Meat Free Monday: Lentil Moong Dal

The first time I had dal (or dhal, never sure how to spell it) I hated it!  I was at a fancy restaurant where they served up mushy, flavourless stuff that was like yellow mash potato!

The second time I had it, I was at a Nepalese restaurant (the Yak and Yeti Gurkha Restaurant, York, loads of vegan options and very good value for money) and it was wonderful.

Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.
Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.

I went home and did a few experiments before landing on my own lentil dhal recipe, something delicate but tasty:

1. Yellow mung dhal (moong daal) lentils.  I buy the ones that don’t need to be soaked.

2. Fresh (chopped) or dried coriander (aka cilantro) (2 tsp)

3. Bhuna or balti paste (a tablespoon is ample), or if you can’t find the paste, use a quarter of a jar of the sauce instead.  Patak’s do a nice one.

Get a fine meshed sieve and wash your mung dhal lentils until they are clumping together – this removes some of the starch.

Pop them into a saucepan and cover with boiling water.  Add a teaspoon of coriander (cilantro).  Simmer for about 30-50 minutes, depending on how mushy you want it.

When it has softened enough, drain and add the bhuna paste or sauce (or balti), and stir it into the dhal, stirring in the rest of the coriander (cilantro).  Leave on a very low heat for at least 10 minutes so the flavour penetrates the lentils.  Stir regularly so it doesn’t burn the bottom of the pan.

Serve in a bowl, either on its own or with rice.

Nutrition: Gluten free, dairy free, 80g of moong dal lentils are one of your five a day (and a separate one to regular lentils because they come from different species of plant), 30g of protein per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils and 45g of carbohydrate per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils.

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Meat Free Monday: The King Of “Cheese” Sauces

Okay guys.  We’ve been building up to this for three weeks.  Today I share with you the ultimate vegan cheese sauce recipe, the one that you’ll want to make every time you do cheese sauce.  This is advanced sauce making.  It’s the one you can feed your parents and they’ll have no clue that there was no dairy in it.  The one you can use for vegan macaroni cheese, vegan cauliflower cheese or to do the top sauce for a vegan lasagna (leave out the “cheese” if you prefer a white sauce lasagna).

cheese sauce1

It requires the full arsenal of ingredients, but I make it a one-pan meal by cooking my broccoli or pasta in the pan, draining that then using the same pan to do the sauce.

You can measure the ingredients, but I don’t bother because it’s far more important to get a feel for how the ingredients interact with one another, and anyway, it utterly depends on how much sauce you want to make.  As long as there’s a good dollop of each ingredient in its packaging, you’ll be fine.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Equipment: Saucepan, butter or table knife, fine meshed sieve, fork, spoon (also: cheese grater if you’re not using cheese slices and wide meshed sieve as well if you need to get rid of lumps and don’t have a hand blender).

Ingredients:

1. Vegan butter.  I am currently preferring the Pure Soya spread.

2. Flour.  Recipe books always say to use plain flour for sauces, but I use self raising because I don’t “cook” (as in, make recipes that are nutritionally void and generally require some sort of flour) enough to have two types of flour in the house, and usually what I cook is cake, so self raising is just more useful to me and it’s never made a difference to my cheese sauces.  If it matters so much use plain flour.

3. Soy milk.  I haven’t tried it with other dairy free milk but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work, although rice milk is very watery.  I use unsweetened soy milk.

4. Either grated vegan cheese (e.g. Tesco soya medium, Cheezly, Scheeze block cheese or Violife block cheese) or slices of Violife, torn into small pieces (don’t kill yourself, it’s still gonna melt if it’s big pieces).

5. Something you want to cover in cheese sauce.  I go for pasta, cauliflower or broccoli, but it’s entirely up to you.

Method:

1. With a knife, get a dollop of butter and put it in the pan.  I use a small non-stick pan so there’s nowhere for lumps to hide later on.

2. Put the heat on a high medium (electric 4, or gas 20 past, with highest being half past if your cooker knob was a clock).

3. As the butter turns to a puddle but BEFORE it bubbles, grab a fine meshed sieve and pour a bit of flour in there.  You want a 1:1 ratio of flour to butter,

4. Stir continuously with a fork until you’ve got little balls of flour stuck together with butter, in a slightly orangey colour (not brown, that’s burnt, if it went brown, start again).

The flour and butter should look like this.
The flour and butter should look like this.

5. VERY gradually add the milk:  Add a dollop, mix it together until it’s starting to form a thick liquid then add more milk, never stop stirring and never add loads of milk all at once.  If your sauce goes lumpy, it’s because you added the milk too quickly or didn’t stir out all the lumps.  Squash any solid lumps with a fork as you’re doing this.

This is lumpy and watery.  Keep stirring out the lumps and don't add any more milk until this has started to thicken.
This is lumpy and watery. Keep stirring out the lumps and don’t add any more milk until this has started to thicken.

6. Stop adding milk once your sauce is a nice thick sauce-like consistency.  Remember you want it to cling to the pasta or broccoli, not slide off.

7. Add the cheese and stir it in until it’s all melted.

This has thickened and has had the cheese added and is ready to serve.  Or add more cheese if you prefer.
This has thickened and has had the cheese added and is ready to serve. Or add more cheese if you prefer.  Or get rid of any lumps (see below).

8. If your sauce is super lumpy, as mine was (usually when I used dairy free Vitalite to do this), you have two options. Either use a wider meshed sieve (if you have one, the sort that you couldn’t drain quinoa through, but you could drain rice through) or a hand blender.

Lump Removal Method 1: With the sieve, get the bowl ready, put the sieve over it (bowl must be wider than sieve, unless you tilt the sieve so all the sauce falls from one place, or you will have cheese sauce everywhere), pour the cheese sauce into the sieve, and wait for the sauce to drain out, then throw away the lumps that are left.

Lump Removal Method 2: With a hand blender, leave the sauce in the pan and just blend out the lumps.  It usually thickens when you do this (because the lumps are the flour and butter that is also the thickener that gives the sauce its consistency).  If it’s too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

9. Use the spoon to get all the sauce out of the pan and enjoy that sauce!  If you’ve made too much, put the rest in a separate bowl in the fridge and enjoy it again tomorrow.

A note on cleaning: Get that pan straight under water if you’re not washing up before you eat.  That stuff can set really quickly.

A note on nutrition: Add a handful of peanuts for protein, and boiled kale for 5 a day if you’re putting this with pasta.

A note on gluten: This DOES work with GF flour, although it tends to require the usual liquid adjustments – but this is another reason why I didn’t give measurements, so just add liquid until it reaches the right consistency.  The chemistry of this recipe is exactly the same.

So there you have it.  The ultimate cheese sauce recipe.  If you were into your cooking before you became vegan, you may notice this is the standard white sauce + cheese recipe, and I’ve fully explained it so you can avoid all the pitfalls I have made with this recipe over the ten years I’ve been making it.

What will you eat yours with?  Do you have any better cheese sauce recipes?  Let me know in the comments!

Meat Free Monday: More Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipes

Given how well my first two cheese sauce recipes went down last week, here’s two more.  They’re a bit more complicated but I’ve made pasta and cheese in all of these methods and can vouch for the fact that it will scratch an itch, even if it’s not remotely nutritious (more advice on making this meal more nutritious at the bottom).  Some of these are more realistic than others, as a general rule of thumb, the harder it is to make, the more realistic it comes out, so it’s up to you how much effort to expend in making vegan cheese sauce.  I oscillate – sometimes I don’t care enough to take any time and other times I’m spending half an hour on that perfect vegan cheese sauce recipe and smoothing out lumps with my hand blender (that’s a pro-tip, btw).  It all depends on how hungry or rushed I am vs how much I miss cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce 3. Using vegan cream cheese, method C:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

About 1 tablespoon of cornflour.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like.

3. Add the cornflour (sieving it into the pan with a fine mesh sieve is the best way to avoid lumps, but work with what you’ve got) and combine well with a fork.

4. Once the sauce has reached the right consistency, serve it all up – put the pasta in bowls and pour the sauce over the top.

Cheese sauce 4. Using vegan cheese slices, vegan cheese sauce method D:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 3-4 dairy free cheese slices per person (Tofutti or Violife are the UK brand leaders),

Method:

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Put the pasta back into the pan. Tear the cheese slices up and drop them into the pan.

3. On a medium heat, stir the cheese slices into the pasta. Need it cheesier? Add more cheese!

4. Serve it in the right number of bowls and eat it.

Nutrition: To make these more nutritious, use cauliflower or broccoli (or some of both) instead of pasta.  I like to also throw in a serving of frozen or fresh peas to ensure there’s some colour on my plate.  A handful of peanuts will help you achieve your day’s protein goals.  I strongly recommend you don’t use lentils – they don’t work well in this sauce.

You can make any of my recipes gluten-free by subbing the pasta for GF pasta.

Stay tuned for next Monday when I will put up the all-singing all-dancing Oven Baked Vegan Mac-N-Cheese Recipe that you will want to get your hands on.

Meat Free Monday: Mac and Cheese Recipes 1 and 2

Pasta and “Cheese” Sauce

Before I developed a milk allergy, my favourite food was mac and cheese, although I would make it with lots of different shapes and sizes of pasta (one of my favourites was pasta shells, because they suck up the sauce). Since I’ve been dairy free, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make pasta or macaroni and cheese.

The one way I absolutely DO NOT recommend is the “vegan” “cheese sauce” that comes in a tub from the supermarket/health food store. It’s a crime against vegetables. It literally tastes like someone threw some herbs in a pan then threw up on it.

Over the next three weeks, I will present several alternative pasta and cheese ideas, leading up to the all-singing, all-dancing “proper” one with a roux and everything; today’s two recipes are the simplest, and both use vegan cream cheese:

1. Using vegan cream cheese, method A:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

1. Cook the pasta and drain.  Gluten free pasta takes much less time than wheat pasta as it doesn’t have to soften the gluten protein.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of vegan cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like. If it’s too thin, add more cream cheese. If it’s too thick or the flavour’s too strong, add more soya milk.

3. Once the sauce is warm enough and reached a decent consistency, divide the pasta in bowls for each person eating and pour the sauce over it in a fair manner, then eat straight away.

2. Using vegan cream cheese, method B:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 1/3 of a tub of vegan cream cheese per person.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Heat the cheese in the bottom of a small non-stick pan (ideally) and once it’s softening, mix the pasta in until it’s all coated in cream cheese.

3. Serve in bowls and eat at once.

4. This one dries hard, so wash your bowls straight after eating.

Note: 

You can make these gluten free by using gf pasta instead of regular, or replacing pasta with either broccoli or cauliflower (although I recommend using my pasta recipe #5 for cauliflower).

These provide none of your 5 a day (fruit and veg), no vitamins to speak of, and negligible amounts of protein. They’re mostly carbs and a smattering of fat. To make it more nutritious, serve with a salad, or replace the pasta with cauliflower or broccoli (or just serve them up on the side) and sprinkle with sunflower seeds or your favourite nuts for protein (dry roasted peanuts are my fave but you gotta eat them fast so they don’t go soggy in the sauce).  I love mac n cheese but rarely eat it these days because it’s a nutritional vacuum.

Meat Free Monday: Kale Spinach And Vegan ‘Cream Cheese’ Canneloni

Recipe

A brief note about measurement:  I believe that people go a bit mad sometimes with measuring things to the very gram, and that it’s more important to get a feel for the amount of each ingredient and how they interact with one another, which is why I work in cups (the American measurement; you can buy a cup set in most homeware stores if you’re not in the US or do conversions if you need to) wherever possible.  I like to use fresh ingredients to make nutritious and tasty food whose sole purpose is nourishment.

(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.

Gluten:
Except for the lasagne and canneloni recipes, you can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in any of these, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, usually you can replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal. I’ve not seen gluten free canneloni but you can pre-cook gluten free lasagne sheets and roll them up if you would like to try out this canneloni recipe and you’re GF.

Kale, spinach and cream “cheese” canneloni

You will need (all food ingredients are per person, scale the dish to fit):

A glass oven proof dish: Choose the smallest dish that fits all the tubes in, otherwise you will end up with a LOT of sauce and not much canneloni.

Four canneloni tubes per person;

1/2 cup of spinach;

1/2 cup of kale;

2 tablespoons of vegan cream cheese per person;

1/2 carton of tomato passata;

Grated vegan hard cheese;

OBT: Basil and garlic (to taste);

1. Boil the spinach and kale until it’s very soft. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the cream cheese in a small non-stick pan (ideally) and stir in the spinach and kale. Add more cream cheese if needed.

3. Stuff the uncooked canneloni tubes full of the spinach and kale mixture, and put them in the glass oven-proof dish.

4. Mix the garlic and basil into the passata and pour the passata over the canneloni tubes.

5. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of the food to cover the passata and the tubes.

6. Put in the centre of the oven at 150 degrees C or gas mark 5 for 35-45 minutes.

7. Remove and serve; don’t cut the canneloni to serve them if you can help it or the filling might come out.

Which Easter Eggs Are Vegan 2015

THIS IS 2015’S ARTICLE!! CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017 VEGAN EASTER EGGS

I’ve done the work for you so you can just go out and get them.

A beautiful array of Easter eggs in Tesco's seasonal aisle.  But which ones are vegan?
A beautiful array of Easter eggs in Tesco’s seasonal aisle. But which ones are vegan?

These are the mainstream ones and Tesco own brand, since I did my checking in Tesco – and I’ve included any that are either vegan or are not vegan but look like they might be – with a picture of the ingredients list showing you why they aren’t vegan.  The more you know.  Enjoy the easter egg porn. xx

The first of several surprise vegan eggs are the Lindt Dark Chocolate Bunnies, with the brown collar on the bell.  They may contain milk.  I'm good with that, because the more of these get bought instead of milk chocolate, the more of these will get made until no-one makes milk choc any more.
The first of several surprise vegan eggs are the Lindt Dark Chocolate Bunnies, with the brown collar on the bell. They may contain milk. I’m good with that, because the more of these get bought instead of milk chocolate, the more of these will get made until no-one makes milk choc any more.
Another surprise, perhaps less surprising but an improvement on previous years, Green and Black's are offering a mint dark chocolate egg which is another May Contain Milk.
Another surprise, perhaps less surprising but an improvement on previous years, Green and Black’s are offering a mint dark chocolate egg which is another May Contain Milk.
Green and Blacks did two dairy free eggs this year.  This one is not mint flavoured.  Again, it may contain milk.  The more
Green and Blacks did two dairy free eggs this year. This one is not mint flavoured. Again, it may contain milk. The more “may contains” get bought, the sooner they’ll have to make them in a separate factory.
These beauties were the biggest shocker.  The ingredients are under a peelable label but I decided to be very antisocial and I peeled that label, to discover these delightful mint chocolate After Eight bunnies were dairy free and vegan (unlike their eggs)!  So I bought 4.  Their RRP is £2 but they were on half price today.
These beauties were the biggest shocker. The ingredients are under a peelable label but I decided to be very antisocial and I peeled that label, to discover these delightful mint chocolate After Eight bunnies were dairy free and vegan (unlike their eggs)! So I bought 4. Their RRP is £2 but they were on half price today.
Another picture of these lovely vegan bunny Easter treats.
Another picture of these lovely vegan bunny Easter treats.

Those were all the vegan ones I found (with the exception of the Free From ones which I’m sure you already know about).

And the following eggs are DEFINITELY NOT VEGAN (but looked like they might be).  To avoid irritation, don’t buy these next ones if you’re after dairy free.

Unlike the bunnies above, these eggs are NOT vegan.
Unlike the bunnies above, these eggs are NOT vegan.
Oops! Didn't realise the ingredients were unreadable in the previous picture.  Click to enlarge.
Oops! Didn’t realise the ingredients were unreadable in the previous picture. Click to enlarge.
These beautifully designed dark chocolate eggs are sadly not vegan because they were decorated with white chocolate.
These beautifully designed dark chocolate eggs are sadly not vegan because they were decorated with white chocolate.
Another non vegan Easter egg which was decorated in white and milk chocolate.  Why???
Another non vegan Easter egg which was decorated in white and milk chocolate. Why???
Sorry! Didn't realise the ingredients were unreadable in the previous picture.  Click to enlarge.
Sorry! Didn’t realise the ingredients were unreadable in the previous picture. Click to enlarge.
The egg is fine, the dark chocolate crisps are fine, but the milk ones are not.
The egg is fine, the dark chocolate crisps are fine, but the milk ones are not.
I didn't realise the ingredients were unreadable in the previous picture (or the last two).  Click to enlarge.
I didn’t realise the ingredients were unreadable in the previous picture (or the last two). Click to enlarge.
What the actual hell??  This one from Tesco was vegan last year (I had one) and this year it's not!  Whut??
What the actual hell?? This one from Tesco was vegan last year (I had one) and this year it’s not! Whut??
More readable ingredients. Click to enlarge.
More readable ingredients. Click to enlarge.

These last ones are definitely not vegan and you’d never think for a minute that they were, but they’re just lovely to look at, complete Easter egg porn, so I thought I’d share them with you.  Who knows, maybe one day they’ll make them so I can eat them.

I know, it's fairly simple, it's Ferrero Rocher in a box. But they made it bunny shaped and that makes me want to have it.
I know, it’s fairly simple, it’s Ferrero Rocher in a box. But they made it bunny shaped and that makes me want to have it.
This beautiful easter egg coop is filled with milk chocolate, but it's a delightful idea, and you could DIY this at home with some dairy free treats or even non-edible presents.
This beautiful Easter egg coop is filled with milk chocolate, but it’s a delightful idea, and you could DIY this at home with some dairy free treats or even non-edible presents.
This is a 1kg Lindt milk chocolate Easter bunny.  Just... wow.
This is a 1kg Lindt milk chocolate Easter bunny. Just… wow.
For perspective,  so you can see just how enormous this Lindt milk chocolate Easter bunny is.  Underneath are normal sized Easter eggs.
For perspective, so you can see just how enormous this Lindt milk chocolate Easter bunny is. Underneath are normal sized Easter eggs.
My personal favourite, the Lindt Easter soft cuddly gold bunny, complete with three tiny milk chocolate bunnies hiding in her tummy.  I think it's educational.  I'd like it even better if the little ones came in dairy free dark chocolate.  So very snuggly...
My personal favourite, the Lindt Easter soft cuddly gold bunny, complete with three tiny milk chocolate bunnies hiding in her tummy. I think it’s educational. I’d like it even better if the little ones came in dairy free dark chocolate. So very snuggly…

UPDATE (SUNDAY EVENING): I CHECKED IN THORNTON’S (like, their actual full shop with the cafe and the full range) AND NOT ONE SINGLE ONE OF THEIR EGGS OR EASTER CHOCOLATE TREATS ARE VEGAN. NONE OF THEM.

Update 27-03-14:  This is why you should not impulse buy a living rabbit. Just in case anyone was even considering it.