Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Iranian vegetable stew with dried lime

June 25, 2017

Ottolenghi club took May off, but we reconvened on the weekend for a real winter-lenghi experience. As always, it was a sensational meal, featuring vego scotch eggs, sweetcorn soup with chipotle and lime, roast cauliflower with green olives and Cindy's dessert, which will be posted here soon. I considered trying this amazing looking potato dish, but decided that transporting it would be too difficult, so I settled for an Ottolenghi stew.

This stew is from Plenty More and features classic Ottolenghi ingredients Iranian dried limes and barberries, both of which we sourced from Middle Eastern grocery stores on Sydney Road. It's relatively simple for an Otto recipe, although he still manages to have you both simmer and bake the stew just to add some extra steps.

The end result is gigantic - only about two-thirds of it squeezed into our casserole dish in the picture above - I'd recommend cutting in half if you're not cooking for a group. It's tasty and warming, but not a complete showstopper - the dried limes didn't shine through to me and the barberries provided the occasional burst of zinginess, but nothing too distinctive. I'd up the limes next time, or grind one or two up in our spice grinder for the full effect. Still, this is a nice option for a winter night - especially when it's part of a five course feast.

Iranian vegetable stew with dried lime
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

50g ghee
1 large onion, finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 small bunch coriander
1/2 bunch tarragon
1/2 bunch dill
1 kg waxy potatoes, chopped into 4 cm chunks
1 butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeded and chopped into 4 cm chunks
3 Iranian limes, pierced 3-4 times
1 green chilli, slit on one side
4 tomatoes, quartered
150g spinach leaves
15g barberries
yoghurt for dolloping

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Place a large saucepan on medium heat and melt the ghee, before sauteing the butter, onion, turmeric and cumin seeds for 10 minutes, until the onion is nice and soft.

Add in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes.

Bundle the herbs together and tie them up with a piece of string. Throw them in the pot, along with the potatoes, pumpkin, dried limes, chilli and 1 litre of water, plus a generous amount of salt.

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the potatoes have started to soften. Stir in the spinach leaves, tomatoes and barberries, and crush the dried limes gently to release more of their flavour.

Transfer the entire mixture to a casserole dish or baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, until all the veggies are nice and soft. 

Serve with rice and a dollop of yoghurt.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Humble Rays

June 23, 2017

Humble Rays' neighbourhood is a strange mix of industrial buildings, new apartments, offices and construction work hinting at the past, present and future of Carlton. Inside the cafe the mood is much more consistent - it's a glowing, relaxed little getaway with pastel tiles and a gorman-patterned mural. The menu is just as playful and in-the-now: granola is served on panna cotta, hollandaise sauce is flavoured with yuzu, scrambled eggs are stuffed with crab meat, and salmon is served with quinoa. There's a little, but not a lot, of vegetarian savoury food.

But there's a full page of sweets! Hong Kong-style egg waffles, pancakes, rice pudding and 'skookies' - individual, skillet-baked cookies. Every one of these dishes is sprinkled with half-a-dozen ridiculous fripperies; fruit, fairy floss, crumbs and sauces and candies. My companion urged me to order the French Toast Forever ($19), and I obeyed because it was her birthday. The toast is fluffy and stuffed with cream cheese, with a little crunchy brûléed sugar on top, a scoop of lovely boysenberry icecream and a tuft of fairy floss.

I set the fairy floss aside and ignored the dish of maple syrup, picking at the riotous ring of other accompaniments; banana (yes!), passionfruit sauce (yes!), more cream cheese (just a bit), pomegranate seeds (lovely! tangy!), strawberries, kiwis and cherries (OK, but not at their best), more fairy floss and decorative flowers (pass). I felt like I'd been thrown the entire birthday party on a plate.

Since I was fighting off a cold, I justified adding a Pineapple Pop juice ($6.50) - its combination of apple, pineapple, lemon and mint was a perfectly perky way to start the day.

Birthday girl loved her (meaty) meal as well, declaring that these were the best poached eggs she'd eaten in years. Everything about our meal felt frivolous in the best possible way, a workday breakfast out garnished with cutesy trimmings and sunny smiles from the staff. I'll surely be sneaking back to indulge myself again.


Humble Rays has received plenty of praise already from other bloggers, see Tess PressoLips TemptationsCouchfoodiesA Chronicle of GastronomyHungry CookieRabbit Town ArtShort & StoutfrenchtoastandindiepopThe Penguin Eats and F.E.E.D.

Humble Rays
71 Bouverie St, Carlton
8354 8459
breakfast & lunch, ridiculous sweet stuff & drinks

Accessibility: Humble Rays has a flat entry and generously spaced tables. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Notes on a vegan cherry pie

June 18, 2017

My Twin Peaks cherry pie was so unforgettably good that only a month later I rolled up my sleeves to try making a vegan version. There's just one ingredient that needs substitution: butter. Following discussion on our facebook page, I replaced the butter with the same weight of Nuttelex and set my food processor a-whirring. It melded with the flour, forming a dough without need of any of the water listed as the final ingredient.

Then came the tough part. This vegan crust was easy to roll but impossible to pick up without extensive tearing. I rolled it twice, cursed the heavens a hundred times, and patched it up as best I could. Forming the lattice wasn't much better, with all of my pastry ribbons breaking in one, if not three, spots. For all that angst, my pie was a flawed beauty, just as sweet and juicy and sour and crumbly as the original. (If anything it was even more Twin Peaks-appropriate, with the filling gorily spilling from one side.)

So, what to do from here? Well, in the first instance we dolloped coconut yoghurt on the pie and shared it proudly with friends. A little later I pulled out my vegan pastry reference to compare recipes and reflect. It's possible that I was just rolling my small volume of dough too thin, and likely that my ratio of flour, fat and water was out of whack. Either way, I think the next iteration needs more flour (say, half-to-one cup) and whatever iced water is needed to form a dough. Hopefully this extended note to self will lead to an equally tasty but less fraught vegan cherry pie in... well, maybe one more month.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Paneer butter masala

June 12, 2017

I came back from overseas raring to get back into the kitchen and cook up a storm. Cindy and I settled on this paneer butter masala for Monday night. It's the perfect public holiday project - not super complicated, although the constant pausing/playing of Mallika Basu's video recipe slowed us down a bit. The paneer was fantastic - coated in a mix of turmeric, salt and chilli and charred up in the frying pan - but the sauce was the real star. It's rich, spicy and a gorgeous turmeric-y orange. We served it up with a side of spiced coconut spinach and some store-bought paratha and it was the best goddamn dinner I've had in ages.

The curry worked just as well for leftovers - there was a depth of flavour to it that beat just about any curry we've made before. This will definitely end up in our regular rotation.

Paneer butter masala
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Mallika Basu)

1/2 cup cashews
400g paneer, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup tomato paste
2/3 cup yoghurt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons ghee
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala

Cover the cashews with water and soak them for at least an hour. When you're ready to cook, drain them and grind them to a cream with 4 tablespoons water. Set aside.

In a small-medium bowl, toss together the paneer, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, yoghurt and 2 cups water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the ground coriander, remaining 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and remaining 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, then whisk in 2 tablespoons water. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a large pan over low-medium heat. Add the paneer and fry it for just a minute on each side, until it's golden. Remove the paneer from the pan and set it aside.

Keep the pan on the low-medium heat and add the bay leaf. Add in the ginger and garlic, stirring them through 1 tablespoon of ghee. Pour in the small bowl of dried spices and water, cooking for no more than half a minute. Pour in the tomato-yoghurt mixture, and stir everything thoroughly. Simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the cashew cream. Fold in the paneer, simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and melt in the last tablespoon of ghee; serve.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Urban Projuice

June 12, 2017

Michael arrived home on the weekend, and made sure to keep active and out in the sun during the days to stave off jetlag. This was a great strategy when we crossed the river to Urban Projuice for lunch - there was a wait for indoor tables but plenty of free spots out back.

The menu is varied and vegan by default: a couple of dishes include optional eggs, but there's no meat or dairy. Gluten-free folks have abundant well-labelled options too. It's all wholefood-oriented and scattered with the trappings of our time: an acai bowl, granola that's paleo, crushed avocado served on 'toasted raw sprouted bread' ( is it raw or not?). But those of us seeking carby comforts aren't completely left out: there are pancakes, a baked sweet potato garnished with corn chips, and a vege burger.

Beyond the espresso machine there are $10 smoothies, turmeric lattes and something called a Coconut Bomb. Michael confirmed that they do the classics well with a flat white ($4), and I approved the hot chocolate ($4.50, both Bonsoy-based).

Michael went on to order the Big Breakfast ($21), even though he was skeptical that the tofu scramble would be up to much. He was happily proven wrong with this brightly coloured and flavoured batch, shovelling it down with the plentiful baked beans, mushrooms, roasted little potatoes, avocado, kale salad and toast.

I was predictably drawn to those pancakes ($19.50). They're cakey, deceptively gluten-free, and dressed up to the nines with bananas and berries, maple syrup, three scoops of icecream, a sprinkling of seeds and edible flowers. Every component was terrific, although I found the overall effect to be excessively sweet.

Urban Projuice is aimed at the instagram-wellness-smoothie set, but I think its appeal is broader - only the ugh, no bacon?! crowd are likely to be disappointed. It's not often we're willing to queue up southside for a meal and the prices are a little steep, but it was worth making an exception once for this cafe.


Urban Projuice has received a lot of positive blog coverage, see TOT: HOT OR NOTTHATVEGANLIFEDOEdelightfully tastymessy veggiesFuture King and QueenHappy Little CoconutGoodness CollectivesimplySundayDaily WatermelonFire & TeaFrenchythe baroness of melbourne and Nourishing Adventuresfoodie about town had a more mixed experience, and lifestyle by lily was pretty unimpressed.

Urban Projuice
315 Montague St, Albert Park
9696 0048
food, drinks

Accessibility: This terrace house has several steps up on entry and densely packed tables. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Alley

Update 27/1/2019: The Alley closed for good at the end of 2018.

June 3, 2017

A couple of friends alerted me to the opening of The Alley four months ago. Touted as a vegan burger spot, I imagined late Saturday nights on Brunswick St. Far from it! The Alley operates from a St Kilda Rd office block, primarily for lunch, and is closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, it's got the look - the bright yellows, millennial pinks, neon lights and line drawings remind me of Hobart's Veg Bar and just about any fro-yo bar you could name.

The menu takes the healthified, superfood-infused approach. There are chia puddings and acai bowls for breakfast, macro and taco bowls for lunch; noodles are made from seaweed and spaghetti is made from squash. Fries are actually air baked and instead of shakes there are smoothies shot through with coconut water, almond milk, pea protein, macca and (they've hit me with a new one!) camu camu.

Air-baked fries ($6.95) lack crispness but are beautifully fluffy on the inside. The almond parmesan and crispy kale crowning the potato wedges (pictured above, top right) were nifty, and we liked the herb-salted sweet potato fries even better.

The mac'n'cheese (front left is small [$6.95] and gluten-free [+$2.50], top right is large [$10.95]) is on a par with my favourite vegan recipes - smooth and savoury and very, very rich. They stretch the white-bean cashew sauce out with sweet corn, then sprinkle the tub with crispy kale and coconut bacon. 

And what of those burgers? The vegan brioche buns (pictured above, right) are perfect for those of us who like our bread soft and sweet, and my coeliac companion K rated the gluten-free ones highly too (pictured left, +$2.50). The five burger options lightly mock meat without using processed soy or gluten-based products: there's more coconut bacon, scrambled tofu, pulled jackfruit and a 'beet steak' among them. 

Toby ordered that beet steak (pictured with the mac'n'cheese above left, $12.95), K tried the eggplant-based 'mi_so hungry' (left, $12.95), and I went for the brekky burger ($9.95). They all tasted great, though in combination with the sauces and the insubstantial buns, it all got a bit squishy-mushy. Only the coconut bacon really held its own in flavour and texture.

There are the inevitable raw cakes but thank heavens, the Alley also sanction the baking of cakes, cookies and doughnuts. There's even a soft-serve machine! I've never been a cupcake fiend, but I'm glad I made an exception for this Snickers-themed one ($4.95) with its caramel drizzle and crispy sprinklings.

The Alley is infuriatingly on-trend and fitted out with all the current fad foods. But they're assembling them into some genuinely tasty meals! I could definitely see myself swinging by for more when I'm south of the river, if only they were open for more than five hours on the weekend.


The Alley has won fans in fellow veg*n food blogs Veganishmessy veggies and Vegetarian Burger Life. Omnivorous blogs Short & Stout and gastrology seem to have been drawn in by freebies, and are also positive in their comments.

The Alley
417 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
9820 8314
meals, desserts, smoothies, takeaway & beverages

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide. Furniture is spaciously distributed, a mixture of standard and high tables, with backed seats, booth seats and stools. We ordered and paid at a low counter. Toilets were located outside the cafe elsewhere in the building and I didn't visit them.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Chat For Tea

May 27, 2017

It's not so far flung as Dublin, to be sure, but I had my own little adventure in Ballarat last weekend in Michael's absence. I met up with friends for indoor neon mini-golf, an autumn stroll by Lake Wendouree, and lunch at Chat for Tea. This vegetarian cafe has been in business over a decade, but this is my first visit. Shame on me, 'cause Chat's a cutie.

Their name hints that tea is a specialty here. I noted 20 hot tea varieties, 7 iced teas and 4 intriguing 'CFT Coolers'. I took a punt on the latter, ordering a passion fruit snow ($5.80 + 50c for Bonsoy). It was a light and refreshing milk-based drink with plenty of sweet'n'sour passionfruit flavour and a cluster of real fruit seeds in the bottom. But, to be clear: it's not tea.

We shared starters. Mock pork mini-buns ($5.50 for two) were the usual brand, which is to say: they were terrific. The vegetarian drumsticks ($5.50 for two) were even better: the soy bean curd was bizarrely meaty-squishy in the centre, then wrapped in layers around a small wooden skewer and fried to form a crispy-golden shell.

For my main meal, I took on the mock duck rice ($16). This was another meat-mocking victory: the 'duck' was layered and a little fatty with a crisp 'skin'. It sat atop fancy red rice, was dripping with so-so sweet chilli sauce (just like the drumsticks), and was served with a pickley salad.

My companions ordered the Teppanyaki noodle ($19.50, pictured top) and the mock pork ($19.50, pictured bottom). They were both sizzle-plate successes, with a bit more vegetable variety than I hit on. I reckon the black pepper sauce on the mock pork was the pick of the condiments, and the mock beef-soy slice medley with the noodles was also a smart combination.

This tea house tended toward a sedate atmosphere, but it wasn't too austere. We could comfortably have a laugh and take our time, delighting over the food and picking at each other's plates. You can bet that whenever I'm anywhere near Ballarat, I'll be back in for more.

Chat For Tea has previously inspired positive blog posts on Vegan About TownIn The Mood For Noodles and Biting Travels.

Chat for Tea
25 Armstrong St N, Ballarat
5331 3898
food, drinks
facebook group

Accessibility: Chat For Tea has a small lip on entry. Tables are variously spaced, with a clear corridor through the middle, and a mix of stools and chairs with backs. We ordered and paid at a high counter. I didn't visit the toilets.