Nac Mac Vegan: adventures in rabbit food


Patra buttie

Filed under: Experiments, Indian — Tags: , , , , , , — Feòrag @ 17:13

This is my own concoction, and it represents a truly British dish, needing the right combination of immigrant groups in sufficient numbers to have shops providing for them.

Patra is an Indian speciality made by spreading a spicy gram flour batter on taro leaves, rolling it up Swiss roll fashion and steaming it. It is available from Indian groceries in two forms in the UK. The easiest to find is canned but it is also available frozen, and this is, in my opinion, much better. The amount of patra you need depends on the size of the patra (the frozen is smaller) and the size of your slice of bread.

Polish shops have a range of ketchups. The “extra hot” one illustrated is not as spicy as it claims but has a nice tang. You can always spice it up by going to a Chinese or North American grocery and getting a hot chili sauce to add to it.

To make one sandwich:

between 3 and 5 slices of patra
2 slices wholemeal bread
Polish “extra hot” tomato ketchup
1-2 tbs olive oil
½ tsp white sesame seeds
½ tsp cumin seed
a pinch of asafœtida (hing)

Heat the oil in frying pan and add the spices. Cook for about thirty seconds before adding the patra and turning the heat down. When cooked, it goes a lovely golden brown colour – after a few minutes you will have to flip the slices.

Meanwhile, take one slice of your bread and put lots of ketchup on it. When the patra is done, arrange it on this slice of bread, add some more ketchup and bung the other slice over it. Cut in two and eat.


Veggie Hut, Wembley

Filed under: Eating out, Food Courts — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 13:58

Veggie Hut, WembleyOnce upon a time, there was Oriental City in Colindale, a fabulous East Asian shopping centre with a big supermarket and a food court. Then the developers moved in and got the place closed down so they could build flats in an area now devoid of any facilities other than ASDA.

Pacific Plaza, right by Wembley Stadium, is the reincarnation. It’s much smaller, but the food court contains an entirely vegetarian outlet, Veggie Hut.

The food is mostly South Indian, and is ludicrously cheap. I splashed out on the lunch special, which cost a princely £3.50 and included a plain dosa, one vada, two idli, two chutneys, a bowl of sambhar and a drink of my choice.

Veggie Hut Lunch Special

All this for £3.50!

The dosa was a touch on the oily side, but that’s as far as I am going to complain. The chutneys were the traditional coconut plus a tamarind one, both spicy and making no concessions to English tastes. The vada was crispy on the outside, soft within and the idlis were so delicate I needed to use a spoon. The sambhar was filled with vegetables, interesting ones.

There are vegetarian options at the other stands, notably Hot Korean and Nambu (Japanese) both of which indicate what’s suitable, or can be made so, on their menus. The supermarket is due to reopen here soon, too.

Oh, and the redevelopment of Oriental City? After taking so much trouble to close it down, the developers have done precisely nothing with the site.

Veggie Hut, Pacific Plaza food court, Engineers Way, Wembley, London HA9 0EG. [Map – note that it’s not where Google thinks it is, but over the road among the collection of outlets]. Open 10.00 till 22.00 daily; last orders 21.00.


Haggis and Tattie Pakoras

It’s Burns’ Night, when it is traditional to eat haggis, tatties and neeps while drinking whisky. Instead, I created a dish which represents modern Scotland in all its diverse wonderfulness.

First you need to catch your haggis. The vegetarian haggis (Haggis herbivorii) has been increasing in numbers of late, and researchers think that h. herbivorii makes up 25% of the haggis population in Scotland. They are primarily urban creatures, so one should not be hard to find. They have expanded their territory from their traditional haunts in the corners of wholefood shops, and can often be found lurking in supermarkets. Some have reported success in breeding them in captivity.

I managed to bag the commonest subspecies, the MacSween Vegetarian Haggis (h. herbivorii macsweeniensis) for this recipe, which makes lots.

approx. 500g vegetarian haggis
half a dozen medium potatoes
1½ cups gram flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp ajwain seed
1 tsp dried chillies, or to taste
1½ cups water

Give the seeds and chillies a good bashing in a mortar and pestle then stick them in a food processor or a bowl with the gram flour, baking powder and turmeric. Add about half the water and mix well, then add the rest of the water as you continue mixing until you get a smooth batter. Put it to one side.

Cut the potatoes up into small pieces and parboil about 5 minutes. Drain and allow to cool a bit. Meanwhile, skin your haggis and break the flesh into small pieces – around the size of a hazelnut. Put the pieces in a bowl as you work, and dust them with flour (gram, wheat or rice) to stop them breaking apart too much.

Add the potatoes and mix. The haggis will break up a bit. Don’t worry. Add the batter and mix some more. Do not despair as the haggis breaks up some more. It really doesn’t matter as long as there are some nice lumps.

Heat vegetable oil or vegetable ghee in a deep fat fryer (for the sensible), a frying pan, or a wok. When it is hot, turn the heat down a little – the pakora need to cook fairly slowly about five minutes a side. Put tablespoonsful of the mixture into the oil and deep fry until both sides are a dark orangey brown. Don’t overfill the fryer. Remove when done and drain. Eat as soon as they are cool enough with a dipping sauce — a good cheating pakora dipping sauce is a mixture of mint sauce and tomato ketchup. They will keep quite well and freeze if you don’t eat them all.

If I had been able to get a neep smaller than a beach ball, I would have used some, also parboiled, instead of half the potato.

I challenged myself to go a month without drinking alcohol, so whisky was not on the menu. Instead, I drank some of this rather fine Braes O’ Gowrie Sparkling Elderflower from those nice Cairn O’Mohr people.


Oslo: Indian House

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 12:36

Oslo is the most expensive city I’ve ever visited, more so even than Tokyo. Never mind that beer that’s worth drinking is about £9 a pint, my native guide informed me that if I could find a main course for less that 100 Kr., that would be regarded as incredibly cheap.

On arrival, I didn’t have much time to decide where to eat, so we decided to play safe(-ish) and go for a curry. A quick search indicated that Indian House (Fred Olsens Gt. 11) had a reasonable vegetarian selection and it was close to the tram from our hotel, and the pub where we’d arranged to meet a friend. I had the mixed vegetable pakora to start, and followed it with Rajmah Masala – a red kidney bean curry. We were warned that Norwegian tastes tended to the bland, and they offered to make the dishes a little hotter for us.

I’d neglected to ask for no dairy (I was knackered, okay?) so the pakora came with a yoghurt sauce as well as a very tangy tamarind one. Okay, that was my fault, but the bigger surprise was discovering that cheese is apparently a vegetable as the pakora were cauliflower and paneer. I invoked travel rules, and made a mental note to check next time. I think the restaurant might make their own paneer, as it had a much better texture than the commercial stuff. The main course had been made hotter by simply adding chili. As the other spices were also under-represented, this just led to an unbalanced flavour, with the chilli dominating everything. Pity, as the dish is one of the standards that is rarely served in British curry shops.

To continue the bad start to the trip, the pubs we were hunting, Gambrinus, was not at the address we had for it, and there was no evidence that there had every been anything other than a jewellery shop there. Our friend had found an alternative address, but that was occupied by a loud rock bar. This suited us fine, and the beer wasn’t entirely bad (Leffe Bruin and Bedweiser Budvar in bottles) or excessively expensive so we stayed there.


Eating out in Leeds

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , , , , — Feòrag @ 12:14

Leeds used to be a fantastic place in the late 80s and early 90s, with Fat Freddy’s Café, independent health food shops all over the place, loads of secondhand bookshops and a thriving alternative scene. Since then, it has been suffering from a development organisation which has pushed anything vaguely interesting out of the city and replaced it with the same old national boredom. The beneficiaries of all this have mostly been the hordes of civil servants and financial sector workers moved up from London, rather than the locals. One effect of this is that Leeds these days has fewer vegetarian restaurants than its much smaller neighbour Bradford, and my visit this weekend involved only one of them. Fortunately, there are a number of vegan-friendly places, including the vast majority of curry restaurants (they tend to use vegetable ghee because it’s cheaper and takes longer to go off).

One unusual veg-friendly place is Darvish, a Persian tea house to be found a long way out of town in a fairly deprived area on Roundhay Road near where the Fforde Green pub used to be. I’ve been there twice – it’s a favourite of my sister-in-law who first took me there. There are a number of interesting starters and pickles – Kashke Bademjan is a delicious pate made from aubergines and walnuts, though to make it vegan you will have to ask them to not dribble it with yoghurt. The hummous is superb, with a vicious garlic note. There are five vegetarian main courses, all of which appear to be vegan. The first time round, I had the chello khoresht ghormeh sabzi, which was a little disappointing, consisting of spinach and kidney beans. It’s something you can buy in tins in the local international supermarkets. This time round, I chose the vegetarian khoresht and it was a great call. The dish is clearly related to the one that’s called “guivech”, or some similar name, in Eastern Europe, which is to say it’s ratatouille, but nice.

Another unusual veg-friendly place is Little Tokyo (no website right now), close to the market in an enclave of interestingness that has strangely been allowed to remain, which purports to be a Japanese restaurant. They even go so far as to advertise for staff in Japanese, but really it’s better to describe the place as “Japanese-style”. For a start, they put sugar in their iced green tea, something which is Not Done in Japan. But one of their failings in authenticity is the range of vegan food on the menu. The bento are expensive, but are my usual choice. But as £13-15 is not what I wanted to spend on a Saturday lunch, I opted for the veggie curry and a new item on the menu, fried beancurd rolls filled with shiitake. The curry contained some interesting vegetables, such as renkon (lotus root), and was pleasant enough, but I suspect was made from the medium-hot Golden Curry roux. The sauce was also a wee bit thick for Japanese curry. Next time, I will hang the expense and stick with the bento. The beancurd rolls were so good that I plan to work out how to make them for myself.

The third place I went to was the venerable Hansa’s, a Gujarati institution threatened by the developers. Usually, I am boring and go for the vegan thali, the best option if you are not familiar this particular Indian cuisine. This time I went for the patra, followed by dhokri. Patra consists of green leaves spread with a spicy gram flour batter and rolled up, Swiss roll style, before steaming then slicing and frying. You can get it in tins, but you’ll be put off if you try the tinned stuff first. Dhokri is something I’ve never seen before – a curry made with gram flour pasta and pulses. Gujarati cuisine is not noted for being particularly hot, at least by the standards of Indian food in the UK, but for having exquisitely aromatic spices. It should be noted that, in this case at least, “lightly spiced” means “this will knock that cold you’ve been incubating right out of your system”. It also happens to have the complex spice blend you’d expect. Delicious, but when we left, it turned out we’d been in there two-and-a-half hours!

As suggested above, there are plans to re-develop the block where Hansa’s is to be found and many of the tenants had been pushed out, including Beano Wholefoods. The credit crunch seems to have created some difficulty for this plan, thankfully, and new businesses (reasonably interesting ones) seem to be moving in. The council’s preferred redevelopment plan right now seems to be the wholesale destruction of Chinatown (too many interesting shops, you see). Still, you should get to Hansa’s sooner rather than later, just in case or, if you can’t, there’s always the cookbook: Hansa’s Indian Vegetarian Cookbook: Popular Recipes from Hansa’s Gujarati Restaurant

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