Thursday, 4 September 2014

Vegan Feta Cheese- raw

Cubes of almond feta are delicious with olive oil, oregano and olives...
After we went vegan, Greek salad was never quite as tasty. Try replacing the feta with tofu and you'll see what I mean; just because it's a white cube doesn't mean it's going to taste like salty, tangy feta no matter how much olive oil, oregano and lemon juice you lavish on it.
But guess what I discovered by accident when I found there were some soaked almonds in the fridge that needed using?- The perfect feta substitute; it's salty, tangy, creamy and even looks just right (the flecks in the picture are because I left the skins on the almonds- you could skin the almonds after soaking if you want). Here's how to make it:

  • Soak some whole almonds in cold water for about 24 hours- I kept mine in the fridge.
  • Drain the juice off and skin the almonds of you wish.
  • Using a high speed blender/ grinder, process the almonds down to a thick paste. It should hold together when pressed.
  • Mix in Himalayan pink salt and lemon juice until you are happy with the balance of sharpness and saltiness.
  • Using your hands, shape into a block and store covered in the fridge.
PS: Since making this, I've had a look around the internet and I found that others have made it too. Methods vary; some use soaked blanched almonds and dehydrate or bake the cheese, some add oil to the cheese and some add probiotic powder to boost up its good qualities. What they all have in common, however, is that the almonds are soaked and natural salt and lemon juice provide the flavours.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Ingredient of the Month: Himalayan Pink Salt

This month's ingredient is one I'm sure a lot of you are already using, but I couldn't resist sharing with you our bargain find. This brand of salt -Shan- came from an Asian grocery (East and West in Sparkhill, Birmingham) and cost an awesome 99p for 400g- way cheaper than if I had gone to a health food shop for it. Result! The main reason I'm so pleased about this is that now we can have this pretty pink condiment whenever we like, and benefit from its superior nutritional profile.
Himalayan pink salt (not to be confused with the sulfurous black salt which is also pinkish) is halite, or rock salt. It comes from the Khewra salt mine in Pakistan, in the foothills of the salt range, about 300km from the Himalayas proper. The pink colour is iron oxide, an indicator of its richness in minerals and trace elements As well being used in cooking, Himalayan salt can be heated and pressed into flat chunks and used as a chopping board and the large crystals can be made into lamps which give off a warm pink glow and are reputed to emit beneficial ions into the atmosphere once the salt becomes hot. You can also add mineral water to Himalayan salt to make a 1% solution called solay, which is beneficial for the circulation, lowers blood pressure and is even said to remove heavy metals from the body.
(But please note that studies have suggested that overuse of sodium chloride- which all types of culinary salt have as their major constituent, can result in high blood pressure. Some more recent data suggests that this is not true, but if blood pressure is an issue for you, it might be wise to use salt cautiously. Personally, I think that using natural salt in your cooking is absolutely fine- it's chemical salt with its carcinogenic additives in processed foods that should be cut out.)
Why is Himalayan salt so good?
-Well its origin can give a few clues: it was covered by lava 250 million years ago, which sealed it off from pollution and is now surrounded by snow and ice, therefore it is considered pristine; the purest salt on Earth.
It also contains over 80 minerals and trace elements, at least ten of which are present in significant amounts (according to a German study). But what's really amazing is that these minerals work synergistically, meaning that their sum benefit amounts to more than that of their parts; ie: they work together to become even more beneficial than if they were taken separately. Chemical analysis has shown that Himalayan pink salt is 85-95% sodium chloride- studies vary- and that the major minerals in it are magnesium, calcium, potassium and fluoride- not forgetting the iron that gives it its colour. There is also a very small amount of the poisons aluminium, arsenic and antimony but not in enough quantity to be considered a health risk. Because of its larger crystal structure, which means that each salt crystal takes up more space, there is proportionally less sodium in Himalayan salt than sea salt or other types of salt.
The benefits of Himalayan salt are said to be:
  • As a detoxing agent
  • Regulating the water content in the body
  • balancing the pH (acid/ alkaline) in the cells, especially brain cells
  • Regulating blood sugar
  •  Reducing the signs of ageing
  • Absorption of food particles through your intestinal tract
  • Supporting respiratory health
  •  Clearing sinuses
  • Prevention of muscle cramps
  • Promoting bone strength
  • Regulating and promoting sleep
  • Promoting vascular health
  • Used with water, it regulates blood pressure

A word about iodine:  Himalayan salt does not contain this essential trace element, but then neither does sea salt, surprisingly enough. And iodised table salt contains other very harmful anti-caking agents so it should be avoided. If you don't want to eat kelp (a seaweed) for iodine, then fennel, spinach and garlic contain a little iodine but you may still need to supplement.

 A closer look at the delicately-shaded pink crystals...