Catalan Chickpeas and Spinach [vegan]

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I have come to realise that time — as a concept, as a thing that happens to me and as a heavyweight opponent with whom I must fruitlessly wrestle — is simply none of my business. There is no point trying to understand how “it’s night before it’s afternoon/December is here before it’s June”, as Dr Seuss put it. If I had a tab open on my browser since last October, intending to presently reference the recipe therein, and if I have only just returned to it now, in the following April, and feel as though perhaps a week has passed, a month at the most, who’s to say that’s not true? Who’s going to come for me? The time police? Even if they did exist, I do not acknowledge them.

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Back in October, when I first consulted this recipe, time was moving in a more comminuted way — we were partway through a hundred-plus day lockdown, and my family’s solution to making one 24-hour period even marginally different from the one before was to choose a different country each day, and cook its food (or an approximation thereof) and listen to its music. (We stayed in lockdown so long that this was just one of our various daily schemes, but it’s the relevant one to this recipe.) I made these Catalan Chickpeas with Spinach when we got to Spain, along with some other Spain-wards recipes, and it really floored me — for something so simple, starring two undeniably excellent but not terribly flashy ingredients, it’s just beautiful. Gutsy, earthy, mellow, layered, delicious.

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I feel that of all the ingredients I might need to reassure you about in a kind but firm manner, it’s the raisins. If you’re already au fait with raisins in savoury recipes then this doesn’t apply to you, but if you are feeling suspicious, let me not only put your mind at ease but request, specifically, that you don’t leave them out — the tiny, lightly swollen bursts of winey sweetness are absolutely lush against the grainy soft chickpeas and the dark leafy spinach, to leave them out you’d lose what makes this dish so elevated and spectacular. That being said, if your suspicion for raisins veers into sensory issues territory then this doesn’t apply to you either! But put it this way, I have never once been a person who would eat a handful of raisins, the thought makes me shuddery, but once there’s some salt and olive oil involved they suddenly become entirely welcome.

@hungryandfrozen

Catalan Chickpeas and Spinach • recipe at hungryandfrozen dot com • adapted from @gimmesomeoven #vegan #cookingtiktok #beantok #chickpeas #foodblog #fyp

♬ Sascha – Jolie Holland

Maybe I’ve got time especially on the mind because my birthday is approaching, and, well, we live in a society where interrogative introspection follows each blowing out of candles; currently I’m coping by declaring, at every opportunity, that turning 36 is “so chic”. If you’re also in the ballpark of my generation or older you’re most welcome to use this framing device yourself, it’s…kind of helpful. Anyway, these chickpeas: time may be none of my business, but nonetheless I do wish I’d made them again sooner in a literal way, rather than in a “soon, in my warped and debilitating experience of the passage of time” kind of way. You should make them, and then make them again, for yourself, for friends, as a bring-a-plate, should you be in a place where socialising is relatively chill again. It would be a charming light meal for two with bread alongside (or, alternatively, the promise of dessert after); or it could easily feed four when served alongside a few other dishes, and if you’re feeling hungry, it’s all yours and no one else’s.

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Catalan Chickpeas and Spinach

An incredibly delicious, hearty, and simple dish, and impossible to make just once. I found this recipe on gimmesomeoven.com and have toyed with it just a little; if I had pine nuts I would’ve obviously preferred to use them as the original suggests, but the significantly less expensive sunflower seeds are a fine substitute.

  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (or, 1 teaspoon ground cumin)
  • 1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
  • 3 tablespoons dry vermouth (or dry sherry, or a splash of water)
  • 3 tablespoons raisins (or sultanas)
  • 3 large handfuls spinach
  • salt, to taste, and extra virgin olive oil, to finish

1: Toast the three tablespoons of sunflower seeds in a hot pan for a few minutes, until they go from pale to golden brown. Tip them into a bowl or plate and set aside.

2: Peel and finely dice the onion, then peel and roughly chop the six cloves garlic. Warm the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan — I used the same one that I toasted the sunflower seeds in — and fry the chopped onion and garlic over a low heat until they’re softened. Tip in the teaspoon of smoked paprika and half teaspoon of cumin seeds, and stir to coat the onions.

3: Turn up the heat a little and tip in the chickpeas, followed by the three tablespoons of vermouth (although, I generally slosh rather than measure, for what it’s worth), and the three tablespoons of raisins or sultanas, and let it simmer for about five minutes, adding a splash of water if the pan is looking too dry.

4: Roughly chop the spinach and throw it into the pan. You can simply stir the spinach into the chickpeas with the heat on, or you can turn off the heat, clamp on a lid, and let the residual heat and steam wilt the spinach. Either way, it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two for the spinach to flop into almost nothing.

5: Remove the pan from the heat, scatter over the reserved sunflower seeds, season with salt (and pepper, if you wish) and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil. You could also consider a squeeze of lemon juice (especially if you used water instead of vermouth or sherry).

Serves 2—4, lightly, depending on what’s being eaten alongside, or one hungry person.

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music lately:

Forever and Ever by Demis Roussos, although this song evokes memories of Alison Steadman in the horror film (not in genre, but in vibe, you understand) Abigail’s Party, there’s something about those effortlessly gliding vocals and the full-hearted romance and proto-dream pop energy that is very loveable.

Persuasive by Doechii, I love how this is somehow quiet and loud at the same time. Utterly hypnotic, I can’t stop listening to it.

Forever, by Pete Drake. I was sent this video, along with the description that it was staggeringly Lynchian, and: I agree! If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s from 1964 I would have sworn on my own grave that David Lynch’s handprints were all over this tableau, it’s got that mix of heartbreaking comfort and looming, yet unidentifiable sinisterness and a general pervading Americanness. It’s almost hard to believe it’s real, but, somehow, it is.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Fast Crispy Sweet Chilli Oyster Mushrooms [vegan]

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It’s 2022 and I can barely process this information because it’s just too hot. It’s too hot to think, it’s too hot to write, it’s too hot to work, it’s too hot to eat. With an emphasis on the former; I wrote “it’s too hot to think” three times before realising I’d repeated myself and also spelled the recipe title as “Sweet Chilly Oister Mushrooms” and stared at it for five minutes unable to work out what was wrong. Despite my gloom at us having strode purposefully into a new era of climate crisis, and despite my heat-induced fatigue, I still somehow have a recipe for you, but it’s easy to make, easy to read about (truly, I won’t go on much longer than this paragraph) and, most importantly, VERY delicious. I didn’t even take proper photos, just took some desultory snaps on my phone while trying to not faint in the midday sun—indeed, you can see the shadow of my phone in the first photo.

@hungryandfrozen

fast crispy sweet chilli oyster mushrooms 🍄 recipe @ hungryandfrozen dot com 🍄 #vegan #mushrooms #recipe #foodblogger #veganrecipes #easyrecipe #fyp

♬ Fade Into You – Mazzy Star

Oyster mushrooms are a somewhat imbalanced beast; the flavour is faint to the point of nothingness, but the texture is excellently chewy and robust and it’s this texture that makes them a high priority for me. Frying things till crisp and brown, however, makes anything taste important, a dash of mustard and Maggi seasoning or soy sauce gives the mushrooms bite and then finally—rather than getting you to make a sauce from scratch at this taxing juncture—you just pour on some sweet chilli sauce and call it a day. So now it’s sweet, sticky, crunchy, oily, and salty, and only ten minutes have passed from start to finish. The most demanding part was taking the photos in the blazing sunlight, and of course, you don’t have to do that. If you’re reading this from a frosty northern hemisphere location and can’t relate to my melodramatics, well, I’m very envious of you and these will still taste good in cold weather.

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Fast Crispy Sweet Chilli Oyster Mushrooms

Barely a recipe; but it’s quick and good and just what you want to be eating. Add whatever extra seasonings and sauces you like, and if you want more mushrooms, just bump up the quantities of everything else a little. Recipe by myself.

  • 10 or so oyster mushrooms, some big, some smaller
  • 1/3 cup oat milk, soy milk, or similar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Several dashes of Maggi seasoning sauce, or two teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried celery, or a dash of celery salt
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons rice bran oil, or similar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
  • Chopped herbs, such as basil, parsley, or chives, to serve (I used basil)

1: Trim the ends of the mushrooms (as in, the very ends, the tips where they join together, I want you to leave the stalks themselves intact) and brush off any dirt with your fingers or a paper towel.

2: Mix the 1/3 cup of milk, teaspoon of mustard, few dashes of Maggi (or soy sauce), and half teaspoon of celery salt in a bowl. Drop the mushrooms into the bowl and briefly stir so they all get thoroughly dunked. Tip the 1/3 cup flour over the mushrooms and stir again briefly, just enough to let the flour and milk combine somewhat and for the mushrooms to get coated in something, be it unmixed flour or the batter that has formed from mixing the flour and milk. Does that make sense? Don’t put too much effort in, basically.

3: Heat the oil in a large frying pan and once it’s hot, drop the mushrooms in and let them cook thoroughly on each side until well browned. Don’t be tempted to remove the mushrooms once they’re merely golden, a few minutes more patience will yield a brown and crispy coating. Transfer the mushrooms to a serving plate and spoon over the sweet chilli sauce. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs, if you want them.

Serves one, depending on the size of your mushrooms and appetite. Could easily serve two as part of a more padded out meal, like a rice bowl or tacos.

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music lately:

Summer’s Cauldron by XTC—the entire Skylarking album is absolute magic, but this song particularly captures my current vibe, as you can probably tell by the title.

Out Of Space by The Prodigy, if anything can shake me from this heat inertia and make me feel alive for the first time it’s surely this song!! This is the sort of song that makes you long for the sun in the middle of winter, so you can leap around on the grass like a happy idiot while everyone looks on benevolently.

Beneath The Lights of Home by Deanna Durbin. I love talking to my Nana about old movies. She mentioned that she particularly loved Deanna Durbin’s singing, and so I’ve been listening to her (both Nana’s opinion, and Deanna Durbin’s singing.) This song is beautiful, the kind of richly comforting arrangement that reassures you everything will be, not only okay, but wonderful.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Roasted Garlic Lentil Soup [vegan]

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Despite my love of attention I fantasise about being an eminently successful author and quietly detaching myself from all online life, content to mysteriously and elusively enjoy and redistribute my wealth, resurfacing once every seven years or so for a rare, anecdote-jewelled interview or avant-garde photoshoot. Constantly battling to carve out some kind of online platform – a mere presence, even – means you have to forgo any hopes of appearing mysterious and elusive, because that one stupid thought you didn’t tweet could’ve been the tweet that would go viral which would make publishers think you’re a viable option because that’s how we sell books now, and so on.

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Nevertheless, I did get to enjoy a little mysteriousness all of my own recently: we’ve been experiencing an infuriating combination of frantic humidity, antipodean Santa Ana Winds, and the promise of more humidity to come, and yet I found myself craving – and not just craving, but planning for – of all things – lentil vege soup. In lieu of any actual mysteriousness…that’s a mystery!

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I also had it in my head that a roasted whole bulb of garlic, pureed, added to the soup, would be wonderful. Wanting lentil soup in humid November is mysterious (perhaps the brothy quality of the air gave me the idea) but wanting roast garlic really isn’t – it’s all starting to add up.

There are simpler recipes than this – and you could certainly just fry some chopped aromatics, hiff some lentils and water and seasoning into a pan and still have a very fine meal, but with a little more effort and equipment (and staggering through my over-written recipe) you get this lentil soup: velvety, buttery, flooded with pure garlic and studded with rich, sweet fennel seeds. This soup is cosy, but it’s elegant with it. Roasting the entire bulb of garlic first does mean you can’t make this at the last minute, but the time spent is not wasted – the garlic, in its little foil-pouch sauna, becomes soft, caramelised, and mellow, its flavour unfurling like a flower leaning towards the sun, indeed, if you’re roasting one you might as well do a few at a time since the resulting garlic is so versatile and welcome.

@hungryandfrozen

lentil soup with a whole bulb of garlic in it 🧄 recipe at hungryandfrozen.com 🤠 #goodsoup #veganrecipes #lentilsoup #garlic #roastedgarlic #nz #fyp

♬ Autobahn (Single Edit) – Kraftwerk

My culinary whims are always fairly erratic and I’m happy to indulgently indulge them, but we’re currently 92 excruciating days into lockdown so maybe it’s no surprise that I’m reaching for the kind of pureed food that doesn’t push back. I’m just grateful that I’ve managed to come up with something new in the midst of this creativity-sapping isolation misery-fog – not that I regret a single moment of my chilli-oil hat trick of recipes, in fact…now that I think about it…this soup would be even more delicious with the chilli oil pumpkin seeds strewn on top. It also occurred to me that I could call this “Lentil Soup with Forty Cloves Of Garlic” a la the classic French recipe (and a la my own artichoke and potato recipe) but with only a mere singular bulb of garlic involved it’s not quite worthy of the title; since I love to fiddle with my own recipes this could well be the next variation for those who instinctively double the quantity of garlic in every recipe they meet. 

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Roasted Garlic Lentil Soup

I’ve done it again – and by “again” I mean I’ve taken a fairly straightforward recipe and somehow written it in the most convoluted and multi-paragraphed way possible. Admittedly, there is a bit of work involved here (and two different kinds of blender, I’m genuinely sorry) but the soup you get is worth it, I promise: creamy, rich, full of garlic, and vegan of course. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 whole, large, bulb of garlic
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 1 onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, plus more to serve
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups/750ml water, extra
  • 1 mushroom stock cube (or your preferred flavour)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan oyster sauce, or soy sauce (or Maggi seasoning, or similar)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • a couple tablespoons of cashew butter, coconut yoghurt, tahini, hummus, whatever you’ve got, to serve (optional)

1: Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place a bulb of garlic in a square of tinfoil (or use baking paper tied with kitchen string) drizzle over just a little olive oil, and pinch the edges of the tinfoil together so the garlic is sealed in, but fairly loosely wrapped. Put it in the oven for about 40 minutes, until a skewer carefully stabbed into it reveals soft and yielding garlic cloves. Either use it right away once it’s cool enough to handle, or store it in a sealed container in the fridge for 3-5 days till you’re ready.

2: Slice the tufty base off the bulb of roasted garlic – being careful not to lose any actual, precious garlic in the process – and then throw the garlic bulb itself, whole and unpeeled, into a high-speed blender with 1/3 cup water and a couple tablespoons of olive oil, blitzing it into a beige liquid. Because there’s only a small quantity of liquid here, you may need to stop and shake the blender every now and then. Spatula this garlic mixture into a sieve over a bowl, stirring and scraping to extract every last bit of garlic puree into the bowl below. Discard the remaining husky bits of garlic peel, although you could save them for making stock with (I admit, I just ate them on the spot.)

3: Peel and roughly chop the onion and throw it into the unwashed blender – if you’re going to have extra dishes I try to make it work your while – along with the carrot, also roughly chopped (no need to peel, but up to you). Blitz them into a babyfood-looking mush and spatula them into a saucepan, along with a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

4: Stir the onion-carrot mixture over a low heat, adding the dried celery, pepper, and thyme leaves. Wash your lentils – I tip them into a bowl, cover in cold water, sluice it round with my fingertips and carefully drain it – and add them to the pan, along with three cups/750ml water. Let it come to a boil, stirring often, then place a lid on the saucepan, lower the heat right down, and let it simmer – stirring occasionally – till the lentils have completely softened and collapsed into the liquid. Depending on your lentils, this could happen quite instantly, or it could take up to 20 minutes.

5: Remove the lid and add the stock cube – stirring to break it down – and oyster sauce. Tip in about 90% of your garlic puree, reserving the rest for serving (unless you want to dispense with the drizzle-of-something, in which case add all the garlic here.) Taste to see if the seasoning needs correcting, then remove the pan from the heat and use a stick blender (sorry, a second appliance) to puree it, or you can carefully transfer it to your blender and use that, being very careful of the air pressure that builds up when blending hot liquids.

6: Heat the fennel seeds and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small frying pan until the oil is just starting to wobble, then remove from the heat. Stir the remaining garlic puree into a couple of tablespoons of coconut yoghurt, or cashew butter loosened with a little water, or tahini treated the same way, or even hummus diluted slightly with water, whatever you’ve got.

7: Divide the soup between 2-3 bowls and spoon over some of the fennel seeds and their oil, and the garlic drizzle if you’re using it. Sprinkle with extra thyme leaves, and serve.

Makes 2-3 generous servings. If you’ve got four people to feed, add an extra 1/2 cup lentils and 1 and 1/2 cups water, any more people than that and you might as well double the whole recipe.

Notes:

  • If you have a stick of celery to hand, leave out the dried stuff and throw the roughly chopped fresh celery in the blender with the onion and carrot. This would actually be my preferred choice, to be honest, but we didn’t have any fresh celery.
  • If fennel seeds aren’t your thing – though I urge you to use them, when fried in oil they are intensely good – then warm through a stalk or two’s worth of fresh rosemary needles in olive oil and spoon that over the soup instead. Better yet: porque no los dos?
  • If – quite reasonably – you balk at the idea of turning on your oven just for a bulb of garlic, throw it in while you’re using the oven for something else (ideally savoury, unless you don’t mind whatever’s being cooked alongside it being garlic-scented).
  • Should you have a bottle of dry sherry or Marsala around you should definitely add a splash of it to the soup towards the end, this is what I will be doing in the future (but it tasted great without, so don’t worry if this isn’t going to happen for you.)
  • Making this without a blender or stick blender of some kind is not ideal, but not impossible – extract your garlic by cutting the top off the roasted bulb and squeezing out as much roasted garlic as is humanly possible, and mash it with a fork to form a paste. Finely chop your onion and carrot instead of blending them, and while the soup tastes better when blended up, it’s not an insurmountable hardship to eat it as it comes.

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music lately:

Autobahn by Kraftwork. I cannot even fathom how it must’ve felt to reckon with this level of Teutonic ebullience and charm when Autobahn was released in 1974, disarming, I’m sure! Immensely cheering stuff.

Allandale by Laura Lee Lovely – good news at last! It’s dreamy and glorious and makes me want to dance under neon lights right NOW!!

Germ-Free Adolescents, by X-Ray Spex. This has, to my enormous offence, been removed from Spotify. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than by sitting staring into space listening to this on loop and now it’s one step more difficult for me to do so and I am taking umbrage!

Red Light by Linda Clifford, from the 1980 film Fame. An absolutely unreal song that manages to stand out and grab you by the ankles even in the middle of a soundtrack jostling with the best songs you’ve ever heard in your life.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Bucatini with Chilli Oil Pumpkin Seeds [vegan]

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Okay, so there was the Chilli Oil Beans, and then the Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts, and now we’ve got Bucatini with Chilli Oil Pumpkin Seeds. I’m not trying to pretend like this recipe is a brand new thing! We’re day 85 into the Neverending Lockdown and I am frantically uncreative, and where my creative faculties once lived now sits a reluctant brick wall, covered in fast-moving moss, forgotten by mankind, perhaps to be discovered a hundred years hence by a plucky main character, but it’s looking dubious, and it’s only barely metaphorical. So – a little more repetition! In fairness, lockdown or not I am prone to fervently latching onto particular foods like they’re the new girl at school who needs a makeover, or a favoured mistress in the court of the Sun King. As I said in the prior iterations, and in the recipe, Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil was the initial impetus for this recipe, helped by watching numerous TikToks (eg Chef Priyanka and TiffyCooks) of people pouring hot oil over chilli and spices. My loyalty to Lao Gan Ma goes unchallenged, but also I can’t see myself getting sick of this chilli oil recipe any time soon, or running out of ways to use it. Above all, the most relevant justification for repeating it so often is – it’s really delicious!

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So yes, this is incredibly delicious, and it’s very easy – not exactly one-bowl, but there’s not too much in the way of dishes, and toasting nuts and heating oil is not so much a victimless crime as an act of charity, since you’re basically seasoning your pan in the process – I put mine away unwashed, but for a brief swipe using a paper towel, with a clear conscience. Because I ordered three packets of bucatini online back in September as a lockdown treat, I’ve used that here where you might expect to see noodles – and you could use spaghetti or any other long pasta or, of course, actual noodles. It’s not that these long hollow tubes are superior to any other kind of pasta or noodle, but the rarity of it feels fun and opulent. As you can see in the photos I also recently ordered myself a pretty, irregularly-speckled pink plate, as another treat. Getting little packages in the mail is not quite the same as interacting with my loved ones in the outside world and enjoying my one wild and free life but receiving a package is an undeniable rush, and a reminder that there is still much and many to be grateful for.

Well, what is left to say about this chilli oil? Last time I described “the jovial heat of the gochugaru, the aromatic fennel…the allium savoury vibes from the chives and garlic, the soft oil-pastel crunch and sweetness of the cashews and walnuts and the half-hearted yet welcome kick from the ground white pepper.” I’m not sure I can come up with anything new that’s better – just replace the cashews with pumpkin seeds and add the sweet warmth of a broken up cinnamon stick, the softened forbidden-woodchips of which I happily eat as I find them in the pasta, and that sums up this recipe. The bucatini is a perfect backdrop for these lively flavours, twirling them up in a merry vortex around your fork (best not to wear white while eating this) and it makes a stunning contemplative lunch or a casually elegant dinner, and is very easily doubled or trebled to feed more.

It would appear that the more simple and straightforwardly delicious the recipe, the more unhinged and long-winded the blog post must be, let this be a comfort, I guess, and confirmation of how truly good this recipe is.

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Bucatini with Chilli Oil Pumpkin Seeds

The chilli oil is back – it never left – and this variation is just as delicious as the others. An easy, fast, luxurious but chill vegan meal for one, I need you to know I didn’t actually measure any of these ingredients and it’s not something to stress about. As you can tell by how often I return to it, this chilli oil can be applied to numerous foods successfully, and I have Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil, and my devotion to it (plus several TikTok videos) to thank for the inspiration that led me to each recipe, including this one. Of course, you can use whatever nuts and seeds you have, and of course you can use spaghetti or noodles or whatever here instead of bucatini.

  • 90g bucatini
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons gochugaru or chilli flakes of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons snipped chives
  • 1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
  • a hearty shake of salt and ground white pepper
  • 4 tablespoons neutral oil, such as rice bran

1: Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt it generously, and then cook your bucatini in it until it’s tender.

2: While this is happening, toast your pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a small pan until they just start to colour. Tip them into a heatproof bowl. Break the cinnamon stick into small shards, and add this to the bowl of seeds along with the fennel seeds, gochugaru – or your chilli flakes of choice – chives, the chopped garlic, and the salt and pepper.

3: Heat the oil – might as well use the same pan you toasted the seeds in – until it’s very hot. You can check by sticking the tip of a handle of a wooden spoon into it, and if small bubbles cling to the surface, it’s ready. Carefully pour this hot oil into the bowl of seeds and spices. It’ll sizzle and bubble but it should settle down quickly. Set aside.

4: Drain the cooked pasta and stir it into the bowl of chilli oil pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Serves 1.

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music lately:

Carpe Diem by The Fugs. This is just – so cool!

Don’t Change by Limp Bizkit – a new album from Limp Bizkit in 2021? And they’re covering one of my very favourite INXS songs? Could this be good news at last? Yes! Despite the vaseline-lens softening of nostalgia and the constant mining of the past by both those who both lived through it and those who were conceived in it; time has not exactly been kind to Limp Bizkit, and to still be doing their whole thing in the vastly different climate of 2021 takes some chutzpah. Sure, a gentle acoustic cover is an easy win, and I was always going to listen with generous ears, but this song makes me very happy. (And while it’s low-key, it’s a significantly better decision than their 2003 cover of Behind Blue Eyes, which we simply won’t talk about. Of course, the best cover, and best example of Durst’s underappreciated vocalising, is always going to be Faith.)

I’m Here, from the Broadway musical The Color Purple, sung by Cynthia Erivo, who recently won the role of Elphaba in the film adaptation of Wicked, alongside Ariana Grande as Glinda. Wicked is so dear to my heart that nothing short of a pro-shot of the original cast could satisfy me, and musical film adaptations have been sharply diminishing returns since 2002’s stellar Chicago, but – Erivo has a voice like liquidised satin and she only needs one more letter to claim that EGOT. This could well be it.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts [vegan]

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This is quite obviously a gently reworked version of my Chilli Oil Beans recipe but we’re seventy days into lockdown and my concept of “my life” in general has been reduced to much the same level of control and robustness as the plight of the titular corpse in The Trouble With Harry, and my brain cells and general morale have all given up and lain on the floor howling, so you’ll forgive me for lacking flair. But! To say this does an unnecessary disservice to this recipe for Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts, which is wonderful and would be so in any context – even this one. (And here’s my disclaimer that I’m immensely pro-lockdown and pro-vaccination, I’m just massively frustrated and exhausted by our current frustrating and exhausting situation.) While this recipe’s origins are clear it also was tangentially inspired by one of my go-to struggle meals in Wellington when I was funnelling all my earnings into the particular unearned rent prices that city boasts, usually eaten in the dark at 4 or 5am after a shift – a hefty pile of toasted sunflower seeds mixed with olive oil, salt, and ground white pepper.

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The chilli oil already tasted amazing in its original format, but when I tutu’d with the proportions to make it more nut-forward (and I apologise for how weird that phrase looks on the page) as if the nuts were in fact replacing the beans as opposed to simply adding texture – well, it became even more delicious somehow. I had to march myself out of the kitchen to stop myself from eating all the waiting chilli oil nuts spoonful by spoonful as the rice cooked – and I realise this sounds like standard-issue blogger exaggeration but if there’s one thing you need to know about me it’s that I literally never exaggerate! And why would I exaggerate about food when it tastes good enough to simply describe it as it is?

The balance of flavours in these chilli oil nuts is quite exquisite – the jovial heat of the gochugaru, the aromatic fennel and star anise, the allium savoury vibes from the chives and garlic, the soft oil-pastel crunch and sweetness of the cashews and walnuts and the half-hearted yet welcome kick from the ground white pepper. You might think that all this, the sticky sushi rice and the taste detonation of kimchi would be enough, that you don’t need the richness of avocado along with the oil and the cashews and so on, but! Somehow even in these trying times an avocado still feels like a little treat, a surprise, like, surely it’s going to be a good day if there’s an avocado involved. Don’t leave out the avocado. That being said rice and the chilli oil nuts on their own would still be a great meal – and it can just be regular rice, not sushi rice.

In lieu of anything else going right, there’s one thing you can rely on to soothe and offer a brief, sanguine feeling of sanity: a perfectly composed bowl of rice.

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Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts

A very simple and utterly delicious solo meal (it is genuinely simple, the recipe just looks long because I like to talk!) – and despite its simplicity it also feels like you’ve really Done Something. Recipe by myself, with thanks to JustOneCookbook for their highly detailed instructions on how to cook sushi rice on the stove top, which I used as a reference.

  • 3/4 cup (or one rice cooker cup) sushi rice
  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons gochugaru (or whatever chilli flakes you’ve got)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped chives (I did not actually measure this and nor should you)
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • hearty shake of salt and ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as rice bran
  • a tablespoon or so of sushi vinegar, if you have it, or a splash of apple cider vinegar and caster sugar mixed
  • together with a little salt
  • Kimchi and sliced avocado, to serve

1: Place your rice into a medium-sized saucepan and partially fill the pan with cold water. Briskly rinse the rice, swishing it around with your fingers and tilting the pan to drain the water out, without letting the water sit too much between rinsing. Repeat twice more. Once this is done, fill the cup measure you used for the rice with water and add it to the pan, and then repeat – perhaps placing your finger on top of the rice and checking that the water reaches your first knuckle, which means you’ve got the correct quantity of water – and then place the lid on top and set it aside for 30 minutes.

2: While the rice is waiting, get started on the chilli oil nuts. Roughly chop the cashews and walnuts and tip them into a small heatproof bowl. Add the star anise, fennel seeds, gochugaru or whichever chilli flakes you’re using, and the chives, then grate in the garlic clove (or slice it finely, up to you) and shake in the salt and pepper.

3: Heat the oil in a small saucepan until it seems hot – you can check by sticking the tip of a handle of a wooden spoon into it, and if small bubbles cling to the surface, it’s ready – and then carefully pour this hot oil into the bowl of nuts and spices. It’ll sizzle and bubble but it should settle down quickly. Set aside.

4: Place the pan of rice over a high heat, until the water comes to the boil (a pan with a see-through lid is obviously ideal here) and as soon as it does, turn the heat as low as it’ll go and cook for ten to twelve minutes. Then, remove it from the heat – with the lid still on – and let it sit for ten minutes. It’s best to not remove the lid at all during this entire proceeding but every time I’ve cooked sushi rice I’ve very quickly lifted the lid to swipe a small spoonful to test for done-ness and nothing bad has ever happened – make sure you’re quick about it, though.

5: Use a rice paddle or spoon to carefully stir the sushi vinegar (or ACV/sugar mixture) through the rice. Spoon your desired quantity of rice into a serving bowl, top with sliced avocado and kimchi, and then spoon over the chilli oil nuts.

Serves 1, but this makes enough rice for two – if you’re making this for two you could probably get away with just adding half as much of the chilli oil ingredients again rather than doubling it but I, personally, would want more.

Also – I especially like cashews here, but you can obviously use other nuts and/or seeds – peanuts, pecans, pistachios and pumpkin seeds would be great in particular. And if you really, really aren’t into fennel-y/aniseed-y flavours then leave out the fennel and star anise but for what it’s worth, liquorice is one of the few sweets I cannot face – it is the personal enemy of my palate – and yet I love the hint of it here. It’s not overpowering at all, and just adds a little ping of complexity.

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music lately:

Rave On by Buddy Holly, maybe it’s because I have only left the house twice in the last seventy days and both times was to get vaccinated but this song, my god! There’s something so wildly subversive lurking beneath its vaguely square surface – if not hiding in plain sight – every now and then you get hit by a wave, for just a second, of what it must’ve been like to hear a song for the first time, and as soon as he sings “we-he-he-he-hell” that wave crashes down upon me.

Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground, this is definitely more of the subversion hiding in plain sight variety of song, from the moment it drops you headfirst into the molten hot wax of those opening violins to the laugh in Lou Reed’s voice on “bleed for me”. This is probably my favourite VU song – not an easy selection, nor a necessary one, really – and I was charmed to hear it right at the start of Todd Hayne’s elegant new documentary about the band.

I’d Love To Fall Asleep by Muriel Smith – you know what, considering this was sung in the post-Hayes-code era of films showing married couples in separate beds, this song is kind of subversive in its own way, too. Smith’s contralto is gorgeous and rich and the fuzzy crackle of the vinyl this song is playing on only adds to the comfort.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Washed Flour Seitan [vegan]

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It’s never my intention for long stretches of time to take up residence between blog posts but – and there’s no way to say this in an original fashion – we’re roughly nine weeks into lockdown now and I am feeling flat. And here I need to vehemently reiterate that I’m pro-lockdown and pro-vaccination (and am delighted that all of us under our roof are doubly protected) but because I contain multitudes I’m also not happy with a lot of the decisions being made, and am doing my best not to spiral, and am constantly muttering “must I become prime minister” like it’s a protective mantra; perhaps it is. This is not a great environment in which to be creative, it’s not really a great environment to do much of anything except stew persistently like a slow-cooked Welsh cawl.

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Dredging up the energy to try out this washed flour seitan recipe – something I’ve been wanting to make for ages! – was a massive effort at every step of the way, but thank goodness I did, because it’s delicious and all said effort was immediately forgotten upon consumption. Not that you need me, specifically, to tell you about it! The recipe is not only well-documented online – I gratefully followed the detailed method on The Viet Vegan – it’s also one of the oldest methods on record of making seitan, something China has had a head start on over me by several centuries. But if I can be an extra voice of enthusiasm encouraging you to try it, then that will be enough.

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This recipe is very simple, but there are two things to get used to: it uses a lot of water, and it loses a lot of volume in the process of washing away all the starch from the dough. This doesn’t mean it’s inherently wasteful per se – there are ways to use less water and to re-use it – but it’s probably best avoided during high summer when the water tanks are low. All the effort in washing and kneading – and it’s not that much effort, really, it just requires concentration – rewards you with an incredibly versatile, delicious, and fantastically-textured protein. Its nearest analogue is chicken, though with a little commitment you could take it in whatever direction you want.

It’s hard to describe the appeal of this washed flour seitan without sounding like an alien in a trench coat trying to fit in with the humans – it’s an exemplary protein! It has a multifaceted mellowness! It has the cadence of chicken without being too unsettlingly similar to that which it imitates! But truly, as your fellow literal human, let me assure you: it’s so good!

As you can see there’s no salt or anything in the recipe itself, so – much like any protein, any food in fact – you need to have some kind of seasoning in mind. To test the prowess of this stuff I took two separate paths – first, shredded seitan, straight from the fridge, marinated in lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil and stirred together with avocado and torn flat-leaf parsley. Secondly, I thinly sliced the remaining seitan and marinated it in a bentonite-thick mixture of glutinous rice flour, cornflour, sugar, soy sauce, and water, and then fried these strips until crisp and browned. Both variations were delicious, outstandingly so, especially when considering their humble origins: just flour, and water.

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Washed Flour Seitan

Flour + water = chicken? Yes! I’ve done very little to this recipe on The Viet Vegan and I recommend you cross-reference with hers which has plenty of pictures and information. Where we differ is that I steamed my seitan rather than simmering it – it’s my preferred method for its resulting texture and speed – but other than that I have her to thank for this. This is a simple recipe but it does take some patience, and the results are worth it.

  • 400g flour
  • 250ml/1 cup water

1: Stir the water into the flour, then start kneading until it’s a cohesive ball that springs back confidently when you prod it. [This took me quite a while, somewhere between five and ten minutes of kneading – and there were points where I was like “this is probably fine” but I’m glad my conscience kicked in and I kept kneading some more.]

2: Cover the dough with water, place a plate on top (not a tea towel, as I found out, because it will immediately fall in the water) and set the dough aside for two hours – in the fridge if it’s a warm day.

3: Drain the water from the dough, fill the bowl with clean water, and knead/rinse the dough in the water, which will quickly turn an opaque white.

4: Repeat this step until you can see through the cloudy – and if you take your time kneading it, rather than changing the water the second it turns opaque, you can use a lot less. You can also save this water for your garden if you have one, or you can use it to make noodles or vegan bacon (I haven’t tried either of these recipes but next time I make this I’ll give them a go.) Drain the dough – which will have changed texture and shrunk somewhat – in a colander, letting it rest for about half an hour.

5: Stretch the dough out and knot it several times or split it in three and braid it – either way, you want to get some layers in it so that it will create that, well, chicken-y texture later on. At this stage, you’re welcome to simmer it for two hours in broth as per the original recipe, but instead I steamed it for about 25 minutes – if you don’t have a steamer, you can rest a metal colander on top of a pan of water and then cover it with the closest-fitting pot lid you have, sitting the seitan on a square of baking paper to make clean-up easier.

The seitan is now ready to eat, or you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge, where it will last for at least four days. Seitan is usually better for a rest before cooking anyway – even just a couple hours – and after all that kneading, you probably are too.

This – despite how much flour you start out with – makes one medium-sized ball of seitan, about the size of a chicken breast. Depending on how you use it this could stretch over two meals for sure. I significantly scaled down the quantities of the original recipe, just to see how it would work – to make more, simply double or triple the flour and water.

Notes: As you can see the seitan in the photos has had something done to it – the first is just shredded and marinated in lemon juice, wholegrain mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil, then served with sliced avocado and torn flat-leaf parsley. The second lot was thinly sliced and marinated in a mixture of glutinous rice flour, cornflour, soy sauce, sugar and water, then fried till crisp, in a sort of hastily thrown-together take on mochiko chicken. Both were extremely delicious!

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music lately:

Aslında, Galiba by Palmiyeler – as I mentioned in my last blog post we’ve been celebrating a different country that we’ve been to every day and when Turkey day came around I had to admit I wasn’t au fait with any of its music; I found this band by chance on Spotify and have been deeply enchanted with them ever since. It’s sunny, vaguely psychedelic beach-pop and while it all sort of blurs into one saltwater blur sonically, believe me when I say that I listened to their entire discography in one afternoon and every song is wonderful. This song is great but picked entirely at random because I just couldn’t decide between them all.

Penguins and Polar Bears by Millencolin – naturally, Sweden Day would’ve been nothing without these guys and this absolute classic!

Ladies Who Lunch from the 1995 revival of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical Company, performed here by Debra Monk. Of course, Elaine Stritch’s original is the alpha and omega but Debra Monk’s version does not receive nearly enough attention – yes, it’s perhaps arranged half a sluggish beat too slow, but the way she sings “aren’t they a geeeeem, I’ll drink tooOOO theeeeeeem” – I think about it so often! It is on my mind frequently!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Instant Gnocchi [vegan]

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It was somewhere in that indistinct and malleable stretch of the early nineties before the internet became accessible, let alone entrenched, and before every minute was documented – somewhere in that time, I sat down brimming with cheerful anticipation for the latest episode of Full House only to be confronted with a hideous replacement show – Mountain Dew on The Edge – a show whose title is opaque to the point of meaninglessness and yet is somehow entirely and nakedly threatening to be about sports. (To my disgust, it really was about sports.) It was on that sombre day I learned that TV shows have seasons that end, and they don’t just spit out new episodes forever, and you can’t rely on anything or anyone in this cold world but yourself, kid. It was somewhere in that same era that I once again faced disappointment when I turned on the television expecting a brand new episode of a particular sitcom and was met, instead, with a clip show, that budget-saving device TV shows lean on occasionally by cobbling together an episode from previously filmed segments – and I had no media literacy or access to Wikipedia or the TV Tropes website to understand what was happening or why I felt so let down. Who can you trust, if not your TV in the nineties?

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Today’s recipe is, I apologetically acknowledge, something of a clip show, taking components familiar to long-term readers of both this blog and my Patreon – although hopefully it’s a clip show in the mildly superior vein of The Simpsons “All Singing, All Dancing” episode which had the grace to grant us the timeless Paint Your Wagon parody before getting into the replays. Just as Homer takes comfort in the presence of Lee Marvin – “he’s always drunk and violent!” – we can take comfort in knowing my recipes are always good, even if you’ve seen them before. And I’m currently in week three (I think?) of a Level 4 lockdown without any promised end date in sight, so I hope you can allow me a short rest on these comfortable laurels.

I wouldn’t be repeating this recipe, first seen here in 2017, if it wasn’t for good reason – this gnocchi is literally instant, using mashed potato flakes instead of peeled, boiled, and mashed potatoes. Whether you’re in lockdown, or you’re depressed, or you don’t have actual potatoes, or the thought of peeling potatoes and waiting for water to boil and then waiting for said potatoes to cook till tender makes you want to sob – whatever’s going on, this gnocchi can be yours in fifteen minutes from start to finish, even quicker if you’re feeling sprightly. (If this sounds like a glib recommendation, please know that I have made this gnocchi in every last one of these states and am speaking from experience.) This recipe is even faster than it was the first time around since I’ve dispensed with the time-consuming fork-rolling step – no great sacrifice and it makes the gnocchi look like tiny little pillows, a benignly pleasing notion.

Obviously – and perhaps this is what I should be really apologetic for – this is not the traditional Italian way of making gnocchi, and I imagine it’s not just the Italians who would get het up at putting instant mashed potato flakes front and centre of a recipe. But these instant mashed potato flakes are singularly useful to have around – they’re cheap, they last forever, they really are instant, and they’re a lifesaver square meal during times when you don’t know how your next actual square meal is going to fit into your bank account. They also make truly delicious gnocchi – light, puffy, golden-crisp and genuinely quite elegant – a dish that feels like a treat at any time, but especially in the middle of lockdown.

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Instant Gnocchi

This gnocchi is not traditional – taking a huge shortcut with instant potato flakes – but it is very fast and very delicious, and that counts for something. Recipe, proudly, by myself.

  • 3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 3/4 cup just-boiled water
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups flour, and perhaps a little more
  • olive oil, for frying

1: Mix the mashed potato flakes, water, and salt together in a bowl – which will turn the flakes, suddenly, into something resembling mashed potato – then stir in the flour, switching to your hands (a little carefully, since it’ll still be hot from the boiling water) to briefly knead/push it into a ball of soft, pliant dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour, if it’s too floury, add more water.

2: Using your hands, roll portions of the dough into long snakes, and cut off pieces at 1-inch intervals, continuing with all the remaining dough till you have a pile of 1-inch pieces of dough, looking like tiny pillows. Obviously, you don’t have to measure with a ruler here. Just cut the stuff up.

3: You can cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water at this point – for a couple of minutes until they start floating on the surface – but what I prefer is to just tumble them into a hot frying pan with a couple spoonfuls of olive oil, place a lid on for a minute or so to sort of steam-fry them, and then remove the lid and turn them over so they get brown and crisp. I realise my lengthy description makes it look like this is the harder method; it’s much easier and, I think, significantly more delicious.

Serves two, modestly, or one, very generously.

Notes:

To make the also-fairly-instant sauce that goes with the gnocchi in the photos – which is adapted from a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s in her Forever Summer book – take a whole lemon, slice off the ends, the zest and most of the pith, chop the remaining flesh into pieces and throw it into a food processor along with some of the zest (flicking out any seeds that you see with the tip of your knife) and a very large bunch of parsley, process this into a lemony-green gunge, then add a pinch of sugar, a tablespoon of mushroom soy sauce, and at least three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and process again. Pour over your cooked gnocchi. If you have the energy and means, a few finely chopped garlic cloves and a piece of bread roughly chopped into large crumbs fried in olive oil is an excellent topping for all this.

Also feel free to refer to my original version of this recipe, which is served with a fantastically good mixture of fried Brussels sprouts, rosemary and pine nuts and which – as you can see by the similar-but-different quantities in the recipe – will hopefully reassure you that this gnocchi method is very forgiving and hard to get wrong. So many times I’ve made this I accidentally add the flour in with the mashed potato and boiling water and it still turns out quite edible.

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music lately:

Take Me To The Other Side by Spacemen 3. Psychedelic and messy and delicious.

Here Comes The Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze. The way this used to fill the dancefloor with reliability at the school disco, a time that feels as distant and improbable as when I last occupied a dancefloor as an adult, to be honest.

Biology by Girls Aloud – this song is always on my mind anyway but after band member Sarah Harding died at age 39 on September 5 it’s been on my mind, well, even harder. Say what you will about Girls Aloud but when they were good they were incredible – their only peers of that jewel-tone cocktail dress era in terms of boundary-pushing yet utterly manufactured pop were the Sugababes (with producer Xenomania in the middle of that Venn diagram). Biology asks, what if a song was all choruses, featured adequate dancing, and was the best thing you’ve ever heard? (And my heart is about as heavy as it can get with the loss of actor Michael K Williams today; no more bad news like this, I beg.)

Losing My Mind, from Sondheim’s musical Follies, performed here by the late Marin Mazzie – oh, since we’re already crying – “you said you loved me – or were you just being kind?”

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Chilli Corn Macaroni [vegan]

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I’m not sure there’s a pasta shape in the world where the mere mention of its name immediately evokes and suggests its partner ingredient the way macaroni does with cheese. Yes, there’s spaghetti and its frequent dance partner bolognese. But spaghetti has broad-spectrum versatility, it’s culinarily non-monogamous, whereas – other than perhaps those spooky mid-century salads – what else would you do with macaroni but serve it as mac and cheese?

I say this to point out that while my recipe for Chilli Corn Macaroni isn’t supposed to be a vegan mac and cheese dupe, it still relies on the muscle memory of your taste buds to recognise the similar vibe – bright yellow, crunchy topping, creamy sauce, comfort food. In my earlier days of being vegan, I was more dedicated to coming up with sauces that could emulate and replace the macaroni cheese I’d grown up with, but the longer I stick with it the more I find myself making recipes that owe something to the blueprint but aren’t trying so hard, which – I think – makes them all the more interesting and delicious. I’m talking specifically about my Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese or the Triple Pickle Macaroni that I made for my birthday last year; and now I’m adding this Chilli Corn Macaroni to the canon.

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And yes, you could make this sauce for linguine or bucatini or something more elegant but it fits best with the homely and unassuming macaroni elbow (or other small shape if that’s all you have) and till the day comes where a decent and affordable vegan cheese appears on New Zealand supermarket shelves – not crayon-waxy, not stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth gluey, but proper and sharp and able to melt into bubbling pools of golden promise – till that day comes, I’ll stick with these recipes.

That being said – would this taste amazing with non-vegan cheese melted on top? Probably! I’m not going to haunt your descendants from beyond the grave if you decide to do it.

Fortunately for the rest of us, this macaroni tastes excellent as is. The corn is pureed into sunshine-coloured velvet and becomes wonderfully buttery and sweet – if yellow had a flavour, this would surely be it. This sauce owes something to the Corn Butter Risotto recipe that I made a few years ago, but it’s significantly simpler to make – though nothing’s stopping you from straining this sauce through a sieve as well I imagine no one has the energy for that right now. While this is comfort food, it’s not entirely coddling you – the hit of chilli ties it all together, which is hardly a surprise when chilli and corn pair so well in numerous other established recipes. The garlic crumbs on top are my usual way of providing added texture and flavour in these circumstances, and rather than thinking of them as a cheese substitute, they are delicious, and indeed, necessary in their own right. In case this sounds like too much effort, rest assured that you don’t have to wash the blender or the pan between making the crumbs and the sauce – beyond that I can’t help you, but I certainly won’t judge you.

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Chilli Corn Macaroni

As long as you have some kind of blender this couldn’t be easier – or more comforting – just creamy, buttery pasta evocative of mac’n’cheese without actually trying to be it, blanketed in crunchy garlic crumbs. Recipe by myself.

  • 200g macaroni elbows
  • 2 pieces of bread (any kind is fine, although I’d lean towards white bread)
  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 x 400g can of whole corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used mushroom soy sauce)
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or chilli sauce of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • a splash of pickle brine (optional, but very good)
  • salt and white pepper, to taste

1: First, bring a pan of water to the boil, generously salt it, then tip in the macaroni elbows and cook them for about twelve minutes or until tender.

2: While this is going on, toast the two slices of bread in the toaster – just to dry them out a little – then tear them into chunks and place in a blender or food processor with the garlic cloves and thyme leaves, and pulse till they form breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry these garlicky breadcrumbs till golden and a little crunchy – bearing in mind that they’ll crunch up more upon sitting – then remove them to a bowl and set aside. This makes a decent quantity of breadcrumbs, perhaps more than you really need, but naturally, I’ve allowed extra for you to swipe while making everything else.

3: In the same blender – no need to wash – puree the drained corn kernels along with the mustard, soy sauce, nutmeg, and sriracha along with about 1/2 a cup of water (I just eyeball the quantity from the tap into the empty tin of corn, swirl it around, and pour it in). A high-speed blender works best here to really puree the corn into velvety mush, a regular food processor may struggle to achieve the right texture, or at least, you’ll be blending it for a lot longer. Also, it goes without saying (but I’m saying it just in case) that you can add more or less chilli to suit your taste.

4: Heat the same pan that you cooked the breadcrumbs in – again, no need to clean it – and spatula the corn mixture into the hot pan, along with the cornmeal and pickle brine if you’re using them. The cornmeal helps to thicken it but it’s quite fine without; if you don’t have any just add a small splash of starchy pasta cooking water, the pickle brine is pretty self-explanatory flavour-wise but you could always use a little red wine vinegar instead. Stir over a high heat, letting this bright yellow mixture bubble away and thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then – since the pasta should be cooked by this point – take off the heat and stir in the drained macaroni. Divide between two bowls and top each bowl with a generous quantity of garlic breadcrumbs.

Serves 2. You could get away with putting 300g of macaroni in this, but add a little extra pasta cooking water to the sauce as you stir it. Any more pasta than that and I’d add an extra can of corn (and instead of doubling the seasoning, you could consider instead throwing a vegan chicken stock cube into the blender with the second can of corn.)

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music lately:

Can You Get To That by Funkadelic. If the colour yellow had a sound it would be this song!

Evel Knievel by Lilys, it’s a big crunchy distorted beeping stop-start mess of a song but it’s just the kind of thing I want to listen to. For something more straightforwardly pleasant I recommend the delightfully effervescent Ginger – the opening song to Evel Knievel‘s closer on their 1994 album A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns.

Candy Store from the off-Broadway musical Heathers (based on the film, Heathers) performed by Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alice Lee and Elle McLemore; I listened to this cast recording and thought it was fine but then I couldn’t get this song out of my head so here we are – between that glam-rock stomp of a drum beat and the stunning harmonies it’s just very, very catchy! There’s also this one small part of the song Big Fun from the same musical which is forcibly lodged in my head and I can’t get it out, but to prevent you being similarly afflicted I won’t tell you which part.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad

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The one area in my life where I have a confident surplus of initiative is cooking – when nothing makes sense and the increasingly burdensome administrative tasks involved in being an adult are gleefully multiplying like the broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I can still invent a recipe or be delighted by a hypothetical combination of flavours. July has been a taxing month and these reliable instincts fell somewhat dormant, but I was jolted back to life by seeing this Lentil Salad TikTok by food writer Bettina Makalintal – suddenly I felt excited again because making this recipe was in my near future. And besides, I gain as much joy from outside inspiration as I do from coming up with my own ideas (okay, maybe it’s more of a self-satisfied forty/sixty split), and it takes initiative to recognise someone else’s initiative, right? (As you can see, I may lack initiative, but at least I’m constantly worrying about it!)

Lentils and tofu are usually first under the bus when non-vegans discuss vegan food but as I always say, this is an issue with cooking ability, not the meal itself. Unseasoned, poorly cooked food is gross whether the protein source grew in the ground or walked the earth. You have to give the lentils some flavour and texture to cling onto otherwise they’re left stranded and bland. This superb salad – it does right by the lentil.

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My recipe takes key elements of Bettina’s salad – the lentils, obviously, the peppery pink crunch of the radishes and plenty of lemon – along with my own added extras. There’s resiny thyme leaves, a diced avocado since I had one kicking about and it’s impossible to be sad when there’s an avocado involved, a generous quantity of mushroom soy sauce because it’s my current obsession, toasted pine nuts with garlic because to me pine nuts are just so classy – which I realise makes me sound more Kath Day-Knight than Old Money but I know where I’d rather be – and golden cubes of crisply-fried potato. The latter concept was inspired both by Nigella Lawson’s fried potato croutons in her Caesar Salad and a recipe by Rachel Ama for lentils with crispy new potatoes. It truly takes a village to make a salad!

This lentil salad is so delicious – leaving no adjective behind, it’s a perfect balance of oily, salty, sweet, earthy, peppery, crunchy, creamy, and tender. And it’s pretty, too, something the lentil doesn’t always get to boast – not since Elphaba and Galinda has pink looked so good with green. As is the nature of this kind of recipe you can add or subtract ingredients to your heart’s content, and despite being wedded to the classy pine nut, next time I’d definitely make this with the fried walnuts in Bettina’s recipe for a more pronounced crunch. There’s also lime juice or cherry tomatoes and basil to consider, or fried leeks, or olives, or rosemary, or pecans – the amicable lentil can handle it all. I’m slowly working on a newsletter where I plan to review various fake meats (the slow part is because CMS makes my head cave in on itself) but I enjoyed being reminded of the stalwart legume and its merits. It’s rather shamefully been years since I blogged a lentil recipe, and this salad will keep them on my mind from now on.

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Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad

A simple but lush vegan lentil salad, ideal for lunch or dinner in its entirety but also very bring-a-plate friendly. It looks like there’s a lot of steps, but you’re really just mixing a bunch of stuff together, and ingredients are pretty loose, quantity-wise – feel free to add or subtract depending on your taste and needs. Recipe by myself, inspired by this salad by Bettina Makalintal.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups dried brown lentils
  • 8 small radishes, trimmed
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce (or Maggi, or light soy sauce)
  • a generous pinch of white pepper, or to taste
  • 1 large floury potato
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 ripe but firm avocado
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1: Rinse the lentils in cold water, then place in a bowl and cover with cold water and leave them to sit for an hour. You don’t actually need to soak them but it reduces the cooking time and I think there are some health benefits to it in terms of mineral absorption but don’t take my word for it.

2: Drain any water from the soaked lentils and tip them into a large saucepan with enough fresh water to generously cover (about the length of your index finger when prodded into the pan.) Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat and simmer the beans until they’re tender – this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Keeping the heat low prevents the lentils from breaking apart and turning mushy, I was only semi-successful in achieving this but it still tasted fine. Strain the lentils, rinsing briefly in cold water to take some of the heat off, and set aside in a mixing bowl.

3: Cut the radishes into quarters and finely slice the spring onion. Make the dressing by zesting and juicing the lemon and mixing this in a small bowl with the mushroom soy sauce, olive oil and black pepper.

4: Scrub the potato clean if need be and dice it into small cubes. Heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the potato cubes until golden and crisp – make sure they’re in one layer and give them about five minutes on the first side without moving them before turning over and cooking for another five minutes.

5: Turn off the heat, remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the lentils. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves and add them to the pan with the pine nuts, and stir them in the residual heat until the nuts are lightly golden and toasted. Even though this isn’t happening on direct heat be sure to keep a close eye on it as both pine nuts and garlic burn easily.

6: Finally, tip the radishes and spring onions into the bowl of lentils and potatoes, then scrape in all the pine nuts, garlic, and remaining olive oil from the pan. Dice your avocado and add that to the bowl along with the dressing and the thyme leaves. Gently stir everything together and taste to see if needs more salt, pepper, or lemon.

Best served either immediately or after 24 hours in the fridge, by which point the potatoes will have lost their crispness but the overall flavour will have developed fantastically. If you’re making this ahead of time, either accept your uncrisp potatoes or fry them up at the last minute and stir them in. Finally – this is best at room temperature as opposed to fridge-cold.

Serves 4 generously as a light lunch, or 6-8 as a side dish as part of a larger meal.

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music lately:

Son of Birds by Dip In The Pool. The whole Aurorae album from 1991 is a sublime dreamscape from start to finish and that’s how I’d recommend listening to it, but this track, with its watery beat and film noir horns, is a charming entry point.

Don’t Leave Me by Blackstreet. A classic! The silky harmonies! Was there ever anything as poignant as that DeBarge sample! This song makes me feel like I’m wearing a cable knit sweater and slacks and a floor-length coat and pumps with a square toe and a square heel and I’m on the brink of divorce but in an aspirational, cinematic way!

The One by Limp Bizkit. Oh, I could pretend that watching the Woodstock 99 documentary with my brother is what made me nostalgic but the briefest scan of my timeline shows I’ve been enthusiastically listening to Limp Bizkit of my own volition for a long time. And even though this song is genuinely quite glorious with a similar downwards-diagonal intensity that you’d find in Shout by Tears for Fears or In Like The Rose by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and I honestly love it so much and will play it five times in a row, we all know I’m going to play Limp Bizkit’s critically-reviled cover of Faith five times in a row after that – say what you like but I came of age with this band and none of us can deny the way Fred Durst’s voice soars in the bridge.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Vegan Miso Butter Noodles (two ways)

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Somewhere in the last ten years, two things happened: food blogs became more homogenised – facsimiles of facsimiles which trade strenuous perkiness for any discernible personality. And people on Twitter started complaining about food blogs, usually with the cadence of a joke but an absence of actual humour. “Get to the recipe, Karen”, they say, “I just want to know how to make pancakes, I don’t need to hear your life story. Don’t make me scroll through five paragraphs on your year abroad in the Tuscan hills and how it gave you a new appreciation for the mysteries of olive oil.” Everyone words it as though they’re the first person to be affronted by scrolling through a blog to find the recipe. Even Mindy Kaling tweeted this tired joke, and I know she knows how to be funny! (She since deleted it.)

Spend enough time ploughing in the Discourse Salt Mines and you’ll find insufferable takes on both sides (although anecdotal irritation doesn’t preclude one side from usually being considerably in the right.) For every re-tread of this same snide joke, there are a dozen earnest responses about valuing women’s labour (a valid point) and how bloggers get paid greater ad revenue if their posts are longer, or that Google SEO prioritises particular keywords and structures, or other words that mean nothing to me because my blog doesn’t earn me a cent and it’s too late to reverse-engineer any attention from Google’s finicky SEO.

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Yes, that’s certainly an explanation as to why these rictus-grin food blogs chant the same interchangeable phrases over and over, and my issue with them is that the writing is bad, not that I have to wade through it to get to the recipe – but my question is, why aren’t all the complainers simply reading better food blogs? And why are they so brutishly averse to even a shred of context and back story – who could possibly hate context? Imagine two marshmallows: one is sitting on a plastic plate on the floor in a room dimly lit by a flickering bulb, the second marshmallow is on a china plate on a tablecloth lit by candles with kittens roaming about and a sign saying “this marshmallow is delicious and hand-made using local ingredients” – which marshmallow do you think most people would choose? That’s context, baby! (I realise I accidentally made the first marshmallow sound cool as hell, but hopefully, you get what I was going for.) And even the most unreadable food blog is still providing you with a service, for free, that you could get elsewhere but you didn’t, because they made it easier for you – and I recognise how in their own bizarre bloodless way, these food blogs are as much social history as anything I’ll ever write or any food writer I love will ever come up with. They’re documenting a specific time when the tyranny of SEO flattened –

Okay, I also recognise the irony of kicking off such a blog post with absolutely no sign of the recipe in sight.

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This dichotomy of food blogs and those who consume them is always on my mind and the simplicity of today’s recipe for Miso Butter Noodles was what tied it all together for me and started this rant. Literally, just the simplicity: I was like, I have to reassure the readers that this is simple and they shouldn’t expect too much of it, but also that its minimal ingredients aren’t a mark of success in and of themselves and this is simple because it needs to be – and then I started spiralling – and, well, here we are. I feel like I’ve got more to say about food blogs and the space they take up, and perhaps one day I’ll revisit these opening paragraphs and expand upon them, but for now, I’ll start actually talking about the recipe since you’ve already scrolled this far, and I hear that scrolling is an exhausting task.

In 2013 my cookbook was published by Penguin, when writing the manuscript the recipe for Miso Butter Noodles was perhaps the easiest to commit to paper; it’s definitely the recipe I’ve made most since. In taking this favourite and recreating it to be vegan-friendly I knew I couldn’t just sub in vegan butter – aka margarine – or at least, not until I meet a brand my tastebuds can trust – and while you absolutely could use a homemade vegan butter, I didn’t want to presume such forward-thinking of you. If you’re coming to this recipe, you can make it on the spot using store-cupboard ingredients.

The salty, grainy savoury vibe of miso and the rich oiliness of butter make perfect sense together, and I knew there had to be a way to translate that to a vegan recipe without compromise. The result kind of is a compromise, in that I offer two versions: one simply using almond butter, which coats the noodles pleasingly and matches the depth and body of the miso. The second method – my preferred one – fools a few ingredients into acting like butter – coconut oil for fat, soy milk for protein, and vinegar to coagulate. Heating this together with miso paste makes for a more delicate and subtle yet surprisingly, genuinely buttery sauce, and each fat noodle strand is all the more delicious for it.

This is a very simple recipe and it tastes simple – it’s meant to! Feel free to augment any ingredients to make the balance work for you, and definitely add chilli if you want – I love it with Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil, but sriracha or chilli flakes would be friendly too – or garlic sauce, or soy sauce, or kimchi, or fried tofu, or wilted greens. It started life in the cookbook as the sort of meal you could rustle up for yourself while tired, tipsy, or both, and in the years hence it’s slid into pure comfort food territory – it soothes because it’s easy to make, it soothes because it’s salty and oily. I’m glad to have it back.

(PS: speaking of comfort food and things we’re glad to have back, I finally concluded season 1 of my Frasier food blog; to prepare I rewatched the episode under the most perfect of settings: it was raining, it was Sunday and I didn’t have anywhere to be the next day, and I was eating a bowl of these noodles.)

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Vegan Miso Butter Noodles

A revamp of a favourite comfort food recipe from my 2013 cookbook. I offer two variations depending on your ingredients and effort level – but neither version asks too much of you. As you can see this is an incredibly simple recipe: add anything you like to make it more your own. I can definitely recommend a large spoonful of Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil, but then I would recommend that for literally anything you’re eating. Recipes by myself.

Version 1: Almond Butter

This is the simplest of the two simple recipes – a little stirring and you’re done. Make the sauce in the bowl you intend to eat the noodles from for even faster results.

  • 1 x 200g package udon noodles
  • 2 heaped tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 heaped tablespoon white miso paste
  • chives to serve

1: Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit for five or so minutes until they’ve softened. If you have a preferred way of cooking your noodles then do that instead, this is the slovenly habit I’ve fallen into (in my mind, if the bowl has just had hot water and noodles in it, it only needs a rinse before going back in the drawer…perhaps I’ve said too much but it is what it is.)

2: Whisk the almond butter and miso paste together, using a spoonful or two of the noodle water to loosen it into a smooth paste. Drain the noodles and fold in the miso-almond butter sauce. Taste to see if it needs more miso paste and then snip over your chives with kitchen scissors or finely chop them and sprinkle them over. Serves 1.

Version 2: Quick Emulsion

I need to come up with a more appealing name than “quick emulsion” but that’s what this is – you’re basically tricking these ingredients into acting like butter. Anyway, it’s very fast and gives a more subtle, delicate sauce – of the two, this is my favourite version, but they’re both delicious.

  • 1 x 200g package udon noodles
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar of your choice (I used Chinkiang black vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon miso paste
  • chives, to serve

1: Prepare the udon noodles as above, or to your preference. Meanwhile, place the soy milk, vinegar, coconut oil and miso paste in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until it’s bubbling slightly and all the ingredients have combined to form a cohesive sauce. Drain the noodles and stir them into the sauce, then top with the finely chopped chives. Serves 1.

Note: if you have homemade vegan butter (eg this recipe or this recipe) then you can melt as much of that as you like together with a heaped tablespoon of miso paste and stir that through your noodles for an excellent time. If you have a store-bought vegan butter that you genuinely love and trust, then use that instead, too, and if you live in NZ please tell me the brand name because I want to know what love is!

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music lately:

Looking For Someone by 8 Eyed Spy. The film-noir horns and Lydia Lunch’s voice both have this incredible mix of bombastic yet careless, I love it so much.

The Key The Secret by Urban Cookie Collective, this song is simply pinging with unreal levels of euphoria – when Diane Charlemagne goes from “I’ve got the key, I’ve got the secret” to “I’ve got the key, I’ve got the secret” – that’s the sound of living!

Freedom! ’90 by George Michael. Those piano chords…that bridge…those supermodels…my life would be NOTHING without this song, that’s all there is to it!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.