The Musette: vegan green pie

This is a quick and easy recipe which uses (vegan) pre-prepared filo pastry sheets, plenty of greens and some vegan cheese. Of course, you can also easily make a non-vegan version.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 150g (2 cups) kale, chopped
  • 200g (3 cups) cooked spinach (I used frozen)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, minced
  • 250g (1 cup) vegan ricotta
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) vegan feta cheese, crumbled
  • 10 sheets filo (phyllo) pastry, defrosted

Method

1.Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5 (375°F/350°F fan).

2. In a medium-sized frying pan on medium heat, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent (approx. 10 minutes).

3. Add the kale and cook until wilted, add salt and pepper and defrosted spinach (eliminate as much liquid as possible) and allow to cool.

4. Mix the salad onions with the ricotta, feta, nutritional yeast, nutmeg and lemon juice. Add to spinach mixture and thoroughly combine.

5. Using a non-stick circular or rectagular baking pan (depending on the size and shape of your sheets of pastry, layer at least six sheets of filo, brush each with a little olive oil. Place a damp cloth over the remaining sheets of filo dough so they don’t dry out.

6. Pour the spinach mixture into the middle of the filo dough in the pan and level. Fold up the hanging edges of the filo sheets, then brush with a little olive oil. Cover with the remaining four sheets, tucking them well into the sides of the pan. brush a little olive oil over the top sheet.

7. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving with some salad and my tomato and chilli jam.

8. This will sit happily in the fridge for a couple of days but it rarely hangs around that long.

The Musette: courgette fritters

I’ve made courgette fritters for years, initially using a recipe from that domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. However, I’ve shifted to making them less dairy laden and more acceptable to a wider range of regimes.

The word fritter usually conjures up something deep-fried, fat-laden, and overall heavy but these easy courgette (zucchini) fritters are testament that lighter ones are possible. Grated courgette joins forces with onion, flour, eggs, and grated Parmesan cheese to make low calorie, delicious little green pancakes that can be a light vegetarian meal, meze or side dish to a Mediterranean-style meal.

Fritters should be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. If there’s one thing I loathe it’s soggy fritters, they are a big no-no. The only way to avoid sogginess is to wring out the excess liquid from the courgettes.  Grate, salt, leave in the colander for 10 minutes, then wring out. I know this can be a painful process but there’s really no way around it. In addition to removing the excess water, I like to add a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese to the batter. It both amps up the umami flavor and increases the crisp factor. I also like to use baking powder, which I believe helps enormously in making lighter fritters. You can leave it out, but do try it, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

Ingredients (Makes about 12 small or 6 medium fritters)

  • 2 medium courgettes (or 4 small), coarsely grated
  • 11/2 tsp sea salt, divided
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten or 1 tbsp chia seeds + 3 tbsp water
  • ½ cup all purpose flour (or GF flour or almond flour)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast)
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil or mint, chopped
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 fat clove confit garlic (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Place grated courgette (zucchini) in a colander, add 1 teaspoon of salt, toss and set aside for 10 minutes.

2. Wrap grated courgettes in a clean dish towel/kitchen paper/cheesecloth, squeezing and wringing all the moisture you can out of them. This step helps the fritters brown better, even when using less oil. It also keeps them from turning soggy and falling apart in the pan.

3. Place squeezed courgette in a bowl and add all the other ingredients, including remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and ground black pepper. Mix until well combined. The batter should be dropping consistency.

3. Heat two tablespoons of olive in a frying pan (skillet) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop two scant tablespoons of zucchini mixture onto the pan, press them flat with the help of a spatula and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.

4. Make only a few fritters at a time, do not crown the pan, so that the oil temperature doesn’t drop. Drain briefly on paper towels to soak up any excess grease and keep warm.

5. Serve with Greek yogurt, plant-based yoghurt or sour cream, and sprinkle with finely chopped scallions if you like. We eat them with my chilli and tomato jam.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can, of course, make fritters from a variety of vegetables. Experiment to your heart’s content once you’ve mastered the basics.

2. Feel free to add a tablespoon or two of fresh herbs. I like freshly chopped basil or mint and lemon zest with courgettes but parsley would work too with maybe some chopped capers.

3. You need a batter that’s of dropping consistencey. If it’s too wet add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry add some water a teaspoon at a time.

4. I rarely use raw garlic as it’s too strong a flavour. I always keep a jar of confit garlic (home-made) in the fridge for use in my cooking.

 

The Musette: Aloo Gobi

This hearty cauliflower and potato curry is probably the most common and basic vegetable curry you will find anywhere in India. Originally from the Punjab, it’s a firm favourite across the Indian sub-continent and Pakistan. Cheap, filling and generally vegan, it’s a recipe everyone needs in their curry repertoire. But one of the disadvantages of its universal appeal is that there is no such thing as a universal recipe.Yes, there are as many recipes as there are Indians!

This is my vegan take on Atul Kochhar’s recipe from Simple Indian. I don’t generally make amendments to recipes from Michelin starred chefs, but I’m sure he won’t mind.

Ingredients (enough for 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 large cauliflower, split into florets
  • 1 small finely chopped onion
  • 2 tsp black onion seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 cardamon pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250ml (1 cup) passata
  • 5 -10 tbsp filtered water
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 (400°F/350°F fan),   put potatoes and cauliflower florets on a baking tray, spritz with a little vegetable oil and bake in oven until cooked and a little charred round the edges, approx. 40 minutes.

2. After 30 minutes, heat finely chopped onion in 1 tsp vegetable oil in a deep frying pan (skillet) until transluscent. Do not allow it to colour. Then add onion seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamon pods and bay leaves. Cook for a minute or two until the spices start to crackle.

3. Add the passata, water, chilli powder, salt and tumeric to the pan stirring well and now add the cauliflower and potato which should be almost but not quite cooked. Gently cook through for 5-10 minutes until you can easily pierce with a fork.

4. Taste sauce to check seasoning, add coriander and garam masala and serve with rice or an Indian flat bread.

5. Or, like me, omit final seasoning, leave to cool, put in the fridge overnight and heat up the following day before adding coriander and garam masala.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Cut the florets slightly bigger than the potatoes so they cook in roughly the same time as the potatoes, rather than overcooking and disintegrating before the potatoes are done.

2. You can, of course, serve this as a main dish, or as a side. Typically, I’ll serve it with a “wetter” dish such as dhal and either boiled basmati rice or some roti and some hot and spicy pickles.

The Musette: mujadara

Lentils, rice, olive oil, spices and onions – this Middle Eastern standard is the ultimate pantry recipe. It’s also the classic example of a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts. There are literally dozens of recipes for mujadara out there – each country, possibly even each family, seems to have its own version. The one I like best is that served at our local Lebanese restaurant, who kindly gave me their recipe – result! It’s also quick and easy to make. A bit of stirring on the stove and then pop it into the oven and it’s ready in next to no time.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 2 medium-sized onions finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g (3/4 cup) Puy lentils
  • 1ltr (4 cups) boiling filtered water
  • 325g (1 1/2 cups) long grain brown rice (soaked for an hour in 500 ml (2 cups) filtered water)
  • bunch finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves or coriander (cilantro) leaves

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 3 (375°F/350°F fan).

2. Toss the onions with the olive oil, cumin and thyme in a frying pan (skillet) and cook over a high heat until they turn golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3.Add the rinsed lentils, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the drained rice to the mix and turn into a casserole dish (dutch oven) before carefully adding the boiling water. Stir, pop on the lid and put it into the oven for around 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the lentils and rice are tender and there’s no liquid left.

4. Remove the dish from the oven. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning. Fluff with a fork, sprinkle with the parsley or coriander (cilantro), and serve warm or at room temperature.

5. If you’re so inclined, you can dress it with greek-style yogurt, Aleppo-style pepper, crispy shallots and additional olive oil.

The Musette: vegan lentil ragu

I asked my two sisters what they’d miss most if they became vegan. Totally unprompted, they both said “Spag Bol” to which I replied “You know you can make a delicious ragu sauce with lentils don’t you?” They weren’t convinced so I just had to make it for them.

Ingredients (enough for 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 500g (1lb) dried green lentils, preferably Puy
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp each dried oregano and thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1ltr (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 750g (26oz) pasta

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery, herbs, garlic and tsp salt. Cook gently for 20-30 mins until everything softens and the onion becomes translucent.

Stir in the lentils, bay leaves and star anise and then the stock, bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, generally around 45 minutes. By then, the lentils will have absorbed most of the stock.

2. Add the vinegar and tomato purée, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, then cook for a further 45 minutes until the sauce is thick and rich. Season to taste.

3. If eating straight away, remove bay leaves and star anise and keep on a low heat while you cook the pasta, according to the instructions on the pack. I would typically use tagliatelle but other pastas work just as well. Cook the pasta al dente only.

4. Drain pasta well, saving a cup of pasta cooking water. Add pasta water and pasta to saucepan containing lentil ragu and toss to distribute sauce.

5. Divide the dish between pasta bowls or plates and grate over some vegan parmesan.

6. Alternatively, cool the sauce and chill for up to 3 days in the fridge or freeze for up to 3 months. Simply defrost portions overnight at room temperature, then reheat gently to serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can of course make the sauce in less time but it benefits from further cooking. For example, I would typically cook a meat ragu for at least 2 hours. I recommend using Puy lentils because they will stay whole but feel free to use others which will work equally well.

2. There’s nothing worse that overcooked pasta. Only cook it until al dente as it’ll continue to cook in the sauce.

3. When cooking pasta, always add the pasta to the sauce and not the other way round.

4. Equally you should always add some of the pasta water to the sauce, it makes it much silkier and helps it to adhere to the pasta.

5. NEVER, EVER add olive oil to the water in which you cook the pasta. It prevents the sauce properly adhering to and being absorbed by the pasta.

6. You can use the sauce as the basis for other meals. Here I’ve used it in a sort of shepherds/cottage pie, topped with mashed sweet potato.

You may be wondering why there’s no photos of my delicious lentil ragu tagliatelle. I was too slow with the camera, my sisters ate it pronto! They agreed it was as good as the real thing. But here’s one I made with penne instead.

The Musette: Baked stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

My beloved is home for the summer which means I have to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. My challenge is to prepare things we can both eat without having to cook or prepare two different meals. My new regime  – fish-eating vegan – means I have had to broaden my repertoire – no bad thing. This week a recipe by Rome-based blogger Rachel Roddy in The Guardian caught my eye.

My other half enjoys stuffed vegetables called petit farcis niçois, a popular local dish which uses forcemeat whereas this recipe uses rice. I’ve had to amend the original recipe to eliminate the cheese and reduce the amount of oil but, nonetheless, it was still delish and made use of plentiful local produce.

Ingredients (serves three)

    • 6 ripe, firm, fleshy, medium‑size organic red tomatoes
    • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 2 medium garlic cloves
    • 1 small dried red chili pepper (optional)
    • 6 tbsp short-grain brown rice
    • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 kg potatoes, peeled and cubed

Method

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  1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. Use a teaspoon to scoop the insides – flesh, seeds and juice – into a bowl, taking care not to pierce the skin. Sprinkle a little salt in the cavity of each tomato and then put them cut-side down on kitchen paper towel so that any excess juice can drain away.
  2. Liquidise the tomato flesh, seeds, juice, garlic and chilli pepper. Add the rice, season  with salt and pepper, stir, then leave for at least 45 minutes during which time the rice will absorb some of the liquid and start to swell.
  3. Toss the potato cubes in the olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  4. Sit the empty tomato husks in a lightly greased oven-proof dish or baking tin. Spoon the rice mix into the shells so they’re not quite full, then put the lids back on. Scatter the diced potato around the tomatoes.
  5. Bake at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4 for around 60 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and starting to shrivel, the rice is plump and the potatoes golden. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before diving in and eating.

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Sheree’s Handy Hints

  1.  The tomatoes are the star of the show. Buy the very best you can find.
  2. You could add nutritional yeast to the tomato water to compensate for the loss of savoriness from the cheese but I didn’t feel it was necessary.
  3. My beloved decided to add a dollop or two of sauce vierge to his dish, a container of which was lurking in the fridge. It’s essentially fresh herbs, lemon juice, lemon zest, a clove of garlic, capers, cornichons and olive oil whizzed up in the liquidiser. It’s delicious on grilled fish and meat.

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