Sophie and Mango have got into the pleasing habit of trying out vegan recipes together on a Wednesday evening. This is not exactly a recipe blog, but a catalogue of trial and error, showing our successful and less than successful cooking adventures.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The evidence

The 'pizza', 'tarte tatin' and resulting splosh...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

A culinary odyssey

Last Saturday my dad held a 'Teddy Bear's Picnic' in his garden, inviting 60 or so people (it's a big garden) to bring a hamper of food and a bear - drinks and silly games provided.

Now, my family hasn't exactly warmed to my recent dietary deviations (announcing about 3 months ago that I'd turned veggie - although now I'm pretty much vegan), and this seemed like a good opportunity to prove my case by feeding them lots of nice things. There were many logistical pitfalls to preparing a large quantity of food several counties away in one evening after work and then transporting it all to the event, but I won't bore you with that tale. Suffice to say I devised a plan to take the Friday before off work, take just ingredients up with me and pillage my mother's kitchen.

I spent an agonising evening earlier in the week with recipes, quantities and ingredients lists spilling out of my brain, never mind the elaborate operation of scheduling around work and other social commitments. I'd assumed it was a free-for-all type affair with the food, everyone brings something and we all share a bit of everything, and I was worried about having enough for myself plus who knows how many other people who may or may not eat any of it. This is the largest quantity of food I've ever attempted to cook in one job lot and frankly I can see why it is that people who work in kitchens get so stressed out.

On to the menu. My selected savouries were a wild rice pilaff (the wild card, apologies for the pun, as I'd never cooked this recipe before), dhal (cheap and good in quantity with easily freezable leftovers) and a yummy smoked tofu, spinach and lentil salad Mango and I tried a couple of weeks ago. And of course a big batch of hummus. Cakes are much easier, I know where I am with them and there's never any worry that they won't get eaten! My little sister, whose graduation it also was on Friday (in Preston, hence my non-attendance and amelioration via the magic of cake), requested carrot cake (I used the recipe from the marvellous Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World - though she didn't know that); I also did the never-fail dead easy and amazing chocolate cake with a last minute addition of chocolate mousse topping (again thanks to the cupcake book), and oat and cinnamon scones.


Wild Rice Pilaff
200g wild rice
40g margarine
1/2 onion, chopped
200g long grain rice
475ml vegetable stock
75 slivered or flaked almonds (I cracked them in a pestle and mortar for speed)
115g sultanas
30ml chopped fresh parsley (which I cleverly forgot to add in at the end)
salt and pepper.

Warning: this is not a quick recipe. Boil a large pan of water and add the wild rice with a teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Meanwhile, melt half the margarine in a separate pan, add the onion and soften it for 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook for one more minute before adding the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Melt the rest of the marg in a small pan and fry the almonds until they start to change colour. Mix the two lots of rice together in a big bowl (I made so blinking much of it I had to mix it in the biggest saucepan I could find, before decanting to a tureen and a large tupperware box) and add the almonds, raisins and half the parsley. Stir it all up, season and sprinkle with more parsley to serve.

This was pretty tasty actually, even without the parsley. The long grain rice took on a risotto-ey texture, and the whole thing was sweet and nutty.


250g lentils
1 tbsp raisins
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1cm cube ginger, chopped
2 green chillies (I chopped them but I can't remember if that's what
the recipe said or not! Did have quite a kick so amend according to taste)
1 bay leaf
pinch asafoetida
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 chopped tomato
teaspoon of sugar, optional

Soak the lentils for 20 mins. The original recipe (from another awesome book, ) uses chana dhal, but I used green lentils because already had some and I'm too miserly to shell out unless absolutely necessary. Fry the raisins in a bit of oil (sounds odd but it's pretty tasty!) for one minute - careful not to burn them - and set aside. Cook the lentils for 20 minutes, add half a teaspoon of salt and take off the heat. Saute the garlic, ginger, bay leaf and chillies for 2 mins, then stir in the cumin, chilli powder and turmeric. Add the tomato and sir fr2 minutes more. Add this mixture to the dhal with the sugar (if using), raisins and asafoetida (just a tiny bit, it's unbelievably pungent - stick your nose in the spice jar and you'll know what I'm talking about, you'll still be smelling it a week later!). Bring to the boil and cok until very soft, but not mushy. Garnish with coriander leaves and raisins if you can be bothered.

Smoked tofu salad
100g puy lentils
200g spinach or similar leafy green stuff (last time we forgot to buy spinach so we used lettuce instead, to no detrimental effect)
bay leaf
200g sliced smoked tofu
sliced avocado
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
50g green pitted olives
50g beansprouts
4 tbsp sunflower seeds
1tbsp + 50ml tamari
200ml apple juice
1 tbsp apple concentrate
2cm cube ginger
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder

The original recipe has some nonsense about roasting the sunflower seeds on a tray, coated with oil and the tablespoon of tamari, for aeons of time - but having neither the patience or the money for the electricity bill, we elected to dry toast the seeds in a pan, then gave them a splash with oil and tamari in a bowl whilst still hot. Boil the lentils with a bay leaf and a teaspoon of bouillon for 35 minutes. Mix the apple juice and concentrate with the 50ml tamari in a bowl, then grate in the ginger. Mix together the lentils, sunflower seeds and all other salady ingredients, then pour the liquid over.

Important lesson learned here at the weekend - I cleverly left the creation of this dish til the Saturday morning to minimise wilting/mushyness/brownness; however, I ruined it irrevocably by sploshing the (quite copious) dressing all over it a couple of hours before we had even left for the party. By the time we got there, the spinach had wilted, leaving the other ingredients swimming about in a rather unappetising soupy swill. To me it still tasted nice, but it wasn't exactly the stuff of legend - and certainly not the thing to convince my carnivorous clan of the merits of tofu and lentils. My 13-year-old niece asked what it was with a turned up nose, then ran away when I proffered some lentils for her to sample. I don't blame her really.

The carrot cupcakes... Well, as one could probably predict, I tempted fate thinking they'd be the easy part! In fact, they warrant another post entirely.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

So you think you don't like cauliflower?


Such a mundane little vegetable... Hated by millions who have been scarred for life by the floppy, grey, sulphurous mass served up in canteens everywhere. Including me.

It took a long time for me to get around to cooking it myself, so that it was still fresh and crunchy and really quite nice.

This recipe, however, takes it one step further... I always thought that potato and cauliflower curry was the best way to cook it, until one evening, with a fridge full of cauliflower (thanks to my veg box) and an empty tummy, I set about with the aid of Google to find a way to make a meal of it.

Roasted cauliflower
Cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
Olive oil (or any kind of oil if you don't have it)
Garlic, sliced - as much or as little as you like
Chopped almonds

Put all the ingredients into a roasting dish, cook at 200c for about 20-25 minutes, and prepare to be dazzled.

The original recipe may have used pine nuts rather than almonds, and squeezed lemon juice over at the end, but we didn't have any.


There was little chance I could equal the glory of roast cauliflower, of which this was my first experience. However in my own small way I was able to repay Sophie with her first taste of gazpacho. Note that this is what I call gazpacho, loosely adapted from what I remember of my mum's recipe (one of my dad's favourites). My gazpacho has been severely criticised by a Spanish person. However, since said person turned up to 'help' me cook for 30 people about 20 minutes before serving time, then when I asked him to go and get 3kg of ripe apricots from the market, came back with 1/2kg of unripe apricots from the supermarket, I didn't take his criticism very seriously. It's one of my favourites too, although I've been disappointed the last few times I've made it.

1 cucumber
1 red pepper
1/2 red onion
2-3 cloves garlic
6-8 ripe medium tomatoes
Olive oil, lots
Cider vinegar, good splash
Unrefined salt

I know there is a proper way of doing this where you soak stale bread in vinegar and so on, but I can't be bothered and don't ever have any stale bread. I did idly wonder if any delicatessens sell ready-staled bread at inflated prices, but I don't particularly want to find out. I keep back half the cucumber and pepper, then chuck everything else in and liquidise it. You can adjust the oil, vinegar and salt according to taste at the end. Then I finely chop the remaining pepper and cucumber and stir in for crunch. This time it turned out not bad at all, even if I do say so myself.

I also made

Potato salad
Salad potatoes
Red onion, not too much
Fresh basil
Soya cream
Olive oil

Chop the potatoes into quite big pieces and boil or steam until cooked but not too soft. Finely chop the red onion and basil. Cool the potatoes when they're cooked, then mix everything together. This simple recipe originally came from another community I lived in in France. The lady who did most of the cooking was actually a raw-foodist but cooked food for other people. The potatoes were our own, grown in well-rotted toilet compost (yes, that's human poo). The yield was incredible; digging a patch of soil yielded lovely handfuls of golden potato nuggets. They don't seem to have many slugs in the South of France, only the long stripy ones that live in the woods and don't eat potatoes. I wasn't that impressed with it this time, but sometimes it's really nice. Maybe one day I'll work out why.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Fruit Tart


This was very loosely based on guessing how to make my own version of what my Mum called Tarte Tatin (very delicious but possibly already of dubious authenticity). The first time I tried to make it was while living in a community in France. I got it the wrong way up, but fortunately only one French person was there to notice the error. The second time was in Manchester with a load of organic pears from the free box at Unicorn Grocery, at a famous Christmas party whose highlights included Chip 'n' Gravy Pie, a stodge-fest possibly more fun to talk about than to eat. I also managed to poison myself with a salad containing red cabbage seed sprouts, which contain an awful lot of whatever chemical makes mustard and wasabi pungent. The pear tart disappeared before I had a chance to taste it. The next day we went to the cinema and sneaked from screen to screen watching various blockbuster Christmas films, including King Kong, no mean feat when a dose of red cabbage irritant is burning its way through your system. It eventually left via the urinary route, burning my urethra on the way out (apologies for talking about my urinary system in a recipe blog).


I was charged with the heavy responsibility of pastry making. I had to admit, rather shamefacedly, that I didn't know how to make it... I got a bowl and followed Mango's slightly haphazard verbal instructions. How much flour? Erm. I don't know. How much oil? Erm. I don't know. That much (he measures out a blob). Then add water gradually. I gaily continue to add water while chatting away, then look down at the grey sloshy mass I've created. Hmm. Maybe too much water. There wasn't enough anyway so fortunately was able to salvage it by adding more flour and oil mixed up separately. Needless to say it wasn't the greatest pastry in the world! I was a little disadvantaged with non-pastry wholewheat flour and a somewhat vague tutor, but I'll know better next time!

1 cup of the wrong kind of flour
Some oil
1/4 cup water

1 apple, sliced
1 ripe pear, sliced
1 peach, sliced
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
A little water


I arranged the fruits in concentric circles in opposite directions, and was extremely concerned about the destruction of my neat algorithm by some left-over pieces of fruit, but realised that it would be alright to put them on the top because the top would end up on the bottom. I rolled out the pastry with a bottle, forgetting to empty the water out of it first, some of which ended up on the floor. The pastry goes on the top. I baked it at 150C for about 25min.

I removed it from the oven and left it to cool, then put a plate on top and nervously flipped it over. I didn't drop it all over the floor, but a significant quantity of liquid slopped out over the counter and the floor. We managed to salvage the tart by clearing space and putting it down on the draining board. It was actually rather nice in the end, served with (Mango) or without (Sophie) soya cream.

It started as pizza...

Sophie and Mango were just an ordinary charity shop manager and semi-qualified quack healer, until they tried to make... Polenta Pizza.

The original improvised recipe involved a vegan pizza with a base of polenta. For some reason we were overwhelmed by an attack of ill-advised inspiration and decided on a fancy multi-layered arrangement. One layer of polenta, one layer of tomato sauce, topped with another layer of polenta... There was a problem though - we didn't have time to let one layer set before adding the next, and it failed to solidify in the oven. What resulted was tasty, but even further removed from anything resembling pizza than the original plan...

250g polenta
1.25l water

Half an onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic (or less for the less addicted), chopped
Tin of tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
Good handful fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tbsp sunflower oil
Large pinch unrefined salt

6 mushrooms, sliced
"Tofu Rosso" (fancy biodynamic tofu stuff), sliced
1/4 tin sweetcorn

We made up the polenta according to the instructions, but with a bit extra water as Mango thought it was too dry last time we made it (it certainly wasn't this time!!). To make the sauce, we fried the onion and garlic in the oil and then simmered with the tomatoes, herbs and salt. The polenta probably would have solidified if we'd left it to cool after assembling in the tray, or maybe it would be necessary to lay out the layers separately to cool. Layer of polenta, layer of sauce, another layer of polenta, another of sauce, then the toppings. Cooked at 180C for about 20 minutes. Quite nice and almost, but not quite, entirely unlike pizza (thanks to Douglas Adams).