Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Notes from a vegan picnic

At the start of the month Amelie had a picnic to celebrate her birthday and it was a BONANZA. I was running preeeety late by the time I got to the park, having decided to make homemade pizza and guacamole with pomegranate seeds half an hour before the picnic started. But it didn't matter- there was a feast to get through...

Amelie and Ruth had made falafel, potato salad with purple potatoes and vegan soy cream, homemade hummus with homemade tahini (mind blown), hard lemonade (it involved gin) and a whole lot of other stuff I can't remember, probably because of the hard lemonade. Joe and Becca made some amazing cous cous salads and an aubergine and tomato sort of stew with so much olive oil it was the richest, tastiest thing I think I've ever eaten at a picnic.

We finished with a gluten free, vegan birthday cake made by Ruth. Happy belated Birthday Amelie!!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sunday is brunch day

All vegan... Jus Roll croissants and pain au chocolat. I realise I sound like I'm on commission but I assure you, 12 months away from pastry for breakfast would turn anyone gooey-eyed at the smell of these in the oven on a Sunday morning.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Sodo Pizza Cafe, Clapton

Maybe I'm just a bit too accustomed to the downers that hit after every Domino's, but Sodo Pizza Cafe on Upper Clapton Road ticks all the boxes, along with boxes I didn't even know needed ticking. Delicious crispy-based pizza, attentive, straight-forward staff, no weird table booking codewords and the ability to get your cheese replaced with something else if you're ordering vegan.

On top of this there's gorgeous homemade ginger beer, table water ALL the time, some of the best beers London has anywhere (Kernal, London Fields Brewery) and salad leaves and vegetables supplied by Hackney-based Growing Communities (who you can read more about here). A glass of homemade tiramisu went down pretty fast with my parents too, just saying.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Man cannot live on pre-drinks alone: vegan stop-over snacks


Sometimes pre-drinks on their own just don't quite cut it (I speak from experience), and maybe you need a little something to soak up some of that tequila. These three dishes make the perfect stop-over food- for friends to pick at en route to somewhere else, or while you're waiting patiently for the hair dryer.

The herb almond recipe is originally from Martha Stewart, who suggests teaming it with sherry and manchego cheese, but I went with white wine and processo, then gin with the figs, although vodka would also be a good match. These recipes are all really easy to prepare an hour before anyone arrives so there's basically no excuse to still be in your dressing gown/towel/the bath (ahem) when the doorbell goes.

Makes enough for 4

Herb toasted almonds
4 tbsp olive oil
200g whole blanched almonds
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt, pepper

Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a large pan and add the almonds and cook for about 12 minutes, until they turn golden and fragrant. Tip onto a baking tray to allow to cool.

With the other tablespoon of oil, drizzle over the serving dish you are using and add the herbs and seasoning, then pour in the almonds and mix until everything is thoroughly coated.

Coarse chopped bruschetta
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped and still in bite size chunks
Handful of basil leaves
Half a red onion, chopped small
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper
1 loaf of ciabatta, cut into chunks

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir. Allow to sit for an hour so the basil can mix in with the oil and tomatoes. In this time, toast the ciabatta chunks under the grill dry, as the oil from the almonds and the fig dressing will flavour the bread, whilst stopping it from being too rich.

Fig and leaf salad
Salad leaves, washed
4 figs, cut 2/3 of the way to the base into quarters, but so they still hold their shape
Fig vinegar- I used L' Olivier fig vinegar just to cut against the fig texture and the almonds, but if you can't get hold of this, a simple French dressing would work too.

Place the leaves on a serving plate, then arrange the figs on top, with enough per each guest. Drizzle the dressing over the figs, making sure the flesh of the fruit gets the flavour.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Paprika, pomegranate and lemon juice hummus

"But what do you do for protein?"

I've never made hummus before. It might sound ridiculous considering I eat chickpeas nearly every day now, but I always thought it was slightly more complicated than it was, a little bit trickier, a bit more expensive. In actual fact all you need is a reliable hand blender (no explosions please), some chickpeas, a bit of tahini, and anything else you want to flavour it with.

Naturally, I went a bit overboard for my first attempt, so added pomegranate seeds, paprika, pomegranate molasses, coriander and lemon to mine, but it might be better to focus on just one of those flavours. This batch of hummus lasted precisely 2 hours in my flat, so I guess the proof was in the total lack of leftovers!

Makes enough for 4
2 tins chickpeas, drained
2 garlic cloves, chopped small (if using a hand blender, or just crushed if using a larger blender as this will be able to handle the harder work)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 pinch of salt
1 large tbsp tahini paste
2 tbsp water
Juice 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp paprika
Seeds of half a pomegranate
Handful of chopped coriander

Pour the majority of the chickpeas into a mixing bowl, holding back a small handful or so for serving. Add the garlic, cumin, salt, tahini, water, lemon juice, olive oil and paprika, and mix with a spoon just to get the liquid stirred in, before mixing with a hand blender.

Add more lemon juice, salt, olive oil, to taste, and then stir in a few pomegranate seeds to flavour the hummus. It should be a firm mixture, but looser than a paste.

To serve, top off with the rest of the pomegranate seeds, whole chickpeas, pomegranate molasses, coriander and a little more lemon juice.

And now for a bit of an apology for my absence:

What do I do for protein? I find it one of the strangest questions anyone can ask once you've told them you're vegan. There's a lot  more questions I'd expect- and yet 80% of the time, it comes back to this strange, peculiar obsession with protein.

Obviously, I know why people are concerned about protein- in general. I get that. I don't understand when they can hold a conversation with me and I am alive etc, why they would ask it, apart from the fact that it must be a total knee-jerk reaction, and maybe they just don't care about anything beneath asking a question back to a reply they didn't expect. Who knows. In any case, my inability to give that question a proper answer recently led to a mini hiatus from food blogging. I found myself with nothing to say apart from "Well, I eat chickpeas, everyday." Which is the truth, but it felt pretty limp in reply, especially after being told by someone I met 40 minutes beforehand that I was "unhealthy" and "selfish" for being vegan.

I didn't know how to reply, because I made a decision around a year ago not to be someone that reels off statistics when people start cross examining a vegan diet. I think if people haven't looked for those figures themselves, they become very easy to block out. I managed to do it for 22 years. In my month away from Guac and Roll I wanted to do more research, question whether writing a food blog was really the best way to start a conversation on veganism. I read a lot more studies, watched more documentaries (we need to talk about sugar, btw) but in the end, I came around full circle: I love sharing the recipes I've discovered, talking about them with friends in the park, researching where those recipes come from and adapting them to suit a vegan or vegan and gluten free diet.

There are plenty of vegan diets that are unhealthy, just as there are many, many, omnivorous diets that are also pretty unhealthy. Guac and Roll isn't ever going to be a call to arms, but hopefully something a lot more subtle.