Saturday, August 29, 2020

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake
goes vegan, gets frozen

August 22-24, 2020

Speaking of mock dairy, I've been saving up a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk. The last time I used condensed milk was for a cheesecake, and I thought it would be fun to try veganising that recipe. This provided me with an excuse to buy that new-ish vegan cream cheese I like again too.

The last small vegan conversion challenge was choosing a biscuit to crush for the base. I chose Arnott's Nice as a decent analogue of the Milk Coffee biscuits in the original recipe, but I also noticed that Arnott's Gingernuts and Choc Ripple biscuits are vegan. They definitely invite some flavour adaptations to this base recipe, like cookies and cream, or ginger, coconut and lime.

Since we're still not in much of a situation to share food, I halved the recipe again, this time forming it a loaf tin. I bought fresh blueberries to try the topping option I didn't have the first time around. Everything came together well and I refrigerated the cheesecake overnight to set. It didn't set. I switched the cheesecake to the freezer for another day, where it set better than I dared expect! It was colder than planned, of course, but also very creamy, not at all icy, and tangy with lemon juice.

I don't particularly have any bright ideas for setting this cheesecake at room temperature, and I'm in not rush for a solution. The frozen cheesecake is remarkable, and is only going to be more appealing as spring comes our way.

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake goes vegan, gets frozen
(veganised from this recipe)

200g Nice or other vegan biscuits (e.g. gingernuts or choc ripple)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
160g margaine

2 x 250g vegan cream cheese (I used Made With Plants)
2 x 320g cans vegan sweetened condensed milk (I used Pandaroo)
juice from 4 lemons

topping option 1
400g blueberries

topping option 2
finely sliced rind of 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar

Fold the biscuits between two sheets of baking paper and smash them to crumbs with a rolling pin. Pour the crumbs into a bowl and stir through the cinnamon. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan and pour it over the biscuit crumbs, stirring to thoroughly combine. 

If you're able to, reuse the baking paper to line a 22cm springform cake pan, adding extra as needed. Spray the pan with oil. Press the biscuit crumbs into the cake pan, forming a wall up the sides of the pan as well as covering the base completely. Refrigerate the base.

Use a food processor or electric beater to combine the cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice, until they are completely mixed and smooth. Pour the filling over the base and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.

For topping option 1, place the blueberries on the top of the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

For topping option 2, remove as much pith and pulp as you can from the lemon rind. Place the rind, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to the boil, allowing the syrup to thicken. Arrange the rind and syrup over the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pastitsio / παστίτσιο

August 22, 2020

It's been a long, homely winter and we've been cooking a lot of comfort food, including a couple of tempeh lasagne trays to deliver to friends. It got me thinking about other pasta bakes, and after some internet browsing I got particularly into the idea of trying pastitsio. From there I had a resource much better than the internet - my friend Natalie enthusiastically shared her family's recipe for this Greek dish, including the adaptations her vegetarian mum has been making for decades.

Pastitsio starts with a layer of tubular pasta, seasoned with feta. The pasta is topped with a tomato and beef mince sauce, then covered with bechamel sauce and cheese. The easiest way to make this dish vegetarian is simply to use mock beef mince - Natalie's mum has been known to do this, and I was also happy to make a rare purchase of one of those mince packs that made a big splash in the supermarket meat fridges a year or two ago. With eggs, butter, two kinds of cheese and almost a litre of milk involved, veganising pastitsio is a tougher ask but there are recipes out there and it's only getting easier, the way mock dairy options are proliferating.

While I'm very pleased with my first attempt, I've got some tweaks to make. I straight-up forgot to buy an onion this time around, and also overlooked the bit where you grease your baking tray. The rigatoni I bought were probably a bit too big; I'm interested to find out if there are better options at Mediterranean Wholesalers. Finally, the baking tray I used wasn't quite high-walled enough to achieve the distinct three layers and I've a different one I can try. 

We're currently living in hope of warmer days and loosening lockdown conditions, so I might not get back to it this winter. It'll be good news if I don't, but a comfort for days if we remain housebound.

Pastitsio / παστίτσιο
(based on a recipe from My Greek Dish,
with lots of helpful advice from my friend Natalie)

pasta layer
400g tubular pasta, e.g. penne (my rigatoni was a bit too big)
110g feta
2 egg whites

'meat' sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
800g mock beef mince (I used 2 x 400g boxes of Naturli')
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
salt and pepper, to taste

110g butter
110g flour
900ml milk
100g Kefalotyri or parmesan, grated
pinch of nutmeg
salt, to taste
2 egg yolks

Start by preparing the 'meat' sauce. Pour the olive oil into a very large frypan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the garlic, tomato paste and mock mince. Use a wooden spoon to break up the mince, then continue to cook and stir for about 5 minutes. Pour over the red wine vinegar and chopped tomatoes, stirring everything together. Stir through the sugar, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, clove, salt and pepper. Bring everything to the boil, then pop the lid on and simmer the sauce for 20-30 minutes, until most of the liquid is evaporated. Remove the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and clove (if you can find them all!). Set the meat sauce aside.

Next, prepare the bechamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour. Add the milk to this flour paste, no more than a cup at a time, whisking almost constantly to maintain a smooth sauce. Bring it just up to the boil so that the sauce thickens, stirring all the way, and then turn off the heat. Stir in half of the grated cheese, then the nutmeg and some salt. Whisk in the eggs, going quickly to ensure they don't cook and separate from the sauce. Set the bechamel sauce and the remaining grated cheese aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water, for 2-3 minutes less than directed on the packet. Drain the pasta and crumble in the feta cheese, then whisk through the egg white to evenly coat the pasta.

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Lightly grease a large high-walled baking tray with oil. Spread all of the pasta mixture across the base of the baking tray. Spoon over all of the meat sauce across the top of the pasta, aiming for even coverage. Pour the bechamel over the mock-meat layer as evenly as you can. Sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese. Bake for around 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Allow the pastitsio to rest for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Quick carrot dal

August 13, 2020

I put a call out on twitter for dal recipes and, among many excellent recommendations, Kylie Maslen suggested this carrot dal from Anna Jones, via the Guardian. It's an odd recipe, loaded up with carrots so that it's heavier on the vegetables than on the lentils. But it works - the curry leaves and spices give it a rich, complex flavour and the grated carrot and red lentils actually work surprisingly well together as the bulking agents. The little pickle on top is fresh and zesty too - definitely worth the small amount of extra effort. We served it with a few treats from our local Indian grocery - paratha and samosas - and didn't even bother with rice. It still fed us for days.

Quick carrot dal
(very slightly adapted from Anna Jones' Guardian column)

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 red onion, peeled and grated
vegetable oil
small bunch of curry leaves
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
200g red lentils
400ml coconut milk
400ml veggie stock
5 carrots, grated
2 large handfuls of spinach leaves
1/2 bunch of coriander leaves

juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 small bunch of radishes, grated
1 tablespoon nigella seeds
1/2 a bunch of coriander leaves
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
pinch of salt

Heat some oil in a large pot and throw in the garlic, onion, chilli and ginger. Cook for about 10 minutes on low heat until everything is nice and soft.

Meanwhile, pound the curry leaves, cumin and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add them to the pot with the mustard seeds, turmeric and cinnamon. Stir together and then cook for a few minutes. 

Add the lentils, coconut milk, stock and carrots to the pot, bring to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes. It'll feel like there's too much carrot at this point, but it will cook down nicely in the end. Simmer for about half an hour.

While the dal is cooking, make the pickle by stirring together all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Kill the heat on the dal and stir through the coriander and the spinach until it all wilts. Serve on rice or bread, with a generous scoop of pickle on top.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Gulab jamun

August 1, 2020

While browsing the pantry last week, I was reminded that we had most of a can of milk powder. (I bought it back in April to make rosmalai.) Milk powder isn't something we regularly use at all... as I searched the blog and my memory for other dishes that make use of it I came across a batch of biscuits, White Christmas slice, and a 15-year-old recollection of that one time I tried making gulab jamun.

My understanding is that gulab jamun is most traditionally prepared using a dense dairy product called khoya or mawa. There are also lots of recipes based on milk powder instead, and plenty of people who recommend packet mixes like Gits. It's the milk powder version that appears in the High Days and Holidays chapter of Mridula Baljekar's The Low-Fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook, and that's the recipe I made back in 2005. I remembered it being stressful - probably because I was catering for at least 10 people, and because it was messy and uncomfortable to deep-fry so many dumplings in my Queensland kitchen. This week I felt ready to take it on again.

The recipe below uses the overall quantities from the original recipe, but I adapted it this week to accommodate the larger amount of milk powder I had to use up. Somewhere along the way my dough ended up with a cake batter texture rather than a rollable dough, so I've included notes to add the milk a bit at a time and not use it all if it's not needed. Thankfully I got my batch to a rollable state by leaving it on the bench to dry out a bit, and then dusting my hands in flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

I expected the deep-frying to be a hassle, but it went just fine. The dough balls needed a little prod to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan, but after that they expanded and rose to the surface, and happily bobbed about while I gently turned them to even out their browning. The sugar syrup soaking brings a second phase of expansion, and my gulab juman ended up bigger than golf balls! I'll have to start smaller if I ever do this again.

My other stand-out memory from making this recipe 15 years ago is that I overdid the rosewater, so I toned it down here. Maybe my tastes have changed, but I think I could've used more! Mridula Baljekar serves her gulab jamun with rosewater whipped cream, but I think they're already plenty rich and fancy on their own.

Gulab jamun
(slightly adapted from Mridula Baljekar's The Low-fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook)

3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon saffron threads
350g sugar
4 cups water
1 tablespoon rosewater
175g milk powder
90g semolina
2 teaspoons plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
40g ghee
oil for deep frying

Heat 2 tablespoons of the milk and soak the saffron threads in it. Set aside to infuse.

Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan and set them over medium-high heat. Bring everything to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the rosewater. Allow it to cool down a bit and transfer the syrup to a very large serving or storage container.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the milk powder, semolina, flour, cardamom and baking powder. Melt the ghee and stir it into these dry ingredients. Add the saffron and the milk it was infusing. Pour small quantities of the remaining milk into the mixture to form a soft dough (don't use all the milk if you don't need to!). Knead the dough until smooth.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Break off scant tablespoons of the dough and roll them in your hands to form a smooth ball, then drop the balls into the oil. Lightly flouring your hands may help if the dough is sticky. Also, be careful not to overcrowd the dumplings in the oil because they will expand! Use a fork or similar to gently scrape the dumplings off the pan if they stick to the bottom - if they're not stuck, they'll soon float to the surface. I also used the fork to turn the dumplings and try to even out their frying. When the balls are dark brown on the outside, use a slotted spoon to retrieve them and drain off as much oil as you can before dropping them into the sugar syrup. Repeat the dough-rolling and dumpling-frying until all the dough is finished. 

Allow the dumplings to soak in the syrup for at least 2 hours before serving.