Double Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream and Raspberries

Of all the challenges that baking presents, making cakes for vegans must rank as the hardest. When you can’t use eggs to give it a lift you have to go down the road of using raising agents, with the attendant risk of a soapy undertaste; when you can’t use the velvet luxury of butter you have to use oils, so you have to ensure you inject decadence in other ways.

Then there’s the texture: there are no eggs to hold air in and give the crumb its structure; there is no butter to give it strength. The most likely result is a dense, stodgy, unappetising cake that appeals to no-one. For that reason, when you find a great vegan cake recipe you should treasure it. When you find a great vegan cake recipe that carnivores also love… well, it’s treasure indeed. This one is clever, using baking powder and vinegar to give a good rise and open texture. Don’t worry, the vinegar is undetectable in this delicious cake.

This recipe comes from a book entitled ‘Peace & Parsnips’ by Lee Watson. Buy it. It is full of excellent recipes and ideas that prove that vegan cooking can result in delicious food that will hold its own against any cuisine.

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RECIPE 

For the cake:

150g unrefined brown sugar

220g plain flour

50g cacao powder

80g very dark vegan chocolate, chopped into very small pieces

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

75 ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

250 ml water

For the almond cream:

80g raw almonds, soaked overnight, brown skins peeled off

75 ml unsweetened almond or soya milk

100 ml vegetable oil

2 tsp almond extract

2 tbsp maple syrup

For the topping:

fresh raspberries

2 tbsp crushed pistachio nuts


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Oil and line the base and sides of a 24cm loose-bottomed springform cake tin.

Place the sugar, flour, cacao powder, chocolate, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir it all together. Add the oil, vinegar and water – gradually – and whisk slowly until it forms an even batter. Take care not to overwork it.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should pull out with a very small amount of sticky cake clinging to it.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for 30 minutes or so. Remove from the tin when it is nearly cool.

Meanwhile, make the almond cream. Put the almonds into a food processor and process, scraping down the sides regularly, until it is smooth, then drizzle in the milk and process until it forms a smooth cream. Now drizzle in the oil, which will make it thicken up. Finally, add the almond extract and the syrup, process briefly until thick and smooth, it should be the consistency of whipped double cream.

When the cake is almost cooled, spread a thick layer of the almond cream on top. Arrange the raspberries decoratively on top, any way you like, and finally sprinkle with the crushed pistachios.

This cake not only tastes incredible, it also looks amazing – definitely one to show off with.

Punjabi Chole

It’s been a long and lovely summer, and I have been away enjoying it. I have spent the last month revisiting some of my old recipes, travelling around in our old camper and rediscovering the joys of cooking with minimal equipment and facilities.

I will be sharing my discoveries in the weeks to come, but to get back in the groove here is a very simple, lightly spiced chick pea dish that is very much more than the sum of its parts. When I first saw the recipe I couldn’t believe it would be at all interesting, but my policy is always to make a recipe as it is written and then see how I can improve upon it. I can’t recall where I first saw this, which is a real shame because whoever first wrote it deserves all the credit – I don’t think I have tinkered with it at all, something as delicious as this cannot be improved upon.

The recipe calls for dried chickpeas – canned will do, but I urge you to take the plunge and do this the long way. Preparing the chickpeas the way I describe will give you creamy, delicious chickpeas the like of which you have never, ever tasted, and that’s a promise.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

150g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 heaped tbsp ginger paste/pureed ginger

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured. Make a paste out of the turmeric and cinnamon by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the chillies, the ginger paste, fresh ginger and the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer before adding the turmeric and cinnamon paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the chickpeas. Stir thoroughly again, adding a little water if needed, and cook gently for ten minutes or so.

At this point you can leave the chole to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chole gently and just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, garam masala and fresh coriander.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad.

 

Tomato Soup

So simple, so delicious. The trick with any soup is long cooking, extracting every last bit of flavour that is available in the freshest ingredients that you can get.

Judiciously add a little double cream right at the end and you will have a soup that tastes suspiciously like an extremely well-known and popular brand of tomato soup – at a fraction of the price.

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RECIPE – feeds 6

2 tbsp olive oil

2 medium carrots, roughly chopped

2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped

2 medium onions, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

2 vegetable stock cubes

2 tins of tomatoes

8 large ripe tomatoes

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

a good pinch of caster sugar

a small bunch of basil, leaves and stalks

double cream, to taste


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Keep the tomatoes whole and put them in a small roasting tin in the centre of the oven for 20-30 minutes until soft and just staring to char.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil and add the carrots, celery, onions and garlic and gently sweat on a low heat under a cartouche for twenty minutes until deeply aromatic and very soft. Include the green tomato vine stalks if you have them, they add incredible flavour. Just chop the stalks up into small pieces.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Turn the the heat up and add 1.5 litres of just-boiled water, crumble the stock cubes into it and add the tinned tomatoes and roasted tomatoes. Keep the tomatoes whole at this point.

Bring to the boil then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes under a lid.

Remove from the heat, add the vinegar and sugar, stir well then season. Now add the basil, whole, and blitz to a smooth soup using either a stick blender or decant into a flask blender. If using a flask blender you will need to do it in batches.

If you have used the tomato vine stalks then pass the soup through a sieve to remove any tough fibres. Check the seasoning again and gradually add the double cream until it tastes exactly how you like it.

Add a little water to loosen it up if necessary, and serve with crusty bread.

You will love this!

 

Toasted Bulghur Wheat

Bulgur wheat is a whole wheat grain that has been cracked and partially pre-cooked. It is a naturally high in fibre, low in fat, low-calorie vegetarian and vegan food that is most commonly found in tabbouleh. You can also use it in the place of rice or couscous, or any other whole grain such as barley or quinoa.

My favourite way of cooking it, which brings a deep and delicious nutty bite to it, is by dry-toasting it before hydrating it. It is so very simple to do, and ramps up the flavour of any meal with which it is served.


RECIPE 

70g bulghur wheat per person

and 120 ml water for each 70g serving


METHOD

Heat a large non-coated frying pan (I use a stainless steel risotto pan), do not use any oil. Add the appropriate amount of bulghur wheat to the pan, measure out the accompanying amount of water and set that aside.

The bulghur wheat will look golden like this when it enters the pan:

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Cook the bulghur wheat over a medium-high heat, keeping the grains moving often. Keep watching the pan at all times, the grains go from toasted to burned very quickly. After 3-5 minutes there will be a noticeable change in the colour of the bulghur wheat, and when it reaches the colour of dark honey it is time to take it off the heat.

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Add the water you measured previously, be careful because it will bubble vigorously when it hits the pan and release a lot of steam – the moisture loss is accounted for in the amount of water you measured. Agitate the pan so the water sits in an even layer with the toasted bulghur wheat, then cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

After this time fluff the grains up with a fork and serve.

Depending on what you are having it with, you can stir coriander or parsley through it.

Indian Spiced Rice

Think of this as an Indian version of Nasi Goreng and immediately you can see how much flexibility it gives you. Served tossed with prawns, chicken, pork, paneer or tofu it is a delicious meal all by itself. It also pairs well with milder sauces – pictured below it has been served with Prawns in a Spicy Tomato Sauce.

The list of ingredients looks daunting, but it takes minutes to prepare and can be on the table within 20 minutes.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 cardamom pods, seeds only

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp fennel seeds

2 whole star anise

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

3 cloves

a knob of ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

2 tsp garam masala

140g basmati rice

1 bay leaf

small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

2 red chillies, finely chopped

1 tbsp mango chutney

1 tbsp lemon juice


METHOD

Prepare your ingredients: bash the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle to release the seeds, discard the husk. Use as much ginger as you like, but at least a thumb-sized knob; there is much flavour in the skin so trim off any rough, woody and grey bits but don’t peel it. If you like chilli heat then leave the seeds in the chillies, if not then scrape them out before chopping.

In a large saucepan that has a lid, fry the onion, garlic, cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, star anise, fenugreek seeds, cloves and ginger in the oil with 1 tsp of garam masala. Cook over a medium heat until the onion is a deep golden brown, stirring regularly. This will take approximately 5 minutes.

Add the basmati rice and stir well until the rice is thoroughly coated. Add 250ml water, the bay leaf and the other teaspoon of garam masala. Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Now put the lid on the pan, turn down to the lowest heat and leave for approximately 15 minutes until the rice is cooked and the liquid has all been taken up.

Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves and bay leaf.

Add the chopped coriander, chillies, mango chutney and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly, check the seasoning and serve.

If serving tossed with any of prawns, chicken, pork, paneer or tofu, cook those separately and toss through the rice just before serving and serve with your salad of choice.

Kachumbali Salad

Salads don’t have to be bland and boring. This Tanzanian salad is traditionally served with grilled fish or meat, alongside rice. You’ll see red onion in there but don’t worry, it’s harshness is tempered by lemon juice, leaving it deliciously sweet and tangy.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 generously as a side dish

2 red onions, finely sliced

4 large tomatoes, finely sliced

2 green chillies, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely sliced

juice of a lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

it couldn’t be simpler… prepare all the ingredients and toss together in a large bowl with the lemon juice and seasoning. Ta daa!

Quick and Easy Fajitas

When thinking about something quick, easy, filling and nutritious to cook, normally my thoughts turn immediately to pasta. Luckily I keep a notebook of all the dishes that I have made over the years and it proved its worth last night as I flicked through it looking for inspiration. I hadn’t made this Fajita dish in a couple of years, and now I’m kicking myself for denying us the pleasure of its company for so long.

Just a handful of ingredients and a few spices, all of which I had to hand, makes for something very much more than the sum of its parts. I have used Quorn chicken pieces here, but it is as quick to make using real chicken, and if you are making it for a vegan, Quorn now do a vegan range – though the availability of their vegan products is still quite limited so you may need to search it out. As an easy vegan alternative try small chunks of aubergine, always a treat when lightly fried.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

For the seasoning:

1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

a pinch of fine sea salt

1 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground allspice

For the fajitas:

2 tsp ground nut oil

200g Quorn chicken pieces

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced

fresh coriander

4 soft flour tortillas


METHOD

Combine the seasoning ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Prepare all the fajita ingredients.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, when hot add all the fajita ingredients except the fresh coriander leaves and stir-fry for approximately five minutes until everything is soft and staring to colour.

Add the seasoning mix, stir thoroughly so everything is coated and continue to stir-fry for another few minutes until everything is thoroughly cooked. Take off the heat and add the fresh coriander, stir thoroughly and take to the table with the soft flour tortillas so people can make their own fajitas. The way to fold a fajita is to fill the middle of the tortilla, leaving a few inches free at the bottom, fold the bottom of the tortilla over the ingredients, then fold in from the sides to make a secure, leakproof container, like this:

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Add to your fajita with grated cheddar cheese, tomato salsa, guacamole, refried beans, let your imagination run riot!

Tomato Salsa

Delicious. That was my lovely wife’s verdict on this bright and zingy salsa. You might think that she has to say that, but we have a deal: if something isn’t right she has to tell me, that’s the only way I can get better. She won’t mince her words, so if she says it is delicious you can bet that it is.

This is a great accompaniment to Mexican and South American dishes – fajitas, tortillas, chilli – and is also good for barbecues and as a dip for tortilla chips.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 as a side

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped

1 long green chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped

4 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped

4 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and roughly chopped

red wine vinegar

1/2 cucumber, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 red pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 or 2 limes, and the zest of one

chopped fresh coriander leaves to garnish


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients.

Put the chillies, spring onions and tomatoes in a food processor with some salt and pepper and blitz until finely chopped. Tip into a sieve and leave for a few minutes to let the excess moisture run out, then tip out into a large bowl, check the seasoning, then add a good glug of red wine vinegar. Stir thoroughly, then add the finely chopped cucumber and peppers, and the zest of one lime. Stir thoroughly then add the juice of one lime.

Now it is time to taste and adjust the flavours. As required, add more red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and lime juice until the flavours are nicely balanced. Add them each a little at a time, you can always add more if required but you can’t take it out again.

When it tastes just how you like it, set aside until you are ready to eat. It is best to leave it for at least 30 minutes so the flavours can fully develop. Just before serving, add the chopped coriander to garnish, and stir through.

Courgette and Sherry Soup

My mother-in-law makes a wicked courgette and sherry soup. Sadly, she has been ill this week so my lovely wife asked if I could make her something nice and light: “how about a courgette and sherry soup? She loves the one that she makes”.

Yeah okay, no pressure then. She’s a great cook and now you’re asking me to make something that she makes all the time, with no idea of her recipe.

On with the thinking cap, and I think I nailed it. The secret here is to keep it simple and let the ingredients sing. Boy do they sing. It’s the time of year when the courgettes we grow in the garden are just big enough to eat, so I grabbed a handful of them and let them speak for themselves. They were luscious. I was accused of adding cream to this soup, but no, all of the silky creaminess comes from the courgettes themselves. A delight.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

25g butter (or 1 tbsp olive oil, if making it for a vegan)

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

400g courgettes, chopped

1 tbsp dry sherry

500 ml water

1 vegetable stock cube (use a vegan-friendly one if necessary)

extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

small basil leaves to garnish

croutons to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion and garlic, with the dried basil and oregano. Cover the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir in the courgettes, cover the pan and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. Turn the heat up, add the sherry and cook for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol, then add the water and crumble the stock cube into the soup. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, season carefully.

Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes then pour into a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick blender to do this.

To serve, garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a few small whole basil leaves, you can also garnish with a few croutons if you like.

Yellow Tarka Dahl

Dahl is perhaps the simplest yet most reliably gorgeous curried dish that you can make. Though lentils have a bad reputation: dismissed as the preserve of hippies and vegans, they are packed with protein, vitamins and trace elements and are low calorie as well. They also make for a very filling dish so they are ideal if you are on any kind of diet. Did I mention that they are delicious?

This dahl is made with chana dahl, which is very similar to the yellow split pea but cooks quite differently. Chana dahl will hold its shape well when cooked, while yellow split peas will go mushy when cooked. That said, for this recipe they are easily interchangeable so substitute one for another if you cannot find chana dahl on your supermarket shelf.

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RECIPE – feeds 3, with rice and a side salad 

250g chana dahl

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 onion, peeled and diced

3 whole green chillies

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Rinse the lentils thoroughly in three changes of water; the water will turn milky and you will know when they have been sufficiently rinsed because by the third rinse the water will be much clearer.

Cover the lentils with clean water, allowing a good inch of water above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil, and skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Simmer for around 45-60 minutes, topping up the water as necessary, until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

CAUTION: Do not season the water, the lentils will never be tender if they are salted before they are fully cooked.

If you have a pressure cooker the chana dahl will cook perfectly in around 18 minutes, but consult the instructions for your particular device.

Using a sharp knife, cut four small slits in each whole chilli, this will allow the sauce to penetrate and will flavour the sauce as well as tenderising the chilli. It makes them great to eat whole as part of the dish.

Put the ground turmeric, garam masala, hot chilli powder and ground coriander in a small bowl, add a little water and mix to a paste. Set aside.

Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a large pan, when hot add the cumin seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so until aromatic, then add the onions, ginger and chillies and fry for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are starting to go brown. Add the spice paste and stir thoroughly so everything is coated.

Meanwhile, put the tinned tomatoes and crushed garlic in a blender and blitz to a puree, then add it to the onion mixture. Combine well, add a further 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils to the sauce, adding a little more water if necessary. At this point you can allow the dahl to sit for a few hours so the flavours can infuse.

When ready to eat, heat through thoroughly and garnish with the fresh coriander.

Serve with some plain steamed or boiled basmati rice. This goes perfectly with a side of onion salad.