Tuesday, 26 July 2011

All Tomorrow's Bellies.

it's unusual to be so well catered for at a festival. For many years, festival food for vegan people meant falafels or noodles, handled by greasy 'yeah I just picked up your food with the meat spoon, so what?' servers.

So it was with an inordinate amount of relief that we read the line-up of food choices for ATP's Portishead-curated 'I'll Be Your Mirror' at the weekend. David Bailey who runs the raw-food cooking courses for Saf - more on that later - was there in his handsome grey 'Wholefood Heaven' H-Van supplying Buddha Boxes - a quality-carb loaded box of brown rice, tofu, Thai curry and fresh crisp kale with an omega-based crispy topping. This, dear readers, sustained us through all of Saturday night's leg-challenging performances. Sadly, we were so busy shoving this down our throats we didn't get a picture. Oh well. You'll have to imagine it.

Alongside him was a pair of Antipodean chip-makers in floral aprons and pink sandals, offering 'Chunky Chips' in three sizes. Here is one of them, proffering fried potato. These were served with the usual array of condiments, but could also be served with vegan-safe gravy, mushy peas, beans or curry sauce (the vegan-ness of which I've never been able to verify - can anyone else?) We chose butterless chip unbutties. I'll willingly buy chips from a man who's comfortable wandering a festival for two days in one of these.

Round on the other side of Alexandra Palace stood the Taco Truck. It sold only two types of taco, the queue for which, like everything else, was big but not Glasto-hellish. Offering only two options seems like a good move - keeping it simple and light, with only one ingredient's difference - makes economic sense, surely. The tacos were fresh-made with either chicken or black beans, guacamole, salsa, onions and tomatoes, and sour cream and cheese which was not for us of course. But, for once, my request to make up the missing ingredients with something else was not ignored and seen as a chance to save a few pence, but was honoured with an additional generous spoon of guacamole. You'd be stunned at the frequency of rudeness this request is usually met with - as if the server is saying 'well, YOU'RE choosing not to have it - it's not our fault you're going to go without!'

Finally both days of the festival were begun with this slightly-better-than-adequate porridge made with soya milk from Jo and Al's in Finchley, en route to the Palace. Their range has expanded a bit since we last went in there about six months ago and were met with surly staff and a shaken head response to 'which of your things are vegan?' (you get used to this, but it doesn't make it any more acceptable). This time, there was porridge, pies, salads, a tart and massive fairy cakes with mountainous icing. So, if that little list is your idea of a good breakfast, head there.
We wish all festivals and big events had the carefully-curated choice of food spots that this one had, but we realise everyone isn't Barry Hogan, Geoff Barrow or Adrian Utley. There was something for everyone, and it was totally devoid of repugnant sponsorship and in-your-fucking-face beer advertising. Instead, just the gentle sense of the curators actually wanting us there, warm, fed and watered, and thus able to stand comfortably for the duration of every carefully-chosen band, and not broke and malnourished at the end of it.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Saniya from Suriname's Dal Recipe.

We live a few doors down from Saniya and her three children and husband, who began brightening our bellies with gifts of food when we were having our building work done last year. She'd bring meals for the builders, usually containing meat, so we couldn't partake. She asked why, we told her it was because of the things we couldn't eat, and a look of concern crossed her face. But eventually the builders left, and so did she - for a while.

We'd always said hello and had little chats at the door, then one night she brought round three hot little foil-wrapped packages of deliciousness. I returned the dishes, and the next day she asked for some emergency onions - I had only three, but was happy to let her have them, since whatever she made was bound to be better than the future I'd got planned for them. I got to find out for sure, because she brought round a dish full of it - hot fresh dal, with bread and pickle, again in hot foil packages.

This was repaid in cakes, and thus began an interchange in which the latest transaction was this gift of a recipe for her special dal. It's not hot, or particularly spicy - she's sniffy about the way Pakistanis 'over-complicate' their dal recipes! - but is deliciously smooth and creamy, and just melts in the mouth. She showed me this first hand and I wrote it down, so it's from the cook's hand, direct.

I doubt very much this will be the last recipe we post from Saniya!

It's here as a PDF if you'd like to print it off and cover it in oily pawprints in your own kitchen.

Read about Suriname and read about dal in general.

Take 3 mugfuls of Mung Dal (yellow).

Wash THOROUGHLY in running water, till water runs clear
(important, gets rid of dust and starch).

Put in a large pan with a lid, and add 3 x mugfuls of water to each mug of Mung Dal.

Make a separate mix of the following spices, one teaspoon of each:
- Fenugreek
- Cumin
- Nigella seeds
- Coriander

Then add to the water:
- 1 x teaspoon turmeric (turns it good and yellow)
- 1.5 teaspoons of the above spice mixture
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- Half an onion, sliced (you'll need the other half later)

Bring the water to the boil.

As it’s simmering, carefully scrape off with a big spoon all the bubbly starch that forms on top. This is really important, as 'This is the bit that contains the flatulence', as Saniya put it, 'and the starch, which is mainly sugar, which make you...' (at this point she pats her stomach!) Get rid of it all and you get a much smoother, milkier mix.

When the dal is cooked - you'll know as all the dal will be really soft or 'melted', as Saniya calls it. Keep tasting and checking and stirring.

Cooking it in her pressure cooker took about 30 minutes, but I reckon it needs to cook on a normal stove-top for about an hour.

In the meantime, chop the remaining half of the onion and another two garlic cloves.
Put them in a small saucepan with sunflower or veg oil - nice and deep, so the onions is nearly covered.
Cook the onions in the oil till gently browned and soft - add the garlic right at the end, just so it cooks transparent and doesn't burn.

As soon as it's cooked, turn off the heat and tip the whole lot including the oil into the Dal.
Stir, and it's ready to serve! Serve with freshly cooked rice or bread of any sort.

Freezes and keeps in the fridge - but as always best fresh!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dirty Sangers.

Round here, Dirty Sangers describes a sandwich so good it's rude. One that gives you a boner. One you hope to repeat but there's no guarantee you ever will.

I'm sure even now people hear the phrase 'vegan sandwich' and picture a dry, brown layering of dust and earnestness with a side serving of smugness. We're here to tell you they can be lustful and wet, engorged with fillings and dressings and encased in fat, fresh bread. Usually home-made, just to give you that hint of expected smugness which is then smacked off your face by the moistness inside.

The trick is go with 'plenty'. Of everything. And keep it moist - olive oil, or lots of marge; more tomatoes than feels decent, or a vegan mayonnaise (Plamil's packaging is terrible, but the mayo is good - don't let it put you off). Hoummus - don't just show it the jar, smear it on like, well, like inch-thick hoummus on a sandwich. Our brand is San Amvrosia. Commercial sandwich makers, even cafes and restaurants, can be terrified of over doing the content, and that's where they go wrong. You need to be armed and dangerous with not just the main filling, but the moistness around it. If it's a hot sandwich, Brown or Ketchup, or Reggae Reggae sauce (which is vegan) is a fine mush to add.

Here are a couple of our recent ones. That's mayonnaise AND ketchup on the top one. Shame you can't taste or smell them. We did, they they were good.

Madeleine is wearing a Good Life Spicy Bean Quarterpounder with Chipotle Chilis, sliced gherkins, mushrooms, lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, tomatoes.

Josephine sports a half-inch think slice or three of Redwood's Cheezly (yes, cringe at the name, weep at the obscene mouth-feel of the fat and salt). mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, yellow pepper.

Other sandwiches we like are:

- Peanut butter and jelly (jam, if you're English)
- Fake bacon by Redwood's with mushrooms and onions and ketchup
- Sliced fake beef (don't worry, we're not obsessed with the whole fake meat shizzle, but it does sometimes come in handy) with lettuce and real mustard (Taylors)
- Chilli peanut butter
- Marmite, cheese (Cheezly) and Engevita - a salty B-vitamin orgy
- Classic cheese and onion

* We'll add to this as we go along. Sandwich updates to come.*

Gherkin off in the East End.

On Monday after a day working at the D&A New Blood student event in the Old Truman Brewery, Shoreditch, we found ourselves starving and unwilling to make the walk to Saf (lazy, we know). Having clocked Poppies' Chippie on the way there, we went back in about 7 o' clock for something to 'tide us over'.

What a surprise. You know somewhere's good when it's rammed with people. And there were actually benches outside we could sit on, unhassled by staff. The bloke at the counter wasn't phased at all by my asking whether the weapons-grade gherkins were 'amazing'. He just nodded very earnestly. So we had two of those, served wrapped in paper. They had to be clutched with a whole fist, but while good, could in all honesty have been a little more interesting on the pickle spice front.

We had a 'small' portion of chips, which were huge and crisp and fresh, the portion uncharacteristically generous for London. Doused in salt and lots of vinegar, they had that satisfying crunch on the outside, and that fat softness on the inside. We ate the lot - even the little crisps at the bottom which sometimes end up mushed by vinegar (the newspaper was fake, but who cares about that when hot carby salt and fat is all over your tongue?) £4.50 for the lot including a cream soda - really not bad.

On our bench outside we were able to marvel at the fish portions which, although not for the likes of us, looked crisp and lively - and large, though not vulgarly so, with fresh lemon on them. And the mushy peas weren't that classic cheap neon - made in-house, maybe? People were queueing to get served, and the man next to me who was devoid of chips told me he'd just finished his, but was sitting around a bit longer to enjoy the vibe.

Nice. A proper East End chippie without any of the tourist bollocks, or mugged-at-the-counter prices. We'll be darkening their door again.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Mole and the Giant Turnip.

Just look at this lot:

This afternoon, these insanely bulbous turnips were picked for us by Walter Rickard, head of the Rickard clan, who with his wife Rose and their family run Willow Farm in Congerstone, where they've grown vegetables, fruit and plants for decades.

The fat broad beans and little luminous peas (which were squeaking with excitement) were picked by Leigh, Wally and I together, and let me tell you, there's nothing like getting on your knees in a dry sunny field and picking your own dinner. The lettuce I was allowed to cut with Wally's knife (an honour - that knife will have been with him for decades) - he showed me the right way to do it - and the calabrese we chose from three rows of the stuff. It wasn't the biggest there, but bloody hell, we're only feeding two of us.

We've been buying veg from the family almost every week for at least eight years - except for those weeks when we've not managed to eat our way through the previous box - and it never fails to impress us. You won't find this calibre of vegetable in any supermarket. You simply won't. Organic, local, huge, bulging with taste, and picked the same day. And everything you see in these particular photographs cost us a fiver.

Don't whinge to me about the occasional bug in the lettuce, or the wonky carrots, this is the real deal. If all you're interested in is cheapness, you can't do better. If all you're interested in is the environmental and health aspects, you can't improve on this. And if you're a taste connoisseur, it stops right here.

To get all four, twenty minutes down the road, is nothing short of a precious miracle. Albeit one fuelled by a family who work seven days a week 365 days of the year, in all weathers. We owe a large part of our health to the Rickard family, and tonight we salute them with a hefty serving of gravy.

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