I went on a yoga retreat for St. Patrick’s Day weekend to The Aran Islands. My yoga teacher invited me (The fabulous Christine McNally find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/ashtangayoga.limerick.9 ) and asked me to cook vegan food for the weekend for a party of 11 yogis. I wanted to write this blog so that I could share the recipes of some of the meals I prepared with my wonderful assistant Dawn McCarthy. I have a huge passion for food and I was up for the challenge. I was very excited about the opportunity that had been given to me but I was also a bit skeptical that I couldn’t make delicious food under the constraints of the rules of veganism. I myself am not a vegan, not even a vegetarian and I always thought in my head that being vegan was taking things a step too far. How could I live without meat, cheese and milk? Surely I couldn’t! I think sometimes the thing that puts me off the most about the lifestyle is there can be so much talk about it around the dinner table. It is like religion, believe whatever you want just don’t ram it down my throat, thank you.
So I had to start planning meals, I set about doing some research on the diet, and found many so called ‘one pot wonders’ that I could cook in enough time to give great flavour in one big pot but also have enough time to get yoga practice in with the rest of the group. We practiced Ashtanga in the mornings and a more gentle restorative yoga class was held in the evening time.
Breakfast each morning consisted of delicious creamy porridge and sour dough toast. The oats had been soaked overnight in water. It felt like the porridge was made with milk, they were so creamy because they had been soaked for so long. I made enough for 12 people. A general rule of 1 part oats and two parts liquid works well. So, it was simply 6 cups of porridge to 12 cups of water. There is a lot of fun to be had with porridge as there are so many add-in bits and bobs:
- Bee Pollen (Bee Pollen is rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, lipids and fatty acids, enzymes, carotenoids and bioflavonoids. It has powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties that strengthen the capillaries, reduce inflammation, stimulate the immune system and lower cholesterol levels naturally.)
- Chia Seeds (Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, iron, and calcium)
- Cacao Nibs (Cacao beans, especially when eaten raw, are some of the most rich high-antioxidant foods around thanks to the phytonutrients available in cacao nibs, helping absorb the free radicals that cause damage in the body.|)
- Nut Butter (Nuts and nut butters are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals)
- Banana (Tasty!)
- Goji Berries (Goji berries contain vitamin C, vitamin B2, vitamin A, iron, selenium and other antioxidants (notably polysaccharides).)
- Berry Compote (Recipe below!)
Berry compote is so easy to make and this recipe made a full mason jar that served 10 people for two mornings of breakfast. I accidentally bought strawberries, I wanted raspberries!!! DOPE!
What you’ll need:
- Frozen Strawberries 750g
- 1 Tbsp of Raw Cane Sugar.
- Juice of half a lemon
- Juice of and orange and the zest
Soften the berries over a medium heat in a large pot and add in the sugar. When it starts to reduce down add in the juices from the lemon and orange, cook for a further 20 minutes on low heat stirring occasionally. Pop it in a mason jar and keep in the fridge for up to a week. I am going to add chia seeds to the recipe and make chia jam (hopefully it is a success!). I reheated the compote in the mornings at breakfast while the porridge was cooking. It adds sweetness and colour to your oats or dollop onto top of your peanut butter on toast!
Speaking of toast, dairy-free spread is readily available in most supermarkets, Tesco have started to do a large range of vegan food and their dairy free spread comes in at €1.90! It doesn’t have much taste to be perfectly honest. Our teacher was very forward about letting people know that they could bring food with them that they thought they couldn’t live without. The main dairy product that graced the table in the morning was a packet of Kerrygold butter.
Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Spinach Curry
I love curry! Most meals we were eating were served with bread on the side so for a change I made a curry with rice. I have to say I am a big fan of McDonnell’s curry (I never put two and two together to get to realise that the guy form the ads is from Foil, Arm and Hog!) , such a cop out I know! This was one of the nicest curries I have ever eaten. There was a feeling of meatiness from the chickpeas and sweet potato and the creaminess of the coconut made it all very well balanced. This recipe is going to become a staple in my diet.
What you’ll need:
- 1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
- I medium Onion
- 1 Tsp Himalayan Salt
- 3 Garlic Cloves (Crushed)
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Puree
- 2 Tsp Grated Ginger
- 1 Tsp Tumeric
- Handful of Fresh Corriander
- I can of Coconut Milk
- I can of Chopped Tomatoes
- I can of Chickpeas
- 1 Large Sweet Potato
- Bag of Spinach
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Basmati Rice (Enough for 4)
In a large pot melt the coconut oil and add in the cumin seeds, fry until fragrant being careful that they don’t burn. Add in the chopped onion and garlic and sprinkle in the salt. Once the onions are soft and translucent add in the tomato puree and cook until caramelised. Add in the ginger, turmeric and fresh coriander, cook for 2 minutes, constantly stirring the mixture. Add in the coconut milk, tomatoes and chickpeas. Add black pepper to taste. Bring the curry to the boil and then reduce the heat and cook on low for an hour. The longer you cook it the better it will taste, I let mine cook for 2-3 hours. Cook the rice 15 minutes before serving and add the spinach to the curry and stir in. Serve up in large bowls and add lime wedges and fresh coriander if desired. Enjoy!
Red Lentil Stew
I was not excited at the thought of having lentils. I just didn’t like the idea of them. I had to go outside of my own comfort zone and what I like personally and experiment a bit more with new foods. This red lentil stew surprised me. See the recipe below:
What you’ll need:
- 1 White Onion (Diced)
- 4 Cloves of Garlic (Crushed)
- 1 tsp Himaylian Rock salt
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- 1 Tsp Hot Paprika
- 25 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 3 Cups of Vegetable Stock (Bouillion Stock is vegan)
- 5 Cups Red Lentils
- 3 Large Carrots (Sliced)
- Black Pepper
In a large pot fry the onion, garlic and salt until the onion is translucent and soft. Add in the tomato paste until it caramelised. Add in the paprika and cayenne pepper followed by the vegetable stock, red lentils and pepper to taste. I let mine boil and then cook on low for an hour. This can be served on its own, with sour dough bread or with extra vegetables. It is so simply and really nourishing!
I found the second time that I made it; it was a little too hot for me (I got a little heavy handed on the cayenne so I combated it with a large dollop of natural yogurt).
So as an extra I did spend some time making some sweets for the group. In my head I was thinking that at least if the cooking sucked I could make up for it by bribing the group with chocolate.
Bounty Bars (Inspired by the Happy Pear)
Makes about 12 bars
What you’ll need:
- 3 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 200 g Dark Chocolate (70%)
- 200 g Desiccated Coconut
- 4 Tbsp Maple Syrup
- 1 pinch Salt
- 100g Ground Almonds
- 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
In a pot melt the coconut oil, vanilla extract and maple syrup. In a separate mixing bowl add the coconut, almond flour and salt. Once the oil is melted add it to the dry ingredients and mix well. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and press the mixture in tightly and freeze for 20-30 minutes. Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pot of hot water. Once the mixture comes out of the freezer it should be hard enough to cut into bar and dip into the melted chocolate. Place bars back on the parchment and pace in the fridge until the chocolate solidifies. These are incredibly tasty and last in the fridge for up to a week.
Orange Chocolate Balls (Makes about 15-18)
What you’ll need:
- 2 cup of dates
- 5 medium oranges and the zest (juiced)
- 3 Tbsp. Cacao Powder
- 1/4 cup of ground almonds
- ½ the zest of an orange
- Keep some peel for decoration
- 40g dark chocolate (for decoration)
After the dates have been soaked for 15 minutes in tepid water, add them to the blender with the ground almonds. Depending on the strength of your blender it should take around 2-3 minutes, till you get a smooth paste. Add in the orange juice, zest and cacao powder and blend till smooth and fully incorporated. Over a pot of hot water on the stove, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl. Make the balls (around 10-15) by hand. Dip each ball in dark chocolate and decorate with the left over peel by grating it on top of the melted chocolate. Keep them in the fridge and eat as desired. If the balls are too wet add more almond flour or cacao powder. For more energy ball recipes go to: Energy Balls, healthy snacks 🙂
Black Bean and Avocado Brownies (Makes 12)
What you’ll need:
- 1 can of drained black beans
- 1/2 an avocado
- 3/4 cups of raw cane sugar
- 1/2 cup of pecans
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 cup of maple syrup
- 1 tbsp of coconut oil
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 120g melted dark chocolate
- Handful Of Crushed Hazelnuts for decoration
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a cupcakes tray with bun cases. Throw everything (apart from the melted chocolate) into the blender, mix well for a few minutes. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a lot of water and add that in. Add a spoonful of the mixture to each of the cupcake cases and top with chopped hazelnuts and bake for 15-20 minutes depending on how gooey you want them. Devour!
So in light of everything, I will not be going vegan but I have certainly had my eyes opened to the fact that it doesn’t have to be boring and you don’t just have to eat lettuce. I will certainly be eating more meat free dishes. I hope you enjoy this blog and cooking the food as much as I did. Thank you to everyone who I shared this weekend with for all your kind words, honesty and help in the kitchen. What a wonderful group of people. We will be doing it all over again in Portugal in October!
Those women were in the nip!!!!!!