Tagged: vegan

Date Syrup is nice on ANYTHING


Have you ever bought any date syrup? My goodness it’s nice.

You can get it from health food shops, like Infinity Foods in Brighton, or Harvest in Bath. I do like those sorts of places and while an avid, perhaps even an evangelical meat eater, there’s something about the smell of a health food shop that really comforts. It makes you feel good, and sensible and… Actually no. In the first instance I feel good but then that feeling of goodness mutates pretty quickly into a desire to be mischievous. Because while I love the odours and the interesting products, at the risk of tarring everyone with the same brush I don’t half feel like the people who work in such establishments could do with, erm, lightening up a bit. The same goes for the clientele. You know what, once I was reprimanded by a fellow customer for using the vegan tongs to pick up a pizza which had cheese on it. “Oh Eff Off love” I imagined saying, as I apologised. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of worthiness and piousness that hangs in the air. A mouse-like irritating softness to the majority of the shoppers and an over-considered and unrealistic sincerity to the staff.  In fact staff is the wrong word since they’re more often than not run as  a cooperative and staff would imply a boss/non-boss hierarchy. And there’ll be none of that I imagine. At least not officially, but I bet there’s a load of older lags who look down on the younger members with an inflated feeling of superior excellence.

Is that unfair? Probably. But you know what I mean don’t you.

Mind you, they certainly are a good place to visit to find some interesting products and ingredients that you won’t get in your average supermarket and one of those is Date Syrup. We buy it a lot. It’s cheaper than maple syrup and it’s a product of the UK which feels better if we’re thinking about air miles. It’s fantastic in savoury things as well as sweet ones, or if you want to blur the line between a desert and a savoury snack then try this.

Cut some cubes of feta and wrap them in a square of buttered filo pastry. Press the outside of the pastry into a mixture of black and white sesame seeds, bake for about 15-18 minutes in a medium to hot oven, trickle with date syrup, a little olive oil and some salt crystals and enjoy. Oh my gosh they’re good.


100% Vegan Moussaka


I’ve written before, and at length, about the challenge of cooking for those on some kind of specialist diet or another, be it for weight loss or some other health and well-being enhancing reason. Funny that I should be quite so reluctant to follow something like that myself. Perhaps it’s the necessity to cater for others that makes me adopt such an ‘I don’t need this’ and an ‘I can eat anything’ kind-of a stance. Just to address the balance.

So I made a moussaka a few days ago. It was packed with tender minced lamb, hefty rich dark chicken stock (oh yeah, home made of course), a bit of Bovril to enhance the meaty flavours, and topped with a really thick creamy béchamel sauce that set like a custard under a thin crust of crispy toasted parmesan. I shared it with another performer, sat in a tent at the excellent Machynlleth Comedy Festival in mid-Wales, after a seven hour drive, followed by putting up tents in the wind and rain, and it was very welcome indeed. We had it with a halved avocado sprinkled with coarse sea salt, black pepper, crushed chilli and trickle of olive oil and lime juice, and an enamel cup of rough red wine.

But having enjoyed it so much I wanted Nikki (my wife) to eat it too, and she’s following a gluten-free and (sort of) vegan diet at the moment (‘sort of’ because she’s eating fish, but no meat and no dairy). So when I got back I came up with this vegan version which really is absolutely delicious, as well as being inexpensive. And I think the vegan ‘béchamel’ is a revelation.

100% Vegan Moussaka

1 large onion (finely chopped)
3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
a generous handful of chopped rosemary
1 red pepper (diced)
a small handful of raisins (chopped)
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 pinch crushed chilli flakes
250g puy lentils
vegetable stock
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 generous squeeze tomato puree
1 teaspoon marmite
lots of black pepper

Sweat the onion in a generous amount of olive oil until its softened. Add the garlic and the rosemary and sweat for a couple more minutes. Then add the peppers and cook for a further five mins or so. You want to really get a lot of caramelised flavours from these vegetables. Next add the lentils, raisins, cinnamon and chilli and fry them around for a bit before pouring in about 1/2 pint of cider. Let this bubble away and reduce for a few minutes and then add stock and the tinned tomatoes (squashed between your fingers to bust them up). I don’t know how much stock I used, not loads as the sauce doesn’t want to be too sloppy. I think I poured in stock until the lentils were covered by about 1cm and then added more as the liquid was absorbed. Cover and let the mixture cook on a gentle simmer for about 40 mins. You want a little bit of bite to the lentils. When it’s done take a couple of cupfuls and puree them in a blender before returning to the pan. It just makes the base a bit thicker and creamier.

Leave it and let it cool a bit.

500g potatoes (peeled and sliced into 5mm disks)
2 large aubergines (sliced a little thicker)

Fry the potato slices in olive oil until lightly browned on each side and just cooked through. Do the same with the aubergine. You can salt the aubergine first  but I don’t think it’s really necessary.

Set these aside.

1/2 an onion (finely chopped)
1 large cauliflower (roughly chopped)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Sweat the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft and then add the cauliflower. Stir a bit, season, and pour in about 1/2 pint of water. Bring it to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 mins, occasionally string the top bits to the bottom. You want to cauliflower really soft.

Let it cool, add a bit more oil and puree in a blender until super smooth. Return to the pan and if it’s not thick enough (you want it to be thicker than custard but not as thick as mashed potato) you can slake it with a little cornflour in cold water.

Check the seasoning, add more black pepper and a good grating of nutmeg.

Finally, assemble. In a deep over-proof dish which you’ve lightly oiled put half the aubergine in a layer on the bottom, followed by a layer of potato slices (all of them) and then half the ragu. Then another layer of aubergine and the rest of the rag. Finally pour over the ‘béchamel’, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and a dusting of paprika. (You could add breadcrumbs too, but I didn’t). And bake at about 190ºC for around 30-40 mins.

I think it’s better at room temperature, and when cooler it’s more likely to keep it’s shape, which looks so good I’m sure you’ll agree.

Who needs meat or dairy eh? Well, I think I do, but not all the time.


Falafels – Baked or Fried?



I live just outside Bath and am regularly in neighbouring Bristol for various jobs, and whilst there, I make a point of trying to strategically work it into my day, one way or another, to get to the falafel stall in St Nick’s market for one hell of an amazing lunch. I love these so much that I will drive many miles out of my way, risk parking fines while waiting in the queue and then suffer the ensuing panic of being late for an appointment…I never am but the joy that these little crunchy morsels, together with all their ancillaries bring is somehow worth the stress of a very badly planed falafel drive-through. If you’re ever in Bristol and in need of something to renew your faith in takeaway food, this is it. Bath, which supposedly has a great reputation for food doesn’t offer anything even remotely as good as this as a takeaway – an overpriced sandwich from one of the big chains is about the best you can get, as the high, prohibitive rents have excluded many promising and exciting start-ups. Forgive me if I’m wrong, people of Bath…..please fill me in as I do struggle for a good takeaway lunch there.

Stupidly enough, I never really thought about making my own until recently – I don’t know why.

Falafels are very easy to make and eating them fresh will beat the socks off your supermarket type.
A whole other world, and if you’ve only ever tried those pre packed ones (especially if you liked them and are easily pleased) you’re in for a genuine treat.

There are probably as many ways to make these as skinning the proverbial cat, and I’m still very much experimenting with the various options such as using tinned chick-peas/fava beans as opposed to using dried, whether to bake or fry them, and also the possibility of using alternative beans/peas. As a first dip into the falafel pond, and for convenience, I used tinned chick peas, and tinned borlotti beans as an alternative to the fava beans (broad beans). I also decided to bake them as I didn’t have copious amounts of oil for the whole deep-fat malarkey. I think they worked really well and were as tasty as I’ve had anywhere. Only slightly lacking in crunch from not being deep-fried.  I will be employing the deep fat fryer next time and shall keep you posted.

INGREDIENTS (makes around 24)

1 tin chick peas – drained
1 tin borlotti beans – drained
handful of fresh coriander and parsley or mint
5 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp tahini
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
2 tsp toasted coriander seeds
2 tsp sumac
2 tsp lebanese spice mix
juice 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
sesame seeds for coating
olive oil for a drizzle in the roasting pan


  1. empty the drained beans/half chick peas (retaining the other half for later on) into a blender
  2. add spices, fresh herbs, garlic and tahini
  3. add salt to taste
  4. add bicarb
  5. crush the remaining chickpeas with a fork to a course texture and add to mix but don’t blend further – this adds a bit of texture back into the mix.
  6. cool mixture in fridge for at least 30min as cooling helps with the shaping.
  7. preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius
  8. shape the falafels either to small fat disks or as I did to small teaspoon sized quenelles.
  9. coat with sesame seeds
  10. place in baking tray and drizzle with EV olive oil and place in oven for 15 minutes.
  11. take them out, turn them over and return to oven for another 10 minutes.

Serve these with a crunchy salad of red cabbage coleslaw, julienne carrot salad, tahini dressing and some fresh pittas. These are all really easy additions.

Besides the EV olive oil and cider vinegar dressing, both salads both got some added extras;

Cabbage salad – pomegranate molasses, fresh parsley, fresh chilli.
Carrot salad – roasted and ground cumin and coriander seeds. A drizzle of honey.

Tahini Dressing.

In a bowl, add 2 tbsp tahini and mix with 1/2 cup water and juice of half a lemon. Add salt, sumac and pepper to taste. (Matthew)


Vegan, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Paleo (almost) Porridge.

Processed with VSCOcam with g2 preset

This is a delicious alternative porridge for anyone that’s diet-restricted or just interested to try a different type of hot, ‘in a bowl’ breakfast. It doesn’t taste like you’re being restricted as there’s plenty of good fats and flavour in there to satiate.
My dad discovered he was a coeliac about 30 years ago when I was still living at home and has been on a gluten-free diet ever since to control it, alongside trying to help an auto-immune condition called ankylosing spondilitis, that he also has that over time fuses your spinal joints together making it very painful and immobile. He seems to benefit from the diet on both counts, and from an early age watching my parents cook, I subsequently got quite a good understanding of different ingredients that could be beneficial for someone on a restricted diet.

More recently, I have experimented with gluten-free and paleo diets in an effort to get on top of feeling healthier myself and having more energy etc. I know, I know, another person harping on about gluten intolerance. It is a bit boring and not completely founded in proper science but it does annoyingly make sense for a certain proportion of the world’s population to not be completely at home with neolithic or grain-based foods. The ice age, when agriculture kicked off properly, was only about 300 generations ago. That’s not long from an evolutional standpoint, and could explain why some people don’t get on with certain foodstuffs. Who knows. There does seem to be a lot of anecdotal evidence (if you can call it that) to explain an incompatibility between some foods and some people. I know it’s become fashionable to be gluten-intolerant these days and if you are actually experiencing physical problems and can put up with the ridicule from your friends then all credit to you for the self experimenting. On another level, it’s great as a lot of research is being done in this area and eventually someone will arrive at some proper scientific conclusions. Or not…

I quite enjoy the challenge of coming up with recipes that are restricted in their ingredients and have built up a few staples that work for me. One of these is a porridge that I regularly love to start the day with. It feels really hearty and keeps me going until a late lunch. You can improvise with this quite freely once you get the gist of proportions etc. Adding cashews, almonds or ground almonds to the mix, seeds on top instead of within….you get the idea.
Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get a feel for it and just chuck it all in. I hope this is a useful recipe idea for some of you.


40g desiccated coconut
30g dried fruit – whatever you have to hand – dates(my favourite), sultanas, raisins, goji berries, or a combination of these.
20g seeds – also whatever you have. I use sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame or combinations again.
1 dessertspoon of coconut oil (optional)
100ml of Coconut milk – (Koko – the milk in a carton – rather than the coconut milk in a tin which is much thicker and creamier)
20g gluten-free oats, (or regular oats if you prefer) quick cook polenta, or rice flour.
1 desert spoon tahini
Honey to taste (regular sugar, stevia or maple syrup for example if vegan)
handful of flaked almonds or broken-up pieces of walnuts.


  • In a small pan add des coconut, dried fruit, seeds, koko milk, coconut oil.
  • Turn heat to low and allow to simmer and bubble away for around 5 mins until desiccated coconut is soft.
  • Add the oats, rice or polenta to create a smooth consistency
  • Add more milk or water from kettle if you like a thinner mix
  • When all heated throughout – should take about 3 minutes – serve into a bowl.
  • Spoon on tahini and honey then add nuts.



Creamy Aubergine and Courgette Curry


I’ve been doing more cooking-in-hotel-room demonstrations.

Tonight is the last of a run of shows at The Bloomsbury, once again curated and hosted by my good friend Robin Ince, and this year called ‘Christmas Science Ghosts’. Like previous years it’s a hugely eclectic variety bill of comedy, music and (mostly this year) scientists doing short routines, songs and mini-lectures. And it’s brilliant – positive, informative, and completely without cynicism. I cooked there last year (pancakes) and it was that experience which pushed me to create the ‘Anarchist Cook’ show that I’ve been enjoying performing all over the place throughout 2014. At this years show I’ve been doing a Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs (cooked sous vide in a freezer bag in a travel kettle), toast (simply cooked on a well-buttered inverted iron), gravad lax (salmon cured in a mix of salts and sugars pilfered from the breakfast room, and pressed in the Corby trouser press for twenty-four hours) and herbs stolen from a scented garden for the blind.

Anyway. Here’s a recipe I made some time ago. It’s really easy and rather healthy. And totally vegan.

Creamy Aubergine and Courgette Curry
1 large aubergine
2 courgettes
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 large ‘thumb’ of ginger
1 dessertspoon mild curry powder (Bolsts is best, the one Matt talks about here)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 green chilli
1 big pinch crushed chilli flakes
1 teaspoon marmite
5-6 large spoonfuls of soya yoghurt*
fresh coriander

*Provamel make a really good yoghurt replacement that’s excellent for cooking with. It’s called ‘Soya Natural’ and it’s unsweetened (where lots of ‘plain’ soya yoghurt has sugar in it). It’s creamy and pleasant but more importantly it seems to be less likely to split than regular yoghurt and I’ve used it in curries as well as in stroganoffs.

Put the oven on at 190 degrees C.

Slice the aubergine into half inch slices and score the surface with a criss-cross pattern. sprinkle with the curry powder and drizzle with a little oil. Then bake in the oven for 20 minutes. While that’s cooking…

Slice and fry the onion in oil over a medium heat and when it’s softened add the garlic and ginger and the whole green chilli (it just stays in there, adding some flavour but also looking great in it’s complete glory). While that’s all cooking toast the seeds (fennel, cumin and coriander) in a small pan before grinding in a pestle and mortar and adding to the pan. After another minute or two add the courgettes, sliced however you fancy them, stir around, add a tiny splash of water and put the lid on for three or four minutes.

By now the aubergine should have been done enough so remove it from the oven, complete the scoring cuts to roughly cube it and add it to the pan along with about a coffee mug’s worth of hot water with the marmite dissolved in it. Bring the heat up until the liquid in the pan is bubbling and let it boil rapidly until the liquid is reduced by half. Then turn the heat off and let it cool for five minutes before stirring in the yoghurt (you can of course use normal yoghurt instead of the vegan one), one spoonful at a time and beating it in to avoid splitting.

Warm it through gently again to serve and sprinkle with fresh coriander.

It’s also extremely good with fish in it, or very easy with prawns. Pre-cooked prawns can be added straight from the freezer during the final stages. Add them after the rapid-boiling of the aubergine and marmite stock. Stir and put the lid on for 10 minutes before adding the yoghurt as before.


Creamy Lentil Soup for Cold Days


Here’s a quick one for a really simple and ultra-cheap soup that we’ve had loads recently. Very hearty and warming. Great in a wide necked flask when you’ve got a long drive in the winter (as I often have!).

Creamy Lentil Soup
1 onion (sliced/chopped)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 thumb of ginger (sliced/matchsticked)
1 stick celery (chopped)
1/2 lemon
3 carrots (peeled and chopped coarsely)
2 heaped teaspoons cumin seeds (toasted and ground)
small pinch crushed chilli flakes
1 teaspoon mild curry powder (Bolsts, of course – see here)
6 handfuls red lentils
salt and lots of black pepper

Fry the onion in oil for a while until soft, then add the garlic, ginger, celery and carrot. Add the halved lemon in it’s entirety (having popped out any loose pips). Toast the seeds and grind before adding to the pan with the lentils, curry powder and the chilli. Stir around for a further two or three minutes before pouring in water from the kettle. Be quite generous with the water as much of it will be absorbed as the lentils swell. Bring to the boil, reduce to a really low simmer and cook with the lid on for about 45-50 minutes. Check the seasoning, and partially blend (or don’t) with a hand-blender, remembering to remove the lemon first (having given it a hard sqash to extract it’s juice). You could drizzle it with olive oil and a bit more lemon and some fresh coriander too if you wanted it to look fancy. Have it with bread. Or don’t.


Roasted Aubergine with Spinach and Pine Nuts

spicy and tasty aubergine, spinach and pine-nut

This aubergine dish works well as an accompaniment to so many things. The meltingly tender and silky texture of the flesh is superb combined with a subtly spiced roast lamb or hearty and robust tagine. In it’s own right can be stirred through some freshly made cous-cous or roughly thrown together salad (butter beans, feta and mint ) or just simply enjoyed on it’s own merit, nestled up to some rustic bread.

I have always loved aubergines and their sponge-like ability to absorb flavour and juiciness like nothing else. When included in a little family together with olive oil, garlic, chilli, fennel and coriander seed, pine nuts, baby spinach and pomegranate molasses becomes a well rounded, interestingly textured and delicately spiced delight.


2 large aubergines
healthy amount of EV olive oil
6-8 cloves of coarsely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
2 desert spoons of pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon coriander seeds – lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds – lightly crushed
2 teaspoons mint sauce
small handful of toasted pine nuts
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 150 degrees.
Chop aubergines across their length into 3/4 inch disks, then while stacked up chop again down their lengths at 90 degrees to first cut so effectively ending up with fat aubergine length chips. Chop the chips on the diagonal to end up with large diamond chunks. In a roasting tin heat up a big long glug of olive oil on the hob and add the aubergine and mix well into the oil. Turn up the heat to get it smoking and as the aubergine starts to cook and brown add more olive oil as you go and continue stirring and mixing until it all starts to soften. You would do well to turn down the heat now and allow the sticky edges to form a little. Add the salt, pepper, chilli, crushed seeds, mint sauce and pomegranate molasses and stir well into veg. Add garlic, stir then put in oven for around 30 – 40 mins. After this time the aubergine should be soft, silky and smooth. Add the pine nuts and baby spinach and stir into mix and return to oven for a further 10 on a lower heat to warm through. (Matt)

Moroccan Inspired Date and Walnut Cake

moroccan inspired date and walnut

After returning from an absolutely incredible mountain trek in the Atlas mountains followed by 2 days in Marrakech I couldn’t wait to experiment with all the flavours I’d experienced there. Taste-buds a-singing, ideas and inspiration a-plenty, I set forth trying to give everything a Moroccan twist. This date and walnut cake was no exception. We were due to visit George, Nikki and kids for new year so with no better time to take a slice of Morocco with me, I proceeded to bake the said cake which we carefully packaged and had on our laps for the journey to Brighton.

I had the extra challenge of complying to special diets – no gluten, egg-yolk, or dairy and although it can be difficult with some foods, cakes are something I’ve experimented with a lot and actually prefer the more interesting textures available with alternative flours and ground nuts etc.

I had to wait a day to taste the cake but I think it was worth it. Delicious!






Cake Mixture

200g olive oil

100g tahini

200g soft brown sugar

150g white rice flour

50g walnuts – loosely chopped

50g honey

120g dates – chopped into small chunks

200g ground almonds

2 tsp orange blossom water

3 egg whites

enough fresh orange juice to soften cake mixture. (around 50-100ml)


1 dessertspoon tahini

1 dessertspoon honey

1 tsp orange blossom water


1 dessertspoon honey

150g walnuts (whole)

1 tsp orange blossom water

1.5 dessertspoon tahini


1. preheat oven to 170c

2. grease 2 x 8” loose bottom cake tins and dust with rice flour

3. in a large bowl, mix together olive oil, tahini, whisked egg whites,      sugar, walnuts, dates, orange water, ground almonds, rice flour and honey. It will probably resemble a fairly stiff cookie dough consistency.

4. add enough orange juice to loosen mixture and soften to normal cake         mix consistency.

5. empty equally into tins and bake for around 20mins or until knife come out clean and remove from oven.

6. leave cakes in tins for 10 mins to cool slightly and then remove from tins and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

7. In another bowl, mix together ingredients for filling. Sandwich both halves together with filling.

8. In a small pan heat all ingredients for topping over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes then leave to cool.

9. When topping has cooled down sufficiently, place carefully on top of cake and arrange walnut pieces to completely cover the top surface.

10. leave to cool completely before enjoying with a cup of tea or coffee.