Archive for the ‘Balsall Heath’ Category

The sun has been out and when that happens I always start thinking salad and for the first one of the summer I rustled up a special carrot salad, but without raisins. I just can’t bare them in salads.

I always used to go for the simple cucumber and tomato style salads of my youth but since becoming vegan I’ve been way more experimental.

One of my favourite responses to any variety of stock statement people give when they find out you’re vegan, is related to being experimental in a salad sense

“What do you eat?”

“Pips and leaves” is my tongue in cheek reply. Pips and leaves would be considered experimental up until quite recently.

“It opens up a whole new world of different foods to try, it’s easy” is my more serious response. And of course it does.

If I hadn’t become vegetarian, in the first instance, I’m not sure I would have even tried red peppers. Eventually, maybe, but this was the catalyst to trying a lot of vegetables and other veggie foods. Becoming vegan and living in Balsall Heath expanded this out look and my veggie world exploded!

But back to my salad. I just used things I had in

  • red onion
  • two carrots, grated
  • some white cabbage
  • plenty sesame seeds
  • sprouted organic mung beans
  • ground organic hazelnuts
  • garnish – olive oil, organic cider vinegar, dash of soy sauce, plenty lemon juice and salt
First Salad of the summer

First salad

It’s a bit like a posh coleslaw but I would’ve added more seeds (pips) and some spinach leaves if I had them. I didn’t so I just chopped all the veg up nice and small and combined the lot. It was lovely and along with the sunshine made me think summery thoughts…..


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I love soup, and I do make a good batch now and then. When I first discovered how easy soup was to make, I was amazed. I always thought that it would be impossible to replicate those Heinz tins. The good news is that it is easy to vastly improve on any tinned soup!

I tend to base my soups on potato’s, which make a nice thick soup which is a quite ‘creamy’ for a vegan palate when liquidised. I then use complimentary flavours to make the soup special or unique. The recipes change depending what I have in. This particular soup was produced from the following

  • 3 large carrots
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic

I peeled and chopped the carrots, potatoes and sweet potato and steamed them til done. Meanwhile I chopped then fried the onion for a few minutes til starting to brown and added the chopped leek. Then I quite roughly chopped and crushed the garlic, which was put in with the other fried ingredients for a minute or two.

When the steamed veg was ready I added the steam water to the onion and leek mix, stirred in the steamed veg and added some seasoning. I blended it all til smooth and tucked in. Using carrots and sweet potatoes gives a soup a beautiful vibrant colour which definitely adds.

I served this with thick bread and some cut ‘living salad’ from Lidl; it was gorgeous.

Carrot, Sweet Potato and Leek Soup

Better than Heinz

This is the method I use for the heartier type of soup, more wintery than summery. This standard recipe can be tweaked to change the flavour by adding complimentary falvourings. But always natural flavours never msg, of course.  Carrot works well with coriander, ginger and orange, believe it or not. So mixing in some of one of these will give the soup a completely different feel. The leaves add to it too, this made it more summery and seeing as yesterday was the first really sunny warm day of the year, it was a nice touch, even if I do say so myself.

I think the take home message is, have a little experiment, find something that works and have a little mess around with it and see if it works. If you stick to complementary flavours, tomato and basil are another safe bet, you’re onto a winner.

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As a result of the Veg Wars I mentioned on here a while back, I ended up with more mangoes than I could handle. So I decided I’d try to make some sorbet, on the hoof. I didn’t research it at all I just went ahead with my recipe. I peeled and pureed four large mangoes added juice of a lime and plenty of ginger (another abundant Veg War buy). Then froze it. This worked quite well although it’s not sweet enough, a little agave syrup would probably help.

Today I made a lovely variation on standard fruit salad, which can be a bit ordinary. Out of a tin you always get that weird looking cherry thing that is far too artificial to be of use. An old friend of mine, many years ago, used to make amazing sandwiches, tons of different salad vegetables and condiments. He said if you wanted a decent butty you needed to put effort into the preparation. Wise words, I’ve applied this theory to the fruit salad.

I had one juicy pear left over that needed using and chopped it up nice and small with an organic pink lady apple. Then chopped up three kiwi fruit and mixed them together. As an afterthought I threw in some chopped organic dates, from Planet Organic, to add some sweetness to balance the tangy kiwi. I put the whole mixture in the fridge to chill for a few hours. Before serving I chopped up and stirred in a Pomegranate, Blueberry and Oat Fruitus bar and added the mango ‘sorbet’.

Frosty Easter Fruit Salad

As I mentioned above the sorbet needed some sweetening but overall the fruit salad was a series of delightful Easter flavour explosions. Yee-ha!

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Agave syrup is produced from the Agave cactus, which famously is the plant from which tequila is made. It’s a great, sweeter alternative to sugar and it is low on the Glycaemic Index. This means that the sugar rush, from eating Mars bars or whatever, does not occur. Agave syrup has a minimal ‘raising’ effect on blood sugar despite tasting sweet.

Glycaemic Index Graphic

Low GI avoids 'sugar crash'

This has clear health benefits, as prolonged episodes of raised blood sugar levels and resultant insulin usage, from eating sweet foodstuffs, protecting against the chances of developing Syndrome X and diabetes. This means blood sugar remains pretty stable, it won’t cause a sharp rise or fall, clearly illustrated in the graph. Moreover, this makes Agave syrup a good choice for sufferers of the conditions mentioned above.

The piña of the Agave plant

The cacti have the leaves removed when matured, with the core (piña) retained and the sap (aguamiel) extracted. After filtering the aguamiel is heated at a low enough temperature to retain the nutrients, ensuring all beneficial properties of the nectar remain intact. A second filtration results in the final product.

To use in place of granulated sugar replace each cup of sugar with 2/3 of a cup of Agave syrup and reduce other liquid in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup. Easy! This equation works for all forms of sugar, while other equations can be used for other sweeteners.

I use Agave syrup in my porridge. Typically, I’ll add a little to some oats with a small apple chopped and added. Also I add some seeds, pumpkin and sesame work well and some cinnamon for flavour.  After it’s cooked I like to add some ground linseed and hemp, the Agave helps disguise the taste of hemp protein powder, which is not palatable on its own.

I’ve found another oat based recipe that I will try, this looks delicious, watch this space for updates!

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Miserable hippy, liked lentils

Lentils are great, and not just for Neil off the Young Ones! I used to operate almost exclusively with the red variety mainly making dhals, it  took me a long time to realise just how many types there are. I’m lucky, I live in Balsall Heath,  right on the edge of Birmingham’s ‘Balti Triangle’, so there are a lot of cheap Asian ingredients readily available. So, I have stocked up with six varieties of lentil, all from my local shop and all very cheap.

If you buy these sort of ‘East End‘ products, or the equivalent, from regular supermarkets you pay over the odds, much better to go to an Asian grocery shop, and why not pick up your spices at the same time. I bought three lentil varieties that need only 30 minutes soaking and three that require an overnight job. Predictably, I’ve used the first three types more often, but with a little planning the others have been used too.


Soaking time

Chana Dall – split yellow gram

30 minutes

Toor Dall Dry

30 minutes

Brown Lentils

30 minutes

Urid Dall Chilka

5 hours

Cow Peas

5 hours

Moong Dall Chilka

5 hours

In years gone by I’d think of lentils as a staple food in times of need, a saviour when cash-strapped, nothing fancy at all. I have, however, tried some recipes more salubrious than simple dall, which in conjunction with dinners at a Hindu friend’s house, have elevated the lowly lentil beyond survival food. This winter, after purchasing my six varieties I have had a bit of a lentil renaissance.

One reason a lot of people ignore lentils is an unfortunate side-effect often experienced when over-indulging; wind. Lentils make you fart, there’s no getting away from it. But, it’s possible to greatly reduce this problem by going overboard on the washing, as detailed below

  • Wash the lentils before soaking in three or four changes of water, the best way I found to do this is to put them into a jug and fill it with water then empty it through a sieve, to retain the lentils.
  • Always change the water after soaking, and wash them again before cooking
  • During cooking occasionally remove froth
  • Once cooked they can be washed a final time

I used this method with five of the varieties to make a thinish stew this afternoon. I soaked the overnight lentils and added to them with brown lentils and chana dall then cooked them – boiling hard for ten minutes then simmering for 30 or so. In the meantime I slowly steamed potatoes, sweet and regular with a  few carrots. Then I fried thickly chopped onion for a few minutes before adding some garlic. Before adding the other ingredients, I threw in paprika, cumin and coriander for a final fry.

I then mixed in the cooked veg and lentils, finally adding the ‘steaming’ water (with three stock cubes dissolved) and let the whole thing tick over on a very low heat for 10 or 15 minutes. I wanted the lentils to thicken the stew a little whilst being careful to not let the vegetables disintegrate. The result was pretty good, a lovely hearty stew for this freezing snowy day, which the photo fails to do justice. Lush!

5 lentil winter stew

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