Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Peanut Butter

a vegan spread

For the 80% raw, 20% cooked food vegan that I am, this, my dear friends, is the epitome of comfort cooked food.  This tops the list!  I eat so much of it so I had to learn to make it myself--if not for economic reasons, then for convenience and sheer awesomeness!  Any why not?  It's simple and you can be absolutely sure there aren't any nasty and harmful substances in it.

I had a conversation with my Dutch friend, Dominik, a few days ago about how I make my own peanut butter.  He asked if I had posted a recipe on my food blog but then I hadn't at the time so I just gave him the instructions.  This posting is for the sake of pictures and for the benefit of the rest of the world.

Hey, Dominik, enjoy making your own peanut butter from now on!

peanut butter
Presenting: My home made peanut butter... and my Chinese visa papers? Hahaha!
I made just a small batch for photographic purposes since I still have a half-full jar in my fridge good for the rest of the week.  This recipe, though, will be good for about a 150-millilitre mason jar.

You will need:
- 2 cups of raw peanuts (off the shells, of course, but skin on or off doesn't matter to me) 
- 2 tablespoons of peanut oil or coconut oil (I use virgin coconut oil.) 
- 1 tablespoon (more or less or none) of agave nectar/maple syrup/honey/sugar 
- ½ teaspoon of salt

To make peanut butter:
1.  You may begin by dry roasting the peanuts or frying them in the coconut oil.  Up to you.  This takes about 5 minutes over low heat, with constant stirring to ensure even cooking. 
2.  Drop everything in a food processor along with all your other ingredients and blend for about 2 minutes or until you achieve the desired consistency.  (Because I only made a tiny batch, I used a coffee grinder instead of a food processor.  It works, too.)

NOTE:  To make chunky peanut butter, reserve a tablespoon of peanuts before blending and add them in afterwards, blending for only 20 seconds to make sure you get chunks.

ANOTHER NOTE:  After making your base peanut butter (i.e. the recipe above), you can take it to the next level by adding cocoa powder or cinnamon or vanilla.  You can even apply this recipe using other nuts like cashew and almond to make other types of nut butter.

Home made peanut butter
Peanuts frying - skin on

peanut butter
blending in a coffee grinder

peanut butter
Voila!  It's fluid at this point because it's hot but it'll turn viscous when it cools.
Those are green tomatoes from my mother's farm in the background.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Vegetable Paella

a vegan dish

I actually cooked this traditional Valencian dish a while back but my companions and I were so hungry that I wasn't able to take pictures of it before we devoured what was in the pan.  Also, what I cooked before had broccoli which turned out not to be a very good idea.  It was tasty but not quite as good as what I just made and took photos of for this recipe entry.

If you cook it right, you (and your guests, if you have guests) will almost certainly be moaning while eating it.

Vegan Paella
Paella - the finished product

If you follow this recipe strictly, granting that this is the only food item eaten for a meal, you will be able to feed:

- 3 regular sized people,
- 2 hungry tall people, or
- 1 very hungry vegan

You will need:
- 1 whole onion (may be large, may be medium, or none—depending on how much you like onions), chopped  
- 1 ½ cup of mushrooms, chopped (Mine were shiitake but you may use any kind you like—preferably ones with considerable umbrellas, considerable size and not very long stems.), fresh is best 
- 1 cup of pumpkin, roughly chopped (You may use any kind of squash such as zucchini.) 
- 1 cup of bell pepper, julienned (Red and yellow are preferred over green.) 
- 4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped 
- 5 medium sized tomatoes, grated, finely chopped or pulsed to bits in a food processor 
- 1 cup of rice (preferably short grain like arborio rice, bomba rice, calasparra rice or those in the Japonica variety that are not very sticky) 
- 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme (½ teaspoon if dried) 
- 5 leaves of fresh rosemary, ripped to bits (Use only 1 small pinch if it's dried.  Be careful not to use too much since rosemary can be a very overpowering herb.) 
- a lot of olive oil (Just have a bottle ready as it is added almost arbitrarily.) 
- 2 cups of water 
- ½ teaspoon of saffron strands 
- salt for seasoning

Traditionally, this dish is cooked on a large flat pan over a wood-fuelled fire.  This recipe, however, is scaled down to feed 3 people so a considerably big flat frying pan over a conventional stove will do just fine as long as you make absolute certain that there are no Valencian people hanging around nearby.  They will scream at you if they catch sight of you not doing it the age-old, time-tested way.

Now, make sure you use proper judgement when cooking this dish.  If you're an absolute novice, I recommend that you drag along someone with considerable knowledge to help you because the process is rather intricate and imprecise.  However, please note that the order in which the ingredients go into the pan must be abided by.

Let's make vegan paella:
1.  Heat your pan and pour in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  You don't have to be precise.  You can add more. 
2.  Maintain medium to medium-low heat and drop in your onions.  Sauté for about 30 seconds. 
3.  Add the mushrooms and sauté for about a minute. 
4.  Add a couple of small pinches of salt to bring the liquid out of the mushrooms.  
5.  Add the bell pepper and sauté for another minute. 
6.  At this stage you will want to add about 2 more tablespoons of olive oil.  Don't worry about precision because as a Spanish lady once told me, "You can never go wrong with too much olive oil in a paella."  
7.  Add the squash and sauté for a minute. 
8.  Stir in your rosemary and thyme. 
9.  Add another small pinch of salt and stir the pan for about a minute. 
10.  Sweep the vegetables to the sides and empty the centre of the pan. 
11.  Add a teaspoon of olive oil. 
12.  Drop in your garlic and sauté on its own for 1 minute. 
13.  Stir everything together to mix. 
14.  Add in your rice plus 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and stir. 
15.  Stir continuously for about 4-5 minutes.  This is done so the rice absorbs the flavours of the vegetables.  Add olive oil (about a tablespoon or 2) if needed. 
16.  Stir in your tomatoes in thirds for about a minute each. 
17.  Add in about 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. 
18.  Add in another pinch of salt and stir continuously for about 3 minutes. 
19.  Pour in your water.  You used a cup of rice so you add 2 cups of water.  Your standard measurement for water is twice the volume of rice.  First stir in a cup and mix for 2 minutes, and then stir in your second cup. 
20.  Add in your saffron strands and stir to mix everything well. 
21.  Stir continuously for 2 minutes and then taste the broth.  Season with more salt as needed.  Make sure you don't over season as the taste will become more defined when some of the liquid evaporates.  However, since most of it will be absorbed by the rice grains, make sure to season well.  Use wise judgement (or, if you're a kitchen novice, consult that friend of yours who knows a thing or two about the basics of cooking). 
22.  Level your paella so that it is distributed evenly throughout the pan.  Maintain a medium-low to low fire. 
23.  Leave it cooking for about 15 minutes (about 7 minutes covered and 8 or more minutes uncovered).  Allow a bit more time to cook until the rice is thoroughly done (as in, the grains don't crunch when you bite into them) and the paella is no longer swimming in broth.  While cooking, periodically check the bottom by rubbing it gently with a spatula or spoon to be sure it's not burnt.  However avoid stirring your pan because you want the paella to settle.
24.  Turn off the heat and allow the paella to cool for at least 3 to 5 minutes. 
25.  Serve on its own or with a drizzle of lemon.  I like mine with some chopped fresh coriander.

Note:  You know you did it right if the rice caramelises a little at the bottom of the pan without burning.  Photo below.

vegetable paella
right after stirring in the Japonica rice

vegan paella
halfway done, right before leaving to cook for 15 minutes

vegan paella
The encircled parts are some of the areas where the rice caramelised at the bottom of the pan.  In Spain, it is called socarrat, and it is said that people would kill to eat this part.  Figurative language, of course. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Mixed Vegetables Soup

a vegan soup

This is my way of educating people on the basics of soup making.  Anyone can make soup but the question of taste is always a concern.  In this recipe, I will explain the rudiments of how to adjust ingredients and what the basics are to making it work.

vegan soup
right before cooking

This particular recipe will give you a bowl good for 2 people (eating only this dish as a full meal) but you can adjust it proportionately so you can make more.

There are various kinds of soup and a wide variety of ingredients you can use.  For this one, I used:
- 2 standard-sized potatoes 
- 3 medium tomatoes 
- 1 cup of chopped broccoli head 
- 1 cup of chopped broccoli stalk (without the hard outer layer) 
- 2 whole onions, roughly cut 
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed 
- 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram (oregano) leaves 
- water 
- salt and black pepper for seasoning (after cooking)

Tools necessary are a sauce pan and a food processor or blender.

The process is very simple:  Put all ingredients in a sauce pan; add a couple of pinches of salt; cover with about 3 to 4 cups of water (depending on how viscous or fluid you want it); bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  After simmering, transfer to a food processor or blender and pulse to liquefy.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then serve.

simmering vegan soup

vegan soup
served with a garnish of cooked chopped broccoli head

Depending on the available ingredients and your taste buds' preference, you can adjust what the soup contains.  For example:  You can use just one onion or half.  You can use only one or two tomatoes, or five if it pleases you.  You can omit the marjoram or use thyme.  Better yet, add coriander and parsley.  You can omit the broccoli and use pumpkin instead.  The possibilities are endless.  Just don't go crazy.

If something isn't desirable eaten in a salty scenario, don't use it—or if you have to use it, don't use too much.  Take carrots, for instance.  It's a good vegetable but I think it makes soup cloying if you use a lot.  Don't use too much of ingredients that are strong unless they have a necessary appeal like tomatoes.  They are lovely and most of us wouldn't mind a lot of them in soup.  Heck, you can even make them your primary ingredient.  Onions, as well, are great—as in French onion soup.  More than three cloves of garlic, however, in a bowl of soup that serves two people, is not very palatable.

Your choice of herbs will affect the taste, too.  Coriander, marjoram, thyme and parsley are great for soups.  You can add lots of parsley and coriander but not really thyme and marjoram.  They're very imposing.  So are other herbs like tarragon, basil, mint, rosemary and sage.  While they are acceptable in small quantities, they might give you the feeling that you're drinking an infusion rather than eating soup if you use too much.

Experimentation is necessary in the art of soup making.  You'll find that the more mistakes you make, the more you get better.  Mistakes are how I came up with these guidelines.  Make soup making a habit and you'll get the hang of it as the days come by.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


a vegan sauce

To be completely honest, although I do consume a fair amount of Tahini, I'm not a huge fan of it on its own.  The real reason I make it is so I could then proceed to making hummus—an awesome Middle Eastern food item that requires it.

Hummus is actually the Arabic term for chickpeas.  What we're dealing with here is called ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna in Arabic—meaning hummus with tahini.  It is the non-sweet cousin of peanut butter that is commonly consumed in the region where Jesus Christ and Mohammed lived.  Whether or not you adhere to an Abrahamic religion, you'll probably love this.

Following this recipe will fill up a standard peanut butter jar or, in my case, again, a plastic container.

You will need:
- 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, as they are otherwise called) 
- 2 tablespoons of tahini 
- 1 clove or garlic (or 2, depending on the kick you want in it) 
- ½ cup of the stock from cooking the chickpeas 
- 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (or lime juice) 
- 1 teaspoon of salt (or ½, depending on the strength of your salt) 
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil

To make it, just blend all the ingredients in a food processor until you come up with a smooth paste.

Serve with a light sprinkle of ground black pepper and paprika and a good drizzle of olive oil.


a vegan sauce

I've been playing with Middle Eastern vegan food over the last couple of days and, really, one can't function well in such a field without Tahini.  It's actually Tahina, if you're gonna be strict about its Arabic pronunciation, by the way.

Following this recipe will fill up a small jar or, in my case, plastic container.

You will need:
- 2 cups of sesame seeds 
- 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil (preferably extra virgin olive oil because it is cold pressed and raw) 
- water if necessary

There are two ways to go about this:  Raw or roasted.  I personally prefer raw because I think it's healthier but roasting is traditional so I'm not adverse to it.  There are two attitudes you receive this food item with—you either like it or you don't—and raw or roasted won't make much of a difference.  Either way, you'll be needing a good food processor or high speed blender (Vitamix or Blendtec are the best brands).

Let's make Tahini:
1.  (For raw)  Soak your sesame seeds in water overnight.  This is done so the seeds become easier to digest in their raw state.  Drain afterwards. 
1.  (For traditional)  Roast your dry sesame seeds in a pan, just long enough for oil to start coming out of them.  Toss or stir the seeds continuously to make sure they are evenly heated.  Make sure they do not turn brown.  They may turn yellow—even goldish—but never darker than that.  Dark seeds will give you a very bitter tahini and, properly made, this food item is already slightly bitter to begin with. 
2.  Blend or process the seeds with the oil until it turns into a smooth paste.  Add a bit of water—a tablespoon at a time—if you find it difficult to blend.  Don't add too much, though, as you don't want it to become too fluid.  You want considerable viscosity in your final product.

Note:  The extra water is not necessary if your blender or food processor is powerful enough or if you have the patience to smoosh it down every five seconds.  You may even forgo the oil if you feel you don't need it.  The sesame seeds are rich in oil so all that the extra oil really does is help with the fluidity but it's not absolutely necessary.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Heavenly Chocolate Brownies

a vegan cake (or whatever category brownies fall under)

Today, I had the strongest urge to bake brownies but the last time I made them, I was still lacto-ovo.  Now that I'm vegan, though, I didn't know if flax or banana would work as an egg substitute.  As it turned out, they're absolutely perfect.  I made mine using a banana.  Flax, I read upon doing research, is a better substitute but I don't have any at the moment so I settled for the fruit-based alternative.

If you follow the recipe strictly, you will come up with half a party platter.

You will need:
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour 
- 1¼ cup of agave nectar or honey if you're okay with it (Adjust sweetness by adding or subtracting a tablespoon or two) 
- 1 unit of banana-based egg alternative OR 2 units of flax seed-based egg alternative 
- 200 grams of dark chocolate, melted (Melt using the double boil method or microwave.) 
- 1 cup of liquefied virgin coconut oil 
- 1 cup of water 
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract 
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder 
- 1 teaspoon of salt

Let's get baking:
1.  Preheat your oven to 350°F or 175°C. 
2.  In a mixing bowl, mix your agave nectar, egg alternative, water, vanilla extract, baking powder and salt. 
3.  Thoroughly mix your coconut oil and your melted chocolate.  You may use a pan over low heat or a double boiler to do this. 
4.  Pour the chocolate and oil mixture into the mixing bowl.  Throw in the flour and mix well for about a minute, preferably using a mixer but a whisk will do. 
5.  Lightly grease a baking tray (23cm x 34cm or 9" x 13") and line the surface and sides with baking paper. 
6.  Pour your brownie mix onto the tray and bake for 30-35 minutes. 
7.  Check if it's done using a cocktail stick or toothpick (i.e. it should come out clean when poked).  If done, take it out of the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting to squares. 
8.  Serve heaven.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Refried Beans

a vegan sauce

I made bean stew and soaked way too much beans for the folks in the house to consume in a single sitting.  They were beginning to sprout in the bowl so I had to do something with them and I didn't want to make the same dish again.  I remember my vegan friend, Chef Marla (who now resides in Bali), brought refried beans at a dinner party we were in.  I particularly relished that stuff so I made some myself!

It kind of looks like peanut butter, doesn't it?  If you make it without the spices, reduce the salt and use a sweetener (e.g. honey or agave nectar), it's actually going to taste a lot like peanut butter.


This recipe makes a bowl good for I don't know how many people.

You will need:
- 1 cup of dried beans 
- 3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped 
- ½ medium sized onion, coarsely chopped 
- ½ teaspoon of marjoram (dried or fresh) 
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil 
- salt and pepper for seasoning 
- water

To make it:
1-3.  Soak the beans on 4 cups of water overnight.  
1.  Add beans to 4 cups of boiling water.  
2.  Bring back to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.  
3.  After 5 minutes, turn the heat off; put the lid on and leave for 2 hours to cool.  
4.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  
5.  Put the beans back in a pan and cover it well with water.  Make sure the water lever is about an inch above the beans. 
6.  Add garlic, onion, marjoram and 2 pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper and bring to the boil.  
7.  When it comes to the boil, bring the heat to low.  Cover with a lid and simmer for 2 hours to tenderise the beans.  Check periodically to make sure the water does not dry up. 
8.  Drain the water out. 
9.  Heat your olive oil in a pan over low heat. 
10.  Drop in a cup of beans at a time and mash it with a masher. 
11.  Add water to increase fluidity--about ¼ cup or more based on your judgement--just not too much. 
9-11.  Put beans with olive oil and ¼ cup of water in a food processor and blend away. 
12.  When all the beans have been mashed to perfection, check seasoning and serve.