A vegan full English breakfast using San Francisco ingredients

My favourite place for a vegan full English breakfast in London is ‘The Gate’ in Marylebone. It’s on a quaint side street behind the bustle of Oxford Street, and early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the place is very quiet, peaceful and the perfect spot to catch up with friends over a hot cup of tea and a tasty brunch. Ever since I discovered a year ago, it had become a weekend tradition of mine and I loved it.

Vegan breakfast, Gate Marylebone, TurmericYoga
Full English breakfast at The Gate Marylebone

So I was at a huge loss when I moved to San Francisco a few months ago and couldn’t find a single place that served a vegan full English, or to be honest had even heard of it! 

It meant I had to take matters into my own hands, and true to the proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ I recreated my own vegan full English breakfast, using local San Francisco ingredients. It took several attempts to find the right ingredients and combination, but over a few months, it’s been tried and tested and truly works. The best part, is that minimal effort, yields multiple items, and an impressive dining table spread! It’s a favourite of ours when we have guests – a quick, tasty and very filling start to the day!

TurmericYoga, Vegan Full English Breakfast
Turmeric Yoga’s Vegan Full English Breakfast!
Turmeric Yoga's Vegan Full English Breakfast!
An enticing dining table spread!

Traditionally, a (non-vegan) full English consists of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, hashbrowns, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast and maybe blackpudding (if you don’t know what this is, don’t ask, it’s disgusting!). In my vegan version, I intentionally didn’t find a one for one replacement for each non-vegan item – where possible I actually try to avoid meat substitutes, as I grew up as a vegetarian and don’t feel any cravings for meat. Instead I tried to find the best ingredients possible for the vegan elements and added some new inventive touches.

My SF inspired full English breakfast is made with lots of quirky, local ingredients, which not only have flavour, but also some history and science blended in! Here’s my roundup of what you’ll need and how to prepare it.

Ingredients for Turmeric Yoga's Vegan Full English Breakfast!
San Francisco Ingredients for Turmeric Yoga’s Vegan Full English Breakfast

JUST egg: This local SF company is on a mission to address systemic issues in the global food system using science to create plant-based versions of dairy and meat products. Their first invention was a plant based egg replacer made with mung beans. This yellow, creamy concoction  scrambles just like egg and has the same colour, texture and taste – but without the cholesterol and cruelty. JUST egg is readily available in supermarkets in San Francisco, and I was impressed to see it being served in restaurants too – at the ‘Boulangerie de San Francisco’ you can order an omelette or scrambled eggs made with hen eggs or with plant based JUST egg. 

I’m a huge fan and have come to rely on this as a staple in my fridge. I’m excited that it will be launching in Europe soon too – I’ll need it when I come back! If you’re looking to try this vegan full English breakfast recipe and you cannot find JUST egg,  another great alternative is scrambled tofu, spiced with turmeric and black salt for an egg-y colour and flavour. 

Jane’s Olive & Polenta Sourdough Bread: San Francisco is the birthplace of sourdough bread and is a household essential in this city. It was unintentionally invented in the mining era, when bread made using French recipes became  ‘sour’ to the taste and initially the miners couldn’t figure out why! It was first attributed to the foggy weather here but later was discovered to be caused by a particular chain of bacteria, which was then aptly named  – L. sanfranciscensis. There are still a few bakeries running today that were set up by the miners of the Gold Rush era, such as Boudin, but they’ve become very tourist-y, and are avoided by locals. Newer, more artisan bakeries are flourishing in the city, and a favourite of mine is Jane’s. On Saturday or Sunday mornings, the line at their bakery runs spills out the store – mostly hungry yuppies in exercise gear (yes, me included!). The shelves are lined with an amazing array of baked goodies: multiple types of brownies, croissants, cookies and cakes, spicy flatbreads, quiche, plump sandwiches… Bakers in the back are busy kneading bread and the air has the delicious, inviting smell of fresh baked bread. I find it heavenly. My favourite item is their olive and polenta sourdough bread – it’s light, and fully with a crisp crunchy exterior and jewelled with nuggets of soft polenta and salty green olives. It’s works perfectly in this full English.

Dr Prager’s Sweet Potato Hash Browns: Hash browns can be tricky and time consuming to make and often quite oily! We were looking for something quick, easy and healthy and stumbled on the sweet potato hash browns at our local grocery store called Mollie Stone’s. Dr Prager’s is a small, family run American frozen food company that offers healthier versions of typical fried frozen foods. These hash browns take no more than 10 mins to cook in the oven and work wonders in a full English! They come in convenient packets of two, which is a perfect portion size. 

Trader Joe’s Kumatos: I’d never seen Kumatos until I came to SF and even then only at Trader Joe’s. Now, where do I even begin with Trader Joe’s? I am obsessed. I could wander around the aisles for hours, exclaiming at the wonderful creative foods they have, and which vary regularly with the seasons. Fall (or autumn) in TJ’s (as we like to refer to it) is particularly special, with baskets overflowing with an array of colourful pumpkins of all shapes and sizes and shelves stocked high with pumpkin pie spiced everything – pancake mix, cookies, cakes, granola, almond milk! The creativity on display and the regular supply of free samples always inspires me to think outside the box and try something new – a cauliflower crust pizza perhaps or vegan kale and cashew pesto or a new vegetable, maybe a Kumato? 

These dark red, brown tomatoes are plump, juicy and beautifully sweet. I simply slice them in half, drizzle generously with olive oil and roast for about 20-30 mins until they are soft and the sugars are bubbling, golden brown and caramelised. If you can’t find Kumatos, try green tomatoes which also work wonderfully. 

Trader Joe’s Organic Baked Beans: I was never a fan of Heinz baked beans – in my opinion they are far too sweet to be a savoury dish! At university, whilst my friends were devouring Heinz baked beans on toast, I’d be making Boston baked beans from scratch, with a savoury, smoky, deep sauce made of mustard, molasses, paprika and onions. If I wanted baked beans, I usually had to make it by hand. I tried Trader Joe’s organic baked beans on a whim and loved the soft beans and the rich tomato sauce  – these are definitely savoury, not sweet! I add a generous helping of smoked paprika for some extra heat and flavour and that’s it. They’re fat-free, high in fiber and taste delicious. 

Trader Joe’s Crimini Mushrooms: I found crimini mushrooms work really well with my full English. These are brown, nutty and soak up marinades really well – I toss them in a simple mix of soy sauce, coconut aminos (which are essentially amino acids from coconut sap which add a rich umami flavour) and a drop of maple syrup before roasting in the oven for about 20 mins. 

California Avocados: Would any dish in California be complete with avocados? I think not. As well as their bright green colour, avocados add some welcome creaminess to a full English. I like to pile slices onto toasted olive and polenta sourdough bread and top with a squeeze of lime a sprinkle of salt and pepper. You might think this is unconventional, but try it once and you’ll never be able to have a full English without avocado again! Choosing the right avocado is the only skill involved here – pick one that is soft when you press into it, but still holds its shape. 

Method. 

The method here is more the most efficient order in which to prepare everything, rather than a recipe. Try and recruit a helper – it’s much easier with two people!

First roast the kumatos/ tomatoes. Start by preheating the oven to 350 F / ~175 C. Line a baking sheet (which has a rim/ sides) with baking parchment. Slice kumatos in half, arrange on the baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20-30 mins until caramelized.

Oven roasted kumatos, Turmeric Yoga
Oven roasted kumatos

Next bake the mushrooms. Mix together 1 tbsp each of soy sauce and coconut aminos,  ⅛ tsp maple syrup and 1 tsp sunflower oil. Line a baking sheet (which has a rim/ sides) with baking parchment. If using whole mushrooms, chop into quarters and add to the tray. Drizzle over the sauce and mix well to coat. Bake for 15-20 mins until they are cooked. They exude a lot of liquid, to make sure you’ve got a tray with edges to prevent spills!

Roasted crimini mushrooms
Roasted crimini mushrooms

Toast the sweet potato hash browns. 15 mins after you’ve put the kumatos in, arrange the hashbrowns on a sheet of baking parchment and put into the oven. Cook on one side for 5 mins, flip and cook on the other side for 5 mins

Scramble the JUST egg. Heat a non-stick pan and spray with a few spritzes of sunflower spray oil (this stuff is super handy!). When hot, pour in a ⅓ of the JUST egg and use a wooden spatula to move the mixture around continuously, scraping down the bottom and sides. It’ll take around 2-3 mins for the mixture to thicken and taken on the consistency of scrambled eggs. Keep stirring for another minute and taste a piece to see if done. Repeat twice more until the rest of the bottle has been turned into scrambled eggs!

Slice the sourdough and avocado. Whilst the mushrooms, tomatoes and hashbrowns are cooking, slice your bread, toast if needed and slice the avocado into thin strips. Best way to do this is to hold the avocado in your palm, slice all the way around, rotating the avocado in your palm. Twist to separate the halves. Take one half and peel the skin off gently. Place on a cutting board and slice into thin strips. For the half with the stone – put it on a chopping board stone slide down and slice through the flesh in half, avoiding the stone. Pull apart into quarters with your hands and then dig out the stone with your fingers. Peel off the skin and slice the green flesh into thin strips. 

Lastly, heat the baked beans. Tip the can into a saucepan, add 1 tsp of smoked paprika (or more if you want more heat) and bring up to a gently bubble. Keep mixing to avoid it catching. Turn off when piping hot.

Turmeric Yoga's A vegan full English breakfast using San Francisco ingredients!
A vegan full English breakfast using San Francisco ingredients!

And voila! You have a wonderful vegan full English breakfast in no time. To serve, arrange everything in the middle of the dining table and tuck in!

Root veg cutlets with beetroot, sweet potato and parsnip

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When I was in college, studying for my undergraduate degree, we lived in a Kozhikode, Kerala, India which was about a 4 hours drive away from my birthplace, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, where my maternal grandparents lived. As my grandparents were not in good health, we often went to see them. Along the route from Kozhikode to Coimbatore, there used to be a popular restaurant chain called ‘India Coffee House’. My father always stopped there for their delicious vegetable cutlets – a popular snack of patties made from mashed potato, green peas and other vegetables, breaded and fried until crips. My father would love dipping his cutlet in tomato ketchup while sipping his hot coffee.

It was many, many years later that I actually started being adventurous in my cooking, and one of the very first recipes I tried to make for my father was vegetable cutlet. It took me a few times to perfect it, and I knew that I had actually arrived when my father remarked, “This is better than India Coffee House.”

Whilst the vegetables other than potatoes included in a cutlet vary, I recall that the India Coffee House ones had beetroot – long before beet burgers became fashionable! So I thought of making a winter-themed root vegetable cutlet. For a change I decided leave out the potatoes altogether, with sweet potatoes and parsnips taking their place. This is probably the first time I’ve included parsnip in an Indian recipe. In past I have rarely cooked with parsnips, perhaps because it was not a vegetable common in South India where I grew up. However I’m glad I tried it here as its earthy flavour balances the sweetness of the other vegetables whilst its firm texture contrasts with fluffy sweet potatoes and the bite of the grated beets.

The breadcrumb coating is optional although highly recommended as part of the cutlet experience. Here I’ve made breadcrumbs from fresh wholewheat bread as they result in a chunky coating with deliciously crunchy nutty bits. If you prefer a more traditional evenly crisp coating, use stale bread (or use shop-bought breadcrumbs).

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Cook 1 sweet potato and 1 parsnip till soft. I pressure cooked them. Remove skin from sweet potato and mash it along with parsnip till smooth. Peel skin off half a beetroot and grate it into the sweet potato mash. Chop two spring onions, 1/2 a green chilli and 1/2 inch/1.3 cm ginger finely. Sauté in 2 tsp oil for two minutes. Add it to the mash. Add 1/2 cup frozen peas (or cooked fresh peas) along with 4 tsp of chopped coriander, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp garam masala, juice of half a lime and salt. Mix well.

Mix 1/2 cup cornflour with 1/2 cup water. Make breadcrumbs by blending a fresh brown roll in a blender. Spread the crumbs on a plate. Take a lime-sized ball of the mixture and flatten it into a cutlet shape. You can also roll them into oblong croquettes and flatten the sides slightly so that they brown well. Dip it into the cornflour mixture and coat both sides with bread crumbs. Arrange the cutlets in a plate and keep them in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile thinly slice 1 medium red onion (or any other onion) and sauté in 1/2 tsp oil till slightly brown. Keep aside whilst you make the cutlets.

Heat a skillet or frying pan, lightly brushed with oil, over a medium heat and arrange the cutlets on it. Using about 2-4 tsp oil in total, brush or sprinkle a few drops of oil over each cutlet and turn them over and brush or sprinkle a few drops of oil on the other side. Turn them over carefully every two minutes until evenly brown on both sides.

On a plate arrange the cutlets (optionally on a bed of salad leaves ) and top with fried onions, optionally also with sprigs fresh coriander. Enjoy with tomato ketchup as a dip.

Root veg cutlets with beetroot, sweet potato and parsnip

Feeds: 4
Preparation time: 40 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 medium parsnip
  • 1/2 a medium beetroot, peeled
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 a green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1/2 inch/ 1.3 cm ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, cooked according to package instructions (or same quantity of cooked fresh peas)
  • 4 tsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 cup cornflour
  • 1 fresh wholewheat roll / 2 slices fresh wholewheat bread (or about 1 cup shop-bought breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4-6 tsp oil (=2 tsp to sauté vegetables + 2-4 tsp for pan-frying the
  • cutlets)

Sautéed onions

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp oil

To accompany

  • salad leaves, optional
  • sprigs of fresh coriander, optional
  • tomato ketchup

Directions

1. Chop the sweet potato and parsnip into large chunks and boil until soft. Drain. Peel sweet potato and mash it along with parsnip until fairly smooth and no large chunks remain.

2. Whilst the vegetables are cooking, sauté the spring onions, chilli and ginger in 2 tsp of the oil for two minutes until softened.

3. Grate the beetroot into the mash. Add the sautéed vegetables peas, chopped coriander, cumin powder, garam masala, lime juice and salt to taste. Mix well, taste and adjust the flavouring if needed by adding more salt, lime juice or spices.

4. Spread the crumbs in a plate. Mix the cornflour with 1/2 cup of water.

5. Take a lime size ball of the mixture and flatten it into a cutlet shape. You can also roll them into oblong croquettes and flatten the sides slightly so that they brown well. Dip it into the cornflour mixture and coat both sides with bread crumbs. Arrange the cutlets in a plate and keep them in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

6. Chop one medium onion into thin strips and sauté in 1/2 tsp oil until lightly browned. Remove from skillet and keep aside while you make the cutlets.

7. Arrange cutlets on the skillet in batches. Cook them over medium heat, using about 2-4 tsp of oil in total. Brush or sprinkle a few drops of oil over each cutlet, cook for about 2 minutes, then flip them and brush or sprinkle a few drops of oil on the other side and cook for another 2 minutes.

8. Repeat this process, flipping the cutlets approximately every two minutes until evenly brown on both sides. Repeat for the remaining cutlets.

9. On a plate arrange the cutlets (optionally on a bed of salad leaves) and top with the fried onions, optionally also with springs of fresh coriander. Enjoy hot with tomato ketchup as a dip.

Leather – the often overlooked animal product

November 2019 | Neeru

I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian, and always had a strong belief that I shouldn’t kill any animals. I had never eaten meat, but until I became vegan, I hadn’t thought much about what other products in my life were from animals. The main one was leather. Without fully thinking, I’d bought leather shoes, leather handbags and belts. This material has become so mainstream in society that I didn’t stop to think about where it came from. It had become a mark of quality and fashion—Italian leather, suede boots, black leather jackets… Whilst society more strongly opposed animal fur, there wasn’t much talk of the ethics of leather. I never really stopped to check if what I bought was made of leather or to think where leather came from. It was easier that way, but it was ignorance. All this changed when I became vegan. I started to question more where things came from, and my own inconsistencies…

Give leather is only the skin of the animal and not the flesh, it had been easy in my mind to separate leather from the meat industry, and assume they were unrelated. But as I started to research and read up on this industry I found they directly feed off each other. In the case of cow hide, it’s taken from cows slaughtered for their meat, from dairy cows who no longer produce milk, or male calves who are of no use to the dairy industry. In fact the ‘softest’ leather is from calf skin or even sometimes from the skin of unborn calves taken from their mother’s womb [1] . The more I read, the more horrified I became.

When I talked to some friends about leather, a question I’d often get asked was; ‘Well, if the animals had to die anyway, the skin would have just gone to waste. So making it into leather is a good use of the waste product right?’ I can see how this argument can help people rationalise their use of leather, but sadly it is a misconception. Animal hide isn’t simply a waste product that is repurposed to make leather. The skin is a highly profitable part of the animal, which farmers sell to maximise their profits and prop up their animal farming and meat businesses. The skin isn’t taken from animals that die of natural causes. If it was, the volume of leather we could produce would be dramatically lower. Consuming meat generates the demand for dead animals, which generates the animal hide for leather. Stop eating meat and the number of animals that need to die dramatically reduces, and the input materials for the leather industry shrinks.

The argument for leather didn’t stack up from an environmental perspective either. I discovered that the leather tanning process involves highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as chromium, which leach into the water system [1]. And given that animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human made greenhouse gas emissions after electricity and heat production via fossil fuels [2], and the leather industry is inextricably linked with that, it is a clear offender.

Once I’d learnt these truths, it was difficult to forget them. Knowing that by buying leather I would be directly supporting the meat industry and it’s detrimental ethical and environmental consequences, I decided, that was it. No more leather.

So what next?

I started to research better, more natural, and vegan alternatives. I soon found there were plenty of interesting vegan materials and innovative companies creating a wide range of vegan bags, shoes and clothing.  For example, my sister Nikki and I found some elegant black faux leather handbags (John Rocha @ Debenhams) and jackets (H&M) which look strikingly similar to actual leather and in fact are much cheaper.

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Enjoying vegan food, in a vegan leather jacket!

We also discovered the brand Matt & Nat, which has a very chic collection of vegan handbags, footwear and jackets for men and women—they’re a little pricey, so we’re waiting for the sales to try them out!

Whilst many vegan leather products are made from synthetic materials, there are also several natural, eco-friendly alternatives, such as apple waste, pineapple bush waste, coffee, teak leaves, or even wine waste [3]!

A corking good substitute

On my recent trip to Portugal I discovered my favourite leather alternative so far—cork, the same material you find capping wine bottles. Flattened into thin sheets, it has the same smooth, slippery texture as leather and can be fashioned into bags, belts, purses! Portugal produces over 50% of the world’s cork, and in Lisbon, I found an abundance of cork based products on street side stalls, upmarket stores, and couldn’t resist buying several handbags for myself, and my friends and family!

Cork products, Lisbon, Portgual, Turmeric Yoga
Cork handbags and purses from Lisbon, Portugal

They were sleek, elegant and durable and completely vegan. I also found lots of custom designed cork products on Etsy, and bought my fiancé a cork passport holder personalised with his name for his birthday.

From an ethical and environmental standpoint, cork is a far better option to traditional leather, as it’s a natural material and completely biodegradable. Now, I’m not saying that it’s a like for like replacement. We might not get the exact same texture and feel and it might not work for all typical leather products. But for many use cases, such as bags, purses and belts, it’s a stylish and sustainable alternative. So next time you pop open a bottle of wine, reconsider the humble cork – this versatile material can save animals, the environment and could become your new favourite wallet or purse!

Keep a look out for new posts coming soon on Neeru’s favourite vegan clothes and shoes!

References

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/aug/27/ethicalfashion.leather
  2. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data
  3. https://eluxemagazine.com/fashion/5-truly-eco-friendly-vegan-leathers

Coriander green pea ‘mixed’ millet with vegetable raita

November 2019 Chitra

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Every year during the first week of August, a special festival called ‘Aadi Perukku’ is celebrated in South India. Around this time the rivers are refreshed by rainfall and this celebration is to pay tribute to water’s life-sustaining properties. This festival has a special significance for me as it was on this day my twin daughters were born. People prepare picnic lunches consisting of what is called ‘kalanda saadam’ or ‘mixed rice’ varieties and have a family day out to the river side. Tangy lemon rice—rice mixed with spices and lime juice, and coconut rice consisting of cooked rice mixed with toasted nuts and grated coconut, are very popular.

Although very tasty, these dishes tend to be quite starchy with little or no vegetables in them. I have created a healthier version of ‘kalanda sadam’, or rather ‘kalanda millet’  and this is in part inspired by two childhood favourites—rice mixed with coriander chutney and green peas pulao.  It is accompanied nutritious raita or yogurt sauce packed with colourful, crunchy raw vegetables.  When the millet is eaten with the raita, the softness of the millet contrasts beautifully with the crunchiness of the vegetables in the sauce.

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Cook 1/2 a cup of millet according to the instructions on the packet. Finely chop 3 spring onions, half a green chilli, 1/4 inch ginger. In a skillet heat 2 tsps of sesame oil, add 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds. When they burst, add the chopped vegetables, a pinch of asafoetida. Give it a good stir for a minute. Add 1/2 cup frozen peas. Stir and add the cooked millet, using a fork to separate the grains. When the millet mixture is hot, add 1/2 cup of coriander chutney (try this or thisand mix well. Remove from heat so that the chutney stays green. Add a little salt if necessary. The chutney will have some salt as well so add sparingly.

To make the raita, whisk 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (I used soya yogurt) until smooth. Very finely chop 1 medium onion, 1/2 a medium tomato, 1/4 a green chill, 1/4 inch / 0.3 cm ginger and a small piece of red pepper. Add these to the yogurt and mix well. Mix in 2 tsp finely chopped coriander and add salt to taste.

Enjoy the ‘mixed’ millet hot with the raita.

Coriander green pea 'mixed' millet with vegetable raita

Feeds: 2
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Difficulty: easy
coriander-green-pea-mixed-millet

'Mixed' millet

  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 3 sprigs spring onions
  • 1/2 green chilli
  • 1/4 inch ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • a small pinch asafoetida
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup coriander chutney (try this or this)
  • salt to taste

Raita

  • 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (I used Alpro soya yogurt)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 medium tomato
  • 1/4 green chill
  • 1/4 inch ginger
  • a small piece of red pepper
  • 2 tsp coriander, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

Directions

1. Cook millet as per instructions on the packet. Meanwhile prepare the ingredients for the millet and raita.

2. To make the raita, finely chop the onion, tomato, green chilli, ginger and red pepper into tiny pieces. Whisk the yogurt until smooth and add the other ingredients to the yogurt. Mix in the chopped coriander and add salt to taste. Set aside whilst you prepare the millet.

2. For the millet, chop the spring onions, green chilli and ginger and set aside. In a skillet heat sesame oil, add cumin seeds. When they burst, add the chopped vegetables, a pinch of asafoetida. Give it a good stir for a minute.

3. Add frozen peas, allow them to warm through, then add the cooked millet. Use fork to separate the grains.

4. When the millet mixture is well warmed, add coriander sunflower seeds chutney and mix well. Immediately take it off the heat so that the chutney stays green. Add a little salt if needed. The chutney will have some salt as well so add sparingly. Enjoy hot with the raita.

Vegan Florence

November 2019 | Neeru Ravi

florence, vegan, onelifetwoways.com, trip, travel

Florence was simply put a vegan heaven. I turned up thinking I’d be blown away by the world renowned Renaissance paintings and beautiful architecture, but I came away amazed at the incredible variety of authentic vegan cuisine we found. There were several fully vegan places but menus of traditional restaurants were clearly marked with vegan options, cafes had vegan croissants, and as for almond and oat milk lattes? No problem. Staff at restaurants seemed surprisingly knowledgeable about veganism and helpful in sharing recommendations of other great places to eat.

A highlight of our trip was an incredible Airbnb experience we tried—rooftop yoga and a home cooked vegan Tuscan meal. The evening views of Florence were truly unsurpassed and we learnt some great new recipes—cannellini beans with rosemary and tomatoes, mushrooms with garlic and red wine, and delicious black cabbage pesto pasta. I highly recommend the experience, if you have a spare evening and want to try something different.

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If you’re planning a visit, I’ve rounded up my shortlist of the top vegan food to try. Happy Cow was a great source of information of interesting places too, so check it out!

Top vegan eats Florence

Best Vegan Pizza—Ti Do Uno Pizza

They have a dedicated vegan pizza menu, which is very extensive and they’re also open to mix and match combinations, so feel free to create your own. We have mixed vegetable pizzas with vegan cheese and vegan sausage! The vegan cheese and sausage are made locally and felt very fresh. The pizza dough was delicious and chewy and they provided lots of tasty chilli oil for dipping crusts. The place was quaint and felt very authentic! Book ahead – it’s small and cosy inside!

Vegan pizza with mushrooms, olives, vegan cheese, vegan sausage, aubergines and courgettes
Vegan pizza with mushrooms, olives, vegan cheese, vegan sausage, aubergines and courgettes

Best Ribollita—Trattoria Enzo e Piero

Ribollita is an authentic Tuscan dish made with white beans, cabbage and left over bread. The one at Trattoria Enzo e Piero was top notch. A trattoria is an authentic Tuscan restaurant and this one was very real. It’s still run by the same family who started it and the inside is very cosy and rustic. Given that, I was very surprised to find several clearly marked vegan options on the menu. As well as the ribollita, we also tried their fresh pasta with vegetable ragu and penne with black cabbage pesto (black cabbage is also known as black kale or cavolo nero). This place is a must for an authentic, Tuscan food experience!

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Ribollita and Zolfini beans, a local Tuscan special

Best Italian Sandwich—Pizzeria il Montino

We took a day trip to Pisa to see the leaning tower. The big question was, would there be vegan food there or should we take a packed lunch? We decided to risk it and found a vegan spot that looked reliable. To our shock, it was closed when we got there!

We had to rapidly find another option and to our surprise and delight, we found a little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop that served sandwiches that rocked our world! Soft bread filled with a fluffy chickpea pancake called cecina, and topped with marinated mushrooms and aubergines. Forget the leaning tower—it might even be worth a trip to Pisa just for this sandwich! The owners didn’t seem to know much English, so just ask for the focaccia cecina, and savour every bite!

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Focaccia with cecina, marinated mushrooms and aubergines

Best Gelato—Perche No

Can’t come to Italy and not try gelato, right? Even if it’s December, peak winter and -2 degrees Celcius! We chose Perche No as our spot and it was well worth being extra cold for! They have a dedicated vegan and dairy free section and vegan cones too. I tried scoops of the hazelnut and chocolate flavours and they were sublime. It’s tiny inside though, so better to grab and go, and wander around town.

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Best Pasta—Brac

Finding good pasta was a key part of our Florence itinerary. Thankfully my Aunt, who’d visited Florence some years back, recommended a great place and we stumbled upon this super cute little spot called Brac. The place is part library, part restaurant and it was very charming to eat dinner at a candle-lit table surrounded by a library of books. They had the most delicious black cabbage pesto tagliatelle we’d ever had!

Black cabbage pesto,  as you can tell by now (since we’ve have had three times!), is a very common and authentic sauce for pasta in Florence, and it was delicious.  Brac is a small place though, so do book in advance.

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Black cabbage pesto tagliatelle, roasted sweet potatoes, avocado carpaccio

Best Coffee & Croissant—SimBIOsi Organic Cafe

I was told that croissants and coffees were the authentic Italian breakfast that I had to try. Having never come across a vegan croissant at a cafe in London at that time, my expectations of finding one in Florence were pretty low. To my extreme surprise, the first cafe we tried outside our Airbnb had an abundance of vegan croissants! And of course oat milk lattes. The perfect way to energise for a day of visiting art galleries and learning about the Medici family and the Renaissance.

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Vegan croissants!

Best Biscotti—La Bottega

Afternoon coffees though, I heard, needed a biscotti to accompany them. But where to find them? They weren’t in any cafes and I had all but given up hope of finding one, when by a chance encounter, I popped into a little grocery store, drawn in by the rainbow coloured pastas. And lo and behold I found some vegan biscotti. They were the perfect take home present for my family.

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Excited to find vegan biscotti!

Since returning from Florence, I’ve tried recreating several of these dishes at home—I especially love making ribollita and the cecina, aubergine and marinated mushroom sandwich! I will share my recipes for these sometime soon 🙂. I’ve expanded my vegan repertoire and can’t wait to explore more of Italy and sample the other varied vegan dishes it has to offer. Stay tuned for more vegan travel posts!

 

Spicy carrot soup

November 2019 | Chitra

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Soups were never really part of our traditional South Indian diet whilst growing up. We rarely ate out, and even when we did, we stuck to familiar foods. My father encountered soup during his stays at hotels whilst travelling for work, and was all praise, but we never really knew how to make a good soup. In those days we didn’t have much access to recipe books, and soup recipes that we came across in magazines didn’t really turn out well. Once when I was in my late teens, we got invited to dinner by a family friend where we were served tomato soup. It was super delicious. My mother got the recipe and from then on tomato soup became a regular feature at home but we stuck to the tomato theme for a good many years and did not venture elsewhere. These days, however, we love experimenting with all sorts of vegetables as well as spice combinations.

During a recent visit to Coimbatore in South India, we bought some really fresh organic carrots and coriander from a farm shop. My daughter Neeru described to me a simple yet delicious carrot soup she had enjoyed during her recent visit to Lisbon. This inspired me to make a nourishing soup in an Indian style with a South Indian touch. The trick is to use cook the vegetables, in the style of curries, with whole spices, not spice powders. Also instead of milling pepper over the soup at the end, I blend the peppercorns with the vegetables, which infuses the soup with a little deep heat that makes it very comforting, especially during cold evenings.

Chop 1 carrot, 1 onion, 2 tomatoes and a 1/4 in / 0.3 cm piece of ginger. Heat 1 tbsp oil (I used sesame oil) and fry 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds, 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds, 8-10 black peppercorns (depending on how spicy you want it), a pinch of asafoetida, 8 cashews until the spices are aromatic and the cashews are slightly brown. Add the chopped vegetables and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add 2 cups of water so that the vegetables are completely submerged and cook them until soft. I pressure cooked them.

 

Cool completely and blend the cooked vegetables until smooth. Add a small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped at the end and blitz briefly just until you can see flecks of green. Blending too much will release some bitterness from the coriander and also affect the bright yellow-orange colour of the soup.

 

Transfer the soup to a pan, add more water as needed for your preferred consistency. I added about 1 cup of water for fairly thin soup. Heat the soup again, adding salt to taste. Enjoy hot topped with chopped coriander and any accompaniments you like. I microwaved some appalams (a South Indian version of poppadum) but it would also be greater with crisp toasted bread or flatbreads.

Spicy carrot soup

Feeds: 4
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 3 medium carrots
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 small tomatoes
  • 1/4 inch/ 0.3 cm ginger
  • small bunch fresh coriander
  • 1 tbsp oil (I used sesame oil)
  • 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • 8 cashews
  • a pinch of asafoetida
  • coriander for topping
  • poppadums or appalams to accompany (optional)
  • salt to taste

Directions

1. Chop the vegetables except coriander into small chunks. Heat the oil and fry the cumin, peppercorns, coriander seeds, asafoetida, cashews until the spices are aromatic and the cashews are slightly brown. Add the chopped vegetables and sauté for 2-3 minutes.

2. Add two cups of water so that the vegetables are completely submerged and cook them until soft. I pressure cooked them. Cool completely and blend the cooked vegetables until smooth. Add the coriander at the end and blitz briefly just until green flecks appear. Blending too much will release some bitterness from the coriander and also affect the bright yellow-orange colour of the soup.

3. Add a cup of water and mix well. You may add more water if you prefer a more liquid consistency or less for a thicker soup. Heat the soup again, stirring continuously and add salt to taste. Enjoy hot topped with more chopped coriander, with poppadums or appalams if you wish.

Lime chick pea millet pulao with greens

In my childhood days we would travel by train from Mumbai to my grandparents’ house in Coimbatore. The journey would be two whole days and in those days we carried all the food for the entire journey. As the weather would be really hot, we only carried food that wouldn’t spoil in the heat. One such dish very common among South Indians is lemon rice. Although very tasty, this is a predominantly starchy dish and especially when made with white rice (as was typically the case) it is not particularly nutritious. I have created my own millet-based version loaded with chickpeas and greens, which preserves the distinctive tangy taste but is also a lot more healthy.

Soak 1/2 cup of chickpeas overnight and cook in enough water using a method of your choice until soft. I pressure cooked them. Drain but keep the cooking water. Alternatively use a 400 g/ 14 oz can of chickpeas. Drain, keep the water and microwave for about 5 minutes or simmer them for 10-15 minutes, covered, with a little of the cooking water, until they are soft.

Finely chop 1 medium onion and 1/2 a green chilli. In a skillet heat 2 tsp sesame oil, add the chopped onion and chilli. Stir continuously for a couple of minutes, then whilst still stirring, add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp curry powder and 1/4 inch/ 0.6 cm fresh ginger, finely grated. Keep stirring for about 7-8 minutes until the onion becomes translucent.

Add the cooked chickpeas and 1/4 cup of the chickpea cooking water. Add salt to taste. Let it simmer until the water evaporates. Separately cook 1/4 cup millet according to the instructions on the package. Add the cooked millet to the chickpeas and mix well.

Top the chickpea millet pulao with fresh coriander, finely chopped and about 2 tbsp greens of your choice, finely shredded (I used 1 leaf of cavolo nero / black kale, finely shredded). Squeeze over the juice of half a lime and enjoy.