Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cookbook - The Asian Vegan Kitchen

There are few books dearer to my heart, or my belly for that matter, than The Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh.  Packed full of simple and authentic dishes, the pages of my copy are now riddled with scrawled handwriting - mostly involving ‘mmmm’ ‘nom nom’ and ‘aahhhh amazing!’.  This is one good book.

Having lived in Malaysia and China for a number of years, when I left Asia I was mad to find a book with all my favourite recipes, and I was to happy to find many of them among the pages of the Asian Vegan Kitchen.  The book is split into regional sections, including India, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and even Burma.

The section which I found the most useful, and that looks the most battered, is Korean chapter.  Recipes for other ethnic dishes can be found everywhere, whereas simple and authentic tasting Korean recipes are not so easy to find.  The book includes all my favourites and are exactly how I remember them.  The entree-like 'Namul' dishes are particularly good, as is the Tofu Kimchi, my absolute favourite recipe of the whole book.  Worth the purchase simply for that!

The Indian recipe section also has a few excellent staples - Aloo Gobi, Chana Masala, Korma - all recipes I go to again and again.  The Chinese chapter is equally splattered with greasy marks and spots of sauce from my many referrals, as are many of the dishes in the Thai section.

The Vietnamese and Burmese parts of the book seem to be the cleanest of the lot, mostly because I am rather unfamiliar with both cuisines and would have no idea if what I have made would taste right.  I think perhaps a trip is in order, but I am most certain that upon my return I will find them to be just as good as the others!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Vegan Cheese Trial

While poking through the fridges at my local health food store I recently discovered that a number of new vegan cheeses had arrived on the shelf.  Not a big fan of vegan cheese, I had been in the past known to call it plasticy muck, among other things, but I thought perhaps this was being too harsh.   With all of these new cheeses on the shelf there must be demand for this stuff coming from somewhere - maybe I'd had it wrong all along?

Not content to let it sit, I decided to buy up some cheese, amass some troops and find out once and for all, is there a vegan cheese out there that you can sit back with, relax and enjoy a glass of wine?

The answer is sadly not too far off my original assumption, and that is 'not really'.  After munching back four different types of Sheese and four different types of Chezley we came to the conclusion that while we wanted them to taste good, not many of them actually did, at all.     And we gave them a good run.  There were grids and there were numbers, I even bought in special pens.   It was a rather serious task, despite the amount of wine that was drunk along the way.  

There was one cheese however that we all agreed was the best of a bad bunch:  Chezley Pepper Jack.  Soft, spicy and tasting the least like plastic, it was concluded that if you ever wanted to have vegan cheese out on the table that people won't turn their nose up at, this was the one.

Chezley Pepper Jack
Sheese Smokey Style Cheddar
Chezley Mature Red Cheddar
Chezley Blue Cheese
Chezley Edam
Sheese Cheddar with Chives
Sheese Blue Style
Sheese Cheshire

In the overall ratings from our humble little group, Chezley took most of the top spots, although Sheese Smokey Style Cheddar snuck into number two once we calculated our scores.  It wasn't all bad news for vegan cheese though.  Not wanting to see another block for quite a while, it was banished from the house to another friend's place where he used it for pizza the next day.  And it seems heat is key, as he came back with nothing but praise.  Vegan cheese, there is hope for you yet.

Basil Pesto Gnocchi

I once attempted to make gnocchi... attempted, and failed miserably.  Which is why I was rather excited today to find that Tesco now stock their own brand of Gnocchi that is vegan!  I took them straight home, whipped up some pesto and have just finished munching down on one seriously good gnocchi dish - my new favourite 5 minute meal!

Basil Pesto Gnocchi


½ packet Trattoria Verdi Gnocchi

2 cups fresh basil
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
3 large cloves garlic
2 tsp Dairy Free Chedareese Powder
walnut oil
olive oil
salt to taste

To make the pesto, simply blitz all of the ingredients in a food processor until very smooth.  Add the different oils until you reach a consistency that you like and then salt to taste.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add in the gnocchi.  After about three minutes they will rise to the top and they are done.

Simply drain, mix through a few big spoonfuls of pesto and serve.

I like to make pesto once a week and just keep it in the fridge for a quick after work meal.

Notes:  I like my pesto to be really salty and garlicy if I am using it on pasta, so put in less of each if you prefer a milder taste or are planning to eat it on bread as a dip.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Spicy Sichaun Noodles 四川麻辣面

Out of all the many wonders I found on Chinese menu's when I lived there for a wee spell, it was the humble noodle that got me hooked and what I dream about the most.  If I was to ever venture back it would be under the guise of visiting friends, but the real truth of it would be rather more glutinous than that!

And while I bide my time before that day, when I can once again stuff my chops with bowl after bowl of noodles, I have managed to make at least one of my favourites and thought I'd be so kind to share!

Spicy Sichuan Noodles   四川麻辣面


1 packet of noodles
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 nob ginger, chopped finely
2 spring onions, chopped
1 tbs Yeo's Hot Bean Sauce
1 tbs Lee Kum Kee Chilli Garlic Sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
½ cup water
1 tbs crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
sesame oil
Sichuan Peppercorn oil
fresh coriander to garnish
Crushed roasted peanuts to garnish


Cook noodles according to packet instructions and set aside.

In a pan add a good dash of sesame oil and regular oil and fry the garlic, ginger and white parts of the spring onions (leaving the green for garnish).

Add the hot bean sauce and chili garlic sauce and fry until fragrant.

Add the water and soy sauce and bring to the boil.

Add in the peanut butter, sugar and salt and mix.

Put the noodles in a bowl and pour the sauce over top.  Sprinkle with good dashes or sesame and peppercorn oil and top with spring onions, coriander and peanuts before serving.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Delphi, Wonderful Delphi

Salads are not exciting.  In fact they can be the cause of much disappointment for a vegan and have proven so for me on many occasions - it's not fun munching on lettuce when everyone else is tucking into something that will actually fill them up.  Homer Simpson was right, you don't make friends with salad.

Or so that's what I thought, until I myself recently became rather good friends with an unlikely little salad bowl - well no, friends is a lie - a one-sided infatuation probably better describes it!

Delphi is the fabulous brand I speak of and their range are easy to find in many health food stores across Ireland.  They do a great array of salads, but my absolute favourite, and the cause for all of this fuss, is their couscous number.  Super tasty, always fresh and so filling for a salad, it slips right in your bag and has saved me many a time where the only thing remotely vegan about was a field of grass.

And it doesn't stop at salads.  They also sport what I think is the best range of hummus on the market in Ireland, as well as several dips and a tasty variety of tapas.  While a few of their products contain feta cheese, the majority are vegan and everything is clearly labelled.

And just to top it off, all of their products are extremely reasonable - far cheaper than similar products you can find in Tesco (not that I shop there....ahem...) and as I may have mentioned once or twice already, far superior in flavour and freshness.  And with all that, I think it is safe to say, this little love affair is not going to end anytime soon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

My absolute favourite food this summer, or rather, that one week back in April, is Vietnamese style spring rolls.  Unlike their deep fried Chinese counterpart (which I also love, don't get me wrong) these little babies are served just as they are, and are the perfect accompaniment to a sunny day and a glass of wine in the garden.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls


1 packet of Vietnamese spring roll wrappers
1 cucumber
1 large carrot
1 small iceberg lettuce
1 block of firm tofu
3-4 spring onions
Fresh mint
Fresh coriander
Sesame Oil
Sweet chili sauce


Slice all the vegetables into thin strips and chop the fresh herbs.

Slice the tofu into square fingers and fry lightly on all sides.  Sprinkle with a little bit of salt and set aside.

Boil some water in a jug and find something shallow, that's big enough to dip the spring roll wrappers into (I use a black shallow oven tray).

Set up a wee production line, with the tray, a clean tea towel and a plate, with the veggies and tofu close to hand.  Fill the tray with boiling water and dip the first wrapper in.  Leave it in till just soft (or it will become unpliable), dry it on the tea towel and set it out on the plate.

Fill the wrapper with a few strips of each veggie, a strip of tofu, a sprinkling of fresh herbs and a good few drops of sesame oil.

Fold the front part of the wrapper over the veggies, tuck in the sides and roll up tightly.  Repeat the process until all of the wrappers have been filled.  Cut each long roll in half and serve on a plate with sweet chili. MMMmmmmmmm

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spicy Sichuan Potato Strips 川味土豆丝

I never really like potatoes as a kid - all bland and mushy - I would push them around my plate in the hope they would somehow appear smaller and I would be let down from the table.  Sadly it never worked.

It wasn't until I landed in China that my love for the ol' potato finally blossomed. Having never really associated potatoes with Chinese cooking, I was surprised to find them everywhere, cooked in all sorts of ways I'd never seen before.  One of my definite favourites probably looks the least like the potato I was used to - stir fried potato strips.   Below is a concoction I made this evening - won't be pushing this around my plate!

Spicy Sichuan Potato Strips  川味土豆丝


1 large potato
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
3 dried whole chilies
1 tsp Sichuan Pepper Corns
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
A good few splashes of Sichuan Pepper Oil
1 spring onion, chopped
Oil for frying


Slice the potato into very thin strips and rinse off the starch.

Heat a good bit of oil in a wok until hot and add the dried chillies, pepper corns, then the garlic.

Fry until fragrant before adding the soy sauce, salt, sugar and pepper oil.

Add the potato strips and coat with the spicy mixture.  Cover with a lid and leave for a few minutes.

Take off the lid and stir.  Test a potato slice to make sure it has cooked through.  If not, put the lid on again for a few minutes and test again.

Once the potatoes have cooked through, sprinkle a little more pepper oil, adjust seasoning if needed and garnish with spring onion.

Eat with rice.  Num num.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

An Unlikely Find

So it always seems to be the restaurants that I would usually try to avoid that often come to hold the most vegan surprises and today was another instance where I shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.  While in Dublin for the day we took a chance and walked into Nandos and were pleasantly surprised by their range of vegan options.

While at first glance the menu screams 'Peri Peri Chicken', it is in fact littered with vege options.  Not sure which ones were vegan, I asked the waitress who came back with a funky tomb of a book on all the menu options, listing each one on a different page with, among other things, whether or not the dish is vegan, vegetarian or coeilac - they even did the same with all of their sauces and marinades - my stars!

As it turns out most of their starters are vegan, they have a great looking couscous salad and have a spicy soya and tomato burger patty in wrap and pita that, without the mayo, are completely vegan.  Super impressed I ordered said Veggie Pita and was not disappointed.  I would definitely suggest you give it a whirl!  And if you are into spicy, melt-your-face-off-sauces, this is the place for you!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

This Week's Fun Find

Myself and the fiancee work on the edge of Galway City with only one supermarket between us and home, and up until last week I HATED it.  You could often find me there at 6pm, wandering the aisles, grumbling to myself  as to why the oil was hidden by the laundry detergent and why it was seemingly so hard to stock just one flavour of soy ice-cream, just one.

And it was mid such grumble last week when a white packet struck my eye - an odd looking square stuck between the pre-made salad bags and packets of croutons.  I craned my neck and cocked my head, but still couldn't work out what on earth I was looking at.  But somehow I had the distinct feeling I was looking at something rather familiar.

Long story short I was there for quite some time before it dawned on me that I'd found tofu!  And not just any tofu - a huge block of tofu for only, wait for it...€2!  And suddenly I was no longer grumbling and I was no longer moping - instead I was off to find the fiancee to share my find!

After buying several blocks and getting her home, I found that not only was it huge and inexpensive, it was some of the nicest tofu I have had in ages.  So nice in fact I started slicing bits off and eating it raw (now that's a measure for ya!).

Where you can find it:  Dunnes Stores (hiding between the croutons and salad bags..)
How much is it:  Only €2!