Food: Review: The Occasional Vegan

Sarah Philpott begins her book with a quote from George Bernard Shaw but I’m going to begin with a quote of hers:

“I’m a home cook, not a professional chef, but I’m passionate about inspiring others to eat well, simply, cheaply and above all, creatively.”

There is so much in this book and its origins that I can relate to. It’s the reason I started this blog, it’s the reason I still keep my Instagram, it’s the thing I think about in the shower, on the bus and rolling around at night when I can’t sleep. Food is a big part of my life and has been forever and reading through Sarah’s book I get where she’s coming from as a working class girl, growing up with food being a cornerstone of her life too.

Besides from the fact that we’re both Welsh and grew up in the nineties, there’s a lot in Sarah’s book that reminds me of my own complicated relationship with food. Food hasn’t always made me happy and I’m happy to sing that from the rooftops. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder, low self esteem and boughts of depression in my life that have been hard to deal with. Sometimes food has been my friend and at other times it has definitely been my enemy. It wasn’t until a few years ago (early 2015 to be exact) that my true passion for cooking and inventing food became a reality. Until then I’d been mostly living at home and my mother rules her kitchen with an iron rolling pin. Most of my suggestions for a splash of this and a dash of that fell on deaf ears. In fairness my Mam is an excellent cook so a lot of the time it was a case of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!”. That being said I thrived on having my own kitchen and my own ingredients to play around with.

The title of the book belies the fact that Sarah is a full Vegan and she lays out her reasons and the argument for going Vegan right at the start. It’s a book aimed at people who may be on the cusp of going the whole nine yards, who have never considered it before or people who have already made the leap. Stacked from beginning to end with recipes which are self confessedly “easy to make”, her aim was to deliver “proper home cooking” and she achieves that with aplomb. You will find a blast from the past in this book, especially if you’re Welsh!

So, I’ve been lucky enough to get a hold of an advanced copy from Seren and I’ve spent some time pouring over it and decided to create two recipes from the book. The ‘main’, as it were, is her Beetroot Bourguignon, a brilliant and simple take on this classic French dish. For the second I chose and old favourite from my own past, her Bara Brith. I was especially keen to see how both coped with the translation from non to Vegan and I’m delighted to say both are absolutely delicious. I was also keen for something that would make a worthy meal for Easter Sunday, something classy but also casual and not too strenuous. As it happened I’d just returned from an epic walk and needed something that was easy to make and I was not disappointed.

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Beetroot Bourguignon

Both recipes are deceptively simple but this one I was a little more curious to see how it cooked. I’m used to slow cooking everything but this recipe is a wholly hob affair and works brilliantly. The recipe itself is super easy follow, made from ingredients that are readily available and cheap to buy. I halved the recipe for myself and my partner and it still made enough for us to eat the meal twice without being stingy on portion sizes. It calls for the veg to be chunky and this suits doing this meal fast with little fussy prep work beforehand.

One slight deviation I made was making my own stock. It calls for a lot of stock and/or wine and this is where the depth of the flavour really comes from. I made mine by peeling my veg over a simmering pot and chucking in the ends of the onions and the garlic, seasoning with a bit of salt and leaving it to bubble away while I continued with the recipe. After about 20-30 minutes it worked its magic and was ready to be used. It’s a great way of avoiding stock cubes (which can be pricey) and using up your food waste. It’s one of those little cheats you can pick up easily and will quickly become part of your cooking regime. Leftover snag ends of leek or cauliflower or broccoli, stick them in a bag and hide them in the fridge until you’ve got enough to brew away on the stove. You won’t regret it as it will really give your cooking character.

The only time the recipe really takes is the time it takes for the green lentils to finish cooking. Don’t be tempted to go red, they’re way too gritty and don’t have the heft and richness of green lentils when fully cooked. When they’re done the whole thing is, forgive the phrase, meaty and substantial. I love how the beetroot just permeates all the veg with a deep, ruby red quality so the whole thing just glows on the plate. You might also be surprised to know that the beetroot doesn’t overpower everything else, it’s the primary flavour don’t get me wrong, but it’s a deep and complex flavour that goes brilliantly with mash and fresh greens.

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Bara Brith

For the Welsh, Bara Brith is an institution and as it was our first Easter in Malmö I was feeling a little bit of hiraeth (a Welsh word that defies literal translation but in essence means ‘a longing for home’). Translated, bara means bread and brith, as Sarah points out, “refers to the speckles of the dried fruit in the loaf”. It’s a classic, old school soaked fruit cake and is traditionally served with lashings of butter and tea. Traditionally they have egg and milk in them, which are, I’m happy to say, wholly redundant ingredients. It calls for a splash of non dairy milk but other than that all rising and binding duties are handled brilliantly by the rest of the ingredients. I regret to say I was a shade more dubious about this one than the bourguignon, maybe it was the blood of my ancestors crying out, but I’m thrilled to say my doubts were totally unfounded. The bake handles beautifully and the fruit maintain their succulence so each spiced bite comes away soft and sweet and bursting with flavour.

I deviated once more, fractionally this time, from the recipe as I used jumbo golden sultanas, as they are abundant in Malmö. As a variation on a theme they were a brilliant choice as they swell with tea to almost grape sized nuggets. I made sure to use Glengettie, a proper Welsh brew that my good friend Nia sent us in a care package from home, for the recipe as I knew that the common or garden black tea you get abroad wouldn’t cut the mustard. As for the recipe’s execution it couldn’t be much easier than this: soak fruit, measure dry ingredients, combine, stir and pour into a baking tin and cook until done. I would recommend watching over it for the last half an hour or so to check when the knife comes out clean as the fruit and the dough can make things a little deceptive. It makes quite the substantial loaf so it would be perfect for serving your friends and relatives if they come over. As a proud Welshman I couldn’t have been more impressed with the recipe and if you aren’t Welsh then I would recommend this as an alternative to the usual tea cake recipes. Perfect for a Welsh addition to a Swedish Fika (with some vegan butter and a sprinkle of Halen Môn salt, of course)!

Even though I’ve picked two of the more traditional recipes from the book, one of the things that excited me when reading it was the variety of the origins of her recipes. It’s a modern and worldly book and you can really feel her love for exciting and diverse flavours. I really can’t wait to make her porkless pie as it really excites me from a flavour and food innovation perspective. Easy to make, cheap to prepare and packed with hearty flavours, I’ve got to say I will be flicking through this one time and again for inspiration in the future.

 

Published By Seren Books, RRP £12.99

With Pictures by Manon Houston

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Food: Eating Vegan at The SWiGG

 

When describing Swansea to anyone new the fact that it’s by the sea will probably come up at least once. It’s great for surfing, long walks along the sands and generally admiring in all its beauty. I’d imagine “vegan” isn’t the first word that comes to people’s’ minds when they think about Swansea.

The SWiGG however has an exciting new menu that includes, not just vegetarian options, but SFV options too. The recently reopened bar and bistro has been working hard to tempt new custom down to the waterfront for a unique take on Welsh cuisine. Situated in the shell of the National Waterfront Museum’s older wing, directly opposite the iconic lighthouse and tugboats in the heart of the marina, The SWiGG is inarguably more sophisticated than ninety percent of the bars and restaurants around. It offers the chance to sample something a bit different – a Welsh take on tapas. Well, more like ‘small plates’ than anything, but it’s an opportunity to try something uniquely Swansea but crucially, with a Vegan twist.

To begin with a glance at their coffee and daytime options, if you’re looking for delicious and SFV then look no further than their cakes and chocolate cups from Naturally Kind Food, washed down with some Coaltown Coffee (Soy milk available, of course). If you’re sticking around for a drink then how about some of their SFV beers like the award winning Cwtch from Tiny Rebel Brewery. For the more sophisticated try a gin cocktail with Dà Mhìle seaweed gin. They also stock a great range of soft drinks and juices like Hartridge fruit juices.

FOOD Swigg

For lunch or supper there’s the Beetroot Hummus, Crudité and Pumpkin Seed Salad is a riot of colour and flavour. The hummus itself is big on colour but delicate on flavour. Their Laverbread and Leek Stuffed Mushrooms are gloriously meaty (forgive the expression), with a zingy filling that bursts with lemon zest. Finally, their Vegan Salad is laced with ribbons of carrot, with tangy hits of crunchy peas, dotted with jewels of pomegranate seeds and crunchy peanuts, dressed with a soy rich dressing. They also have a Tabbouleh Salad with bulgar wheat, tomatoes, pomegranate, parsley and lemon and they’re working on a new breakfast of avocado, tomatoes and mushrooms stuffed with laverbread and lemon on toast.

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So, whether you’re chilling in the Cwtch Corner under the bespoke artwork, sitting at the bar, basking in the sun outside or inside at a table, you never feel like you’re just another customer. If you’ve ever wondered what Wales can offer the world beyond a SFV take on cheese on toast, then The SWiGG has the answer.

Vegan Salad

Food: Beetroot, butterbean & dill burgers

Here’s an easy recipe for some tasty ruby red patties, perfect with a zingy balsamic dressed salad.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tins of butterbeans, drained
  • 1 Roasted beetroot, grated
  • 1tbs lemon juice
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Glug of garlic oil
  • 1tsp dill oil (optional)
  • Handful of fresh dill, chopped
  • Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt & pepper

To roast the beetroot (I do this in advance with many different types of veg when I have a big bag or when I’m roasting other things) drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 25 minutes on 180 and then leave to cool. Drain the beans but keep the aquafaba. I tend to sieve mine over a cup or bowl.

Place the beans into a bowl and mash them until they’re mostly broken down. Combine with the other ingredients and mix thoroughly (hands are better than spoons!). Form them into patties and place them on a greaseproof lined tray, leave to firm up in the fridge for (min) 30 minutes to 1 hour.

When ready, place in a 160 oven and cook for around 10 minutes on each side (turn and repeat). Take out and leave to cool. They aren’t done yet but the cooling helps keep them together. When you’re ready to eat them, fry them in an oiled pan on a medium heat for a few minutes each side just to colour. The frying will bring out all the lovely redness of the beetroot. Place them back in a low oven to heat through and serve.

Last night I served mine in a sourdough roll with thick slices of avocado and my Vegan smoked salmon, available here. It goes well with roasted new potatoes and my beetroot and caraway martini, also available here.

Enjoy!

 

Drink: Beetroot caraway martini

Currently I have a little obsession with anything beetroot flavoured. After absolutely hating it as a child I can’t seem to get enough of the stuff now, it’s funny how our tastebuds change. Here is an interesting Nordic inspired cocktail that will give you some pep in your step, or rather beet on your feet.

You’ll need (per person):

  • 2 Shots of Vodka (I used REYKA Vodka, a smallbatch vodka from Iceland)
  • 1 Shot of  Dry Vermouth
  • 10ml Beetroot juice (I used James White organic beetroot juice)
  • Dash of sugar syrup
  • 1tsp caraway seeds

To garnish:

  • Some pickled beetroot

Combine all into a jug/pitcher and leave the caraway infuse the puce mixture for atleast five minutes to gain its aromats. When ready, strain into a martini glass and garnish with a slice of pickled beetroot on a cocktail stick. The earthiness will be quite beguiling, but it’s a definite to match with my vegan smørrebrød.

 

Cheers/ skål!

Food: Vegan Smørrebrød

Smørrebrød, (lit. butter and bread), or open faced sandwiches, are an iconically Danish dish, but much of their popularity is due to a recent renaissance thanks to Adam Aaman’s Deli and Takeaway. Before that, their heyday was during the 19th century when they were eaten in Copenhagen restaurants by men playing cards. These days they’ve become an art form in themselves, each sandwich carefully constructed like ‘Nordic sushi’.

Using my recipe for Vegan gravlax I decided to come up with some classic combos. Smørrebrød needs good bread base so I bought a seeded rye rugbrød from Brød in Cardiff. The smør (butter) element is just as important to the dish as the bread, so make sure you layer each slice with a generous spread of your favourite butter, Vegan in my case. Spread liberally, In Denmark they say you should ‘spread corner to corner’.

Here are three classic varieties.

For the laks you’ll need:

  • 4 slices of Vegan gravlax,
  • Sprig of dill
  • 4 slices of cucumber salad,
    • Half a cucumber, sliced finely
    • 4tbsp sugar
    • 4tbsp white wine vinegar
    • some mustard seeds; some black peppercorns
    • Handful of fresh dill, chopped finely
    • a few bay leaves and a splash of water.

To make the cucumber salad simply combine the ingredients in a small bowl and leave to do their thing for an hour or two at least. It’s best to leave them for longer so the cucumber has time to soften a bit. I make mine up and leave them in the fridge as they last for ages.

To assemble, simply combine artfully & garnish with a sprig of dill 😀

For the kartoffel, you’ll need:

  • 3 medium new potatoes, boiled, cooled and sliced into coins,
  • A dollop of vegan cream cheese,
  • A spoonful of seaweed caviar (available from IKEA),
  • Sprinkle of crispy onions,

For the cream cheese I used Oatly’s PåMackan that I brought back from my trip to Malmö. Sadly it’s a Scandi exclusive for the time being but any Vegan cream cheese would work. I personally like the one from Bute Island Foods.

Again, to assemble, simply layer artfully with the potatoes at the bottom.

For the Levepostej og rødbeder, you’ll need:

  • 2tbs of Vegan leverpostej (see below),
  • 3 pieces of crinkle cut pickled beetroot,
  • 1tbs of chopped parsley,
  • 3 rings of lingonberry pickled onions:
    • 1 red onion, sliced thinly on a mandolin,
    • 1tbs lingonberry cider vinegar (IKEA),
    • 1tbs lingonberry syrup (IKEA),
    • A splash of water,

Again, the pickled onions benefit from having been made in advance, but an hour or two will do. As for the leverpostej (liver pate), this was a bit harder to replicate. It’s a classic Danish ingredient but for a Vegan it requires a degree of creativity! I used the mushroom pate from Suma, which is very rich and delivers that meaty body that you need. To give it the classic pink hue I simply mixed in some pickled beet juice! Hey presto – a convincing alternative is born.

Enjoy your smørrebrød with a shot of cold snaps – oh, and don’t forget to use cutlery! (It’s a faux pas to pick them up with your hands in Denmark :P)

SKÅL!