The Unseen Restaurant Vegan Night

Vegan Curry Night

For the last 4 weeks I have been engaged in a month long challenge to eat only vegan food.  As I was approaching the end of the month and beginning to get the hang of the whole thing I decided to run an Unseen Restaurant night where I would invite my omnivorous friends to come and share some vegan food.

This food had to be good; Unseen Restaurant guests pay for their food and I didn’t want my meat eating friends to feel short changed.  In a way I feel like I wimped out by deciding to do a curry night, vegan fine dining would have been a bigger challenge but also a higher risk.  I didn’t want to put people off, I just wanted to offer them something familiar but different.  So I settled on curries.

Having said that curries are simple I have eaten some awful curries in my time; over or underspiced, so fiery you can’t taste anything for a week or so bland you wouldn’t know it was curry.  I have also been served curries with an oil slick on top or full of poor quality ingredients, presumably in the hope that the spicing would hide the wilted veg and gristly meat.

I was really aiming for a range of flavours and textures with some layered spicing.  I hope I achieved it.  In the end we ate Onion Bhajis with home made Mango Chutney, Tarka Dhal, Mushroom Passanda and Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Rogan Josh with basmati rice and chapattis.

Then came my second challenge – dessert.  Even under normal circumstances I am not a fan of Indian desserts.  I find them to be overly sweet and many of them are based on milk which is not good if you are planning a vegan meal. Again, I really wanted to give my guests something they would love so I set about making them a very un-Indian chocolate and raspberry brownie.  Again, it’s not the easist thing to make a vegan brownie – the eggs and butter are usually in there for a reason – but it can be done and it can be done well.  For the Unseen Restaurant night I served them with non-dairy Ice “cream” and caramelised hazlenuts.

All in all I think my guests enjoyed the food – judging by the appreciative noises they were making.  No one seemed to miss meat although one or two of them confessed to eating meat for lunch that day “just in case”.

For me?  All these recipes will have a regular place on our table from now on.  Vegan food doesn’t have to be an ethical choice or even a healthy choice – sometimes it’s just darned tasty.

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Vegan Onion Bhaji Recipe

Onion bhajis with mango chutney and mango relishEvery curry night needs bhajis.  I know that is a bit of a sweeping statement but I make no apologies – bhajis are, quite simply, delicious and really easy to make too.

Many years ago I used to work as Provisions Manager for a family owned chain of “Quality Grocers” (we were reprimanded if we called them a supermarket!).  Saturday mornings on the rather wonderful 200 foot long deli counter were always busy and buzzing and fun (and, of course, hard work).  We had lots of regular customers including one particularly sweet lady who used to visit every week.  If I didn’t see her arrive I knew she was there because half my staff used to disappear as she approached the counter.  They would hide anywhere they could already stifling their giggles as, regular as clockwork, she asked for two vegetable samosas and two onion budgies.

I don’t know why we found this so funny, there was absolutely no malice in the laughter, but it just tickled us all and I was the only one who could keep a straight face as I served her.  So now, everytime I eat bhajis, I think of her and have a little giggle to myself.

I hope these make you smile too.

Ingredients

2 large Onions

3 tbsp Gram (Chickpea) Flour

1 tsp Garam Masala

½ tsp Chilli Powder

1 tbsp Mango Chutney

Vegetable oil for frying

Method

Peel and slice the onions; aim to have longish strands of onion as it helps the bhajis to hold together better.  Fry gently in a little oil until softened but not too brown.  Set aside to cool.

Put the gram flour and spices into a bowl with the mango chutney and 2 or 3 tbsp cold water.  Mix well until you have a very thick batter (you may need a little more water).  Stir in the onions until they are completely coated in the batter.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and drop in spoonfuls of the bhaji mix.  Cook for a minute or two on each side until crisp and browned.

If you want to make these in advance cover and chill the cookedbhajis until you need them then re-heat in a hot oven before serving.

I served them with some home made mango chutney and a mango salsa.

If you enjoyed reading this and would like to see more please visit and like the bun scuffle facebook page or follow @bunscuffle on Twitter for updates and more.

Vegan Chocolate and Raspberry Brownies

Vegan Chocolate BrowniesI was approaching the end of my month long vegan challenge and was looking for a great dessert to complete a vegan meal for some omnivorous friends.  I wasn’t looking to convert anyone but I did want them to have a really enjoyable meal that didn’t feel too “worthy”.

In the end I settled for brownies.  Now everyone loves brownies so these couldn’t be second rate in any way which meant I experimented with lots of recipes (some good, some disastrous).

I tried making them with wholemeal flour but thought they tasted a bit gritty.  In the end I used ordinary plain flour because, lets face it, whatever you do to them brownies are never going to be health food are they?

Do make sure that your sugar is unrefined and your jam and chocolate are suitable for vegans.  I used Green and Black’s chocolate and cocoa powder – it’s organic and contains no dairy and no caseine.

I tried using fresh raspberries but the batter is so thick that they just squished when I tried to stir them in.  Using frozen protects them and means that you can make them all year round.

This is what I finally served – as usual an amalgamation of all the good recipes. They are dense, gooey and chocolatey – everything a brownie should be.  As I was serving them for dessert I tarted them up a bit with a non-dairy ice “cream” and some caramelized hazlenuts but they taste just as good on their own.

Go on – you know you want to…

Ingredients

100g / 4oz Plain Chocolate

100g / 4oz Unrefined Golden Caster Sugar

140g/ 5 oz Seedless Raspberry Jam

140g / 5 oz Unsweetened Stewed Apple

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

200g / 7oz Plain Flour

25g / 1oz Cocoa Powder

125g / 4 ½ oz Frozen Raspberries

¼ tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

½ tsp Salt

Method

Pre- heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4

Grease and line an 8” square brownie tin.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (make sure the bowl is not touching the water) and set aside to cool a little.

Put the sugar, stewed apple, vanilla extract and jam into a large mixing bowl and beat well until combined and all the lumps are removed. Mix in the melted chocolate.

Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder) and stir together until well combined.

Stir in the raspberries until evenly distributed. Spoon the brownie mix into the prepared tin and level – this is a really stiff mixture so it takes a bit of doing – I found that using the back of a wet spoon worked best.

Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Stick a skewer into the mix to test but it should NOT come out clean – you need the middle to be gooey but not completely raw. The top of the brownie should just be beginning to crisp.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. If the centre is still very gooey when the brownie is cool put it in the fridge to firm up a bit. If you can be patient they taste even better the next day.

If you enjoyed reading this and would like to see more please visit and like the bun scuffle facebook page or follow @bunscuffle on Twitter for updates and more.

The Vegan Challenge – 1 Week and Counting

Salad

If you know bun scuffle then you know that I am an omnivore; I love to cook and I love to eat just about anything and everything: My recipes include meat, fish, vegetables, dairy, desserts and cakes so this vegan challenge; one whole month of an entirely vegan diet, may come as something of a surprise.

I am now one week into the challenge and the word which best sums it up so far is “interesting”.

Finding and devising vegan recipes is quite easy; the internet is full of fascinating blogs and recipe sites and there is plenty of nutritional advice out there too (although I would suggest that you choose your sites wisely). In addition I have had lots of help and advice from my vegan friends and from some lovely people who have found the bun scuffle facebook page this week.

I have been trying hard to find meals which are nutritionally balanced and which meet the needs of the rest of my family who, after all, had this experiment foisted on them. So far, we have been doing pretty well although my daughter sometimes opts out in favour of a meat option. On Sunday she decided to make a roast dinner for the rest of the family and I had to coach her through roasting a shoulder of lamb and making gravy – which made it a little harder to get excited about my sweet potato and borlotti bean patty! (Actually it was scrummy and the meat eaters shared my food rather than the other way around).

Breakfasts have been good; porridge (made with water) topped with fruit and toasted seeds, a fruit smoothie with a handful of nuts, toast and peanut butter or a “Raw Chocolate Wake-Up Call”; a protein rich, raw chocolate and banana smoothie courtesy of Day Radley. I am usually a bit lazy about breakfast so the discipline of eating properly in the mornings has been really good.

PorridgeLunches have mostly been of the soup and salad variety and the freezer is full of individual portions of carrot & coriander and spicy parsnip but my favourite is definitely Asian matchstick soup.

Soup - carrot & coriander

Dinners have really allowed for some creativity, I’ve made friends with tofu (I was never a fan before), played with pulses and fried falafel. I have “veganised” family favourites like cottage pie and mushroom risotto. I’ve even had a go at a banana and chocolate mousse and I baked blueberry muffins which my daughter claims are the best she has ever eaten.

Vegan mushroom risottoSo why do I feel like my efforts are just not good enough?

Perhaps I am just reading too much – vegan bloggers tend to set the bar high: Somehow it is not enough to be vegan; to be really healthy I should apparently also give up gluten and all forms of sugar or I should stop cooking altogether and only eat raw food.

This week I also read a piece by a well known vegan blogger who suggested that people who eat a vegan diet for the “wrong” reasons “dilute” the message that “real” vegans are trying to get across. In other words, people who are vegans for health reasons are diluting the animal rights message. Judging by the ensuing debate she is not alone in those thoughts.

I have immense respect for people who have strong beliefs and find a way to live their lives without compromising their convictions. Personally, I don’t choose to eat a raw food diet but I am more than a little in awe of those who do. I don’t normally choose to be a vegan but this experiment is increasing the (already immense) respect I have for those who do.

The best advert I know for a vegan lifestyle is seeing the people I know glowing with health and vitality but I’ll be honest with you – being lectured about what a bad person I am (despite the fact that I am eating a vegan diet at present) makes me want to go out and eat steak.

In fairness, the same distinctions exist in the omnivorous world. I am conscious that my own concerns about sustainably sourced fish and high welfare meat might seem judgemental to people who choose processed products without knowing their origin. Just think about some of the media reporting of the recent horsemeat scandal with anger and hyperbole on all sides of the debate and everyone looking for someone to blame.

I guess these food debates will continue forever. In the meantime, bun scuffle is about “one woman’s adventures with food”, as I am that woman, I will continue the adventure with my mind and my mouth wide open.

Links to some of this weeks recipes:

Asian Matchstick Soup

Falafel

Asian Marinated Tofu

Vegan Blueberry Muffins

Vegan Chocolate and Banana Mousse