Saturday, 1 December 2012

Ingredient of the Month 15: Kale

L-R: Purple curly kale, cavalo nero, ragged Jack

Jersey Cabbage, a traditional kale from the Channel Islands

Ragged Jack, another heritage kale from the UK
Kale, or "borecole",  is without doubt one of the most nourishing foods you can eat: there's something about its vibrancy when you see it growing that kind of tells you that anyway. (The photos of our own kale above were taken with my mobile phone a couple of years ago in Spring and I hope they illustrate this.) Kale is a member of the brassica family (which includes cabbages, collards and broccoli), being different from cabbage in that its central leaves do not form a "head". It seems to be able to grow anywhere, from Congo and Kenya, Scandinavia and Ireland to China and Japan, and was once called "hungry gap" as it grows well in Winter, when there is little or nothing else available in field or garden. -In fact, kale is more sweet and tender after it has been touched by a frost, and you will also find that it keeps really well in the freezer. In Scotland, kale was traditionally grown in "kaleyards", protected from the wind by stone walls.  We grow several kinds of kale in our allotment, in a cage to stop the pigeons from eating it all. We have trendy cavalo nero (aka Tuscan black kale), tender Chinese Kailan, frothy-leaved curly kale, colourful Ragged Jack and tall (and somewhat tougher) Jersey kale. They make an attractive Winter display; a lush island of greenery amid brown, bare soil.

This is where kale really comes into its own, as it has been hailed as a "superfood" for its outstanding nutritional profile. It contains high levels of beta carotene, vitamin K,vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and calcium. It even contains some protein, vitamin E, iron and omega 3 oils, amongst numerous other nutrients.
  • There are 45 different flavonoids in kale, which include kaempferol and quercetin. These are both antioxidant and antinflammatory and great for preventing/ alleviating chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (the damage that free radicals do). 
  • One of kale's more well-known and researched benefits is that it contains a double whammy against cancer: first up is sulphoraphane, a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Chopping the kale finely will bring this out more, but boiling will decrease the sulphoraphane levels. (It has been found, however, that steaming or stir-frying kale don't result in much of a loss.) Kale's anti-cancer weapons number 2 are isothiocyanates (ITCs) which can significantly lower the risk of cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, ovary and prostate.  One of these is indole-3-carbinol, which actually detoxes and repairs the body at DNA level, and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.
  • We all know that green vegetables are a great source of fibre, but did you know that the fibre-related components in steamed kale can also lower chloresterol levels? They do this by binding together with bile acids in the digestive tract to excrete them more effectively. (Raw kale also does this, but not quite as well.)
Teamed with black or cannellini beans, cavalo nero makes a delicious healthy Italian soup, although I must confess to liking kale better raw or dehydrated than cooked. I don't really like its texture if it's served up to me as a plain steamed vegetable, and find it quite difficult to chew and swallow. (The kids, however, love it that way and take great delight in telling me to eat up my greens!) Kale is great in stir fries. If, like me, you find it a little tough, it can be shredded finely; this not only renders it much easier to eat, but also activates the cancer-preventing compounds (see above). I think it would also be great shredded and baked in soy sauce to make "crispy seaweed", although I'm not sure to what extent baking would adversely affect the nutrients in it. (Let me know if you have tried this.) When faced with a bag of enormous Jersey kale leaves, I tend to steam them in the pressure cooker, blitz them in the food processor and turn them into a sag-style Indian dish with spices and a little oil. My husband also chops and pressure-cooks them with halved fresh tomatoes. The acid in the tomatoes seems to tenderise the kale leaves somewhat. Apart from munching the young leaves raw in the garden, my new favourite way with kale is to make kale chips- Yummy and crispy, and packed with all those health-giving substances...

Friday, 30 November 2012

Countdown to Christmas Cookery 2: Chocolate, Pear and Almond Pudding Cake and Cranberry Christmas Cake (both vegan and sugar free)

Top with flaked almonds, drizzles of dark chocolate and more cinnamon...

... bathe in a haze of luxurious chocolate soya custard. (the cake, that is)..

Hello, and welcome to Episode Two of my Christmas recipe mini-series! This time we're in the mood for some cake (who wouldn't be??) and I have two delicious recipes for cake to see you through the festive season. One is a vegan traditional-style Christmas cake which, if you do not ice and marzipan it, contains no added sugar; just the natural sugar in the dried fruit. (Make sure the cranberries are sweetened with fruit concentrate though.) The other is a less traditional combo, also sugar free, which can be eaten cold in place of fruit cake or warm with custard/ sauce/ cream in place of Christmas pudding.

First is the chocolate, pear and almond pudding cake. A touch of cinnamon lends it that Christmassy feel. Make sure you use xylitol chocolate (Plamil make a good one) for the drizzles and xylitol in any custard or sauce you serve it with if you want to keep it sugar free. This recipe makes a cake of around the same size as my basic sponge cake. It's quite rich and luxurious, so you -probably ;) - won't want massive slices... besides, the ground almonds give it the tendency to dry out after a day or so- better eat it up quick!
400g white self-raising flour
3-4 tabs cocoa powder
4 tsps baking powder (not bicarbonate of soda)
100g ground almonds
50ml date syrup
50ml agave nectar
100ml pure maple syrup
150ml coconut oil
400ml soya milk
2 tsps powdered cinnamon (as fresh as possible, for maximum flavour) plus more for sprinkling
2-3 conference pears, sliced thinly
a handful of flaked almonds
50g dark chocolate for drizzling
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together,including the cinnamon, in a large bowl.
  • Heat the oil, soya milk and syrups gently in a small pan, whisking to blend them together.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and beat well for about a minute.
  • Pile into a prepared cake tin/ mould (I used a rectangular one) and top with a single layer of pear slices and a handful of flaked almonds.
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for 20-25 mins, until a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges clean.
  • When cooked, drizzle generously with the chocolate and sprinkle with more cinnamon. Serve hot or cold. (I served it with soya custard into which I stirred the remainder of the chocolate: mmmm!)
If you want something a little more traditional, then this cranberry fruit cake is perfect. Top it with marzipan and icing to complete the Christmas effect, or go for decorating it with dried fruits and nuts to keep it sugar free.

Find the recipe here, along with more pictures of how I decorated it. Happy baking :)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Vegetable muffins- vegan (also with cheese version)

Brunch or dinner, these muffins are perfect!

Who says a cake has to be sweet? These muffins have a soft, fluffy and light cake-y texture, yet are savoury with a hint of sunny Mediterranean flavours. They are great as a main course,  served warm from the oven with a tomato sauce like this one, or cold as a snack or picnic with a dollop of chutney like this one and a crisp salad. Or why not have one as a healthy breakfast alternative to sweet muffins? You can vary the vegetables and seasonings to your own taste, and create Indian (think baked wheat dhokla and spice accordingly) or Middle Eastern flavours too if you like!  They really are a store-cupboard recipe and great if you have veggies to use up, but at the same time they are special enough to serve at a dinner party.

Sweet or savoury? Unless you tell them first, your vegan guests won't know until they take a bite...
First up is the vegan cake, which I made in a small loaf mould so I could tell it apart from the cheesy muffins (I made both cakes in one meal). I was worried it would be short on flavour, but I'm glad to report it's very tasty. The quantities here are enough to fill a small loaf tin, and would serve 4 as a main course or perhaps 6 as a snack. I guess the ingredients list is quite long, but once you get everything together, the actual cooking part is easy.
150g white self-raising flour
50g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tab nutritional yeast (aka yeast flakes)
1tsp seasalt
2 tsps baking powder (not bicarb)
1/2 tsp compound hing
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp oregano
1 large pinch paprika
1 large pinch coarse black pepper
75g grated veggies (I used green peppers and sweet potato- you could also try courgette)
25g precooked broccoli, in very small florets
1 tab sweetcorn
6 pitted black olives, halved
2 tabs cooked cannellini beans
5 sundried tomato halves, soaked to soften them and chopped into small pieces
200ml soya milk
75ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • Prepare the vegetables, beans and olives and set aside.
  • Mix together the flours, baking powder, yeast flakes turmeric and all the seasonings in a large bowl.
  • Stir in the vegetables well.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the soya milk and the oil together.
  • Next, add the milk/ oil mixture to the flour and vegetable mixture, beating well for about a minute.
  • Pile into a dampened small silicone loaf mould or muffin cases in a tin/ a dampened silicone muffin tray, scatter with flaked almonds and get them into a preheated oven (180C) immediately.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes; the muffins should be springy and risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre of one should emerge clean.
*Pine nuts would also be great in this cake, or to replace the flaked almonds.


-And now for the cheesy version, which is very similar to the above recipe, apart from the cheese and not having the broccoli, beans or yeast flakes:
  • Replace the nutritional yeast with 100g grated cheese
  • Cut out the broccoli and beans and instead use 100g grated veggies rather than 75g.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Yogi Vegetarian Turns 2 Today!

Happy Birthday, Dear Blog!

I would never have thought that I would be able to keep writing recipes for this long, and I have to say I am finding blogging more and more enjoyable- and addictive- as time goes on!
Looking back at my second year of blogging I realise that I have a lot to thank others for: Firstly my husband, who has not only tolerated me spending hours on my laptop but also chipped in with useful tips and ideas, and contributed some of his own amazing recipes. It is as much his blog as mine now. The rest of my family have also done me a great service by eating and commenting on the recipes. If none of them like a particular one, I can be pretty sure it isn't worth publishing! I must also thank my friends, godbrothers and sisters and work colleagues for reading the blog and its fb page; their interest and enthusiam has spurred me on. And last, but certainly not least, it's YOU, my blog readers and followers who have inspired me. I have read so many truly excellent posts by others it's really quite humbling! (For example, I am always really impressed with Mel Makes, which is always immaculately presented and beautifully illustrated. She has only been in the blogosphere since October, too.)
From my stats I can tell that my blog gets way more pageviews from search results rather than from regulars, as I don't have tons of followers- yet- but at least I know it's being read by someone. (And I get a lot more pageviews now than I used to, as I post very regularly.) I often wonder who has tried out a recipe or two... and that leads me on to think about the steps I have made in the past year towards building a blog community round The Yogi Vegetarian. I don't get tons of comments on my posts, but then I myself don't spend an awful lot of time following and commenting on other blogs- my reading list only has to take a few minutes to keep up with every day, as I am a full-time Mum and wife and I go to work every day. I do like to leave comments when I get time, though. When someone writes a really great post with lovely pictures they deserve recognition! I tried out hosting a recipe event last Spring, but maybe that was a little premature, as the response was not huge. (Perhaps I should ask a more popular fellow blogger to guest host an event on my behalf next time?)*
If you are reading this now, and you do drop by The Yogi Vegetarian from time to time, then I'd love to get some feedback via comments. What would you like to see featured? Do you have a request for any dish in particular, an idea for a "how-to" or maybe you'd like some information about an ingredient? 
.... I'm eagerly awaiting your responses, so I can better cater for you!

*If you'd like to do this, just leave a message for me in the comments below this post. It's great way to direct new readers to both our blogs.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Fiery Green Tomato, Lemon and Chilli Chutney

This might be just the ticket to liven up your Christmas cheeseboard, vegan or otherwise...
My husband requested a really hot chilli pickle or chutney after I had made the green tomato chilli jam the other day. He asked me to put 3 nag bhut chillis in, seeds and all. Normally, this would be enough to make the chutney totally inedible to all but my courageous husband, but luckily the chillis had been in the freezer a while and seemed to have lost some of their bite. Having said that, though, this is still a fiery condiment and a little will go a long way...

This recipe makes enough for 2 small jars or one larger jar (coffee jar size)
500g green tomatoes
Up to 3 nag bhut chillis (or more of a less hot kind)
150g gour or unrefined brown sugar
1 tab extra virgin olive oil
2 tabs lexia raisins
2 tsps seasalt
1 lemon, sliced into very thin wedges
1 tab cumin seeds
1x5cm cinnamon quill
1 tsp hing

  • Mince the chillis and stir into the hot oil with the cumin seeds just until the seeds start to toast.
  • Add the green tomatoes (roughly chopped), the cinnamon, and the lemon slices.
  • Lower the heat, adding a splash of water if necessary, and cook with the lid on until the tomatoes are soft and their juice is coming out.
  • Now add the gour/ brown sugar, the salt and the raisins to the pan. Stir it in until it has melted/ dissolved and bring to the boil.
  • Continue to boil gently, stirring from time to time to prevent scorching. After a few minutes, a little of the chutney will hold together when dropped into cold water and it's ready to bottle in a sterilized jar(s). You can remove the cinnamon now if you like.
  • Use with caution! 
 For more interesting chutney/ jam recipes, look here, here and here

rhubarb chilli chutney, green tomato jam, plum chutney