7 Days a Vegan – Back to Basics

My Sunday lunch post was a throwback to everything that is good about being an African. Simple, delicious, healthy. Ugali and spinach. Delicious.

ugali

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7 Days a Vegan – Eating Out

I hadn’t seen my friend Nthabiseng in close on two years, and we made plans to meet for brunch. Alas the brunch fell smack in the middle of my vegan experiment, so there would be no eggs and bacon for me.

A friend told me about a vegetarian/vegan cafe not far from where I live, and I figured this was a good opportunity to try something new, especially since the availability of eggs and dairy meant that Nthabi wouldn’t be forced to suffer my fate.

There were two options on the menu that caught my attention. My choices were somewhat limited by the abundance of avocado in most meals, a fruit to which I am sadly allergic. I forsook the spinach, mushroom and tomato panini for something that I would never eat otherwise: tofu scramble.

tofu scramble

It was served on health bread with slivered almonds, rocket and tomato salsa. It was awful.

Before I ordered I googled “what does tofu scramble taste like?” and got no satisfactory answers. I hope that if other experimental gourmands google the same this pops up. It tastes nothing like scramble. It tastes like nothing. The addition of pesto in the scramble didn’t do anything for the taste. The closest I can get to describing it in taste and texture is that it’s something like ackee. We escaped this cafe and went to a place that served wine, and ordered a bottle of bubbles.

If you are an omnivore and someone offers you tofu scramble, decline.

On the positive, the cafe had proper freshly-squeezed orange juice which was beautifully presented.

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Isn’t that gorgeous?

Yeah, so lesson of the day. Only eat things where you can recognize what they’re made of. Tofu scramble looks nothing like soy beans; therefore do not eat tofu scramble.

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7 Days a Vegan – Comfort Food

This vegan adventure hasn’t been easy on me. I won’t lie. By Friday I was super cranky and yearning for something familiar. I had anticipate this and kept a few meals in my back pocket for such an occasion.

My friends and i were heading to the theatre on Friday evening, so I needed something quick, delicious, and comforting to prepare and gobble down before we started the long drive downtown. I opted for chapatis and dengu (lentils/dhal).

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I can’t begin to describe how I make the chapatis, it’s so instinctive for me. But I can do a quick rundown of how to make the dengu.

Take some red lentils and boil them in water with salt. I don’t understand people who boil lentils in stock. I always feel like the water doesn’t “enter” them properly.

While the lentils are boiling away, in a separate pan fry up some chopped onions, green peppers, garlic and ginger. When they are translucent, push them to the side and toss some whole spices into the oil. I used cardamom, mustard seeds , cumin and coriander. When the mustard seeds start popping, mix the onions and spices together, before frying off a healthy dollop of tomato paste. Once the tomato paste is cooked out, throw in some chopped tomato and a healthy glut of coconut cream, then add the boiled lentils and let the two cook together.

Just before serving throw in some chopped fresh coriander leaves, and enjoy!

 

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7 Days a Vegan – Dim Sum

 

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I’ve been eating rather rich food the last few days, so I was keen to have something fresh and clean for dinner. Ok, so I had chips for lunch. I was craving mashed potatoes with oodles of cream and cheese and fries were a good way to satisfy my potato craving without compromising my vegan ways. But I digress. Point: clean and fresh for dinner.

I have no idea how I dreamed up the idea of dim sum for dinner. it just felt right. The only problem is that all the store-bought wonton wrappers I’ve ever bought are rather yellow, which must mean they’re made with egg yolks, right? I could make my own wonton wrappers, but is there even a thing such as vegan wonton wrappers?

Turns out, no-egg wonton wrappers do exist and they’re not even that difficult to make. I used this recipe with a few modifications; I ended up using a touch more water than recommended and I didn’t have the patience to rest the dough for a full 20 minutes.

Not keen to roll the wrappers out by hand (impossible with my carpal tunnel issues anyway) I dug my pasta maker out of my cupboard and rolled them out nice and easy (-ish).

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Aren’t my wonton wrappers pretty?

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l set them aside, and threw some red onion, garlic, ginger, half an aubergine, half a handful of cashew nuts and some yellow pepper into my food processor.

Blitz!

Blitz!

When blitzed, I turned it out into a bowl and threw in some tahini, sesame oil, chinese five spice, salt and loads of fresh coriander.

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I mixed the filling up and then spooned it onto my cut wonton wrappers, before sealing the ends with water and squeezing the bits together.

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this being my first attempt, the dumplings… erm… varied in size…

Some little and some less little dumplings.

Little and less little dumplings.

I lined the bottom of my steamer with baking paper then steamed the whole lot for 20 minutes (you really just need to steam them until the wrappers turn translucent).

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Dinner time! I whizzed together a quick dipping sauce of garlic, ginger, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, chili flakes and some dry white wine to have with the dumplings.

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Verdict: Pretty darned good. But this was the first meal this week where I missed animal protein.

What I would do differently: Add pork. All dumplings need pork. It’s just the way it is. I’d also try and be more consistent with the amount of filling per dumpling.

What I would keep the same: I’m super impressed with the wrappers I made from scratch. Also, the dipping sauce is amazing. 

Would I make them again? Probably not.. unless there was some pork in there :) 

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7 Days a Vegan – Pasta

Day 3 was tough. Really tough.

I’d thought the food that would break me would be bacon, or lamb, or perhaps a nice, meaty, juicy burger. But it was an advertisement for grilled calamari that was my undoing.

There’s something magical about fish. I still remember the first time I tasted calamari. My uncle had taken me out for lunch with his family to the Codfather restaurant, and he ordered a platter which included calamari. I couldn’t understand this rubbery tube that I was being asked to eat. I stuck to the hake. It, at least, looked like kind of the fish I recognized. Hell, I could barely deal with the prawns that still had their “faces” on. On the way home we stopped by to pick up my cousin, who, digging into the doggie bag, exclaimed, “I love calamari!”

I didn’t understand.

But now I do. I love the way seafood tastes like the sea. Drenched in lemon butter, with a touch of chili, perhaps. The yielding of the firm flesh as you bite into it. Mmmh. Let me stop here before I desert my vegan exploration. All I have to say is the first meal I’m having after these seven days are over is going to be a seafood feast.

Back to the pasta. I was craving seafood, but stayed the course, partly because I know some people who are just waiting for me to succumb to the delights of non-vegan foods. I had a peanut-butter-and-banana snack after work before half-heartedly deciding to make pasta with spinach. Totally unadventurous.

banana

Snack time!

I opened up the fridge to yank the spinach leaves out and found two punnets of mushrooms I’d completely forgotten I had. Mushrooms! Umami! Umami was all I needed!

Hmm. Call from my sister Zizwe. I told her about my craving for seafood and she said I should shape tofu like a salmon and eat that. How’s that for familial support? 

Perfection! I took some spaghetti and stuck it in a pot of boiling water. While that was going, I finely sliced some red onions, took some corn off the cob, and sliced up some portabellini mushrooms.

I cooked off the mushrooms in a pan with some thyme and finely chopped garlic. Once done I shoved them to the side and dumped in some olive oil, then fried off the red onions until translucent. To that I added the corn kernels, then put in a generous teaspoon of sundried tomato pesto before loosening everything with the spaghetti water.

Once the noodles were cooked I dumped them into the pan and tossed the whole lot. Dinner time!

pasta

The verdict: It was absolutely delicious! Unexpectedly satisfying considering my hankering for seafood. It was good enough that once I was done with my serving I went back to the pan and gobbled down the portion I had intended to take to work for lunch the following day. *blush*

What I loved: everything!!! It was soooo yummy!

What I would change: absolutely nothing!

You totally need to try this. Bon appetit!

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7 Days a Vegan – Red Bean & Sweet Potato Burgers

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I have to admit that I didn’t think I’d enjoy this vegan caper so much. It was a bit of a half-baked idea (pun intended) and even though I did some googling to find recipes, I didn’t so much as bother going grocery shopping the weekend before I knew I’d need to conjure up dishes from veggies.

One thing, though, that was top of mind for me the whole time was that I had to make bean or chickpea burgers. I think chef extraordinaire Trephene put up a photo of her red bean burgers on instagram, and the seeds were planted.

So, fully expecting tonight’s dinner to be nothing near as good as last night’s veggie biryani (sidebar: I took some biryani to my colleagues at work today and they loved it, men and women alike!) so I was rather casual about the whole affair.

I also didn’t take photos of each step like I did last night, as I didn’t know whether I’d struggle to embed the photos again, so pay close attention to my words.

I took a can of red beans, drained the brine, and tossed the beans into the food processor. I perched my mandolin on top of the processor bowl, and sliced in one small (and raw) sweet potato. I tossed four cardamom pods (remember I said it’s my new favorite spice?) into my mortar, and crushed the pods open, before tossing the seeds into the bean-and-sweet-potato mix. In went three pinches of chermoula spice, a generous amount of saltt, a dash of found cumin, and some snips of fresh parsley.

I blitzed the whole lot up, and even though I had reserved some of the red bean brine in case I need it, the mix was much too runny. I searched my cupboards for some semolina, but alas it was nowhere to be seen, so I tossed in about a handful of raw couscous (this turned out to be a stroke of genius!) and about three desert-spoons of flour. Add the flour one spoon at a time, checking the consistency after each spoonful.

In a non-stick pan I poured in quite a generous amount of canola oil and heated it right up. Once it was hot, I spooned out two spoons of the red bean mix, squished it into an approximation of a ball, then placed it in the hot oil, flattening it out once it was in the pan (this is why the non-stick bit is so critical).

Once fried and all goldeny-like, I flipped the patties over very carefully indeed, and fried the other side, before placing aside on a plate to rest.

While the patties were frying up, I toasted some pita bread, then spread some tahini and red pepper hummus (both vegan spreads from my local Spar), then layered on finely-sliced red onion and a mix of baby spinach, watercress, and coriander leaves on top. The patty went on top of the leaves, then I spread some sundried tomato on top, and it was foodie time!!!

Verdict: I’m not supposed to like vegan food this much. It was delectable. Did it taste like meat? No. But that wasn’t the point. I think where vegetarian food goes wrong is where people try to approximate the taste and texture of meat. I refuse to eat tofu or nutritional wheat, whatever the hell that is.

What made the meal: the couscous was a brilliant touch, if I do say so myself (if I do say so myself – JayZ voice). It added texture and crunch and depth of flavor. Semolina wouldn’t have worked this well.

What I would do differently: this would have been so much better with some sliced cucumber in there! I’m definitely picking up some cucumbers on the way home from work tomorrow; there are few veggies I can tolerate and even fewer I actually like!

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7 Days a Vegan – Vegan Biryani

Right now I am licking my lips in a most undignified manner. When I first thought up this scheme of mine of eating only vegan food for seven days, I knew the food would taste good (how could I not create delicious food?), but I didn’t expect it to be lick smacking good!

OK, backtrack. I have a pretty standard method when it comes to deciding what to make for dinner. I go to the store and check out what’s available in the fish section; if there’s nothing satisfactory I go to the meats. I buy the meat or fish first and build the meal around the protein. If nothing catches my fancy I usually settle for pasta-and-sauce or something that can go with beans or chickpeas. Or I just grab a bottle of wine and hope for the best. You need to understand – going meat-free doesn’t come naturally to me. I always knew the little piggy who went to market probably ended up as bacon, and I thought that was a most fitting end.

I thought it was time to challenge myself. Lord knows how I went to the vegan extreme. An ordinary person would say they’re going vegetarian and that would be good enough. Hell, a normal person would have considered meat free Mondays, then gone ahead and made a lovely pork belly roast on Tuesday. (My friend Tim makes a spectacular pork belly roast, by the way.)

I was utterly unprepared for this, but my 7 days of veganism started today. I didn’t have anything appropriate for breakfast, so I guzzled down some clemengold juice before leaving the house. For lunch I mixed up a glass of vanilla Ensure from my emergency office stockpile (I actually had some mushroom soup, but couldn’t find the list of ingredients to check fi it was vegan). Now apparently Ensure isn’t vegan as it contains milk products, but my label didn’t say that so it doesn’t count.

I digress. Dinner.

I swung by my local Woolies on the way home, as I barely had any veggies in my house. I got quite a good haul, but it cost me over R500, which proves the point that veganism is a rather expensive way of life.

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My shopping haul from Woolies.

While I was sitting at work this afternoon fretting over what to make for my first vegan dinner, my tastes leaned towards a vegetable biryani. I love a good biryani. Lamb biryani, usually, but I can’t stand the stuff people so often have masquerading as biryani. If lentils have been stuck in there I’m not interested. Saffron and layering are integral.

A quick google search and i found a couple of recipes to guide me. Here we go.

I got the rice started. I steamed some basmati with four cloves, half a star-anise, a bit of cinnamon quill, and three green cardamom pods. Don’t cook the rice through; just until it’s 2/3 done.

While the rice was cooking, I sliced up some onions and fried them in way too much oil. But I know that a great deal of oil is necessary, and besides, one of the recipes advised that I should “deep fry” the onions.

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While the onions were frying I rinsed some cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, sweet corn, aubergine, and a yellow pepper and chopped them up.

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Back to the flying onions. Once they were at that point between translucent and golden, I threw in some curry leaf, sliced yellow pepper and a handful of cashew nuts. Essential for protein, you understand. Be really careful with the cashews; they can burn really quickly without your noticing.

I then fished out the cooked stuff and threw whole cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and whole fennel seeds into the remaining oil. Take a moment to appreciate the sons and fragrance of the cardamom pods popping open. I followed that up by tossing a teaspoon of crushed garlic and a teaspoon of chopped ginger into the pot, then stirring furiously. The scent that emanates from the pot shows how magical an aromatic ginger is. I then went off-recipe and squirted in a good amount of tomato paste.

I allowed the tomato paste to cook out (essential step!) before throwing in the chopped veggies. I sautéed them lightly, then added about a 1/4 cup of coconut cream, a squeeze of lime juice, and a splash of water, before popping the lid on and allowing it to cook for 5 minutes.

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While the veggies were cooking out, I finely chopped a handful of coriander with a tiny amount of mint, and also heated up a 1/2 cup of coconut cream with a good pinch of saffron. Oh, and pre-heated the oven to 200*C.

Layering time! I wasn’t about to make something else dirty, so I eased some of the steamed rice up on top of the cooked veggies, the layered the chopped herbs on top. I then sprinkled the saffron-indued coconut cream on the whole lot, before putting one last layer of rice and sprinkling once again with saffron coconut cream. I sealed the casserole with foil, popped the lid on top, then stuck it in the oven for 25 minutes.

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Wait a painfully. long. 25. minutes.

When serving, dig right down to the bottom of the casserole to get all layers of the dish.

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My verdict: DELICIOUS!!!!!!

I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much. I tossed my serving spoon in the sink after my first serving, and had to get a clean one out when I went for seconds. The coconut cream was MAGIC, adding that creaminess I missed from not using yoghurt, ghee or butter. It was super creamy, super rich, and super tasty. Did I miss meat in the dish? Well, I thought of lamb once while I was eating, but honestly this dish doesn’t need any meat. Or dairy, for that matter.

What I didn’t love about this – I didn’t pay enough attention to the protein content. The only protein came from the cashews, and that definitely wasn’t enough. I need to think more about making sure I have enough protein in my food this week.

Has it completely turned me off this vegan journey? Absolutely not. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s culinary adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Succumbing…

Succumbing...

A couple of nights ago I had a hankering for fried chicken. I never eat fried chicken from fast-food outlets so was forced to whip up a batch myself. I could only find mini chicken breasts (I prefer wings), didn’t have time for the 24-hour soak in buttermilk, and in a nod to health consciousness (hah!) crumbed but did not batter the chicken.

I served it with potato salad and a sweet-&-hot sesame soy dipping sauce, made with jalapeños from my mini urban garden. Happiness!

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100 Women, 100 Wines – Johannesburg

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I’ve been absent from this blog so long that I had to reset my password! I am appropriately abashed and will endeavour to rectify my behaviour!I’ve had posts I’ve wanted to put up for a while, but I guess I just didn’t have the right motivation… until now!

Now, ladies – and yes I’m speaking directly to the ladies here – you know our lives can get crazy. We hold it down at home, we make it rain at work, look fabulous when out with friends and still manage to squeeze time in for spa days, family lunches, studies, gym, knowing the dialogue of Dirty Dancing offhead… you name it. Can we get a round of Beyonce’s Run The World (Girls) here? Our lives are demanding, and sometimes, at the end of a long day, a cup of herbal tea just does not cut it. 

I always suspected I wasn’t the only person who kicked off her shoes and poured a glass of red as soon as she got home after a particularly trying day. The good people at Ultra Liquors clearly understand it, and had the inspired idea to hold Johannesburg’s very first 100 Women, 100 Wines event at The Maslow Hotel on Friday 1 November. This being a ladies event, Iman Cosmetics and Ndalo Media were also there, bringing some extra glam to the function.

It turns out that 80% of wine purchases are made by women. So this was really a pretty inspired decision they made – get 100 women and 100 of the wines they’re considering putting on their shelves in one room. Get the women to taste and vote for their favourite wines, and next time we stroll into Ultra Liquors we’ll see the wines we chose on the shelves. Works for me!

So, the method to what would soon turn into madness – before we went into the tasting room we were asked to pick a wine glass from a table of 100 glasses. Each glass had 10 coloured stickers in it.

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Purple being my signature colour I grabbed a glass with the little mauve-coloured stickers and allowed myself to be ushered into the tasting room. It had been divided into 10 tables, each of which had a theme, such as Girls Night Out, Pasta Party, Special Sipping and Special Occasions. The host explained what we’d be doing – 10 of us would be assigned to each table; we’d have a limited duration of time in which to taste the wines on our tables, and were encouraged to affix stickers to our 10 favourite bottles.

The fates spoke, and the purple stickers were assigned to the table designated “Working Week”, with the lovely Mantombi serving our tipple.

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The gong (figuratively) sounded and we were in business! Everyone at the table had their own strategy… my friend Aleta declared her intention to work through the wines as they were set out on the table; Marilyn started with the whites and worked her way through to the reds. I’m a bit of a romantic, so I started off with the Bonne Esperance for good luck. After that I made a beeline to the red side of the table; I tend to prefer reds and didn’t want to grow weary of tasting before I got to them.

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I took the task very seriously indeed! After all the future wine shopping options of Johannesburg’s women were partly in my hands! I did not wear that mantle lightly friends. I jealously guarded my stickers and ultimately awarded but 5 of them.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there were some amazing ladies at the Maslow for the event! A bonus of this sort of function is the opportunity to mingle with people who have similar interests; I don’t know if I’m biased but the Working Week women were absolutely lovely (somehow I don’t have a photo of Thula who certainly came ready to have fun)!

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The ever-bubbly Aleta, classically-styled Sasha, Marilyn in her gorgeous Mexican tunic, and fellow red-wine lover and financial whiz Kea

Once the gong sounded to end the judging, we were invited to go to the other tables and taste the wines the other 90 ladies had judged. Typical of me, I headed straight for the bubbles. I wasn’t the only one with this idea, and I paused by the Winter Warmers table to see which wines had come up on top. A friendly Shayla pulled me aside and encouraged me to try two particular bottles which, as you can see from the numbers of stickers on them, won the Winter Warmers popularity contest. I did not regret my little detour – the wines certainly deserved their stickers!

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The surprises weren’t over yet! A lady with a notepad and an official look sidled up to me and whispered a code-word in my ear. Shortly thereafter, three other ladies and I were called up to to the front and it was announced that we had each won R500 Sorbet vouchers, courtesy of the Ndalo Group! What more could there be, you ask? Goodie bags, that’s what!

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Goodie bag contents! Red wine blend, white wine, Iman lip stain, Maslow stationary. Not photographed: Destiny Magazine, because I’m already devouring it.

I just have to say, that Iman lip stain (“Sultry”) will look good on absolutely everybody. With all the different skin colours and tones you can come across that is an absolute miracle. I’m wearing it right now. Just because, even though I’m in my comfy clothes with my hair probably sticking up awkwardly, it makes me feel pretty.

I walk away from this having met some really fun people and made great connections, with a new every-day lipstick, and with some extra tools which I can use when selecting wines for my next dinner party. It was an absolutely wonderful evening!

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Last night…

Dinner last night…

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