Pastitsio & Moussaka Mash-up

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Pastitsio-inspired vegan deliciousness with purple sprouting broccoli (not purple once it is cooked)

Sophie and I have traveled in Greece a number of times…she is a complete Grecco-phile and delights in a well-crafted Pastitsio. In Greece it is made with ground meat, milk, egg and sometimes also cheese. Not exactly a vegan delight. It is usually a layer of ground meat with tomato sauce, minced vegetables, and spices such as cinnamon and herbs including oregano. This layer is topped with buccatini or penne pasta that has been tossed with egg, milk and sometimes cheese. Then the whole dish is covered with béchamel sauce made usually with butter, flour and milk and flavored nutmeg or mace and black pepper. Moussaka is like Pastitsio, except that thin slices of eggplant replace the pasta–so flavored ground meat, topped with aubergine slices, and then béchamel sauce.

When we first stayed in Greece for a month, we had the opportunity to really investigate the offerings of larger area grocery stores and bio shops (specializing in organic products). One of the items we found (in addition to soya milk) was dried soya mince (what back in the 70’s and 80’s we called textured vegetable protein).

Luckily, Sophie reads ancient Greek and often can make sense of modern Greek so sheIMG_2529 (1) sat and worked out the instructions on how to use it. The best part literally translated was “drown in water and then strangle” the mince. I made my first attempt at a vegan moussaka that year in lovely little rental house in Kokkino Horio. It was successful enough that this past summer when we were in Crete, I brought “home” a bag of soya mince. It only made it as far as London. All this to tell about this inexpensive and low-fat product that has a long shelf life and is really pretty darn delicious when reconstituted and flavored well.

Last week I made the dish pictured above. I can be best described as a vegan pastitsio with a layer of roasted eggplant at the bottom, topped with so Fytro soya mince mixed with chopped sweet peppers, onions, and mushrooms and tinned tomatoes flavored with herbs and cinnamon. Then a pasta layer (I used bowties) mixed with a small amount of free-from creamy cheese spread and a spoonful of pesto. I made a vegan béchamel from “pure” brand margarine (I have used olive oil previously), flour, minced garlic and Alpro plain soya milk. I added a salt/shallot/chive spice mix img_2544.jpgcalled Fox Point Seasoning (from Penzey’s) and of course, the nutmeg. This was poured over the pasta mixture and finally topped with a bit of grated smoked free from cheese and sprinkled with a smoky paprika. When it came out of the oven it look like this.

We had it with the cutest little purple broccoli I have ever seen. It was bunched into little bouquets and decorated the fruit and vegetable shelves at the Fruit Bowl. It tastes just like broccoli as I know it, but it is a bit tougher (perhaps more sclerenchyma tissue, Dr. Clarke?).

Finally, we finished our meal with a tasty stone fruit crumble (or crisp) as I would call it. I had hoped to make something like the dessert that Clare had made us using puff pastry as a topping (JusRoll brand is vegan!) When I had completed cutting up the fruit I discovered that the pasty in the tiny freezer was no longer viable. Not pictured for a reason. Instead, I threw together a crumb topping using ingredients I had on hand.

Quick Stone Fruit Crumble
Serves 2

3-4 pieces of ripe apricots, peaches, plums, peaches or nectarines (I used 3 apricots and a nectarine)
1 medool or other big date, pitted and chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 package quick oats (rolled would work, too)
1/4 cup flour (I used wheat flour)
1-2 T sugar (or other sweetener)
1/4 teaspoon  cinnamon
2 T vegan margarine

Pit and slice or chop the fruit, leaving skins on, into a small pan. I used a loaf pan. Add chopped date and cinnamon and stir to mix. Then make topping. In a small bowl, combine dry oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Add margarine and mix using a fork or clean fingers, until the mixture is crumbly. Spread mixture over the fruit and cook for 20 to 30 minutes in a 160 degree C oven.

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Quick Stone Fruit Crumble

 

 

It’s a good time to be vegan in London

Veganuary is a big thing in London this year. Earlier this week when I was getting on the tube to head to Tottenham Court Road Station, I was handed an Evening Standard paper. I was just casually thumbing through it and I came across an article titled “How to power up your lunch.” The sub head read “Upgrade the working midday meal with vegan bowls and boosters, says Katie Strick”.

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Wrinkles from folding and stuffing it into my pocket on the train. From the Evening Standard on Wednesday, January 17th.

To my surprise, after the subheads: “Warm up” and “Darken your greens” came the one in the picture “Go V”. It’s starts with the sentence “Half the office is doing Veganuary and it’s easy when the options are so V-aried.” Half the office? While this likely is a bit tongue in cheek, it cheered me to read it and the list of healthy vegan options at a number of chain eateries in London (including the very American Starbucks). I just checked, US Starbucks don’t have the recommended yummy sounding wrap on their menus—BBQ jack fruit with spinach and slaw. It is for me to question, why not?img_2552.jpg

If you haven’t heard of it, Veganuary is a registered charity that is encouraging people in many places in the world to take a pledge to go vegan for the month of January. More info here: https://veganuary.com/

Even more remarkable was the massive banner I saw on the side of a double decker bus the afternoon we were walking around in Shepherd’s Bush. I missed getting a photo then, but Sophie caught it on her walk to visit her mum last night. I am not familiar with GoVeganWorld and the message is pretty hard core, but as a person who regularly teaches that “cow’s milk is not a necessary food” and that “consuming it (and products made from it) at recommended amounts is likely doing more harm than good,” I jumped with glee seeing this message on the side of a bus in a busy international city.

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More on cow’s milk in a future post. 🙂

 

 

Dinner Out at my Favorite Place in Ealing: Clare and David’s Home

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Beautiful and Delicious Vegan Dinner by Clare

Last eve, Sophie and I had the pleasure of dining with two members of her extended family. I have been visiting West London at least yearly for 10 years now and have had the great pleasure of dining in Clare and David’s home each time I have visited. Clare is a highly accomplished chef, who like me, seems to take pleasure in making delicious and interesting meals that meet her guests dietary preferences. In my case, whole foods and entirely plant-based.

After a, dare I say stiff, gin and tonic made with Fever Tree Tonic (so good!) and some sort of fancy gin, some snacks and some delightful conversation we headed into the kitchen dining room for supper.

Clare had made (with David as sous chef), rice and herb stuffed tomatoes, hearty white beans, and a colorful mixed vegetable dish. This later dish was prepared using a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for “ratatouille.” It came with a disclaimer that it wasn’t really a ratatouille and that the recipe’s directions were overly complicated. Nonetheless, this and the other two dishes were delicious. And should they make the dish again with fewer cooking steps, I feel confident it will be every bit as yummy.

I woke up dreaming of plums. After the main course, we were also treated to a lovely pudding (dessert ;).

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Baked Plums with Pastry Crust for Pudding!
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Clever crust support for bottomless pie!

It was baked plums with a pastry topping. Basically, a plum pie without the bottom crust. I never think to cook with plums and I love them. I was remembering to our hosts, enjoying eating canned little black plums as a child and tween. I loved them, we called them canned prune plums. I haven’t seen these on the grocery store shelves for years. Have any of you? I suspect they were canned in heavy syrup, which is out of style now. Maybe that is why they are absent (or uncommon).

I also liked the idea of only a top crust for a fruit-pie-like dessert. I have recently had a difficult time with soggy bottom crusts on grape and peach pies. She used a little cup like item to support the center of the crust (see photo).

 

Wow, wow, wow…spiced & roasted aubergine slices!

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Pita Sandwich Platter with Cauldron Falafel, Spicy Roasted Eggplant, Vegetables and Tahini Sauce

I have a new favorite sandwich filling. I have been craving eggplant (aubergine) since the evening when I couldn’t find any in the lane for the green curry.

On Sunday when we were out exploring in another part of town (Shepard’s Bush) we walked past a number of little middle eastern groceries. I stopped at the first one that had eggplant visible in the baskets out in front of the store, picked out a cute small one and brought it in to the cashier. He said to me, “only one?” I replied, “it’s a tiny kitchen.” He said, “They are 2 for 1 pound. Are you sure you don’t want 2?” I hesitantly handed him a 50p coin and then started out to grab another. Then as he said, “you don’t have to get another if you don’t want it.” I halted mid-motion and we both laughed as I stuffed the little thing into my backpack. Funnier yet, I purchased another (bigger) aubergine at the Fruit Bowl yesterday.

I wanted something like baba ganoush (eggplant dip) or melitzana salata (mashed eggplant and onion salad) to put into pita (pitta, here) breads, but I didn’t want to have to roast the eggplant for an hour, then peel, chop, etc. to get there. I am supposed to be  spending my time reading and writing after all!

So, I tried a new to me method. Here it is:

Spicy Roasted Aubergine Slices
Serves 2 to 4 (depending on how it is used)

1 medium eggplant
salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
lemon pepper
smoked paprika (I used Penzey’s)
hot paprika (I used the version made by my friend Mark and imported from Jupiter NC)

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (about 400 degrees F). Cut the top off of the eggplant and peel off the skin using a peeler. Cut the eggplant diagonally into ½ inch slices. Salt the eggplant slices, let sit for a few minutes, then put into a colander and run water over them and allow to drain thoroughly. Rub the bottom of a non-stick baking sheet or pan with olive oil. Put eggplant slices in the pan and rub around on the oiled surface then turn them over. Dust the top of the slices with lemon pepper (or salt and pepper), smoked paprika, and a small amount of hot paprika. Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes. Then, take out the pan and turn the slices over and dust again. Return to the oven and cook another 10 to 15 minutes until the slices are soft and browning on top and/or on the edges.

Remove from oven and cut into slices and serve as a sandwich filling, salad topping, or feature on a mezze platter.

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Vegan Tzatziki with Alpro plain soya yogurt

We had our aubergine slices with whole wheat pitta bread, falafel, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red pepper, tzatziki (Alpro plain yogurt with cucumbers, red onion, cilantro, salt and black pepper) and tahini sauce (tahini, lemon, water and smoked paprika).

Gosh! Sweetcorn & Quinoa Bites

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Gosh! Sweet Corn & Quinoa Bites over Crunchy Salad with Sweet and Spicy Dressing

Saturday after a visit with Kate (Sophie’s mum) at St. Davids, I went for another shopping adventure in the Broadway (local shopping district just over a mile from the flat). Tesco’s, a larger grocery store, makes the Free-From cheeses so I went to see what other interesting vegan products they might have. I was looking for something different to go with spinach stuffed portabella mushroom and mashed parsnips and potatoes I was planning for dinner. I located several interesting thing items…Gosh! Naturally Free-From Sweetcorn & Quinoa Bites and Cauldron Falafels in the refrigerator section as well as Vegetable Quarter Pounders (Tesco) in the freezer section.

We decided to try the Gosh! Sweetcorn & Quinoa Bites. They cooked quickly in the oven (as recommended on the package) and were quite light in texture and tasty. I am not a huge quinoa fan (has to do with the texture), but no quinoa texture left in these little bites. The big hit from our dinner, though was the portabellas. Recipe below.

Creamy Spinach Stuffed Portabellas
Serves 2

1 smallish red onion, finely chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of olive oil (or 1 tablespoon of water)
½ bag (about 4 cups) baby spinach
½teaspoon dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons dairy free cream cheese
1 tablespoon vegan pesto
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 portabella mushrooms, stems removed
2 teaspoons, free-from grated hard Italian style cheese or ground cracker crumbs

Sauté onions and garlic in a medium sauce pan with a teaspoon of olive oil or a tablespoon of water for 3 to 4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add baby spinach and soy sauce to hot pan and cook, stirring, until the spinach has wilted. Stir in the vegan cream cheese and pesto until thoroughly mixed. Add black pepper to taste and salt if needed.

Place mushrooms bottom side up in a small baking pan. Divide the spinach mixture evenly into the two mushroom caps. Top with grated vegan parmesan style cheese or cracker crumbs. Bake at 180 degree C for 15 to 20 minutes until top is slightly browned and the mushroom is cooked through.

Great served with mashed parsnips and potatoes!

On Monday, I had the leftover “bites” on top of a spinach, cabbage, carrot and cucumber salad for lunch. The dressing was inspired.

Creamy Sweet and Spicy Dressing
Enough for 1 large salad or two small ones

1/2 cup Plain Alpro soya yogurt
1 heaping tablespoon of mango chutney
1 squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Stir ingredients together and serve over a crunchy and savory salad such as the one picture above.

Easy Green Curry & Shaved Sprout Salad

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On Thursday, I had another dinner success. Green Curry on rice leftovers from the Persian Nights from dinner out the previous evening. The curry was simple. It was made using a ½ jar of Blue Dragon green curry paste and a can of unsweetened light coconut milk (both available in the little groceries on Pitshanger Lane).

I collected the vegetables I had tucked away in the dorm-size fridge and mini-pantry basket into a pile on top of the washing machine (one of the two counter spots in the kitchen in the flat): 1/4 of a cauliflower, a partial onion, some white mushrooms, ½ red pepper, 5 Brussels sprouts, a small brown paper sack of potatoes, a large sweet potato, a cucumber and a ½ bag of scallions. I stared at this pile for a bit and decided that some of these would make a nice side salad, a few things would be left for another meal, and the rest would make its way in to the curry.

I thought about succulent Thai curries I had had in the past and thought, eggplant! That is what I need to make this come together well. I headed out into the lane to the nearest of the little groceries and found their produce supply somewhat depleted. Alas! No eggplant so I purchased some other supplies (the last bag of Nachips on half price and some merlot rose wine) and headed back to the flat.

Vegetables for curry: small white potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces, cauliflower florets, red pepper chunks, chopped onion, and quartered mushrooms plus bite-sized chunks of smoked tofu (Tofoo). Topped with chopped cilantro and minced scallions.

Salad vegetables: Brussel sprouts, cucumber, and scallions topped with crushed raspberries and cashews. IMG_2510

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
(2 servings)

5 or 6 Brussel sprouts, trimmed and shaved (or very thinly sliced)
2 teaspoons of malt vinegar (or your favorite light-colored vinegar)
1 small, thin-skinned cucumber, cut into tiny pieces (not quite minced)
2-3 tablespoons of crushed fresh raspberries
1 tablespoons chopped roasted salted cashews

Put shaved sprouts in a small flat dish and drizzle with vinegar. Let sit at room temperature for 15 or more minutes to soften the sprout shavings. Then add cucumber and scallions and toss to combine. Top with crushed raspberries and chopped cashews and serve.

Giant Crumpets!

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Giant crumpets! Who knew such a thing existed. Delicious, light, and regularly made vegan. They are so big we cut one in half for our breakfast. This morning we paired our ½ a giant crumpet with a Linda McCartney veggie sausage, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. We had some raspberries (75p for a container!) as a side dish. Very yummy. I love to dip my sausage bites in barbeque sauce. I think the one we have at the moment is spicy HP sauce.

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Before we headed out to the library to study and write today, we had a new version of yesterday’s breakfast again, but this time with a luscious pear (grown in the UK!) instead of the raspberries. See photo. Each morning breakfast is paired with tea with a splash of soya milk (Alpro) for me and coffee for Sophie. Some mornings (as an immune booster) we also add a glass of clementine juice.

I love the “Fruit Bowl”. It is the green grocer or fruit and vegetable shop on Pitshanger Lane just up the road from where we are staying. They make a practice of putting the country of origin on each type of produce. The first day I shopped there, the pears were the only fruit currently from England. Keep in mind it is January in London. The light (and occasional sunshine) only makes an appearance for a few hours a day…about 7.30 to 4.30. The pear took nearly a week to ripen, but was juicy and tasty with just the right texture this AM.

Lunch: Leftovers Plus

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My lunches are often some variety of leftovers plus something new.

Today, I made a salad with the last handful of spinach, a ¼ of an avocado, a ¼ of a large cucumber, a small piece of smoked tofu topped with balsamic vinegar crème (I learned about this stuff during my travels in Greece). It is basically a thickened balsamic vinegar. Store bought versions have some preservatives and thickeners, but a cleaner variation of it can be made by cooking down balsamic vinegar to about 1/3 its original volume. Then paired that with a big bowl of steamed cauliflower with curried vegannaise dip.

Vegan Cheeze!

IMG_2509Yesterday I hit the jackpot with finding vegan cheeses. I love Tesco’s Free-From cheeses (I purchased smoked, jalapeño cheddar and Italian style hard cheese) and Cheezly (I have not seen this one yet this visit). I also found “Follow your Heart” pepper-jack slices. Last night and this morning we a had a cheeze fest.

Last night we had vegan NACHOS! This is one of Sophie’s favorite meals at home so I was pleased to find all the needed elements in my store by store investigations of ingredient availability in Ealing.

I was able to find 1 brand of tortilla chips (called Nachips), black beans, an adorable tiny jar of mild salsa, and I added lightly sautéed mushrooms, red peppers, some leftover roasted potatoes and scallions seasoned with southwest seasoning (Penzey’s brought from home), as well as grated jalepeño & chilli cheddar Free-From and some sliced garlic. For cold toppings, we had the salsa and a mixture of chopped avocado, lime, cherry tomatoes and cilantro. Yum! Recipe below.

This morning we had a quesadilla made with hummus, jalapeno & chilli cheddar, fresh spinach, chopped scallions, cilantro and avocado.

My lunches are often some variety of leftovers plus something new. Today, I made a salad with the last handful of spinach, a ¼ of an avocado, a ¼ of a large cucumber, a small piece of smoked tofu topped with balsamic vinegar crème (I learned about this stuff during my travels in Greece). It is basically a thickened balsamic vinegar. Store bought versions have some preservatives and thickeners, but a cleaner variation of it can be made by cooking down balsamic vinegar to about 1/3 its original volume. Then paired that with a big bowl of steamed cauliflower with curried vegannaise dip (see photo).

Yummy Vegan Nachos in Ealing

1 bag tortilla chips (Nachips at the Coop)
1 15-ounces black beans, drained
¼ cup mild salsa
½ teaspoon ground cumin
8 to 10 chestnut mushrooms (cremini), thickly sliced
½ sweet red pepper, deseeded and chopped
4 scallions, whites and greens chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon favorite seasoning (I used Penzey’s Southwest Seasoning)
½ cup of leftover or other finely chopped vegetables (optional)
¼ to ½ cup of slivers or crumbles of vegan chorizo (optional–I used Wheaty chorizo vegan slices)
1 cup grated vegan cheese (I used Free From chilli & jalepeño cheddar)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

Toppings, if desired:
1 avocado, peeled and finely chopped
6 sweet cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
juice of ½ of a lime
salt, to taste
salsa

Turn oven to 200 degrees C (at home I use 425 degrees F). Drain black beans and put into a small bowl. Mix in salsa and cumin. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, sauté mushrooms, red pepper, scallions and other vegetables, if using, for a about 5 minutes until the soften and begin to brown at the edges. Stir in the seasoning mix. Take off the heat and set aside.

On a cookie sheet or similar large flat pan spread out ½ of the tortilla chips, top with ¼ to ½ the beans, ½ the sautéed vegetables, ½ the chorizo, if using, and about 1/3 of the grated cheese.

Then add the rest of the chips, as much more of the beans as you desire (I only used about half of the full can), the rest of the sautéed vegetables, the sliced garlic and the grated cheese.

Put the nachos in the oven and make the avocado and tomato topping. In a small bowl mix together the avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime. Add salt to taste.

Cook nachos for about 10 minutes in the hot oven until the top begins to brown. Remove and transfer to a serving dish. Serve with cold salsa, your favorite hot sauce (chili sauce), and the avocado/tomato mixture.