Saturday, 9 February 2013

Gluten Free Vegan Pizza

This pizza is light and easy on the stomach. It goes well with a selection of salads
It's been a long time since we last had a "Pizza Friday" in our house, as my husband avoids yeast and dairy, I avoid dairy and my stepson avoids gluten and dairy. It's not exactly conducive to cooking a dish which is based on wheat, yeast and cheese, is it? But I wanted to make pizza so badly, and in the kitchen we had flour, potatoes, passata, buckwheat grains and fine cornmeal, plus some milk and soya milk. Hmmmm... a good start... I planned a soda bread-based paneer pizza for the two younger ones, while the rest of us had this gluten-free vegan pizza. I have to admit that the whole dinner took about 3 hours from start to finish, including making the tofu and the paneer, cooking and mashing the potatoes for the base and even grinding the buckwheat into flour and frying a few chips for the kids- but it was fun experimenting and the outcome was worth posting. There are some gluten and yeast-free pizza recipes online, but most either contain egg and/ or  a ready-made mix or flour and I don't like relying on expensive mixes- I like to know I can make it myself, from ingredients I have in the cupboard.
No doubt we will modify the recipe for this gluten-free pizza base; we could try less potato and adding millet (bajri) flour and/ or gram (chickpea) flour as well, but the result from this first time was fine. In fact, the cornmeal makes it taste rather like polenta, so the Italian theme stayed strong in the mix. Despite pre-cooking the base, however, it does seem to absorb the tomato sauce topping very readily so next time I shall use more sauce and not put it on until the last minute. The base also unexpectedly rose a fair bit, so I would make it a little thinner and pile the toppings on even more for the perfect bite. But for now, here's exactly how I did it this time:

(Makes a large pizza- feeds about 5 perhaps)

700g potato, diced but not peeled
100g buckwheat flour
200g fine yellow cornmeal
3 tsps gluten-free baking powder (Such as Allergycare, Barkat or Dove's Farm brands)

1tsp seasalt
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
about 75ml water

  • Steam and mash the potato- don't add any liquid. Let it sit to dry out as much as possible.
  • Mix the cornmeal and buckwheat with the potato, and add the salt and baking powder.
  • Rub in the oil.
  • Mix to a cookie dough-like consistency with the water. Add just enough so that it holds together.
  • Press onto an oiled baking sheet, about 1cm thick, or just under. I used a spatula to press it down evenly.
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 200C before adding the toppings and heating up. This ensures the dough is cooked through and a little brown on the top, just to seal it and prevent sogginess.
  • Add your toppings- I used sauce made from 250ml passata, squares of grilled marinated tofu,sweetcorn,  thin slices of roasted pumpkin and some small broccoli florets. You could also use yeast flakes, tahini, olives, yellow or red cherry tomatoes, roasted aubergine strips, peppers or courgettes. I like to add generous sprinklings of dried oregano and coarse black pepper too.
  • Replace in the oven until heated through.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Winter Veg Pakoras- vegan, gluten free

Serve with a crisp salad and your favourite chutney/ dipping sauce
Deep- frying is not something that happens very often at all in our house- if we have any culinary vice, it's for sweet baked stuff like cakes and cookies rather than fried savouries. This said, though, we all enjoy a fried treat occasionally, and these pakoras were no exception. They popped into my head one afternoon when I was pondering on what to cook for dinner. Let me explain: dinner in our house is no longer an easy task, as me and my husband avoid dairy, the two teenagers love dairy (but hate quite a few types of vegetable), and the grown-up son is now dairy and wheat/ gluten (not sure exactly which yet) intolerant. Add to this the fact that my husband's digestion is delicate and he can't cope with pasta or anything too dry, and you have a very limited range of meals that will suit everyone. Even our former favourite, seitan, is out! (If any readers have suggestions for any dishes we could cook apart from vegetables, beans/ dal and rice, they would be very welcome- I'd love to hear about gluten-free pizza base...) Not wishing to cook 2 or 3 different dinners, I ended up making some brown rice and peas, the pakoras with a chutney, roasted almonds and a salad. (This variety ensured there was plenty left for tomorrow's packed lunches, too.) It was the flavour and texture of the parsnip pakoras that impressed me the most: crisp and a bit spicy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside. Parsnips seem to suit Indian flavours rather well. -But on to the recipe itself, which makes a really generous amount of pakoras (for about 6 people) with some batter left over:

A quantity of  seasonal vegetables (To give you an idea, I used 3 parsnips, a head of broccoli and 2 bell peppers- you could try pumpkin, sweet potato and Winter cauliflower too.)
300g gram flour (besan/ garbanzo)
2 tsps seasalt
1 tab turmeric (haldi)
1 tab powdered cumin (jeera)
1 level tsp chilli powder (or more if you like a spicier flavour, as the frying tends to kill it off)
1 tsp baking powder
550-600ml water
a suitable oil for deep-frying (such as rice bran oil)

  • Roughly chop the vegetables and steam until just softening -too squishy and your pakoras will fall to pieces :/ . Drain and cool thoroughly.
  • While you heat the cooking oil prepare the batter: Mix the gram flour, salt and spices in a large bowl.
  • Gradually whisk in the water- don't make it over thin; you may need to use a bit less than this recipe states. Don't make the batter too thick, either, as this results in stodgy pakoras that take ages to cook or else get brown on the outside but stay runny on the inside. (I speak from experience!) Your batter should be smooth, lump-free and just a bit thicker than double cream.
  • Lastly, stir in the baking powder.
  • Dip the cooked veggies in the batter and deep-fry in batches, placing the finished ones on a baking tray in the oven to keep warm. (They are crispest when eaten fresh from the frying pan, though.)
  • While you are doing this, you might want to have some chutney like this one bubbling away...
  • Serve as soon as possible with chutney and salad.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Date and Walnut Tea Loaf- vegan, sugar free

Great with dairy-free spread or butter!

Fresh out of the oven...
"Tea loaf" or "tea bread" cakes aren't just named so because they are a delicious treat at tea time; they also traditionally contain tea. In this cake we're going for natural and healthy, so as well as wholemeal flour and date syrup instead of sugar we have replaced ordinary black tea with subtly-flavoured and caffeine-free rooibos (aka redbush) tea for a mellower take on tea and cake. This was the first time I had made this particular cake, and I think next time I will change the amount of walnuts to 150g and make the tea a little stronger just to make it extra-luxurious!

400g wholemeal flour
4 tsps baking powder
1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
150g dried dates, stoned and chopped
100g walnut halves, roughly chopped
400ml redbush tea, made with 2 teabags
150ml sunflower oil
200ml date syrup

  • Oil and flour your loaf tin and preheat your oven to 180C.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder, dates and walnuts in a large bowl.
  • Whisk or beat the tea, oil and date syrup until thoroughly mixed.
  • Add the tea mixture to the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  • Spoon it into the loaf tin and bake for about 25 minutes, until a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges clean.
  • Enjoy plain or topped with dairy-free spread/ butter, and a nice hot drink :)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

My Fitness Diary 6: Natural Performance Enhancers

When all's said and done, there's no substitute for a healthy diet!
Yes, I am still running- apart from a small hiatus around Christmas due to extreme busy-ness and tiredness and several days off last month due to illness followed by lots of snow. Actually I ran 5k for the first time at the end of November, and this week managed 7k (including hills) one evening. Thanks are due to my husband, who has been a major motivating force these dark, cold nights (we have to run after work.) I've been on just one daylight run since the beginning of November, as I can't seem to get out until later in the day, even at weekends! I must say I do feel so much fitter and energised through running; I really enjoy it and it has certainly toned up and strengthened my legs and bottom- but I don't think I've lost that much weight really, as I get so ravenously hungry when I have run that I can easily eat twice my usual amount!! As I run after a full day's work (which starts around 6am with household stuff before going out to my job and usually ends when I have cooked and served the evening meal around 6pm) plus I am no Spring chicken any more, I am often feeling in need of a pick-me-up before going running. I have tried a spoonful of honey, water, a banana, a few dates, fresh vegetable juice or a vitamin drink, etc. with some success, and I got to thinking about healthy ways to enhance athletic performance.
Last April, tragically, a 29 year old woman collapsed and died just one mile from the finish of the London marathon. The cause was reported to be heart failure from extreme exertion, but now it has come to light that a significant contributing factor in her death was a legal performance-enhancing stimulant which she had added to her water bottle. I wonder what natural and safe foods/drinks can be used to enhance running performance? A performance enhancer is something that will increase endurance, speed or muscle strength. they are known as ergogens.  Here's what I have found out:

  • Beetroot Juice: A study has recently shown that drinking beetroot juice can result in increased endurance.
  • Peppermint aroma: Sniffing peppermint oil has been shown to reduce perceived physical workload and fatigue, resulting in increased running speed, hand-grip strength and number of pushups.
  • Co-enzyme Q10: This natural supplement plays a role in producing energy at a cellular level, converting calories to ATP (the form of energy the body uses to do physical work.)
  • Caffeine: There is a legal limit on the amount of caffeine consumption allowed in competitive sports, and caffeine is perhaps not the most innocuous of substances, but nevertheless, it is well-known as an endurance-enhancer which delays the onset of muscle fatigue.
  • Antioxidants: The flavonoids found in fresh fruit and vegetables, combat free radical damage (which is why foods high in antioxidants are often called "superfoods"). These antioxidants reduce the pain and inflammation brought on by exertion during strenuous excercise.
  • Resveratrol: This is found in the skin of red grapes and other fruits (but before you reach for that glass of wine, be warned that it contains very little of the stuff!)  It can also be synthesised chemically and is sold as a supplement, in which form it is mainly derives from Japanese knotweed, that invasive "pest" plant that is being eradicated from English parks and gardens (so it is good for something, after all...) It had been shown to enhance heart function and muscle strength in high doses, and it also helps prevent heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Disclaimer: I have not personally tested out any of these, so I cannot recommend their use. If you want to try them out, be sure you know the correct amounts to take.

Personally, I think that a diet rich in plenty of water, fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and nuts will actually be the best aid to anyone's excercise program. There's just no substitute for a body fuelled on pure and natural health-enhancing foods!