I’ve already waxed lyrical this summer about my love of afternoon tea, but I’m not quite finished. I think this year I’ve managed to fix in more afternoon tea treats than any other, and I’m so not mad about that – and it means I’ve been able to share some of my favourite spots around London.
Today, though, is my thoughts on a fully vegan afternoon tea. I’m not vegan, and don’t particularly plan on becoming one any time soon, but I love trying plant-based alternatives and this was no different. I was really excited to try some different finger sandwiches, and as Café Forty One is advertised as London’s only vegan patisserie I could not wait to try the cakes out.
We had the beautiful dining room pretty much to ours midweek, and it was so peaceful – though a little dark which was a huge shame as it was a beautiful day. We were presented with two beautiful stands of goodies for our tea – suitably allergy-free (given I’m allergic to tomatoes, and my sister is to citrus we aren’t easy customers!).
The alcohol-free bubbles were lightly flavoured with pomegranate and the perfect start. It definitely made the whole experience a little more luxurious.
First up was the sandwiches. The savouries are always my favourite part of an afternoon tea and these definitely didn’t disappoint. My favourite was the tofu with chutney – almost cheesy and just so perfectly balanced. We also really loved the pesto sandwich, always a winner whether vegan or not! The only one which we didn’t really rate was the ‘egg’ alternative – the flavour was great (surprisingly eggy) but the texture too soft. Definitely needed to be on some kind of seeded bread.
Obviously scones are pretty much essential to any afternoon tea, and I was worried I’d really miss the clotted cream. I’m a cream first kinda girl so it almost melts into the scone and so coconut cream was a real change for me – it pretty much all melted away. However it was so delicious, adding a totally new flavour dimension to the fluffy scones. The jam was pretty much just crushed raspberries so super fruity and sharp, they were delicious!
And now we come to the cakes and I have to say on the whole I was super, super disappointed. With the restaurant being paraded as a vegan patisserie I am a little shocked at the standard of these, as I felt pretty much all of them were dry, not particularly flavourful and (in the cake of the mini-loaf cake thing) almost stale. In fact the only enjoyable one was a little trifle pot – now that I could have eaten five or so of!
I don’t want to end on a bad note, because I loved the scones and sandwiches – but yep, this afternoon tea didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It’s certainly worth a visit, particularly if you’re looking for a completely vegan environment. But the cake part needs some work.
Have you tried a vegan afternoon tea? Did it live up to your expectations?
Oh Edinburgh. This place is my all-time favourite – I honestly love it. I have actually tried on more than one occasion to secure a job up there, but the powers above don’t agree. I’d also be wary of living there as I’d worry I’d lose the magic, if you understand what I mean? But why do I love it so much? It’s a hard on to answer, but the mix of buildings, the winding streets, the green spaces and the plethora of good food options all help!
This was actually our fourth trip to Edinburgh as a couple, and we’ve each been a couple of times separately too. We’ve definitely got a good feel for the city and where does the best food – through good luck and plenty of research! Here’s our top places…
This was a place I was *really* pleased to find. The recently opened New Waverley branch was a short walk from our apartment, and conveniently placed partway up the Royal Mile. Well priced, a vast selected of breakfast dishes and a really interesting lunch menu too – anywhere that does mac’n’cheese on toast is a good’un in my books!
I highly recommend their Benny’s – my classic with smoked salmon was rich with a perfect hollandaise and couldn’t-be-better runny yolks. My husband also loved his massive Benny stack which came with haggis, black pudding, bacon, tomato chutney and the compulsory poached eggs…
This has been our go-to for years. Whilst I am very, very sad about the removed of the cheese-on-toast side to their soups (if their Haggis & Potato Soup is available you must order it), we still squeezed in multiple visits into our trip. Their smoothies are yum (favourites are the Nutty Professor and the Frangipani), the bakes on point. They also do really, really good porridge with a healthy portion of Nutella…
I’m going to be doing a full review of this place, but if you’re a foodie then this is my biggest recommendation. The building was once a derelict cottage on one side of Calton Hill, and is now home to some bloody good cooking. The seating is communal style, there’s limited choice (particularly in the evenings) and you absolutely have to book – and pretty much everything we ate was delicious. Go hungry though, we ordered the five course dinner, but it turned into more like eight…
This is where W took me on the weekend we got engaged, and it’s got it’s Michelin Star for very good reason. I still think about the dish involving the pig ear (3.5 years on!). Pricey but if you’re celebrating then why not?!
I really, really loved this place. What looks like a slightly shabby modern pub on the street opens up as you walk through – big windows with a lovely sunset view of the castle. Service was super-friendly – despite the only waiting staff we saw being rushed off her feet with a nearly full restaurant.
I ate a delicious dish of Sea Trout with Brie Risotto which was flavoursome, indulgent and yet still quite light, and W enjoyed a Hake Fillet with Chorizo and White Bean Broth. My Lime Tart to finish was delicious, and the *massive* cheeseboard W ordered was a gorgeous selection of cheeses, some very good oatcake, apple, grapes, quince paste AND a massive wedge of sourdough. Best thing was he couldn’t finish it, so I had to help. #winning!
This is another one where they will be a full review…
I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to visit Mary’s as it’s somewhat an institution, but we finally did. SO. GOOD. We somehow managed to arrive just as the sun broke through the cloud, so didn’t have to queue (by the time we’d ordered the queue was down the street) but it would be worth queueing for. Creamy gelato, crucially not too soft, and some really interesting flavours.
The blue cheese ice-cream in particular was wonderful – just a hint of blue cheese, then a stronger flavour in some mouthfuls, never over-powering. I’m wishing I could have some more of this! I paired it with a Cinnamon ice-cream which was the perfect balance of spicy and sweet. W’s choice of Peanut Butter & Paprika (so good!) with Whisky Marmalade (needed more whisky) was also solid.
In the past we’ve also had good meals at Urban Angel, The Dogs, and Pickles – though it’s been a good few years since we’ve visited these spots. I’ve also got The White Horse firmly earmarked for our next visit, and I really want to visit Makars Gourmet Mash bar too. Stockbridge Market on Sundays is a great visit, particularly if you have cooking facilities (the pie stall looked so good), and they also have plenty of street food options – the queue for the Japanese dumplings was huge, so I imagine they’re good…
Have you ever visited Edinburgh? Where do you recommend?
One of the main things I’ve learnt so far on my #YearofVeganLunches challenge is that I need to get some decent variety of base carb in. Sure I could eat orzo most weeks, but it’s not the most nutritious of choices. Quinoa is great, but my digestive system doesn’t seem to want it to often. Couscous is just plain boring to have more often than monthly. Right now I have a bit of a thing for bulgur wheat – and this recipe shows it off wonderfully.
And to be honest the star of the show really is the cauliflower anyway. Roasted to perfection so it’s tender, slightly charred and almost nutty, and basted in plenty of ginger, garlic and za’tar to make it sing. You may think you hate cauliflower but this recipe may make you think again. The best thing, though, is that it’s just so EASY. A few minutes of chopping and then it happily sits in the oven all in one dish, before being drenched in lemon juice. It’s wonderful warm (and if you’re not vegan I highly recommend sprinkling with a spot of feta in that case) but just as good cold with some almonds for additional crunch. Next time I’m going to whip up a quick tahini dressing to serve on the side I think, but it was delicious just as written too. And super easy too…
All-in-one-tin recipes are my thing right now, whether it’s for lunch prep or dinners. I have every single one of Rukmini Iyer’s Roasting Tin books and her latest release, The Quick Roasting Tin, is my favourite. In it is a Thyme & Sesame Cauliflower Tabbouleh which inspired this recipe – but to be honest I can see myself cooking my way through the book. And to make it even easier, Harts of Stur sent me over some of the Pyrex Cook & Go storage range. These make meal prep SO easy, I’m already tempted to order more. We have a couple of the small and medium boxes and they are SO useful. I can cook a batch of a one-pan meal, let it cool then pop the lid on and whack it in the fridge. The smaller ones I’ll then just take to work the next day. For a recipe like this the medium sized box we have is a little too small for the full recipe, so we split the amounts in half and roasted each separately. This worked quite well as we had half for dinner with feta, and then was able to stir the watercress and radishes through the cooled lunch serving before storing overnight. Having said that one of the large boxes is definitely going on my wishlist!
300-350ml of vegetable stock (suitable for vegans if necessary)
1 large red onion, finely sliced
3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tbsp za’tar, plus an addtional tsp to sprinkle at the end
3 cloves of garlic
1 large cauliflower – leaves roughly chopped, and florets separately (and chopped into small pieces)
2 lemons, zest and juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Around 8 radishes, sliced thinly
1 bag of watercress, roughly chopped
a few handfuls of baby spinach
a handful of blanched almonds
Feta to serve (optional)
Tip the bulgur wheat into the roasting tin and pour over the stock. Scatter over the onion and cauliflower leaves. In a bowl, rub the olive oil, ginger, garlic and za’tar over the cauliflower florets, then scatter into the roasting tin. Pop the tin into the oven and roast at 200C for 20-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and the bulgur wheat is cooked – start with only 300ml of stock and add a little more mid-way through cooking if needed. Remove from the oven and stir through the lemon zest and juice, watercress and radishes. Serve scattered with almonds, extra za’tar and feta (if using).
If using for a lunch, allow the roasted mix to cool before stirring through the extras, I recommend adding a little extra olive oil too. I imagine this would also be amazing scattered with some pomegranate seeds too!
If I had to choose a favourite TV snack it would be popcorn. Bite-sized, not *too* messy and all too easy to eat a big bowlful whilst watching something trashy, to me it’s the perfect ingredient for a girls night-in with Mean Girls, a solo evening with some Disney classics, or a date-night binge-watching our current favourite (right now it’s Blown Away on Netflix – a little like Bake Off, but with Glass Blowing). And of course it’s absolutely obligatory to purchase an extra-large box when you go to the cinema, right?! Given my love for popcorn you can imagine my response when Popcorn Shed got in touch and offered to send me some goodies to use in a recipe.
Made to a secret family recipe (and dear me, I’d love that recipe!) their popcorn comes in sharing boxes or snack bags which are perfectly portioned for lunchboxes or to control calories if, like me, you struggle to stop eating the stuff. It’s all natural ingredients and the variety of flavours is pretty good – there’s some cheesy savoury ones (I’m not a huge fan of these personally, but I’m a sweet popcorn gal anyway) and loaddssss of chocolately and nutty ones. My personal favourite is the Berry-licious – dark chocolate and raspberry is SUCH a good combo.
Much as I wanted to just eat the stuff, I did manage to come up with a “recipe.” And recipe is in inverted commas because this is SO easy I struggle to think of it as a recipe at all. It’s quite a dangerous recipe as it takes no time at all and, after some tortuorous chilling, you have an amazing snack – it’s perfect for work bake sales or taking along to an event. I actually made one for a Youth Group social and it went down *extremely* well. I’m now adored by members as they loved it so much! Easy to make and a crowd pleaser, what’s not to love?!
I prefer a chunkier rocky road, more crumbly with biscuits and other treats but if you prefer a firmer, more chocolately one I’d suggest upping the quantities of chocolate and butter.
Recipe – makes 16 generous squares
200g Rich Tea biscuits
250g dark chocolate
2 tbsp golden syrup
100g mini marshmallows (be sure to find vegetarian ones if needed)
Place 200g digestive biscuits in a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin until broken up. You want some dust and some larger pieces, but nothing more than bite-sized.
In a large saucepan melt the butter, dark chocolate and golden syrup over a gentle heat, stirring constantly until there are no lumps of chocolate or butter visible, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cool add the biscuits, marshmallows and popcorn and stir until everything is covered.
Tip the mixture into a 18cm square baking tin (greased and lined), and spread it out to the corners whilst pushing it down. Chill for at least 2 hours then cut in 16 squares.
This recipe is so easily adaptable too. Use dairy-free margarine and chocolate (I always use accidentally vegan Bournville anyway), and buy Freedom Mallows and you’ve got a vegan rocky road (without the Popcorn Shed popcorn, as unfortunately that contains dairy). And of course you can adapt to whatever you have… next time I’m going to use the Butterly Nuts flavour and add a little bit of peanut butter to the chocolate when melting – I think this salty-sweet combination will work wonderfully with some pretzels added for extra crunch!
*I was gifted some Popcorn Shed products to come up with a recipe for my blog. There was no payment for this post and all opinions are my own, as always.
Afternoon Tea is one of my all-time favourite treats. It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours with a friend; catching up on all the gossip over plenty of yummy treats. I try to have one at least once a year with my best girlies, and it’s also something I like to treat my mum to. It’s the perfect present for a loved one– a lovely experience for them, some quality time and I get cake too!
With that in mind what better way was there to celebrate National Best Friends Day (8th June) that with afternoon tea?! Whittard of Chelsea kindly offered me and my best friend an afternoon tea experience at their Tea Bar in Covent Garden and so this was an extra special trip, as I was introducing my bestest friend to his first ever afternoon tea experience. Yep, I’m not entirely sure how my husband has known me for so long and never been for afternoon tea before!
Located in busy Covent Garden, I’d never even thought to visit the Tea Bar before – Covent Garden is an area I truly try to avoid as a Londoner as it’s just too busy and crowded for me! However this little spot really is a calming oasis. Hidden away downstairs in the piazza it was quiet, there wasn’t a queue for tables and it’s definitely somewhere to bear in mind if you need a spot to escape the crowds.
We had the choice between the Whittard Tea (a sweeter option priced at £30 per person, with sandwiches, scones and plenty of cakes each) or the Grocer’s Tea. As we both try and avoid eating *too* much sugar we went for the Grocer’s priced at £45 per set, which generously fed the two of us. The lack of scones also meant we avoided the age-old British argument of cream then jam versus jam then cream!
The next choice was to select a tea. The menu has over 100 difference choices and so took a while to read through the menu! I’d say there was something for everyone, with green, fruit and plenty of black options too. I opted for the Black Tea with Rose, which I found very refreshing. The Whisky Tea my husband went for was also delicious, tasting almost milky. One thing we did note and appreciate was being told the right length of time to brew our tea and, crucially, being given somewhere to place the filter when brewing had finished. Nothing worse than a stewed cuppa!
We were also treated to big glasses of chilled Pimms spiked with black tea – it was oh so refreshing on a very hot afternoon, and I loved the added taste of the tea.
Our tiered display of treats soon arrived and we got stuck into the savoury pastries first, as these were served warm. The Grocer’s Tea comes with a choice of sausage rolls and a tart, as well as the usual finger sandwiches. It’s topped with four small sweet treats too, so it’s not all savoury!
The two sausage rolls we had were both delicious, and I’d struggle to pick a favourite. The Beef, Carrot & Horseradish was so much lighter than any other meaty sausage roll I’ve tried, but full of flavour. The Chicken & Mushroom was intensely savoury yet the mushrooms weren’t over-powering – evidently as my mushroom-hating bestie wasn’t complaining!
The tart certainly looked delicious, but as it came topped with tomatoes I left sampling this one to W. It’s a shame this wasn’t offered to be swapped out for another sausage roll given I’d mentioned my allergy, but I’m sure had I specifically asked it would have been…
Sandwiches were a tad disappointing. The fillings were generous and delicious, but I felt the bread was a touch on the dry side, particularly the white bread. However it was a very hot day, which won’t have helped! Our favourites were the Coronation Chicken (after I’d picked out the sultanas!) and Salmon with Lemon Cream cheese. I definitely appreciated the crusts being removed too!
After a short pause it was time to share the cakes! I loved the little selection we were given, as everything was varied in taste and texture. The only slightly below-par one was the shortbread with cream, as it was a little soggy and bland. The others were pretty good though! I particularly loved the Passionfruit Tart, and the Brownie with Caramel and Pear was also delicious.
After we’d finished we were given plenty of time to sit, chat and finish up our pots of tea. It’s this part of the afternoon tea experience I love the most; when you’re too full and enjoying each other’s company too much to move.
Eventually we heaved ourselves up and explored the other part of the Tea Bar – the shop! We were kindly offered the chance to each pick the other a gift, however my husband offered to combine the amounts so I could pick up the glass teapot I’d admired on our way in (he knows me so well!). We complimented that by choosing some loose leaf tea after much sniffing and comparing. I’m definitely looking forward to a cup of Milk Oolong and a cheeky slice of cake on a weekend afternoon…
*Whittard kindly invited us to join them in their Tea Bar for Afternoon Tea, and gifted us some items from their store. No money was paid as part of this collaboration and, as always, all opinions are my own!
Are you a fan of Afternoon Tea? How do you like to catch up with your friends?
A few weeks ago a colleague in the office stopped me and asked why I always make my own lunch. This turned into a conversation about how we (as in my husband and I) cook from scratch 99.5% of the time we eat at home, and rarely eat out midweek. Said colleague eats a home cooked meal maybe once a week.
And this made me sad – because for me there is so much joy in both cooking and eating.
In a similar vein, I had a week at work before our holiday where I was just super busy. Working late, but also several evening events. It meant that I didn’t eat at home for 6 nights in a row, and it definitely had a poor impact on my mental health. I was grumpy, I wasn’t sleeping, and I wasn’t finding the time to switch off. I was also spotty, headachey and with a bad stomach due to too much pub food.
Basically, cooking from scratch is 100% necessary for me to function both mentally and physically.
And this recipe actually really sums that up – making it made me so happy! Taking some beautifully fresh veggies and fancy-ish cheese, then a fairly quick throw together and let then oven take care of it. The result is comforting, but also so full of veg. It feels light, particularly when eating with the herb salsa, but it’s more than filling enough to have without anything else. A definite favourite, making the most of some of this season’s finest British produce.
Inspired by a Waitrose recipe, the finished version of mine was a tad messy but just as delicious!
Recipe (serves 2 for dinner with a side salad)
½ pack puff pastry (we used half of a 320g pack, ready rolled)
1 tbsp milk, for brushing
150g Swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated
75g taleggio cheese, rind removed, sliced
50g frozen peas
150g asparagus, woody ends removed
For the salsa: ½ small pack parsley, 1 garlic clove, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp grated parmesan
Unroll the pastry, lay on a baking tray and, using a sharp knife, score a border about 1cm in from the edge, taking care not to cut all the way through. Prick the central area with a fork and glaze the border with the milk. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes whilst you prep the veg.
Boil the chard stalks for 1 minute, then add the leaves before draining immediately and rinsing in cold water. Dry on a piece of kitchen towel to ensure excess water is removed. Once the pastry is ready, layer the chard, taleggio, frozen peas and asparagus over the centre. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp water, brush a little more milk around the edges, then bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tart is crisp and golden.
To make the salsa, finely chop the parsley leaves and crush the garlic clove. Mix with the olive oil and grated parmesan. Serve the tart drizzled with the salsa, and alongside a simple side salad for some extra greens. It also goes perfectly with a glass of chilled white!
One of the things I *really* miss being allergic to tomatoes is a good Indian takeaway. This was a (rare) treat at home growing up, and I do associate the smell and sensation of “I have eaten far too much” with a lot of happy childhood memories. The poppadoms and chutney, the sharing of various curries and sides, the debate about whether garlic or plain naan is best (garlic, always!). I’ve found a good few tomato-free pizza options recently (if you’re in SW London I highly recommend Battersea Pi for eating in, and Dynamo for takeaway) but Indian is definitely one I avoid.
And so I’ve developed my own recipes. Many are based on coconut milk (this Keralan style curry with chickpeas and pineapple is a favourite) but this one uses my nomato sauce and is more aligned with the takeaway curries I remember. It’s absolutely filled with flavour and is just that little bit heavy and greasy – which is perfect for a cheeky curry night. However if you do want to keep it slightly lighter and healthier omitting the cream is an easy way to do this.
It is, however, a fairly ingredient heavy recipe. I’ve tried a few different recipes, but this is the one that works best. Using just curry powder doesn’t quite cut it and won’t give you that curry house kind-of experience. This is the real deal. It’s not a recipe which needs hours in the kitchen though there is some marinating time. It’s fairly hands off and the sauce could be made ahead and reheated last minute – so I reckon it would be perfect for entertaining too. Add some sides, pile everything in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. My idea of a perfect night in!
Recipe (serves 2 with some extra sauce to freeze, easily scaled up)
2 small/1 large chicken breast, cut into large pieces
100ml natural yoghurt
Juice 1 lemon
Spices for the marinade – 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, ½ tsp hot chilli powder, ½ tsp hot paprika, generous pinch of ground turmeric, 3 garlic cloves (crushed), 3cm piece fresh ginger (finely chopped)
Spices for the sauce – 2 tsp garam masala, ½ tsp ground fenugreek, 1 whole star anise, ½ tsp ground turmeric, 3cm piece fresh ginger (finely chopped), 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
25g ground almonds
Around 200g of nomato sauce (or a can of chopped tomatoes, omit the chicken stock if so)
100ml chicken stock, hot
50ml single cream
First up, get the chicken marinating. Add the cumin and coriander seeds to a pestle and mortar and grind until crushed, then simply mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and marinade spices together, then add the chicken and ensure it is all coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours – we’d usually do this in the morning and then cook at around 7pm.
For the sauce, heat a little oil (or ghee if you have any), add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until softened and starting to brown. Add the sauce spices and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Stir in the nomato sauce (or a tin of chopped tomatoes) and stock, then simmer for ten or so minutes before fishing out the star anise. Whizz the sauce with a stick blender until smooth, then return the pan to the heat and turn it to low. Stir in the ground almonds, and continue to cook whilst stirring often until you have a thick sauce. This can be made ahead – it freezes really well too.
When ready to eat, heat the grill to high. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers and grill for 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through and lightly charred. Return the sauce to the heat, stir in the cream and heat through. Serve the chicken and sauce alongside some rice, naan and whatever other sides you’d like. I can never resist onion bharjis…
Are you a curry fan? What’s your go-to Indian takeaway order?
I feel like this pub has managed to get itself a bit of a bad rep recently thanks to the reported ‘misbehaviour’ of former head Chef Dan Doherty – indeed after trying and failing to get a booking last year being able to secure on last-minute and being the only table eating was a bit of a surprise, even for a Monday… Which brings be onto a spoiler. This place is definitely worth a visit. The food was stunning, despite the slightly odd and empty atmosphere, and I’d highly recommend you go. It was so empty I’m concerned it may not be there for much longer, and so I’m imploring anyone looking for good quality but not overly cheffy food to head there whilst you can.
It was pretty empty, service was friendly but it was lacking a buzz I’d have enjoyed. I felt like the whole pub could hear my friend telling us about his recent break-up and so that is something to bear in mind. Hopefully it was just a one-off when we visited as otherwise there’s some very talented people in the kitchen going to waste.
We kicked off with a couple of starters. Everyone else on the table went for what seems to be the restaurant signature – the Nduja Scotch Egg. Nduja is one of those things that sometimes comes containing tomatoes, sometimes not, so I tend to avoid it for ease. And I was quite gutted, as these scotch eggs looked a perfect example of their type – crisp coating, and a gloriously runny yolk. Apparently the nduja was particularly spicy which worked well.
I didn’t, though, feel short-changed with my choice. A salad of fresh peas, pea puree, mint, ricotta and sourdough croutons was light, tasty and really bloody delicious. The kind of thing I could have eaten 10 times over. Simple yet refined cooking at it’s best. Perhaps pushing the ‘pub grub’ definition a tad too far, but the scotch egg was firmly in that camp.
And then mains. Again we had some duplicate ordering, with 2 lamb and 2 steak coming to our table.
The Lamb Breast was served with roasted new potatoes, peas and asparagus. It looked delightfully green (many places give just a token amount of green veg at the moment) and as a lamb lover I did have a touch of order envy. However breast can often be a touch too greasy and whilst one plate seemed perfectly cooked, the other piece didn’t look like it had seen the oven long enough to fully render down.
The Bavette Steak was my pick, and it came with duck-fat potatoes, watercress and smother in wild-garlic butter. This was beautiful. The steak was cooked to a rare perfection, blushing pink but well-rested to avoid any weeping. The potatoes were glorious – many thin layers all combined and roasted to produce something crisp yet melting and oh so good. Who needs thrice cooked chips when you can have these?! And wild garlic butter? I could have eaten it by the spoonful. Garlicky without being overpowering, perfectly seasoned. It also went perfectly with the steak.
Portion sizes were generous, so we didn’t manage to even look at the pudding list much to my regret. Maybe next time…
In all honesty? I’m a little surprised I’m still going with this whole ‘year of vegan lunches’ challenge – I was expecting to get fed up/bored/stuck for ideas by now and revert to throwing feta or tzatziki at everything (although I’m determined to find a decent vegan recipe for the latter as it’s a big staple for me during summer). But it’s been a tad easier than I was expecting. Bean stews, chickpea soups, quinoa salad (recipe as linked might need a slight adjustment to be fully vegan). A Deliciously Ella potato and lentil dish.
The only thing is these recipes all tend to be quite hearty and warming, with the exception of the salad. And when the weather gets slightly warmer I’m not really feeling a comforting stew – and I also need options I can eat at my desk without needing to use the canteen microwaves (because unfortunately there are some times when I can go weeks without leaving my desk at lunchtime). Pasta salads were a go to when I wasn’t eating vegan, so I’ve been working on adapting some of my favourites and creating new ones. And this one is a winner.
Plenty of pasta (because carbs), and even more crisp green veggies. Handfuls of whatever summery herb I have lying around. A bright and zippy lemon dressing. Perhaps some crunch from almonds or pistachios. Protein in the form of chickpeas (pictured plate is lacking them due to a storecupboard/shopping list error). It’s carby plant-based goodness,vibrant and can be adapted to (1) whatever is seasonal and (2) whatever is in your fridge. The dressing also keeps beautifully in a jar and has become my go-to dressing whenever plain leaves seem a little boring. So make extra.
I’ve used a combination of lightly cooked peas and other veggies and some raw sugarsnap peas – I just love these raw as the texture and flavor is so fresh. If you prefer them softer just blanch along with the frozen peas.
Recipe (makes 2 days worth of generous lunches for the two of us)
200g small-shaped pasta – orzo works particular well
100g frozen peas
100g broad beans, blanched and podded (if you’re not keen then double up the peas)
100g sugarsnap peas, thinly sliced lengthways
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
100g radishes, finely sliced
1 handful of fresh herbs – mint, parsley, basil and dill all work well, a mixture works best but go with what you have
To serve – handful salad leaves (spinach is particularly good), some chopped nuts (almonds or pistachios work super well) or seeds
For the dressing – 3 lemons (zest and juice), 75ml oil (I used a roughly half-and-half mixture of olive and vegetable), 1 tsp of maple syrup (or honey depending on how you stand), 1 tsp Dijon mustard, plenty of salt and pepper
Other possible additions: grilled courgette slices, roasted broccoli, blanched asparagus
First up, prep the dressing. Simply pop all of the ingredients into a small blender (I used our mini chopper) and whizz until fully combined. If you are doing by hand just whisk really well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Then cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, adding the frozen peas for the last two minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, then transfer to a large non-metal bowl or some Tupperware. Add in the dressing, vegetables and herbs and toss together. Serve at room temperature with extra salad leaves and some chopped nuts.
This is honestly the perfect at-desk lunch – fresh and tasty, light enough to avoid the post-eating slump and can be transferred plate to mouth with one hand (great for super busy days!). Did I mention that its delicious?! I know it will be a regular feature in my lunchbox over the next few months…
Bao is one of the London restaurants that has been on my bucket list for forever. I’ve wanted to go for years and for various reasons I’ve just never made it – and having made my own Bao I now want to go even more because I have an idea about what I’m missing. Pale buns that are slightly sticky to touch, bao are soft and fluffy, almost cloud like. Quite soft and airy and filled with delicious fillings they are a really ‘me’ meal as I love picky bits and customising what I’m eating.
And these bao buns are certainly delicious, stuffed with melt-in-the-mouth glazed pork belly that’s both sticky and slightly crispy, soft and succulent, sweet, salty and spicy. We added freshness in the form of cucumber, spring onions and carrots (you could lightly pickle these) and some crunchiness from some peanuts, but it’s the pork belly that’s the star of the show here. And the buns of course.
Of course, you could use my bao bun recipe and then fill with whatever takes your fancy. Fried chicken would be wonderful with some spicy sauces, and I think some kind of aubergine version will keep any meat-eater or veggie happy! I’m also really tempted to try a fish finger version in the same vein as my cheat’s fish tacos…
Now these pork belly tacos are a bit of a labour of love, and they take a lot of time. They aren’t particularly hands on, but the pork needs to be started the morning before the night you want to eat it – so if you want it for a Saturday dinner you’ll need to start marinating on the Friday morning, before cooking it on the Friday evening and refrigerating overnight. It’s not exactly a quick meal, but its worth it! The buns take around 2.5 hours from start to finish, but again a good part of that is rising time. I was surprised at how easy they actually were to make, so don’t be intimidated – give it a go! This would be perfect for a Bank Holiday cooking project this weekend…
For the Ginger, Garlic & Soy Marinated Pork Belly (to fill 6 bao buns, serves 2 for dinner)
around 400-500g piece of pork belly, skin removed (use it to make crackling if you’re as against food waste as me)
100ml dark soy sauce
25ml sesame oil
50g brown sugar
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
5 cloves of garlic, crushes
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
In a bowl that comfortably fits the pork belly, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the pork belly, cover with cling-film, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (ideally 6-8). Turn every hour or so to keep all sides soaking in the marinade. Once ready, wrap the pork tightly in foil and cook at 150C for 2 hours, and reserve the marinade in the fridge. Turn the oven up to 220C and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes until golden and slightly crisp. Allow to cool, and then refridgerate overnight. Bring up to room temperature for around an hour before eating.
To serve, heat the marinade in a small pan under reduced by around half. Slice the pork belly (you want the slices to be around 1cm thick) and add to the marinade until hot and glazed with the sauce. Serve piled into the bao buns with thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and carrot, and some chopped peanuts.
For the Bao Buns (makes 9 buns)
265g plain white flour (unbleached will give you more pure white bao which are more traditional), plus a little extra for dusting
pinch of salt
4g dried yeast
20g caster sugar
8g baking powder
100-125ml warm water (start with 100ml and add a splash more if the dough seems dry – we ended up using closer to 130ml)
10g lard, melted (for vegetarian/vegan buns, use butter or vegetable oil)
a little vegetable oil, for greasing
Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and stir the milk, water (use 100ml for now) and the lard/butter/oil together in a jug. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing and kneading together with your hand in a claw shape. Once combined knead well for 5 or so minutes, adding more water if the dough feels overly dry. By the end of the kneading it should be smooth but slightly tacky.
Dust the kneaded dough with around 1 tbsp of flour, then shape into a ball. Coat with a small amount of vegetable oil, then pop into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise for around 90 minutes, it should double in size.
Once risen, it’s time to shape! There are a few ways to shape bao buns, but we went for the ‘slider’ shape – in my opinion this is both the easiest to shape and probably the most mess-free to eat too! Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until around 0.5cm thick, and cut out circles around 10cm in diameter. The dough is quite difficult to re-roll, so make sure you’re tactical with where you’re placing the cutter! Lightly brush the top of each circle with a little bit of vegetable oil, then place a chopstick across the middle at a slight angle, before folding over the bao to form a semi-circle. Be quite gentle as you don’t want to seal it! Once you’ve shaped all of your dough cover with a damp cloth for around half an hour, before steaming – ours took around 10 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Serve stuffed with delicious fillings and enjoy!
To use a bamboo steamer, I pop the base of mine in a wok over a medium heat, and add boiling water to the wok to just under the middle of the base – and keep an eye on it during cooking to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. Pop each bao onto a square of greaseproof paper to cook. To remove the steamer from the wok use some cooking tongs – I pop the whole thing on a plate and bring to the table to keep the buns fresh and moist (they’ll stay warm for around 20 minutes in the steamer). Whatever you do don’t try to wash your bamboo steamer, simply wipe with a damp cloth, dry fully (I leave it out overnight) then pack away.
As the dough is quite difficult to re-roll, you may find you have spare dough. For this, roll in your hands into small balls (around large marble sized) and steam until cooked. Melt some butter in a frying pan, then dry the cooked dough balls until lightly crisp, before tossing in sugar and cinnamon for bao doughnuts. For the spare buns, they freeze well once cooked and cooled. Simply heat from frozen in the steamer for around 10 minutes. Alternatively have dessert bao – stuff with peanut butter and raspberry jam and thank me later…
I’m now dreaming of doing a bao party for a few friends. Imagine that! Loads of bao buns, a couple of different types of filling (I’m thinking this pork belly, some fried chicken and maybe a miso aubergine option…). And dessert bao of course.
Have you ever tried cooking bao? Or have you eaten it out in a restaurant?