Vegan

Bhartha (Spicy Indian Eggplant)

Generally speaking I’m an unashamed carnivore at heart, but when it comes to Indian food I’m more than willing to forsake my love of meat and go 100% vegetarian. Not only is this advisable whilst eating in India, the reality is that Indian food is truly a culinary-nirvana for the non-meat eaters amongst us.

Your rogan joshs and butter chickens aside, Indian food is perhaps the most karma-conscious cuisine in the world with a mind-boggling array of vegan and vegetarian dishes to choose from, one is never short of tasty delights from the sub-continent. At any rate, this diversity of dishes make an Indian feast a great option for a dinner party as it allows you to cater for a wide range of tastes and needs, all without compromising the overall success of the meal. Generally speaking, whether the dish be vegan or laden with meat, all Indian food goes well together.

I’ve always thought of eggplants and Indian cooking as being the perfect partners. It was almost as if the silky opaque flesh of the eggplant was specifically designed to absorb the rich flavours of Indian cooking and as such could withstand even the boldest of spices.

Personally bhartha has always been my favourite way of preparing eggplant and is often a stalwart of any Indian meal of mine, largely for three reasons: it is easy to make, tastes amazing and can be made days in advance. Traditionally the eggplant is deep-fried resulting in a dish that is often swimming in oil and that should come with a health warning. I prefer to steam my eggplant in a microwave instead of frying it which makes for a far healthier and more palatable dish.

As with most Indian dishes bhartha can, and should, be made in advance and gently reheated before serving – again highlighting why Indian food makes the perfect dinner party option.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven-Roasted Eggplant with Miso)

Eggplants, aubergines or brinjals; call them what you will, but most of us are pretty much clueless as to what to do with this perfect purple delight.

Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven Roasted Eggplant with Miso)Along with an undeserved reputation for being bitter, eggplants are unjustly thought of as greasy. Typically shallow fried, eggplant’s absorbent flesh is easily saturated with excessive amounts of oil and can result in the dish becoming too rich. Luckily, however, there are a couple of ways to cook eggplants without the need to have your local cardiac surgeon on speed-dial, those being steaming and roasting. As the name of the recipe suggests this dish involves the latter method and the results are just to die for, as roasted eggplants and miso are quite simply a match made in heaven.

Traditionally nasu dengaku is made with eggplants that have been cut in half and then grilled, but this method only really works with thin Japanese eggplants which are, unfortunately, quite hard to come by in Cape Town. As such, you are welcome to oven-roast halved eggplants if you prefer, but it just seems so much easier to cube them instead, as the end result isn’t that dissimilar and makes for a more chopstick-friendly meal.

This dish makes for a wonderful addition to any Japanese spread and is also great in salads or even sandwiches (nasu dengaku on a ham and cheese sandwich would be all kinds of awesome!).

For more Japanese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Japanese Pantry, please click HERE

Click here for the recipe

Skinny Sweet Potato “Fries”

Undoubtedly the best thing to come out of my recent flirtations with the Banting lifestyle is a renewed love affair with sweet potatoes.

I’ve always been fond of sweet potatoes, but they have never really been a major part of my diet. These days, however, I can’t seem to live without them. Whilst still a carbohydrate, luckily sweet potato finds itself on the Banting Orange List, making it the “occasional carb” of choice for many of us on LCHF diets. Provided they are eaten in moderation, this Skinny Sweet Potato Friestuberous gem is nutritious, tasty and most importantly, relatively guilt-free. Chock full of goodness, sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A, B6 and C, beta-carotene, potassium, antioxidants and contain enough dietary fibre to account for 16% of your RDA. That’s a lot of ‘goodness’ packed into a humble root vegetable!

The nutritional value of sweet potatoes aside, what ultimately makes them so popular is their versatility; they can be used to make soup, mashed, microwaved, oven-roasted, gratinéed or glazed, although the latter is most definitely not for those of us avoiding sugar! Currently, however, my favourite way of preparing sweet potatoes is to use them to make skinny fries.

Cooked in a hot oven, skinny sweet potato fries are just the absolute bomb. Easy to make, healthy and incredibly tasty, these skinny fries are downright irresistible, making them almost TOO good! Personally, I prefer skinny fries over making sweet potato wedges as their ‘skinniness’ encourages a light singeing of the edges, resulting in a ‘burnt’ bitterness that perfectly plays against the inherent sweetness and earthy tones of the vegetable.

Trust me, wholesome has never tasted this good.

Click here for the recipe

Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Asparagus, Avocado and Sugar Snap Peas

Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Asparagus and Sugar Snap PeasQuinoa: the mere mention of the word is enough to instil a sense of dread in any meat lover!

Thankfully, the recent popularity of couscous and, to a lesser extent, bulgar wheat, have paved the way for a quinoa renaissance of sorts. With an increased appreciation of grains as a healthier alternative to traditional carbs, quinoa is no longer the preserve of sandal wearing hippies and long forgotten Incas. This once sacred grain is now the darling of the health conscious and has even sneaked into the hearts of some of the most ferocious carnivores among us, myself included!

Which brings me to this awesome salad.

Packed with the best of nature, this salad tastes like Spring on-a-plate and makes for an excellent side dish to a braai or just as a great vegan/vegetarian dinner. I must confess, this sort of food is not usually my style, but this fabulous salad was a result of the need to feed a guest who was on a restricted diet and my repertoire is all the better for it!

Forced to go “healthy” for the sake of my guest, I turned to the healthiest food I knew of – quinoa. Unfortunately, my previous experiences of this protein rich grain were limited to its popular use as a poor meat substitute in the 90s – not a great starting point for any dish! Nevertheless, after a flurry of panicked internet trawling and cookbook research, I discovered that quinoa has come along way since the days when it was relegated to being stuffed into vegan sausages.

Simple to cook and easy to digest, quinoa was an absolute revelation! Delightfully flavoured, quinoa is, in my opinion, far nicer than couscous (which can be rather dull) and bulgar wheat (which is, at best, indigestible). With its distinctly nutty flavour, quinoa is tasty without being overpowering, making it the perfect base for any tabbouleh style salad.

So, quite unexpectedly I find myself in love with quinoa…and after you try this dish, the chances are you will be too.

Click here for the recipe

Wasabi-pickled Cucumber

This a quick and simple Japanese pickle which makes a great addition to any Japanese meal. You can either use gherkin, Israeli, Kirby or small Mediterranean cucumbers for this recipe, but not the English variety as it is too watery.

Feel free to add more wasabi if you like it hot!

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Beni Shōga (Red Ginger Pickle) 紅生姜

Beni ShogaPopularly served with donburi (rice-bowls) such as gyūdon and katsudon, beni shōga is perhaps one of the most common pickles found in Japan.

Unlike most other Japanese pickles, beni shōga is, in fact, eaten more like a condiment than a side dish. Much like one would expect to find an obligatory bottle of ketchup on a table in the Western-style dinner, many Japanese eateries have bowls of beni shōga for their patrons to pile onto their donburi. It is so readily available throughout Japan, these slithers of red ginger are (to my mind at least) synonymous with a wide range of my favourite Japanese dishes, so much so, none of which taste the same without it. Unfortunately, beni shōga is very hard to find outside of Japan – something that I find deeply frustrating given its integral role in so many Japanese dishes.

My irritation with the lack of authentic Japanese ingredients available in the rest of the world is compounded, in part, by the continued popularity of the lumo-pink version of gari that has become a plague upon Japanese cuisine in the West. Not only is our beloved “garish-gari” a pickled aberration not found in Japan (where it’s a considerably less alarming beige), it has also served to limit our appreciation and expectations of the diversity of Japanese food. Next time you top your sushi with that Barbie-pink slice of ginger, please give a pause to consider the other amazing taste experiences that have been side-lined in the attempt to repackage and homogenise Japanese food for Western tastes. Our ever developing palettes deserve diversity and until we put down our salmon nigiri and demand better, simple delights like beni shōga will forever be beyond our common reach.

With all that said, what’s a man to do? Well if you are me, you’ve just got to make your own beni shōga, of course!

After resolving to take my pickle-destiny into my own hands, I discovered that making my own beni shōga may not seem as impossible as I first assumed. Other than the standard pickling liquid, the lay-men’s  recipe really just has two ingredients – ginger and umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums). Luckily, umeboshi also features in Chinese cuisine and is therefore relatively easy to source locally. Pickled red from the juices of the Japanese plum (ume), the ginger does take a bit of time to take on the colour from the plums, but the end result is a pretty close approximation to the real thing. It may not be perfect, but given the scarcity of beni shōga outside Japan, who would really know the difference anyway!

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Japanese Daikon & Carrot Pickle

Daikon & Carrot PickleNo Japanese meal would be complete without a pickle (or two), and this classic asazuke (quick pickle) will make a great addition to any meal.

Incredibly tasty and ready to eat in just under an hour, daikon & carrot pickle is sure to become a regular household staple.

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Quick Cucumber & Ginger Pickle

Quick Cucumber and Ginger Pickle

Sweet and crunchy, this pickle is quick and easy, complimenting just about any Japanese meal.

The pickle takes at least a couple of hours in the fridge to work its magic, but after that it should keep for at least a few days before losing its texture and crunch.

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Đồ Chua)

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Đồ Chua)A classic Vietnamese pickle that goes with just about everything and can be found throughout Vietnam. Đồ Chua, however, goes especially well with sweet dishes like Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu), as the sharp pickle helps cut through the pervasive sweetness and creates an element of balance in the meal.

Quick and simple, this pickle can be made and eaten on the same day or it will last for a couple of weeks if kept in the fridge.

Click here for the recipe

Tarka Dhal

Tarka DhalDhal is perhaps the unsung hero of Indian cuisine. All too often dismissed as a poor man’s curry or a dreary side dish, dhal is in fact so much more. Nutritious, simple and varied, dhal deserves to feature in any Indian meal. Personally, I could happily tuck into just a bowl of dhal and rice!

This recipe is dhal in its purest form. Flavoured with turmeric and seasoned with a tarka, this dhal recipe is delightfully simple and incredibly tasty.

The recipe uses two different types of dhal, red and yellow, but feel free just use 150g of either.

Unlike curries, dhal is best eaten on the same day it is made.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here

Click here for the recipe