Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why are they called "eggplants", anyways?

When I first went vegan, I was pretty sure eggplant was gross.  I rarely ate it.

When I moved to Australia, we gave eggplant another shot, finding it a wonderful addition to tomato sauce on pasta.  That remained our standard use for eggplant.

Last year I branched out into Eggplant Bharta, cooking the purple vegetable down in oil and curry paste until it was mushy-delicious.

We occasionally tried eggplant in other ways, but mainly stuck to our eggplant routines.  But this year we have really discovered how wonderful eggplants can be.

Crumbed and fried eggplant schnitzels are a bit junky (especially served with chips) but still a vegetable and thus, reasonably healthy.

Sprinkled with dukkah and baked, eggplant goes flavourful and melty, almost the texture of melted cheese.  It is beautiful and low in fat, served here with garlic toast and 'balsamic roasted veggies' from the Urban Vegan cookbook.

It also makes a great addition to pie, combined here with seitan and gravy and wrapped up in flaky puff pastry.

We tried growing an eggplant once, and it went really well, got loads of flowers, but never set into fruit.  Maybe we'll have to try again, because lately we are loving eggplant.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


One of my favourite foods when I was in school was bagels -- my mum would grab a dozen or so from the bakery in the supermarkets, all different flavours, and I would eat them for breakfast, sometimes lunch, and afterschool snacks.  Something about the chewy, dense, breadiness is just irrestible to me.

Then I moved to Australia, and didn't see a bagel for months.  One day I spotted some in the bread section of the supermarket and excitedly grabbed a pack, only to be met with a disappointing bread roll with a hole in it.  It was not dense or chewy, it was just kind of ... stale.  I gave up on bagels.

Then I had a lightbulb moment and tried to make them.  The first time was a bit of a fail.  The second time was much better.  They weren't pretty, or perfect, but they were lightyears ahead of the storebought version available in Townsville. 

Then I sort of forgot about making bagels for a while.  It wasn't until I saw Cristy post about making bagels that I thought I should get back into that.  And I realised it's not that hard, and once you get the hang of it, not that time consuming either.  So in the last few weeks, bagels have been a regular staple item in our freezer, ready for breakfasts and snacks.

I've tried a few different flavours, and have a word of advice: dry ingredients work much better than sticky/wet add-ins.

I turned one batch of bagels into four different flavours -- two worked well, two decidedly did not.  Chocolate marzipan - super sweet fail.  Vegemite - salty yummy fail.  Sunflower seeds, poppy seeds & coconut - worked perfectly.  Dukkah - my favourite.  If you want to flavour your bagels with things like vegemite, it is probably worth adding them in at the start, because kneading it through is just messy.  Dried fruit, however, works beautifully.

Here's my recipe...

1 tsp. yeast
1 2/3 c. water
3 T. raw sugar
1 T. treacle
3 c. white flour
1 1/2 c. wholemeal flour
1/4 c. gluten flour

Put all ingredients into the breadmaker and turn on the dough cycle.  90 minutes later it will beep; I let the dough sit in the breadmaker for another 30 minutes, so it has two hours all up.  Then dump the dough out of the pan, cut in half and knead each piece for a minute.  If you are adding flavours, seeds, etc., knead them in now, until fully mixed through.  Let the dough rest for five minutes, then break each half into 6 pieces (so you have a dozen bagels total).  Roll into balls, cover with a damp tea towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.
Kneading dough - one plain, one with ground LSA kneaded through.

Then shape the bagels - take a ball, roll it into a log and then wrap that log around your hand, joining the two ends together very well.  It will look like the hole is too big compared to the bagel, but this is a good thing - the bagels puff up and if your hole isn't big enough, you'll lose it!  Place shaped bagels on a well-oiled baking tray, cover with a damp tea towel, and let rest another 20 minutes (or you can put them into the fridge overnight at this stage).

Boil water with 1 tsp. bicarb soda in a large saucepan or pot.  Add bagels, a few at a time - make sure they aren't crowded.  You can boil the bagels for between 1 and 4 minutes each, depending on how chewy you like them.  I've settled on 2 minutes for a nicely chewy bagel.  Flip them over halfway through, then drain well and return to the baking tray (make sure it's still well oiled).  I find a spatula works better for this than a slotted spoon, because it doesn't leave indents in the bagels.
Boiled bagels.  I tried coating the bottom in polenta, hoping that would make them not 
stick to the pan, but it just made them messy.  A good amount of oil is really all you need.

If you want seeds on the outside of your bagel, put the still-wet bagel into a bowl of your topping of choice, press it down and put it on the tray.  I prefer my seeds kneaded in so I don't do this step.

Once all the bagels are boiled, heat your oven to 240.  Bake bagels for 5 minutes.  Then rotate the trays (so the top one moves to the bottom, and vice versa).  Lower heat to 180 and bake for another 10 minutes.  Flip bagels over to brown the other side, bake another 5 minutes.  Then remove them from the tray immediately and put them on a cooling rack.

We wait until they are fully cooled, then slice them in half and put in the freezer, so they are perfectly fresh whenever we want them.

Excellent with vegemite and avocado.

Or with peanut butter.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I've recently been contacted by a few people asking me to share some links and information on my blog.  I'm happy to use this space to promote vegetarian businesses and activists, so here you go...

1) There is a vegan retreat centre in Hepburn Springs, Victoria.  I definitely want to go check it out at some point -- has anyone ever been?  What is it like?  They are running a vegan cooking & yoga retreat in October, and as they said in an email, "We have a brilliant vegan chef here, Alexis, who has been cooking vegan food for 15 years, and can really demonstrate to people who come here that vegan food does not have to be boring".  If you want to check it out, go to their website.

2) Some vegan activists have put together a song and (very cute) music video, 'Why must we eat the animals? Oh why? Oh why?'.  

It gets stuck in your head, so be warned!  But also share widely.  You can refer people to

That is all I have time for, at least at the moment.  I have healed, almost entirely, from my surgery, and I am back at uni and as busy as ever.   But I will have some interesting stuff for you all soon.  In the meantime, I dare you not to giggle at that music video.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Coconut Ginger Rock Cakes

Life with a soymilk maker is a continual process of finding ways to use up okara.  I scribbled down several recipes from the blog Okara Mountain, and one day found the inspiration to bake a batch of Coconut-Ginger Scones.  However, in the process of veganising and screwing around with the recipe a bit, I found mine more like rock cakes than scones -- the dough was far too wet to roll into a disc and cut into wedges, so I plopped blobs onto the baking tray instead.  Andy was skeptical of these, as he's only ever liked scones when they are covered in jam & cream, and even then he says they remind him of Grandma.  But on trying these, he was very happy with how light, moist and flavourful they were.  So was I - these are one of my favourite ways yet of using up okara.

Coconut-Ginger Rock Cakes

2 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. shredded coconut
3/4 c. dried mixed fruit
1 c. coconut cream
1/2 c. wet okara (soy yogurt would also work)
1/4 c. golden syrup
1 T. grated fresh ginger

 2 T. sugar
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. shredded coconut

Heat oven to 210 (375F).  In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and coconut until well blended.  Stir in dried fruit.  In a jug, combine coconut cream, okara, syrup and ginger.  Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Divide dough into eight pieces and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Combine sugar, nuts and coconut for topping, sprinkle over cakes and press in gently.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottoms.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Curried Sausages

Townsville had a surprising cold snap recently, probably made more surprising because most of the winter was so incredibly mild.  Riding to uni when it's 12 degrees (that's about 54 F) and windy is not fun -- cold hands, cold ears, and cold lungs.  Luckily I have a nice hot shower waiting for me, a mere two doors down from my office, but this cold weather also had us craving nice hot food.

With a handful of homemade okara sausages in the freezer, Andy suggested we have devilled sausages.  This is a meal I have never experienced, and Andy has had only a few times, so we turned to the internet for advice.  But then I ended up not following a recipe at all, and the results were pretty delicious anyways.

Devil Casserole
1 T. rice bran oil
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 zucchini, cut into thick slices
1 capsicum, cut into chunks
2 t. fresh thyme
4-6 vegan sausages, cut into thick chunks
1 1/2 t. soy sauce
1 T. cider vinegar
4 t. flour
2 t. brown sugar
1 c. beef flavoured stock
1/2 c. tomato sauce (ketchup)
1 tin diced tomatoes

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and onions, cook until onions start to brown, about 10 minutes.  Stir in thyme, reduce heat to medium low, and cook another 5 minutes.  Add zucchini, capsicum and sausages and cook until veggies are tender and sausage is slightly browned -- another 5 to 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine flour, brown sugar, and beef stock in a jug, whisking to remove all lumps.  Add this to the skillet along with the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, bring up to a boil and then remove from heat.  Then move to the oven, at 180C/350F and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.

Of course, it's warm now that it's spring, and I won't be riding for probably another week because of my recent surgery, but that won't necessarily stop me from eating hearty winter food like this.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pancake Battle

Some of you may remember the pancake debate which pervades the Tropical Vegan household, which I have mentioned previously on this blog. I am still firmly in support of light, fluffy pancakes.  Andy tolerates them, but still prefers thin pancakes. 

However.  I recently grabbed a Hungarian cookbook from the library, and saw a recipe for thin pancakes that intrigued me, and looked easy enough to veganise.  That, and their suggested fillings, had me scribbling down some recipes to try out.  So we tried them.  And I think I don't dislike thin pancakes the way I used to.  Part of this has to do with technique -- I think I've finally figured out how to make thin pancakes that don't suck.  Instead of trying to do the pan-flick that spreads the batter around, which I suck at because 1) my pan is the wrong size and shape, 2) I'm not quick enough and 3) I lack the requisite style in the kitchen for that sort of cooking, I have adopted a method of spooning in the batter and spreading it thinly with the back of my spoon.

That said, I still like fluffy pancakes best.  Here are recipes for both versions.  Where do you weigh in on the pancake debate?

Thin Hungarian Pancakes
250 g. flour
pinch of salt
2 t. sugar
1 T. egg replacer powder
200 mL soy milk
1/3 c. water
3 T. rice bran oil
150 - 200 mL soda water

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, and egg replacer powder.  In a jug, combine soy milk, water, and oil, then add this to the dry ingredients.  Beat to a smooth batter, and then whisk in soda water until you have a creamy consistency.  You should be able to pour/drizzle a spoonful of batter, so if it is too thick for this then whisk in a bit more soda water.  Leave to stand at least 10 minutes.  Brush a skillet with a tiny bit of oil and heat over medium-high.  When the skillet is fully heated, spoon in a small amount of batter and immediately spread it into a thin circle.  Cook till golden brown on both sides.

Makos Palacstina (Pancakes with Poppy Seed filling)
1 c. ground poppy seeds
1/2 c. icing sugar
1 t. vanilla
100 mL soy milk
1/4 c. raisins

Heat milk in a small saucepan.  When milk is hot, add poppy seeds, icing sugar, vanilla and raisins.  Stir well, then turn off heat, cover the pan, and let this sit for 10 minutes (while you cook the pancakes).  To serve, spoon into pancakes and fold or roll up.

Fluffy pancakes

3/4 c. plain flour
1/2 c. plain wholemeal flour (or use all plain flour)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 1/3 c. soy milk
1 T. apple cider vinegar

1/3 c. water
2 T. rice bran oil

Combine flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon and mix well until no lumps remain.  In a jug, combine soy milk, vinegar, water and oil.  Add this to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until just combined.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Heat a skillet over med-high heat.  When skillet is fully heated, spoon a small amount of batter into the pan.  Cook until bubbles appear and edges dry out, then flip and brown on the other side.

Now that we've got two good recipes, we're both happy to compromise on our pancake preferences -- but as the principle pancake maker, fluffy is still my default.  What can I say -- when you've got the recipe memorised, it's easy to make them without even thinking.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

I'm an illness denier.

I could try and call myself an illness skeptic, but like climate change deniers, I refuse to believe in something, even when all of the evidence proves me wrong!

Last week I was sick.  I had pains in my belly from Monday mid-morning.  But I was busy teaching all week.  I'm currently working on four classes, over four days of the week.  Plus committee meetings, organising postgrad events, and trying to do my own research. I didn't really have time to go to the doctor until at least Friday, so I remained optimistic that my pains would disappear on their own.  They didn't.  Wednesday I consulted briefly with Dr. Google, just enough to find that my pains could be from anything.  Thursday I had a bit of spare time between classes and spent more time with Dr. Google.  The diagnosis was most likely appendicitis, but I thought it was unlikely, and anyways, I was still busy.  But I did try to make an appointment but my usual doctor (and a few others), who were booked out.  Andy suggested the emergency room, which I repeatedly refused -- I'd been in pain since Monday, so surely it wasn't an emergency, right?

But Friday morning I was still hurty, so I rang around and got an appointment at a GP Super Clinic for first thing in the morning.  The doctor there sent me to the ER straight away, where I was diagnosed with probably-appendicitis.  I laid in bed in the ER for 10 hours, hooked into saline and antibiotics, waiting for surgery.  But my symptoms weren't quite convincing -- I was feeling slightly better on Friday, and my white blood cell count wasn't that high -- so I had to keep waiting.  They eventually moved me upstairs, to a more permanent bed, and I waited for surgery there.  I was starving, and didn't want surgery, and was in pain, and was generally cranky.  But first thing Saturday morning, they wheeled me down to the operating theatre and found my appendix had already ruptured, was fairly badly infected, and so I had to lay around hooked in to antibiotics for a few more days.  And eat terrible hospital food.  Seriously, I've never eaten so unhealthily in my whole life.

I'm not looking for pity (though a little would not be rejected), but just wanted to explain my absence.  And also to say that if you have pain in your lower-right abdomen, don't just assume it will go away.  Now I've got a few days on the couch ahead of me, so I should be able to catch up on a few old posts, and get up to date on what you've all been doing on your blogs!