The traditional way of making falafel involves soaking chickpeas, blending them up with onion, herbs and spices, then deep frying them into crispy balls of perfection. The key point here is that the chickpeas aren’t cooked – if they were, they falafel would fall apart and you’d need flour or breadcrumbs to hold the falafel together. To me, this defeats the purpose, especially if you’re serving the falafel in a pita. I want to fill my pita with beans, not bread (it’s the age-old veggie burger versus bread burger dilemma).
For lack of good falafel in the Cotswolds, I’ve tried making my own falafel the traditional way but it’s always been a disaster, primarily at the deep frying step. I don’t think I can get my oil hot enough on the electric hob (that, or I’m scared). So the falafel just ends up soaking up all the oil and then falling into greasy gross pieces.
I’ve experimented with several baked falafel recipes, all of which involve using cooked chickpeas, or in Leon’s case, chickpea flour. The baked falafel I made with my sister was decent, but not exactly ultimate.
I’ve made these twice now, and while they don’t have quite the same wow-factor as really good deep-fried falafel, they are still pretty damn good and, as it seems, worth making again and again. They also keep well in the freezer which makes them handy for lunches (I re-heat them in the toaster!).
I like to serve mine with a simple tahini sauce made with lemon juice, tahini and enough water to make a drizzle-able dressing. Chilli jam or harissa is nice, too.
The next thing to master are those great pickles you get with falafel in good falafel joints. The best I’ve ever had were the falafel and pickles from Arabica in Borough Market, though the last time I had them they weren’t quite as good as I remember. (I’ve since been told I must go to Mr. Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush.)
Is it pickled turnips I’m after? And I haven’t even touched on the falafel sauce. Tzatziki? Tahini? Hot sauce? All of the above?
I wrote about these veggie sausages for Great British Chefs this week, but thought they were so good I wanted to give them a wider audience. Make them and enjoy with a crispy salad of carrot, apple, celery, red onion and honey mustard dressing, plus a big blog of good dijon mustard on the side.
Yesterday, Monday, 5th November 2012 marged the beginning of British Sausage Week, a time intended for encased-pork devotion. I may not eat pork, but I do have a fondness for sausage-esque foods. This may have something to do with my Chicago-based upbringing, studded with Polish sausage at family gatherings and an ardent appreciation for the Chicago-style hot dog, served with yellow mustard, whtie onions, pickle relish, “sport peppers”, tomato and celery salt (never ketchup). (Mention must be said of Hot Doug’s, the “sausage superstore and encased meat emporium”, for doing the best Chicago-style veggie hot dog in the world – it’s wrong, but oh so right.)
Back to British Sausage Week, I thought it a fine excuse to seek out a worthy veggie sausage to honour the occasion. But let’s not misdirect our plaudits: I’m not referring to those “fake meat” varieties of veggie sausage you often find in the supermarket (or dare I say Hot Doug’s), filled with weird stuff that not only isn’t meat, but also isn’t food in my opinion (don’t get me started on Quorn). In fact, these supermarket varieties give “vegetarian sausage” a bad name. In fact, the veggie sausage can be a delight, with as much nuance and comfort factor as its porky counterparts.
So what makes a great veggie sausage? I feel the same way about veggie sausage as I do about veggie burgers: they shouldn’t try to imitate meat – people who want a meaty sausage should just eat a meaty sausage. But if you love vegetables and want to experience them in tubular form, then veggie sausages are the way to go and are a novel form factor in which to showcase delicious ingredients. Options abound, from Rachel Demuth’s Glamorgan Sausages, made with cheddar, spring onions, breadcrumbs and loads of herbs to the Gluttonous Vegan’s Beany Snausages, a sort of rice-and-beans in sausage form.
I like my vegetarian sausages to be about the vegetables, and since we’re in the depths of autumn and beetroot season, I am sharing with you my recipe for beetroot and walnut veggie sausages inspired by Susan Voison. These sausages combine ingredients that work exceptionally well together – beetroot, walnuts, fennel and chilli – to create a sausage reminiscent of American-style “Italian sausage”. It’s great in a bun with sauteed onions and peppers, or on its own with tomato sauce or dijon mustard. The sky’s the limit: these babies are versatile, not to mention vegan and gluten free. You can even crumble them up and put them on a pizza.
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Prepare a roasting tin or baking pan by oiling it generously with olive or sunflower oil.
Place the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes, then drain and squeeze out the excess liquid.
Put the walnuts into a food processor and pulse to chop finely (but not too finely, we want chopped nuts, not nut powder), then remove and put into a large mixing bowl.
Peel the beetroot and cut it into small cubes. Add it to the food processor along with the mushrooms, garlic, and onion and pulse to chop coarsely. Add the chickpeas and all remaining ingredients and pulse several times to chop the chickpeas. Don’t over-do it: you want to maintain some texture, while still processing enough to form a mixture that you can shape into veggie sausages.
Add the processor contents to the nuts and stir well to combine.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out pieces of the mixture and, using damp hands, form the pieces into sausage-shapes (of whatever size you fancy!), squeezing lightly to compact it (you can also shape them into balls or patties if you wish). Place the sausages on the roasting tin or baking sheet.
Bake for about 35 minutes, turning the sausages once mid-bake, until lightly browned on all sides.
This evening, I attempted to recreate this marvelous chickpea dish I had at Kate Hill’s Kitchen-at-Camont in Gascony earlier this summer. It was the eve before the Natural Light Natural Food photography workshop, and upon my arrival, Tim Clinch greeted me with a glass of rosé and, a short while later, these beautiful chickpeas. I love a man who knows how to handle his beans, and these were a marvel of simplicity - I just loved the combo of chickpeas and carrots. How is it done?
Tim spilled the beans (pun intended) on Twitter: “chickpeas, cumin (lots-toasted), smoked paprika, parsley, coriander, olive oil, garlic(lots) zest&juice of a lemon-bon apetit!!! oh…and a couple of carrots! … grill the garlic unpeeled till blackened on a dry griddle, then mash up… I probably grilled shallots and chopped them into it as well.”
The results of my attempt? Not bad, but I didn’t have parsley or coriander. I also added grilled onions, and did the carrots on the grill, too. My chickpeas weren’t as good as Tim’s, but they satisfied my craving. Plus, they’re super wholesome and vegan and all that good hippy stuff. Feel-good food for a feel-good summer moment.
I should also point out that (I think?) this was the only time Tim cooked while I was at Camont – the rest of the time he was busy doing his photographer thing with Mardi and I while Kate rocked the kitchen. So I feel quite lucky to have experienced first hand that Tim, in addition to being a great photographer and teacher, also has a few culinary tricks up his sleeve, tricks that totally appeal to my bean-eating, spice-loving, vegan-esque sensibilities. I totally approve! Rad food for rad peeps!
I went through a long phase where I was cooking and eating a lot of Indian food, so much so that I’m pretty sure I was one of those people who perpetually smelled like a curry house. Indian is one of my favourite cuisines and I feel like I’m at a point where I have a good repertoire of techniques and go-to recipes that work every time (red lentil dal with panch phoran, besan cheelas, cucumber and coconut salad to name a few).
But then suddenly the phase stopped. The recipes got old. I got bored. Then, a few weeks ago, my recent weekend with Urvashi Roe rejuvenated my appetite for Indian with a slew of new flavour sensations gained largely at her breakfast table and at the buffet at Sakonis. I’ve been heavily experimenting with new Indian recipes ever since.
Once such recipe is this Yellow Pea Dahl from the Green Seasons cookbook by Rachel Demuth. Though not Indian herself, Rachel’s traveled the globe, learned from the best and has been passing on her knowledge of Indian cookery (amongst other cusines) at her Vegetarian Cookery School for years.
This dahl caught my eye for its lack of tomatoes and inclusion of tamarind, a tart, sour fruit. The only substitution I made was to use channa dal rather than yellow split peas. This was such a refreshing change from my usual dal, with the lemony tang of the tamarind giving this a fresh edge. It’s also a cinch to throw together and does really well with a bit of spinach added to the mix. Give me this and with some raita, spicy pickles and warm chapatti, and I’m a happy camper.
I think this may even become my new breakfast “porridge”, but I’ll save my current savoury breakfast phase for another post.
With a bit of tang from the tamarind, this dahl is a total surprise. It’s a fresh, light dahl, that works as well for breakfast as it does for lunch or dinner. Channa dal works a charm in place of the yellow split peas, and I suspect red lentils would be pretty good too. Reprinted with permission from Green Seasons cookbook by Rachel Demuth.
150g yellow split peas
6 shallots, peeled and sliced
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
2 tbsps sunflower oil or ghee
½ tsp mustard seeds
6 curry leaves
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp tamarind paste, diluted with 2 tsps water
1 tsp jaggery or brown sugar
small handful fresh coriander, chopped
Soak the yellow split peas in water for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse.
Simmer the yellow split peas and shallots in the water until cooked, approximately 25 minutes, adding more water if needed.
Add the salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Mix well, take off the heat and set aside.
Heat the sunflower oil or ghee in a small frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the curry leaves, cumin and asafoetida, stir and remove from the heat.
Add the tamarind and jaggery to the seasoned oil, return to the heat and cook until thick and bubbly.
Heat the split pea mixture. Pour the seasoned oil over the split peas and stir in.
Sometimes a dish comes along that reminds me how wonderfully flavoursome, satisfying and comforting good vegetarian food can be.
Fagioli all’ Uccelletto, or “beans made in the manner of little birds”, is a Tuscan dish classically made with cannellini beans served in a rich tomato sauce. The name is derived from the herbs (particularly sage) used to season small game birds so dear to the Tuscany culinary tradition.
I came across this dish at Silvana de Soissons’ Foodie Bugle lunch party earlier this month. She prepared her fagioli all’ uccelleto with a mix of borlotti, haricot and butter beans, along with cavalo nero (my favourite type of kale). This was by far my favourite dish of the meal.
When Silvana came ’round to serve the beans, she said, “to me, this is lunch”, and I couldn’t agree with her more. This is precisely the kind of food I love and live on, and this dish reminded me that some of the most deliciously wholesome food in life comes from the combination of just a few simple, quality ingredients.
This is also the type of dish that might inspire people who are usually mystified by vegetables like kale to use more of these ingredients. The beans and tomato sauce really bring the cavalo nero into its own. Forget River Cottage Veg, THIS is what everyday vegetarian cooking is all about.
Thank you to Silvana for sharing the recipe with me and allowing me to reprint it here. I’ve already made a batch once, and suspect I’ll be making it many times again.
400g cooked beans (butter, haricot, borlotti all work well or a mixture of all)
250g cavolo nero
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper
1 tbsp. of finely chopped sage or rosemary needles
Zest and juice of an unwaxed lemon
250g fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped into small pieces (can be tinned tomatoes if that’s all you’ve got)
If you are cooking dried beans, soak overnight in water and then drain them. Boil in fresh water for an hour or more, until they are cooked and soft. If using jars of cooked beans then just drain and rinse.
Wash the cavolo nero and tear off the leaves in small pieces. Discard the tough stalks. Blanch the cavolo nero in boiling, salted water for about 2-3 minutes, then drain.
In a large sauté pan heat quite a generous amount of olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic and chilli for about 5 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Add the cavolo nero, the tomatoes, the beans, lemon zest and the rosemary or sage. Mix well and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot with a drizzle of more olive oil and lemon juice, hot bread or crostini.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook time:15 minutes
Per serving:272 Calories | 11.2 grams Fat | 34.6 grams Carbohydrates | 11.7 grams Protein | 9.9 grams Fiber