February 28, 2012

Adzuki Beans with Millet and Kale

You know those small things that make you realise you might just be doing too many things at once? Like when you accidentally leave a perishable item on the kitchen counter for 2 hours on a hot summer's day. Or when you cook quinoa, completely forget about it for about 40 minutes and end up with blackened mess and a house that smells like - well, burnt quinoa? Yes, I've had a few of those subtle hints in the past weeks reminding me to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

Simple meals is where its at when life gets busy. I am loving bean and grain salads at the moment and there seems to be just endless flavour options available. This adzuki bean and millet salad with kale and carrot is one of them. I've made a similar dish with brown rice instead of millet and broccoli instead of carrot. Really, the choices are endless and no matter what, you'll end up with a healthy, fulfilling meal. One note about beans, however. I cannot recommend using raw beans enough. Sure, they are a little bit more work than canned beans but really have superior flavour and texture. I don't like beans that are too mushy and that's what canned beans tend to be. If you cook beans from raw you can regulate the tenderness and end up with a nicer texture.

 Adzuki Beans with Millet and Kale*
(serves 2-4)

200g raw adzuki beans, soaked in water overnight
100g millet, cooked
4-5 kale stems
1 large carrot, grated
4 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari or Bragg's all seasoning
freshly ground black pepper

* This is delicious served on its own or with some roasted pumpkin!

1. Drain the soaked beans and rinse well. Cook the beans in fresh water until tender, about 30-40 minutes. 

2. Combine the beans, millet, grated carrot, sesame seeds and kale in a large bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and toss into the salad. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

February 26, 2012

Quinoa stuffed mini-pumpkins

How cute are these mini pumpkins?? I love their bright orange colour and the sweet flavour. Stuffed with a quinoa-vegetable mixture they make a perfect little starter for a dinner party or just a lovely a lovely little lunch! You could add any seasonal vegetables in the mix as well as any seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, for example) or nuts (soaked or toasted almonds, toasted walnuts, etc.).

 Quinoa stuffed mini-pumpkins
(4 portions)

4 small pumpkins
1 tablespoon olive oil
100g cooked quinoa
1 carrot, grated
1 green shallot, finely sliced
1/2 lime (or lemon), juiced
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
seeds, nuts (optional)

1. Cut the tops off the pumpkins and carve out the seeds. You can dry and roast these seeds and add them into the stuffing, if you like. 

2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the pumpkins (with their tops on) on a baking tray and drizzle with some olive oil.

3. Bake for about 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the pumpkins) or until tender. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

4. Combine quinoa, carrot, green shallot and lime juice in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the pumpkins. Serve warm.

February 24, 2012

Fresh Amaranth Salad

Happy Friday friends!

I was up early this morning and went for a swim in the near-by ocean pool - the water was so warm and lovely! After the swim I had a quick green juice of kale, celery, cucumber and lime and then headed to the markets. I was in for a treat this time, as one of the stalls was selling some gorgeous fresh amaranth! Normally I would use amaranth seeds like quinoa or millet, but fresh amaranth can be used as a whole in salads and stir-fries, in much same way like spinach. Truth be told I prefer the whole amaranth to just the seeds, there is just so much flavour in the actual plant. It can be a bit of a rare treat to find fresh amaranth, but if you do, please make sure to buy and try some!

This simple lunch salad doesn't need any fancy'ing up. The amaranth is the main player here and other ingredients mere onlookers. A handful of left-over quinoa, some toasted walnuts and shallots with a little lime juice and olive oil drizzled on top is all you need.

Have a lovely weekend!

Fresh Amaranth Salad

fresh amaranth, washed and florets and leaves cut off
50g walnuts, toasted
1 green shallot, chopped
50g cooked quinoa
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon olive oil
tiny pinch of good quality salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the amaranth. Cook for just a couple of minutes, then add the shallot, quinoa, toasted walnuts and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

February 21, 2012

Millet and Blueberry Pancakes


There is only one way to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day) and that is by making (and eating) pancakes! These special edition pancakes are very low in sugar, high in protein and yes, they are vegan! They are thick, fluffy and perfectly sweet without a litre of syrup drizzled over.

I used millet meal along with some wholegrain spelt flour to make the pancakes. Millet is a great alternative to quinoa, but has a much milder taste and is also high in protein. Blueberries add a lovely sweetness to the batter and only a very small amount of additional sweetener is needed. You can use any non-dairy milk, I used home-made brown rice milk flavoured with pure vanilla.

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

Millet and Blueberry Pancakes
(makes 8 pancakes)

70 g millet meal
70 g wholegrain spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

250 ml non-dairy milk (rice, almond, quinoa, soy, hemp)
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil (room temperature)
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup

125 g fresh blueberries

virgin coconut oil, for frying

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and lightly whisk to combine. Fold in the blueberries.

2. Heat a small frying pan on medium heat. Add a little bit of virgin coconut oil in the pan and cook the pancakes in small batches, a few minutes on each side. Serve warm.

February 19, 2012

Split pea soup

Today is Shrove Sunday, which of course means split pea soup and Shrove Buns. I will give those buns a miss this year, but split pea soup is definitely on the menu and this vegan version is an old favourite of mine. Although we are still in the midst of summer here in Sydney, I have no issues eating a big bowl of soup, the thicker the better. You can easily adapt this recipe to your liking, try using different vegetables like celeriac, celery and garlic or experiment with different dried herbs and spices. If you want to make it extra-fancy, add a drop or two of liquid smoke in the mix too. 

Split pea soup
(serves an army)

230g green split peas
230g yellow split peas
1 brown/yellow onion
3 large carrots
1 large parsnip
1 teaspoon ground mustard*
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
10 whole black peppercorns
 2 litres water or vegetable stock
a good pinch of quality salt

* I tend to keep ground mustard at home because it has a longer shelf-life than ready-made mustard. If you prefer, you can use a small dollop of normal mustard (wholegrain or Dijon) to season each portion at serving. 

1. Rinse the split peas and remove any stones or discoloured peas. 

2. Place all other ingredients, except for salt in a large French casserole. Bring to boil and leave to simmer for 40-60 minutes, depending on how mushy you like it to be. Season with salt and serve. You can freeze the excess soup. 


February 16, 2012

Pinto beans and yellow squashes with green dressing


This is true colour therapy! These gorgeous yellow squashes are from my trustee farmer, Giulia, whose amazingly fresh, organic produce I've become slightly addicted to in the past months. I go see her at the markets every Friday morning and whilst shopping, we talk about the weather (mostly the rain this past season), the food politics in Australia, and everything in between. It's truly a perfect way to start the weekend. 

The best way to enjoy any fresh vegetables and fruit is, in my opinion, raw or very lightly steamed. On daily basis I tend to eat 80-90% raw - and the last 10% usually consists of beans, grains or lentils.
This dish combines so many flavours and is wholesome, filling and packed with protein! 


Pinto beans and yellow squashes with green dressing
(serves 2)

200g raw pinto beans, soaked in water overnight and cooked until tender*
7-8 small yellow squashes
2 green shallots, finely sliced
4-5 stems of kale, sliced into strips
2-3 tablespoons hemp seeds, toasted

Green dressing

2 small broccoli, chopped
1/2 avocado
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper

* always discard the soaking water and use fresh water to cook the beans! This reduces the sugar content in the beans and makes them easier to digest. 

1. Lightly steam the yellow squashes and cut into small slices. Combine the cooked beans, squash, shallots and kale in a large bowl. Toss well to combine.

2. Steam the broccoli until tender. Place the broccoli, avocado, lemon juice and olive oil in a blender and puree until smooth. Add water and blend again to reach a dressing-like consistency. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

3. Coat the beans and the greens with the dressing, and sprinkle on the hemp seeds. Let the flavours to develop for half an hour before serving.

February 14, 2012

Chickpea Curry

Hello friends and Happy Friend's Day! 

That's right, in Finland we celebrate friends on February 14 - we send cards to all our friends and thank them for their friendship. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds much nicer than a day spent celebrating just couples, don't you think? 

As one gets older, friendships tend to change somewhat. There is no need to spend every spare minute with you BFF and it doesn't matter so much if you only see your friends every now and then. I have known some of my friends for more than 25 years and those are the friendships I know will last the time and distance between us.

I made this curry for my best friend last night. It is warming, welcoming and comforting. It nourishes and satisfies. It's my way of saying "I love you."

"All love that has not friendship for its base is like a mansion built upon the sand."
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Chickpea Curry
(Recipe inspired by Foodispower.org)

1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
small piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 medium sized sweet potato, cut into 2cm cubes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of chilli flakes or cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
200g cooked chickpeas
1 small red capsicum, sliced
4-5 kale leaves, cut into strips (you can also use spinach)
400ml coconut milk

1. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the garlic and ginger. Cook for one minute, then add the chopped sweet potato and a dash of water.

2. While the sweet potato is cooking, heat the spices in a small dry pan for 1/2 minute or until fragrant. Add the spices onto the pan with the sweet potato and continue to cook until the sweet potato is just tender. 

3. Add the capsicum and chickpeas and a pinch of salt. Cook for a further few minutes, then add the coconut milk. Finally stir in the kale leaves. Heat through and serve warm.


February 12, 2012

Provencal tarts for my travel fever

There is definitely travel fever in the air! We have finally booked our flights to Finland where we will have our wedding in June and to France for our honeymoon thereafter! These Provencal tarts are a perfect cure for the time being and the summery ingredients of tomatoes and basil keep me going until I get to taste the real flavours of France. 

The tarts might not look particularly pretty, but they are certainly full of flavour! I picked up a couple of kilos of gorgeously blush tomatoes and a big bunch of fragrant basil from the markets this morning and my whole kitchen smelled like summer when I was making these tarts! I love celebrating seasons with fresh produce and these tarts truly embrace the taste of summer!

Provencal tarts
(makes 4)


100g rolled oats
40g puffed brown rice
160g wholegrain spelt flour
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons water


1kg ripe tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped)
1 large red capsicum, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
big handful (about 1 cup) fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic, capsicum, tomatoes and basil. Let simmer for 40-45 minutes or until the mixture has cooked down. Stir in a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and leave to cool.

2. Place the rolled oats and puffed brown rice in a food processor and grind into a coarse mixture. Combine the mixture with spelt flour, dried rosemary and a pinch of salt. Add olive oil and water and lightly knead the dough until it comes together. Divide the dough into 4 portions and spread evenly in greased tart pans (12cm each). Refrigerate the crusts for 10-15 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Bake the bases for 15 minutes, then fill each base with the tomato mixture. Continue to bake for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack before serving.

February 09, 2012

Calcium in a vegan diet + Marinated baked tofu and wheat berry salad

Considering that us Scandinavians are known to consume the highest amount of dairy products in the world, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that I thought I could never live without dairy. Before cutting dairy out of my diet a few months ago, my standard excuse to keep consuming it had always been "it's a good source of calcium". This is, of course, true and we are taught to believe that we should drink milk and eat cheese "to build strong bones". When I was growing up, there were hardly any other sources of calcium mentioned in any food pyramids or dietary guidelines. There was no mention of any plant-based ingredients that can certainly provide a good source of calcium in both vegan and non-vegan diets.

What is the role of calcium?

Calcium, one of the most important and abundant minerals in the human body, is essential to life. Calcium works together with magnesium to support the proper functioning of nerves and muscles, and it also helps to maintain the strength and density of bones. The body's need for calcium is especially important during the growth years, but it is also necessary throughout life to keep the bones healthy. 

There are many factors that can affect the absorption of and need for calcium and it is thus difficult to determine the correct amount of calcium for everyone. Some of the factors increasing calcium absorption include: body needs (growth, pregnancy), exercise and vitamin D. In turn, high phosphorus intake (phosphorus is high in meat foods), high protein intake, lack of exercise and stress can all decrease the absorption of calcium. 

What are good plant-based sources calcium?

Many green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, collard greens and turnip greens are good sources of calcium. However, some vegetables, including spinach, rhubarb and chard contain oxalic acid which makes the calcium in them harder to absorb. Some beans, especially pinto, adzuki and soybeans are excellent sources of calcium. Many nuts and seeds, particularly almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame and sunflower seeds, also contain good amounts of calcium.

It is still a good idea to take a calcium supplement, especially if you think you have a higher need for it. Seeing that calcium is artificially added to all dairy products, you might as well skip the middle-man (aka. the cow or the goat) and go straight to the source yourself.

I like to include a variety of greens, beans, nuts, seeds and some tofu or other soybean products in my daily diet. This salad with marinated, baked tofu, wheat berries, carrots and snow peas is one of my favourites. I love the crunchy tofu and the crisp veggies, and can happily devour a bowl any time.

Marinated baked tofu and wheat berry salad
(serves 2)

350g block extra-firm tofu
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari or Bragg's all-purpose seasoning
1 pinch of chilli flakes

200g wheat berries, soaked in water for a few hours
3-4 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
2 small carrots, thinly chopped
1 big handful of snow peas, thinly chopped
2 green shallots, thinly sliced

1. Whisk olive oil, apple cider vinegar and tamari in a bowl. Slice the tofu into 1-2 cm thick slices and place the slices in a shallow (rimmed) dish. Pour the marinade over the slices and turn the slices to coat both sides. Leave to marinate for 1-2 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Arrange the tofu slices on the tray (gently shaking off any extra marinade). Bake for 20-25 minutes on each side or until golden and crispy. 

3. In the meantime, drain the soaked wheat berries, place in a saucepan and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil, then let simmer for about 30 minutes or until the grains are tender. Drain and leave to cool. 

4. Combine the cooled down grains, sesame seeds, left-over marinade and chopped vegetables in a bowl. Toss to combine and arrange in serving bowls. Cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces and place on top of the grains. Serve immediately.

Source: Haas, E. M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition - The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine (2006).

February 07, 2012

Marinated eggplant and beluga lentils

It is the eggplant season and I for one have been embracing it shamelessly. Since my own eggplant in my garden is still growing, I've resorted to the beautiful produce of the farmers' markets to satisfy my cravings.

Eggplants love marinades and the mixture of garlic, chilli, rosemary and olive oil is certainly one that will convert even the toughest eggplant-hater into loving them. I'm sure you also know my love for lentils by now and they really go so well with eggplants - this dish had everything I could ask for!

 Marinated eggplant and beluga lentils
(Recipe adapted from Burke's Backyard Magazine)

1 large eggplant, cut into 1-2 cm thick slices
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, extra
1 small clove of garlic, finely sliced
pinch of chilli flakes
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

200g beluga lentils (you can also use brown or French lentils)
2 green shallots, finely sliced
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a grill pan on medium high and brush the eggplant slices with olive oil. Cook the eggplant in batches for a couple of minutes on each side, then lay the slices in a large dish. 

2. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over the eggplant slices. Turn the slices around to coat both sides, then leave to marinade for at least 30 minutes. 

3. Cook the lentils until just tender. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl. Add finely sliced green shallots and season with salt and pepper. 

4. Slice the marinated eggplants in thick slices and toss into the lentils. Serve the dish warm or room temperature.

February 05, 2012

Cabbage and chickpea salad with grilled portobello mushrooms

 "If you look for lack, that's what you'll find. If you look for abundance, that's what you'll discover."
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Eating out as a vegan can be challenging. Especially in a country like Australia where a culture of 'meat-eating' still lives strong. Although most restaurants offer salads and other vegetarian dishes, there generally aren't many (if any) vegan options on the menu. Personally I don't find this so much as a problem since I don't eat out very often. I do realise, however, that for some people the social aspect, or rather the difficulty of it, is one of the reasons why they think they couldn't follow a vegan diet. 

There are a few ways around this, however. Obviously it is easier if you are attending a family dinner or a picnic/barbeque with friends and you can bring your own vegan dish to the party. When eating out in restaurants, it also helps to be prepared: 1) browse the restaurant's menu online to see if they already have some vegan options on the menu, 2) give the restaurant a call and ask if the chef is able to prepare something for you off the menu. 3) if possible, look for restaurants that are likelier to have more vegetarian/vegan options - many Asian cuisines offer a vast variety of all-vegetarian dishes,  Middle Eastern restaurants often have a selection of dips and nibbles (olives, tapenade, falafel), and in most Italian restaurants you can order egg-free pasta served with a simple tomato sauce or a cheese-free pizza loaded with vegetables.

Last night, we went out for dinner with my fiancé's parents and their family friend. I had booked a restaurant (there aren't many in my area to choose from) and called in advance to ask whether they had any vegan options on the menu or whether they were able to make something for me off the menu. The restaurant staff was extremely helpful and friendly and said the chef will be able to accommodate my request. To be honest, I wasn't expecting more than a bowl of lettuce and that's pretty much what I ended up having. Rather than complaining about my creative-less dish, I remained positive and friendly and I hope my attitude helped others to understand what it means to be vegan. Plus who knows, if there will be enough vegan requests, maybe the restaurant will actually add a vegan dish on the menu permanently.

In last night's case, I was also prepared by eating something at home before dinner. I had made this cabbage and chickpea salad with grilled portobello mushrooms that will most definitely be my stand-by salad from now on. I adore portobello mushrooms - they are so incredibly juicy and 'meaty' and perfect for marinating and grilling. I love the crunchy cabbage and toasted walnuts with the softness of chickpeas and mushrooms with a tangy dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar and mustard. It was perfect!

Cabbage and chickpea salad with grilled portobello mushrooms
(serves 2-4)

3-4 portobello mushrooms
pinch of chilli flakes
1 garlic clove
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 small red cabbage
1/4 small green cabbage
2 green shallots
200g cooked chickpeas
100g walnuts

3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard powder

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Clean the mushrooms and remove the stalks. Combine one or two tablespoons of olive oil with one grated clove of garlic and a pinch of chilli flakes. Brush the mushrooms with the oil and bake for 10-15 minutes or until just tender.

2. Finely slice the cabbages and shallots and place in a large mixing bowl. Lightly toast the walnuts in a dry pan and add into the salad. Also add in the chickpeas and toss to mix. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and toss into the salad.

3. Cut the mushrooms in thick slices and arrange on top of the salad. Serve immediately.

More tips on eating out as a vegan can be found in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's new book 
"The 30-Day Vegan Challenge"

February 02, 2012

Roasted spiced pumpkin with toasted buckwheat

We might be another month away from autumn, but this dish certainly echoes some of those flavours we relate to the cooler months of the year. I adore spiced roasted pumpkin (and any other roasted veggies, for that matter) and combined with crunchy, toasted buckwheat this dish was a perfect lunch on a rainy summer's day.

Roasted Spiced Pumpkin with Toasted Buckwheat
(serves 2)

500g peeled, cubed pumpkin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cacao
pinch of salt

200g raw buckwheat kernels
3-4 tablespoons sunflower seeds

1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Combine the pumpkin, olive oil and spices in a large bowl and toss to mix. Pour the mixture onto the baking tray and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the cubes are tender.

3. Toast the buckwheat and sunflower seeds on a dry pan for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then.

4. Combine the roasted pumpkins with the buckwheat mixture and serve.