settled my heart on making it.

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How can a cake be vegan and still look this good, you say? How has it achieved that seductive rise? Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Not just for foaming atop of your eight-year-old self’s clumsily-made volcano. And no, the taste of the vinegar is not detectable at all. This cake tastes fantastic: the sponge is neither too rich nor too plain. Do add the icing and cashews, both for aesthetic and flavour purposes.

You’ll need:

  • 3 cups / 430g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 cup / 280g caster sugar
  • tsp salt
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1/4 cup / 30g good quality cocoa powder (I used Bourneville)
  • 1 cup / 250ml vegetable oil (ok, so this seemed like a huge amount, so I cut it down to 150ml. I think my cake was stodgier as a result; so perhaps don’t skimp)
  • 1 1/2 cup / 375ml soya milk
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml vinegar (the recipe wasn’t clear on which type of vinegar – I went for white wine, having used it before in a similar recipe)
  • For the icing:
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups / 230g icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup / 30g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml soy milk
  • 1/4 cup / 40g cashew nuts

Begin by preheating the oven to 175 degrees Celsius, or 350 Fahrenheit. Oil a 9 inch springform pan (I used the circular pan I always use).

Sift together the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add the bicarbonate and salt before mixing well with a wooden spoon.

In a jug, mix the oil and soy milk. I added 2 tsps of vanilla extract here for the sponge. Pour this into the flour mix, and stir very well until combined.

Add the vinegar, and stir until smooth – the batter will become considerably more liquidy.

Pour the mixture into the pan, and bake in the centre of the oven for 30 to 45 minutes; it’s ready when a toothpick inserted comes out clean. In the meantime, combine the ingredients for the icing in a bowl – I halved everything, and used icing sugar only to taste. Once the cake has cooled, drizzle over the icing, letting it drip down the sides. Crush the cashews and sprinkle on top.

I strongly reccommend a browse through the Buddhist Chef’s recipes: there are so many I’d like to try – tofu scramble, falafel burgers, cookies, even vegan mayo. Give it a look!