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Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand - Mother Teresa

VEGAN APRICOT, ROSE & ALMOND CAKE

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Celebration cakes take time: time to decide which flavours to use, time to source the ingredients, time to make and bake, and are totally worth the effort when the person you’ve made it for says thank you with a smile, it tasted delicious.

Last night, just before nine o’clock, I decided my daughter and son-in-law had to have a celebration cake for their tenth wedding anniversary. I drove to the nearest town, fifteen minutes away, where the supermarkets stay open until late every night of the week as it’s a popular tourist town. I’d made a list and enjoyed finding each item, and deleting it off my phone list in notes as I wandered the aisles. Initially I’d thought to use peaches scented with orange flower water to make the cake, but the peaches were too green, not at all enticing. Further along the stand lay a heap of apricots, yellow with a rosy blush and smelling ripe and delicious. I had to buy them, thinking a delicate dash of rosewater and almond meal would be quite special. Baking is working by chance with what’s available. You make temporary plans, yet in the end it’s the best produce found that determines the outcome.

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This cake is vegan, sugar free, dairy free and with a gluten free option. It’s texture is light due to several ingredients. While the baking powder and apple cider vinegar raises the flour, and the ground chia seeds bind the mixture, it’s the stiffly whipped aquafaba (from chickpea water) that lightens and aerates the texture. The use of aquafaba creates a vegan cake unlike others. The typical dense vegan cake is no more when using aquafaba. I use chilled coconut cream that's been left in the fridge overnight, whipped with stevia and vanilla bean pulp for icing. Who would have thought that it's more delicious than icing frosting!

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Health benefits:

·       The health benefits of apricots include its ability to treat indigestion, constipation, earaches, fever, skin diseases, cancers, and anemia. Apricots also help improve heart health, and treat strained muscles and wounds. It is also believed that apricots are good for skin care, which is why it makes an important addition to various cosmetics. Furthermore, apricots have the ability to reduce cholesterol levels, prevent the deterioration of vision, aid in weight loss, treat respiratory conditions, boost bone strength, and maintain electrolyte balance in the body.

·       Natural, unsalted almonds are a tasty and nutritious snack with plenty of health benefits. Loaded with minerals, they are also among the healthiest of tree nuts. Just a handful of nutrient-rich almonds a day helps promote heart health and prevent weight gain, and it may even help fight diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer's. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Also, almonds are a significant source of protein and fibre, while being naturally low in sugar. Of all tree nuts, almonds rank highest in protein, fibre, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin content by weight. There are 160 calories in 23 almonds. While many of these calories come from fat, it is primarily the healthy unsaturated fats and not the unhealthy saturated kind.

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APRICOT, ROSE & ALMOND CAKE

Makes 23 cm (11½ inch) cake

V, SF, DF, GF

 

1½ cups spelt flour

OR gluten free option – 1½ cups brown rice flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup almond meal

½ cup coconut sugar

4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

¾ cup rice malt syrup

1 cup apricots, pureed

1½ teaspoons rose water

2 tablespoons chia seeds, milled in blender

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

¼ cup chickpea water

Preheat the oven to 180’C (350’F/Gas Mark 4). Line the bottom of the springform pan with baking paper, and lightly oil and flour the sides with coconut oil. Beat the chickpea water in a bowl at high speed for 5 minutes and set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into another large mixing bowl, add the almond meal and coconut sugar, and stir to combine. In another bowl, combine the melted coconut oil, rice malt syrup, pureed apricots, rose water, milled chia seeds and whisk until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined without lumps. Whisk in the apple cider vinegar. Gently fold in the aquafaba (beaten chickpea water). Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 55-60 minutes, until the skewer comes out clean. Set aside on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before removing from tin and allowing to completely cool. Spread coconut cream icing over the top of the cake with a spatula. Garnish with slices of apricots around the rim of the cake or with flowers for a special occasion.

Enjoy!

 

COCONUT CREAM ICING

What a wonder it is that coconut cream whips and tastes even better than icing!

2 x 400 ml (13 fl oz.) coconut cream, refrigerated overnight

1-2 tablespoons stevia

1 vanilla bean, pulp

Spoon the solid coconut cream into a bowl, add stevia and vanilla bean pulp and whip with an electric mixer on high. Whip until the mixture is completely thickened. The coconut icing is best used immediately; if placed onto a cake and left for a few hours, the brown of the cake will seep into the whipped coconut cream.

VEGAN ZUCCHINI FLOWER TART W CHICKPEA FLOUR

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Christmas has been celebrated and the New Year’s been heralded with hope. My family’s visit ended so suddenly, as they all flew north the same afternoon, that I’m left somewhat bereft. Time spent together was so precious, quite rare, in fact, as I’m unsure if we’ll ever all be together again. I guess now there’s time to relax and renew fitness goals, sew cute overalls for my crawling grandson and weed our garden.

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With the exception of tomatoes and spinach, zucchinis grow quite rampantly in our organic garden. Each summer, I visit the garden often, keenly watching for the blossoming of the zucchini flowers. They’re a delicacy for our dining table, to make zucchini flower tarts or to stuff the delicate flowers with fragrant stuffing. I feel quite pampered as Hubby grows several plants just so I can make these treasured treats.

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Eating a vegan diet doesn’t mean you miss out eating vegetable tarts. Chickpea flour (besan flour) creates a delicious filling for tarts, especially flavourful when nutritional yeast and spices are added. If you don’t have a supply of zucchini flowers, cut spheres of zucchini to top the tart would taste equally delicious and also looks quite pretty. Like in previous posts, I use Bio Buttery to make the dough for this tart.

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Health benefits:

·       If you are looking for a way to lose weight in a healthy way, it’s time for you to learn about the health benefits of zucchini. Zucchini is well known to reduce weight, yet boost the nutrient value of your diet. Moreover, it helps to enhance vision and prevent all the diseases that occur from vitamin C deficiency like scurvy, sclerosis, and easy bruising. It helps to cure asthma and has a high content of vitamin C, carbohydrates, protein, and fibre. It contains significant quantities of potassium, folate, and vitamin A, all of which are important for good health.

·       Chickpeas also called garbanzo beans are a great source of protein and a healthy addition to your diet. Naturally low in fat, they are also high in dietary fibre and rich in vitamins and minerals. Eating chickpeas on a regular basis can help you lose weight, boost intestinal health and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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ZUCCHINI FLOWER TART W CHICKPEA FLOUR

Makes a 28 cm tart (11 inches)

V, DF, GF option

 

For the crust:

1½ cups spelt flour

OR GF option – 1 cup brown rice flour & ½ cup buckwheat flour

pinch salt

1/3 cup unsalted vegan butter, Bio buttery

2-3 tablespoons chilled water

 

For the filling:

2 cups chickpea flour (besan flour)

¼ cup nutritional yeast

1 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Himalayan salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2½ cups water

2 zucchini, medium sized

 

For the topping:

9 zucchini flowers

OR circles of zucchini if flowers aren’t available

½ cup grated vegan cheese

To make the crust, add flour and salt to a bowl and stir. Using a knife, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture becomes crumbly. Alternatively, rub the butter through the flour with your fingers until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add a little chilled water and bring the mixture together to form a ball of dough with your fingers. Add only enough chilled water until the mixture comes together without being crumbly. Wrap the dough with baking paper, and place in the fridge for ½ hour.

Preheat the oven to 200’C (400’F/ Gas Mark 6). Combine the chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, baking powder, smoked paprika, garlic salt, Himalayan salt and pepper in a bowl with water and whisk to combine. Grate the zucchini, add to the mixture and stir to combine. Set aside to roll the dough.

Cut a circle of baking paper to fit the base of the tart pan. Grease the sides of the tart pan with coconut oil. Remove the dough ball from the fridge and place between two pieces of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a disk that’s 3 mm thick and about 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter. Take the top layer of baking paper off the disk, slip your hand under the disk and lay on the tart pan. Fit the dough into the tart pan and cut the excess off the edges. Pour the zucchini mixture into the tart pan until nearly to the top (I had a small amount left over). Gently prize open the zucchini flowers and arrange around the tart, and sprinkle grated vegan cheese over the tart. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden in colour. Remove from the oven and slightly cool on a rack. Serve warm with vegetables or salads.

Enjoy!

VEGAN CHICKPEA, QUINOA & SAGE ROAST

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Tis the season to check weather forecasts; not for whether it’ll snow, no, we instead wonder how high the thermometer will soar. Will it be a balmy 25-28’C with a gentle breeze or will we swelter with a heat wave, ‘a stinker’ as described by Australian bogans (which translated means, a day that’s so hot you stay inside with the aircon blasting). Just checking the weather prediction now, it’s said to be 18’C and a little windy for our island. I’m hoping it’ll warm up a bit so we can dine under the shady tree in the courtyard. If not, this vegan parsnip, quinoa and sage roast and my Mother’s vegan mock turkey with cranberry, walnut and apple stuffing (see recipes>summer) with a delicious onion and quince gravy will be eaten in the dining room with roast potatoes and a few summery salads. And maybe while the heater is purring, we’ll finish off the meal with a vegan fig and orange Christmas pudding with creamy warm cashew custard (see recipes>summer). Thinking, I might make a frozen vegan dessert too, as you can never be sure with fickle Mother Nature.

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I cannot stress how easy this roast is. The only stress point is to make sure you mill the chia seeds in the blender just before you need to include them in the roast. And make sure you apply quite a bit of pressure on the mixture after spooning into the tin so the mixture doesn’t fall apart when slicing to serve. The gravy has a touch of sweetness with the quince jam adding a festive hint. You could also use cranberry jam.

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Health benefits:

·       The most important health benefits of parsnips include their ability to lower the chances of developing diabetes, reduce cholesterol levels, and improve digestive processes. Parsnips also prevent depression, promote proper growth and development, strengthen the immune system, and lower blood pressure to protect the cardiovascular health.

·       Quinoa is one of the world's most popular health foods. It’s gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fibre, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.

·       The health benefits of sage include its ability to improve brain function, lower inflammation, prevent chronic diseases, boost the immune system, regulate digestion, alleviate skin conditions, strengthen the bones, slow the onset of cognitive disorders, and prevent diabetes.

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CHICKPEA, QUINOA & SAGE ROAST

V, DF, GF

Makes 15 x 25 cm tin (6 x 10 inches)

 

½ cup dried chickpeas or 1½ cups cooked chickpeas

½ cup red quinoa grain

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 parsnip, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tamari

3 tablespoons fresh sage, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon sumac

½ cup walnuts

2 tablespoons chia seeds, milled in blender

Himalayan salt

black pepper

8 sage leaves

The night before, rinse the chickpeas, pour them into a saucepan and cover them with boiled water (as warm water will break down indigestible starches). Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and soak overnight. Drain, rinse, return to saucepan with fresh water covering the chickpeas, cover with a lid and bring to a boil, and skim off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat, and simmer 1½ hours until the beans are very soft. Remove from the heat, add several tablespoons salt and let the beans soak in salty water for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse to remove excess salt and loose skins.

Wash the quinoa grains and rinse. Bring the quinoa and 1¾ cups of water to boil and reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed. Take the saucepan off the heat and let sit with the lid on for 5 minutes. Fluff the grains with a fork and allow cool.

Preheat oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas Mark 4. On a medium heat in a large saucepan, sauté the finely chopped onions until translucent. Add the celery, carrot and parsnip, and continue to cook until the celery is translucent. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a minute. Take off the heat, and mix in tamari, sage and sumac. Roughly chop the walnuts and add to the mixture. Slightly mash the chickpeas. Combine the vegetable nut mixture with quinoa, mashed chickpeas and milled chia seeds, and stir to combine. Season with Himalayan salt and ground black pepper. Spoon the mixture into a loaf tin greased with coconut oil, and press the mixture down firmly into the tin. Arrange sage leaves diagonally on the mixture and press. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake a further 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. To serve, gently remove from the tin and place on a platter. Serve with onion, sage and quince gravy.

Enjoy!

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ONION & QUINCE GRAVY

1 medium onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 teaspoons cornflour or flour

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon tamari

2 teaspoons quince jam

1 cup vegetable stock

Saute onions and garlic until translucent. Reduce to low heat, add flour and stir to combine while cooking. Add the apple cider vinegar, stirring well to work out the lumps. Add the tamari, sage, quince jam and vegetable stock. Gently simmer to reduce and thicken for up to 15 minutes or longer. Remove from heat, strain through a colander. Serve immediately or store in a sealed container for future use.

Enjoy!

VEGAN TROPICAL POPSICLES

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I grew up on the north coast of New South Wales, where tropical fruit is abundant and graced our seasonal table. As a child, for a few years my father owned several banana plantations, so bananas were our go to fruit. I remember my sister and I slowly earned pocket money, hitting wooden pieces of timber into a crate. Mum and Dad filled these boxes with green bananas to send by train to the markets on the east coast of Australia. There were several trees of mangos in the plantations, and after a hard days work, weeding the rows between the banana trees, we’d sit under the shade and eat slices of a mango, succulent juice dripping from our elbows. One never forgets the flavour of tropical fruit fresh from the tree.

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These popsicles are a simple three-step recipe; chop the fruit, blend and pour into a popsicle mold. It’s best to use ripe fruit so the flavour is succulent and delicious. Keeping a tray of popsicles in the fridge is best right through the summer. Either make them at night so they’re ready the next day or make them early in the morning so they’re ready by mid-afternoon when everyone’s in need of a cool refreshing treat to bide them over until dinner.

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Health benefits:

·       Some of the healthiest and most sought after tropical fruits are mangoes, papayas, coconuts, kiwi fruit, pineapples, avocados, guava, dragon fruit and melons.

·       It’s a shame that some tropical fruits get a bad reputation just for being naturally high in sugar or high in fat. They’re often deemed unhealthy for this reason, yet this isn’t how it should be. All fruits or vegetables have something to bring to the table when it comes to our nutrition, tropical fruits included.

·       Some people are even surprised to learn that tropical fruits such as kiwi, pineapple, bananas, mangoes and coconuts are actually some of the lowest glycemic foods available and some of the most nutrient-dense. In fact, pineapple has less sugar per serving than an apple, and bananas are actually lower on the glycemic index than sweet potatoes.

·       Mangoes have to be ripe before they develop their sweet flavour, so be sure to cut them only when they’re slightly soft. The colours may differ, so they won’t change like a banana or avocado will, for instance. When they’re soft to the touch like avocados and smells sweet at the end, then you know mangoes are ripe. They’re a great source of vitamin C, containing 75 percent of your needs in just one fruit. Mangos have also been to fight leukemia, colon, breast and prostate cancer due to their specific antioxidant compounds. Mangoes are also alkalizing, great for diabetics since they’re low glycemic, and help improve your eyes, hair, and skin.

·       Coconuts are packed with fibre, electrolytes, they fight bacteria in the body, improve mental focus, help fight the blues thanks to their healthy fats and mineral content, offer up magnesium, fibre, B vitamins, and even the amino acids you need to stay healthy and strong.

·       Papayas are packed with enzymes for digestion, loaded with vitamin C and beta carotene for your skin, and very hydrating due to its high water content. Papayas are ripe when their entire skins turn yellowish orange in colour, so don’t eat them when they’re still green or they’ll be hard and not very sweet on the inside. Though the seeds look a bit strange with their bubbly appearance, don’t throw them out. You can use these in smoothies without even tasting them. The seeds are beneficial for removing parasites from the body, they help fight cancer and help with cirrhosis of the liver, and a cup of them even count as 1 protein serving because of their amino acids and healthy content.

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TROPICAL POPSICLES

Makes 10 popsicles

V, SF, DF, NF

 

1 cup fresh ripe mango chunks

1 cup fresh ripe papaya chunks

1 cup coconut milk or coconut water

1 cup coconut yogurt

1 tablespoon rice malt syrup, optional

Place all ingredients into the blender. Blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into the popsicle molds. Place popsicles into the freezer and freeze overnight. When serving, thaw for a few minutes or run warm water over the outside of the molds to loosen.

Enjoy!

VEGAN SPINACH, PEA & CASHEW CHEESE FRITTERS

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With a profusion of apple tree leaves in the orchard, spinach leaves spiking out of the earth and parsley going to seed from over supply; spring is at its finest in our home garden. This abundance needs using as growth is abundant and storage in the fridge seems a crime. So salads and smoothies, soups and fritters grace our table each meal bringing renewed and abundant health from fresh organic produce.

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Green is spring, and to celebrate these fresh ingredients, I’ve created fritters that just need a mash and a stir before frying to crispy golden brown; easy steps that don’t keep your family waiting long for their lunch or evening meal. A delicious dip, like cucmber tzatziki makes the meal memorable, so I’ve included my tzatziki recipe as it makes the fritter flavours zing. (I used store bought cashew cheese and coconut yogurt, readily available from many health food stores).

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Health benefits:

·       Spinach is available all year round but is in season during spring. It is well known for its nutritional qualities and has always been regarded as a plant with remarkable abilities to restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood. There are sound reasons why spinach produces such results; the fact that it is rich in iron. Iron plays a central role in the function of red blood cells that help in transporting oxygen around the body, in energy production and DNA synthesis. Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2. Vitamin K is important for maintaining bone health and it is difficult to find vegetables richer in vitamin K than spinach. Others include kale, broccoli and green cabbage.

·       A recent study showed that the sautéing of spinach was best able to retain its total carotenoid content, in comparison with steaming or boiling or frying. Alternatively, an equally recent study showing far less loss of vitamin C from spinach when this vegetable was steamed for 5 minutes, instead of being microwaved or boiled for that same amount of time. Yet numerous studies also point to the nutrient benefits of raw spinach.

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SPINACH, PEA & CASHEW CHEESE FRITTERS

Makes 8 fritters

V, DF, GF, SF

 

400 grams frozen peas, thawed

¼ cup black chia seeds, freshly ground

100 grams cashew cheese

¼ cup coconut yogurt

100 grams spinach leaves

3-4 sprigs fresh parsley, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind

pinch chilli flakes, to taste

Himalayan salt

cracked black pepper

olive oil

Place the peas in a large bowl and mash with a fork. Add the ground chia seeds, cashew cheese, coconut yogurt, spinach leaves, parsley, lemon rind, chilli flakes, salt and pepper, and mix to combine. Set aside for 5-10 minutes to thicken.

Heat some olive oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Add several heaped tablespoons of the mixture to the fry pan, slightly flattened, and cook for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. If needed, add more olive oil. Handle fritters with care as the edges tend to fall apart. Serve the fritters with a salad and dip of choice, like cucumber tzatziki and wedges of lemon.

Enjoy!

 

CUCUMBER TZATZIKI

1 cup coconut yogurt

1 Lebanese cucumber

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon mint, finely chopped

pinch Himalyan salt

ground black pepper

Peel the cucumber, coarsely grate into a small bowl, and squeeze out the juice into a cup. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. It is optional to place the tzatziki into a sealed container and leave in the fridge overnight so the flavours can combine. Serve in a small bowl with the fritters.

Enjoy!