This blog is a celebration of the wonderful world of vegan cooking. Enjoy!

* The title of this blog refutes the dangerous idea that veganism is a weight-loss diet and that all vegans are skinny. Conversely, being a-not-so-skinny-vegan is also not the same as being overweight or unhealthy. All food intake must be part of a balanced lifestyle.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Zilli Green (London, UK)

*Note from restaurant: Zilli Green is being relocated from Monday 25th July 2011 and will no longer be in Dean Street.  To make sure our vegetarian customers are not neglected whilst this transition happens we have a selection of Vegetarian Dishes from the menu available in Zilli Fish restaurant, this will be cooked by our Zilli Green Head Chef to ensure the quality of the meals.  Please call 0207734 8649 for more information or to make a reservation.*

Zilli Green is a very neat little vegetarian restaurant tucked away on Dean St, Soho. Like everything in London (and the UK) it is very small but the setting is very pleasant nonetheless.

We ate here on the weekend as a bit of a treat. I call it a treat because the service, menu planning, quality of food and ambiance all were absolutely fantastic. However, don't be confused when you see the prices which were quite reasonable for a Soho meal (£9-13 for a main) and well below what I would expect for the service we received.

I was desperate to try the vegan tiramisu so I skipped the starter to make sure I had room for it. For the main I ordered the tofu steak which was very well presented and quite tasty. I do regret not going for the soya burger but I will be sure to visit again.

Geoff ordered the Malasian Laksa which he said was really good. The vegan options were clearly labelled but seem to contradict the website (for example the laksa is vegan on the website but not on the inhouse menu and vice versa for the tiramisu). Our friend ordered the Tagliatelle, Porcini Mushrooms & White Truffle Oil (which can be made vegan) and she was also quite impressed with it. This was the more expensive of the mains on the menu but the portion size very very generous (a lot bigger than my tofu steak) so probably worth it if you are hungry (she was very full by the end of it).

The tiramisu ended up being a bit of a disappointment. As much as I appreciate the fact that they had a vegan tiramisu it seemed to lack the potency of a liqueur. I could taste too much of the cake and not enough of the creamy, chocolatey goodness.

Geoff, however, was lucky enough to order the vegan cheesecake which was absolutely delicious. So I ate my dessert and then ate some of Geoff's!

As you can see the food was beautifully presented and, for the most part, was quite tasty. The desserts were quite pricey (£7-9) but if you want a special, romantic or celebratory night out this would be a place to consider. Just be warned that you need to be double jointed to use the tiny, tiny bathroom and that it's a unisex toilet so there's no guarantee the last person put the toilet seat down!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Food For Thought (London, UK)

We went down to London yesterday to see Hamlet at the National Theatre. Of course I like to get as many London vegan meals in as possible so we booked a table at Zilli Green (review to come) for dinner and planned to go to WholeFoods to stock up on vegan cosmetics and have some lunch. Geoff, however, had a different plan and we ended up in Chinatown before I knew it so he could get some Pandan Mochi. Since we were short on time we decided to have lunch somewhere closer.

Geoff had actually been introduced to Food for Thought earlier that week by a friend of ours (who is also from Brisbane but is living in London for a little bit). He loved it so, with the help of my extremely unreliable GPS and GoogleMaps, we ended up there for a very fast lunch.

The restaurant is located in Covent Garden on Neal St so is easy to get to but it doesn't exactly stand out so you can walk past it without knowing it (which we kind of did).

Once you are inside you head down some narrow stairs (take-away only is up the top) and are greeted with a small blackboard explaining the pricing and a very cheery server who explains today's options.

The room is not that big but there are bathrooms and there was plenty of spare seating (although it was Easter Saturday so London was very quiet). The tables have bowls of raw sugar, sea salt and pepper and you get glasses with your meal and there is water on each table that is regularly filled.

For £8 you can get a bowl of a "main" (I had a Mediterranean stew and Geoff had a Japanese stew but there was also a vegetarian lasagne and a vegan sweet potato and rice bake available) with your choice of salads. The salad helpings were very generous and the stews were really delicious so we felt it was very good value for money. There are cheaper options (just salad or main by itself or soup for around £4) and there looked like lots of desserts but I'm not sure if any were vegan.

Geoff was so impressed with the food he bought their recipe book so look forward to some recipes from it. And in general we were quite impressed with the place so will go back regularly and I highly recommend it for a hearty lunch or dinner.

EDIT: Something I forgot to mention was their "food philosophy". Every day the menu is different and made fresh and the day's menu is determined by what fresh, seasonal ingredients they can get their hands on. This means that the vegetables were fresh and delicious and their carbon footprint is a little less.

EDIT: We recently returned here but this time for dinner. Unfortunately, most of the food was sold out by then so we didn't get the yummy stew we were expecting. We also noticed a lot of people walked out when they realised there was no butternut squash soup. The chef obviously only makes a certain amount each day so if you want access to the full range I would recommend lunch or an early dinner.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

While we are on the subject of beetroot I would highly recommend this Can't Be Beet Chocolate Cake. It is super moist and has a delicious earthy chocolate taste. And it's low fat! The Forest in Brisbane used to have a cake that was similar (which was gluten free but not low fat) so it made me a little homesick.

I made it without the sauce simply because it is so delicious I didn't think it needed it. But I'm sure it would taste great with maybe a beetroot glaze or a berry frosting.

EDIT: Since first posting this I've had a lot of people contact me about how weird they think chocolate beetroot cake is. It's very much not weird! If you are in Brisbane you all need to go to The Forest in West End and try some! Or cook this one! It really is just delicious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beetroot Burgers

I mentioned a little while ago that my cousin had asked me to find the ultimate vegan burger recipe. I liked the Spicy Bean and Lentil Patties but thought I'd also try some other recipes. Of course my first point of reference was FatFree Vegan Kitchen and found the Roasted Beet-Tofu Burgers. However, I found the patties to be very sloppy and messy to eat. Although they look okay (see photo below) I thought the tofu in the patty made it far too soft and because you don't cook it separately it was a little bland.

After this attempt I decided to change things a little. I've been trying to move away from using too much tofu to using more beans. I've been buying lots of beans/chickpeas etc in dry form and soaking and cooking them myself. It is more effort but drastically reduces waste and energy use. The two ingredients you can prepare yourself to "save the world" I've listed under Advanced Preparation ingredients. However, I know not everyone has the time to be super green all of the time so there are alternative ingredients for the beets and chickpeas below the recipe and you won't need to do any of the advanced preparation steps.

 Beetroot Burgers

Advanced preparation ingredients:
3/4 cup dried chickpeas*
2 large fresh beets**
On the day of cooking ingredients:
1 tbsp ground flaxseed*** + 4 tbsp water
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 cup fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 tsp cumin, curry powder, hot chili powder
salt and pepper

Advanced preparation methods:

Soak the chickpeas overnight & cook according to packet. This will need to be done in advance.

Preheat oven to 180C. Trim the tops and roots off the beets but don't peel. Wrap each in foil and bake for an hour. Let the beets cool. Like the chickpeas this can be done in advance.

On the day of cooking methods: 

When you are ready to make the burgers peel the beets and chop roughly and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion for a few minutes and then add the garlic and fry for another minute or so. Set aside to cool a little.

Put the cooked chickpeas and flaxseed + water in a food processor and blend until it looks a little like chunky bread crumbs. Add the onion, garlic and beetroot and blend a little more (if you aren't careful you'll end up with big chunks of beetroot like I did). Transfer to large bowl.

Add the breadcrumbs and spices and mix. You should have something that sticks together quite well but is squishy enough to be shaped easily in the palm.

Grab small handfuls to roll into small balls. Then you can cook them according to either method below.

Cooking Method 1:

Heat a frying pan to medium heat with some oil (spray or liquid). Place the ball into the pan and flatten very gently with a spatula. Cook about 5-8 minutes on each side watching that they don't burn. If your patty isn't flat enough you are better to let it cook on the first side and then flatten it further on the second side.

Cooking Method 2 (fat free):

Spoon balls onto a lined baking tray and flatten gently with palm. Cook for about 40-60 minutes. If you want you can check after 30 minutes and flip the burgers.

If you don't flip the burgers in the oven the downside will be
a little paler and less crispy but no less tasty.

* Alternatively, just use a 400g can of cooked chickpeas and ignore my chickpea cooking instructions.
** Alternatively, you can buy precooked beets in a tin or from the fresh food section of your supermarket. If you do this you'll need about 4 and you'll just need to roughly chop them and ignore the beet cooking instructions.
*** I'm sure some other egg replacer would work but I would recommend flaxseed for the Omega-3 and the creamy taste.

I'm not sure what is called beets where and what is called beetroots
elsewhere but you are basically looking for something that looks like this.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Peach Bluba

So I have absolutely no idea if bluberries are in season or not. Since this is the UK I'm going to guess... not. But these little dudes were in my freezer and spring is pretty much here so I felt I needed some fruit dessert to celebrate. So this is my take on the classic Peach Melba which I have called Peach Bluba. Because of the blueberries. Also because I'm very clever and funny.

This dessert is ridiculously easy to make but very tasty and has some heat to take away the chill on these early spring nights but enough fruit to remind you that warmer days are on their way!

Peach Bluba

2 x peach halves*
1/2 cup frozen blueberries**
3 tbsp sugar***
1 scoop vegan ice cream

Place the sugar and blueberries in a saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly until the blueberries are heated throughout and they've release some of their purple juices so you have a nice, warm, viscous sauce. Remove from heat and let stand for a couple of minutes.

Place peach halves in a bowl with the ice cream. Spoon the berries over the peaches and ice cream and drizzle the blueberry sauce over as well.

* If you live in England they'll have to come out of a can because the fresh ones are just terrible at the moment.
** You could use fresh ones if you live somewhere closer to the equator.
*** I actually used fructose sugar because my agave nectar phase died out but I'm still not a big cane sugar fan.