Roasted Vegetable and French Lentil Salad with a Tangy Balsamic Vinegar and Fennel Seed Dressing

Vegan Life Issue 6

As usual, this month’s issue of Vegan Life was packed with inspiring articles, as well as a whole bunch of mouth-watering recipes. I was especially excited to see the feature on Daniel Acevedo, Head Chef at Mildreds Vegetarian Restaurant in Soho, London. I’ve heard so many good things about this restaurant and one day hopefully I’ll get to experience it for myself.

Vegan Life Issue 6

Until then, I was looking forward to re-creating Dan’s signature dish at home… even if it did include the one vegetable that I professed to dislike: fennel.

Whenever people have asked me what my favourite vegetable is, my typical response has been “I love all vegetables… except fennel”. I was never quite sure what it was about fennel I disliked. I just remember trying it a couple of times in restaurants and really, really disliking it. Anyway, last week I decided it was time I gave fennel another chance.

Fennel Bulb 400

Dan’s signature salad consists of a selection of colourful roasted veggies, lentils and leaves, drizzled in a tangy fennel seed dressing.

Roasted Veggies

For me, it’s the dressing that brings a salad to life and makes it ‘sing’. Just check out the dressing that comes with this salad.

Tangy Balsamic Vinegar and Fennel Seed Dressing

Vibrant, tangy with a hint of aniseed. This dressing is mind-blowingly good. It’s amazing I had enough left to take this pic as I couldn’t resist ‘tasting’ spoonfuls as it was simmering.

Fennel Dressing

Typical of me, I did make a couple of adaptations to the recipe. For a start, I cheated and used a can of lentils instead of cooking them from scratch. I also subbed the tomatoes for roasted cauliflower. Lil’ L isn’t a fan of tomatoes (unless they’re blended) and since trying the recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika and Oregano posted by Gluten Free SCD and Veggie, cauliflower has moved up the ranks from one of my family’s least favourite vegetables to the ‘love it’ category. Dare I admit it… sometimes I roast a tray of cauliflower and eat the whole lot in one go. Honestly, it’s that good.

Roasted Vegetable and French Lentil Salad

The first time I made Dan’s signature salad, I ended up eating it twice in one day. For lunch, I served it with beetroot salad and, for a heartier main meal, I served it over couscous. The dressing soaked into the couscous, giving it the most amazing flavour.

Roasted Vegetable and French Lentil Salad

This is a recipe that I know I’ll be making time and again this summer. It’s perfect for al fresco lunches and is definitely special enough to serve to friends and family. It’s got rave reviews from all the adults that I’ve served it to so far.

Roasted Vegetable and French Lentil Salad

Lil’ L gave it a big thumbs up too! It’s the first time he’s experienced fennel, so I’m really glad it was a more positive one than mine. I don’t think the salad is going to be universally kid-friendly, but I know a few out there that love roasted veggies and tangy dressings so, if this is your kid, I’d definitely encourage them to give it a try.

After experiencing this salad, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Mildreds Cookbook, published last month. So many delicious sounding recipes in it. As soon as I’ve had a chance to try some out, I’ll be sure to publish a review.

Mildreds Cookbook

So, it turns out that I LOVE roasted fennel! It tastes a bit like roasted onion but with a subtle hint of aniseed. This is so different to my first experience of fennel, which was crunchy and overpowering. I’m so happy to be over the fennel issue. Now I can honestly say I love ALL vegetables. No exceptions 😉

 Are there any vegetables that you profess to dislike?

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Filed under Lunches & Light Dinners, Super Salads, Vegan magazines

Health, Happiness and Meditation

As most of you will be aware, I am passionate about meditation. I’ve been attending weekly meditation classes for about seven years now, as well as practising alone at home and in the great outdoors. Since 2010, I’ve also been teaching children’s weekly meditation workshops. Along with the shift towards a 100% plant-based diet, meditation has definitely been key in raising my levels of physical and mental well-being these past few years.

Today, I am delighted to share a guest post from Holly Ashby who works for the London meditation centre, Will Williams Meditation. Holly is a super talented writer, and she’s kindly offered to write a mini introductory series on meditation for Bit of the Good Stuff. We’ll be posting one article per month for the next three months. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do

In today’s post, Holly is talking about some of the benefits of meditation.

Meditation

by Holly Ashby

Despite the fact that modern life has provided a level of comfort, convenience and material gain that would have been unthinkable even seventy years ago, many people are finding it increasingly difficult to be as healthy and happy as they could be. On the face of it this doesn’t make much sense, as for many people life is now characterised by stability and ease that’s unprecedented in human history, enough to make anyone cosily content.

Yet when you dig deeper, it’s possible to connect this unhappiness with the sometimes alienating nature of our modern lifestyles. Very long working hours, a culture that encourages you to constantly strive for something better and less time with family and friends all take their toll. Furthermore, there’s been a rapid shift away from living in small communities, where most people felt valued for their unique skills and what they could offer to that community. Now, even if you do feel valued in your field, there can be a pressure to keep achieving in order not to have your reputation fade or find yourself replaced.

This can be a very stressful way to live, and also one that perpetuates itself as we are encouraged to sacrifice our leisure time for future achievement and satisfaction that may never arrive. Habits such as this can leave you stressed, exhausted and unable to think clearly. These are all things that meditation can help alleviate, and it can even be part of a change of attitude that can improve your life. Here’s some of the benefits of meditation that can facilitate this change.

Reducing Stress
Our stress response, which evolved to put us in flight or fight mode in life-threatening situations, is triggered with unhealthy regularity by even trivial occurrences such as being late for work or your computer going on the blink at a crucial moment. When this happens, as your body is preparing itself to either leg it or start throwing punches, so all non-essential processes get neglected, heart rate increases and stress hormones are released.

While on occasion, and with plenty of recovery time, this response has no ill effects, when you are constantly stressed out it can be pretty harmful. This manifests itself in headaches, stomach upsets, and even increased risk of heart attacks or stroke, as well as all kinds of psychological issues such as anxiety.

Meditation can be an excellent way to balance you out as it produces physiological and biochemical changes that directly counteract the stress response, and on a much more profound level than ordinary rest. Meditators recover more quickly from stressful moments, and meditation helps calm down the areas of the brain which trigger the flight or fight response so they react more appropriately. Additionally, the stress hormone cortisol (which can build up in our systems and cause issues) can be reduced by up to a third in those who meditate.

Positive Thinking
One of the problems with stress is that it can make it hard to have perspective outside of immediate concerns and leave you apprehensive about the future. It’s easy in these situations to get locked in cycles of negative thinking that can stop you enjoying life fully, and sometimes even become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is can lead to sleepless nights and a general feeling of being drained of energy, making tasks you would otherwise embrace a dreaded struggle.

However, with stress reduced it’s much easier to think clearly and regain a natural inclination to look at the bright side of things. Meditation can improve sleep, increase your energy, and make you more productive. Studies have even shown that people who meditate find it easier to focus, helping you concentrate on completing jobs rather than worrying about them.

Also, in studies, the emotional centre of the brain in meditators has been shown to react more strongly when viewing pictures of people, suggesting that meditation increases empathy. In becoming more compassionate and forgiving of the people around you, you can change your worldview, and also invite more positive influences into your life. All this contributes to your happiness and the happiness of those close to you, allowing positivity to come instinctively to you, rather than it being something you consciously have to work at.

Healthier Lifestyle

It’s much easier to think about making the right choices from a place of contentment with yourself and your life. Meditation in itself can make you healthier in body and mind, but it is also a great keystone habit from which to build a healthy lifestyle around. Doing things that are good for you can be a natural consequence when you are feeling less stressed, because instead of rushing through the day you have time to consider things more.

Ultimately, meditation can help when you are trying to prioritize the truly important things. Feeling good in yourself gives you a much better platform from which to realise what means the most to you, and allows you to focus on them.

Thanks Holly!

I’d love to hear about your experiences of meditation! Are you interested in meditation? Do you already have a regular practice? If you have any questions you’d like to ask me, don’t hesitate to post them below xx

 

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Filed under Buddhism & Meditation, Guest Post

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bars. Raw. Dairy-Free. Gluten-Free. Vegan.

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bar

If you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you may remember my sad attempt to grow veggies a few years back. Everything I planted quickly got devoured by the gazillion veggie-loving critters that live in our garden. Some plants literally disappeared overnight :/

I’ve long since abandoned the veggie patch dream and my latest strategy is to leave the patch in a semi wild state and observe what will happily grow there with no intervention on my part. So far, amongst the multitude of wild flowers and “weeds”, I have three edible crops that are flourishing – Golden Raspberries, Lemon Balm and Chocolate Mint!

Chocolate Peppermint Plant

A couple of years ago I bought a tiny chocolate peppermint plant for £1. After happily growing in a pot for the first year, I wondered how it would fare in the ‘veggie patch’. I planted it out with little hope that it would actually survive. But low and behold, it began to grow and spread like wildfire. This Spring I was longing for it to burst into life as I knew a recipe that would be just perfect for it – Koko’s Raw Peppermint Chocolate Squares.

I’ve made Koko’s recipe (with little adaptations) three times so far, and it’s been a huge hit with everyone that’s tried it.

Raw Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bars

I adore the fresh mint flavour that comes through in the creamy centre, sandwiched between two layers of dark chocolatey goodness.

The bottom layer is a blend of nuts and dates which makes a nice firm base. Koko uses almonds in her recipe but I’ve also tried it with walnuts which work great too. They also add a handy dose of omega 3 to the (already amazing) nutrient profile of these bars.

The creamy middle layer is made from blended cashews and buckwheat. Koko also adds a secret ingredient to this layer… spinach leaves. They don’t affect the flavour at all but give it a wonderful green hue.

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Blender Shot

The dessert is topped off with a decadent dark chocolate layer. I love Koko’s raw chocolate topping but, to put my own twist on her recipe, I also love to top the bars with an indulgent chocolatey fudge layer.

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bar

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bar

I make this fudge using creamed coconut, which is dehydrated coconut meat and comes in a solid block. Here in the UK, it’s widely available in supermarkets (on the world food aisle), health food stores and Asian supermarkets (usually packaged in a cardboard container).

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bar

Big thank you to Koko for her amazing recipe This one is definitely a keeper!

Products used in this recipe
Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender (check out my review here)
Magimix Food Processor
Tesco Almonds, Walnuts, Cashews, Soft Pitted Dates, Buckwheat
Sevenhills Organic Cacao Powder & Cacao Nibs
Steenburgs Organic Vanilla Extract
Cocofina Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Clarks Organic Agave Syrup (suitable for raw foodists as heated to no more than 40C) / Original Maple Syrup (non raw option)
Creamed Coconut – I use all kinds of brands including Essential Organic (bought from my local health food store, also available from RealFoods), Bart (from Waitrose), Dunn’s River (from Tesco) and Biona Organic (from Ocado). In the USA, Let’s Do Organic Creamed Coconut seems a popular brand.

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Filed under Desserts, Treats & Sweets

Vegan Cafe Restaurant Review – El Piano, Malaga and Hicuri, Granada

During our Spring vacation to Andalucia, we were planning a day trip to Malaga. I was even more excited than usual about this trip as I’d recently discovered that El Piano had a cafe there. After a glorious morning of sight-seeing, I couldn’t wait for lunch!

El Piano is a small tapas café and take-away located on Calle San Juan de Letran. Despite being tucked away down a side street, we had no trouble finding it. There are a couple of small tables inside the café and a couple more outside. Fortunately, we were early enough to grab a table right next to the food counter.

El Piano Malaga

The girl that served us was super friendly and spoke great English. She explained how all the food options at El Piano are 100% vegan and gluten free. They’re served in tapas bowls and you basically decide how many you want – 2 tapas for 3.50 euros, 4 tapas for 5.95 or a set menu of soup, 4 tapas, dessert and drink for 9.95. The three of us decided to go for the set menu option, which meant we could share 12 bowls of tapas between us.

There was a fantastic selection of food available, including Waldorf Salad, Maize Balls, Falafel, Mushroom Fried Rice, Pesto Spaghetti, Plantain Curry, Indian-spiced Spaghetti Squash, Moroccan Couscous, Chilli, Tabbouleh, Refried Beans and Fried Mushrooms.

The tapas is ready-prepared and you can choose to have it served cold or warmed up in the microwave. (We chose to have it warmed up). By the time we’d finished, there wasn’t a single scrap of food left in a bowl.

El Piano Malaga

It was so great to try 12 different dishes in one sitting! My top three favourites were the Maize Balls, Plaintain Curry and Refried Beans. I adore refried beans but sadly haven’t perfected the recipe at home yet. To me, the refried beans at El Piano were total perfection

For dessert, we had Carrot Cake and a Lemon and Ginger Slice. The carrot cake had that slightly ‘grainy’ texture that I often find in gluten-free baked goods (I’m probably overly sensitive to it as I’m not used to eating gf cakes) but I found the Lemon and Ginger Slice absolutely delicious (something I definitely need to try and recreate at home).

El Piano Ginger and Lemon Cake

Soon after we installed ourselves at El Piano, the café was suddenly bustling with people arriving for lunch. The remaining tables were soon filled and lots of people came to order take-aways too. It’s such a small establishment that it’s definitely worth getting here early.

El Piano
Calle San Juan de Letran, 13 Malaga, Spain  Tel: 660755873
Opening hours (at time of writing): Tue-Sun 12:30pm-4:00pm, 8:00pm-11:30pm

The second vegan café/restaurant we visited during our trip to Andalucia was Hicuri in the beautiful city of Granada. After hiking up the hill to visit the Alhambra, we’d worked up very big appetites so Lil’ L and I decided to go for the set menu. This included a drink, aperitif, starter, main and dessert for 12.80 euros.

Hicuri Vegan Restaurant Granada

The aperitif consisted of a bread basket and carrot sticks, served with mayonnaise dip. For starter, we chose the Chilled and Creamy Tomato Soup with Avocado and for the main course, Lil’ L chose Lasagna and I went for the Oriental Seitan with Vegetables, Basmati Rice and Curry Sauce. Instead of the set menu, M chose a delicious Green Detox Juice for his starter (apple, lemon, celery, spinach), followed by the Gourmet Gluten-free Burger and Fries. (It’s all about balance right 😉 )

For dessert, the boys both chose the Chocolate Cake, while I had Almond Tiramasu. I adore Tiramasu and this vegan version was the best I’ve ever tasted. Honestly, it blew me away.

Hicuri Granada
In addition to the café/restaurant, Hicuri has a small shop area selling vegan staples (including chilled and frozen goods). While we were eating our meal, people were popping in to buy cartons of milk and other groceries, so it’s clearly a popular establishment with locals as well as tourists.

Hicuri Granada

I loved the cool relaxed vibe of this café and the ‘home cooked’ feel of its dishes. The staff were really friendly and spoke good English. If I ever return to Granada, I’ll definitely be heading back to Hicuri. There are so many options on the menu that I’d love to try, plus I’m already dreaming about another slice (or two) of that almond tiramisu 😉

Hicuri Granada
Hicuri
Calle Santa Escolastica Esquina, Plaza de los Girones 4, Granada, Spain
Tel: 858987473
Opening hours (at time of writing): Mon-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm, Sun 12:00pm-4:30pm

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Filed under Reviews, Vacations, Vegetarian & Vegan Cafes

Top Vegan 7 for British Sandwich Week

This week we’re celebrating British Sandwich Week. Do you know how the sandwich got its name? I remember as a kid thinking it was a strange name for a food. It clearly didn’t contain sand. Maybe it was what witches ate? Incredibly, I only learnt the meaning of the name this month (thanks to the May issue of Vegan Life).

John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was fond of ordering meat tucked between two slices of bread, avoiding both the inconvenience of a fork and messy meat-covered hands, so he could easily eat while playing cards. His fellow gamblers saw the appeal and started ordering “the same as Sandwich”. The 18th century aristocrat’s clean and convenient way of eating is why we came to call any variation of filling between bread ‘a sandwich’

Sadly, here in the UK, the availability of ready-prepared vegan sandwiches is extremely limited. The supermarket aisles are filled with row upon row of chicken, cheese, ham, egg mayo and tuna. If you’re lucky, you might find a falafel sandwich, but then you’re likely to find they’ve added milk or egg into the dressing. I’m sure that one day the sandwich shops will catch up with the growing plant-based trend but, until then, we’ll just have to whip up some of our own.

Vegan Life Issue 5

This month’s Vegan Life magazine has a fantastic selection of sandwich recipes, including the Reuben, Buffalo Tofu Hoagie, Triple BLT, Spicy Wiener and The Peter Pan. There’s also a fun Sandwich Roulette on their Interactive App.

Vegan Life Issue 5 Sandwich Roulette

You spin the scroll bar and whatever recipe you land on has to be your next sandwich creation. I landed on Coronation Chickpea which is perfect for me as I love chickpea spreads (as you’ll see below).

Vegan Life Issue 5 Sandwich Roulette 2 500

In honour of British Sandwich Week, I thought I’d share a selection of my family’s current favourite creations. All of them are 100% plant-based and come together in a matter of minutes. I don’t know about you but, if I need a sandwich, I need it pretty instantly. I’m usually making sandwiches first thing in the morning for lunchboxes or I need to grab a quick bite at lunchtime between jobs, so I can’t be spending ages cooking or prepping the filling.

So, in no particular order, here are our current 7 top picks. Between us, we’ve eaten all of these already this week and we’re only on day 3 of British Sandwich Week!

Falafel Sandwich

1. Falafel, Caramelised Onion Hummus, Beetroot Salad and Sweet Pickle.
I always keep a stash of Cauldron Moroccan-Spiced Falafel Bites in the fridge for quick sandwich making. At home, I love this filling in freshly baked or lightly toasted granary bread. For lunchboxes, we stuff it into wholemeal pitta breads so, no matter how much the school bag gets shaken, the filling stays neatly inside.

Cheese and Tomato Sandwich

2. Cheese, Tomato and Basil.
This is a pretty classic combination, except that we use vegan ‘cheese’. In our dairy-eating days, none of us actually liked cheese slices, but we really like the Violife version. They’re made with coconut oil instead of cow’s milk and are surprisingly tasty.  The slices come in a range of flavours. Cheddar, olive oil, herbs, pizza and smoked are our favourites. In the UK, Violife is currently available in health food shops, Tesco and Asda.

Chilli Chickpea Smash Sandwich

3. Sweet Chilli Chickpea Smash
Chickpea smashes are really versatile. You can flavour them in different ways and change the texture, making them coarse or creamy. One of my all-time favourite smashes is Sweet Chilli Chickpea, made with a can of drained chickpeas, glug of sweet chilli sauce, splash of fresh lime juice and salt whizzed in a blender or food processor until coarse. In this sandwich, I’ve served it with organic sprouts and freshly ground black pepper.

Mediterranean Veggie Ciabatta

Mediterranean Veggie Ciabatta

4. Mediterranean Veggie Ciabatta
This is one of our favourite ‘easy’ Saturday night teas. It’s also one of Lil’ L’s favourite school lunches (though we use pittas to keep the veggies intact). A selection of colourful veggies (red onion, courgette/zucchini, bell pepper, mushrooms) and seeds (sunflower & pumpkin) are pan-fried, then served on crispy, warm ciabatta slathered in sun-dried tomato paste. The veggies are either fried in a drizzle of olive oil with plenty of seasoning or a splash of tamari.

Smoked Tofu Sandwich

5. Smoked Tofu, Avocado, Tomato Salad
I was so pleased to find smoked tofu in the Spanish Hipercor so we could make one of our favourite sandwiches whilst in Marbella last month – organic smoked tofu, sliced tomato and avocado, beetroot salad and hummus, topped with a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. For our return flight, we stuffed this filling into seeded wholewheat mini baguettes. It tasted so good and far, far better than any option available on the plane. Back home, I use the Cauldron organic smoked tofu, which is currently available from Waitrose, Ocado and health food shops.

Sunday Dinner Sandwich 6. The Sunday Dinner Sandwich
We used to call this The Boxing Day Sandwich as it was filled with our Christmas Dinner leftovers. However, I love this sandwich so much that I couldn’t relegate it to a ‘once a year’ thing. Now we use the leftovers from the Sunday roast dinner, or I even just make this sandwich instead of a Sunday roast, hence why Lil’ L calls it the ‘Sunday Dinner sandwich’. My favourite components for this sandwich are red lentil & cashew nut loaf or sage & chestnut stuffing, balsamic red onion and brussel sprout hash, served on soft granary bread slathered in cranberry sauce. Tastes. So. Good.

Nutella Banana Panini

7. Home-made ‘Nutella’ and Banana Panini
And here’s one of our favourite ‘Elevenses’ or mid-afternoon snacks, perfect for when a sweet craving strikes. Slather one side of toasted panini in home-made ‘nutella’ (hazelnut butter, maple syrup, a little coconut oil and pinch of salt whizzed together) and the other side in mashed ripe banana and a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, then slam together and devour.

Happy Sandwiching everyone! xx

What’s your current favourite sandwich creation?

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Filed under Healthy Snacking, Lunches & Light Dinners