For July I worked my way through Vegan Secret Supper, one of the fanciest cookbooks in my collection. It was written by a woman who runs a supper club in New York, and as such the recipes are really designed to impress and have multiple components. Not really one for a school night, then. However, I thought I’d be able to make it work if I cut a few corners.
Starting, as we must, with breakfast, I whipped up some peanut butter oat pancakes one happy morning. These were taken from a recipe for waffles, served with white chocolate mousse and plum compote to form a twist on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I did not have time for such things, so I served them with strawberries and golden syrup, and they were delicious. The pancakes were perhaps a touch dry, so the strawberries added some much-needed juice and worked really well with the chocolatey, nutty pancakes. A great start to the day, and to my adventures with this book.
I did the same thing with the double chocolate pancakes, transforming them from waffles to pancakes and ditching the extra components. The recipe calls for a banana, but I didn’t have any in, so I used some coconut yoghurt instead (which I always have in, because it is amazing) – I hoped it might lend a hint of the flavour, but it contributed to texture alone in the end. The pancakes were really good, in terms of both texture and taste. The chunks of melted dark chocolate were the highlight, all gooey and delicious. I layered the pancakes with raspberries, and served them with golden syrup, as always, but some cream would have been nice too.
The fennel portobello soup was a great introduction to the soup section. The recipe didn’t need to be simplified at all this time, though I didn’t serve it with the smoke-infused olive oil as recommended. It was my first time cooking with fennel, but I didn’t pick up the flavour too much when I was eating because there was so much other good stuff in there: tamari, chilli flakes, sage, rosemary and lovely, earthy mushrooms. This is also a standard, simple soup recipe, and I’ll make it again frequently, despite its appearance in such a fancy book.
The caramelised onion bisque packed more flavour than the French onion soup I made last month. It had some good herbs in there, and cooking the onions in balsamic vinegar added a really lovely depth of flavour. This will now be my default French onion soup recipe.
The carrot ginger soup was such a beautiful, vivid colour! And I’m happy to say it tasted as good as it looked: really zingy, with a great contrast between sweet and spicy. It was really thick and filling too, a winner all round, and I’ll be making this a lot in the winter.
And the spiced peanut and yam soup was wonderfully tasty and sweet. I used sweet potatoes and almond butter, and it turned out quite thick – ideal for winter, but it needed thinning out a bit for summer. It was flavoursome and rich.
Another packed lunch option was the apple beet salad with lemon tamari vinaigrette, baked hazelnut cheese and sesame mustard. And this time I actually made all components! The apple was a bit overwhelmed by the flavour of the beetroot and the dressing, but it was all really tasty, especially the hazelnut cheese. It wasn’t really cheesy, but it was lovely and tangy and moreish.
I attempted to make the mustard roasted nugget potatoes (made without the crispy fennel and smoky portobello mushrooms, as it was a packed lunch) into more of a potato salad, with the addition of some roasted asparagus. It was delicious, but really more of a side dish. I used baby new potatoes, which worked a treat – though I still increased the roasting time to get them thoroughly cooked.
The crispy oyster mushroom tempura with ginger miso sauce and sweet sesame rice was really tasty too. I ditched the sweet potato and squash blossom tempura because of (a) laziness and (b) where do you even buy squash blossom? But just the sweet rice with the deep-fried mushrooms and the zingy ginger sauce was lovely.
I was excited about trying the porcini pecan nori rolls, as I’ve been developing my sushi-making skills this year. The recipe also calls for ginger pear paper, but I don’t have dehydrating equipment and didn’t really have time. I’d thought about cooking some sushi rice to go in the rolls, but again, decided to save time and not bother. I would definitely do this next time though, because, while every element was really tasty, there wasn’t enough substance to the rolls and they squished and oozed when I tried to slice them. A layer of rice would make it more of a meal as well – I suspect the recipe in the book did without because it’s listed as a starter. The porcini pecan pate would be good just served with bread, and the miso tahini sauce is beautiful and I will definitely make that again.
I simplified the Miso and Japanese Eggplant Pierogies by turning them into gyoza, using up some of the dumpling wrappers in my freezer. If you have time to make your own pierogi pastry, then by all means, go for it, but if you’re busy, then I’d recommend doing it my way. The filling was quick to make and really tasty, and assembly is very quick with defrosted gyoza pastry. I had a bit of extra filling, and dolloped it on the side of the plate as a bonus. The book suggests various homemade accompaniments, but we dunked them in soy sauce and were as happy as can be.
I’m not generally a fan of risotto, after living in Hong Kong where mushroom risotto was the default vegetarian option in every western restaurant. But, like most things, it improves in fried form. My leek and oyster mushroom risotto cakes didn’t hold together as well as I’d hoped, but they were a winner on the taste front. A couple of these would make quite an elegant starter.
It had been a while since I’d had a cooking disaster, so I was probably due one, and it arrived when I attempted the butternut squash and almond gnocchi sauteed with sage garlic butter. The dough for the gnocchi was flavoured with squash and almond butter, and should have been packed with flavour. Alas, it was too sticky to even attempt to knead. I added so much flour it lost its taste, and was still too sticky to handle. I popped it in the freezer for a while, then managed to shape it into the traditional bite size pieces. I returned these to the freezer and defrosted them a few days later. Then I came home from work to this sight:
But I’d put so much time, energy and flour into them that I was determined to push on regardless. So, I dolloped spoonfuls of the dough into a pan of boiling water and cooked them, then sauteed them in the delicious sage butter.
The final result, while far from elegant, was really tasty. I don’t know if I could bear to make them again, but I’d happily be served them.
The lentil walnut tourtiere was a real treat, and again, simpler to make than expected. There is so much flavour in the filling from the spice and herb combinations, and the walnuts lend a nice crunch to everything. It’s a great idea to brush the pastry with a tamari concoction as well. The book suggests serving this with a homemade chutney and balsamic reduction: I served it with new potatoes and steamed veg.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of pasta dishes, but the coconut fettucine alfredo was so good I might just change my mind! My gigantic local Tesco Superstore had neither fettucine nor sprouts, so I used tagliatelle and only cherry tomatoes for the veg, but the dish really is crying out for some greenery. It was still delicious anyway, as the real magic was in the sauce. I’m rarely wowed by pasta, but seriously. There was coconut milk, tamari, tahini, chilli flakes, nutritional yeast, sun-dried tomatoes…all these good flavours mingling happily. And it was easy to throw together after work (minus points for requiring three different pans, though).
And yes, I made a second risotto in July, and this one wasn’t even fried! Despite my misgivings about the dish in general, I thought I would give the brown rice risotto with kidney beans a go, and I’m glad I did: it didn’t take too long to make, and it was really tasty. The sweet potato chunks were really good, the sunflower seeds on top added some nice texture, and the spices made it rather curry-esque. An unexpected treat.
The dessert section looks spectacular: really, really tempting. However, I only got round to trying one of them, and the dark chocolate cake with chocolate ganache glaze didn’t exactly go according to plan. The batter turned out a bit lumpy, so I’d recommend sifting the flour first. The ganache also had a few cocoa powder lumps. I’m going to put it down to the heat outside, as I don’t usually have a problem with that. Despite the lumpiness, the cake was really tasty. It wasn’t as exciting as the spiced chocolate from Afro-Vegan I made in May, but for a plain chocolate cake it was very good.
I’m so glad I took the plunge with this book, after being somewhat daunted by it for so long. Even the fanciest recipes can be simplified for a working week, and it was nice to get back to some more exciting flavours (I think every dish included tamari and chilli flakes) after the familiar flavours of last month’s book. And I’m looking forward to trying some of the really impressive dishes for a special occasion.
Next month is going to be a busy one as I’m making the move to Prague, but I’m going to try to make some special salads nevertheless. There’s always time for salad.