Tomato and Olive Focaccia

Are you getting to that post Christmas stage when you’re running out of bread and all the fresh stuff? We were in desperate need of bread for lunch today and this recipe is just perfect. It’s quick to make so can be rustled up in a morning and you can use either plain or bread flour depending on what you have in the larder.

Since our lovely (if eventful!) meal at La Pala d’Oro in Malaga (see my post on Malaga with allergies), Little S has taken to olive focaccia; and as she’s recovering from a nasty bout of Covid (gosh, it really is an unpleasant virus) and an upsetting isolation over Christmas 😢, I wanted to make her something she’d really love. It’s not surprising that she finds olive focaccia delicious, as the salty olives give a wonderful pop of savoury flavour in the soft oily bread, it’s a match made in heaven. However, Big S is also no fan of olives, in fact nothing will persuade her they’re nice. So here we have a tomato focaccia half studded with olives and half without – then everyone is happy! This loaf is perfect served with a bowl of soup on a wintery lunchtime but also makes a superior snack at anytime, especially when dipped in a good quality oil and balsamic – yummy!

If you can find Belazu tomato and balsamic paste you will notice the difference – like all their products I’ve tried, they really do make exceptional pastes, sauces etc that add depth and interest to any dish.

 Tomato and Olive Focaccia

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 1 loaf

  • 250g plain or bread flour
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste, I used Belazu tomato and balsamic paste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 150-160ml cold water
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp oil and sea salt for the top
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • A handful of olives
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast and salt.
  2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil, tomato paste and water.
  3. Bring together to form a slightly sticky dough, then knead well to make it smooth and silky. If you have a mixer with dough hooks, it would work perfectly.
  4. Drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the oil and knead well again until the oil is incorporated into the dough.
  5. Place in a bowl and cover. Leave to double in size. This will take an hour or two.
  6. Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment.
  7. Knock back the dough and press into the lined baking tray, making sure it reaches the corners. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  8. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/210 fan/Gas mark 7
  9. Drizzle the tomato and oil mix over the dough and then dimple the top of the focaccia with your fingertip and press in the olives and scatter on some sea salt and the oregano.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden. Brush with a little more oil to give a lovely sheen and cool on a wire rack.
  11. Best eaten fresh, but will keep for a couple of days if well wrapped in parchment. Also freezes brilliantly.

Samosa Santa’s Sacks

I used to make Santa’s sacks for the girls every year in the run up to Christmas. Back when they were much younger with less sophisticated taste buds I made them filled with mashed potato and sweetcorn to represent the gold coins/toys in Santa’s sack. Every year they’d eagerly await the roll out of Christmas cooking with iced gingerbread, yule log and Santa’s sacks all top of the wish list!

 Whilst they still get the same excitement from the introduction of Christmas foods, this year I’ve decided to make Santa’s sacks more flavourful, and worthy of starter position in our Christmas lunch. We love homemade samosas, so I’ve filled the little parcels with a gorgeous curried pea and potato mix and I am going to serve them with a swoosh of mango chutney. If you don’t want to make sacks the filling makes a fabulous traditional samosas which can be baked and then frozen to reheat at a later date.

Another great starter for Christmas day are my cauliflower cocktails (a.k.a. veggie prawn cocktails), especially if you like a slightly retro vibe! What starters are you having on the big day?

Samosa Santa’s Sacks

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

Makes about 15-20

2 baking potatoes

1 tbsp oil

1 onion, finely shopped

1 tsp yellow mustard seeds

3cm ginger, finely chopped or grated

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp garam masala

¼ tsp chilli powder (optional)

½ tsp amchoor (or use 1 tsp lemon juice)

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp water

1 cup cooked peas

2 tbsp dairy-free margarine, melted

1 pack filo pastry

 see the photos below for the processes…

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Centigrade non fan/180 degrees fan. Bake the two potatoes for an hour or so until totally cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and mustard seeds until starting to turn golden. Add the ginger and continue to sauté. 
  3. Add all the spices and fry for a couple of minutes, then add the water and stir, turn off the heat.
  4. Scoop the potato out of the jackets and roughly mash. Stir in the onion mix and add the cooked peas. Mix well and taste, adding more salt and/or lemon juice as required
  5. Cut the filo into squares about 15cm squared. Place one sheet on the work surface, brush with the margarine, place another square onto at an angle so it looks vaguely star shaped. Brush with the margarine.
  6. Place 1 tbsp of filling in the centre of the filo star, bring up the edges and pinch together to form a parcel shape. Transfer to a baking sheet and brush with more melted margarine. Repeat until all the filling has been used up.
  7. Either chill at this point and cook later. Or, bake for 15 minutes until golden and crisp. Tie a chive around the neck of the sack if you wish and then serve with condiments of choice.

Roasted Parsnip and Garlic Gnocchi

Where do you stand with parsnips? They seem to divide people, but for me they’re an essential part of Christmas and I absolutely love the sweet taste of a roasted crispy parsnip. In an attempt to win over the parsnip haters I’ve been experimenting with parsnip based dishes. I came across a recipe online for parsnip gnocchi and thought it sounded like a fabulous idea. All the bouncy pillowyness of gnocchi with a sweet parsnip and roasted garlic flavour – yum!

I’m also currently looking for a veggie addition to my Christmas lunch and I think these gnocchi could be what I’m looking for. We’re going to the in-laws for Christmas Day and as the only veggie in the family I end up with some vegetables or I have to sort myself out. It’s not a problem as I love to cook but it does give me yet another thing to think about as I also have to provide all safe snacks, chocolates, puddings and sauces.

I’m always keen that my veggie dish is something the whole family can dip into, as I really hate being the solitary ‘odd’ vegetarian who has their own solo meal whilst everyone else enjoys a communal eating experience (which is what Christmas lunch is all about after all). So my intention is for a veggie addition that everyone can enjoy; however, from experience everyone else will probably stick with their turkey and give my invention a wide berth! What’s your experience? Do you have a family who just want the usual traditional dishes, or one which is happy to try new additions?

The beauty of these gnocchi is that they have the flavours of Christmas in an interesting format, they’re easily reheated and they also make a pretty good nibble when bunked in a dip. They also went down well with the parsnip hating younger members of the family, and that’s no mean feat!

Roasted Parsnip and Garlic Gnocchi

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as an addition to a roast meal

1 baking potato

4 medium parsnips

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

75g OO flour

1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)

A sprinkle of Herbs de Provence or thyme

  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade
  2. Peel and Chop the potatoes and parsnips into even sizes large pieces
  3. Place in a roasting tin with the unpeeled garlic. Drizzle with oil and season. Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and add to the roasted veg.
  4. Cool and then blitz the veg and garlic in a food processor. Add the flour, nutritional yeast, herbs  and seasoning and pulse until it becomes a dough. Wrap in cling film and leave to relax for a while.
  5. Roll into 4 sausages, each about 1cm thick. Cut into 2 cm slices, gently squeezing to give a pillowy shape
  6. Bring a pan of water to the boil and in batches cook the gnocchi for 2-3 minutes until they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  7. Heat another 1tbsp oil in a frying pan and fry the gnocchi until golden and crispy on all sides.
  8. Serve drizzled with oil.
  9. To reheat just pop in a hot pan to warm through.

Perfect Sesame-free Hummus

 

sesame-free hummus

Hummus is everywhere, over the past twenty years or so it’s become a mainstream classic, one everyone eats and can be found in any store. All commercially found hummus contains sesame in the form of tahini and so is out of bounds for Little S. In fact hummus gave me the Heebie jeebies when Little S was smaller as we’d often come across other hummus eating children at parties and picnics and they’d invariably get the hummus everywhere, all over their hands and everything they touched. Not a fun situation when you’re worried about allergens. There were many uncomfortable moments trying to keep the hummus away from Little S!

I’ve tried just so many times to make a good hummus without using tahini but somehow the results are often just a bit bleurgh – it loses a lot of the moreish umami when the tahini is removed, as well as some of the silky smoothness. Whilst browsing the ‘vegan meringues hits and misses’ Facebook page, I came across the apparently traditional idea of using some of the chickpea water from the tin or cooking (the aquafaba) to give a creamy texture. Boy does it work well! The texture is spot on. By making sure the hummus is well seasoned you can make a pretty delicious sesame-free dip.

Perfect Sesame-free Hummus

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

perfect hummus, no sesame

makes 1 small bowlful

1/2 tin chickpeas

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 clove garlic, crushed

Salt to taste (probably a bit more than you think!)

2 tbsp aquafaba

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cumin

To drizzle: extra virgin olive oil and paprika

  1. Whizz together all the ingredients in a food processor until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. taste and adjust the salt, lemon and cumin to taste.
  2. Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and paprika

hummus, no tahini

Cauliflower cocktail, aka veggie ‘prawn’ cocktail

 

vegetarian prawn cocktail

There’s something about the festive season, that despite a ridiculous over abundance of food, there is compulsion to have a starter as well. It seems totally silly when there isn’t a need or want for any more food, maybe it’s the desire to provide and be the best possible festive host – besides, whilst there may be no need, a starter is a rather pleasing addition to any fancy meal.

cauliflower cocktail, vegan

As an avid masterchef fan, I often get snippets of inspiration from the show, recipes that I’d like to make in a ‘friendly’ way or simply turn veggie. The other week the skills test featured a prawn cocktail – you don’t really get a more classic starter than that! It immediately made me want to make a veggie version as I really enjoyed the classic when I was a fish eating child. The idea of crisp little gem lettuce, a tangy, creamy Marie Rose sauce and some prawn replacement really appealed to me. I thought long and hard about how to replace the prawns – it needed something with a similar-ish texture but I’m not a fan of fake fish or meat – I just don’t get it! I’m a vegetarian so I want to eat vegetables not various starches and proteins processed into meat or fish form…. I know many veggies beg to differ, but that’s me, im not touching anything that pretends to be meat!

Avocado would have been an obvious choice but I didn’t have any in, and they don’t seem to be at their best right now. Tofu may have worked but I thought it was probably a little too insipid. In the end I opted for this knock-out combo of cannellini beans and tiny raw cauliflower florets – bingo, a perfect veggie prawn cocktail alternative. So good that I fancy having another one already!

Veggie ‘Prawn’ Cocktail

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

vegetarian cocktail

serves 2

2 tbsp egg-free mayonnaise, Veganaise or Plamil is very good

1 tbsp tomato ketchup

Large squeeze of lemon juice

2 -4 splashes veggie Worcestershire sauce

2-4 drops of Tabasco sauce

Salt and pepper

Little gem leave to fill the glasses, bowls

3 large cauliflower florets, cur into small pieces

1/3 cup cannellini beans, drainesprinkle of cayenne pepper

  1. Whisk together the mayonnaise, tomato sauce, lemon juice, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces. Season with plenty of black pepper. Taste and add more of what you fancy to make it perfect for you. Set aside.
  2. Line the cocktail glasses with the baby gem lettuce leaves
  3. Toss the cauliflower and beans in the Marie Rose sauce until they are well coated
  4. Pile on top of the leaves. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and garnish with a lemon wedge.

vegan prawn cocktail, cauliflower cocktail

Curried parsnip soup

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It’s time to get the roots out! The first frost has been and gone and it’s time to indulge in some serious warming food. In my opinion, you can’t get much more wintery than parsnips – well maybe Brussels, but they are more controversial (for the record – I like them when they’re done right).

The toasty, spicy curry flavour works so wonderfully with sweet, rooty parsnips and you end up with the smoothest, silkiest soup ever, no cream needed to achieve this. What could make a better wintery lunch or light supper with some fresh warm bread? Any one dimensional dish is made better with additions of garnish / texture, and I’ve used some vegetable crisps here for a bit of crunch.

Curried Parsnip Soup (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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Serves 3-4

  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 5-6 medium sized parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 an apple, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp curry powder of choice
  • 750ml vegetable stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • handful of vegetable crisps

– Sweat the onion in the oil until just starting to get a hint of colour
– Add the garlic and cook until fragrant
– Add the curry powder and ‘cook out’ for a few minutes to remove any raw spice flavour
– Add the parsnips and apple and stir well to coat evenly with the spices
– Pour in the stock
– Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the parsnips are soft and well cooked
– Blitz with a hand blender or in a liquidizer for an even smoother soup
– Add the lemon juice and seasoning, taste and add more if required.
– Serve topped with vegetable crisps

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Mexican Taco Soup

 

IMG_7876It’s funny how you suddenly feel like eating a certain dish. Spring has suddenly hit, but I just really fancied some soup. I didn’t really feel like a warming wintery root veg based concoction, or one that was totally summery. Difficult!

So spurred on by a half eaten pack of tortilla chips, here is my resulting Mexican bean soup. It managed to tick all the boxes, being quite light and refreshing with the lime and coriander; but also hearty and warming with the beans and spice.

I would say the topping of crushed up tortilla chips, fresh coriander and an extra squeeze of lime is absolutely essential to bring a basic mexican bean soup into the realms of deliciousness. A classic ‘meal in a bowl’ type dish.

Mexican Taco Soup (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

IMG_7877serves 4

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Splash of wine or water
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes or 1 small chilli, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tin mixed beans, drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tin of sweetcorn, or 1 cob shaved of its kernals
  • juice of 1/4 lime

To garnish:

  • Fresh coriander
  • Crushed tortilla chips
  • squeeze of fresh lime

– Saute the onions and peppers in the oil until soft and just starting to turn golden.

– Add the garlic and chill and cook until fragrant.

– Add the other spices and cook out for a minute or two.

– Pour in the splash of wine to deglaze the pan. Once the wine and reduced to almost nothing, stir in the tomato puree and again cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of any raw flavour.

– Pour in the beans, tinned tomatoes and stock. Season and cook for 10-15 minutes.

– Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the sweetcorn and lime juice. Cook for another 5 minutes.

– Serve garnished with crushed tortilla chips, fresh coriander and an extra squeeze of lime.

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Blinis with Lentil Caviar

I had intended on posting this recipe before NYE, but what with Christmas and school holidays I just didn’t get round to it. Don’t let that stop you from trying this rather experimental dish as it totally works. Well, I can only say that having never tasted caviar – it’s just my interpretation of how a vegetarian caviar might taste (a bit salty, a bit tangy from horseradish, but certainly not fishy!). Either way I think the puy lentils really look the part.

The blinis also work beautifully – I chose to use wholemeal flour rather than buckwheat, but you still get the wholesome substance that buckwheat would give with none of the trouble of sourcing an unusual ingredient. We also chose to serve some with soya cream cheese and a dollop of chilli jam – something some friends used to do with conventional blinis, and definitely a winning combination.

Blinis (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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makes about 12-20, depending on size

  • 140g wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp dried fast action yeast
  • 3 tbsps dairy-free spread (melted)
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsps oat milk (warmed to body temperature)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

– Whisk the yeast and salt into the flour in a large bowl.

– Pour in the warm oat milk and melted spread. Whisk and set aside to start bubbling (at least 30 mins)

– Heat a blini pan, or a heavy based frying pan. Wipe with a smear of dairy-free spread.

– Cook tbsp dollops of mixture on one side until bubbles appear on the uncooked surface. Flip and cook the other side until slightly browned and cooked through.

– Keep warm until ready to use. Or they reheat well with 20 seconds in the microwave.

Lentil caviar (dairy-free, egg-free, nut=free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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makes a generous bowlful

  • 1/2 cup Puy lentils, cooked until tender
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 2 tbsps horseradish, freshly grated (or prepared horseradish to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt

– Add all the ingredients to the hot, freshly cooked lentils.

– Leave to marinate and cool.

– Serve as a salad, or atop of blinis with some soya cream cheese

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Crudités with Ranch Style Dip (aka Creamy, Beany, Dreamy dip)

Here’s an antidote to all the rich, filling and wintery Christmas foods that have been on offer in excess over the last few days. How about reviving yourself with a platter of tempting crudités or raw vegetables with a creamy and zingy dip? This is my take on a ranch style dressing or ‘bagna couda’ – a thick, easily dipped into sauce that has all the creaminess and tang but with no cream in sight. The blitzed cannellini beans add all the creaminess you need, all with a good dose of beany protein!

The veg could be lightly cooked, but I prefer a range of raw vegetables for crunch and somehow it just feels healthier – this is after all, a lunch to get you back on track after all the festivities! Radish, cucumber, carrot, celery and pepper are no brainers, but if you haven’t tried it before give the cauliflower and little gem leaves a go – perfect for dipping. Serve the dip at room temperature or for a bit of a difference serve it warm to contrast nicely with the cool vegetables.

Ranch Style Dip/Creamy, Beany, Dreamy Dip (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, soya-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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makes 1 generous bowlful

  • 1/2 – 1 clove garlic, crushed to a puree with some salt
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1 tin cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 tbsps water
  • 2 1/2 tbsps vinegar
  • 1/4 cup mld flavoured olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • balsamic vinegar to taste (i used about 1 tsp)
  • small handful of parsley, finely chopped

– In a food processor, whizz together the beans with the water until smooth.

– Add the capers, salt, vinegar and oil. Whizz.

– With the motor running, add the oil until the mixture resembles a thick mayonnaise

– Add the parsley and balsamic. Taste and adjust to taste.

– Serve cold, room temperature or warm with any vegetables of choice

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Panzanella

It may feel horribly wintery, suddenly cold and dark all the time, but the tomatoes available are still sweet and delicious. The perfect time to inject a ray of sunshine into your day with this unashamedly bright and summery salad. It certainly made our day a bit brighter when we ate it for lunch on a grey day this weekend. I’ve read all sorts of recipes for this classic Mediterranean salad, some recommending leaving the dish for up to a day before eating. Personally, I prefer the bread croutons to retain a good crunch and crispness. I am not really a fan of soggy bread in a tomato salad. Forgive me if this is ‘wrong’! Hence I would recommend leaving the dish for up to half an hour before eating, giving the best of both worlds – your croutons retain some crunch but have also absorbed plenty of the vinegary dressing. Delicious!

Panzanella (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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serves 2-4

  • 2 ciabatta rolls
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 10 ripe tomatoes ( a variety if possible)
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1 handful olives
  • handful basil leaves, roughly torn.

for the dressing:

  • 1 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of sugar

– Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 6

– Cut the rolls into rough cubes, drizzle with the oil and bake for 10-15 minutes until toasty and golden. Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar.

– Place the sliced shallots in cold water and leave for about half an hour to take the strength out. Drain.

– Roughly chop the tomatoes and mix with the other ingredients. Mix in the dressing.

– Add the crispy bread cubes and toss well.

– Leave for 15 minutes at room temperature

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