Monday, 29 April 2013

VEGAN CHIN CHIN

The first time I made chin chin was in my Home Economics class in JSS2 (year 8 / 8th grade). I recall how all the boys kept yelling 'iyama!' (the Nigerian version of 'eww' or 'yuck') every five seconds. Apparently, they hadn't realised how much of a hands-on process it was, literally speaking.
And depending on whose turn it was in the group to knead the dough -- because somehow my teacher thought it a good idea to pass the bowl round a class of 20 or so snotty-nosed kids to dip their hands into  -- the cries went up and down like some kind of demented musical score.
If you were one of the pretty girls in class that all the boys had a secret crush on, you got off lightly with a blank stare, maybe one or two half-hearted heckles from those who still preferred toy cars to girls. Otherwise, you got the unforgiving: 'iyama! where have your hands been!?'

Charming... -_-

The good news is that you only need YOUR hands to make this recipe, and I trust that you'll give them a good scrub before you get started. My healthy, oven-baked adaptation of this popular snack is sweet, crunchy and delightful. You'll be proud to share these round.


Ingredients
2 cups whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg or cinnamon
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1/4 cup almond milk 

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and combine all the ingredients.

Add the sunflower oil and a little bit of the almond milk and mix with a wooden spoon. Start to add the almond milk a little at a time until you have a firm dough. You don't want it to be too sticky, otherwise it will be hard to roll out. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes then wrap it in some cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 mins.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out until it is about 1 cm thick.


Cut the dough into strips and then little squares. 

Place the squares on a baking tray lined with grease-proof paper. It's a bit fiddly, but it'll be worth it in the end. Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 5, for 10 minutes until golden brown. You may wish to turn them over half-way through to get a more even colour. 

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

CURRIED RED LENTIL SOUP

This soup turned out to be surprisingly light and refreshing. The fact that I skipped out on adding any oil probably helped. I've been making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of oil I use in my cooking recently, but I've found it to be surprisingly difficult. I could be halfway through making a dish and this inexplicable (almost irrational) urge to add an unnecessary drop or two of oil suddenly emerges. 

Now, I'm not totally anti-oil or anything - a little goes a long way in binding flavours together and giving dishes that extra 'je ne sais quoi', but sometimes you just feel like pulling back a little, you know? And I happen to feel that way this week. Except, there's a bit of a disconnect somewhere. The act of adding oil to nearly everything is somehow so engrained that I find myself reaching for it before my brain even has time to process what I'm about to do. 

Oil is pretty central to Nigerian cuisine. If we're not deep-frying our snacks (puff puff, chin-chin, plantain chips...need I go on?), we're giving our stews and soups a glazed sheen with the stuff. This always makes for incredibly yummy food, but it's probably not something you want to have every day if you're trying to develop a healthy lifestyle. With that in mind, don't be too surprised if I stray into alternative, oil-free cooking methods in future recipes. 

Thankfully, lentils are extremely flavourful and the spices I used provide an additional lift. This is great for lunch or dinner and will leave you feeling full without the added calories.



Ingredients
(serves 4)
- 2 cups red lentils
- 4 cups water or vegetable stock
- 1 grated carrot (optional)
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer for 20-25 minutes (until the lentils are soft). I didn't use the grated carrot this time but it occurred to me afterwards that it would work great in this dish, not to mention giving it an extra nutrition boost. If you have other vegetables at home, feel free to add them too.

Serve hot or warm with a slice or two of wholegrain/seeded bread.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

SLOW-COOKED SPICY PASTA WITH CABBAGE AND CHICKPEAS

I don't mind the fact that whole wheat pasta takes longer to cook than regular white pasta. What it usually means is that I can make one-pot meals such as this one, leaving it to simmer and do its own thing while I get on with something else for a while. Perfect for days when I get back from work and I'm not immediately hungry but know I'll want something good later on.

Ingredients
(serves 2)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup whole wheat pasta
- 3 cups fresh cabbage (roughly chopped)
- 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
- 1 tomato (roughly chopped)
- 1 carrot (diced)
- 1/4 cup chopped celery 
- I vegetabe stock cube
- 1-2 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp organic palm oil
- Salt to taste

Chuck all the ingredients into a cooking pot. Turn the heat alllll the way down. Go chill out or something and leave it to cook for about 40-45 mins (maybe check it half way through to make sure things are still going swimmingly and the water hasn't dried out).

Not surprisingly, the pasta and veg soak up all the heady spices, the chickpeas thicken the sauce slightly and you're left with a glistening, warming plate of pasta.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

MANGO & CHOCOLATE MARBLE CAKE

Cooking is like my other great love: writing. You conceive of this vague idea and you let the characters reveal themselves to you over time; you trace out the possible narrative in daydreaming sessions throughout your day; you stew over the conflicts and resolutions of your killer plot; you adhere to the distinguished literary tradition that came before you, all the while trying to carve out your own path with innovation and originality. Replace all the literary jargon with some cooking terms and you get the picture...

All this to say that I baked a mango and chocolate marble cake today - the marriage of two headstrong ingredients that had no real business being together and would never have found bliss had my imagination not brought them into the same cake tin. 

The bitter-sweet ending to this tale is that the cake is pure goodness. Two of my favourite ingredients kicking it, loving life, but trying to escape my antagonistic appetite.

Ingredients
- 2 cups wholegrain flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1/2 cup sunflower oil
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup mango purée (cut a very ripe, medium-sized mango into small pieces and mash or blend to form a purée)

You'll need two mixing bowls for this recipe, but start off with one and put the other aside for now.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour, sugar, baking powder, ground ginger). Add the almond milk, and sunflower oil to form a nice, thick cake batter. This is the base mixture.

Here's where the second bowl comes in. Pour about a third of the cake batter into the second bowl and put aside. In the first bowl, add the mango purée and mix well to combine.

In the second bowl, add the cocoa powder and mix well to combine.

Take a regular-sized cake tin and lightly grease it with some oil/vegan butter or line with grease-proof paper. Pour the mango batter in first. Then swirl the chocolate batter into it. Use your finger to create a pattern if you want, don't be afraid to get your hands a bit messy here.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Happy eating :)

Monday, 15 April 2013

GARRI COOKIES

This recipe has lingered in my mind for a long time now. Today was the day to finally transform the abstract image of a garri-based cookie into a concrete final product. In all honesty, it turned out a lot better than I thought it would. It's based loosely on the other popular way to eat garri in Nigeria (soaked in water with sugar and groundnut/peanuts) so bear that in mind before you go wondering why anyone would dream of using garri in a sweet instead of savoury recipe. Three reasons to try these out?

1) Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside
2) Healthy but yummy
3) They're different and you've probably never tried a garri cookie before...live a little :)



















Ingredients
(makes 12)
- 1 cup garri
- 1/2 cup oats
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp dried raisins
- 2 tbsp chopped groundnut (peanuts)
- 1/2 cup warm almond milk
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil

Combine all the dry ingredients and oil in a large mixing bowl. Add the almond milk slowly, mixing as you go along until you have a sticky dough. If the mixture seems too dry, go ahead and add a bit more milk. 

Line a baking sheet with some grease-proof paper and use a tablespoon to scoop about 12 rounds of the cookie dough onto it. Use the back of the spoon to flatten the cookie and shape into circles (or whatever shape you want).

Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 6, for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool and harden on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes after baking. Enjoy!


Sunday, 14 April 2013

JOLLOF SURPRISE

This is what happens when you replace the usual red bell pepper with yellow and green pepper in a traditional jollof rice recipe (click here for my previous post). I also threw in a bunch of fresh parsley to jazz things up.

My latest discovery is brown basmati rice, which I used in this recipe - absolutely delicious stuff. You know you're doing something right in the kitchen when the fragrance starts to waft through the entire house. Rivals the euphoric feeling of freshly baked bread.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

GROCERY HAUL #4 + BRIGHT FOOD

It's another week of colourful food with most of the usual stuff. I got some extra mangoes this time around because they were incredible the last time and I've been craving them ever since. I fancy creating some sort of mango dessert this week too..hmm. Also picked up a humongous tin of chickpeas on special offer, and some cauliflower for a change.

I didn't go to my usual fruit & veg place because I spent the whole day in town doing other non-food related things. Then, like some kind of special blessing, I saw this other store open as I made my way back home at 7pm. Literally two seconds away from my usual place (which was closed by then) and still brimming with all this inviting produce. The amazing guy at the store even gave me some free celery and parsley, because I'm just that loveable (OR..they had a bunch of stock left over that they needed to get rid of! OR..trying to bribe me so I can ditch the other place and come back to them! Whatever the reason, I was grateful. Nothing beats a bit of random kindness :) ).




Here are a few meals from the previous week. I like to cook enough to have some leftover for lunch the next day. It's a system that works for me and makes life as a vegan pretty darn easy. And I still can't get over how bright each plate of food looks. 

  

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

NIGERIAN SALAD DRESSING

Spice up any salad with this fiery, fruity salad dressing. An unapologetic taste explosion if I ever did see one... Now there's no excuse to avoid a giant plate of greens.

Ingredients
- Juice of 6 limes
- Juice of 1 large orange
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
- 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
- 1/2 ripe mango (finely chopped)
- 1/4 scotch bonnet pepper (finely chopped)
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 4 tbsp sunflower oil
- Pinch of salt

Sunday, 7 April 2013

NIGERIAN MEAT-LESS PIE

The 'Meat Pie' (cue dramatic music) is probably the king of Nigerian snacks. You know the scenario - you've had a chilled or stressful day out in Lagos, you're heading back home and Mr Bigg's is just at the next roundabout. You stop over to buy a great, big succulent slab of the stuff and wash it down with an ice-cold bottle of coke (or fanta, if you're that way inclined).

I'm proud of my healthy, vegan version of this classic, not only because it looks and tastes great but because it still has the ability to make any kind of day feel that much better.


Ingredients
(serves 2)
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1/2 cup cold water
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup almond milk 

- 1 large potato (diced into cubes)
- 1 carrot (finely chopped)
- 1/2 onion (finely chopped)
- 6 broccoli florets (finely chopped)
- 4 tbsp cooked beans or lentils
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 tsp curry powder
- Salt and pepper to taste

To make the pastry, combine the flour, baking powder, oil and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water a little at a time, kneading constantly until you have a firm but supple dough. If it feels too dry and flaky, add another tablespoon or so of water. If it feels too soft and gooey, throw in a tiny bit more flour. Wrap the dough in clear plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the filling, sautée the finely chopped onions, carrot and broccoli in oil for 5 minutes. Then add the diced potatoes and seasoning ( vegetable stock cube, curry, salt and pepper). Add the water and cooked beans/lentils and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the veggies are soft but still holding their shape (you don't want the mixture to turn mushy).

Take the dough out of the fridge and split it into four equal parts. Roll each part out on a lightly floured surface, forming a flat, round shape.

Spoon enough filling into the centre of each circle and fold over, tucking the edges in to secure the pie. Use a fork to press down on the edges to create the signature meat pie pattern. 

Place the pies on a baking tray covered in grease-proof paper and brush with a little almond milk.

Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 5, for 20-25 minutes.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

BREAKFAST #3 - AVOCADO/TOMATO TOAST

I've heard it said that avocado is nature's butter. And too right. I'm currently obsessed with the stuff and have worked my way through a fair few in the past 4 weeks or so. 
This attractive toast ensemble is now one of my favourite things to have for breakfast. It's the sort of thing you bite into and think to yourself: 'This tastes so flipping amazing, it can't be good for you'. Except that it actually is...

Ingredients
- Wholegrain bread (3 small slices or 1 large slice cut in half)
- 1 small avocado (sliced)
- 1 medium tomato (halved and sliced thinly)
- Sunflower seeds
- Pinch of salt

Toast the bread. Layer on the tomato and avocado slices. Sprinkle each with sunflower seeds and a pinch of salt. 

So simple.

GROCERY HAUL #3

I had to drag myself out of bed this morning to make it to the fruit and veg place before they closed up at 12pm (who closes at 12 ?! Don't know about you but that's when my Saturday's just getting started). Anyway, with 20 minutes to spare, I made my merry way there and gathered some rainbow loot...


















Onions
Red garlic
Carrots (with the leaves still on - Bugs Bunny style)
Cabbage
Broccoli
Mangoes
Vine tomatoes
Yellow peppers (for a change)
Courgettes
Spring onions
Green pepper
Regular potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Endives

Friday, 5 April 2013

BANANA-LIME FRITTERS

A kitchen experiment gone right. These tangy, savoury fritters make great appetizers. Serve this at your next dinner party if you want to impress your friends and family (minus all the hard work...)


















Ingredients
(serves 6)
- 2-3 ripe bananas
- 1 cup wholemeal flour
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 whole lime (for the juice and zest)
- Salt to taste
- Sunflower oil (enough to coat your frying pan)

Place the bananas in a large mixing bowl and mash with a fork or wooden spoon to form a smooth purée.

Add the baking powder, thyme, garlic and grated lime zest, mixing well to combine all the ingredients.

Start to incorporate the flour, adding one tablespoon at a time until you have a thick, sticky batter.

Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan and drop a tiny bit of the batter in. Once it starts to sizzle and turn brown you know your oil is hot enough.

Drop the batter into the oil, one teaspoon at a time. This is finger food so you don't really want them any bigger than a teaspoon size.

You can fry several at a time but make sure the pan doesn't get too crowded. Once they're brown on one side, flip them over and brown the other side.

Drain the fritters on kitchen paper and serve hot with some freshly squeezed lime juice !

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

GINGER & CHILLI SPICED HOT CHOCOLATE

Remember that scene from the movie Chocolat ? The one where Juliette Binoche melts the old lady's stone-cold heart with some spicy hot chocolate? No? Then take a couple of seconds to YouTube 'chocolat movie clip taming the shrew'.

Now, I can't promise that my recipe will cure any stony hearts any time soon, but it sure tastes good. A bit like drinking chocolate silk, with a wickedly hot kick to keep things interesting. And before you wrinkle your nose at the idea of chocolate and chilli even appearing in the same sentence, I urge you to give it a try.

Ingredients
- 1 glass almond milk
- 2 tbsp organic 100% cocoa powder
- fresh ginger (about the size of your thumb)
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder
- Sugar to taste (optional)



Place the almond milk in a plastic container and grate the fresh ginger into it. Cover with the plastic lid and refrigerate for 30 min - 1 hr.

Heat the almond milk/ginger infusion in a small saucepan, bringing to a steady boil on medium heat or until the milk gets frothy around the edges.

Add 2 level tablespoons of cocoa powder, then add the nutmeg, cinnamon and chilli powder. Stir continuously for 2-3 minutes to dissolve completely.

Serve hot, using a small tea strainer to separate the bits of grated ginger.

Monday, 1 April 2013

VEGAN ICE CREAM

Traffic in Lagos city was the golden opportunity for street hawkers to sell their goods to tired, hungry and mostly frustrated travellers. It was also the golden opportunity for tired, hungry and (not so frustrated) kids to bag a snack or two. Now, I loved sweets and biscuits and unnatural-looking sausage rolls as much as the next kid, but my thing was fresh fruit. One look at the bananas on sale and you just knew that they'd been picked from a tree that same morning (give or take...). Imperfect and mottled as they were, nothing could beat the rich, sweet taste - much unlike the plastic, tasteless variety that exist in a few shops I could mention. There was an art to eating the fruit too. I'd eat around the edge and pretend that the soft, gooey centre was ice cream. What can I say, some conjured up imaginary friends, I conjured up imaginary food. Anyway, it turns out that I was on to something all those years ago.

Here is the one-ingredient, dairy-free, scarily accurate replica of creamy, indulgent ice cream. And once again, there is a little bit of an art to getting it just right!


















Ingredients
(serves 4)
- 4 ripe bananas
- Topping of your choice (dark chocolate chips? chopped pecans? organic maple syrup? Go wild...)

Cut the bananas into small pieces and freeze in a plastic container for 2-3 hours. 

Place the frozen banana pieces in a food processor and blend. Watch in awe as the mixture turns creamy (the consistency of whipped, swirly ice cream).

Scoop into a bowl and serve with your favourite toppings.

WARM BULGUR SALAD

First time actually trying bulgur and I'm a big fan. It reminds me of brown rice but cooks in almost half the time, has a light, nutty taste and is extremely versatile. After digging around for a few nutritional facts, I also discovered that 1 cup of the whole-grain contains up to 8 g of fibre and 6 g of protein.


Ingredients
(serves 2)
- 1 cup bulgur 
- 1 large carrot (chopped)
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1/2 head of broccoli 
- 1 small red onion (chopped)
- 1 small bunch spinach leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh almonds
- 1/4 cup sultanas
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- Salt and pepper to taste

Start by preparing the bulgur - boil in salted water for 10 minutes, take off the heat and leave to rise for a further 5 minutes.

Boil or steam the broccoli and carrots until soft and set aside.

In a frying pan, sauté the onions, garlic and pepper in sunflower oil for a couple of minutes, then add the spinach, sultanas, almonds and ground ginger. Cook for another 7-8 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the cooked broccoli and carrots towards the end. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve warm on a bed of cooked bulgur.