Saturday, 24 March 2012

Broccoli Beancurd Bake

I served this with roast pumpkin and kale for a "power" dinner

It is at precisely those times when we open the fridge and the cupboards and find them looking disappointingly bare that Necessity really does become the Mother of Invention and we come up with something a bit different but totally yummy! Today was one such time for me. I am sharing this recipe with you because although the main ingredient (Chinese beancurd sheets) is not something most people would find in their storecupboard, it came out so nicely it was worth a post. The bake is filling without being stodgy, and packed with nutrient-filled broccoli. 

The inside is soft, but the oats on top are crispy

This recipe serves a generous 6-8 portions:
 175g (1 packet) beancurd sheets, crumbled into large flakes and soaked in water until soft
500g broccoli (calabrese), cut into small florets
175g white cabbage, finely chopped
light olive oil for sauteing
2 tabs tahini
2 tabs plain flour
1l soya milk
5 tabs yeast flakes (aka nutritional yeast) plus some more for sprinkling
2 handfuls porridge oats
1 tab soy sauce/ tamari/ liquid aminos
1 tsp hing
a pinch of yellow mustard powder
1/2 tsp paprika
seasalt and black pepper to taste

  • Drain the flakes thoroughly, and steam the broccoli florets.
  • Mix them together in a large shallow roasting tin
  • Saute the cabbage in the olive oil, and when soft, stir in the hing and the soy sauce.
  • Add this to the dish.
  • Make the sauce from the tahini, flour, soya milk, yeast flakes, mustard powder, paprika, salt and pepper: Make a roux over a gentle heat with the tahini and flour, and gradually whisk in the soya milk. Whisk in the yeast flakes and season to your taste.
  • Pour the sauce over the vegetables and beancurd in the roasting tin.
  • Scatter over the porridge oats and some more yeast flakes.
  • Bake at 200C until heated through and slightly browning on top.
I think this would also make a great pie filling minus the oat topping. Maybe in filo or puff pastry?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Almond Frangipane Fingers- vegan, gluten-free, sugar free

"Free-from" almond fingers; no egg, gluten, wheat, dairy or sugar

I enjoy baking- and eating- my Agave Almond Slice and Chocolate Agave Almond Slice but after listening to BBC Radio Four's "The Food Program" last Sunday, I decided to change the recipe a bit and create a new version. Let me explain: the radio show was about "free from" foods, which are gaining in popularity here in the UK. Most major supermarkets now have a small section devoted to gluten, dairy and egg- free products for those who have food allergies and intolerances and those who have simply chosen to cut down on/ cut out certain ingredients. As many of us probably have at least one friend or colleague who has an intolerance to wheat, dairy, gluten etc. and all of us could do with something a little different sometimes, I think it's important to have a few good "free-from"recipes in our repertoires. This one is totally guilt-free too. My next plan is to combine this with pears on a buckwheat base and make a frangipane tart... let me know if you try that one before I do! 

300g ground almonds
100g buckwheat flour
100g  xylitol/ the equivalent in stevia
5 tsps baking powder
400ml soya milk
100ml agave nectar
150ml coconut oil (liquified)
2 tsps pure almond essence
flaked almonds to decorate

  • Mix together the almonds, buckwheat flour, baking powder and stevia/ xylitol in a large bowl.
  • In another jug/ bowl, combine the soya milk, agave nectar, coconut oil and almond essence. (If you are going to leave it before mixing, you may need to gently reheat in a saucepan as the coconut oil will solidify!)
  • Beat the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. The batter will be quite a bit wetter than your usual cake mix, but don't worry about this. As long as you follow the instructions for baking carefully it will turn out just fine.
  • Pour into a greased and lined/ dampened tin or silicone mould. A shallow-ish rectangular one is ideal. Make it no more than about an inch thick, as it will rise on the oven.
  • Sprinkle with a good layer of flaked almonds, and bake in an oven preheated to 175C. After 10 minutes then at 150C for another 15 minutes. It is done when a skewer inserted into the middle emerges clean. 
  • When cool, remove carefully from the tin/ mould and cut into fingers.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Finnish Birch Sap- the new aloe vera juice?

This lovely birch tree grows near my house

Birch sap is harvested in early Spring, between the thaw and the appearance of the first buds. It should be consumed within three days of opening.

 My stepson arrived home from a trip to Finland the week before last bearing gifts of salted liquorice sweets for the kids and a bottle of birch sap for me. Watch out for this in wholefood/ health shops; I predict it's about to get big!- It even has a fb group. Look here for one internet outlet for it. Birch sap is produced in Nordic countries, Korea and Canada, and is beginning to be marketed as a "superfood" juice. I was immediately intrigued as I'm already a devotee of the natural sweetener xylitol, which comes from birch trees too. I drank a glass every day for three days, which used up the whole bottle, and I have to say it did seem to give me a bit of a boost in terms of thirst-quenching and stamina. It has a very mild and not unpleasant, slightly sweet taste, and as you can see, it's clear like pure water. Something about its flavour reminded me of coconut juice which is a well-known  stamina and hydration drink and so I wasn't surprised to find out that birch sap is getting popular in China and Japan as a sports drink. Check out these other amazing claims:
  • Birch sap is good for rheumatoid arthritis, gout and kidney disease
  • It combats Spring fatigue after a long Winter, scurvy and rickets (caused by lack of vitamins C and D)
  • It can halt the progression of an ulcer
  • It can cure allergy to birch pollen
  • Birch sap contains fructose, glucose, fruit acids, amino acids, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium and iron.: all essential to the human body.
  • The exact content of these nutrients varies a lot according to when the sap is harvested and from season to season, but on average, birch sap contains per 100g:
  • Energy : 10 kJ
  • Fat: < 0.1 g
  • Protein: < 0.1 g
  • Carbohydrate: 0.62 g
  • fruit acids (malic 100-600, succinc 10-300, phosphoric 10-50, citric 5-20 mg/l)
  • free amino acids: 25-700 mg/l 
  • Fructose: 0.5g
  • Glucose: 0.3g
  • Energy: 10kJ
  • PH: 5.5-7

  • There is a verse in "Sri Siksastakam", Caitanya Mahaprabhu's eight instructions on Bhakti Yoga :
    Trnad api sunicena
    Taror ina sahisnuna
    Amanina manadena
    Kirtaniyah sada Harih
    "Being humbler than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of false ego and giving the appropriate respect to all others, one should continuously chant the names of God (Krishna)."
    Our Vaisnava acaryas have commented on this verse that a tree epitomises the qualitites of tolerance and unconditional generosity, as no matter how how it is starved of water or cut, a tree cannot help but to give its shade, shelter, fruit, flowers and wood to anyone who needs it... 

    ... So thank you birch trees, for your generosity, and I hope I can learn to give as selflessly as you!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Stuffed Peppers on a Bed of Barley- vegan

Serve piping hot with a crisp green salad on the side
This recipe is very similar to one I posted back in November, except the main flavour is basil and tomato and the increased amount of yeast flakes and Parmazano will fool your tastebuds into thinking there is cheese in it. I also skipped the celery and went for grated courgette (zucchini) and swede. Serving this with pearl or pot (unpolished) barley and a green salad makes a complete meal, and a change from rice. (Click here for some more information on barley as a cooked grain.) There is no added salt, as the Parmazano contains enough.
All amounts are approximate, as I forgot my notebook and scales in my haste to get this meal on the table, so you'll have to see what exact proportions suit your palate... makes 6 peppers:

150g ground almonds
1 tub "Parmazano" (vegan "Parmesan")
1 1/2-2 tabs yeast flakes (aka nutritional yeast)
1/2 tube tomato puree
1 1/2 small courgettes, grated
a chunk of peeled and grated swede
1/2 tsp hing
copious amounts of dried basil
 coarse-ground black pepper to taste
6 bell peppers (capsicums)
1/4 cup (dry weight) pot barley for each person, cooked in double the amount of water (pretty much like brown rice)
a generous handful fresh/ frozen peas 
  • Hollow out the peppers and cut the tops off to make lids. Place in an oiled baking tray and roast at 200C until starting to soften.
  • Cook the barley in the water with a drizzle of olive oil until soft, adding the peas when nearly done.
  • Meanwhile, mix the ground almonds, Parmazano and yeast flakes together in a bowl.
  • Stir in the tomato puree, then the grated vegetables.
  • Add the basil, hing and black pepper, mixing really well to distribute them evenly throughout the stuffing.
  • Stuff the part-cooked peppers and put their lids on. Return to the oven to finish cooking while you make the salad.