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Posts from the ‘Vegetarian’ Category

Surfing & Yoga at Surf Maroc

Onwards, in a taxi, to somewhere north of Agadir. A place called Aourir, known by everyone as Banana Village, just a little south of Taghazout, the surfing community of the area. The journey is chaotic but funny as our enthusiastic taxi driver bombs down the motorway towards our destination. This is argan tree land, there are thousands of them planted everywhere, on the hills, the side of the road, in every small patch available.

Late afternoon, we arrive at Villa Mandala, a wonderful house on the beach. A warm welcome awaits from Louise & Emma, our yoga teachers and hosts for the week. We also meet the other residents of this 7-day yoga and surf retreat – an array of nationalities from Europe and the US, a great mix of personalities and backgrounds.

Our schedule each day includes two hours of meditation & yoga early morning, followed by a hearty and wholesome breakfast, before Eunice and Karim, our surf instructors, turn up to take us surfing to the various spots in the area. We return mid-afternoon, salty, sandy, windswept and sun baked ready for another two-hour session of yoga early evening. We are then rewarded by an amazing Moroccan inspired vegetarian feast cooked up by Shane Vincent, the Global Table Chef.

I take part in a 4-hour cookery class with Shane and some of the girls on holiday there. Going to the market to pick out the produce is a great experience, the stalls are over spilling with fruit and vegetables, it is busy, hot, fragrant. Back in the kitchen, Shane has us working like a well oiled machine: peeling chickpeas and almonds, toasting seeds and nuts, making curry paste, melting chocolate… Cooking the evening meal for everyone is incredibly rewarding.

On the surfing front, Eunice, our instructor, is an incredible teacher – clear with his instructions, patient, happy, kind and always full of praise when you finally catch that wave and stand up. If you ever get the chance to go on a Surf Maroc holiday, be sure to seek him out.

And, of course, the yoga… This holiday changes everything for me. I’d never been particularly into yoga before I went to this retreat. I dabbled a little here and there for several years, focusing on running and cycling rather than increasing my flexibility or strength. The wonderful set-up, the teachers, the progress I make and the open atmosphere this retreat offers takes me to a place where I suddenly understand why people are passionate about yoga. I now embrace it, trying to practice at least three times a week by any means I can – be it alone or in a class.

Surf Maroc’s Villa Mandala is the place to go if you want an active holiday, with great food, some pampering, a welcoming environment and the opportunity to feel not only revived but relaxed. You can do as much or as little as you want… which is just what you want when you are on holiday, away from all the obligations of your usual life.

Eat, Sleep, Shop – The Marrakesh Way

Discovering a country’s cuisine, having a comfortable place to stay and indulging in a spot of shopping is all part of the holiday experience. Here is what Marrakesh had to offer:

EAT
If you are anything like me, sampling the local cuisine is a must when on holiday. Despite most restaurants aiming their menus at tourists, the food is, in the main, very good. There aren’t many options if you are a vegetarian but most places do have a limited selection for the non-meat eaters. Also it is worth remembering that as a Muslim country, most places do not serve alcohol, though the higher end restaurants do. Here are a few recommendations:

For lunch:

Le Bougainvillier (33 Rue Mouassine): We stumbled across this one lunchtime as we were trying to find our way back from the Medina. Serves paninis, sandwiches, salads & cakes. The lovely courtyard is a great place to relax after a morning in the souks.

Earth Café (www.earthcafemarrakech.com) : Marrakesh’s first vegetarian café, it has a great choice of food. The portions are very generous, the prices are reasonable and the staff is very friendly. A great little place for a relaxed lunch. It also runs some cookery classes if you are so inclined.

For dinner:

Marrakchi (52 Rue des Banques): A restaurant positioned high above the Djema el Fna square, it offers a wide choice of good food, the service is great and the entertainment made for a great evening. We shared a vegetable pastilla to start and then had tagines. We also sampled a Moroccan red wine from the Meknès region – very palatable! Mains start at 130dh (approx. 13 euros).

Le Tanjia (near Place des Ferblantiers): This restaurant, in an old mansion with modern decor, served the best fish tagine of the holiday! The service was excellent and the prices were reasonable.

Djemaa el Fna Foodstalls: If you wish to eat at one of the stalls, I’d recommend choosing one which is mainly visited by locals, they don’t tend to hustle for your custom as much and the food is very good. You just take a seat at one of the benches and choose what you want from the menu. I greedily had several merguez sausages whilst John plumped for some calamari, all food comes with bread and they fetch drinks for you from stalls nearby. Being at the heart of it all makes it an incredible experience, one which I urge you to try if you get the chance.

SLEEP

If you ever find yourself in Marrakesh, I’d recommend staying in a riad, namely Riad Les Hibiscus, an oasis in the middle of the chaos. A two minute walk from the Djemaa el Fna square, its non-descript exterior belies the beautiful interior of tasteful white walls, sage green doors & woodwork, a small pool in the central courtyard, comfortable wicker furniture and interesting artwork. Stunning flowers & lush plants add to this haven. The room (Lotus) was comfortable, clean and peaceful and I cannot praise the riad’s hosts enough for their kindness and discreet manner.

SHOP

I found the souks incredibly overwhelming the first time we ventured there, there are no street names and it is easy to get a little lost! However, if you are blessed with a good sense of direction and a map, you should enjoy finding your way round. The souks north of the Djemaa El Fna square are made up of a long covered street, Rue Souk Smarine, which then branches out into two smaller streets, Soul el Attarin and Souk el Kebir. Off these, you can find all the souks, down alleys, lanes and small squares. Each are dedicated to specific crafts.

If you are not keen on haggling, I’d recommend going to the Ensemble Artisanal (Av. Mohammed V). It is a government run complex of arts & crafts with a good selection of goods – leather, jewellery, clothing, rugs, carpets and ceramics. The prices are fixed and you can shop without any hassle – I bought my niece and nephew some gorgeous babouches for a very reasonable price. At the back there are workshops where we saw some young ladies making carpets, an impressive and time-consuming task.

Next instalment: yoga, surfing & some great Moroccan inspired vegetarian dishes

Friday Night is Curry Night!

A few years ago, when I was still flatsharing in London, I lived with a girl called Justine. Before we’d even moved in together, we’d met up in a bar to sign the papers and got hilariously drunk on numerous cocktails. A bond over a mojito is unbreakable, well in our case it was anyway.

To this day it has been one of my happiest flatshares. We partied. We danced on the coffee table. We talked and talked. I introduced her to her now husband James. We cooked. And we had Friday night curry. This was tradition. Many years later, it still is. Today, married with a gorgeous daughter and a great new career as an interior designer, she still upholds this curry ritual when I visit on a Friday evening – we either order from the local curry house or she makes several dishes herself. All stunningly delicious might I add!

These are the little things that make our friendship something to cherish. We’ve seen each other through our very worst times but we also are each other’s biggest cheerleaders when life is good. It’s like having a second family. It’s irreplaceable.

I don’t claim this curry is going to be as good as anything Justine has made, but it’s most definitely in the spirit of Friday night!

Mushroom, Pepper and Pea Curry
Adapted from a recipe in Top Santé magazine from Anjum Anand

Ingredients
4tbsp vegetable oil
250g mixed mushrooms (oyster, shiitake and chestnut), cut into 2cm slices
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped
6g fresh root ginger, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I use my Cuisinart mini food processor to do the garlic and ginger together – it’s quicker!)
3 tomatoes, cored and blended into a purée (Cuisinart again but you can use a stick blender if needed)
1tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 red pepper
A handful of frozen peas
2 tbsps natural yoghurt (this is optional but I promise it makes it that little bit more special)
Chopped coriander, for garnish

Method
Heat 2tbsps of the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat another 2tbsps of oil and add the coriander seeds. Once these go darker, add the onion. Cook until golden. Then add the garlic and ginger and cook on low for 2 minutes. Pour in the spices and blended tomatoes, season and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the pepper, peas and add a splash of water and cook for approximately 4 minutes (until the peppers have softening). Add the mushrooms, cover for a few minutes (I use foil). Finally stir in the yoghurt, bring back to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped coriander. Serve with boiled rice.

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side dish.

NB: I have also made this by replacing the peas with spinach. Worth a try.

Ma petite noix de coco

Panna cotta. It is light, yet unctuous, it is refreshing yet indulgent. It’s a dessert of contrasts for me and that’s what I love about it. It’s my ‘go to’ dessert when I eat out, yet I’d never made it at home. One of the reasons for this is that John does not eat meat-based products so the use of gelatine was not possible. I finally found a recipe in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking cookbook which called for agar agar, a seaweed vegetarian gelatine substitute. This coconut panna cotta recipe comes with a summer berry coulis. But today is your lucky day and you get a ginger syrup coulis recipe thrown in as well! It makes for two very different desserts: the sweetness of the coconut against the tartness of the fruit works fabulously well and the fiery ginger compliments the coconut perfectly.

Coconut Panna Cotta
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients
1 can coconut milk
300ml milk
60g light cane sugar
8g agar agar

Method
Lightly oil 6 ramekins, set aside.
Put coconut milk, milk, sugar and agar powder in a pan. Then let it rest for 5 minutes to let the agar agar dissolve. Slowly bring the ingredients to a simmer for about 5-6 minutes, until the powder is incorporated (I used a wooden spoon which I pressed against the side of the pan for any lumps of agar agar). When the time is up, pour into the ramekins, set aside to cool down then chill in the fridge until set, about 2 hours.

Summer Berry Coulis
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients
2 cups frozen summer berries (you can use fresh raspberries & blackberries if you wish)
40g light cane sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Put berries, sugar and lemon juice in a pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Mash the berries a little, let it cool and then chill.

Fiery Ginger Syrup

50g ginger, skin still on in 2mm slices
160g cane sugar
500ml water

Combine ginger, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Lower the heat and simmer 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain, and keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.

BONUS: You can also serve this syrup as a drink – add about two tablespoons to a glass and add sparkling water, ice and a slice of lime. Stir gently. Enjoy.

Mon petit chou-fleur

It is about this time of year that I start to long for longer days and a glimpse of sunshine. Winter, be gone! In the kitchen, although I am still looking for comfort food as we slowly ease out of the darkness of this dreary season, I am also keen to try some fresh new tastes and to add some bright colours to my plate.

Well, I have just the thing for it. A comforting cauliflower, combined with juicy tomatoes, some spices and some citrus juice. It’s fresh, it has warmth and it is very different to any curry you will have ever tried before. Plus it’s all made in one pot so less washing-up!

Cauliflower & Tomato Curry
Adapted from Orchards in the Oasis by Josceline Dimbleby

Ingredients
1 medium to large cauliflower, cut into florets
500g plum tomatoes, peeled and quartered (method below)
4 tablespoons groundnut oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black onion seeds
4cm ginger, peeled and chopped
1-2 chillies, seeds and core removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of ½ lemon
Chopped coriander
Salt

Method

Heat the oven to 160 degrees.

Place the tomatoes in a pyrex bowl and cover them in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes. Remove and peel. Cut into quarters.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan. Once hot add the spices and fry for about a minute, then add in the chilli, garlic and ginger. Fry for another minute. Add the cauliflower and coat with the spice mixture. Once the cauliflower is smothered in the spice mixture, remove from heat. Place the quartered tomatoes amongst the cauliflower.

Add the orange and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt. Put the pan back on the heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven for 50 minutes. Serve with some brown rice.

This post is dedicated to my Grand-Mamy Read more

Back to basics

Recent times have shown how adversity can bring people together, you recognise you are stronger than you thought you were and from the murky depths you found yourself in, you re-emerge feeling like someone new, a better version of the one who came before.

It has been a dark journey, interspersed with moments of delight, quiet contemplation and learning. It is one journey which I cannot imagine myself not having as part of my life. It is part of who I am, it has shaped me.

This has prompted me to take everything back to basics, to crave simplicity, clean lines and tastes. To start from scratch with solid, plain ingredients.

This soup is all of those things. The first time I made it, I fell in love with it. The texture of the different ingredients, the clean yet comforting taste, the subtlety of it all. It’s all there. It is where I am at now.

Lemon & Spinach Lentil Soup
Slightly adapted from Cook in Boots by Ravinder Bhogal

Ingredients
225g split red lentils
1.5 litres of water
1 knob unsalted butter
Sea salt & ground black pepper for seasoning
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic gloves, chopped
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
150g baby leaf spinach

Method
Rinse the lentil until the water runs clear, then put in saucepan with the cold water, butter and the seasoning (be generous). Bring to the boil, cover the pan and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. You might find foam from the lentils comes to the surface, this is normal, just scoop it out.

Heat olive in a frying pan and cook onion and garlic until soft. Add the lemon zest, cook for a further minute, then set aside.

Once the lentils are tender, put the onions & garlic in the pan and add the spinach. Add the lemon juice and take off the heat.

Serves four.

Love at first bite

You know that recipe you are not quite sure will turn out well, or, in fact, at all. The one which could be quite dull. Or a failure. Or make you curse under your breath. And then out of the blue it comes and blindsides you with its almighty success. BAM! It’s a roaring and cheering crowd, it’s like winning the 100m at school, it’s love at first bite. People, I bring you polpette di spinaci alle nocciole, found on an Italian food blog recommended by a work colleague. The fact it was in Italian wasn’t going to stop me (thank you Google Translate). Don’t let it put you off either. This fabulous blog, Mozza In Carrozza, is a must if you are serious about your food.

Polpette di spinaci alle nocciole
Adapted from Mozza in Carrozza

Ingredients
1 egg
Salt, pepper, oil
A handful of breadcrumbs
100g potatoes
500g spinach
15g chopped hazelnuts
30g grated parmesan

Method
Put the spinach in a colander (you might have to do this in batches) and pour boiling water from the kettle over it. Drain and carefully squeeze out the water. Spread out on kitchen paper if need be and soak up the excess water by patting it with more paper.

Wash and peel potatoes, then cut it into pieces. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain. Mash the potatoes and mix with the spinach. Add in the parmesan cheese, egg and hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper.

Lightly grease your hands (I use spray oil) and shape the mixture into balls the size of a walnut. Place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the spinach balls with breadcrumbs and then place in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.

Serves two generously as a starter.

Sweetness & Light

Food is my favourite way to show my love and appreciation of my family and friends. It is all about pleasure; it has always been that way for me and I hope it brings a little bit of happiness to those I cook for.

I also think that making something for someone, if you are able to, is so much more thoughtful than buying it in a shop, ready-made. I’ve made cakes, cupcakes, chocolates and pain d’épices for friends as gifts, and it’s always been well received.

It was my sister-in-law’s birthday at the weekend and I really wanted to make her something bite-size and tasty. Who could resist a combination of dates, pistachios, almonds and honey?

Dates Stuffed with Pistachios & Almonds
Inspired by Food & Travel Magazine

Ingredients
25 dates
100g shelled pistachios
1 tbsp good quality honey
1 tsp good quality rosewater
50g ground almonds

Method

Stone the dates by making a slit lengthways to remove the stone.

Save 25 whole pistachios for decoration. Put the rest in a food processor along with the honey and rosewater. Process until well combined but still with little chunks of pistachios in the mixture so it retains a bit of crunch.

Put the mixture in a bowl and combine with the ground almonds. Carefully stuff the paste in the pre-prepared dates and top with a whole pistachio for decoration.

Place in petits fours cases. Make someone happy.

Tea in the library

… said with an overly posh English accent. My mother used to utter these words when she described my brother’s English accent back in our childhood and teens. We’re not quite sure where it came from. She thought he was only a step away from drinking said tea with his little finger in the air, in true English gentry style. Needless to say, things have moved on since then, I think coffee might be his drink of choice now. As for the accent, it’s still there sometimes, lingering.

Which brings me nicely onto scones. Not your typical English scones but some made with wholemeal flour. And triangular in shape. I know this is blasphemy in some circles. Never mind. I hope you won’t hold it against me.

I read quite a few American food blogs and the book which kept coming up time and again was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I’d made the Rosemary Olive Oil Cake which Heidi Swanson adapted for her 101 Cookbooks blog. It was superb. When I brought the cake into the office, I was nearly nominated employee of the week. Of course I am overstating it somewhat but I must convey how good it was. I was sold. So I got the book. Best thing I did. Divided into different sections for rye, spelt, barley, wholegrain etc, it’s got some great and sometimes unusual recipes.

I plumped for the Barley Strawberry Scones only to realise that I couldn’t find barley flour for love, nor money. Large supermarkets didn’t have it. Health food stores didn’t stock it. So I made it with wholemeal flour instead. The recipe also calls for buttermilk. Same story as the barley. I ended up making my own substitute with some full fat milk and lemon juice. It worked perfectly. These scones are best eaten warm. With a cup of tea in the library.

Wholemeal Strawberry Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

Ingredients

For the scones
½ cup of butter (equivalent to 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1 cup plus 2 tbsp wholemeal flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup regular or low-fat buttermilk (if you can’t find it, mix 1 cup full fat milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice)
1 large egg

For assembly
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 175 C. Use a little butter to grease a rimmed baking sheet.

Sift the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl, pouring into the bowl any grains that may remain in the sifter. Add the butter, then use your hands to break the butter into pieces the size of grains of rice. The quicker you work, the more solid the butter will remain, which is important.
Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl, then pour it into the flour mixture and stir until barely combined.

Liberally flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the surface and dust the top of it and your hands with additional flour, folding the dough a few times so it is not sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Flour your hands and pat each piece into a disk 7 inches across and about 3/4-inch thick. Use a pastry scraper to loosen the disks from the work surface.

Spread one disk of dough with the strawberry jam. Place the remaining disk on top, pressing down gently so the dough settles into the jam. Brush the top of the second disk with the melted butter, and then sprinkle it with the sugar.

Use a sharp knife to cut the double-decker disk into 8 equal wedges. Carefully transfer them to the baking sheet, spaced a few inches apart. Bake on the middle rack for 22 to 26 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The scones are ready when their tops are golden brown and some of the jam has bubbled over onto the baking sheet.

Use a metal spatula to transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly (and to stop them from sticking to the sheet as they cool).

Serve warm with clotted cream.

Stillness

I spent last weekend in Switzerland, and it rained. Mostly. Every day. I attract the bad weather. Jinxed I tell thee. Despite this poor show on the meteorology front, we went to this beautifully peaceful place called Champex-Lac. The stillness. The stunning surroundings. It brought peace. The photos speak for themselves.

I have no recipes for you this week. I did make Heidi Swanson’s Pierce Street Vegetarian Chilli when I was there. It was delicious and the texture was perfect! I’d add some smoked paprika to give it a little more depth. I served it with some potato wedges with melted Gruyère. I’ll be back next week with some new recipes.