Saturday, 1 March 2014

Ingredients of the Month 29: Gluten Free Flours

 I usually join in the discussion at #veganrecipehour on Twitter; it's a great way to talk and share recipes on a Thursday evening. This week the theme was gluten free recipes, and there were some really yummy-sounding bakes and desserts. One of the tweets also took the form of a chart of gluten free flours, and so I got to thinking about which ones we use in our kitchen. Now you may wonder what relevance gluten free flours would have in a household where nobody has gluten intolerance, but we think it's really good not to rely on just wheat and rice (especially the wheat) all the time- not only does it get boring, but it's nutritionally limiting too as some other flours, like buckwheat, for example, have a quite different nutritional benefits from wheat. Also, eating the same food meal in, meal out, day in, day out, for years can lead to tolerance problems eventually. Who has noticed that eating bread more than once a day gives them a bloated stomach? Or that pasta leads to indigestion?- I bet at least some of you have, which is why some kind of gluten free flour should have a place in anyone's kitchen. Here's what we have in our kitchen at the moment, plus a list of some other gluten free flours:

Speckly brown buckwheat flour has a strong, earthy taste.
  • Dove's Farm gluten free brown bread flour- a blend of rice flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, buckwheat flour and carob flour, plus sugar beet fibre and xanthan gum (for stickiness.) I made some quite passable chapattis with this, although they had to be smaller and a bit thicker than normal despite rolling them between sheets of clingfilm because the dough is rather breakable.
  • Millet flour (aka bajri/ ragi)- used in Indian cookery to make thepla (a kind of paratha) and pancakes. Added to wheat flour, it makes a soft and light cake, and I have used it as a cheesecake base too. Millet is a staple grain in many African countries, and is used to make porridge in China and Russia.
  • Chickpea flour (aka baisen, gram)- a pale yellow-beige soft and fine flour, which tastes rather "beany" unless cooked through. It is really versatile and can be used for sweets like baisen ladu and baisen burfi, or for batters to make pancakes, pakoras or toad-in-the-hole. I have also used it as a binder in veggie burgers, nut roasts and gluten free cookies.
  • Buckwheat flour- a speckly brown flour with a strong, earthy taste which makes pancakes called blinis, plus good cakes and cookies, especially when teamed up with other strongly-flavoured ingredients like ginger. It is used to make 100% buckwheat noodles called soba, and you can experiment making your own buckwheat pasta too. We like buckwheat flour so much that if we don't have it we will grind our own from whole buckwheat!
  • Potato flour- a white flour made from cooked and ground potatoes (not to be confused with potato starch); you can mix it with other flours (wheat or gluten free) when baking, or with mashed potato and seasoning to form patties or dumplings.
  •  Other gluten free flours-include rice flour, maize (corn) flour and chestnut flour. Here's the link to a list:

This flour blend is a good substitute for breads, chapattis and baking in general.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Recipes Revisited: Tofu mayo #3, for Vegan Thursday

Perfect with chickpea salad!

Because we don't use eggs or vinegar or garlic or onions in our cooking, a vegan mayo is a real challenge. I made a good one using blended tofu and miso, but it was still missing that vinegar-y tang that lemon juice just doesn't give. Then I noticed tamarind concentrate on the shelf in my local supermarket, and things got better... so this is tofu miso may mark 3, with tamarind, recipe below pictures:

With chickpeas and salad in a pitta for lunch...

...As a creamy pasta salad...
240g (or about 5 tabs) unpressed tofu (I made ours from 1l soya milk)
1 1/2 tsps organic brown rice miso
2-3 tabs lemon juice, according to how lemon-y you like it
1/2 tsp pure tamarind concentrate
1/2 tsp seasalt
1 tab extra virgin olive oil (the best flavour for dressings)
  • Get your blender out.
  • Throw everything in. (Don't forget to switch the blender on...)
  • Spoon it liberally over stuff like pasta, avocado or chickpea salad, with chips or veggie burgers- you name it!
  • Should there be any left (unlikely) you can store it in a jar in the fridge for a day or so.

This post gets shared with the Google group Vegan Thursday

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Brown Sultana Scones- vegan

Scones are a treat at tea time!
I was born and grew up in the West Country of England (Dorset, to be precise) so the traditional "Devon/ Dorset/ Cornish/ Somerset Cream Tea" is practically a part of my heritage, and jam and scone-making is probably in my blood. Being a region full of dairy and fruit farms, the West Country is home to the Cream Tea although it is enjoyed all over England nowadays. It is supposed to have originally come from Tavistock Abbey in Devon, where an 11th century record tells of bread being eaten with jam and cream. In Devon, they halve their scones as I have done, top them with thick yellow clotted cream and then put the jam on top. In Cornwall they do pretty much the same thing only with a buttered sweet bread roll called a "Cornish split" rather than a scone. Clotted cream is de rigeur in those counties, whipped cream only being used when clotted is not available. Traditional scone recipes often call for egg and always butter, but you can make great vegan scones without either of these ingredients. For a genuine West Country tearooms experience, brew up a pot of your favourite tea, make a batch of scones and serve them warm with strawberry jam and coconut whipped cream (If you whip it really thick and leave it in the fridge a while, you'll even get something like the consistency of clotted cream.) A good scone should be a little crusty but fluffy on the inside, and not too crumbly. You can achieve this by not handling the dough too much (don't knead it, no matter what your recipe says) and warming the baking tray in the oven before you place the raw scones on it, to get a good rise. Your scone can be one big circle. cut into wedges or individually-cut rounds, like I made. A classic sultana scone, made with half white and half wholemeal flours, looks like this:

Makes 6 large scones (you can make them smaller if you wish- they are quite filling):
175g plain white flour
175g wholemeal flour
2 tabs sultanas
2 tabs demerara/ light soft brown sugar
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 cup cold-pressed sunflower oil
175ml plant milk (I used soya)
  • In a bowl, mix the flours, sultanas, sugar and baking powder together.
  • Rub in the oil using your forefingers and thumbs.
  • Mix in the plant milk gradually- you don't want the mixture to be too wet, and different flours have different absorbencies.
  • Gently form the dough into a ball and lightly press until about 1 1/2" thick. Use a cutter until you have 6 rounds, or however many you want, according to the diameter of your cutter.
  • Bake on a pre-warmed oiled baking sheet in an oven preheated to 200C for about 15 minutes. The scones should have risen and be slightly browned on top, but not sticky inside.

Why not make a traditional cream tea with a pot of redbush, your favourite plant milk, some strawberry jam and coconut whipped cream?

Do you have a favourite snack recipe that you grew up with and still make now?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Cruelty free, animal product free skincare products I'm loving (and that won't break the bank)

Veganism and an ahimsa (cruelty-free) lifestyle goes beyond diet; what we put on the outside of our bodies in terms of clothes, toiletries and makeup is an important consideration too- and, like the vegan diet, it is generally better for your health as vegan-friendly products tend to be more natural and less chemical. With all those botanicals, they also tend to smell divine! Here are three skincare products I'm currently using:

Ayumi  Ayurvedic Turmeric and Bergamot Facewash (left)
Ayumi Turmeric and Bergamot Ayurvedic Facewash: I have always been a great advocate of water being the best skincare regime, both inside and out, and I still think cold, pure water is the best skin tonic ever, but even at my age (waaay past adolescence...) I do get the odd blemish on my face and I do like that squeaky-clean feeling you only get from a facewash like this one. This product is parabens (a harmful preservative) free, though it does contain SLS. (Sodium lauryl/ laureth sulphate- a chemical foaming agent common in soaps and shampoos). It is not tested on animals and is free from animal-derived ingredients. I think here the labelling could be better, as I had to Google to check that the glycerin was derived from plant sources. When I got to the product website it helpfully informed me that there are no animal ingredients in Ayumi products. Perhaps they could go for Vegan Society approval mark? It would take the hassle out of researching and buying. From the moment you open the tube, the wonderful smell, perfectly balanced between turmeric and bergamot oil, gives you a feeling of luxury. Bergamot oil has long been used for clearing up spots (as well as for flavouring Earl Grey tea) and turmeric, of course, is a wonderful anti-microbial and anti inflammatory agent that is used to heal all kinds of infections both internally and externally in Ayurveda. You only need a small amount and (no doubt because of the SLS) it lathers beautifully. If I have any criticism at all of this product, it is that it takes quite a bit of rinsing off; maybe the glycerin content? But perhaps I am just too impatient- the result really is worthwhile; this facewash leaves my skin feeling soft and clean but not tight, with that lovely, bergamot-y, zingy, citrus-y freshness. I honestly don't know how much was paid for my tube of facewash (it was a birthday gift) but on the website it sells at a fairly modest £4.95- well competitive with mainstream brands of face wash.

Moisturisers in the Dr Organic Dead Sea Minerals and Rose Otto ranges 
Dr Organic Moisturisers: How lucky am I? I have a husband to whom I can say "I'm out of moisturiser, can you get me one please?" and he actually goes out and gets not one, but two really good products. These were bought from Holland and Barrett, and retail there for just under £9 each, the Rose Otto being slightly more expensive. You can, if you like, buy matching skincare products from a choice of Dr Organic ranges, but I like to mix and match. This is a great price for a quality product that is made from organic ingredients, contains no animal products and is not tested on animals. (Eat your hearts out Bodyshop and even Lush!) There is even a helpful "Suitable for vegans and vegetarians" not on the box. These moisturisers are also SLS and parabens free. I can truthfully say that even after only a few days of using the Rose Otto Day Cream as my moisturiser in the morning and the Dead Sea Minerals Night Cream at bedtime the skin around my eyes and on my neck looks a just a little bit younger and feels softer. I have been lucky so far as I don't really have many wrinkles (yet), as my skin is naturally oily. This leads me to another important point: I have shunned heavy moisturisers for years because they make my skin look greasy, but these nourish my skin without leaving it too oily. I really love the way they smell, too. The Dead Sea Minerals cream does not smell like the sea at all; rather a cucumber-like, aloe vera type of fresh herbal smell and of course Rose Otto smells like a midsummer garden. I don't think I've ever had a moisturiser that has been such great value for money.

Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement; and I was not approached by either of the companies mentioned here to promote their products- the idea was all mine because I think they're great! And if you are reading this and you have a suitable product you'd like reviewed, please get in touch via the comments (we won't publish your message) or our fb page.