Crispy chickpea salad with tahini dressing

Now that the weather is getting warmer it feels good to have a salad for dinner. Vegetarian salads need not be a plateful of boring raw vegetables, instead they can be wonderfully imaginative and full of flavours and textures. The basic principles still apply though, it is necessary to have a source of protein component on the plate for it to be balanced and also satisfying. In this salad this is achieved with chickpeas which are sautéd until crispy with garlic, cumin seeds, ground coriander and smoked sweet paprika to give it a deep, warm and smoky flavour. There is also the salad component and some extra crispiness and richness from the pumpkin seeds. This dish only takes a few minutes to prepare and even though I have listed it as serving one it can be scaled up accordingly. The Middle Eastern theme continues with the tahini dressing which brings the whole dish together and a sprinkling of sumaq, a lemony tasting condiment.

Thai curry with chickpeas & butternut squash

Every now and then I crave a coconutty, fragrant and spicy Thai curry. Thai curry has fish sauce (nam pla) which is not suitable for vegetarians with fish sauce being fermented anchovies. However I did find in my local supermarket small tubs of Thai curry paste which was labelled suitable for vegans. This is important because usually even the Thai curry paste that comes in jars usually has fish sauce included, but this one didn’t, leaving it up to whoever is cooking it to add it on or not. In case anyone is wondering it is the Blue Dragon brand.

Blue Dragon green Thai curry pasteWith that said I decided to use chickpeas which is a good source of protein and butternut squash for taste and a bit of sweetness and simply follow the instructions on the packet (well, sort of!). It is an easy way to make a meal, nothing wrong with taking shortcuts now and then, after all who has time to be pounding all the herbs and condiments in a mortar for the sake of authenticity? As long as it tastes authentically good then that is all that matters. This is a very quick and tasty fix for a Thai curry craving!

Crispy tofu salad

Scared of tofu? No need to be! This is a simple salad that uses tofu as it’s source of protein. When shallow fried tofu goes crispy on the outside but stays soft on the inside giving it a nice texture and the great thing is that tofu takes whichever taste you give it, making it a very versatile ingredient. The tofu is first dipped in cornflour and spices such as parpika and cumin and then shallow fried until crispy. The salad element also has the refreshing tastes mint and coriander contrasted by some heat from the fresh chilli, and Asian influenced flavours with a peanut butter, soya sauce and lime dressing. All these different flavours play around in your mouth, and the best part is that it takes all of 15 minutes to make. If you use extra firm ‘eco’ tofu then no prior preparation is necessary. When using regular firm tofu it will need to be pressed in order to remove as much water from it as possible. Pressing tofu doesn’t require anything high tech at all. Simply wrap the block of tofu in several layers of kitchen paper, place on a plate and place another plate on top of the block. Put 2-3 cans of food on top so it presses the tofu and leave for 30 minutes to 1 hour (the longer the better). Remove and pat dry, and it is ready to be used!

Arroz con leche, dairy free

Arroz con leche, or rice pudding infused with cinnamon and lemon zest is one of my favourite comfort foods. It’s not fancy or gourmet, but it is proper home cooking. I recently posted the regular version of arroz con leche, which is a family recip,e but I tend to make a dairy free (and vegan) version of this because a few years ago my father realised he was lactose intolerant so I decided to make this dairy free version for him. I have been making it ever since because I prefer to cook dairy free whenever I can. There really isn’t much difference in taste, and none in texture. Instead of using dairy milk I use unsweetened soya milk, preferably organic for the simple reason that some brands add extra thickening agents (such as guar gum) which can affect it when cooked. The same goes for the oat milk which I use as a replacement for the evaporated milk. Both flavours work well together and with the sweetness of the sugar, and the flavours of the cinnamon and lemon you wouldn’t know it was dairy free unless someone told you! The only discernible difference is in colour which is more of a cream colour than white. This version does require a little extra work because it is impossible to buy dairy free evaporated (or condensed milk) so it has to be made from scratch, but it is super easy. Basically it is a matter of just putting the oat milk in a pan to simmer and allow it to reduce by just over more than half of it’s original amount. This can be done at the same time as the rice pudding is cooking. Overall this is just as sweet, creamy and comforting as the regular version, which for me ticks all the right boxes.

Butternut Squash, Coconut & Coriander Soup

Even though I posted a butternut squash and coriander soup recipe recently, this recipe is a little different in it’s flavour profile as it features Thai inspired flavours that work very well with the sweetness of the butternut squash. I say it is Thai inspired because of the mix of coconut, coriander, ginger and a bit of heat from a green chilli. Like in other soup recipes I make I use tofu as a source of protein for creaminess and as a thickener, and since it doesn’t have much flavour of it’s own it does not interfere with the delicate flavours. For some texture garnish with some pumpkin seeds which will give it some extra richness and some crunch.

Chocolate & raspberry cake, dairy free

For quite a few years I have been making my own version of this chocolate cake from the BBC Good Food website, which has been my go-to chocolate cake recipe ever since I first tried it and a big hit with everyone who ate it. In fact last summer I made it for the Calentita food festival in Gibraltar and I was told it went down like a storm. Lately I have tried to make a dairy free version of it several times (4 to be exact!) and failed miserably. However I am persistent when it comes to these things and now that I have achieved a dairy free and vegan version of my favourite chocolate cake recipe (5th time lucky) I won’t be reverting to the original since this one is just as good and probably easier to make.

This isn’t a big rising cake, being a bit denser than regular cake but not as dense as a brownie. This isn’t down to the fact that it is dairy free, the original recipe is the same in this respect. I think the reason is that it uses melted chocolate in the batter instead of just cocoa powder, and it is super chocolatey, fudgey, rich, moist and gooey. There are so many chocolate cake recipes that really don’t taste of much but this is a chocolate cake that actually tastes of chocolate, intensely. I have a habit of making my cakes square or rectangular, but that is my personal choice. You can make this in a round springform tin and it will be just as good.

I love the combination of chocolate and raspberries so I decided to use them in this cake. You can however do without them and simply fill with the ganache, I like to leave creative freedom to suit individual tastes. If you do like the chocolate and raspberry combination however then you will love this recipe for sure. Strawberries will work amazingly well too. The ganache is made using soya cream which can be bought at most supermarkets and health stores. I use the Promavel brand which is 18% fat, like regular single cream. I use corn starch as a thickener, but if you are using a dairy free cream that has less fat content you may want to add a tablespoon of dairy free butter or coconut oil for richness as well as the cornflour as a thickening agent.

Torta de acelgas (Swiss chard pie)

Torta de acelgas, or Swiss chard pie is a dish typical of Gibraltar, probably of Italian origin. This pie is usually made at Easter time, coming from the tradition of not eating meat on the main festive days, although it is also enjoyed all year round. The filling is quite firm and set, and it is one for garlic and cheese lovers. There may be quite a few steps to this pie, but it is so worth it and one that the younger generations should keep alive as this is one of Gibraltar’s star dishes. This family recipe calls for making your own dough, but this is optional as you can buy store bought short crust or flaky pastry. Some people even make it with puff pastry but quite frankly it is not the same. The quantities here are for a baking tray approximately 40cm long by 30cm wide, but if you do not want to make one this big (it makes 48 servings after all!) you can scale down (or even up!) if need be. A baking tray 20cm by 20cm (8 inch) will take about half the amounts. One thing that should not be compromised is the cheese. If you cannot find mature edam (it is quite popular here but not easily found elsewhere) you can replace with parmesan, grana padano or similar.

Swiss chard by itself doesn’t really have much flavour which is why this recipe calls for spinach. However since Swiss chard is seasonal you can replace it will spinach entirely and it will be just as delicious. This recipe calls for cooking the spinach and Swiss chard from fresh and wilt over a medium heat, however if you wish to cheat a little and save some time and work you can also buy it frozen, allow to defrost and squeeze the water as indicated. This pie is usually served either at rooms temperature or cold, and even though it is a bit of a calorie bomb, it make a nice meal on it’s own with some salad. However it is difficult to have just one piece!

Torta de acelgas, Swiss chard pie
Torta de acelgas, Swiss chard pie

Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding)

When I first went to university in the UK I stayed at the halls of residence and the food was notoriously bad. So one day I was delighted when I saw there was rice pudding for dessert. Little did I know it was nothing like the rice pudding I was accustomed to! I was even horrified to see a dollop of jam in the bowl.  Arroz con leche is the Spanish version of rice pudding, it is creamy, sweet and unlike the (bland) British counterpart, it is flavoured with lemon rind and cinnamon, a match made in heaven and so typical of many Spanish sweets. Even though this is usually considered a basic home dessert, it still requires some skill as it can easily burn and needs quite a lot of stirring, although nothing too strenuous! In Gibraltar this is also very typical especially at Easter time, and it is usually served cold, straight from the refrigerator. It does take a long time to cook, but it is so worth it, and for me it is proper comfort food. It is also customary to sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top just before serving. It is also perfectly possible to make a vegan arroz con leche using dairy free milks.

Griddled Broccolini with a Peanut Sauce

Ever since I tried Broccolini (also known as bimi) it hor baked. In fact as become my favourite vegetable. I have always loved broccoli anyway but broccolini stands on it’s own much better when griddled or baked. In fact the slight charring that results when cooked this way is what makes this vegetable so delicious. The stems are also an important aspect to the experience of eating broccolini, they are almost asparagus like, and whether you eat them crunchy or slightly tender they manage to retain a great texture when cooked. When a vegetable is as good as this one I like to keep it simple, so I simply add oil, seasoning and place on a hot griddle. The peanut sauce is what makes this dish stand out as it is intense in flavour, rich, sweet, salty and intense in flavour. This is a 15 minute meal (or less) that will leave you satisfied and wanting to make it again. If you want a bit of a fiery kick to it you can also add a few slices of red chilli.

Tortillitas de Acelgas – Swiss Chard Fritters

In this part of the world tortillitas can be made with different ingredients depending on where they originate and the time of year. For example here in Gibraltar they are made with Swiss chard, spinach, prawns, cod (typical at Easter time), and sweet ones with raisins are particularly popular. In nearby Cadiz  however they are made with shrimp and they are flatter and crunchy. Being vegetarian only the Swiss chard ones and sweet ones are suitable though. What they all have in common is that they are a type of fritter and probably originated from a way to make cheap ingredients into a tasty meal in olden times.

Swiss chard is a very popular vegetable in the Mediterranean, it is also seasonal and ridiculously healthy. It can be easily replaced for spinach in a like for like amount since they taste quite similar and can be used in the same way. These fritters are served hot, they are fluffy and soft on the inside and absolutely delicious! This is a family recipe and is one of these that there are no exact measurements which means that the amount of milk you need for the batter will depend on it’s consistency. In general the batter (known as a gachuela) needs to be thick so it can be spooned into hot oil, but not too thick that it’s a paste or too thin that it is runny. So it is best to add the amount provided and increment in steps if need be. Also here we use yellow food colouring many times, which we call azafrán, or saffron, although it is not saffron at all. I’d rather use the real thing even if sparingly due to it’s cost, and since it is just for colour you could also replace with a pinch of turmeric (enough to colour, not enough to taste) if you can’t find saffron or colouring.