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Tabouleh and Borlotti Humous – Light Vegan Dinner

The quasi-Vegan diet I struck for myself back at the end of January is still going strong, thanks in no small part due to continued exploration of vegan dishes – tweaking things I already did, trying out new recipes altogether.

As you may recall, I ended up eating a lot of humous over January and, while I’m certainly not sick of it, some variety is definitely appreciated. Which is why my interest was piqued by the idea of swapping out chick peas for a different kind of bean – borlotti beans.

Not Tuna, I Swear

I caught a few recipes online that recommended sumac, which I think I’d like to try. This time, however, I elected for the Arabic spice-blend used in kabsah (or mandi, if Yemeni is more your style). I had it on hand, and wanted to start getting through it whilst still fresh. Worked a treat.

Breakdown of the humous, then:

-4 tbsp tahineh
-400ml (volume) cooked borlotti beans
-2 small onions, diced and pre-caramelised
-healthy glug of olive oil (~3 tbsp)
-1 tbsp kabsah spice blend
-juice of 1 lemon
-splash of water to thin, as necessary
-2 tsp salt
-pepper to taste

Caramelising the onions in advance really rounded out the flavour. I cheated and did it over moderate heat, which cut the cook time to around 10 minutes or so. I threw in two teaspoons of caster sugar, which was another deliberate fudge. I’m sure it’d be even better done properly. The blending of the spread is haphazard – so long as you end up with a texture you’re comfortable with in the end, it doesn’t really matter the order in which you add the ingredients, really.

The tabouleh was a pretty straight-ahead affair – handful of mint, maybe three or four times that parsely, half a  head of green lettuce, several tomatoes and half a cucumber, a single lemon juiced, with plenty of salt, cumin, coriander and pepper to taste. I pre-cooked one (dry) cup of bulgur and let it cool before getting on with the rest of the mix. Tossed with a healthy amount of olive oil, it did quite nicely. Hearkening back to the facile tips of yore, I microwaved the lemons half a minute to more easily release the juice.

I quickly made some some flatbreads up (mix of self-raising and gram flours, water, aqua faba, basil and salt) to round off the meal. Ended up being a bit dish intensive on the prep-side, but the actual time spent was minimal.

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The End of Veganuary…or is it?

So, here we are at the end of the month – how did I make out?

As I was hoping, I’ve been able to try out some new recipes and hone some fresh techniques – the increased use of tahineh, especially that sauce, was revelatory, breaking down my reticence to work with tofu is going to come in handy, and the triumph of the injera is something I’ll be returning to regularly.

Well, as noted at the half-way mark and, really, throughout, this hasn’t been that large of a change for me, starting as I did from a near-vegetarian diet. The restriction throughout the day made for some tight moments – even just today, come 11:20, my empty stomach was making its presence known. Much to the enjoyment of my most proximate colleagues. I’ve certainly been getting enough to eat at meal times, but the absent inter-meal grazing is still a lack sorely felt.

Regrettably, I didn’t weigh myself at the start of this whole thing, so it’s difficult to say whether I indeed lost weight. What with only really starting into exercise half-way through, and fairly light-on at that, I suspect that there wasn’t a whole lot shifted.

In the same vein, I’m afraid I can’t comment on what the drain on the purse has been, comparatively. Also, it’s not as if I was approaching this sustainably – in an effort to try new recipes, I was buying ingredients to fit the meal, rather than working in a more economical mindset. I was making heavy use of specialty stores and bodegas, notorious for inflating costs. I don’t usually make extravagant purchases, so I’m content to keep a fairly loose handle on the finances – so long as I’m in the black come the end of the month, I know I’m doing alright. I usually am.

Having to take the time to actually think through meal-prep and ingredient acquisition has brought an unexpected focus on the passage of time – so often, a month slips by, I wake up and it’s the 26th or later, and I wonder how it all went so quickly. Not so here – I don’t know if it was the recognition that the month, as a unit, was something distinct and unusual, or it it was that greater attention to the moment, but I feel like this January has been a bit more…thoroughly experienced? It’s difficult to articulate.

All in all then, a positive experience, with qualifications. There are still recipes I want to try, limits that I want to push. A month isn’t really enough for (slight) diet adjustments to make themselves felt. But…what about two months?

Having done a crash course, I now know what to be looking out for, what to improve upon. I should be able to back track and get a rough estimate of how much I spent, and the average before that, too – it’s been something I’ve been intending to do for a while, so the excuse is a convenient one. I’ll be approaching my weight in a more attentive manner, as well, which will actually give me some numbers to work with, rather than the fuzzy concept of ‘feeling.’ Also, having an idea of what is available locally, food-wise, I should be better equipped to really push the margins on recipes.

Thinking this through earlier today, I was reminded of this piece in (you guessed it) the Guardian. No doubt taking advantage of the New Years Resolution season, the article is written by a fellow reflecting on his former problem-drink habit. Sobering stuff in itself, but what really came to mind was his description of the ability, for a while, to turn off the desire to drink. For a period of ten years, he would spend the first three months of the year teetotal, until his birthday came in the Spring, from whence he would increase the consumption of alcohol throughout the rest of the year to Wakemanesque levels. But, during those first three months, he didn’t have any problem with it at all – was social, in pubs, at parties, you name it – without any desire for a drink. Speaking to a neuroscientist who specialises in this sort of thing, the author discovered that there is a known behaviour in play here – once convinced that something is off-limits, the temptation for it dissipates. Obviously, I’m not comparing my desire for the odd biscuit at work to someone’s alcoholism, but it’ll help to have something to stiffen my resolve, beyond the normal.

To that end, I think I’ll take up a version of the ‘Daytime Vegan’ diet. This will keep me away from the chocolate during the day, whilst giving me some more felxibility for socialising. My mate has a gallon of home-made mead that’s just come of age, and it ain’t going to drink itself. Plus, we’ve a growing collection of comestibles gifted to us by friends that have sat sadly neglected this past month. No longer!

It’s obviously not going to be a whole-sale forsaking of veganism – that would kind of defeat the purpose. I’ll still be trying to cook to a vegan diet, but, just, little things – a slice of cheese here, a litre of wine there. Nothing big, nothing regular. Still mostly vegan. Right?

Though the pace at which I report on my progress will slacken, I’ll still put together the odd post should I come across a worthwhile recipe, or if I’m noticing a big change weight- or energy-wise.

In the spirit of that, then, I offer up this – another from the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday!’:

Lovely Colour

Keeping to the appreciation of tahineh, we have a recipe for beet and walnut humous. Beyond the pre-cooked beet (about 200g) and walnuts (50g), there was also a recommended 1 tbsp tahineh, juice of one lemon, salt, 15g stale bread, one garlic clove, and 1 tbsp toasted cumin seeds. Obviously the tahineh amount was too little, so that was doubled. I cheaped out and just used ground cumin, though, the next time, I’ll do it properly. All in all, a nice twist on the usual!

It was Meant to be a Light Supper, so why am I so Full?

Tonight’s supper was comparatively light – tabouleh and humous, with store-bought chapatis.

Finished the humous I made last week over the weekend, so it was time to whip up another batch. Much like last night’s potato and turnip mash, it’s turning out to be no bad thing to have on hand.

My personal approach to humous is likely a far cry from the real deal, but, as we’ve seen with previous recipes, we’re no strangers to sacrilege in these parts.
Depending on the size of the batch I want to make, I usually go for 2 cans of chickpeas, 4-6 tablespoons tahineh, ~3tbsp olive oil, 4-5 tbsp lemon juice, and – heavens forfend – about a half pint of water (300ml). I’ll add a good amount of salt, with cumin, coriander and chilli to taste (which should translate as “a lot”).

As for order – I add the tahineh, oil and lemon juice to the blender at the start. The chickpeas I microwave before adding, one can at a time. I usually find that 3 minutes a bowl does the trick, first 2 minutes, stir, and then another minute. It gets the chickpeas that much closer to being cooked, and allows for an easier blend.
After giving that a whir, moving things around in the blender with a fork if necessary, I’ll cook and add the second bowl, adding water and maybe a bit more lemon juice to keep things moving. The addition of the water, rather than more oil and tahineh, is something I stumbled on maybe a year or so ago. It gives the whole thing a much fluffier texture, rather than the dense paste you might get from Sabra or the like.

The tabouleh was an off-the cuff affair – two bushels of broad leaf parsley, a handful of fresh mint, one cup of bulgur (one cup dry – obviously has to be cooked before use), maybe nine or ten cherry tomatoes of a goodly size, 2 shallots. I threw in a carrot for a bit of colour, and swapped out the customary lettuce for cavolo nero, as that’s what we had available. Salt and pepper to taste, a good drizzle of olive oil, a few dashes of lemon juice and some cumin and awayyyy we gooo.

It’s a good thing that this was a light affair, as, on a whim, I picked up a bag of what was being sold as ‘Sagoo seeds’ when I was getting some of the other ingredients. No idea what they were, nor how to prepare them. Upon getting home and doing a bit of digging, it turns out that these were in fact Sago, something I am current with.
Sago is starch extracted from the pith of the Sago Palm (actually a cycad), endemic to Southeast Asia. It’s usually sold in a pearled form, a bit like tapioca – the starch of  cassava, incidentally. The plentiful nature of the Sago Palm and the ease by which the material is harvested is of such note that Marx used it as an example in Das Kapital, in the chapter on Absolute and Relative Surplus Value, to underline the georaphically and historically situated nature of surplus value production. Chapter 16 of Volume 1, if you want to check it out (also, if you’re new to the blog, spoiler alert, I’m no liberal).

But, what does it taste like?
I used this recipe as a jumping-off point, doubling the amount of sago I was using, and, one would have thought, everything else accordingly. I found that, come the allotted time, there was still a goodly amount of water left in the pot, which I drained off. Maybe I ought to have taken note of that at the time, especially when I elected to double again the amount of coconut milk, using a whole 400ml can. This left me with plenty of liquid and my sago nearly spent – I added some more sago (you can see the uneven cook in the photo above), maybe another 1/4 cup, and allowed the mixture to cook down for about another 20 minutes – low heat, so as to avoid any sticking to the bottom of the pan.

I was hoping to get the sago pudding off ahead of the rest of the prep and popped into the fridge to cool before eating, but the situation didn’t quite play out that way. Had it still-warm, which may have determined what followed.
How did it taste? Upon first blush, with the appropriate 2 tbsp sugar, a bit of cinnamon, some mint? According to my wife, “tastes the way rubber gym mats smell.”

A heaping teaspoon of sugar directly to the bowl covered the most offensive aspects of the taste, but there was a definite hint of chlorine on the finish. It wasn’t too bad, come the end, and the texture was fun. As I mentioned, it’s a good thing the rest of the meal was light, because the sago pudding definitely wasn’t. Had just the one bowl, and I’ve been in some pain writing this up afterwards.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!