Thursday, 4 July 2013

Vegan Thursdays: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Fennel Sauce

Sweet potato gnocchi with a creamy fennel sauce and a little vegan pesto
With my better half away for a couple of days, what else was there to do but hang out in the kitchen cooking all the stuff he doesn't like? Maybe he would have liked these gnocchi though, as they are less stodgy then the conventional kind. I had never made gnocchi before but they were well worth the effort. However this is no quick-fix meal: the sweet potatoes have to be cooked before the gnocchi dough is made and gnocchi are quite fiddly to shape- just as well the sauce is super-simple once you have roasted the fennel. Next time I might use white flour instead of wholemeal or sieve the wholemeal flour, as I did notice a slight wheaty taste to the gnocchi (although nobody else did.)

The finished gnocchi all ready to be boiled...
Serves 3-4 people
To make the Gnocchi:
2 medium-large orange sweet potatoes
1 cup (250ml) organic wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
  • Cook the sweet potatoes by either baking in the oven or microwaving
  • Scrape the flesh out of the skins and mash into a puree (which it will probably already be by this time anyway). Work in the flour and salt; the mixture will seem a little dry at first.
  • Knead for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough you can handle.
  • Shape by rolling the mixture into 4 long cylinders and cutting them into 1/2" lengths. Hold each one by the ends using your thumb and forefinger and use a fork to mark ridges on each side. It's worth taking time to get them as uniform as possible. The ridges, like those of pasta, are for catching the sauce.
  • Set aside until you're ready to cook them.
To make the sauce:
300g fresh fennel (about 3 bulbs), sliced lengthways and with the hard middles removed
2 1/2 tabs ground sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp seasalt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2-1 tsp (depending on strength) sweet smoked paprika
a little olive oil for roasting
1 cup (250ml) unsweetened plant milk (I used soya)
1 tab lemon juice
  • First roast the fennel in the oil for about 20 minutes at 200C. Set aside to cool a bit.
  • Throw the fennel into your blender or food processor with the ground sunflower seeds, the seasonings and the plant milk.
  • Stir in the lemon juice.
  • Set aside until you're ready to heat it gently just before serving.
To make the pesto:
Use your own favourite recipe, or try here or here. As our pesto does not contain garlic it will not overpower the delicate flavours of the fennel sauce.

To assemble:
  • Drizzle the pesto onto  plates ready for the gnocchi.
  • Drop the gnocchi into fast-boiling water. They will sink at first, then rise to the surface. They are done when they are all floating and heated through. (Takes just a couple of minutes.)
  • Meanwhile, heat the sauce through gently.
  • Drain the gnocchi and put on the plates on top of the pesto. Top with a generous dollop of fennel sauce.
We had ours with roasted veggies and a green salad!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ingredient of the Month 22: Miso

Miso usually comes in jars or pouches
Here's an ingredient that's healthy, tasty and versatile: it can be used in soup, stocks and sauces, pates, dips, spreads, burgers and roasts. Miso is a fermented food which probably originates from Japan. It has also been made in China for well over two thousand years. Soya beans and/ or rice or barley are fermented with salt and aspergillus oryzae aka koji, a microrganism. Miso has a salty, savoury flavour which varies slightly according to the exact ingredients.

You can see little pieces of soya bean/ rice 
There are several different types of miso and nowadays you can even get misos made with other grains such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, rye and wheat.:
  • mugi : barley
  • tsubu : whole wheat/barley
  • genmai : brown rice
  • moromi : chunky, healthy (kōji is unblended)
  • nanban : mixed with hot chili pepper for dipping sauce
  • taima : hemp seed
  • sobamugi: buckwheat
  • hadakamugi: rye
  • nari: made from cycad pulp
  • gokoku: "5 grain": soy, wheat, barley, proso millet, and foxtail millet
Miso can also be red, white (not really white, but pale) or "mixed". The difference is caused by steaming the soya beans to produce the reddish-brown colour, as opposed to boiling them to produce the "white".

Cooking with miso:
In order to preserve the "live" qualities of miso, it should not be overheated; in fact it's probably better not to heat it at all. When making miso soup, stir the miso in last, after you turn off the heat.

Nutritional Information:
Here's where it really gets interesting! 
  • As miso is relatively high in salt, it may not be a good idea to consume too much if you suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension) as it has been suggested that salt may raise blood pressure. However, latest indications are that this may not be true after all, and there are other great health benefits in miso that make it a brilliant addition to your diet, especially if you are vegan.
  • The koji in miso breaks down the soya beans so that they and their benefits are more easily absorbed by the body.
  • Miso is really high in antixiodants- I mean really. As well as minerals like zinc and manganese, there are also phyto (plant) nutrients in there doing a similar job. Antioxidants help prevent damage to cells from free radicals (which cause ageing and cancer) and also boost immunity. One caveat, however, is that the antioxidant content in miso depends on the fermentation time.
  • As well as minerals, miso contains protein in the form of amino acids like tryptophan, just like soya beans.
  • It is a source of vitamin K and vitamin B12 (although not enough to be the sole source in a vegan diet- you do need to eat enriched foods and/ or supplement. I wouldn't normally advocate supplements over diet, but B12 is really, really important - deficiency symptoms include psychosis that's sometimes irreversible). Other B vitamins in miso are: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid and choline.
  • Miso contains zinc, important for appetite regulation, immunity and skin renewal/ wound healing.

Thanks to Wikipedia for much of the above information, plus the site below:

For some miso recipes from this blog, look here:

Mighty Miso Event for July 2013!
If you have any recipes featuring miso on your blog you'd like to share, just post and use the linky tool below (you will get the links to other peoples' recipes once you click on it). Archived posts are welcome- no need to re-post, just add the link to this page before you add your post to our list.