Saturday, 3 March 2012

Wholegrain Khitchri- vegan

This khitchri is great with a green salad and/ or a dollop of yoghurt!

If you are expecting the traditional one-pot version, which (in the hands of a careless cook like me) can easily turn into a stodgy mush, then prepare to be disappointed... this khitchri rocks! I have never served it to anyone who didn't like it, and some have said it is the best one they ever had. Makes a nutritious breakfast/ brunch, or add a simple green salad and have it as a main meal; it's both tasty and satisfying. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients, as it's still quite easy to make. My secret?- Use whole mung beans and brown rice, as they turn to mush far less readily than their split and husked counterparts, as well as being nutritionally superior. And how to make this "dry" khitchri without the vegetables disintegrating? -Cook them separately and add them at the end, of course! (Purists, click away from here now...) I started cooking this about 11 years ago, at first using a great recipe from "The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking", then gradually changing a lot of the ingredients and quantities, then using the whole grains and beans, making it dairy-free and cooking it in two parts. I think I can safely say it's now my own creation! This recipe serves six to eight people.

1 cup (250ml) whole mung beans; no need to soak them for this
1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice
5 cups water
1/2 med. cauliflower, washed and cut into small florets
1 lg potato, scrubbed (not peeled) and diced into 1.5cm cubes
100g fine green beans, trimmed and cut into 2cm pieces
1 med. red pepper (capsicum/ bell pepper), chopped the same size as the green beans
4 med. tomatoes, washed and quartered
4 tabs light olive oil or ricebran oil (butter ghee is a great lacto alternative)
3 tsps cumin seeds (jeera)
1/2 tsp chilli powder (or 1/2 a fresh red chilli, minced)
2 tsps grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp hing
2 tsps seasalt
3 tsps turmeric (haldi)
1-1 1/2 tsps coarse black pepper
1 tab extra-virgin olive oil (unsalted butter is also great if you want dairy in this)
the juice of 1 lemon
  • First wash the rice and beans together, add the 5 cups of water then boil until the water is absorbed and they are cooked but retain their shape. (Check from time to time; depending on the exact type of brown rice you use, you may need a little more water.)
  • Meanwhile, prepare all the vegetables as above.
  • In another pan, pour the light olive oil, heat and begin to fry the potatoes and cauliflower, stirring to avoid them sticking to the bottom. 
  • After a couple of minutes, add the cumin seeds and gently brown them.
  • Next, throw in the chilli, ginger, ground cumin and hing, along with the green beans, the red pepper and the quartered tomatoes. 
  • Turn the heat right down and leave with the lid on to sweat until cooked. Give it a stir from time to time and add a little water if you need to. 
  • By now the mung beans and rice should be cooked and all their liquid absorbed. Stir in the seasalt and haldi. As soon as the vegetables are cooked (wait until the tomatoes have broken down) stir the rice and mung beans into them. 
  • Just before serving, add the lemon juice, black pepper and extra-virgin olive oil (or unsalted butter). 
  • Serve with a green salad and/ or yoghurt/ soya yoghurt, or maybe your favourite chutneys...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ingredients of the month 6: Whole Foods from Ethnic Stores Can Save you Money

Clockwise, from L: hawthorn sweets, beancurd sheets, tahini, preserved black beans and date syrup

I'm so lucky that I live in a very multicultural city and have access to foods from many different cuisines; it really helps to inspire me, and can save money too as some ingredients that you would usually get from a wholefood shop are much cheaper in an ethnic grocery. I am all in favour of supporting your local independent wholefood business, but there are times when saving yourself money becomes more of a priority.

  • Take tahini, for instance; here in the UK you could pay over £3 for a very small glass jar of it from the speciality section of a supermarket or from a wholefood store- even more if it's organic. But if you look in a shop where they sell Middle Eastern foods you will find 900g plastic tubs of it for the same price, and although it's not organic, it has no salt added and is just as good quality as the more expensive brands.
  • There are also natural sweeteners to be had; again, not organic, but substantially cheaper than the wholefood stores or supermarket chains. Date syrup is usually available from Middle Eastern shops, and of course dried and fresh dates from Middle Eastern and Pakistani supermarkets. In a Turkish shop I once found mulberry syrup, which combines really well with tahini to make an excellent sweet spread- who needs peanut butter jelly sandwiches? Gour (jaggery) and shakar are also available in any Indian/ Pakistani shop in a number of forms; as powdery crystals, in large 7kg blocks or in smaller lumps. Gour contains sucrose, but is unrefined and high in iron and other minerals. It can be from cane, date or palm juice, and ranges from pale beige to golden-brown Kolhapuri gour from Maharashtra (my favourite.) Good quality gour may seem quite pricey in comparison to something like ordinary sugar, but compare it to a similar product such as South American rapadura which wholefood shops often sell and it comes out as very reasonable. The fact that you can but gour in bulk is also convenient and contributes to its overall cost-effectiveness.
  • Pulses are of course a great buy in any ethnic store. You can get them in larger quantities and often in greater variety than supermarkets. You're unlikely to find organic pulses, but they are very reasonably-priced, and you can get them in large bags. Mung beans for both cooking and sprouting are a good buy here, as are yellow chickpeas and the excellent and healthy kala chana. Look for black-eyed beans (lobhia) and red kidney beans too. Turkish and Middle Eastern shops also sell dried fava beans, which are like broad beans. My husband buys them for seed and they make great broad bean plants which yield well. Lebanese/ Egyptian ful medames is made from brown beans or fava beans. Of course, there are also all the various types of dal in Asian shops which you can't get anywhere else.
  • Brown basmati rice is another good buy from Asian shops: it is not that cheap, but better for you than white rice and has a distinct flavour all it's own, quite unlike ordinary brown rice. I have found that brown rice, organic or otherwise, is often not available in supermarket chains, so buying a big bag of brown basmati may just save you a lot of time.
  • Herbs and spices are some of the best things you can get in ethnic stores. They come in sensibly-sized small,  medium and large bags rather than those silly tiny little glass jars we love so much in the UK, which have more packaging than actual product. You can get all your old favourites plus specific flavourings for Asian and Arabic cuisines such as kalonji seeds, panch phoron, hing (asafoetida), camphor, dalchini (cinnamon) etc. There are also such exotic things as dried pomegranate, star anise and so forth. If you love collecting herbs and spices, you will adore the herb and spice shelves here!
  • Oils, I am just starting to appreciate, can also be good buys. In Asian shops you can get pure almond oil and coconut oil very inexpensively as well as products such as  mustard oil and cottonseed oil used in Indian cookery. You probably won't get cold-pressed organic or extra-virgin, but (depending on how you use them) they will be a lot better for you than supermarket brands of mixed vegetable oils and sunflower oils. Don't forget ghee, either, if you eat dairy peoducts. It's a very stable oil and much healthier to use than vegetable oils for frying. (Not cheap, though.) Do avoid anything labelled "vegetable ghee", however, as these products contain trans fats and are really bad for you.
  • Sesame seeds (til) are a fairly common ingredient in several international cuisines including Chinese and Middle Eastern and are now often used in European-style wholefood recipes, so they are an absolute must here. Seeds and nuts are extrememly nutritious foods, so you might want to buy a kg or two of almonds as they are considerably cheaper than elsewhere at certain times of year. Cashews and peanuts too are usually very reasonably-priced.
  •  Chinese supermarkets- Also hold many delights for the vegetarian, if you can stomach all the shelves/ freezers of strange dried animal parts that you tend to get in these shops! Tofu, beancurd, black beans, and various kinds of soy sauce are all good here. In my local Chinese supermarket, you can buy tubs of home-made firm-silken tofu for a fraction of the price of tofu in supermarkets and wholefood shops. (Again, though, you are sacrificing organic for economy.) Check out noodles made from various grains such as rice and buckwheat as well as wheat, but make sure they do not contain egg.
  • Miscellaneous exciting ingredients- Vine leaves from Middle Eastern, Greek or Turkish shops are a source of iron, calcium and vitamins A and C, and you can have fun creating your own mezze. In some Asian supermarkets, you can find small and very hard dried apricots. These are very sweet so useful in sugar-free dishes and are very much like the expernsive Hunza apricots, only harder. A can of patra leaves has often saved the day for me when faced with endless school holidays and a horde of hungry children. Without resorting to junk food, you can make a quick and satisfying lunch by grilling them on both sides and serving in a wholemeal bun with salad and relish; instant spicy vegiburgers! My most recent find was a packet of hawthorn-berry sweets (like little discs of fruit leather) from a Chinese shop. They do contain sugar, however. They are just sitting in my cupboard patiently waiting until I find a use for them. The list is endless, actually; rose-petal jam, sandalwood, rose and fruit syrup, dried spiced mung bean dumplings... all waiting for you to come along and be inspired by them!
So what foods have you discovered in your local ethnic stores? Do let me know via the comments.

    Wednesday, 29 February 2012

    Chocolate date birthday cake- vegan

    Shown here with a milk chocolate-covered date, but the cake itself and its filling  is completely vegan. (Apologies for blurry photo, but I was excited and the lighting was not so good...)

    My husband cooked us a lovely vegan meal for my birthday last week, and for the cake he also told me the exact quantities of everything, so I am pleased to be able to share his awesome recipe with you! (The main course was the best vegan lasagne ever; so good, in fact, that our cheese-loving kids didn't reach for the grater at all. I photographed it, and as soon as he shares his recipe I'll post it.) 

    300g white self-raising flour
    200g organic wholemeal flour
    5tsps baking powder
    200ml light olive oil
    50ml water
    180g demerara sugar
    70g date syrup
    6 tsps cocoa powder
    300ml soya milk
    •    Mix the dry ingredients (apart from the sugar) together in a large bowl.
    • ·         Whizz up the rest of the cake ingredients in a blender, including the sugar.
    • ·         Combine the wet and dry mixtures, then add soya milk and beat well to mix.
    • ·         Pour into damp 10” silicone moulds (or greased and floured cake tins).
    • ·         Bake in a preheated oven at 175C for 22 mins (fan oven time) or until a thin skewer inserted comes out clean.

    12 fresh sticky dates, pitted (the sort you can buy from Arabic shops packed in cardboard boxes- not the ones with the plastic fork you can get at Christmas time.)
    1 tab tahini
    Just enough water to blend, then stir in 4 tsps cocoa powder.
    • Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly in a blender.
    •  Spread on one of upturned cooled cakes and sandwich together

    12 fresh sticky dates (as above), pitted
    A bar of your choice of chocolate
    • ·         Put on top of cake, alternated with squares of chocolate. Melt chocolate briefly under the grill. Or make chocolate dates and top with those. Being something of a perfectionist as well as an amazing cook, my husband put a walnut inside each date before covering them with the chocolate.

    Vegan Green Pesto #2

    Green and yummy! Looks like some kind of chutney...

    I served it with spaghetti and steamed broccoli. I left some pine nuts whole for the texture
    This recipe is a little more complex than my Quick Vegan Pesto, but still very easy and speedy to prepare. My husband is away in India at the moment, so I'm taking the chance to make some of the things we wouldn't normally have as he doesn't like them. Pasta served this way is not something he finds particularly digestible. He also hates khitchri, so look out for a khitchri recipe coming soon! (The thing is, cooking these dishes only makes me miss him more...  :( ... )

    These quantities served four of us:
    50g pine nuts (pignolia)
    40g fresh basil, stalks and all
    1tsp dried basil
    3 tabs of a nice, fruity extra-virgin olive oil
    1/2 tub vegan "Parmesan" (I used Parmazano brand)
    a pinch of seasalt
    1 tsp hing
    1/4-1/2 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
    • Grind the pine nuts, leaving some whole. (Then you get little bites of intense pine-nutty flavour in your pesto).
    • Put them in a bowl with the "Parmesan".
    • Whizz up the fresh basil with the olive oil in a blender until it forms an oily paste.
    • Add the blended mixture to the bowl with the pine nut mixture.
    • Mix in the salt, pepper, dried basil and hing.
    • You can serve this with pasta, hot or cold, or as a salad dressing.

    Monday, 27 February 2012

    What are the healthiest oils to use in the kitchen?

    I found all these in my cupboard today, and there was also some hemp and flaxseed oil- are they the right oils or not?? Find out below...

    I've been doing a bit of research lately into which oils are the best (ie: the least harmful and most health-promoting) to use in the kitchen, and which oils to avoid. There is a lot of confusing and conflicting information on the subject out there, and it has taken me quite a long time to sift my way through it, but I persisted, as I really wanted to know what's safe and what isn't, and if there are any ways to save money and still buy the healthiest oils. If you would like to know more, I have included links to my main sources of information, but here's a simplified version of the basic facts I came up with:
    It strikes me that there are two main points of concern with edible oils: 1) The nutritional profiles of the unheated oils per se, plus the balance of saturates, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates with all the health implications that brings. 2) The effect of heating on the various types of oil. Don't expect any of the nutrients in an oil to remain intact when heated; if you are buying an oil for its nutrients, then stick to using it uncooked in salad dressings or drizzled on baked potatoes. Frying and cooking with oils is really more a matter of damage limitation than positive nutrition. Heating will eventually result in hazardous chemical changes in the oil, but some oils will stand higher temperatures than others before this happens, and that's where making the right choice of oil for cooking comes in.
    • Frying: Oils which are to be heated are potentially dangerous because when heated, all oils will oxidise and eventually get to a temperature at which they start to degrade and break down into harmful substances. (These are free fatty acids/ free radicals which are mainly produced by oils high in polyunsaturates, and are highly carcinogenic. A recent study showed that people who eat a packet of crisps every day, especially women, have a much higher risk of cancer.) This is called the smoke point. As the term implies, you can tell when an oil has reached this stage because it givers off blueish smoke and smells bad. It can also make your eyes smart. To find more info on the smoke points of various oils, go to: Obviously, it is important to choose an oil with a smoke point well below the temperature to which you are going to heat it. Here are a few examples of the smoke points of various oils: sesame- 210C, canola (rapeseed)- 204C, extra virgin olive oil 191C, extra light olive oil 242C, unrefined coconut oil 177C, refined coconut oil 232C, refined peanut oil 232C, refined sunflower oil 227C,  rice bran oil 254C and ghee 250C. The more refined an oil is, the higher its smoke point and the less risky for cooking it is, so forget your extra-virgins and cold-presseds here.The average temperature for frying is about 170-190C, so you can see that all these oils must be okay for frying, right? (Especially if you have an electric deep-fat fryer and can control the temperature.) -wait: not so fast! To truly minimise the health risks when cooking, you have to choose oils that are not polyunsaturated (as these break down less readily than polyunsaturates when heated), such as rice bran oil, olive oil or ghee, for example. It turns out that saturated fats are definitely not always the baddies they have been made out to be! You can find a great article on the subject here. Now I've ruled out sunflower oil and canola oil from my shortlist. Another tip about frying: don't reuse your high smoke-point oil more than once, or a couple of times at most- watch for colour and smell changes to tell you that it's no longer safe.
    •   Remember that If you are baking or roasting above 200C, however, you can see that only some of the above oils are okay. Armed with my new knowledge, I'd now favour ricebran and peanut oils, and refined coconut oil for this, although I'm sure there are others. My reasons for this choice are also economic, as where I live in the UK they are relatively cheap compared to some other oils. So, you can fry, bake and roast more safely without it costing too much money; so far, so good...
    • Oh, and throw the highly refined mixed "vegetable oil" out of the window for all purposes (except to fuel your car) as you can't tell how safe it's going to be because of the mixture. It also tastes and smells horrible!
    •  Trans fats and and margarine: Once, polyunsaturated hardened fats (aka trans fats or hydrogenated fats) were considered better for you than saturates such as butter, but we now know about their great dangers (see "Frying", above) and they are even banned in some countries. However, you can still buy margarines which contain trans fats in most places, and these should be avoided at all costs. I do sometimes use an unhydrogenated vegan margarine for baking, but usually only the soya variety, as sunflower oil has a slightly lower smoke point (though both are within safe limits for baking). One other thing I've learnt: vegetable ghee is not safe like butter ghee as it is hydrogenated, so avoid it!
    • Fats and oils are essential for your nutrition!- But choose the right ones. These oils are not going to be heated, so cold-pressed, extra- virgin oils are the ones to use for boosting your health. they are best kept in the fridge, or at least in opaque bottles in a cool place. There is no space to go into detail about all the good oils, but Patrick Holford's "New Optimim Nutrition Bible"  has lots of  information and an easy-to-understand visual approach to this subject. (Although he does not advocate an exclusively vegetarian diet, his concept of  personalising diet and nutrition is great.) Basically, your body needs a good balance of omega oils and polyunsaturates to function properly. If you are choosing the safest oils for cooking, you won't be using polyunsaturates, so make sure you get them in your uncooked oils.You don't need fried food for the oil, but you do need these oils, so make sure most of your fats come from them. As well as salad dressings, you can have ground seeds and seed butters, nuts and nut butters, avocados, etc. Monounsaturated fats reduce harmful chloresterol levels in the body, whilst boosting "good" chloresterol (known as HDL). Polyunsaturates lower overall chloresterol but don't boost your HDL levels. Current views  now state that some saturated fat is okay, but you will be having plenty of that if you cook with oils anyway. Some examples of good uncooked oils are: flax, hemp, extra-virgin coconut (but this contains a LOT of saturate although some of them are said to be better for you than most types of saturate, so limit its use if this is a concern for you) ricebran, extra-virgin olive,  cold-pressed sunflower, hazelnut and pumpkin. Read more: 
    • Other useful links :  Daily mail article: Read more:     Wiki answers article 
    My conclusion? -Well I do seem to have the right oils in my kitchen already, as long as I make sure I use them for the right purposes, and don't heat the ones with lower smoke points than the temperature to which I am going to heat them. Oils don't always come in a bottle or jar, and it's a nutritionally better option to get them from nuts, seeds, etc. And if I had to choose just one all-purpose safe and nutritious oil? It would be rice bran oil for its excellent nutritional profile when cold (it is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants) in addition to its very high smoke point and relatively low cost. Ideally, though, I would use it in conjucntion with extra-virgin olive oil in salad dressings for extra flavour and nutrition, as it is very bland. I would also supplement omegas in other oils or seeds. (Butter ghee would be another great oil for cooking if you are not vegan. The Ayurveda also states that it is "Sattva Guna", or in the Mode of Goodness. I always keep some in the house for offering to Krishna either in the form of a ghee lamp or on food offerings.) 
    So there you have it! What oils do you favour using? Are they safe? What nutritional benefits do they have?