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As a film-loving Brightonian, I’ve long been a fan of the Duke of York’s cinema, but it has always struggled with the size limitations of the admittedly lovely building. Late last year, they opened up a new space at the Komedia with two screens and a cafe-bar and I was thrilled to hear that they now have a kitchen serving snacks and more substantial meals. I’ve always thought that more cinemas should serve proper food: I often want to eat something before a film but don’t necessarily want an elaborate ‘dinner and a movie’ situation. Being able to meet friends for a drink, a light meal, and a film all in one place is a no-brainer and happily the Duke’s at Komedia has pitched it just right. There’s a varied menu but their central concept is the hotdog: not the questionable Coney Island variety but the modern, reinvented hipster dog with locally-sourced sausage and inventive punchy toppings. Its rare to see American food done well in the UK so clearly I had to investigate… Read the rest of this entry »

veggie mapo

I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for my vegetarian and vegan readers–who impressively continue to read despite my love for all things porcine–so I wanted to post a little something meatless to start the week off. Lemur friend the Geek Goddess gave me Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice as an un-birthday present (because she is the kind of awesome friend who knows you are stressed out and responds with cookbooks!) and it has a brilliant range of vegetable dishes from Sichuan province and beyond. I particularly loved her simple meatless version of ma po tofu: meat works more as a flavouring than as a main component of the dish in its traditional form, so it is actually relatively easy to replace the meat with other umami flavours. The real pleasure of ma po tofu for me is the contrast of soft, cooling tofu with the fiery, oily, tingling chili and Sichuan peppercorn sauce and this version focuses your attention on precisely that experience. I know there are people out there who are yet to be converted to tofu and I think this might be one of the dishes to do it. It’s making my mouth water just looking at the picture. Read the rest of this entry »

I was thrilled to be Freshly Pressed on my last post – that’s included in the WordPress editors’ daily picks. And welcome to new readers who liked the Vietnamese Chicken Curry post and have decided to stick around! I hope you enjoy the blog. Unfortunately Mr Lemur is away shooting a film so I am without both camera and photographer for a few weeks. Boo! For now, we will all have to put up with my iPhone photography. I know, it’s a hardship, but we soldier bravely on…

I came across black rice noodles in our local ethnic food store the other day and was intrigued. I love black rice but I don’t cook it very often as it is fairly time consuming and many of the uses I know for it are desserts. (I adore Malaysian pulut hitam, or black rice pudding with coconut milk, for instance, but I rarely make it myself.) I was immediately drawn to these deep black noodles. I knew they wouldn’t produce the exact satisfying chewyness of a black rice grain on the teeth but I figured they might combine the glutinous qualities of glass noodles with a deeper, wholegrain flavour.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been proselytising my friends about my new tofu press. I get one of two responses when I tell them that my tofu press is the best thing ever. Either they ask why one needs to press tofu at all, or they ask why I don’t just use a pile of books to do it. (I admit that I might have more than usually nerdy friends –  not only do they spend their time pressing tofu but they have all lit upon the piles of books that surround them as the best means to do the job.) The thing is this: pressing tofu gives you a whole new insight into the delicious potential of this much-maligned food and pressing it evenly and thoroughly without the faff of trying not to soak your history of art books is worth a few bucks, people! Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes, your cooking plans are derailed by ingredients not being available but in the last couple of weeks, mine have been inspired by unusual ingredients turning up in stores. I knew I wanted to make some kind of salsa when a bout of warm weather cut through our rainy Spring, but I hadn’t exactly imagined that it would centre around kumquats. But there they were in a basket at the Taj grocery – wintery fruits that I usually associate with Christmas but that offer an bittersweet citrus punch not dissimilar to Mexican naranja agria. As soon as I saw them I knew I had to include them in my Spring salsa, so I poked around for ingredients to balance their chewy acid pleasures, coming up with plump little radishes, long red chilies and soft avocado. This recipe barely qualifies for the name, but it makes a substantial salsa that could function as the major component of a plate, not just a condiment. We ate it with grilled chicken and tomato rice but it would make a simple supper with just a rice bowl, or a vegetarian meal with Mexican black beans and rice.

Spicy kumquat salsa

  • a large handful of kumquats
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 large spring onion or 3 regular sized ones
  • 6-8 radishes
  • a large handful of ripe cherry tomatoes
  • 5 long red chilies (or 2-3 serranos)
  • bunch of cilantro
  • 2 limes
  • some olive oil

You basically just have to wash and chop everything – avocado into chunks, spring onion, chilies and kumquats thinly sliced, tomatoes halved, radishes diced, leaves pulled off cilantro stems. Salt generously with nice flaky salt, then dress with lime and a little olive oil and mix well.

Et voilà – a not exactly authentic salsa but a nice way to transition from wintery citrus fruits to the promise of summery flavours.

Serves 2.

Last weekend, I finally caught up with Thrifty Gal and got to try out my tua nao, or fermented soy bean pods. Thrifty Gal is a vegetarian who never eats Southeast Asian food in restaurants because she also has a nut allergy and it all just seems too Russian Roulette-ish. Of course, I delight in making Asian food that won’t kill her, and I was especially excited because I’d discovered in Chiang Mai a vegetarian alternative to shrimp paste. Southeast Asian food is tricky for vegetarian cooking because fish sauce and shrimp paste aren’t ingredients but foundational flavours, imparting salt and umami to dishes. You can salt with soy sauce or plain old sodium chloride, but rich umami sensations are a bit harder to achieve. Fermented fish and shrimp are basic to Thai cooking and I’ve read that poor families sometimes eat little but rice and fermented fish in the leaner months: you can’t just omit flavours this essential to a cuisine. But in the Shan market in Chiang Mai, Naomi showed me tua nao, flat dry disks of fermented soybeans which do the same job in Northern Thai and Burmese cuisines. Perhaps because these regions are further from the sea, they developed a soy-based means of creating deeply savoury notes. Read the rest of this entry »

Three Treasures is one of our favourite Chinese vegetable dishes: we order it regularly at Lucky Star, which is of course our most favourite Chinese restaurant. It’s a simply and homey dish of braised aubergine, potato and bell pepper and a soothingly mild contrast to their many spicy Sichuan options. When Mr Lemur brought home aubergine and pepper last night, and realising I had a bag of potatoes going spare, I wondered if it might be possible to work out how it’s made. (I am not usually a big potato person but I had bought some in an aborted bacalao experiment and, of course, hadn’t figured out what to do with them instead.) A bit of research got me nowhere: I don’t know if the dish is usually called something else, or if Lucky Star just makes a very particular version, but the interwebs had very little guidance to offer me. So, I decided to try and retrofit the dish just based on the flavour. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been playing around with some chillies I bought from Brighton’s new spicy food store, Chilli Pepper Pete’s. They came in a huge bundle, about 25cm long, just asking to be hung up rustic-style in our kitchen. The store owner told me she has them specially imported from China, so I’m not entirely sure what they’re called. They are mild in the same way as the dried reds you usually find floating in large numbers in Sichuan cooking. Cooked until softened, they lend flavour for the timid, but are entirely edible and not as threatening as they might look. But unlike regular Chinese chillies, these impart a delicate smoky flavour. It’s not as aggressive as chipotle, but imbues food with a mild smokiness that’s really pleasing. I’ve used them here with spring greens but it would work really well with tofu or, I think, with pork.

Last night I tested the combination out on JD, M and their friend from London who came by for dinner. Given the unseasonably beautiful weather we’ve been having, I should probably have been making light summery salads but I’ve always thought a long day at the beach can work up an apptite for hearty food. Since M is a vegetarian, I made several vegetable dishes and one meat one for the omnivores. For the meat-eaters I slow-braised some pork in dark soy and ginger and for a couple of other vegetable dishes, I turned to Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford’s Beyond the Great Wall, which I’ve been reading avidly. I made a simple but delicious dish of tofu skin in chilli sesame dressing and another of edamame with pickled chilies and sliced garlic.  (Er, yes, detecting a theme there. I had a moment of fear that P might not like chillies but luckily she did!) It was a relaxed mix of dishes, all simple, based on one main ingredient, and perfect for an unexpected late summer evening.

Chinese chilli braised greens

  • 2 onions, diced
  • large chunk of ginger, julienned finely
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 long red chillies, halved
  • 8 very long Chinese dried chillies cut into 2 inch lengths, or about 20-25 normal sized ones
  • 2 tbsp shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp thin soy sauce
  • 2-3 heads of spring greens, collard greens or cabbage, sliced

Sauté the onion until it is soft and browning in places, then add the garlic, chillies (fresh and dried) and ginger. Fry until soft and fragrant.

Add greens, wine and soy sauce, cover and cook on a low heat for 30 minutes.

The smokiness of the long chillies is a key feature of this dish. If you can’t get those, add in a dried chipotle to get some of the same quality. This dish works as I served it here as a side in a Chinese meal, but it also works as a simple dinner served with rice. I’ve also served it with simply grilled beef on top, or, for a more substantial vegetarian main meal, it’s good with creamy cubed tofu mixed in.

Serves 4-6

This week I’m excited to have posts from two guest bloggers, both of whom are not only great cooks but also share my love of learning about new culinary cultures.  First up is Chris, who usually blogs about cinema but has a secret life as a brilliant vegetarian cook. I more or less beg him to make me his Southern biscuits with mushroom gravy every time I see him. Since I know I have some (long-suffering) vegetarian readers, I’ve persuaded him to share his south Indian-inspired vadai curry. Over to Chris…

Like many vegetarians, I have long privileged Indian food in my diet. In fact, certain Indian dishes are comfort food for me, and I’m not of South Asian descent.  However, the dishes I crave most are not necessarily the Moghul standards that Indian restaurants specialize in here in the US but rather the homier dishes that I have learned from friends, cookbooks, and the occasional restaurant serving more regional food. Vadai (or vadi, plural of vada, sometimes transliterated wada or bada) are just the sort of thing I don’t often see on restaurant menus. Basically they’re lentil fritters, typically served as a snack with coconut chutney, and you could do the same or even treat them as an appetizer. But I find them a bit more trouble than I want for anything other than a main dish. So I make a curry with them, inspired by the vadai curry I first had at the excellent Madras Cafe, tucked into a stretch of strip-mall hell in Atlanta.  Read the rest of this entry »

This trip to Paris was less meaty and heavy than previous ones, what with the not eating French food plan, but restaurant food is always a bit excessive, so I’ve been enjoying a week of Asian spicy salads to recover. There’s probably nothing I like more than an Asian salad – the mixture of cooked and raw vegetables, sometimes meats, and sparkily flavoured dressing is my idea of perfect warm weather food. This salad of green vegetables is an idea I learned from Vatcharin Bhumichitr’s great little book Vatch’s Southeast Asian Salads, and I’ve been making it in variously adapted forms for years now. Essentially, the dish involves lightly blanching an assortment of greens so that you end up with a generous bowl of vibrantly coloured vegetables, which are then dressed in a warm coconut and mint dressing. You can more or less make it at any time of year with green beans, broccoli, cabbage, whatever’s available, but it’s especially appealing in the late spring and early summer when you have asparagus and broad beans, or soon fresh peas at your disposal.

Green vegetable spicy salad with coconut dressing

  • 100g green beens
  • half a cucumber
  • 100g sugar snap peas
  • 200g asparagus
  • 300g broad beans (weight in pods)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 large green chili, chopped
  • 3 tbsp coconut cream
  • 2 tsp palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce*
  • juice of 1 lime
  • a handful of mint leaves, chopped

*For vegetarians, add salt to taste instead of fish sauce, and a tbsp of water.

Pod the broad beans, chop the asparagus, top and tail the beans. Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the vegetables each for 3-5 minutes, until just cooked. After each one is done, drain well, pat dry, and add to a bowl. Keep the broad beans separate so they can be peeled when cool. Meanwhile, julienne the cucumber.

To make the dressing, heat the oil in a small pot and gently sauté the chopped garlic till golden. Remove from the heat and add the chili, sugar, coconut cream and fish sauce. When you are ready to serve, add the lime juice and mint and mix with the salad. Serve over rice.

Serves 2-3.

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