Sticky toffee ginger cake (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan)

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Sticky toffee pudding is a classic British dessert that we have somehow never got around to making very often. One memorable occasion was when my daughter made the pudding for my father in India. Rich, dense and fudgy, it was reminiscent of Indian sweets like alwa that he loved so much.

This time I wanted a more cake-like version and as I am very fond of gingerbread, the idea of ginger-infused toffee-flavoured cake was very appealing. Looking through recipes for sticky toffee cakes and puddings we were surprised to find that although most recipes involve a large quantity of dates, they are also very generous with sugar and fat. It seemed to me that dates would contribute the sweetness as well as the moisture to make a very tasty cake without using too much fat or sugar. This became a kind of experiment to see how much sugar we could reduce but still make a delicious cake.

I covered approximately 3/4 cup dates with about 1/4 cup boiling water, keeping it aside to soften for a while. These were ordinary supermarket dates from Sainsbury’s, nothing special or expensive. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F and grease a baking tin. I used a 14 cm / 5.5 inch diameter tin  but a small container of a similar dimensions of any shape would work as would a small loaf tin.

Meanwhile I ground about 3/4 cup rolled oats as finely as possible. Use certified gluten-free oats if you need to avoid gluten for dietary reasons. It was not as fine as oat flour that you might find in a shop but somewhere between the texture of ground almonds and flour. I ended up with just under 1 cup of oat flour. Then I sifted in 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 3/4 tsp baking powder, 1-1/2 tsp ground ginger and a tiny pinch of salt. You could add other spices but in this case I wanted the focus to be solely on ginger.

In a small metal pan, I added 1-1/2 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp black treacle and placed the pan over a low flame for just a few moments until the ingredients started to melt. Then I took it off the heat and stirred them until they had melted. Recipes usually call for soft brown sugar but as I didn’t have any I decided to use a mixture of white sugar and treacle. I added 2 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp vegan yoghurt and whisked the mixture until fairly smooth. It doesn’t matter if some flecks of treacle remain as they will melt into the cake batter when it cooks. I didn’t wait for the mixture to coconut oil and treacle mixture cool but it might be better to do so as it starts to set when cold yoghurt is added and you need to whisk a lot more to get it to a smooth consistency.

By this point the dates had softened and I blended them along with the water adding a further 3 tbsp water to make a smooth purée. I stirred this into the wet mixture. I also finely chopped two chunks of preserved stem ginger. Then I added the wet mixture and the ginger to the flour mixture and mixed well to obtain a thick cake batter. You might need to add a bit more water depend on how moist your dates are.

Add the batter to the pan and bake for about 35-40 mins, at 180°C / 350°F for the first 25 minutes, then lower to 170°C / 340°F for the remainder. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean. Monitor every 5 minutes after the first 25 minutes. When the cake was done, I pricked a few holes on top with a skewer and brushed about 1 tbsp of the syrup from the bottle of stem ginger. I also finely chopped another chunk of stem ginger and scattered it over the top. Crystallised ginger would also work and you could try mixing sugar syrup with a little fresh ginger juice for the topping.

Allow to cool until it is no longer very hot. You can let it cool completely but it is also delicious eaten slightly warm. It keeps well for a few days, becoming more moist and deeply flavoured.

Palak Tofu

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I read recently in a research paper1 that “through consumption of plant chlorophyll pigments, animals, too, are able to derive energy directly from sunlight.” Sounded incredible! This set me thinking. May sound like the stuff of science fiction, but gazing into my crystal ball, I predict that sometime in the future, people will start having chlorophyll skin patches, or better still, chlorophyll skin tattoos, and when people go into the sun, they will be able to make their own food. Think of how useful this could be -say you went mountain trekking, you wouldn’t have to carry your own food. Apart from the convenience, it would also be a very efficient way of making food as there would be no energy loss along your food chain.

Maybe in my subconscious mind I knew about our bodies being able to photosynthesise, and that is why I always like the gravy in palak tofu to be a vibrant green colour. Many times when I followed recipes or even when in my pre-vegan days, I ordered palak paneer in a restaurant, the gravy turned out a greyish green colour which wasn’t particularly inviting. I will now share with you my method to retain the green colour of palak in the gravy. As to the rest of the recipe, just use it as a skeleton but put your own meat on it (kind of weird for a vegan to say this).

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Delicious with multigrain rotis!

It is my firm belief that Indian cooking has to be done by feeling. Being pedantic about it doesn’t really result in great taste. Feel free to experiment around with the spices, timing, water added, etc. and find what is right for you. Indian cooking has to have an element of chaos in it. Something of chaos theory comes to mind—most creativity happens at the edge of chaos. I am going to tell you how I made this dish. I have made this a few times and each time it was slightly different but equally delicious. I would love to hear about your efforts and maybe see a picture or two of the dish as well.

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How it turned out another time!

I drained 280 gm of tofu and cut them into 1 inch pieces. I spread 1 tsp of sesame oil (sunflower oil can be used) in a skillet and arranged the tofu pieces around. I kept the heat at a minimum and tossed the tofu pieces around so that they were browned uniformly on all sides. I added a few drops of oil when I tossed them over the first time. I sprinkled a large pinch of asafoetida on the tofu pieces. I set them aside.

I washed 2 large bunches of palak ((Indian spinach) coarsely. You can use normal spinach leaves instead. I blended them with some water to get a gravy like consistency. Then I added a handful of coriander leaves and blitzed briefly. Then I finely chopped 1 medium red onion, 1.5 inch/ 4 cm ginger, ½ green chilli and diced 4 medium tomatoes. In a skillet I added 3 tsp of sesame oil.

When the oil was hot, I added ½ to 1 tsp of cumin seeds. When they browned, I added the chopped vegetables, 1 tsp of cumin powder, 1 tsp of coriander powder, 1 tsp of garam masala, ½ tsp of asafoetida, and salt to taste, and fried for about 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring continuously.

Then I added the tofu pieces and stir fried on medium heat for about 5 minutes so that the tofu pieces could absorb some of the flavours. Finally I stirred the blended spinach in and let it simmer very briefly, for about 2 minutes. Cooking the spinach briefly will ensure it doesn’t lose its green colour.

The quantities I have indicated will generate four portions. Also it depends on what else you are having with it. It can be enjoyed with rotis or other flatbreads, or rice.

If you wish to reheat this dish, reheat small portions in the microwave. Heating en masse will make it lose its green colour.

  1. Xu C, Zhang J, Mihai DM, Washington I. Light-harvesting chlorophyll pigments enable mammalian mitochondria to capture photonic energy and produce ATP. J Cell Sci. 2014;127(Pt 2):388‐399. doi:10.1242/jcs.134262

 

Lockdown Recipe 10: Protein Rich Dosa Uttappam Pancakes

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Dosa is a South Indian staple. It is a type of savoury pancake. Modifying Shakespeare’s words I can say,

Age cannot wither [it], nor custom stale
[Its] infinite variety

Interestingly dosa is so versatile that it can be made for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or even just a quick snack. The batter can either be made by soaking rice, black lentils and/or other grains overnight and grinding them into batter like consistency, or by mixing flours with water, salt and non dairy yogurt. Dosa tastes better when the batter is sour, so the batter is often left overnight to ferment.

Uttappam is one sub-species of dosa, which often comes with a variety of  toppings such as chilli, ginger, tomato, peppers, etc. Whenever I make uttappam, I am reminded of my father. I would often make uttappam for him and he would commend the fact that I chopped the toppings very finely so that they merged well into the uttappam.

Before the lockdown, shops had run out of wheat flour and I had picked up a variety of different flours and I am constantly thinking of imaginative ways to use them.  This dosa is one such experiment which turned out surprisingly well. Feel free to try out other flours. I would recommend a mixture of grain and lentil or bean flours.

I mixed 1 cup each of moong flour, chickpea flour and rice flour, with 1½ cups cashew yogurt (you can use any non-dairy yoghurt, unsweetened if possible), salt, 2 tsp cumin seeds with sufficient water to produce a pancake batter consistency. I let it ferment overnight.

Next day I finely chopped 1 red onion, ½ red pepper, ½ green pepper, 1 medium tomato, 1 green chilli, 1 inch piece ginger and a handful of coriander leaves for the topping.

Then I spread 1 tsp of sesame oil on a skillet and heated it.  When hot, after reducing the heat to medium, I dropped a ladle full of the batter into the centre of the skillet, and using the underside of the ladle and shaped it into large circle by moving the ladle in concentric circles of increasing size.  I spread the chopped vegetable pieces evenly around the dosa.  I used a flat dosa ladle (any flat ladle, spatula or palette knife would work) to press the vegetable pieces into the batter.

I then poured 1 tsp of sesame oil along the circumference of the dosa.  Sesame oil is the one that works best with dosa in terms of flavour but you can always use sunflower oil quite successfully.  I let it cook for a few minutes until the underside was browned.  I then flipped the dosa over and cooked the other side until the vegetables started to brown before transferring to a plate.

This dosa will go very well with the coriander or other green chutney (try one of these).  Dosa is best eaten with fingers. You tear a piece, dip it deeply into the chutney and let the multiple flavours disperse in your mouth.  People love dosa not just for its crispy appearance but also for the sense of well-being that comes from eating it.

The batter I made was sufficient to make about 15 medium sized dosas / uttappams.

Lockdown Recipe 9: Leek, Broccoli Chickpea soup

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In the pre-Covid-19 days, often I would buy broccoli with the intention of using it before it lost its freshness but often I would end up throwing it away. Now with it becoming increasingly difficult to get fresh vegetables, I am acutely conscious of food waste. I wanted to ensure I made use of the broccoli I had bought a couple of days back and I had some cooked chickpeas in the fridge which I needed to use up as well. Finally I had some leeks which I had purchased in lieu of some of the vegetables I usually buy which were absent from the shelves and as I don’t usually cook with leeks, I hadn’t decided how to use them.

My daughter Neeru suggested that I add leek to my soups as it provides a pleasant flavour, a bit like onion but more mellow. So I toasted 1 leek along with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp olive oil, ½ tsp cumin seeds, ½ tsp coriander seeds, ¼ tsp black peppercorns, 4 long peppers or pipali on a baking tray and roasted them in an oven that was preheated to 270°/520°F for about 7-10 minutes. You must check frequently so that the leek doesn’t turn black. I let them cool down completely .

Meanwhile I cut 1 medium broccoli into florets, covered them with enough boiling water and boiled it for about 5-7 minutes ensuring they were soft but didn’t lose their bright green colour. I strained the cooked florets while retaining the cooking water. I blended 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas along with the roasted leek mixture including spices and garlic, the cooked broccoli, and enough broccoli cooking water to obtain a thick soup. I had to add ½ cup water besides the broccoli water. You can adjust this, topping up with more water if needed, to get the consistency you like.

I then reheated the soup adding salt to taste and ½ tsp dried ginger powder.  It was delicious with a swirl of hot sauce on the top. The quantity I made was sufficient for four people to have with some slices of toasted bread.

Lockdown Recipe 8: Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberries (Gluten-free, Vegan)

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I once tried making whole buckwheat pulao and it turned out to be a disaster. Ever since I have had some prejudice against buckwheat.  But when I went grocery shopping before lockdown all wheat flour had disappeared from the shelves.  So I picked up a packet of buckwheat flour.  Nothing like a lockdown do away with prejudices and aversions.

The pancakes were extremely quick and easy to make and looked beautifully golden when they were done. But a small voice in my head kept saying they might not be that good.  However they turned out to be soft and fluffy, and with a dollop of homemade vegan yoghurt and maple syrup they just melted in the mouth.

They taste great with blueberries whose tart flavour cuts through the sweetness of the maple syrup. Feel free to substitute other fruits of your choice and modify all the toppings based on whatever is available to you at this time.

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Ingredients for about 8-9 small pancakes

1/2 buckwheat flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp sugar (or other sweetener)

1/2 tsp oil

1/2 cup non-dairy milk

1 tsp light coloured vinegar (I used malt vinegar; you can also substitute 2 tsp lime/lemon juice)

Method

  • Place the flour in bowl, sift in the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and mix in the sugar. Whisk together the non-dairy milk, vinegar and oil in another bowl and add to the flour mixture. It will bubble a lot so whisk briefly just until no lumps remain and the flour is incorporated. Don’t whisk too much as you want to remain quite frothy.
  • Heat a lightly-oiled skillet or frying pan over low-medium and when hot, add about 2 tbsp batter per pancake. Cook for about 2-3 mins, flipping an edge to check if underside has turned golden. Carefully flip and cook for about 2-3 minutes on the other side until it is golden, flipping an edge to check as before. Repeat until you have used up the batter.
  • Stack pancakes on a plate (about 3-4 at a time), top with thick vegan yoghurt, scatter generously with fresh blueberries and drizzle with maple syrup, or substitute other toppings of your choice.

Lockdown Recipe 7: Rustic Moth Beans, Spinach and Coconut Curry

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I was a bit late in stock piling for the lock down and most dried beans and lentils that I normally buy such as chick peas had been completely sold out.  Moth beans are not a legume that I had tried before but I picked it up for want of anything else.  My usual gravy for bean-based Indian dishes involves tomatoes.  But I am conserving the few tomatoes that I do have for other dishes, and I also wanted to use the baby spinach leaves that I had in my fridge when they were still fresh so I’ve cooked them in green gravy enriched with coconut.  It is really interesting how this calamity has made me acutely aware of the need to prevent food wastage.

I am going to describe to you how I cooked this dish.  If you are going to try this recipe, I suggest that you follow my method only as a broad framework. Feel free to make adjustments to quantity of the ingredients and method according to your taste.

I soaked 1 cup of  dried moth beans overnight.  Next day I drained them, covered them with boiling water and pressure cooked until soft.  The water had been nearly absorbed.  In the meanwhile, I blended 2 tbsp frozen grated coconut (you can use desiccated coconut, or fresh coconut if you have access to it), ½ green chilli, 1 inch / 2.5 cm piece ginger, 1 inch / 2.5 cm piece turmeric root ( you can use ½ tsp turmeric powder) and ½ cup water to a smooth paste.  At the end I added 2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves and a small bunch of coriander leaves and blitzed them with the coconut mixture briefly.

In a skillet I poured 2 tbsp of sesame oil ( you can use sunflower oil or other oil of your choice).  When the oil was hot, I added 1 tsp cumin seeds.  When they were brown, I stirred in the coconut mixture.  Then I added 2 tsp chaat masala (you can substitute other masalas like garam masala), 2 pinches of asafoetida, ½ tsp of curry powder and salt to taste.  As I wanted to retain the green colour of the spinach in the gravy, I only cooked it for 5 minutes.  Then I mixed the cooked moth beans into the gravy.  I let it simmer for 5 minutes. Don’t allow to cook longer as it will lose the green colour.

Just before eating, squeezed the juice of 1 large lime into the curry.  There was enough curry to feed four people. I enjoyed it with hot brown rice.  Although this was my very first experiment with moth beans, I have become a convert as this curry had an earthy texture and taste which felt very wholesome.

Lockdown Recipe 6: Oven Roasted Carrot Fries with Butter Bean Hummus

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Whenever I cook any large variety of beans, I am reminded of my father. He liked to buy them in their pods and would sit with us peeling them. Although seven months have gone by since he left us, not a day goes by when I don’t think of him and feel a deep sense of loss. So many things during the day remind me of something he would have said in that context. When I soaked the butter beans overnight, I was reminded of how he would insist that my children had the biggest share of any bean recipes made at home. His words would be, “They are growing children.”

If you have any kids in the house, then this is a healthy protein rich snack they are sure to enjoy. You can make it less spicy for them. You can also try other roasted root veg. I think sweet potatoes would be amazing.

Oven Roasted Carrot Fries

Peel three large carrots, and cut them into sticks about 3-4 inch / 7.5-10 cm in length and ½ inch thickness. Line a baking tray with grease proof paper and arrange the carrot sticks on it. Sprinkle ½ tsp sesame/sunflower oil, ¼ tsp asafoetida and salt. Mix well. Bake in a preheated oven at 270°/520°F for about 10 minutes. You may keep it longer depending on the consistency you want. They are delicious when they are browned on the outside. Monitor them constantly, turning them over so that all sides are browned and lightly charred but not burnt!

Butter Bean Hummus

Roast 2 cloves of garlic in 270°/520°F oven for about 5 minutes until soft. You can Peel the skin. Blend 2 cups of cooked drained butter beans, 1 peeled clove of garlic, ½ green chilli, 1 tbsp tahini, 1 tbsp olive oil, ¼ -½ cup water, juice of one lime and salt until smooth and attains a hummus like consistency. I pressure cooked them after soaking them overnight. You can also use the tinned variety, but if you do, drain the beans, cover with water microwave for about 5 minutes until soft. Add a few sprigs of coriander at the end and blitz briefly until you can see green flecks of coriander but not for too long as it will release some bitterness from the coriander and result in a greenish coloured dip.

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Dip the carrot sticks generously in the white bean hummus and enjoy! Leftover hummus can stay in fridge for a couple of days and can be used as a spread or sauce. Why try it a few spoonfuls as topping for red kidney bean burgers?

Lockdown Recipe 5: Mangetout sautéed with spices, and a nourishing broth.

Mangetout sautéed with spices

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Thinly slice  ½ a long light green pepper (you can substitute kinds of pepper). Remove strings from about 100 g/3.6 oz of mangetout, rinse in water and drain.  Add 1 tsp oil to a skillet, griddle or frying pan.  When the oil is hot, add the green chilli.  Toss briefly, then add the mange tout, a pinch of asafoetida, a pinch of chilli flakes and salt. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat the immediately and consume as soon as possible so that the mangetout retain their green colour and its crunchiness.  As you bite into it, the flavours will just burst in your mouth.

 

Nourishing broth

I had some broccoli in my fridge which was limp and had lost its freshness.  I also had some coriander stalks from which I had stripped the leaves, also some not edible parts from a fennel, and a small amount of chopped onions.  In my life before the virus struck the world, I would have thrown them all away.  But now I felt really really guilty to do so.  So I put them in a sauce pan covered them with boiling water and let it simmer for about 7 minutes.  I passed it through a sieve, discarded the vegetables and collected the broth.  I added some salt, black pepper and a squeeze of ½ a lime.  The result was an extremely tasty nourishing savoury hot drink.  I have started keeping all manner of inedible parts of vegetables in the fridge (such as stocks, stems and bases that are too tough to eat) and am intending to make this kind of broth on a regular basis.  I encourage you too to try making such a broth with your vegetable odds and ends.

Lockdown Recipe 4: Spicy Red Kidney Bean Burgers

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Maybe during the lockdown you are missing getting your burgers that you usually got from the local fast food outlets. With the rise of mock meats, humbler sources plant-based protein sources such as whole beans and lentils (rather than their isolated protein) have been sidelined a bit. But given how inexpensive they are and easy to store in dried form, I think they are ready for a comeback at this time.

If there are children in your house, not only will they enjoy the burgers, you can also get them involved in making them such as mashing the beans and sweet potato, shaping the patties, or assemble their own burgers with their choice of fixings.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with toppings. I usually like to add salad leaves but couldn’t get my hands on any so I made a quick tangy pickled cucumber topping reminiscent of gherkins but a lot more fresh-tasting. You can add also quickly pickle some onion in the same way. If you don’t like raw onions, another variant is to sauté very thinly sliced onion until lightly caramelised.

To make the burgers, drain and mash 2 cups well cooked red kidney beans. I pressure-cooked them. If you are using beans from a can, since they tend to be firmer, so drain, cover with water and microwave for about 3-4 minutes or boil for about 10 minutes until soft. Meanwhile cook ½ a medium sweet potato until soft. I microwaved it. Peel the sweet potato and mash it well, add to the beans and mix well.

Finely chop 1 small red onion, ½ green chilli, ½ red (or other) onion, and 1 inch / 2.5 cm piece ginger. Warm a skillet, griddle or frying pan drizzled with 1 tbsp oil. When the oil is hot add the chopped vegetables and sauté over a medium heat until the onions have browned. Add ¼ tsp of asafoetida powder, 2 tsp cumin powder and 1½ tsp garam masala. Mix well and add the mashed beans and mix well. Add salt to taste. Set aside.

Brush the skillet, griddle or frying pan with ½ tsp oil. Heat for 2-3 minutes, then reduce the heat. Shape the bean mixture into patties of the size you require and place them on the griddle. Brush or drizzle a few drops of oil on each side and cook until both sides are evenly browned. You will probably need to adjust the heat for this to happen. Move the patties around on the griddle and keep turning them around constantly.

To make a quick pickle topping, place some sliced cucumber and (optionally) thinly sliced onion in a small bowl, very generously drizzle with a mild vinegar (I used malt vinegar), so that the vegetables are submerged about a third of the way, sprinkle with salt, add some hot sauce if you like and mix well. Set aside to marinate for about 10 minutes. You can also leave it for several hours in the fridge for a more intensely pickled flavour and texture.

To assemble your burger, split a roll or bun in half and toast. Add sauces, spreads or dips of your choice. I went for a dab of mustard on one half and topped the patties with ketchup. Place one or more patties on top (depending on the size), enough to cover the bun. Add toppings of your choice like pickles or fried onions. Enjoy!

Lockdown Recipe 3: Black-eyed Pea Dry Curry with Sautéed Asparagus.

Whenever possible, I like to have a couple of vegetable or legume based dishes for lunch, where usually one of these is a spicy dish with lots of different ingredients and flavours and the other is typically a simple pan-cooked or roasted vegetable. To diversify my meal and make it more visually appealing, I try to keep the dishes fairly distinct with few if any overlapping ingredients, as is case in the recipes I’m sharing today. (In the photos you’ll notice yet another dish hiding—a simple skillet beans curry that I will also share at some point!)

Black eyed pea dry curry

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Cook 1 cup black-eyed peas, soaked over-night. I pressure cooked them. Drain and set aside. Finely chop ½ a red onion, ¼ of a light green pepper (or any other colour), ½ a large green chilli and a 1 inch/ 2.5 cm piece of ginger. In a skillet, add 1½ tsp of oil. When hot add the chopped vegetables and fry for about 2/3 minutes until the onion goes brown. Add ¼ tsp of asafoetida and stir well. Then add the cooked black-eyed peas. Add salt to taste and stir well for 1 minute. Serve hot topped with chopped coriander and lime juice.

 

Sautéed  Asparagus

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I had a packet of 150 g tender stem asparagus in the fridge. I wanted to use it while it was still fresh. I washed them and drained them. Then in a skillet I heated ½ of oil (I  used cold pressed rapeseed oil ). When hot, spread the asparagus stalks evenly on the skillet. I seasoned with  a pinch of asafoetida, salt and a sprinkling of black pepper. I toasted it for just about 5 minutes so the asparagus retains both the green colour and crunch but gets coated with the oil and spices and becomes a bit charred and blistered in a few places. I always enjoy the experience of the flavours dispersing in my mouth when I bite into crisp stir fried vegetables.