Saturday 14 December 2019

Plantain Lentil Shepherd's Pie

Following on from last week's hibiscus poached apple cheesecake recipe, here is the main dish that was served at the workshop I catered.

It's winter here in the U.K. and comfort food is the order of the day. Shepherd's pie (also known as cottage pie) is traditionally a meat based pie with a mashed potato crust/topping. I was drawn to making a vegan version, and at first considered using sweet potatoes instead of regular white potatoes for the topping. But then I thought that it was only right to put a proper spin on it. It wasn't a long stretch for my brain to travel from sweet potatoes to sweet plantains. (Have you seen how obsessed with plantains I am??) And so this little number was born.

Underneath the layers of delectably soft and crispy sliced plantain is a rich sauce that I loaded with green lentils, mushrooms, carrots, sweetcorn and red onion. There's a healthy kick thanks to the addition of scotch bonnet and the whole thing pays homage to a traditional Nigerian red stew.

I hope you're inspired to try this recipe out for yourself. If you do, please share it online and tag @vegannigerian. It'll put the biggest smile on my face :)

(Serves 8-10)
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp sunflower or coconut oil
- 1 red onion (chopped)
- 200g chestnut mushrooms (roughly diced)
- 4 large carrots (diced)
- 100g sweetcorn
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 500g cooked green lentils
- 4 stalks green onions (chopped)
- 3 yellow (ripe) plantains

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.

2. Rinse the plantains thoroughly and cut off the tops and tails. Make a shallow slit down one side of each plantain then cut each plantain (with the skin still on) into three large pieces. Place the pieces in a pot of boiling water and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the plantain softens. Drain and set aside.

3. Place the chopped tomatoes, red bell pepper, scotch bonnet pepper and garlic cloves in a food blender and mix until smooth.

4. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add the chopped onions, mushrooms, carrots and sweetcorn. Sauté for about 5 minutes.

5. Add the blended tomato/pepper mix to the saucepan and season with curry powder, thyme and a dash of salt.

6. In a small bowl, mix the cornflour with about 4-5 tablespoons of water to form a runny paste. Add it to the saucepan and stir well to combine. This will help the sauce to thicken.

7. Allow the sauce to simmer on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add the cooked lentils and half of the chopped spring onions. Stir to combine. Transfer the filling to a large oven dish.

8. The plantain should be cool enough to handle now. Peel each piece and slice each one into thick rounds. Arrange the plantain rounds over the top of the filling to cover the entire oven dish.

9. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. The top of the plantain should brown nicely and if not, you can pop it under the grill for 1-2 minutes for a crispier finish.

10. Serve piping hot with the rest of the spring onions sprinkled on top for garnish. Goes great with a fresh side salad and wholewheat bread rolls.

If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Plantain Mosa
- Plantain Flatbread
- Plantain and Chickpea Curry
- Water Fried Plantain

Monday 9 December 2019

Hibiscus Poached Apple Cheesecake | Gluten-Free, No-Bake, No Refined Sugar

Gosh, it's been a hot minute since I've made a vegan cheesecake. When I worked as a chef at a raw/vegan restaurant back in 2016, we made these virtually every other day. The flavours tended to be the same - strawberry or zesty lemon or mixed berries. We went through more bags of cashews and dates and coconut than you could possibly imagine.

A small part of me is a little fearful of no-bake vegan cheesecakes, mainly because there's always a small chance that it won't set properly or the filling will be too grainy. With the experience I have of making them though, I've picked up a few key tips that I'll be sharing throughout this post so that you can avoid any major pitfalls and kitchen fails.

This particular cheesecake was made for a workshop run by my friend Joy of Joy At Large. Having frozen the cheesecake the day before (in order for it to set completely), I'd left it out that morning so that it could thaw by the time we were ready to serve it. When I did cut into it, it was way softer than I would have liked. Still delicious and creamy but a tad too soft. And then it all came flooding back to me that you really aren't supposed to pull it out of the freezer until about 20-30 minutes before you need to serve it. Ergo, tip number one: always store the cheesecake in the freezer until you're ready to eat it!

In terms of the flavour, well, I've been having a whale of a time scoffing stewed and spiced apples for breakfast lately, so I decided to keep that running theme going. If you don't want to use apples, other fruit like pear, pineapple and even mango could work just as well. I chose to poach the apples in hibiscus because I knew the colour would be striking and also because hibiscus (also known as zobo) is used a lot in Nigeria. Zobo refers to a sweetened hibiscus beverage (I really must share a recipe for it one of these days). Paired with the fresh mint leaves, the remand green of this dessert screams festive Christmas.

The beauty of this cheesecake is that my Nigerian readers can make it. No unusual or niche ingredients that you can only buy from some obscure shop in the heart of London. The only ingredient that might seem like an obstacle is the maple syrup (used in place of refined sugar to add natural sweetness). If you're worried about where to find maple syrup, I found a Nigerian online store that stocks it. They even have date syrup which can be used as a substitute. If you're Lagos-based then shops like Fig Health Store in Lekki is also a great place to look.

The creamy filling of the cheesecake is a combination of soaked cashews and dairy-free yoghurt (or coconut cream). The cashews need to be soaked at least overnight because this helps with the creaminess and prevents that grainy, bitty texture I was alluding to earlier. You'll need a high-powered blender to achieve a smooth finish, but otherwise just make sure to blend for a long enough time until there are no large chunks and bits.

The crust is made with raisins, desiccated coconut and walnuts. Again, you can afford to make substitutions depending on the ingredients that are more readily available to you. instead of raisins, you can use dates or sultanas. Instead of walnuts, you can use peanuts or cashews. You can even make your own desiccated coconut by grated and drying fresh coconut. You get the picture. A food processor works best to break down the ingredients - a food blender will make it too mushy and smooth.

I used a 9 inch springform tin like this one, but you can also use a round, shallow cake tin if that's what you have at home.

If you do try this recipe, please let me know. Tag your photos @vegannigerian or #vegannigerian on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to get a repost! :)

If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Vegan Banoffee Pie
- Mango Cream Dessert
- Bounty Chocolate Bars

Hibiscus Poached Apple Cheesecake

(Serves 8-10)
For the crust:
- 200g desiccated coconut
- 200g raisins or dates
- 100g walnuts (or other type of nut)

For the filling:
- 300g unsalted cashew nuts (soaked in water overnight then drained)
- 250ml dairy-free yoghurt or thick coconut cream
- 100ml maple syrup (or other fruit syrup)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg

For the poached apples
- 3 tbsp dried hibiscus flower
- 250ml water
- 2 large apples (peeled and cut into thick segments)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 4 tbsp maple syrup (or other fruit syrup)

- Fresh mint leaves

Make the crust by blending all the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture comes together like a sticky dough.

Press the crust into a lined springform tin. Use clean fingers to distribute the crust evenly, allowing it to come up around the sides.

Make the filling by placing all the ingredients in a blender and mixing until very smooth. Tip: add the yoghurt/cream and maple syrup first as this will help the cashews blend better.

Add the filling to the prepared crust and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Place in the freezer overnight to firm up completely.

To make the poached apples, add the dried hibiscus flower and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. The water should turn a deep, dark red colour. Strain to remove the hibiscus flowers and return the liquid to the pan. Add the apple segments, along with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and boil on high heat for about 3 minutes until the apples take on the red colour. Remove the apples from the liquid and set aside.

Add the maple syrup to the hibiscus liquid and allow to boil on high heat until it reduces and forms a thick syrup. (I forgot to time this part, but just keep an eye on it and stir periodically to check how thick the syrup is getting). Remove from the heat and add the apple segments back in, stirring gently to coat all the pieces.

Bring the cheesecake out 20-30 minutes before serving. Gently pop it out of the springform tin and top with the hibiscus poached apples. Drizzle on the hibiscus syrup for extra colour and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Stewed Apples | Festive Vegan Breakfast Idea

Spiced apples that have been stewed to perfection in under 15 minutes? Yes!

This easy vegan breakfast recipe idea is perfect for the festive season. The aroma of the cinnamon and nutmeg will leave your home smelling like freshly baked apple pies (without the hassle of baking...)

Who needs scented candles when you have these spices filling the air?

- 3 apples (any variety - I used gala)
- 100ml water
- 1-2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- Freshly grated ginger
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
- Toppings of your choice (coconut flakes, granola or more fruit!)

Chop the apples into bite-size pieces. Leave the skin on for extra fibre.

Add the water to a saucepan and throw in the chopped apples, along with the cinnamon, nutmeg and as much fresh grated ginger as you care for (I aim for about 1 tablespoon usually). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the water bubbles and gets a little bit syrupy.

Prepare your toppings. I like to add berries for skin-friendly antioxidants and ground flaxseeds for my daily helping of omega-3. Be creative with yours. Nuts and seeds work particularly well too.

Spoon the stewed apples into a bowl and finish off with the toppings of your choice.