Vegan chocolate cake: Nigella Lawson

Here’s another chocolate cake to add to my amassing collection of favourites. This one is super easy to make, delicious, and easily dressed up for extra impact or kept simple. It differs from other cakes of the same sort in that the sponge is fudgy, but not dense, and very moreish; the dried coffee gives an interesting hint of flavour which doesn’t overwhelm at all. Surprisingly, it’s a Nigella Lawson recipe, who is generally known for her lashings of cream and calorific decadence; if you’ve seen Simon Amstell’s Carnage, you’ll have witnessed the morbid pleasure she takes in cracking the ribs of a dead chicken. Nevertheless, she writes on this recipe that it’s her preferred chocolate cake for all guests, vegan or not – even if that’s not true, I’m pleased that a ‘traditional’ chef recognises that vegan food can match, and even trump, the normal animal product diet.

The recipe can be found here. If you fancy making a gorgeous cake, delicious and simple, I recommend giving it a go. I used a white sugar instead of a brown and a dried Americano instead of dried espresso, to no obvious detriment; the icing I completely shunned for an easier (and cheaper) chocolate (vegan) buttercream, made from a small amount of softened marg, melted dark chocolate, and icing sugar. Throw over a handful of chopped almonds, and you’ve got yourself a real winner.

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Aubergine & spinach curry with turmeric roasted potatoes 

When it comes to curry, aubergine is one of my favourite ingredients. It’s got a fantastic ability to soak up flavour, and when cooked through, it’s lovely and tender. From time to time, I used to make an aubergine curry I’d seen made by an Indian lady on YouTube, which satisfied my desire for authenticity; now I just cobble together my own, requiring less effort. This recipe is easily thrown together on a weekday evening, and tastes even better on re-heating. It can be served as I ate it, with potatoes, or with rice.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • One aubergine
  • 100g spinach
  • One red onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • One green chilli (or less, if you’re not keen on too much spice)
  • Half a tsp each ground cumin and coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A few medium-sized white potatoes per person
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 7. Wash and chop the potatoes into medium sized chunks. Drizzle with olive oil, dust with half a tsp of turmeric and cayenne pepper, season, and mix well to incorporate. Tip onto a baking tray, and roast for 45-60 minutes, turning halfway; you want a nice golden crisp by the end of the cooking time.

Roughly chop the red onion, and cook gently for ten minutes over a low heat. Finely chop the garlic, chilli, and ginger, then add to the pan. Adding a little more oil to the pan if needed, fry for a minute before adding the ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric, before frying for another minute.

Add the aubergine, chopped into smallish chunks, and mix well to coat in the spice mixture. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and a little water before leaving to simmer for around 35 minutes, or until tender. Add more water if needed.

Meanwhile, check on the potatoes, and turn them over. When both the aubergines and the potatoes are cooked through, stir through the spinach in handfuls. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Serve the curry over the potatoes, and enjoy!

Easy roasted veg pasta

After a bit of a break from blogging, with uni deadlines and stress finally at a period of abatement (at least, there’s three weeks until the next deadline), I’ve finally got time for a few posts. Having spent mornings and afternoons working part-time, studying, and writing essays for the past couple of months, it’s been difficult to find time and motivation for cooking creatively. Several go-to recipes from Aine Carlin’s Keep it Vegan (that black bean chilli) have kept me going, and I’ve often winged it with improvised curries, stir fries, and pasta sauces, some of which may one day make it to this blog. I’m currently a big fan of Bosh, who devise glorious recipes – from a sweet chilli tofu dish to chocolate fudge cake – filmed from a vantage point which allows the viewer to envisage themselves in cooking mode.

One of my favourite dinners keeps it simple with two of my favourite things: roasted veg and garlic. This recipe is super easy and very satisfying.

For 2 – 3 portions, you’ll need:

  • two handfuls of cherry or plum tomatoes (around 150g)
  • two medium courgettes
  • one medium aubergine
  • two peppers – red or yellow
  • five or six cloves of garlic
  • half a bunch fresh basil (optional, but recommended!)
  • chilli flakes
  • dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 80 – 100g wholewheat pasta, per person

 

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 6. Halve the aubergine lengthwise, then each half in two, before cutting into chunks. Place in a large bowl. Halve and deseed the peppers, roughly slice, and add to the bowl. Drizzle the aubergines and peppers with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, a tsp dried rosemary, and a pinch or two of chilli flakes. Mix well with your hands to coat all the vegetables, before tipping into a large baking tray. Slide into the oven.

Slice the courgettes and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Drizzle with oil and season as before, tip onto another tray, and place in the oven underneath the other. Roast for 45 minutes – 1 hour, switching the trays halfway through and giving the veg a stir. When you switch, throw in the garlic cloves (whole!) onto the top tray. These will finish tender and fragrant.

With ten minutes to go, boil and drain your pasta. Rip the basil leaves into quarters, and stir equally through the veg. Divide between plates or place leftovers into Tupperware for a delicious lunch or dinner tomorrow, hot or cold. Serve over the pasta with nutritional yeast, for a nutty finish. Simple and very tasty!

(Perhaps avoid the garlic if you’ve got a date that evening. I’ve been told the day after a garlic-y dinner that I reek of the stuff. Charming.)

 

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Chickpea tuna sandwich filler

This is something I’ve been making mental commitments to try out for a while. I grew up on tuna sandwiches: most lunchtimes I’d sit with my friends to eat a tuna, mayonnaise, and pickled beetroot combination – odd, to some people’s tastes, but the tang of the beetroot went marvellously with the creamy mayo and texture of the tuna. I have a nostalgic hankering after the sandwiches of my high school years, always thickly stuffed by my dad, and rarely disappointing.

Eating this took me straight back to those lunchtime tuna sandwiches, as the texture of the roughly mashed chickpeas has the same loose, chunky feel. The red onion, carrot, and celery add a nice crunch, with the tahini adding a creaminess to bring it all together. I always preferred my tuna relatively dry, and as I’m not keen on vegan mayo, the relative dryness of this was perfect – but feel free to add mayo if you’re so inclined.

To make enough chickpea tuna for two / three sandwiches, depending on how thick you want them, you’ll need:

  • one tin / carton of chickpeas
  • half a small carrot
  • half a small red onion
  • half a small stick of celery
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • half a lemon
  • salt & pepper
  • vegan mayo (optional)
  • paprika and chilli flakes (optional)

Drain the chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Very finely chop the carrot, onion, and celery, before adding them to the bowl, along with the tahini, most of the lemon’s juice, and plenty of salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher to the desired consistency – chunky is best. Add paprika and chilli flakes for extra flavour.

Spread the chickpea tuna between thick slices of wholemeal bread, and top with cucumber / tomato / lettuce / pickled beetroot as desired. This also works very well in pitta breads, batons, or atop toasted bread.

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Six months as a vegan

Admittedly, six months is a mere blink of the eye in the relative scheme of things. But this period of time as a vegan is something of a milestone, and a learning curve if I’ve ever had one. I’ve made a few observations in this short duration.

  • Being a vegan can be alienating. I live with three ladies: one is almost vegan, the other two are entirely omnivorous. I watch them crack eggs and fry bacon with a strangled outrage. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that for most of the population, eating animal products is as normal as sunrise and Monday mornings.  My brain is hard-wired onto a different plane of thinking, and my eyes see through another lens; it is difficult to cast myself down on to the level of un-caring I used to occupy. I’m angry, but I always refrain from comments and ‘preachy’ statements. I know that I am not entitled to judge, but cannot view their dietary choices in any other way.
  • Social media can be illuminating, but contributes to this alienation. We live in a society where the information we consume is freely adapted to our own tastes: we can filter out what we don’t want to read and focus entirely on what we like. A reality confirmation bias, you could call it. My Instagram feed is and always will be a continuous stream of food, cats, and artful coffee shop snaps. Now, the food featured almost exclusively vegan, which obscures the fact that my lifestyle is a minority one, numbing me from reality. Subscribing only to vegan feeds causes me to forget what society’s norm really is.
  • There are people who just will never understand. At Christmas my grandma grilled me on why I have chosen this lifestyle. After a discussion on why grass-fed cows are still not a valid option, she said “Well, at least they’ve had a nice life.” Talking with her is probably pointless. If for seventy years, meat has been a daily feature on her table, then it would take a near miracle to persuade her to change. I can discuss the issues with her more; but it’s disheartening to accept that there are battles which may never be won.
  • My choice is empowering. I have always had difficulty in speaking out and defending my corner. With veganism, my self-consciousness melts away with fervour. I am quickly frustrated and often upset by the intransigence of others, but it’s a learning curve.
  • My health has improved. Certain bodily functions are no longer an issue; I have put on a stone, and my muscles have taken on better definition. I feel less tired, more energised. My skin hasn’t cleared up, though, but no-one said veganism cured everything.
  • Cooking has become more exciting. I try different flavours and dishes far more often than I used to. I’m more open-minded to cooking with different ingredients, and I’ve come round to tofu. Feeding myself now is more creative and experimental.

Here’s to another six months – in the grand scheme of many.

Tofu & salad sandwiches

Lunching as a student is difficult. You’re generally on the run between lectures or hunched over books in the library, so time is of the essence in your choice of sustenance. I divide my lunchtimes between my desk at work, in the Student’s Union, cramming in mouthfuls of a sandwich in quieter periods; and with a spot on the floor of the library foyer, between study sessions, or before my yoga class. I don’t particularly enjoy the rush, but such is life.

Generally, I bring a veggie pitta, usually with avocado, and some tomatoes or cucumber. Occasionally I’ll muster the effort to make a salad the night before, always with wholemeal couscous and some form of bean. Keeping lunches varied stops me from getting bored, and succumbing to the allure of buying an expensive ready-made wrap on campus (of which vegan options have gloriously increased). I’m currently trying to broaden my sandwich horizons, and this recent tofu creation was a winner.

For one big sandwich, you’ll need:

  • 2 slices chunky brown bread, or 1 large wholemeal pitta
  • 1/3 block tofu
  • thumb-sized piece of cucumber / thin slices of salad tomato
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp tamari / soy sauce
  • 1 tsp maple syrup / agave nectar
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke / BBQ sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • garlic powder (optional)
  • Dijon mustard (optional)
  • vegan mayo (not optional)

Begin by pressing the tofu: wrap in a clean tea-towel, and place under a heavy object, such as a bag of dried chickpeas, or a wooden chopping board stacked with tins for extra weight. Make sure it’s stable, and bear in mind that the surface underneath the tofu will be damp. Leave to press for as long as possible – half an hour will do if you’re really pushed for time.

In a bowl, mix the liquid seasonings and whisk briskly with a fork until incorporated. Add salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic if using, and continue to mix. Slice the pressed tofu lengthways into four pieces, place in a shallow bowl and pour over the marinade – turn over a few times and leave to absorb for ten minutes.

Heat the oven to to 200 degrees celsius, or gas mark 6. Put the tofu slices on a baking tray and cook for 25 minutes, turning halfway; they’ll turn a pleasant shade of brown.

In the meantime, thinly slice the cucumber and / or tomato. If you prefer your sandwiches crispy, pop the bread or pitta into a toaster. When the tofu is ready, layer into the bread with the slices of cucumber, slather generously in mayonnaise, and add a small amount of mustard for extra flavour. If there’s space, add fresh lettuce and a little chopped red onion. Bon appetit!

Eating raw vegan at Vitao; vegan pizza at Zizzi & Pizza Express

I’ve written about Zizzi before, back in my pre-vegetarian & vegan days. But having paid them another visit to take advantage of the 2-for-1 offer on vegan mains – running Sunday to Thursday all through Veganuary – another post on the subject is due, coupled with a little review of the vegan option I recently sampled at Pizza Express.

Off-topic, but briefly, I’d like to mention my lunch-time fuel on a recent trip to London: devoured at Vitao, a little raw vegan cafe. Ideal for tourists and workers alike, a plate or box is bought prior to loading every particle of space with buffet-style food. Although I sat down to a very un-photogenic box of amalgamated salads, hummous, curries and alfalfa sprouts, the overlapping flavours were glorious. We shared a slice of raw vegan chocolate cake topped with ganache, god-sent from heaven. The whole affair was very quick, as we were starving, but it was thoroughly energising: perfect for workers on their lunch hour, or tourists keen to sight-see as much as possible. If you’re in Soho and in dire need of good food, whether you’re raw vegan or not, I would recommend Vitao for a quick fix.

So, vegan pizzas. Can I just thank Zizzi for an offer actively encouraging those who are curious about veganism? If a vegan pizza is cheaper than anything else on the menu, then unless you are a fussy eater, it makes perfect sense to save some money. To serve specifically vegan mains legitimises vegan food as a separate entity, to those who are sceptical of its worth; it is not merely omnivorous fare stripped of the meat and dairy. The only aspect I’d disagree with is the necessity to ask for the separate ‘allergens and dietary requirements’ menu, as it perpetuates the idea that veganism is a special or faddy diet for an alternative few. Why not expand the menu a little to encompass all?

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Classic vegan margherita at Zizzi

On offer were the classic margherita and a larger ‘rustica’ version, with a tomato base and coconut-based cheese; three additional toppings were charged at 80p each, ranging from balsamic tomatoes, artichokes, spinach, and roasted garlic cloves. I chose sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers and mushrooms, with a side of tenderstem broccoli. My apprehension grew as I waited for it to arrive: I was desperate to like this alternative to a food I’d once worshipped, and praying that the coconut would not linger on my tastebuds. My fears were not realised. Although definitely not much akin to the real thing, there was still an odd ring of cheesiness about the rather thin substance on my pizza. I’d have liked a thicker smothering of the stuff: but never mind. The tomato base was very defined in flavour, not like the more pitiful offering at Pizza Express, which I’ll get on to shortly. On the whole, my first vegan pizza was a pleasant experience. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or bloated after eating, and my gut did not react badly to the much higher intake of oil it was confronted with – takeaway food is something I’ve never much enjoyed, originally from a fear of fat and calories, and then more naturally from realising it’s often tasteless.

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Vegan Pianta at Pizza Express

The vegan option at Pizza Express is the ‘Pianta’, made with no cheese, and arriving with a layer of spinach over mushrooms, pine kernels, artichokes, and tomato. What is fantastic about Pizza Express is their willingness to use your own vegan cheese, brought in from home, on any pizza. Bringing in your own ingredient would normally be an imposition to a chef, but with this, vegans and the lactose-intolerant aren’t made to feel like outsiders. Next step: introduce an option of dairy or non-dairy cheese, as Zizzi has implemented. My first pizza was inferior to Zizzi’s in terms of taste; while the former was average, the latter was good. And, they kindly accepted my offer code despite it being invalid on a weekend – most definitely customer service to appreciate.

Thanks for reading!