Nov 18, 2014

Wholegrain Potato Sandwich Bread

Having recently visited this place again, tried out the cafe, and bought a loaf back; my humble attempt at baking seems..humble..  If you live in London, try to get there some time. I've been baking personally and professionally for many years so I know a little about he subject. In my opinion I would say this place is consistently turning out the best bread and cakes I've  ever had. They also do bread-baking courses...

Anyway, if you're still reading on after that disclaimer, I promise you this recipe is one of my best. Adding potato to a bread dough I find gives a lighter and more moist finished product, ideal for sandwiches. Other than that, it's quite a standard loaf, though the dough is a wetter one than you'll be used to working with. Also, try the Shipton Mill flours if you're in the UK, they're generally believe to be the best flours around right now.  This will help your bread efforts a great deal, if, like me, you need all the help you can get.

2 cups strong unbleached white bread flour
1 cup spelt/wholemeal flour
1 medium potato
½ cup milk
¼ cup water
1 tbs butter
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
oil/little butter for greasing.

  1.  Peel the potato and chop into small pieces. Place in a small pan, covered with water and bring to the boil. Turn to a simmer and cook for 20-30 mins until fork-tender.
  2. In the meantime, warm the milk and water in a small pan until luke-warm. Remove from the heat and add the yeast and sugar. Stir well and set-aside until the yeast starts to froth. 
  3. Now, in a large mixing bowl, sift the flours together with the salt. 
  4. Place the yeast-liquid and boiled potato, along with the butter in a small food-processor or blender and blend briefly until smooth. Stir this mixture into the flour until the dough starts to come together.
  5. Empty the dough out onto a floured work surface with more flour to had. The dough will be quite tacky, but adding as little extra flour as possible start to kneed. Continue for 5 minutes to kneed vigurously resisting adding much flour, only as much as makes it possible to work with. 
  6. Place in a pre-oiled mixing bowl and cover with cling film. Set aside in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 ½ hrs, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  7. Now grease the sandwich tin you are planning to use. Turn the dough out onto your counter with a little flour and kneed briefly then shape into a small loaf. 
  8. Place the dough in your tin, cover with the cling film and let rise another hour, or until the dough has doubled in size again.
  9. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  10. When the dough is ready, place in the middle of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. The bread will be done when it sounds hollow when inverted and tapped on the bottom. 
  11. Empty out onto a wire rack or something that allows air to circulate underneath the bread. Let cool completely before slicing.

Nov 11, 2014

Raw Caramel Slice

Firstly, apologies for being so negligent in keeping this food-page up to date in the last month. We've been teaching in Goa, a small holiday in Kerala, and then suffering a week of dealing with jet-lag whilst still getting up at 2am to practice before teaching at 6am my regular class back in London. But I'm back now and will keep up with the once- a-week post rule I usually keep to.

These days the raw-bar needs no introduction. Unless, that is, it's the very Daddy of all raw nut-date-coconut oil concoctions.

You won't be disappointed in this one. Of course, there is never a bad result to blending up nuts and sweetening it, but in this case it's the taking time to make the layers that provides complimentary flavouring and sets this bar above.

Again, it's riffing on the theme of healthying-up my forever beloved Millionaire's Shortbread. The daily breakfast of my student years with a can of Coke before I ever thought to concern myself about health.

Prep time for this is minimal, but prepare yourself for a bit of wait as you freeze the layers to make this thing a slice not a pudding.

As I've said before, whilst Raw is not a food-philosophy I'm into; but I have a lot of time for raw desserts precisely because they take so little time (no cook, you see..), you don't have to measure ingredients,  can impro' until your hearts' content and they always turn out well. Give this one a shot.

Makes 10 slices

Biscuit Layer

1 cup almonds
1 cup dates
2 tbs coconut oil
pinch of salt

Caramel Layer

1 cup cashews (soaked for at least 4 hrs, or overnight in 2 cups water)
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup water
1 tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt

Chocolate Layer

⅓ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup maple syrup/liquid sweetener

  1. Line a small metal baking tray (roughly 8"x10" and 2" deep) with baking parchment.
  2. Place all the ingredients for the biscuit layer in a food processor and process for a minute.
  3. Smooth the mixture down evenly into the base of the baking tray. Freeze for an hour until set.
  4. In the meantime, to make the caramel, drain the cashews and blend in the food processor with the rest of the ingredients for the caramel until smooth. About a minute or two.
  5. Smooth this evenly over the biscuit layer and again freeze for an hour until set.
  6. When this layer is set, go about making the chocolate layer by whisking the rest of the ingredients in a small saucepan for a minute over low heat until combined. 
  7. Spread over the (set) caramel layer and again freeze for a couple of hours until set and slice immediately after taking out of the freezer to ensure an even and clean slice.

Oct 9, 2014

Traditional British Lentil Stew

Firstly, I will admit. I'm not sure if this is at all traditional. On the other hand, I think here in Great Britain, lacking any continuity of food-culture, with so many different influences dominating our cooking over the centuries, we could justly stake a claim to almost any food being traditional here.

I mean, the greatest influence on our cuisine was probably when the French conquered us and we took on their cooking for the best part of a couple of hundred years at least. We developed on that, and then Protestantism came along in the seventeen-hundreds and wiped that all away as decadent and ungodly. This theme lasted with us, helped on by the austerities of the two world-wars, until probably the recent reassurance of celebrity chefs and proliferation of trendy places to eat out which started in full as late even as the end of the 1980's. Before that it was Angus Steakhouse, TGI Fridays, or Garfunkels if you were lucky..

If you want to read more on this subject, having read a number of histories of British Food I particularly like this one by Colin Spencer.

Back on to the recipe I confess I made it up. I was reading an interview with Simon Rogan, the chef of one of the winners of the top places eat in the UK right now; L'enclume. Admittedly, they have a 6 Acre farm attached to their restaurant, but when asked what influences his cooking, he said simply that he looks at what's good in the garden and cooks with that. That's how it should be. I don't have a small farm, but I try to cook with what I see looks good in season on my visits to London Farmers Markets at the weekends.

This recipe is homage to that principle and also the wonder that is a slow cooker that can turn any simple ingredients into dishes with incredible depth of flavour due to long and slow simmering for 6-8 hours. This method really dominates my cooking from the autumn to the spring. I can't recommend enough that you get one. Serve this on it's own with a good bread or over pasta or rice.

Serves 4

1 cup green/brown lentils (preferably soaked for at leads 4 hours)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 sticks celery
1 large carrot
1/2 small pumpkin
2 medium beetroots
2 cups stock or water

1 cup red wine 
1 tbs miso
1 tbs tomato puree
1 tbs mustard
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 bay leaves
large handful of fresh sage and parsley (roughly chopped)
salt and pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, and toss with salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place on a large baking tray and roast for 30 minutes until soft.
  3. Wrap the beetroot in foil and place in the oven for an hour. Take out. let cool, peel and cut into large chunks.
  4. Whilst your root vegetables are roasting, cut the celery and carrot into large dice, and,  heating 2 more tablespoons of the olive oil sauté for 10 minutes in a small frying pan until soft. Empty the 
  5. Empty the contents of the frying pan int the pressure cooker. Rinse and drain the lentils and add them too along with the rest of the ingredients, plus, when they are done the roasted vegetables. 
  6. Cook on high for 6-8 hours, checking periodically if you can, to add more liquid if the stew is drying out. Slow cookers vary in cooking times I have noticed.

Sep 30, 2014

Vegan Wedding Cake

We are happy to announce the Yogi Kitchen team finally got married. I knew if Theresa could put up with helping me in the kitchen she must be the girl for me. She thought, if he keeps cooking me pizza and South-Indian dals I'm sticking with this guy; even if he is a pain-in-the-arse..

Sadly I cannot post the food we did as I was banned from making the wedding-buffet for my own wedding. Probably a good decision by the bride as I would have been stressed up to the eyeballs on the day, whereas, The Almedia Theatre Cafe in Islington did a good Veggie/Vegan spread for us. Various sandwiches, and salads including mediterranean grilled vegetables, barley salad and broad beans, pea and asparagus..

My old boss from when I was a chef at Manna restaurant who now runs Manna Cakes, did a great job with the cake we suggested; a sponge, with raspberry filling and coconut-rasberry frosting. It was huge! We overestimated the size actually, and I reckon I have enough in the freezer now for a second wedding.

Here is my take, a little smaller, but much the same idea on our wedding cake if you want to make yourself a small version and celebrate with us. It's actually a great cake to make for any special occasion, just don't send me any more of it right now as I have eaten rather more than my share since our wedding last Friday.

Sep 22, 2014

mung bean with tomatoes,tamarind and coconut milk

This is a tried and tested recipe we've made many times before. It satisfies Theresa's love of sour flavours with the tamarind and my indulgence of all things rich and creamy with the coconut milk.

It's quite an unusual flavoured Indian dish as it's not overly spiced, but tastes quite fresh and clean whilst still maintaining that exotic edge. 

Very simple, the whole thing can be ready in an hour tops. You can even get away with not soaking mung beans at a stretch. By the by, they are one of the most healthful beans, providing a full-protein; or something like that.

Serve this dish with a good rice and perhaps a fruit chutney, some raita and chapati for a fantastic meal. You'll be surprised what a show-stopper this simple mung bean curry turns out to be.

Serves 4

1 cup mung beans (soaked for at least 4 hrs, if possible overnight)
2 sticks celery
2 tomatoes
1 cup tamarind water (or, if using from concentrate 1 tbsp)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbs coconut oil
1" piece of ginger (minced)
6 curry leaves
2 tsp jaggery or soft brown sugar
1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp chili flakes
salt and pepper
fresh coriander to garnish

  1. Rinse and drain the mung beans. Place in a heavy bottomed pan with 4 cups of water bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the tamarind water and turmeric. Simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes.
  2. Whilst the beans are cooking, in a large frying pan, add the coconut oil and sauté the cumin seeds for 30 seconds until they begin to smell fragrant. Immediately add the celery and continue cooking over medium low heat for a few minutes.
  3. Now add the ginger and curry leaves and stir for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes, coriander, sugar, chilli flakes and a little salt and turn up the heat to medium.
  4. Keep stirring regularly for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down to form a thick paste. Set aside.
  5. When the mung beans are cooked add the tomato paste to the pan with the coconut milk. Simmer for another 5 minutes and serve garnished with fresh coriander.

Sep 13, 2014

3 days of eating around Naples


Teaching a retreat for a week in Italy has the added benefit of a small food-tour for us. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that was at least partly a motivating factor for planning this particular retreat. Between discovering The Italian Farm shop in our new new neighbourhood this year and Theresa buying me a pasta machine for my birthday, I’ve been quite into Italian.

Our retreat took place at In Salento in the Puglia region, the heel of the boot that forms the shape of Italy. Further south than I’ve been before, the countryside and the cooking reflected the warmer climate, more rural living and poorer people.

First thing you notice from London is that stuff was growing everywhere. Ripe figs hanging off every tree; aubergines, tomatoes, zucchinis in every garden, as well as a variety of their speciality; the local greens we call escarole. Back home our tomatoes planted first thing in May, still haven’t ripened and our aubergine only got as far as producing a single flower.Here it feels abundant.

As I always say, cooking can only be as good as the produce you have access too and this is particularly true of Italian cuisine, relying as it does on very simple cooking to allow the quality of the ingredients centre stage. I’m surprised so many people are still growing; in the rural area we taught the retreat in they grew most of their food around their 35 hectares working farm.

Naples was a different story, however. We lost the peaceful and spacious feel of the countryside as soon as we got off the train at Naples station. Between the both of us, I would say we’ve visited a lot of the cities of Southern Europe, but nothing can prepare you for the chaos and energy of Naples.  Of course, the suburbs are large and I would assume quieter and more dignified, but the centre is brash, squalid, vibrant; a city where everyone seems to be on the street hussling. Most importantly there was loads and loads of street food immediately evident.

With Theresa at the helm of the camera, I’m not sure the photos really go far to show the craziness and the colour and interest of the place. But left to me we wouldn’t have any photos, and really, it was the character of the people that was really unique to the place. I cannot describe them without being a bit blunt; they were the most gypsy-like people I’ve ever seen on masse. Loud, demonstrative, dressed in clothes you couldn’t pick-better, quite friendly but you wouldn’t want to turn your back on them.  Again, I hasten to add, for any Neopolitan’s happening by chance to read this, that this was just my impression of the people in the  old-town centre.  There was certainly a middle-class present; but the centre was filled with a lot of fairly impoverished people living whole families to a couple of rooms literally piled on top of each other in the tiny, cramped streets.

However, we weren’t here to look around, but on a serious mission to try the pizza of Naples. Famous throughout the world as the birthplace of pizza, signs hang everywhere denoting the restaurants that conform to the rigid guidelines of what denotes a true D.O.P status Neopolitan pizza.  The rules are stringent and govern everything from what flour you use, to what tomatoes (they have to be San Marzano, of the region), what temperature the pizza is cooked at, how long, the list goes on.  The one important difference that is meant to lend Naples pizza that edge over pizza from anywhere else is the water and soil. In the shadow of Vesuvius, the volcanic ash lends a certain flavor to the water and anything grown in the soil – like the San Marzano tomatoes they use; the soil being most fertile due to the minerals present the ingredients are said to take on the best flavor here.

The main thing you notice, however, when you sit down for your first pizza here is  that it comes very ‘wet’. If you like your pizza with a thicker, crispy crust, you’ll be out of luck. Neopolitans produce a pizza that has a centre most other food-writers describe as ‘soupy’.  There is no way to eat it  without a knife an fork,  a little crust around the side provides a well for the tomatoes and cheese, but the centre Is almost spoonable. It doesn’t sound immediately a good thing, but this was really the fantastic thing about them. Even the people doing pretty good Neopolitan-style pizza in London now, fall short of achieving this texture.

A lot of research was done by us before coming to find the most well-known and best places for pizza in Naples, of which there were actually so many it made it difficult to decide which to go to without eating pizza at all meals for the whole of our trip. We opted for the no-frills Di-Machelle, famed for being the pizza place Julia Roberts goes to in Eat, Pray, Love.  Right choice for the pizza place I think, even though the rest of the film was a dramatically wrong choice from start to finish. It is widey agreed by most locals to be the overall winner. Of the other places of note, we went was Starita, known for their deep-fried pizza; a tradition unique to Naples and actually lighter than you might imagine. Not something you would eat often,  but interesting to try, and of course, how could that not be good.

Often over-shadowed by the pizza, Naples is also famous for many other traditional foods. It is claimed Ice Cream was invented there; we tried it at the intriguingly named “Gay Odin”, said to be the best. Very good, but no better than other ice cream we tried on our trip. Always of a higher standard than most Ice Cream in the UK, these days there are a number of places in London serving ice cream to rival anything you’ll find in Italy; Gelupo and Ruby Violet beign our favourites.

Pastries also play a major part in this region. Like many cities in Europe, these constitute breakfast. Theresa, who likes proper and more substantial savoury breakfast, is never happy about this, though I quite like it. In Naples the speciality is Sfogliatelle , a shell-shaped croissant-like-thing stuffed with a variety of fillings, most typically ricotta, candied fruit and spices. The unusual quality of this pastry is it’s crispiness which nicely balances the creamy inside. One place near the train station that everyone recommends serves these hot out of huge ovens, so on the first morning we headed straight over.

But other than, this an amazing range of sweet goods are displayed from pretty much every café. We tried a number of others at recommended loctions like the Cannoli and the Rum Baba, so popular amongst the locals. Like so many things there is nothing in London to rival the freshness of the stuff we found here. Eating traditional Italian specialities in Italy is a different experience to doing it in London. Maybe it’s just the atmosphere , but it’s reason alone to visit even if you don’t always find the very best stuff.

With local Trattorias (think low-end restaurant) serving the basic and rustic “Cucina Povera” we didn‘t have so much luck. Literally cooking of the poor, denoting the simple, fresh and rustic diet of a mainly rural farming population, it is now not so easy to find due to restaurant competition and the cost-cutting that engenders. You either pay a lot more at a fancier Italian restaurant, or you go to one of the local places where it’s cheap and cheerful cooking, but, unfortunately, lacks the quality of produce which originally made this type of diet world famous.

Every street was littered with Trattorias in Naples.  We tried two of the most highly recommended but, although, indeed very cheap, they didn’t come up with the good on the taste front due to lack of quality ingredients,  but that is what you get when 2 people can eat for 12 euros at a sit down restaurant. Both did have a lot of the local colour and would be worth trying for the experience alone but, just make sure you clarify with them what is actually vegetarian. Many of the pastas for example are supplemented with small pieces of pancetta though only listed on the menu as different vegetable pastas. This was the case when we attempted to order the two pastas most well known in this area; Gnochi Sorrentina and Potata e Provola though this is not always the case but seems to rest on the particular whim of the cook that day.

a local coffee they make here with almond milk. Finally relaxing after a long day of research...
However, the main reason when we travel to a different place, is to get inspiration from seeing the different dishes and then trying to recreate them at home in a more healthy way and without the meat.  It’s more a time of research than a pilgrimage to eat in certain restaurants. We’re not into the restaurant experience; overpriced and impersonal, you never know with what care and how whayt you’ve ordered will be cooked, and generally it is not how you would like it. Then there is the whole wastage issue and supporting meat-serving places;  so in way, that whole industry too. It sounds a bit uptight when you write it down, but it’s been our experience over the years that we’re not usually satisfied when eating out and this trip was no excepetion. We definitely took a few blows on this trip to and are happy to be back with our own kitchen, yet a whole load of memories and ideas to influence our Italian menus for the months to come.

Aug 27, 2014

Apple Crumble - a master recipe

This recipe I've made I don't know how many times but never posted it. Whenever Theresa springs the request for a dessert on me and I don't know what to make it's something I can literally - excuse the pun- cobble together in a half an hour with any fruit I have on hand or in the freezer.

Such was the case on Sunday when we had planned to go out in the afternoon to one of our favourite cafe's in Soho for a coffee and cake but the rain just kept on coming down and it no longer seemed such worthwhile endeavour to get soaked just for a bit of dessert no matter how good. Oh, the beauty of an English summer's day.

So we stayed in and I sorted through thousands of photos we had of India on the computer. Mainly of food, cows and many of cats (this is a common refrain with Theresa!).  We happened to have apples on hand from this fantastic market we'd visited earlier in a part of town we'd wanted to explore. But I've substituted the apples for blackberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, pretty much any fruit you want, even strawberries turns out pretty well. Also, try putting a little dried fruit cut up small in the mix as well, maybe a bit of rosewater if you're feeling adventurous, or, as a tahini obsessive, I sometimes add a little 1/4 cup if this magical nectar too..

Serves 6

for the fruit layer

4 apples (cored and cut into small chunks)
2 cups apple juice or water
1/4 cup raw cane sugar or alternative sweetener
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnamon

for the crumble topping

1 cup oats
1/2cup spelt flour
1/2 cup walnuts
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

  1. preheat your oven to 350 degrees and greece a large baking tray.
  2. toast the walnuts for 8-10 minutes. set aside
  3. Mix the apples, or whatever fruit you choose to use, with all the other ingredients and line the bottom of your baking tin with an even layer of this mixture.
  4. Grind the oats into a smooth flour. Now add the flour and walnuts and pulse a couple more times to mix. Now add the rest of the ingredients and briefly pulse again. 
  5. Spoon the crumble layer evenly over the top of the fruit. Smooth down making sure there are no gaps left. Cover with tin-foil and place in the oven.
  6. Bake for 30 mins covered, the uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
  7. Take out and leave to rest of 10 minutes before serving with a vegan custard or cream.

Aug 19, 2014

Veganised Pastichio

It appears we still can't get the Greek inspiration out of our minds. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, it really made me realise how everything rests on the quality of produce you have access to. I think we've become completely unaware of the difference in taste proper fresh and seasonal produce yields. And why would we know? Unless we grow it ourselves, or live somewhere like Crete where it's readily available we just won't have come across the real taste of tomatoes for example..

These tomatoes were grown in our small garden with the minuscule amount of sun we've had this summer. So it just shows you it can be done. Honestly, we just brought nice varieties, stuck them in pots, fed them with tomato feed and watered regularly; so easy and more than worth it for the taste of these tomatoes over any 'organic' tomato I could purchase anywhere in London.

Perhaps our parting shot with the Greek recipe Lexicon this year is the Pastichio. Very much like a lasagne, but using penne or macaroni in a layer on top instead of noodle-sheets and the flavourings are slightly different, including cinnamon and clove. Somehow it added up to way more than the sum of it's parts and seemed like something we really hadn't had before.

Just in case you hadn't got the idea I've included a couple of extra pictures to show how the béchamel-pasta layer sets to create a firm and sliceable dish. Traditionally made with lamb or beef we've naturally deferred to the trusted soya-mince and lentil combination and also omitted the cheese as it was quite rich enough as it was. An easy dish to make, we had this with a salad and nothing more for a fantastic Sunday Lunch mediterranean style in our overcast garden. Still, we loved it. It's worth making a large dish or this, although we probably could've eaten the whole thing we ate half and froze the rest.

(serves 6)

For the mince layer
1/3 cup brown lentils (soaked for at least 4 hrs if possible)
1 1/4 cups soya mince
4 tbs olive oil
2 sticks celery
2 small carrots
1 small green pepper
2 tbs tomato paste
1 can whole tinned tomatoes
2 cups stock or water
2 tbs liquid smoke
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cinammon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
salt and pepper

  1. Drain the lentils and place in a large saucepan with plenty of water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer of 30 mins. Drain and set aside.
  2. Rinse you soya mince a few ties in a sieve, squeezing as you do so to get rid of the 'soya taste'. Place in a bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside for 20 mins.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Chop the celery, carrot and pepper finely and saute for 5 minutes until soft. Add the tomato paste and stir for another minute to cook.
  4. Now add all the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, then semi-cover and turn to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes until almost dry. Set aside whilst you make the béchamel.
For the béchamel
1/4 cup olive oil
5 tbs flour
4 cups dairy free milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 bay leaves
good grind of nutmeg
salt and pepper

  1. heat the oil on a medium low and add the flour. Stir to make your roux then cook for 4-5 minutes until it darkens a shade and gives a nutty aroma.
  2. Remove from the heat and slowly add the milk whisking all the time.
  3. Now place back over a medium-low heat and keep whisking to prevent lumps from forming. After a few minutes. when smooth, add the rest of the ingredients and change to content stirring with a wooden spoon.
  4. Stir over a medium low heat for another 10 minutes until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
To assemble

200g pasta (either penne or macaroni)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a generous amount of salt and cook your pasta as per instructions on the packet. 
  3. As soon as it is done, drain it and mix it into the pot with the béchamel.
  4. Now spread the mince filling over a large pyrex baking tray and top with the pasta-bechamel layer.
  5. Cover with tin-foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes to brown the top. Let stand a good 15 minutes before serving to firm up and allow the flavours to mingle. 

Aug 12, 2014

Stuffed Tomatoes and Fava Greek Style

Chania, the picturesque tourist capital of Crete is Idyllic in the way only an island in the Med' tends to be. The pace of life is so relaxed and everything just feels so soft and gentle that you really do get the feeling that nothing is wrong with the world when you're in Chania.

Then there is the food. Anyone that has followed our blog at all knows how harsh a critic I am of most food we eat out. I think we're down to literally one or two places now in London where we're happy to go. However, you can more or less pick any place in this town and receive quite a decent vegetarian offering, touristy or otherwise. 

Of course, the places off the general tourist track out of the centre of the town where the locals go are even that much better. For some reason on our first visit we didn't come across this section of town just back from the old town, but  when we returned we stumbled upon this whole neighbourhood of cafes and restaurants all run by young people re-invigorating the traditional Cretan food and placing importance on sourcing top-quality produce.

Theresa was happy, but then she's always happy when allowed loads of cheese - which doesn't happen often at home. I think we had at least on Greek Salad every day amongst a variety of other dishes; the other popular choices being Fava  - a spread made of split peas and olive oil, rather like hummus - and Stuffed Tomatoes, as pictured below.

Of course, as soon as we got home I was determined to try recreating some of these dished myself. For our first proper meal at the weekend I made Fava, Dakos , Chard Fritters (recipes in previous posts) and a Tsatsiki without the garlic (I know, sacrilege to many..). The only thing I couldn't recreate was the weather. Unfortunately, it was the normal English Crap-weather one should associate with late Autumn, but that often arrives in early August..

 Greek Fava Recipe again, apologies to traditionalists for leaving out the garlic an onions. And yes, I know it isn't really Fava then so no need to write me a snarky comment. Secondly, if you don't like the quantity of olive oil, simply reduce it, that will work fine too.

(seves 6 as a meze)

1 cup of yellow split peas (soaked overnight or for at least 4 hours)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbs nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tsp thyme, oregano
1 1/2 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon

  1. Rinse and drain the split peas and places in a heavy pan with 6 cups of water. Bring to the boil, semi-cover, then turn down to simmer for 1 hour, or until soft.
  2. Drain any excess water that's left in the peas by turning up the heat and stirring constantly until almost dry. Set aside to cool.
  3. When the split peas are cool (do not blend them hot, this can cause a nasty accident - as has happened to me before with steam bursting the lid off!) empty them into a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend thoroughly until smooth. 
  4. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to thicken. take out and allow to come to room temp before serving. If at this point you want to thin it slightly, simply blend again with a couple of tablespoons of water.

Stuffed Tomatoes Greek Style (serves 4 allowing 1 tomato per person)

4 large beefsteak tomatoes
1 cup white rice 
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup water
2 sticks celery (chopped in very fine dice)
2 tbs tomato puree
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp oregano, thyme, dill, parsley
1/2 tsp mint
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt, pepper
juice of 1 lemon

  1. Rinse the rice well in lots of cold water, drain and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get a medium sized baking tray ready (one deep enough to hold the tomatoes and cover with foil).
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the celery for five or so minutes. Add the tomato puree, sugar, herbs and 2 tablespoons of your water.Stir over medium-low heat for 2 minutes to cook the puree. 
  3. Now add the rice, another 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté for another minute to coat the rice well in the herb-mixture.
  4. Add the rest of the water, bring to the boil, cover, then turn to the lowest setting and let the rice cook for 7-8 minutes. Turn off and set aside to steam for another five minutes whilst you prepare your tomatoes.
  5. With a sharp, serrated knife cut the tops of the tomatoes about 3/4 the way up to create little hats. Scoop out the flesh and dice it roughly.
  6. Drizzle 2 more tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of your baking dish and place the hollowed-out tomatoes inside. Now mix the rice mixture with the tomato flesh and lemon-juce and stuff each tomato, allowing for enough room that you can then cover them with their tops.
  7. Drizzle over the remaining olive oil and just a splash of water an bake, covered in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature accompanied by a good vegan greek-yoghurt choice.

Aug 3, 2014

Summer Holidays; Crete 2014

Summer in the UK and this is our harvest. Admittedly, it was our first year and we need to work on improving the soil a lot. I think we do have some tomatoes too. I'll let you know when we get back tomorrow from our holiday.

Here in Crete though it's a different story. Never a cloud in the sky from morning to night everything grows here bountifully. Including some of the best tomatoes we've ever had and an incredible range of wild herbs picked fresh from the mountainsides. They even grow avocados and bananas here, the weather is so good year-round. Unfortunately, I think it will take a while to adapt back to the tomatoes, aubergines and greens  we can get back in the UK now..

With this quality of ingredients recipes are very simple, but quite impossible to re-create at  home for that reason. We haven't had a bad meal out yet. A lot of to rests on the quality of the olive oil, which, being from an Island, has a taste particular to these locations. Always my favourite oils they are fruity with a deep olive-taste but in no way bitter or too peppery. Salads of the best tomatoes dressed simply, or stewed aubergines are a meal enough in themselves with the locally baked bread. It must be easy to be a chef here as you hardly even have to do anything to create spectacular dishes with one or two vegetables, oil and salt.

If you didn't get to any of the Greek islands this summer you can always find a little of Greece in London now. Try Ergon, a Greek Deli and Cafe in central London or Opso in Paddington, so recently opened we haven't yet visited. So if you get there before us, let us know what you think..