25/07/2016

Cashew Milk

home-made cashew milk in a jug
Cashew Milk
Makes 1-1.2 litres (US: about a quart)

Ingredients:
80-85g unsalted cashews (US: 1/2 cup plus a few extra)
About a litre of water

Extra water for soaking and rinsing

Note: You need a fairly high-powered blender for this; it's possible with an immersion blender but a bit messy.  A food processor might work, but a good blender is best.


Method:
Put the cashews in a container with enough water to cover them well. Place in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours (or longer).

cashews for cashew milk, in the blenderWhen you are ready to make the cashew milk, drain away the soak water through a sieve, and rinse the cashews thoroughly under running water. They will be quite soft by this time.

Place the cashews in the blender with enough water to cover.

Remember to put on the lid!





Blend for about 40-50 seconds. I usually do about 20 seconds on low power, to get it started, then another 20-30 seconds on high power.

Milk starts to form almost immediately, but bits of cashew will fly up around the sides, so remove the jug from the blender and carefully drizzle water around the insides to wash it all down and into the milk.

Blend again until well combined.

Pour the resultant milk into a jug (US: pitcher) that holds about a litre or more (US: a quart) then use more water to rinse out the blender and add this to the milk until the container is full. Cover.

Keeps in the fridge for at least four days.

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The above instructions hardly seem like a recipe, as cashew milk is so very simple. When we first started using non-dairy milks, due to lactose intolerance in the family, we began with almond milk, which I liked very much, but it was a bit of a hassle to make. Moreover, there was all that almond meal left over each time. I used some of it in granola, and some for other recipes that needed ground almonds, but I wondered if there was any nutritional value at all in the milk.

Then we discovered coconut milk from desiccated coconut, which was simpler and very good indeed in coffee. I used the leftover coconut meal as an extra sprinkle on granola, so there was no wastage, but we found that it didn't really work in some recipes. Or rather, it worked, but there was a strong coconut taste. I like coconut, but it's not always appropriate. It's very strange in cauliflower cheese, for instance.

Then I read about cashew milk, where there's no need to strain at all; the cashews become so soft with soaking that there's almost no residue. Having said that, the milk does settle somewhat, and the 'cream' sinks to the bottom. It's a good idea to stir it before use; sometimes if mine becomes very creamy towards the end of its use, I stir in some extra water. But the creamier milk is extremely good on granola.

Cashews are high in monounsaturated fat, and also - my research tells me - high in trace elements such as copper, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium. More importantly, it makes an excellent and inexpensive milk that can be used in drinks and in cooking, and has such a mild flavour that it's almost indistinguishable from dairy milk.

The most important thing is to give the cashews plenty of time to soak.  The first time I made this, I gave them about eight hours and it wasn't enough; the milk was gritty.  The second time I gave them 24 hours - longer than I had intended - and the milk was excellent. Sometimes my cashews soak for 48 hours - two entire days - if I think we're running out earlier than we actually do.

I only occasionally make almond milk now, but I do continue making coconut milk, usually right after I've made cashew milk; one litre of each usually lasts two of us about four to five days. 

04/06/2016

Cashew and Mushroom Pilaf

cashew and mushroom pilaf, almost ready to serve
Cashew and mushroom pilaf

Serves 2

Ingredients:
60-100g brown or basmati rice
1 onion, chopped
1 tblsp oil
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp salt
1 chopped bell pepper (any colour)
50g cashew nuts (raw)
100g mushrooms, sliced

Method:
Rinse the rice well, then cook in plenty of water, on the stove top or in a rice cooker or steamer until just cooked, slightly al dente if preferred.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then add the onions and cook until softened and transparent, and just starting to caramelise, stirring occasionally. Add the crushed garlic and stir in for a minute, then add the spices and salt, and stir quickly to combine.

Lower the heat, then add the cashews, chopped bell pepper and mushrooms, and keep stirring to prevent burning and to ensure all ingredients are well mixed.

Lastly, drain the rice and add to the mixture, stirring well to ensure it's all coated with the spicy mixture. Add a little water if it seems too dry or starts to burn, and stir fry for a few minutes until it is all piping hot.

Serve with other vegetables to suit your family.

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I discovered the recipe on which I based this in my elderly edition of Carolyn Humphries' '1000 quick and easy recipes', which offers a wide range of quick ideas for meals. I had wanted something rice-based but without meat, and had a memory of something called 'pilaf'.

The recipe I found was intended for four people and included soy sauce, one of my migraine triggers, so I tweaked it somewhat, adding a few spices - particularly my favourite healthy one, turmeric - and missing out the celery, which we don't particularly like. I also halved it as there are only two of us and I didn't suppose it would freeze too well.

We don't have huge appetites so I only use 60g dry rice, which is plenty for the two of us; others may prefer to use more. I buy brown basmati rice, which takes about half an hour to cook in water, and doesn't clump together as white or non-basmati rice is inclined to do. I don't suppose basmati rice is intended for pilaf, but I find it works very well.

cooking the pilaf - adding mushrooms after the initial frying of onions etc
It's important to use a large enough frying pan to take everything. A large saucepan might work but it's not so easy to fry onions to the right consistency, nor to stir fry so that the resultant pilaf is dry but not burned, the flavours blending together well. I haven't tried it in a wok, but would use one if I needed to make double quantity.

I wasn't sure what my decidedly non-vegetarian husband would make of this, but he was highly complimentary, and said he would be happy to eat it regularly, by which he usually means about once a month. So it has become part of my regular repertoire.

While it already contains mushrooms and peppers, it's all rather brown (unless you use green or red peppers) and we like our meals to be more colourful, so I do at least one separate vegetable, ideally a green one. I have sometimes cooked collard greens in a different frying pan at the same time to serve this this; other times I have been less ambitious, and have merely served microwaved frozen peas as an accompaniment.

09/05/2016

Stir-fried collard greens with onions and garlic

Collard greens, stir-fried with onions and garlic
Stir-fried collard greens

Serves 2-3 as a side dish

Ingredients:
- 1 bunch of collard greens
- 1 tblsp olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

Method:
Wash the collard greens, and chop off the thickest part of the stems stems. Place them on a chopping board, and roll them together then slice across, so as to make strips. These can be any thickness, but I prefer about 2-3cm slices.

Place the greens in a pan with boiling water, and simmer for a few minutes. This is to remove any bitterness. Drain them and keep them warm in the pan.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan, while you peel and slice or chop the onion. Toss it into the pan and stir to coat, then cook on medium heat until the onions are beginning to brown. Add the crushed garlic and stir in well for about a minute, then tip in the drained collard greens, which by now should be softened and quite reduced.

Stir well over medium heat until any water has drained off, and the greens are thoroughly wilted. Serve hot as a side dish with any cooked meal.


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Collard greens sound to me like something out of the American south. I've read about them, but until about six months ago, didn't have much idea what they were or how they were cooked.

colourful Cyprus vegetables, showing collard greens
But I know that leafy green vegetables are very healthy, and also very inexpensive, so I decided to buy some at our local fruit and veg shop. I chose what looked like a cross between lettuce and spinach, and a Google image search revealed that I had bought collard greens.

Further searching revealed many ways of cooking them, but the most basic ones suggested cooking in water, then frying with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of garlic.

So that's what I did the first time, and we liked them very much, but felt they were lacking texture. So the next time I chopped and cooked an onion first, creating the above recipe - and it was (to our tastes) perfect.

Others might prefer to omit the garlic, or perhaps to add in some spices. But this is how we like it, and I now cook them at least a couple of times per month.



28/03/2016

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Chickpea and Spinach Curry
Chickpea and spinach curry cooking, with steam rising out of the pan

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
1-2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced or chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala (or curry powder)
1 small can (approx 140g) tomato paste or puree
400-500g cooked or canned chickpeas
100-200g fresh (or thawed frozen) spinach
water as needed

Method:
Fry the onion pieces in hot oil in a saucepan until they have become transparent, then add the garlic and stir for a minute or two more. Turn the heat down, then add the spices and salt and stir for about a minute, then add the tomato paste, chickpeas and spinach and stir well to coat. Add the aquafaba (chickpea cooking water), rinsing out the tomato paste can if necessary, or extra water as needed, so as to just cover the chickpeas.

Simmer for about twenty minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, and squishing a few of the chickpeas against the sides of the pan to thicken it. The consistency of the curry should be quite thick when it's ready but don't let it burn on the bottom of the pan. It's fine to simmer for a bit longer, with a lid on the pan, but check regularly and add more water as needed. 


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For a very quick meal, you could use a couple of cans of chickpeas, but I prefer the slightly crunchier and larger ones that come from cooking them myself. That needs a bit more preparation since chickpeas have to be soaked for several hours (overnight, if possible) and then cooked for around an hour in fresh water, before adding to the curry. I tend to soak and cook about 500g dried chickpeas in a large pan, which leads to around a kilogram of cooked chickpeas; I freeze the ones I don't want to use immediately in 200-250g portions for quicker use later on.

The cooking fluid of chickpeas is known as aquafaba, and when cooled can be used as an egg white substitute in various ways, or - as in this recipe - it can be added straight into a curry with the chickpeas for a little extra protein. If you're using canned chickpeas, check the ingredients: if only salt has been added, then you can use the surrounding liquid in the same way. There is no need to drain and rinse them. However if preservatives and other additives are present, you might want to wash them away and just use water.

I don't remember where we first found the recipe on which this curry is based; there are similar ones in many places online, but as with everything I make, this has been adapted several times to suit our tastes. I tend to use dried spices as they're more convenient, but for more authentic flavour you might prefer fresh grated ginger, and to adjust the amounts of spices. This is quite mild, but more ginger and chili powder will make it hotter.

You could add mushrooms instead of spinach, if you prefer them, although we quite like the blend of colours in this version. We've tried it with both, but it feels a bit 'fussy'.

We usually serve this with pitta bread but garlic naan, if available, is even better. Rice is a good alternative. We also usually serve several of the following in small pots to go with the curry: chopped tomatoes and cucumber, mango chutney, dried coconut, raisins, raw cashews, chopped apple, and sunflower seeds.


08/03/2016

Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Chocolate Avocado Mousse
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados
20g cocoa powder
40g dark chocolate (dairy-free if required)
2 tblsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
about 50ml nut or coconut milk

Method:
Melt the chocolate gently over a pan of hot water or in the microwave, stirring until it's just melted, then cool slightly.

Carefully cut open the avocados lengthways and remove the stones. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place it in a food processor or blender. Add the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and salt, and about half of the milk. Process until smooth. Don't be too concerned if it looks rather a vile colour at this stage.

Now use a metal spoon to fold the chocolate gently into the avocado mixture, with a little more milk if it feels a bit too stiff. When it's well combined, place in a suitable sized bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour or two.

We find that it goes very well with seasonal fruit such as strawberries or sliced peaches.


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With a dairy-free husband and son, I have been trying various dairy-free mousse recipes. And I came across a recipe for chocolate avocado mousse on the Chocolate Covered Katie blog and elsewhere. I have to admit that it didn't really appeal, but then avocados were in season, on sale ridiculously cheap, squashy enough that they had to be used within a few days.

So I tried it. Comments on a different recipe for this, using only cocoa powder, said that it was a bit dry and too strongly cocoa-flavoured. So the first time I used only dark chocolate - twice as much as in this recipe - and it was good, but a bit too sweet.

I don't use agave syrup so I substituted soft brown sugar and used a bit more nut milk. Doubtless very high fat, too. The picture shows the colour before I folded in the chocolate... and it's worse if, as above, you use cocoa powder in the first part as well.

The second time I made this, I used honey, as we're not vegans, and slightly less milk. I also tried using cocoa powder AND dark chocolate, as in the recipe above. And doubled the quantities, as there were five of us. We made it stretch over two meals. We thought it worked very well, particularly served with fresh strawberries.

My favourite home-made dairy-free milk for cooking is cashew milk, but this could be equally good with almond milk or coconut milk. Canned coconut milk would add some extra creaminess if you like a faint coconut flavour in chocolate desserts. If you're not vegan, you could probably use regular milk.

The great thing about this kind of recipe is that you can adapt it to your tastes. Avocados come in different sizes, so if, when you taste it, it's not chocolatey enough, just add a bit more cocoa powder. If it's too thick, add some more milk. If it's not sweet enough, add a little extra sugar.  If you don't like the appearance in a dish, drizzle over some melted chocolate, or scatter chocolate chips, or desiccated coconut, or slice strawberries.

And it's fun to challenge your guests to guess what the ingredients are...