Veganuary Days 12 & 13 Ceps, Porcini and all things mushroom

mushroom-976592_1920We are huge fans of mushrooms in this house.  On non vegan days, lots of them, cooked in butter and garlic – on sourdough toast  – over a leisurely breakfast on Saturday. With lots of coffee, and long conversations before we get started with the day.

Or large and small mushrooms chopped and fried with onion and garlic and a little potato and finished off with cream. On non vegan days.

Or sautee’d with leek and garlic and topped with sourdough breadcrumbs and parmesan and flashed under the grill. On non vegan days.

Or very lightly smoked, chopped fine in the food processor and mixed with a little salt, black pepper and cream cheese then dropped into hot pasta. On non vegan days.

But what about the VEGAN days?  Mushrooms in all their various forms can definitely hold their own without need for dairy.

On Day 11 I was browsing around Norwich market and at the front of my favourite fruit and veg stall  were some beautiful ceps. I had no inkling that I was going to buy ceps that day but they looked so wonderful it would have been a sin not to.  So I bough four big fat ones.  I was succumbed to an unbidden vision of them settling into a fragrant fennel, leek and pea risotto. And so it was.

Leek, fennel and pea risotto with porcini mushrooms

rotfurohrling-1571066_1920Risotto is a friendly  and comforting meal and at home we always have it in a bowl. Never on a plate.  It is quite hard to spoil it and my preference is for it to be ‘soupy’ and definitely not dry like a paella. Don’t get the two confused.  This is why you use different rice for these two dishes.  Arborio rice – for paella – has a shorter grain and a starch that melts around the edges of each grain which gives the risotto creamy texture. Paella rice is harder has a long grain which means the grains tend not to stick to one another.

For two people, saute finely chopped onion (one small), celery (one stick) and fennel (half a medium sized bulb) in olive oil. When soft, add two chopped cloves of garlic and the grated zest of half a lemon. Then add a mug full of arborio rice and move it around gently to coat the grains in oil. Then turn up the heat and add a wine glass full of Noilly Prat or Fino sherry or dry white wine. My preference is for the Prat. Let it bubble and splutter and boil away until the alcohol has reduced to almost nothing. Then turn the heat down to low and add a ladle full of hot vegetable stock, stir, and gradually add stock as needed (every time it has all but disappeared from the rice pan), it really does make a difference if you add the stock bit by bit and stir every few minutes. Don’t be tempted to throw it in all at once. In fact,  consider it your gift to yourself. This is all you need to do for the next 20 minutes. Just stand, ladle in more stock and stir. It is a contemplative and simple task.  You will probably use about 750ml stock using this method.  You can be clever and make your own stock – which I sometimes do – or use one of those lovely Knorr (or similar) stock pot thingys.

Wipe two medium sized ceps and make sure they have no evident grit.  Slice them into thick slices, length ways, and drop into good olive oil and garlic and fry gently until they are tinged with golden brown at the edges. Did I just say ‘golden brown’? …… until they are brown at the edges.

Back to the risotto.  Check the stock level in the risotto – by about 20 minutes it should be nearly ready – by which I mean the rice will be just cooked and there will still be stock in the pan –  and it should be looking creamy.  At this stage check the seasoning. I suggest you don’t add salt early in the cooking because if you are using stock pots or cubes they are likely to be salty. So check the seasoning and adjust toward the end of the cooking time, and if you are not vegan,  add a handful of parmesan and frozen peas and a large knob of butter. And maybe a little chopped fresh mint leaves.  If you are vegan, just add the peas and the mint!  Cook for a couple more minutes and then serve.  Just be aware that the longer you wait at this stage, the quicker the rice will absorb any liquid, so always have a little more liquid than you think you need in the pan because by the time you have fiddled for a couple of minutes the thirsty grains will have sucked it all up.

Make sure your bowls are warm then spoon in the creamy risotto.  Top with the ceps, a grating of lemon zest and sea salt flakes. And parmesan if you must.  In our house it is obligatory to eat this curled up on the sofa, accompanied by slurping and little gasps of pleasure.

Mushroom pate – would that be smoked or unsmoked madam?

mushrooms-1167181_1280Take 250g mushrooms of any type and check they are grit and dirt free. If you are smoking them, either use your home smoker or if you don’t have one I suggest you use an old saucepan and a camping gas stove and do this outside.  Throw a small handful of the  wood shavings of your choice into an old pan or enamel breadbin with a rack (maybe an old cooking rack cut to size).  Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage book on simple smoking and preserving is a good one and gives you more detail.  Place the mushrooms on the rack and light the wood shavings (make sure the rack is a few inches above the shavings so any initial flames don’t flare up and scorch the mushrooms).  Put the lid on and allow to smoke away for about 15 minutes.  Then remove them and allow to cool.

Now to our old friend the food processor.  Process the cooled mushrooms (or the unsmoked mushrooms) until finely chopped then add one tub of Tofutti cream soy cheese (or cream cheese for non-vegans), and combine with the mushrooms. Check whether it needs any salt, and add a couple of grinds of black pepper and a little tiny grate of nutmeg. That’s it!  Remove from the processor then if you like you can add chopped chives or herbs such as chopped dill or tarragon.  It really is yummy  — on toast, in sandwiches, on crackers and in jacket potatoes – but make sure use it up within a couple of days.

#12Days Spinach, pine nut and sweet potato b’stilla Day 10


In Morocco b’stilla is just ‘pie’.  You can fill it with whatever you like, and I have made a chicken and a pheasant version. But this one is for vegans and vegetarians.  It’s one of those dishes that people eat, look quizzical and ask “oo, what’s in it”?  It’s flavoured with a little cinnamon and spices. It’s rich and the flavour goes on and on. It looks impressive too. Especially if you drift just a little icing sugar over it.  Yes! It is a classic combination of North African flavours that include sweet and savoury. The proportions are entirely up to you, however. This recipe feeds 8. Just make two if you have more guests!

First the filling.  Sweat a large chopped onion with three chopped garlic cloves, a small de-seeded red or green chilli, a grated thumb of fresh ginger. Then add a large peeled and chopped sweet potato and some chopped carrot.  Sweat these till they are soft too.  Add a good grating of nutmeg and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, four large deseeded and chopped tomatoes, salt and black pepper. Stir these in and sweat for a further 10 minutes. Add a little more oil if necessary.  Now you have a choice.  If you have chard in the garden or can lay your hands on some, then chop about 5 large leaves and stalks and lay on top of the mixture in the pan. Alternatively you can use spinach or kale or broccoli. Add about 30ml water put the lid on the pan and cook again for 5 minutes to just cook the greens. Check the seasoning again.  Add a good helping of chopped flatleaf parsley and coriander leaf. At this point you can, if you wish, add about 100g pine nuts and 100g Lexia raisins if you wish.

Now, take a packet of Filo pastry you purchased earlier.  Either use individual tins (see picture) or a large springform cake tin, or just a baking tray on which you can make a parcel. Grease and shake some coarse semolina around the tins. Regular readers of this blog will know that semolina is my favourite ingredient when it comes to greasing and lining tins. It adds a bit of crunch and is better than dusting with flour in my opinion.

Lay squares of overlapping filo over the tins with lots of pastry hanging over the edge. Grease the filo sheets with a little oil as you go. Rotate the tin clockwise with every sheet of filo so the points of the pastry are in different places. Add the filling and push to the edges, sift a little icing sugar over the filling, then fold the pastry sheets over the top, scrunching them up a bit in a haphazard sort of way.  Brush with oil and bake in the oven at 190C for about 35 minutes.  If you are making a big pie, you can do this on a lined baking tray. Use the same method re the pastry except use whole sheets. Pile all the filling in the middle, flatten it out, then fold the pastry over the top. This one will take about 50 minutes to cook. Lining the tray makes it a) stop sticking and b) you can drag the whole thing off the baking tray and onto a flat plate!

If you like the idea of a sweet edge then very lightly dust with icing sugar when ready to serve.  You could even, if you’re feeling fancy, scorch lines on the top with a hot skewer. Or not, if you have a life!


Hummus is a regular in our house but it took me ages to get to the stage where I was happy with it. Happy enough to say yes, that’s just about as good as I’ve eaten in Turkey. I thought I knew what hummus was until I ate it with warm flatbread lounging on a large cushion in Istanbul.  Then I realised it is meant to be creamy not sliceable, and that it is enhanced by more lemon.

Take one tin of chickpeas and drain them but keep the liquid.  Life’s too short to boil dried chick peas for an hour, let’s face it.  Put in the food processor with two cloves of garlic, half a teaspoon of cumin powder (fresh, not that stuff you’ve had in the back of the cupboard for years please), a three finger pinch of salt.  Blitz in the processor till broken into fine bits. Then scrape down the sides of the processor and add 100g tahini. Blitz again. Then add the juice of a lemon, about a tablespoon of good olive oil and then in a slow trickle, add about 75ml of the liquid you drained from the can, running the processor all the time until the hummus is smooth. Really smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Now, some of you might have already known about the adding the liquid trick. But I didn’t and it makes all the difference – turning the hummus into a wonderful smooth emulsion.

Smoky stuffed aubergine

I invented this in Spain where, you  will remember, we had one working gas ring and a woodburning oven.

First, slice your aubergine/s in half lengthways.  First brush with olive oil.  Then season well with salt and pepper.  Insert slices of raw garlic into the flat side.  Put your griddle pan on the heat until it is very hot.  Then put the aubergines flat side down on the griddle. Note that I oiled the aubergine and not the pan.  That way, you reduce the amount of black smoke in your kitchen!  The idea is that you char the aubergine on both sides.  Don’t be tempted to turn it over too quickly or you will leave the contents of the aubergine on the griddle.  Leave it until it is brown and crispy. There is method in the madness here because this is what gives the aubergine its wonderful smoky flavour.  When brown and crispy on the flat side, turn it over.  Depending on the fierceness of the heat it can take between 20 and 30 minutes to cook the aubergine so that the flesh is soft and cooked inside.  If you don’t have a griddle pan use your woodburning oven (that was a joke!) or put them under the grill.

Meanwhile put about a cup full of couscous into a shallow dish (one cup full for two aubergine, so double up for more).  Pour boiling water over the couscous until it is just covered. Then put a tea towel over the dish and it will steam away gently all by itself.  Whilst it is cooking itself under the tea towel, gently soften some onion in plenty of butter and olive oil and add a big chopped garlic clove and a measure of sunflower seeds near the end of the cooking time.  Then add, to your taste, chopped green or black olives, chopped ripe tomato (minus the seeds and juicy bits).  Putting the tomato in last is deliberate.  I’m not aiming for a thick tomatoey sauce here – more a cous cous content with texture and tomato evident as tomato instead of juice.

Having removed the aubergine from the pan when it is cooked, it is probably cool enough to handle now.  Put a double layer of kitchen towel on one hand and scoop out most of the aubergine flesh with a dessert spoon and mix into the cous cous mixture.  Try to keep the skin intact. Now you have a wonderful smoky filling, moist with tomato and garlicky onion, spiked with salty olives. The only thing left to do is to add loads of chopped mint, season with salt and black pepper, then pile back into the aubergine skins.

Put in the oven (woodburning or otherwise) at 160C for about 25 minutes till hot and the skins practically bursting.  If you wanted you could add a  little feta on the top before serving and a fresh sprinkling of mint.  We served this with a salad of green beans dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and fresh oregano.

Chestnut Pie

Forever ago, in the 70s I remember Delia published a recipe for chestnut pie in the London Evening Standard. I cut it out and put it in one of those little scrap books many of us had in our kitchens when we were young, eager and acquisitive. A couple of years ago my brother in law Mark made the most delicious chestnut pie when we were staying with them in Bristol and he said it was a Delia recipe. My old scrap book had long been consigned to the bin but I was really pleased when he photocopied it for me (typewritten, faded, spattered with dried-on ingredients).

So. Here we go.

Melt some butter, add a finely chopped onion and celery and a large clove of garlic. Fry until soft then all one chopped skinned tomato, 225g chestnut puree, 200g chopped cashews and walnuts, 125 finely chopped mushrooms, half a teaspoon of paprika, chopped fresh thyme and basil, one beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of brandy. Mix all the ingredients together and season well with black pepper a little salt and a tablespoon of Burgess’ mushroom ketchup. Put in the fridge.

Then fry slices of large field mushrooms in butter and garlic, sufficient to fill one layer of your tin.

I find the pie is easiest to manage (ie serve) if I put it in small loaf tins rather than one big tin. Doing this ensures it is cooked in the middle and the slices are a good enough size without being unwieldly. So I use two small (500g) loaf tins, preferably non-stick.

Cut a big square of baking parchment. Chop off 80% chunk of pastry and roll it out on the parchment till you have a rectangle large enough to fit the base and sides of your tin. Put four little bits of pastry in each corner of the tin and drop in a piece of baking parchment along the length of the tin and up the ends (not sides). Press it down onto the little bits of pastry. Crazy I know. But foolproof. Not all ‘non-sticks’ are non-stick and there is nothing more frustrating than a pie in a tin that won’t budge when you want to get it out. This way, you can just lift it out.

So, with pastry in the tin add the filling and then top with the field mushrooms you cooked earlier. Then roll out the pastry lid, brush a little beat egg round the edge of the pie, roll the lid onto it , press down to make a good seal, then ‘knock up’ the edges with the blunt side of the knife. Brush with egg wash, piece the top and cook in the middle of the oven at 220C for about 25 minutes. It’s yummy.


My dear bruv-in-law has corrected my previous posting about Chestnut, walnut and mushroom pie. And I stand corrected. Here’s what he said:

“actually for the sake of accuracy/credit where credit is due the recipe is by Rose Elliott (rather than Delia), it was her famous Woman’s Hour recipe – back in the days of fact sheets it was the subject of the highest ever number or requests for a WH factsheet and the pdf I sent you was a scan of our original copy. The recipe is now in a Rose Elliott vegetarian recipe book, still described as the Woman’s Hour recipe. It’s a great favourite of ours and works well for a veggie Christmas dinner, non veggie guests like to have some too – it’s like stuffing to go with their turkey or whatever”

Thanks Mark.

Punchy Noodles

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There is no doubt in my mind, that this noodle dish is a combination that gets me salivating every time.  It is hot, fragrant, smoky and crispy.  You could add a small handful of crushed unsalted peanuts if you wanted. Or prawns. Or chicken.  Tonight it is sans everything with the exception of marinated smoked tofu, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite ingredients.

Chop the tofu into chunks and marinade in dark soy sauce (about 25 ml) and a good squeeze of agave nectar.  Then chop and slice your favourite stirfry ingredients – tonight it is spring onions, long red peppers, carrot, fennel, little slivers of spring green.  Pound together two large cloves of garlic and a stick of lemongrass (if you look closely you can see mine has ice on it – it freezes really well) and a couple of red or green chillies and a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger (this also freezes well) and mix these ingredients with about 25ml rapeseed oil. Put 50ml fish sauce and 50ml tamarind concentrate in a saucepan with a couple of dessert spoons of agave nectar or brown sugar, bring to the boil and then take off the heat.

When you are ready to eat, pour boiling water over as many rice noodles as you want, leave them for just a couple of minutes and then drain and cool by running them under the tap.  Whack the wok on the burner with a little oil in the bottom.  When it is smoking, add the garlic/lemongrass/chilli and ginger. Stir it round for a couple of minutes then add all the vegetables.  Keep them moving round in the wok all the time for just a couple of minutes then throw in the tofu with its marinade (or chicken or prawns and.or peanuts). Stir round again till hot, then add the fish sauce mixture or, as an alternative, 100ml coconut milk.  Add the noodles last, mix gently whilst still on the heat.  Pour into bowls, squeeze over some lime juice and chopped coriander leaf.

Head for the sofa with this steaming fragrant bowl of loveliness, a glass of beer and a good book.  Bliss.

via Facebook.

Seitan pot pie

I am not going to post a picture because quite frankly, Seitan looks disgusting. But in the spirit of enquiry I steeled myself to make this. The recipe is adapted from one in Veganomican which has become my bible this month. I’ve learned a lot in the process.

So. Seitan? It is wheat gluten – obviously no good for wheat intolerants – separated from the rest of the wheat. You can make it yourself and I haven’t tried that yet, Instead I bought some ready-made in a jar from Rainbow Wholefoods. It looks distressingly faecal. Sorry!

Drain the liquid and marinaded the seitan chunks in dark soy sauce, a squeeze of agave nectar, a crushed clove of garlic and a little cayenne for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, sauté a cup of finely diced onion, another of carrot, another of celery and celeriac, plus some garlic, in about 75ml olive or rapeseed oil till soft and then add 3 tablespoons of gram (chickpea) flour which is really soft and a beautiful creamy yellow. Turn the heat down and keep stirring, you are aiming for the colour to deepen. After 4-5 minutes, add 1 teaspoon of mustard powder and gently pour in 100ml white wine, stirring all the time till the sauce thickens. Then add the seitan and its marinade, about 100ml vegetable stock and some frozen peas. Because i have become obsessed with Freekah this month, I also added a tablespoon of that too. Cook it gently for about 15 minutes till all the flavours have combined and the vegetables are soft.

When I tasted it I was so surprised, and delighted, to find the flavour deeply savoury and with no need for further seasoning. Pour into a deep pie dish (cute little porcelain blackbird in the middle) and let it cool.

Meanwhile make pastry! 50g wholewheat flour, 50g plain flour and 50g gram flour, a spoon-end of baking powder with some salt and 75g margarine (yes, in the old days, it would have been butter!) roughly rubbed in and bound with unsweetened almond milk till it comes together in the bowl. Cover and leave till you are ready and the seitan and vegetables are cooled. Then roll out the pastry between two sheets if parchment paper, make a little running strip of pastry around the edge of the dish, moisten the top and then lay on the pastry lid and crimp up the edges. Make a milk wash by mixing one teaspoon of mustard powder with 25ml almond milk and brush it all over the top and the edges of the pastry. Place in the centre of the oven at 190c for about 30 minutes or until the juices are bubbling up around the blackbird and the pastry is golden.

Served with peppery potato and leek mash let down with olive oil, and dark savoy cabbage it makes a hearty supper. I cannot tell a lie. So long as you do not have to look at seitan, in this dish it tasted delicious! I would be interested to hear from you if you use seitan regularly- tell me what you cook!

#Veganuary Day 7 Freekeh with pumpkin and Collejas

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This is a quick and easy one.  After a busy day (reading, gardening) I just want something quick and easy.  Freekeh, like quinoa, is stacked with protein and doesn’t need to be combined with legumes to complete the protein chain (unlike, for example, brown rice).  Simply boil it in a little stock or water. It only takes 10 minutes.  I combined mine with chunks of roasted pumpkin and shallot and the sweetest, smokiest black garlic sent by Fran from the Isle of Wight. For which many thanks. My own experiment with black garlic has yet to produce anything remotely like the Isle of Wight black garlic.

Now to the main act.  Collejas.  Greens with almonds to you! It’s one of David’s favourite dishes and he is in charge of cooking it in case you think I’ve had a sex change.

Chop any sort of greens (David used Savoy here, but spring greens are just as lovely).  Saute chopped carrot and onion in olive oil or Yare Valley rapeseed oil till soft and then season. Remove from the pan, then add a good handful of whole almonds (preferably with skins on) and saute them for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan. Whilst cooling, quickly blanch the greens in about 100ml of water with a lid on tight till slightly underdone, then drain – keep the cooking water.  Crush the almonds, but keep some chunky bits. Put the carrot and shallot back in the pan with the oil, add the greens then throw in the almonds.  Season.  Add a small amount of the reserved cooking water, clamp on the lid and cook for one more minute.  Voila!