How to make vegan yogurt without yogurt cultures

While living in rural China, one serious problem I had was that it was impossible to buy dairy-free or vegan substitutes to dairy products. There’s a good reason for this. Chinese food uses ingredients differently, and is not a dairy-based cuisine. Dairy products are now widely available in China, and dairy additives have sneaked their way into a lot of modern Chinese snack foods, but there are no vegan alternatives to these, because as far as Chinese cooking is concerned, dairy is the alternative.

A lot of the time, the Chinese approach to dairy meant I could usually eat worry-free in most of China. And it was great to try so many new foods.

Of course, being British and Irish, I like to start my day with a lovely yoghurt (if you’re American you spell it “yogurt” lol) drenched in fruit (my faves are fresh County Wexford strawberries, the best strawberries in the world, or when they’re out of season, fluffy Spanish blueberries from the supermarket). While I’m fairly open-minded, there are some days when I just crave home food from my own country. Especially when I became pregnant and suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme pregnancy sickness… I’m basically allergic to the first 3-4 months of pregnancy).

Yoghurt is also integral to some homemade curry recipes like tikka masala.

Of course, the main problem is every recipe claims to require yoghurt cultures. It is impossible to get vegan yoghurt cultures in rural China (you could get this in the cities or on Taobao but I wouldn’t know enough Mandarin to check the origin or ingredients). In the past, people didn’t need yoghurt cultures to make yoghurt, it’s a modern complication. Could you imagine the Ancient Greeks trying to buy or sell “yoghurt cultures” in the market? They instead used natural alternatives, and you can, too.

With that in mind, I found out how to make yoghurt from local ingredients. Two things which are abundant in China are tofu and chillies (hot peppers). Don’t worry, you won’t make spicy yoghurt with this recipe (weird).

Here’s what you will need (keep scrolling for substitutions/adjustments e.g. soy free):

A block of tofu (about 200g or 1 cup, but don’t get hung up on the size, it largely doesn’t matter).

1 cup of soymilk. In China, you can buy a soy milk maker (on Taobao or in a store) to make your own if you can’t get a carton (Vitasoy in the blue carton from any shop, or Silk from Epermarket are also fine, dependent on your need for organic/no additives etc).

The juice of 2 medium fresh lemons (or 1 very large one).

Half a cup (about 100ml) of boiling water.

A blender or smoothie maker.

12 chili peppers with stems attached.

Method:

Put everything in the blender except the chili peppers. Blend until you get a silky smooth texture then pour it into a flat dish like a pasta bowl or the lid of a casserole dish (not a plate).

Take the chillies and remove the stems. Place the stems into the mixture so the part that joined the chili is now slightly beneath the surface of the yoghurt. These will work in place of yoghurt cultures.

Leave the mixture to culture in a warm spot for about 8 hours (a room without air con or an oven on about 30-40 degrees celsius/90-100 Farenheit is great). If it gets too hot or cold, it won’t culture properly, so take care. If you have a yoghurt maker, that will work, too.

Remove the chillies and store your yoghurt in the fridge in a sealed container for food safety.

This makes a very plain yoghurt that works for overnight oats, tikka masala recipes or you can add honey and chopped fruit to sweeten it.

Adjustments:

If you only have silken tofu, don’t add soya milk, instead use 2 packs of tofu.

Soy allergy? You can use coconut cream (the canned stuff for curries; don’t add the water from the bottom of the tin) and cornflour/cornstarch as a thickener if needed.

If you have no lemon, try lime or apple cider vinegar. You need the acidity level to be right otherwise the good bacteria in the chillies can’t thrive to turn the tofu into yoghurt. In my experience, lack of lemon juice is the only reason this recipe has ever failed for me.

Photo (with the chillies in):

Have you tried this? Let me know in the comments!

The two-minute Valentine’s breakfast that will melt your heart!

Forgot Valentine’s day? Looking for a quick way to say “I love you”? Or do you just love eating fun-shaped toast? Whatever your reason, here’s a quick and easy Valentine’s breakfast that you can do in two minutes! Feed it to your husband, your wife, your kids, or even just make it for yourself. Nothing says “I love you” like a heart-shaped Valentine’s breakfast that’s so easy, a six-year-old could make it (adult supervision required)!

You will need:

Two slices of bread.

A pair of scissors.

Your favourite spread.

A toaster.

That’s it!

Here’s how to make your 2-minute Valentine’s breakfast:

  1. Take the scissors and cut the bread into heart shapes, by cutting along two of the crusts then shaping the other end of the bread (leave as much bread as possible) into a heart shape.
  2. Put your heart-shaped bread into the toaster, leaving the pointy end up to make it easy to get them back out.
  3. Wait for your bread to pop.
  4. Boing! It’s popped! Put your favourite spread on the toast.
  5. Arrange on a plate.
  6. Take to your beloved (or your child, or to your favourite sitting spot).
  7. Eating time!

Once you’ve got the knack for shaping the bread, you could go crazy and do this toast with scrambled eggs, baked beans (sorry, Weetabix, you’re not needed today) or even something fancy like eggs benedict or eggs royale (check out my easy vegan hollandaise sauce recipe if you’re planning one of these).

Did you enjoy this super-easy and quick Valentine’s breakfast? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or on our Facebook page!

Vegan Meaty Stuffed Bell Pepper Tacos

I love stuffed peppers! They’re such an easy way to get more vegetables into your diet and this recipe is super-healthy. This was an experiment in changing things up, because I usually make stuffed peppers with rice, but today I wanted something different, so I filled my peppers with a taco-style filling of soy mince (TVP), sweetcorn and salsa, and topped with my vegan no-blend guacamole but you could also add grated vegan cheese if that’s your thing (or if you have any… I don’t, because my local Sainsbury’s has mysteriously stopped selling all vegan cheese since the lockdown began). This recipe is also perfect for when you are craving tacos but don’t have any taco shells.

IMG_2107b

IMG_2108b

And finally, top with my easy no-blend avocado:

IMG_2113b

Ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers
  • Half a cup of dried TVP (soy mince)
  • Half a cup of sweetcorn
  • A pinch of cilantro (leaf coriander)
  • A pinch (or three) of garlic
  • A big dollop of salsa (you can substitute this for some chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon or two of Piri Piri sauce or a teaspoon of any other hot sauce if you don’t have salsa)
  • A teaspoon of Vegemite (or another yeast extract)

 

Method:

  1. Cut the bell peppers in half and remove the seeds.
  2. Reconstitute the TVP with boiling water and add the Vegemite, garlic and cilantro. Mix thoroughly to avoid any Vegemite lumps and leave the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the hot water fully.
  3. Drain off the excess water from the TVP and mix with the sweetcorn.
  4. Put the TVP and sweetcorn mixture into the halves of the bell peppers, taking care not to knock them over. If you have peppers that won’t lie very well in the oven, balance them carefully against each other for support.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a fan oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 6.
  6. Serve with chilled guacamole and salsa.

What’s your favourite thing to put in stuffed peppers? Let me know in the comments!

 

Home made avocado face mask

One of the most fun things I did while I was in the US was to make my own avocado face mask. It was SUPER moisturizing and all you need are these things:

  1. Half an avocado (per face).
  2. One sprig of fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
  3. A hand blender, smoothie maker, full-size blender or food processor (any of these will work).

Method:

Open your avocado by cutting around it in a circle from top to bottom then from bottom to top. Twist the avocado, and pull it apart. You should now have two neat halves of avocado (no drama).

Scoop out the insides from half the avocado (ignore that big seed in the middle). Put it in a bowl, if you’re using a hand blender, or put it straight into the jug/container for your blender/smoothie maker/food processor.

Make sure that rosemary is finely chopped. You don’t need much of the stem. When it’s all chopped up, there should be about a big teaspoon’s worth. If not, you may need to chop up another sprig. I use scissors to chop herbs because they don’t seem to cut as easily with knives. Add it to the blender.

Blend the ingredients until they have formed a smooth, creamy paste. If your avocado was unripe, it won’t turn creamy, in which case, add about a tablespoon of coconut milk and blend it again. Luckily, if you put it on your face before you realize (like I did… the hazards of inventing recipes I guess) you always have another half an avocado to work with. ūüėČ

 

Now it’s ready, apply to your face and leave for 10-15 minutes. I found cotton wool helped remove it. As well as eliminating dry areas, I also found this face mask really helped my skin with redness. This mask gets very messy, though, so make sure you’re not wearing anything that might stain with avocado, and I applied it with my fingers, and then I couldn’t take any pictures because the avocado got all over my nails so I couldn’t unlock my phone!!

 

 

Southern Fried Catfish and Hush Puppies

Has anyone tried this dish? I really want to make it, but I don’t know where to get catfish in the UK! It sounds very delicious.

And I could listen to this lady’s voice all day:

Grandma’s Blackberry Jam Recipe

So I made blackberry jam, and I canned it, which I’ll talk more about at the bottom of this post.

Blackberry jam.
Blackberry jam.

Here’s the recipe I used (it was very simple). This is a standard jam recipe but it’s vegan and gluten free:
1. Go pick some blackberries. I got 300g. Blackberries grow wild on brambles.
2. Weigh them (and wash them thoroughly, throw out any bad ones).
If you didn’t get many (you need at least 200g really – that does an 8oz jar of jam, when you subtract the stuff that will burn to the bottom, but for lots, preferably 500g-900g), freeze them and wait for more to ripen, then pick/wash more.
3. When you’re ready to make jam, weigh all your blackberries together.
4. Measure out the same amount of golden granulated sugar (it’s a 1:1 ratio blackberries to sugar). Maybe other sugar types also work, I used golden granulated.
5. Put the berries in a pan with a big tablespoon of lemon juice (this will help preserve the fruit) and about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to the boil.
6. Simmer straight away for 15 minutes.
7. Add the sugar. It will take a lot of stirring and a lot of waiting to get it all to dissolve.
8. Once it’s dissolved, turn the heat up as high as you can and boil for 10-12 minutes, until the blackberry gloop reaches 105 degrees C (220F) which is the setting point. Don’t stir, but if you smell burning, it’s done.

Blackberry jam.
This is what it looks like when its set after the white froth was scraped off.

9. Take off the heat, skim off any white froth from the top, and let it settle for a few minutes (you can put it straight in jars at this point but I wanted to check it had worked.
10. Put in (sterilized with HOT water) jars, seal them if you want to.

About canning, storage times and such:
I used these quattro stagioni jars in 8.5 ounce size, which I found for a good price on the shelf at Homesense (they’re one of those places that has different stuff each week), I liked them because they’re made to take the high temperature and they’re vacuum sealable for food safety (although one of mine didn’t seal) and they sell replacement lids (70mm or 2 3/4 inch is the size for the 8.5 oz jars, although that is NOT cheap for 2 jar lids, so I hope somewhere starts doing them cheaper). You can use any old jar for jam, but you should use a fresh lid each time because you can’t fully clean the lids, which is why I bought jars to use.
If you want to read about home canning in more depth to ensure you’re doing it safely, this free guide from the USDA is phenomenal (I’d start with this section). I highly recommend it for people thinking of canning (which means putting in jars – that confused me for a while) other garden produce, although I’m still undecided on what to do with my carrots when they’re fully grown.

If you vacuum seal the jar with the blackberry jam in it, and don’t open it again, it’s good for 1 year (the jars I linked to have specific instructions to seal them in hot water, I managed to follow them using a bucket as I didn’t have a big enough pot). If it doesn’t vacuum seal (the popper in the lid still pops up) it’s good for 1 month. When you open it, it’s good for 1 month.

Anyone else done any canning or jam making? Got a different recipe/method? Let me know in the comments!

blackberry jam
Sterilized jars.

Ten ACTUAL uses of coconut oil as tested by me.

Ten ACTUAL uses of coconut oil, as tested by me.

After seeing a lot of articles about 101 uses of coconut oil (or more) I decided to write a list of what I’ve used coconut oil for. All of the things I mention here are things I’ve actually used coconut oil for, because there’s a lot of embellished “uses” for coconut oil floating around the internet that aren’t quite verifiable (I wrote about this yesterday in my article 10 Myths About Coconut Oil That Just Need To Die).

1. To cook food. It’s especially good to fry stir fry if you’re having Thai food. I tried spreading it on toast but I didn’t like it. I’ve never tried it in coffee, but in tea, it just sits on the surface as an oily blob even if you use a blender. ¬†People say it’s flavourless in cooking – I disagree, I think it tastes like coconut.

2. As a moisturiser / lotion. Just rub it on your skin. Too much can cause breakouts on sensitive skin (e.g. my cheeks). Bear in mind it sits on the surface a bit, so it will cause grease stains on your clothing, sofa or sheets unless you want to stand upright for several hours after using it. Coconut oil and silky fabrics REALLY don’t mix.

3. As the base for homemade cosmetics, such as DIY lipbalm. Actually that’s the only one I’ve used it for but it was really easy to add some rosewater. I’ll make a video of how to do this real soon.

4. To clean and possibly whiten your teeth via the oil pulling method, which is an Ancient Ayurvedic technique (i.e. they use it in India and have done for a while). I’ve made a video where I investigated the claim that coconut oil can whiten your teeth.¬†Watch the video¬†here.

5. To moisturize dry hair as an intensive conditioning treatment: Melt, slather over hair, leave on for at least 30 minutes and wash out with normal shampoo and conditioner.

6. As a home-made dandruff prevention and scalp soother. Melt a small amount in your hand, rub between your fingers and rub it over your scalp. I found this sped up hair growth as well.

7. To smooth frizz/flyaway hair. Using a small amount regularly prevents split ends so hair appears to grow faster.

8. For hayfever and seasonal pollen allergies. Rub it on the inside of your nose instead of Vaseline to soothe allergies. ¬†This isn’t going to be as effective as Benadryl; it catches the pollen before it gets a chance to get up your nose where it would usually wreak havoc, but of course it’s not going to catch all of it. ¬†When I worked at a pharmacy we used to recommend this to pregnant women as they were unable to take allergy tablets.

9. To make natural home-made tea light candles instead of using beeswax. Melt it, mix with the scents or colorants you feel like, add a wick, set it on fire.  I only did this once and I found the coconut oil melts too quickly unless you do this in a tea-light foil dish thingy.  Do those things have a name??

10. To make natural home-made soap instead of using glycerin. Melt it, mix with the scents and colorants you feel like, and rub it on you in the tub (but remember it’s still going to melt at relatively low temperatures).

Please consult a healthcare provider before using coconut oil if you feel ill.

What have you used coconut oil for?  Did it work as you expected?  Let me know in the comments!

Meat Free Monday: Lentil Moong Dal

The first time I had dal (or dhal, never sure how to spell it) I hated it!  I was at a fancy restaurant where they served up mushy, flavourless stuff that was like yellow mash potato!

The second time I had it, I was at a Nepalese restaurant (the Yak and Yeti Gurkha Restaurant, York, loads of vegan options and very good value for money) and it was wonderful.

Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.
Tasty dhal at the Yak and Yeti Gurkha restaurant, York.

I went home and did a few experiments before landing on my own lentil dhal recipe, something delicate but tasty:

1. Yellow mung dhal (moong daal) lentils. ¬†I buy the ones that don’t need to be soaked.

2. Fresh (chopped) or dried coriander (aka cilantro) (2 tsp)

3. Bhuna or balti paste (a tablespoon is ample), or if you can’t find the paste, use a quarter of a¬†jar of the sauce instead. ¬†Patak’s do a nice one.

Get a fine meshed sieve and wash your mung dhal lentils until they are clumping together – this removes some of the starch.

Pop them into a saucepan and cover with boiling water.  Add a teaspoon of coriander (cilantro).  Simmer for about 30-50 minutes, depending on how mushy you want it.

When it has softened enough, drain and add the bhuna paste or sauce (or balti), and stir it into the dhal, stirring in the rest of the coriander (cilantro). ¬†Leave on a very low heat for at least 10 minutes so the flavour penetrates the lentils. ¬†Stir regularly so it doesn’t burn the bottom of the pan.

Serve in a bowl, either on its own or with rice.

Nutrition: Gluten free, dairy free, 80g of moong dal lentils are one of your five a day (and a separate one to regular lentils because they come from different species of plant), 30g of protein per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils and 45g of carbohydrate per 100g of uncooked moong dal lentils.

Oregano Pesto?? Vegan Pesto??? You better believe it!

I did an experiment yesterday; I wanted to know whether I could make vegan oregano pesto, and whether coriander pesto would be remotely tasty.

Ingredients for Oregano Pesto:

1. A tablespoon of dried oregano (can use fresh, in which case you don’t need the boiling water).

dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).
dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).

2. A teaspoon of boiling water.

3. Half a tablespoon of olive oil.

4. A tablespoon of hazelnuts.

hazelnuts ready for making pesto

5. Half a tablespoon of walnuts.

walnuts
Walnuts.

You will need a (hand) blender for the nuts.

Method:

1. Put the oregano in a cup.

2. Add hot water to the oregano to rehydrate it (if using fresh oregano, skip this).

3. Crush the hazelnuts and walnuts with the blender.

4. Add the nuts to the oregano and mix in with the olive oil.

Before I added the garlic and walnuts.
Before I added the garlic and walnuts.

5. Add a sprinkle of garlic to bring out the flavour.

6. Leave to stand until the oregano has softened.

7. Mix about a tablespoon into a bowl of pasta. ¬†Mmmmm….

This was very delicious.
Oregano pesto over spaghetti with peanuts sprinkled on top.  Very delicious.

This oregano one was very, very tasty with my pasta yesterday!  You could substitute basil for the oregano if you wanted a more traditional pesto and I think that would be just as tasty, maybe fresh herbs would add a less strong flavor Рa little of this went a long way!

I made some cilantro/coriander (they’re the same herb) pesto (same method, no garlic, use¬†cilantro instead of oregano) and I had a little taste of that and I’m not sure it’s as nice as the oregano one, but I wondered if it was the cilantro I’d bought because it seemed to have taken on the odor from the packaging it was in. ¬†It was my first time not buying a glass jar of dried herb so it didn’t occur to me that this may happen, but the whole lot tasted a little plasticky. ¬†I will try again with fresh cilantro/coriander when I next get any because I know it has a very delicate flavor. ¬†There was supposed to be some growing in the garden but it came up as parsley even though the packet said coriander!!!!

I didn’t use pine nuts (which is traditionally used in pesto) as I think they’re hideously expensive and the quality available has gone right downhill in the past few years, but hazelnuts and walnuts seemed to add a really nice taste to the oregano one. ¬†I also sprinkled my pasta with a handful of peanuts for extra protein.

Do you have a good vegan pesto recipe to share?  Link to it in the comments!