Vegan No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

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This frozen dessert occupies a space somewhere between sorbet and ice cream – it’s opaquely, mildly creamy, and yet icily brisk and refreshing – and so, with the kind of abject, disrespectful non-authenticity which I seem particularly intent on applying to Italian cuisine only, I’ve called it gelato. It’s inspired by this wonderful lemon curd recipe which I devised last year, with three key components: the pineapple juice for buttery zing and general lengthening, a cornflour-based custard for smooth texture, and a little raw cacao butter for body, richness, and to bevel out the water content.

Unlike with the lemon curd, you really can taste the pineapple when it’s used here, but I decided – once I realised this – that it was intentional. Pineapple and lemon frozen together taste like cold distilled sunshine, with the sugar content somehow making the lemon even more sour, and vice versa. A truly delightful combination.

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As with all my recipes of this nature, this Pineapple-Lemon Gelato doesn’t require an ice cream maker – and I will never cease my objections against Big Ice Cream Maker – you don’t even have to stir or blend it as it freezes, that’s how well-behaved the recipe is. However, the key to success here is to cool the mixture very slowly – first on the bench, and then in the fridge. This allows the cacao butter content to gradually solidify without separating out, plus you can say the gelato has been “aged” to improve the flavour, as though it’s a twenty dollar bottle of wine or a rare cheese. Neither of these outcomes is based on any scientific knowledge – just wild guesswork and following my heart – but the method worked for me.

If being self-satisfied about making a recipe based on another recipe I made up isn’t enough, I also have an alternative ice cream recipe for you that’s even easier than this gelato – the fluffy, soft, rich no-churn Berry Ice Cream that I made for Tenderly, published this week. If making custard and sourcing cacao butter feels like too much effort, all this ice cream uses is a bit of fruit, some sugar, and the aquafaba from a can of chickpeas. And it tastes like a dream.

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Look at it!

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But also look at this! Better make them both, just to be safe.

No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

Sour-sweet and delicious, and no special equipment required beyond a wooden spoon. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (around four good-sized lemons’ worth)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 7 teaspoons cornflour (aka cornstarch)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped raw cacao butter*
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • finely grated zest from the lemons (optional but very good)

1: Bring the pineapple juice, lemon juice and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, and then lower to a simmer and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan where it is.

2: Mix the cornflour with a little of the soymilk in a small bowl – just enough to make it into a wet slurry, which will ensure it blends smoothly without lumps. Add the cornflour mixture and remaining soy milk to the pineapple mixture and cook it over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to about the texture of a good smoothie – you’ll be able to feel the difference in it as you stir, as it becomes less watery and more saucy.

3: Remove from the heat and stir in the cacao butter, vanilla extract, and salt, continuing to stir until the cacao butter has melted and is completely incorporated. At this point, stir in the lemon zest if using.

4: Transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container, cover, and allow to come to room temperature on the bench. Then, refrigerate it for four to six hours. This step is important – it helps the mixture to settle, so that the fat doesn’t separate, and I am convinced it improves the flavour. Give it a stir – only if it looks like it needs it – and then freeze for six hours or overnight. It should be ready to serve right away, otherwise sit it on the bench for ten minutes first.

Makes around 800ml.

*If you can’t find cacao butter this will probably work with coconut oil – I haven’t tested it but I’m quite sure it would be fine. Keep it at a heaped tablespoon, but you won’t need to chop it up because coconut oil melts very quickly.

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music lately:

Classic Girl by Jane’s Addiction. I love the way it starts drowsy and woozy and suddenly springs to life with those jaunty, Space Oddity-style drum fills. I love whatever top-of-nose metallic register Perry Farrell’s voice is in. An excellent closer to an eternally excellent album.

Legends Never Die by Orville Peck and Shania Twain – in a year of so little positivity, this song is just very uncomplicatedly lovely. Peck’s cavernous Orbison-y voice blends gloriously with Twain’s more raspy vocals on the road-weary lyrics, and they’re both clearly having a wonderful time.

You’ve Got A Friend, sung by Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters and Mama Cass on a 1971 episode of The Carol Burnett Show. My friend Sam sent this to me correctly assuming it would bring me joy – and oh what joy it brings. The daffy choreography, the flowing gowns, the teeny microphones, the hyperactive vocal arrangement (“you’ve got a friend, you’ve got a good friend, you’ve got a very good friend”) the soaring sumptuousness of Mama Cass’s voice, baby Bernadette Peters’ voice like a china plate falling to the floor but never quite hitting it, the fact that the song lasts six minutes and fifty five whole seconds. There’s something so comforting about that immense, competent professionalism that you get in stars of yesteryear like Carol Burnett (see also the endlessly capable Julie Andrews) which becomes even more comforting when she’s assuring you repeatedly through the medium of song that you’re not alone.

Next time: more pasta?

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

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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When making or devising vegan recipes, a lot of the time the point is suggesting a prior, existing food – eg, this tastes just like white chocolate! This tastes like pulled pork! I can’t believe it’s not butter! and so on. In choosing to close myself off to several avenues of consuming food, this comes as no surprise. When considering what today’s recipe was supposed to represent, however, I couldn’t come up with anything. It’s supposed to be itself, that’s all. In fact I wasn’t even making it to be blogged about – as you can probably tell from the slightly hasty vibe of the photos – but it tasted so good, that I couldn’t selfishly keep it to myself. Fortunately for me there’s a current vogue for food photography which looks as though it took place under a yellow lightbulb, but it probably helps to let you know of this trend in case the imagery strikes you as hideous and unwarranted. It’s warranted! Much as prior generations gasp at the antics of the subsequent youth, I can imagine my 2007 self being moderately aghast that the ugly photos I took then out of necessity, due to living in a house as dark and wet as the underside of a lake, might later be recreated on purpose. That being said, the photos I took back then were properly ugly regardless of context, and no, you should not go back into the archives and investigate. I love to brag about how I’ve been blogging for a very long time, less fun is having reminders of what that content actually was.

Anyway, the recipe!

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This is a double bill of which you can take or leave either part, but the components work beautifully together. Firstly, yuba – more specifically, the skin that forms on top of the soy milk while making tofu, then sold as a versatile product in its own right – which is marinated in a number of condiments and pastes and fried till stickily dense and chewy in a delicious and elegant salty-sweet tangle of crisp shiitake mushrooms and caramelised onions.

Secondly, the lotion-thick polenta, slowly simmered in coconut cream and stock with corn kernels added for no real reason other than I like corn and that’s my prerogative. If you’ve never had soft polenta before its floppy, porridge-like texture might seem a little disconcerting – is it hard soup? Is it cake batter? Big sauce? But its creamy, rich yielding-ness is wonderfully comforting and a great way of both propping up and absorbing the sauce of other foods in the same way you might use mashed potato. If, on the other hand, you are extremely familiar with polenta then you’ll probably hate my explanation not to mention my untraditional method of mixing the polenta and liquid together before heating it, instead of dropping the polenta into hot liquid and I’m sorry but I refuse to change! Or apologise!

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This recipe would be, I think, an ideal meal if you want to impress someone. I just made it for my brother and me for dinner, but I was pretty impressed with myself, for what it’s worth.

We’re back in lockdown in New Zealand, or at least, we are in my part of the country. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by returning to prior restrictions, I’m glad we have relatively clear leadership deciding this for us. Like, I extremely resist any sense of being part of a “team of five million”, which to me sounds like the realm of people who enjoy ice-breaker games and beep tests, but there’s nothing stopping us not being dicks about it at least. We’ve done this before and it’s not a surprise. We got to enjoy one hundred days free of COVID-19, on borrowed – and unprecedented – time, and now we’re putting in the work again. I’m very lucky that the activities which bring me joy are mostly housebound – knitting, cooking, writing, watching movies, reading – and maybe next time you hear from me I’ll be frazzled and denouncing this calmness, but till then: one hour at a time, one day at a time.

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Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

Low-key and elegant. Recipe by myself. Serves 2.

  • 1 package yuba (also sold as tofu skin or bean curd skin)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for frying
  • 1 tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
  • A dash of your preferred hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Polenta

  • 3/4 cup polenta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 and half cups water
  • 1 vege stock cube (or your preferred flavour)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 can corn kernels, drained (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1: First, the prep – place all of the yuba into a medium bowl and the shiitake mushrooms into a smaller bowl. Cover the yuba in cold water and leave for about four hours or until very soft. If the day is warm, cover and put it in the fridge, otherwise just leaving it on the bench is fine. At the same time, since they need to be soaked too, you might as well cover the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water.

2: Drain the soaked yuba, gently squeezing it to remove most of the water. Roll it up on a board and roughly chop into thin strips and shreds. Return it to the same bowl and add the olive oil, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, sugar, hot sauce and tomato paste. Drain the mushrooms, reserving a tablespoon of the soaking liquid, and add this liquid to the yuba. Leave the yuba to marinate for about an hour, and set the drained mushrooms aside.

3: Peel and finely slice the two onions, and fry them in a medium-sized saucepan in a little extra olive oil till quite browned. Turn off the heat, but leave the saucepan where it is.

4: Now for the polenta – mix all the ingredients except the corn kernels together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring often with a wooden spoon, then add the corn kernels, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about twenty minutes – stirring quite often – until the polenta has lost any grittiness. You may need to add a little extra water along the way. I like to stir in more olive oil at the end but it’s optional, I am just extremely pro-oil. The level of seasoning is also up to you, but please, do season it.

5: While the polenta is simmering, turn the heat up under the onions again, push the onions to one side of the pan, add a little extra oil, and fry the shiitake mushrooms, allowing them to get browned on both sides. Next, push everything to the side and add the yuba along with its marinade, and the chopped garlic cloves, and stir over a high heat for a couple of minutes. The yuba should be sticky and chewy, and a little shrivelled in places, for want of a better word.

Spoon the polenta onto two plates, and divide the yuba mixture between them on top. Sprinkle over the parsley.

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music lately:

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain by Harry Dean Stanton. A classic, from a classic.

Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu by Dolores Duran – a song often recorded under a name you might be more familiar with: Volare. Duran’s voice was stunning – smoky and rich with a comforting heft which belied her young years.

Next time: Ice cream!

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

Vegan Piña Colada Loaf Cake

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“Is that coconut I taste in this food you’ve cooked?” Yes, probably, I’m vegan. With this loaf cake I decided to take the obvious and go large with it – you’re definitely supposed to taste the coconut. In fact, it started off in my head as just a coconut loaf – admittedly, I was thinking about how cute the toasted coconut chips would look against the white icing more than anything else, but in my defence these days you have to be aesthetic-forwards or no one will grant you their precious attention span on the timeline, let alone care how passionately you write. And a coconut loaf cake on its own would’ve been great, but there was pineapple juice in the fridge leftover from another recipe, and I have a lot of rum in my wardrobe (as in, that’s where I have space to store it, Wardrobe-Rum isn’t a weird bartender quirk, it doesn’t enhance the flavour or anything.)

And who is better friends with coconut than pineapple and rum? I mean, to answer that question honestly as a vegan, I’d say there’s not much that I can’t make play nicely with coconut, but in a traditional sense, rum-coconut-pineapple is a classic, an iconic marriage of sweet and rich and zingy. My piña colada loaf cake recipe celebrates this magnificent trifecta – with an added friendly dash of lime – in an easy, one-bowl affair, which is chill enough to eat in the morning, yet elegant enough to eat at night.

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That SPF 50 flavour comes from using three different kinds of coconut – the sandy desiccated stuff in the cake batter, coconut cream in the batter and icing, and a generous handful of coconut chips on top. The rum is optional – but it makes things taste like rum, which is undeniably positive – and the pineapple, one of the most hardworking flavours there is, gives us juicy sourness, golden sweetness and a certain beachy hopefulness. The thing is, a piña colada wouldn’t really be my first, second or third choice of drink (and I’m so glad I retired my practice of naming blog posts for corresponding song lyrics so I don’t have to acknowledge that song) but in loaf cake form, it’s sublime. Is that coconut you taste? Hell yes.

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Piña Colada Loaf Cake

One-bowl, pineapple-coconut-rum magic. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup rice bran oil, canola oil, or similar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Icing

  • 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Jamaican rum (or rum of your choice, or an extra tablespoon pineapple juice)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut cream
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup coconut chips/flakes

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda and desiccated coconut together in a mixing bowl.

2: Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and tip in the pineapple juice, coconut cream, oil, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Fold it together till it forms a thick batter. Spatula this mixture into the loaf tin and spread it evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If it looks like it’s getting too brown on top, cover it with a sheet of tinfoil.

3: To make the icing, mix together the rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and icing sugar. Toast the coconut chips (I did half and left half raw) over a low heat in a frying pan till they’re just browned, and quickly remove from the heat.

6: Let the cake cool somewhat before icing – it can still be a little warm, but if it’s too hot the icing will slide right off. Spread the icing thickly over the top and then sprinkle with the coconut chips.

Store in an airtight container.

Notes: If your coconut cream is the kind that separates itself out in the can, make sure it’s the thick, creamy stuff that you’re using, and not the more watery part. For added flavour, you can jab the cooked loaf cake with a skewer in several places while it’s still hot and pour over a tablespoon or so of either rum or pineapple juice.

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music lately:

Song For The Sun by Swans. Yes, I like their more difficult stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to reward yourself with a straightforwardly wonderful song like this, and even if the melody is fantastically uplifting, the poetically miserable lyrics are there to grab you by the ankle and make you fall to the floor.

Dashti by Hayedeh. That contralto!

Ever New by Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Simply one of the most gloriously beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, I urge you to listen to it! For your health! Prioritise your health and listen to this song!

Next time: something savoury.

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

Vegan White Chocolate

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It’s with no qualms that I admit I’m far more likely to name a problem and then complain about it ceaselessly rather than do anything about it. But every now and then my rare sense of initiative materialises and I become briefly solutions focussed. In the case of this recipe, I’d already spent a long time complaining about the price and flavour of vegan white chocolate in New Zealand, but then – I tried making my own – and it tasted AMAZING. Capital letters and italics level amazing and, I believe, extremely white chocolate-y.

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Before we go any further, here are the drawbacks: first you have to get your hands on some cacao butter and cashews. As I’ve said before, it pains me to my soul to recommend key ingredients which are potentially expensive or difficult to find, and who knows, perhaps one day I’ll devise a white chocolate recipe comprised solely of flour, water, and air. Till that blessed day comes, there’s no getting around the fact that cashews give this body and heft without any obtrusive nuttiness and the cacao butter gives it authentic texture and richness. The second drawback is this is really just an eating white chocolate – you could chop it up and use it in, say, brownies, but it’s not a melting-and-dipping type creation, or at least, I haven’t tested that aspect of it enough to encourage it with any confidence. Once you’ve got that out of the way it’s fairly straightforward. There’s a lot of blending involved – the near-unavoidable hallmark of vegan cooking – but not much else.

So this is just an eating chocolate, but what an eating experience! It really captures that flickering vanilla creaminess of regular white chocolate, the way it slides across your tongue and dissolves in your throat and the way it tastes better than any other chocolate. I do regret that I can’t approach naturally vegan artisanal dark chocolate with any of the enthusiasm I still hold for cheap non-vegan white chocolate but alas, this is how I am. At least now I can go into the world with my head held a little higher, rallied by the deliciousness of this fake white chocolate.

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It’s been a real week for showing initiative (which presumably means my faculties are spent and the coming weeks will be completely devoid of any resourcefulness.) Specifically, for the first time since I tried fifteen years ago, failed, tried again, got it, freaked out at the responsibility and let it lapse and expire – I have my learners license! It’ll sound like exaggerating to describe how hard I resisted anything to do with driving, instead choosing to be fruitlessly angry at this country’s abysmal public transport and over-reliance on cars, and also at the way learning to drive and ADHD are not immediately compatible. But after fifteen years of that, a different approach was required. I forced myself to focus, and memorise every practice question in the road code, until it was all I could think about, and certainly all I could talk about, and just when my brain was about to explode, I sat the test. And got it. 100%. What a singular rush. Getting my learners means I’m legally allowed to get driving lessons, which will involve a whole lot more wrenching of focus and determination, but I think I’m finally ready, second time around, to take less than fifteen years to achieve this.

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Vegan White Chocolate

Creamy, delicious, and amazingly similar to the memory of white chocolate. The recipe may look wordy but it’s just a case of blending everything thoroughly. Recipe by myself.

  • 70g/half a cup cashews (raw/not toasted)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar + half a cup extra just in case
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny, tiny pinch) cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • freeze-dried raspberry powder for garnish (optional)

1: Soak the cashews in recently-boiled water for at least two hours, around four hours is optimal.
2: Place the cacao butter and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl and rest this bowl on top of a small pot or pan of simmering water (as in, the bowl rests in the mouth of the pan but the base doesn’t actually touch the water.) Let the heat from the water melt the cacao butter, stirring it occasionally (the bowl itself will heat up, so be careful.) Once the cacao butter is melted, turn off the heat and leave it till required.
3: Drain the cashews and place them in a medium sized mixing bowl. Using a stick/immersion blender, begin to blend the cashews until they are very smooth. It may help to add a little of the icing sugar at this point to give the blender more to grip on to. Add the cocoa and blend again to combine. You can leave out the cocoa if you want, but I feel, psychologically at least, that it adds something.
4: Add the icing sugar and melted cacao butter mixture to the cashews alternately a quarter cup or so at a time with the blender still running.
5: If the mixture looks like it’s not quite coming together, add the extra half cup of icing sugar a little at a time.
6: Once you’ve added in everything, switch to a spatula and fold in the vanilla and salt. I found that this folding motion also helped to incorporate any final visible cacao butter. Spatula this mixture into a 20cm square tin lined with baking paper (or whatever tin you have, it doesn’t matter if it won’t fill it completely) and leave to set in the fridge for about an hour or until firm. Sprinkle with the raspberry powder, if using. In all honestly I only added it because I thought it would make the photos look better, but it did taste lovely.

Slice into squares and store in the fridge.

Note: thank you to this recipe at glutenfreeonashoestring.com – our recipes are not the same but mine is inspired directly by reading theirs. I have not tried making this using a regular food processor – I’m sure it’s possible, the important thing is to make sure the cashews are thoroughly blended smooth before adding the melted cacao butter.

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music lately:

Mary Anne by Boytoy. This song is featured in the monumentally charming new Baby-Sitters Club series on Netflix, which I implore you to watch, and then to read the expression of adoration about it which I wrote for Tenderly. This song is wonderfully sixties in that sunny, Turtles/Monkees fashion, and disarmingly catchy.

I Know The End by Phoebe Bridgers. It starts like (this) and ends like THIS which is the ideal way for songs to progress! I also love Salt in the Wound by Boygenius, a group which Phoebe Bridgers is in, another excellent example of going from small to huge, this time with amazing harmonies, it’s real hardcore swoony stuff. I have my dear friend Charlotte to thank for introducing me to Phoebe Bridgers (or at least, for making it clear that she wasn’t Kasey Chambers, when I inexplicably thought they were the same person) and also for making me watch the Baby-Sitters Club series, which you should also watch!

Next time: I used cacao butter to try making ice cream and honestly? It didn’t really work. But I feel like I’m getting closer.

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

Vegan Kale, Pecan, and Fried Carrot Salad

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Since my friend Charlotte and I devised the Friend Carrot Noodles last year, not a day has gone by where I don’t think about the fried carrot. Not a single day. This is not me exaggerating to be cute! I know we’re at a crossroads of the word “literally” meaning whatever you want it to mean, and food bloggers insisting every recipe to be the most sandblasting-intensity deliciousness they’ve ever encountered, but even so please believe me when I say that I literally do think about fried carrots all the time. It’s not that we invented the concept, since people have been putting carrots over a heat source for centuries, but I’d never previously considered the carrot to be a main event food. It had been a member of the chorus, a background extra, essential in a sofrito and a useful dip pipeline but not something I relished crunching on raw and unadorned with any great enthusiasm (so much exertion! So punitive!) Fried carrots though – as in, carrots that are left to go caramelised and crisp and collapsing – are incredible, a star, something I’d gladly eat a bowl of on their own.

Having been on a very brief visit to Wellington recently (spurred on by what I thought were cheap flights, which ended up being extremely not-cheap due to numerous hidden fares, causing me once again to curse this ground I was born upon and this country’s terrible public transport) I was able to revisit the Friend Carrot Noodles in their proper setting – with my friend Charlotte. Much as Champagne may only be called such if it’s from the Champagne region of France, these noodles are really at their most exemplary when consumed in their place of origin, otherwise they’re just Fried Carrot Noodles.

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A few things fell into place upon my return home to allow this Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad come together: first of all, pecans were unexpectedly cheap at the supermarket so I treated myself to a couple packets, secondly, there was not much in the way of ingredients at home other than greens from the garden and a large bag of carrots. Envisioning a wintery salad – more rich and robust than cold and wet – I thought the pecans and the oily sweetness of the carrots would fare well against the substantial, almost leathery kale leaves.

It worked – this salad is so good. The pecans have a real complexity to them, buttery and earthy and dense and just slightly smoky, but if they’re not on special where you are, walnuts or even pine nuts would be a solid back up. The combination of mouthfilling richness and soft crunch is honestly stunning.

You could consider hiffing this salad through some short pasta to make a real meal of it, or add other bits and pieces – peas could work, fresh mint leaves would be wonderful, roasted beetroot is an obvious addition, super bitter leaves like chicory would hold their own. If life is really in your favour, why not add some avocado, or indeed, double the pecans. The worst thing about this salad is also its greatest feature – there’s nothing fun about chopping up that many carrots. But they reward your efforts significantly. In fact, the best thing you could do for this salad would be to add more carrots.

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Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad

A recipe by myself. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 70g/half a cup pecans
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning (or, 1 teaspoon soy sauce or a pinch of salt)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 4 medium-large carrots
  • Rice bran oil, or similar, for frying
  • 2 cups loosely packed kale leaves, or a mixture of robust leafy greens eg cavolo nero, spinach – roughly a handful of greens per person is a good starting point, use more or less as you please.
  1. Roughly break up the pecans into smaller pieces – you can chop them up but I find it easer to break them along their central lines. Toast them gently in a frying pan for a couple of minutes until they are warmed through and fragrant – being careful not to let them burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Finely slice the spring onion. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the olive oil, Maggi seasoning, lemon zest and lemon juice, and add the spring onions and pecans.
  3. Slice the carrots lengthwise into sticks, not worrying if they’re particularly uniform thickness. It will look like there’s an alarmingly large quantity of carrots but they do reduce down in the pan. Heat a little rice brain oil in a large frying pan and in smallish batches, fry the carrots till they’re browned and caramelised on both sides. The best way to do this is to let them sit in one layer, without stirring, for a few minutes, then use tongs to turn them over. A bit of a faff, but much quicker than constantly stirring them. Remove the carrots as they’re browned and drop them into the mixing bowl with the pecans, and continue frying the remaining carrots, adding a little more oil to the pan each time. Don’t be tempted to skip the oil – it really helps the process and the flavour.
  4. Wash the kale leaves and gently pat or shake them dry, then tear the leaves into small pieces and add to the mixing bowl. Use tongs to mix the ingredients all together, and taste to see if the seasoning needs anything. Transfer to a serving bowl.

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music lately:

Cyclical by Cassowary feat Tyler Cole. This is one song of twenty-nine featured on my latest playlist for Tenderly which I recommend you both read and listen to, especially this song – that opening is funkier than a bottle of Smith and Cross Pot Still Navy Strength rum.

Washington On Your Side from the musical Hamilton, performed by Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan and Leslie Odom Jr. I know there’s all sorts of Hamilton discourse going on and it’s a corny show but it’s my cross to bear that I’m obsessed with musical theatre and if someone’s going to release an incredibly well-produced filmed production of a Broadway show, well it’s probably the only opportunity I’ll ever have to see it, so of course I’m going to watch it with joy in my heart! And this is a really great song! Those decisive strings! The famed breath control from Diggs! That insolent little casiotone melody at the start!

Bo Diddley, by Bo Diddley. Probably one of the most exciting and important pieces of music ever written? You can hear this in so many songs, and if you can’t hear it in a song, then honestly what’s the point?

Next time: I used the cacao butter to make vegan white chocolate and it was amazing and you will be hearing about it.

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

Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice


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There are numerous ways in which New Zealand aggrieves me, both on a macro and a micro level, but on a very micro level, something that makes me wildly irate is how expensive vegan white chocolate is here. And should you forgo paying the rent, or feeding your family, to instead spend that money on a bar of vegan white chocolate: it doesn’t even taste that great.

Today’s recipe doesn’t solve this problem. But it is white chocolate inspired and, I would say, evokes it with success. Whether or not you agree on the degree of white chocolate evocation in this recipe, we can all agree that it’s nonetheless amazingly delicious.

The key ingredient is cacao butter – a relatively specialised item, I grant you, and I’m sincerely sorry! Whenever a recipe implies a secret ingredient I’m always like, “please let it be flour, or water, or air,” and it’s always instead something like $400 worth of macadamias. (For what it’s worth, I found raw cacao butter quite reasonably priced at the Pukekohe Bin Inn and I believe it’s becoming available in supermarkets.) Cacao butter is simply the extracted fat from the cocoa beans, and it’s the most beguiling stuff – it has the texture of chocolate but it tastes like nothing. There is perhaps the faintest echo of chocolate flavour but otherwise it’s just an inoffensive waxy vibe, and yet – I freely admit – I found myself continuously compelled to eat it, on its own, to marvel at that dichotomy of mind-blowing texture and utterly absent flavour.

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Anyway, adding cacao butter to a sweetened mixture of cornflour-thickened lemon juice and almond milk, along with the tiniest, barest pinch of cocoa to help things along – it creates a filling for the slice which is velvety-textured and creamy, and flutteringly white chocolatey, while also being pertly zingy from the lemon. As is so often the case with the real thing, this white chocolate mixture graciously takes a back seat to the lemon’s snappy tartness.

The base – dense and slightly fudgy – somehow adds to the white chocolate vibes with the oaty nuttiness and caramelly brown sugar. You can always replace the oats with more flour if you don’t have the means or the will to get out the food processor, but for what it’s worth I think they add to the slice’s excellence, and if you give the food processor a quick shake after blending the oats – it’s basically clean again. I should also point out that the recipe does look extremely wordy, but that’s only because I am a real over-explainer and want to make sure you have all the information; the whole process is really quite straightforward.

I have not yet tried making this without any distracting citrus factor, but would be interested in pursuing it, along with seeing how cacao butter fares in other baking, sauces, ice creams, and indeed, if something that properly tastes like a bar of white chocolate can be made from it – but till then, this slice is an incredibly delicious starting point.

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Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice

A recipe by myself.

Base:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour (or cornstarch as it’s called in America)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (two medium-large lemons should do the trick)
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny tiny pinch) of cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao butter, roughly chopped
  • lemon zest, to serve

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular brownie tin (either 20x20cm or 27x17cm or thereabouts, one of those ones) with baking paper. Blitz the oats in a food processor until they are ground fairly finely (it’s okay to still have some bits here and there.)

2: Mix the powdered rolled oats and flour in a mixing bowl then sieve in the baking powder and baking soda and mix again. Add the sugar, coconut oil, salt, milk and vanilla and mix until it forms damp crumbs. Press the mixture in an even layer into the base of the brownie tin, stab a few times with a fork (this prevents it rising unevenly) and bake for about fifteen minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you make the filling.

3: Whisk the almond milk, cornflour, and lemon juice together in a small pan, making sure there are no lumps. It sometimes helps to mix a little liquid into the cornflour first and then stir that into the rest of the liquid. Continue stirring the mixture over a low heat until bubbles just appear at the edges – at this point, remove it immediately from the heat and keep stirring for a bit to cool it just slightly.

4: Either microwave the cacao butter in 20 second bursts or melt it in a bowl resting on top of a small pan of simmering water. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into the almond milk mixture and stir it in along with the vanilla, then gradually, very slowly, add the melted cacao butter, stirring till it’s incorporated before adding in more. It will take some definite stirring to bring it all together, but if it looks like it’s really not mixing in, sift in some extra icing sugar, a teaspoon at a time – this gives the oil something to “cling” to.

5: Spread the filling evenly over the base, sprinkle with the lemon zest, and refrigerate until completely cooled. The filling will be thick, but not solid. Slice into squares.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here. If you don’t or can’t have almond milk, rice milk would be my second choice – both have a neutral, slightly sweet flavour that’s ideal here.

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music lately:

Chest, by FRIGS. This song has everything: tempo changes, a pervading air of hostility, Hole-style yelling, more tempo changes. I love it.

Riot by Basement Five. Excellent, and best served as loud as it is fast.

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

 

Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter [Vegan]

I took some time out from blogging over the past fortnight because it didn’t sit right with me to do normal updates as though an enormous uprising wasn’t happening in America in response to police brutality, murder, and systemic oppression of Black people. That uprising is so enormous – so powerful – that there was nothing else worth knowing about. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear my own voice. I’ve been donating to bail funds, signing petitions and doing a lot of reading, and – in order of their usefulness – I encourage anyone and everyone to do the same and to reflect hard if reflection is needed, and if you want any recommendations or thoughts just ask me! There are parallels between the failures of America and the failures of our own police force in New Zealand and the specificity of the Black Lives Matter cause to America doesn’t mean we’re removed from its impact. This is not a definitive statement on what’s going on or what the best response is – but just as much as I needed to shut up for a while, now I need to not, you know?


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This recipe for spaghetti with horseradish butter was domiciled in my brain for a long time – actual months – before I had the opportunity to make it. Despite being mostly at home during the various levels of lockdown I was never quite alone, and this was a recipe I knew I had to make alone – in case it was terrible, so no one else would be marred by the experience – or in case it was incredible, so I could selfishly yet serenely enjoy its abundance all to myself. Happily, it was the latter. Quite incredible.

Horseradish belongs to a particularly brusque family which includes wasabi, mustard, cabbage, broccoli and radishes, so even if you’ve never tried it this should give you some clue as to its flavour – clean, grassy, and more sinus-exfoliating than Buckley’s Canadiol expectorant, if consumed in large quantities. There’s a delicacy to horseradish though, a sort of gauzy pepperiness which cuts through richness in an elegant way, thus making it perfect for this simple buttery pasta. That being said, this sauce would be equally delicious made with wasabi or mustard instead.

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The butter is quickly made in a blender – based on this recipe I blogged about last year – and it’s fulsome and creamy and, well, buttery, or at least as close as my tastebuds can recall butter to be from the times before I was vegan. Any sharpness from the horseradish is mellowed out by the flood of richness from the coconut oil, but then any overwhelming richness from said oil is tempered with just enough harshness from the horseradish.

The quantity of butter this recipe makes could absolutely be sufficient for two people’s worth of spaghetti – perhaps even three – although I wouldn’t want to make that call personally. Much as I love it, I understand horseradish can be a somewhat divisive flavour – so perhaps it’s for the greater good if you make this just for yourself, too.

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Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter

A recipe by myself.

  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon vinegar (I used malt, cider or red wine would be good too)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon grated horseradish, from a jar
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g spaghetti or dried pasta of your choice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, for garnish

1: Either in a high-speed blender or using a stick blender in a small bowl, blitz the almond milk, ground almonds, vinegar and horseradish. You can also add a pinch of turmeric for colour if you like. It might feel a bit ineffectual blending such a small quantity of liquid but it will come together when you add the oil.

2: Add the oil and salt and blend thoroughly for about thirty seconds or until the mixture is thick and smoothly pureed. If you are using a stick blender, drizzle it in slowly as you’re blending, but if you’re using an actual blender just chuck it all in. Taste to see if it needs more salt, and refrigerate while you make the pasta.

3: Bring a large pan of water to the boil (or: boil the kettle and then tip that into your pan, which is much faster) and salt generously. Once the water is boiling, tip in the pasta and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until tender.

4: Drain the pasta, retaining about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Stir in as much of the horseradish butter as you like – I used the whole lot – along with a little of the cooking water, the starchiness of which will cohere with the butter to form a delicate sauce.

5: Serve, sprinkled with the parsley. Serves 1.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here – unrefined will give a slight coconut flavour, but I guess we’re used to that by now. You could try making this with a different plant milk but almond’s neutral (dare I say nonexistent) flavour works best here – if that’s not available I would go for rice milk instead.

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music lately:

Efuge Efuge, by Stelios Kazantzidis. As they say in the youtube comments, The Wire season two brought me here, and this song is so enigmatic – especially that mournful yet body-motivating chorus.

Germ Free Adolescents by X Ray Spex. Ugh I love this song, the way Poly Styrene’s voice cracks and then soars, it’s so grim yet so uplifting, like a – I don’t know, all I can think of is watching an albatross fly over the setting sun but then it swoops down and kicks you in the face and then flies off again and you’re like, “you know what, that belligerent albatross probably had their reasons,” because it’s so beautiful.

King of the World, by Billy Porter from the off-Broadway musical Songs for a New World. Porter was part of the original cast but due to a contractual conflict he didn’t appear on the cast recording – fortunately he recorded a version of this glorious song for his 2005 live album At the Corner of Broadway and Soul. Even in audio form you can feel his acting – but the singing! In that final chorus! When he inverts the melody and throws it towards the sky! Like a non-belligerent albatross!

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

Mustard Tomato Broth (or, Anti-Anxiety Broth)

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As someone with vast, abundant, storied, unceasingly and almost impressively regenerative experience with anxiety, I find myself – perhaps surprisingly – more mentally soothed by high-intensity noise. Loud, beat-driven music, aggressive ambient frequencies, moderately humorous mid-century patter songs.

This mustard tomato broth is like that. But in broth form. This is noisy food. When you eat this mustard tomato broth, all you can sense is its ingredients, and not your spiralling thoughts. I’m not saying I’m anxious right now, but even at my most serene my brain still sounds like someone is tap-dancing to Scotland the Brave while brandishing a chainsaw (as I often say, I only wish I were exaggerating for comic effect) and yet – I was notably silenced by my own lunch.

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The main source of shock-value here is a brisk spoonful of sinus-punting mustard powder. There’s balance though, it’s not mere distraction, otherwise I might as well simply direct you to snort the powder instead of cooking with it. You get sweetness and rich salinity from the tomato, briefly steeped in salt to draw out its liquid, effectively making you a small quantity of highly-flavoured stock. There’s lemongrass – if you have it – or a strip of citrus peel, to lend the broth an air of zesty optimism, and spring onion for its obvious savoury backdrop.

You can add extra bits to your broth, of course. I would’ve used chilli flakes but a mouse broke into our cupboard and ate them, so I used chilli sauce instead – only a drop, because there’s enough going on already without being wilfully obtuse. A dash of sesame oil would probably be lovely, you could also try this with horseradish instead of mustard if you can get hold of it. Though the tomato and salt has to sit around for a while, the remainder of the recipe requires the briefest of heating and stirring – and just like that, you have an outwardly tranquil and inwardly rambunctious snack.

I was tempted to call it Anti-Anxiety Broth on its own, but would like to hope the bulk of you can enjoy my recipe removed from that particular context, on top of which I don’t want to saddle it with expectations. Besides, the most relevant attribute is: it’s delicious.

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Mustard Tomato Broth, or, Anti-Anxiety Broth

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 medium-sized tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced (white part only)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass cut into short lengths, or a wide strip of lemon or lime zest
  • 250ml/1 cup water
  • chilli flakes or chilli sauce, to taste

1: Dice the tomato quite finely, removing the green stalk, and place in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle over the salt. Leave to sit on the bench for half an hour to an hour.

2: Transfer the entire contents of the dish – tomato, salt, drawn-out liquid – into a small pan. Stir in the mustard powder, then add the sliced onion, lemongrass stalks, and the water. Bring the liquid to the boil, stirring as you do, and remove from the heat as soon as it reaches this point.

3: Stir in chilli, to taste, and then tip everything into a small bowl.

Serves 1.

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music lately:

Cokane in my Brain by Dillinger. This is so charming and breezy and garrulous. “A knife a fork, a bottle and a cork, that’s the way we spell New York.”

Nag Nag Nag by Cabaret Voltaire, wonderfully sparkly and energetic yet droning and miserable, a true winning formula for capturing the attention of my ears.

King of the Wild Frontier, Adam and the Ants. When those drums come in! I have a real thing for any song that sounds this urgent, even if the urgency itself is lost on me. Back to the drums, if big noise is also your thing I highly recommend this incredible recording of The Drummers of Burundi from 1987, it was their sound which directly influenced – or was nicked by – bands like Adam and the Ants.

Next time: still working on that ice cream.

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

incredibly delicious mocha cake

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I went back and forth several times but there’s no real way to make this opening sentence any more thrilling, and even if it’s not thrilling, it’s true: I’ve really been getting into square cakes. They go so much further than a round cake, the relative shallowness of the tin takes the edge off worrying about how tall the cake will rise, and there’s no dicking about with layers. It’s the practicality that particularly appeals to me – a round cake, sliced into wedges, is gone so soon! But a square cake – well, that’s absolute days of coffee-or-tea accompaniment quite sorted. Partway through my writing this, it was announced by the government that New Zealand will be moving into Level 2, significantly lifting the lockdown we’ve all been in for what feels like forever now. Certainly puts the buzz of a square-shaped cake into perspective.

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But as much as a cake can be exciting either on its own terms or in relation to COVID-19 this one has it covered – moist and springy, delicately rich with cocoa-tinted coffee flavour. It’s plain, yet hints of effort, mellow yet intense, sweet, but with the bitter full-stop of caffeine. I’ve made it twice now and imagine there will be several more iterations to come. I used a different icing both times: first, an ermine frosting – which is where you make a roux of milk and flour and beat it into butter, which sounds terribly unlikely but it’s a traditional American recipe where you end up with a silky coating as glossy as a buckskin Akhal-Teke horse. Lovely though this was, I prefer my second go, where I made a quick emulsion to imitate butter and then added icing sugar, it was densely granular and fudgy and wonderful.

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After the swaddling-tight restrictions of lockdown I’m illogically a tad wary about moving into comparatively carefree times, though there’s no kidding ourselves that whatever we considered normal is going to return – especially considering every other country in the world is having its own personal battle with COVID-19. I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for it, which is not to discredit any anxiety, but it does put me in an okay position to deal with it. I keep trying to remember what I told myself near the start of all this: one hour at a time, one day at a time. At least with this cake I know where I stand, which is a start – it’s wonderful, and delicious, and the knowledge of its existence, patiently waiting for my next cup of tea, comforts.

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Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake

A recipe by myself.

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 heaped tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar, eg maple syrup)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cold water

Icing Option 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (roughly half a cup) vegan butter/margarine

Icing Option 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft coconut oil (refined or regular, either is cool)
  • 2 tablespoons oat milk or similar
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Note: if you don’t have instant coffee but you do have plunger coffee or similar, you can use that instead of the cold water (just leave it to go cold, too) or as well as for extra coffee boost.

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a 22x22cm cake tin with baking paper.

2: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda (to ensure there are no lumps and to make the mixture rise evenly) then stir in the cocoa, coffee powder, and sugars.

3: Make a well in the centre by pushing a hole in the flour with your spoon, then tip in the remaining cake ingredients and stir to combine into a thick cake batter. Spatula this into the cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy. This is your cake and you may have it and eat it too as it is, or proceed to the following icing recipes once it’s cooled.

Icing 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

1: Whisk together everything except the butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over a low heat until it becomes thick and almost gluey, removing it from the heat as soon as it starts to come away from the sides. Keep stirring it for a minute or two once it’s off the stove, just to prevent it burning in the residual heat of the pan. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.

2: Using electric beaters, a stick blender, or a small food processor, whip the vegan butter for a minute, then continue beating while adding small spoonfuls of the room temperature coffee-flour mixture. Keep going in this manner until it’s entirely beaten together, by which point it should be thick, glossy, and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. You will need to store the cake in the refrigerator if you use this icing.

Icing 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

1: Using a stick blender or small food processor, blitz the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar and golden syrup together. You’re essentially making a quick emulsion in the manner of homemade butter here. Transfer this mixture to a larger bowl and gradually stir in the coffee powder, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until it forms a thick, dense icing. You may wish to add another splash of milk but do so carefully, as a little liquid goes a long way. Spread over the cooled cake.

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music lately:

Houston in Two Seconds, by Ry Cooder. A long, slow sunset in music form.

Teardrops, by Womack & Womack, a shining star of the “incredibly sad lyrics to an upbeat melody” genre and possibly one of the best songs of all time. I know I say that a lot on here, but the reason is just that I have incredible taste in music! That’s all!

Being Alive, Bernadette Peters. I can never, ever get sick of Sondheim’s musical Company but her version of its closing number is – transcendent. Her voice is so delicate but so hefty, like a rhinoceros in ice skates and whatever emotion there is left to be wrung from this admittedly over-performed song, she finds it and drop kicks it into your very soul.

Next time: I still haven’t made ice cream!

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

Pesto Seitan

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Even a minute looking at this recipe for seitan would completely put me off as it appears a mile long and every inch of it arduous, and there’s no real way to convince you it’s quite straightforward other than attempting to distract by waving lots of lengthy adjectives about. Frankly, I’ve not seen a single seitan recipe which doesn’t make the entire process seem like a gigantic pain in the skull and I doubt mine is doing anything to mitigate this – but it really, honestly, is a lot easier to put together than it is to read about.

As far as I can tell there’s no streamlining the three main steps – mixing the dough, simmering the dough, then actually cooking it as you intended – but once you have your head around these steps you can face the process with exuberance in your heart. When I first made this I just used gluten flour and water, with no added protein in the form of cannellini beans, and it was fine, but very springy – the pureed beans give the seitan a more relaxed texture, and they also make your gluten flour go further since it’s weirdly expensive here at $9 a package. You may rightfully be suspicious at how there’s very little seasoning in the seitan itself, but I’ve found it’s easier to get the flavour in during the marinading process than it is at the start, where the gluten flour muffles every effort at making it taste like anything other than hard bouncy flour.

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You can of course dial back my recipe by leaving out the pesto element – this was part of my birthday dinner last month (and you can also see the Triple Pickle Macaroni in the photos) and pesto remains as thrilling to me now as it did back in 2003 when I first learned of its existence. If you’re not making it a la pesto, then I would enthusiastically suggest adding lots of chopped fresh rosemary and thyme to the marinade, their resiny robust fragrance is an ideal pairing with the seitan.

It’s not that seitan tastes like meat, it doesn’t. As soon as I start trying to describe it – firm, chewy, slightly fibrous – we get back into off-putting territory, but there really is something amazing about its texture. The gluten gives a mild flavour, slightly nutty and rich, a foolproof backdrop for whatever flavour you wish to have cling to. Basically: it tastes of culinary potential. Once marinated in a salt-fat-acid-heat mixture, then fried vigorously till crisp-edged and caramelised, with the rubble of hand-chopped pesto stirred through – it becomes particularly luxurious and opulent. It reminded me of the canned mock duck which I used to consume at great length and which, in lockdown, I lamentably haven’t been able to get hold of – this is, perhaps, the highest praise I can offer. Therefore, truly worth the hassle. That being said, if you are, unlike me, able to get hold of the Wu Chung canned mock duck? Put your feet up and ignore everything I’ve just said, because dinner is served.

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Pesto Seitan

A recipe by myself.

Seitan

  • 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten, also sold as gluten flour (the brand I used was Lotus Gluten Flour which I found at my small local New World)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (or whatever flavour you want)

Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Marmite or 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper or a dash of chilli sauce

Pesto Sauce

  • 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (though you may wish to add more)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt, to taste

Step One: Mix and Simmer the Seitan

1: Blend the drained cannellini beans in a food processor until smooth. You can mash them with a fork if need be, but it’s a lot harder to mix into the flour if not completely pureed. Transfer to a bowl and add the gluten flour, 1/2 a cup of water and half the stock cube, stirring briefly till it forms a solid ball – this won’t take very long, and only add more water if there’s too much flour remaining. Knead it for a minute – pushing away and pulling back with your palms and knuckles – it should feel quite dense and solid.

2: Cut the ball into four even pieces (the size and quantity isn’t that important, it’s just to make it easier to simmer.) Place the seitan and remaining half a stock cube in a large pan and cover with water by a couple inches. Bring the water to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring often. The seitan will swell up alarmingly, which is why you need to keep an eye on it, but it will deflate once the water is drained.

3: Thoroughly drain the seitan – I put it in a colander and then press down with the pan I’ve just cooked it in – and set aside till you’re ready to cook dinner. I quite like to leave it overnight in the fridge, it seems to improve the flavour and texture, but I also very, very, very rarely think that far ahead, so don’t worry too much. It helps, once the seitan has cooled, to squeeze it out a bit over a sink – but don’t stress too much, any remaining water will evaporate in the hot saucepan.

Step Two: Make the Marinade and Sauce

1: About half an hour before you want to cook dinner, mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Slice the thoroughly drained seitan into small pieces and stir into the marinade, and leave at room temperature for about half an hour.

2: To make the pesto sauce, chop the basil, pine nuts and walnuts finely – doing it in small batches with a large knife is most effective – and mix together in a small bowl with the remaining pesto ingredients. It’s fine if some pine nuts are left whole or larger pieces of walnuts remain. This won’t look like pesto from a jar – it’s supposed to be more rough and textural. Taste to see if it needs more of anything.

Step Three: Fry, Stir and Serve

1: Heat a large frying pan and fry the marinated seitan pieces over a high heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until browned and a little crisp in places. Tip in the remaining marinade and stir for a minute or two.

2: Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto until everything is thoroughly coated.

3: Serve immediately.

Substitution notes: instead of cannellini beans you can use chickpeas or firm tofu – about 150g to 200g, pressed with a paper towel to remove excess liquid, whatever you use just blend it in the same way. Stock cubes can be replaced with soy sauce, or just use more Marmite; use tomato puree or even tomato ketchup/sauce instead of paste. You can add different herbs and spices to the marinade – chopped fresh rosemary goes really well here – and you can use different oil, maple syrup or golden syrup instead of sugar, and any time I mention garlic cloves you can totally use the stuff from a jar. I would, however, make a concerted effort to get hold of some celery salt – it adds something specific and irreplaceable in my opinion! You can increase the quantity of pine nuts in the pesto if you’re feeling rich; and you can add spinach or parsley to the basil.

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music lately:

Savage Remix, by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé. Imagine having Beyoncé featuring on your track before you even release your debut album? It makes sense though and I love this for Megan, she’s so enormously talented and fun and if the song wasn’t already the quarantine soundtrack with the ubiquitous accompanying Tik-Tok dance challenge (which I admit, I learned, but did not broadcast) this fresh take has thoroughly invigorated my love of it. I realise what I’ve just written feels extremely 2020, but – here we undeniably are.

Big Iron, by Marty Robbins from his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album which is so instantly calming yet stirring it’s like being full-body dunked in a bowl of noodle soup.

Tainted Love, Gloria Jones, this is kind of like Rumble by Link Wray in that you listen to it and it’s like does anything else go as hard as this? Why do we bother to continue making music when this exists? Why doesn’t every song have that dun-dun beat in it (as in, “sometimes I feel I’ve got to – dun-dun – run away”) imagine how much better Mozart would be if his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik had the Tainted Love dun-dun after his opening bars?

Next time: I’m in the mood to make ice cream.

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