I never had any paella before turning vegan or even vegetarian. Growing up in eighties and early nineties Belgium, one’s food on average did not get much more exotic than, let’s say, a pineapple topped pizza with a charred black olive in the middle. (An olive which I always immediately discarded and made me esteem its kind quite lowly for quite some time to come. That’s what I thought olives generically were supposed to look and taste like.) It was a time when broccoli had not become mainstream; neither had things like hummus or sun-dried tomatoes, all of which are part of our staple nowadays.
But even if paella had been a commonplace dish back then, I am sure I would have kindly declined every invitation to have some. Paella usually contains seafood (though each Spanish region most certainly has its own variation and key ingredients). And I happen to dislike (nearly) all things stemming from the sea’s salty waves. So even before turning vegetarian (and later vegan), seafood and fish were a no-go for me.
In the light of the above, it might seem utterly ironic that one of the first dishes I mastered as a vegetarian, was paella. Over the course of years the initially basic dish has become one which does not fail to convince vegans and non-vegans alike. Instead of seafood, my version contains cashews (for the bite), tangy, brine-cured, firmly textured Kalamata olives, and samphire. Although samphire is a sea vegetable, I actually do like it. Its salty taste is not overpowering, yet adds just that little extra which finishes the dish.
So this is how it goes.
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- 1/2 – 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 – 1 tsp curcuma
- 1 – 2 tsp sweet paprika (feel free to use a dash of smoked paprika)
- a few pinches of saffron
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups short-grain rice (such as calasparra rice; though feel free to use what type you have at hand. I’m not ashamed to admit that I often use arborio or carnaroli rice instead).
- 4-6 cups vegetable stock, or more if necessary. Substitute 1/2 cup of the broth with sherry, if desired
- 2-3 tomatoes, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
- 3/4 – 1 cup grilled artichoke hearts
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup cashews
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 kalamata olives
- 1 cup samphire (blanched during 30 seconds)
- a splash of lemon juice
- some finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil; add the spices after 2 minutes and stir.
- After 1-2 more minutes, add the rice, and stir, so that the rice is evenly coated by the spices.
- Pour in the liquid (don’t add everything at once; you can add more later if necessary) and stir shortly
- Add in the vegetables (except for the samphire, peas and olives) and mix them unter the rice.
- Lower the heat and let simmer until all liquid has been absorbed. Add more if necessary. In principle you needn’t stir the paëlla in the meantime.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir to distribute them evenly.
A little over a week ago my 7-year-old son was away on a 2-day field trip with school: the perfect occasion to toss together a summery pasta salad with an Asian touch in which mango – a fruit much enjoyed by my daughter, but detested by my son (unless it’s in a smoothie) – is a key ingredient. Pasta, mango, tofu – what’s not to like?
Even though this is a very straightforward recipe, it does require some advance planning, as it contains marinated tofu. And the secret to successfully marinated tofu is – apart from a good marinade of course – time. Plenty of it. This tofu will be at its best when at least marinated overnight (I actually usually let it sit in the fridge for two days). I can promise you this tofu will be worth the wait, as it’s absolutely heavenly.
Thai tofu-mango pasta salad
Thai marinated tofu
- 400 g pressed (do not skip the pressing part) and cubed tofu
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 knob of ginger, grated
- 1/2 – 1/3 stalk of lemongrass, grated or finely chopped
- 3 TB agave syrup
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 TB lemon or lime juice
- 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
- 1/4 cup peanut oil (or other oil of your choice
- marinated tofu (see above)
- ca. 350 g pasta shapes of your choice
- 1 diced mango
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 1/4 cup grated coconut, toasted
- 1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped
- 2 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
- a handful of cilantro, finely chopped
- 2 TB soy sauce
- 1 TB vegan ‘oyster’ and mushroom sauce (or if you cannot find this: 1 more TB of soy sauce)
- 1 TB sweet chili sauce
- 1 tsp sambal oelek (chili paste)
- 4 TB lime juice
- 2 TB agave syrup
- Mix all ingredients and pour into a container (with a lid), together with the pressed and cubed tofu.
- Let sit overnight. Shake the container every now and then, so that the marinade is evenly distributed.
- Heat some oil in a skillet and sauté the tofu cubes until nicely browned. When you want to add some extra crispness, sprinkle some arrowroot or cornstarch over the tofu cubes, toss around the cubes until the starch is evenly distributed, and fry. Set aside when done.
- Boil the pasta, drain, and set aside until somewhat cooled.
- Take a bowl and toss in the pasta, the tofu cubes and all remaining ingredients. Mix well, and enjoy your meal.
Last weekend did not only feature my udon noodle soup premiere, but also my first time ever for baking donuts. My daughter was going to a birthday party (actually two that weekend) and I always give something along, so that she has the option to eat something vegan. Now the (first) birthday boy in question had been announcing in class that there would be donuts at his party. With little time on my hands on a Saturday morning, I looked for the quickest donut recipe I could find. The first recipe (more or less) looked easy and tasty enough, but in the midst of making the batter I realized that donuts are supposed to be yeast-based, whereas this recipe contained baking powder. I had crossed the point of no return, so I just went ahead and fried the donuts. They were extremely dense and heavy, but my daughter was totally thrilled nonetheless at the prospect of getting 3 donuts (yes, I always tend to exaggerate). And a bit in tears at pick-up time that two boys had each taken one of her donuts (as it turned out, hers were ironically the only (wannabe) donuts at the party, where waffles and cupcakes were served), so that she was left with “only” one (it did count for at least two).
I quickly consoled her with the promise that I would be baking new ones the day after to take with us as a coffee table treat when visiting vegan friends. And even better ones this time. And so I did.
I found a recipe on a blog called Darth Vegan, and I decided to give them a try, despite one of the ingredients listed being coconut milk. There was the minor fear that the taste of coconut would be overpowering, but I decided to go for it anyhow. Looking back I certainly do not regret doing so! These were totally easy to make, the dough was a charm to handle, and the donuts tasted, well, like REAL donuts. Needless to say all vegan kids around the table were totally thrilled and devoured them in no time.
If it weren’t for all the fat (I fried them in coconut oil), I’d make a batch of these every week. But as it’s the plan to spend some of our summertime on Italian beaches, that wouldn’t be the best plan I guess. At least not when speaking for myself. So this will be just a once-in-a-while treat from now on.
Donuts (Darth Vegan style)
- 1 package dry yeast
- 2 TB lukewarm water
- 3/4 cup coconut milk (the kind I buy, the home brand of Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize, is very rich and creamy and hardly contains any liquid. Good value for money.)
- 1/4 cup cane sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup applesauce (this is roughly the amount one apple yields; you can quickly make apple sauce in the microwave)
- 2 TB vegan butter or oil
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- Mix water and yeast and let sit for a couple of minutes until foamy.
- Take a large bowl and combine coconut milk, sugar, salt, applesauce, and oil/margarine.
- Add the foamy yeast/water mixture, the flour, and stir until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it’s to sticky.
- Let rise until doubled in volume.
- Roll out the dough to 2 cm thickness and cut out donut shapes (I used a glass and the piping piece of a piping bag for the centre).
- Let rest until doubled in size.
- Heat the oil in a pot. To test whether the oil is hot enough, test with a small piece of dough: if the oil is sizzling when you add the lump of dough, then it’s ok to start frying.
- Fry the donuts for 30-45 seconds on one side, until golden, then turn and fry them on the other side.
- When done, transfer to a plate lined with paper kitchen towels and let cool.
- Decorate them. (I decorated them with either a chocolate ganache (vegan chocolate + soy cream), partly with strawberry icing (half a strawberry mixed with icing sugar), and with vegan sprinkles).
Up until today, I had never made udon noodle soup. Never. Go figure. It just happened to be this way, right until 5 to 12 this noon when I urgently needed to start prepping lunch. My husband suggested we’d have some soup, and this triggered my mind to start wandering back to the package of brown rice udon noodles I earlier this week had considered using in a stir-fry, only to eventually toss away the idea.
So now I again grabbed that very same package from the drawer and thought I actually might use those in a soup, rather than in a stir-fry. To give the soup a Japanese touch, I started out with a base of roasted sesame oil, ginger, tamari and rice wine vinegar, and I used a variety of veggies which I had around (being some leftover broccoli and zucchini, celery, spinach, red bell pepper and baby corn). Today is the 1st of May aka Labour Day, so shops are closed and I had to make do with what I had in my fridge. A fridge which, quite frankly, is pretty full, since we went grocery shopping only two days ago. But no bok choy or shiitake mushrooms. Not that that was any problem, however, because the soup turned out marvellously well without too.
I dare say I was pretty pleased with the result, the more so because the children seemed to enjoy their portions and my husband exclaimed several times how delicious this was. He has even already secured the single leftover soup bowl for this evening (we’re having scrap dinner, featuring three types of leftovers), so that definitely means something!
I cannot but wonder what took me so long to use udon noodles in soup. They always rather left me kind of disappointed in stir-fries, so I guess from now on, I’ll just stick to the ultimately safe noodle & soup combo.
- 2TB roasted sesame oil
- 1 onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 knob ginger (sliced/grated/chopped – as you prefer)
- A variety of veggies (such as e.g. paksoi, shiitake mushrooms, celery stalks, red bell pepper, celery stalks, broccoli, baby corn,…)
- 3 TB tamari
- 1 TB rice wine vinegar
- 1 TB vegan mushroom and “oyster” sauce
- 1/2-1 tsp red chili flakes
- Cracked black pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 5-6 cups vegetable broth
- 250 g brown rice udon noodles
- 2 thinly sliced spring onions, more chili flakes and sesame seeds for garnish
- Sauté the onion in a decent splash of sesame oil, together with the ginger and garlic.
- Add the veggies, and after some minutes also the broth, soy sauce, vegan mushroom and “oyster” sauce, rice vinegar, seasonings and broth.
- Bring to a boil, then add the noodles.
- After approximately 5-6 minutes, the noodles should be done and the soup ready to be served. Add a splash of lime juice and garnish with sesame seeds, spring onion and dried red pepper flakes.