Vegetarian Pho with Courgette Noodles

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I had to practically sit on my hands not to do a punny title, because ‘pho’ is a total gift to those with a love of terrible puns. If you read it as written, you’ve got classics such as ‘pho my god’, ‘pho way’ etc. If you go pho-netically with ‘fuh’, you can go down an enjoyably unsavoury avenue.

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Anyway. The point is, I really love pho, but it can be hard to find a decent vegetarian option. When Nam on Old Compton Street closed for good last year, I also closed my heart to a decent bowl of veggie pho. I traipsed hopefully to other Soho Pho (Sopho) establishments, but none of them hit the spot. Also, I frittered away all my cash on Christmas presents, so homemade (phomemade? I’m really sorry, I can’t stop) was the way to go.

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I found the process of making the broth extremely soothing. Something about cooking this kind of food feels like it’s good for your soul. I recommend gathering and prepping all your ingredients in advance in a nice orderly way, and keeping counters clear for full relaxing benefits. I swapped in courgette for the noodle part, because I’m on a ludicrously cliched January health kick, but you should do as you wish. I was also going to boil an egg and pop it in too, but I decided against it, but the egg still snuck into the photos.

Forgive the slightly rubbish pics, my DSLR is in Sussex, so these are phone photos! Pho-tos. image3

For the Broth
1 white onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 litre vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp soy sauce

For the Noodles
1 courgette
1 Portobello mushroom
1/2 red pepper
1 tbsp butter

Garnish
Bean sprouts
Mint/Thai basil
Chili
Lime

1. Heat the onion, garlic and spices in a dry pan over a medium-high heat until the veg begins to char.

2. Add stock and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Cover and heat on medium-low for 25 minutes.

3. Spiralize the courgette, dry it and salt it, then pan fry in a little butter until it begins to soften. Place in your serving bowl, along with the sliced red pepper.

4. Slice the Portobello mushroom and pan fry in the courgette pan with leftover butter until it softens, then add to the noodle bowl.

5. Strain the broth then pour it over the top of the noodles, before serving with the plate of garnishes.

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Vegan Challenge: Spaghetti and Ice Cream?

I’m in two minds about vegan ‘interpretations’ of what I could insultingly call ‘normal food’. Here are my two conflicting thoughts:

Love: t’s a very clever and fun thing to do to reimagine a dish within strict vegan limitations. If you’re an adventurous cook with a good palate, picking out flavours and textures that define a dish and applying them to something new can be fantastic. I truly believe that you don’t need to overload your cooking with oil, butter, cheese etc for it to taste good, although I do very much enjoy all those things. If you can come up with a version of something that stands alone as a delicious meal, then that’s fantastic.

Hate: But on the other hand…you set yourself up for disappointment. Veganism should be about enjoying and appreciating what good food is, as opposed to measuring it against what it’s not. Anyone who has ever tried to make a vegan macaroni cheese knows what I’m talking about. No combination of soy ‘dairy’, nutritional yeast and whole wheat pasta is EVER going to taste like proper mac and cheese, so what’s the point in imitating old recipes when you could focus on new, amazing recipes?

Anyway, I decided to set myself ANOTHER challenge and try to make a meal that borrowed some elements of my favourite foods, but wasn’t a pale, soggy imitation of them. I settled on courgette spaghetti with pesto, followed by banana and raspberry ice cream for my supper. Because I’m being extremely strict with myself, I’ve banned pasta from my diet for these two weeks. You have no idea what this is doing to me. I’m an absolute pasta fiend. It must be my Mediterranean heritage or something, but I’d happily eat it twice, three times a day. But eating that much pasta, plus a load of cheese and butter, is not doing me any favours, and is zapping away my energy. Courgette spaghetti seemed like a good way of creating the effect of pasta, along with a similar texture. By lightly pan-frying it in a little oil and garlic, then combining with pesto, I got a lot of my favourite bits of the pasta experience with none of the unhealthy downsides.

Courgette Spaghetti

2 medium sized courgettes
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

I shaved the courgettes with a julienne grater, and set them aside on paper towels to absorb some of the water. I lightly salted them, because otherwise courgette can be a little flavourless. I then heated the garlic on a moderate heat with the oil – I used lots of garlic because I love it so much. I lightly pan fried them until they’d absorbed the flavours without going to soft. I seasoned to taste. If I’d been doing this dish without the pesto, I’d have used a little nutmeg, or some cayenne, or red chilli to add another flavour.

Lemon & Basil Pesto

1 cup fresh basil
1 big clove of garlic (more if you’re a garlic fiend like me)
3/4 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp sea salt

Quite frankly, you can do whatever you like with the pesto. I’ve used cashews because I had cashews, but pine nuts would be a more ‘traditional’ pesto taste. You can omit the lemon, use sage instead of basil, use almonds, use Parmesan…anything you like. I’d say just judge this one by eye/taste. If it’s dry, use more oil, if it’s dull, use more lemon. Essentially, just plonk all your ingredients in the food processor and whiz them up until you’re happy. I then tossed my courgette spaghetti in the pesto, and served it with a side of tomato salad.

Banana & Raspberry Ice Cream

2 frozen bananas
1 cup frozen raspberries

This is insultingly easy. I peeled some bananas, put them in a freezer bag, and froze them at lunch. At dinner time, I simply blended them in my food processor with a cup of frozen raspberries, and BINGO – a creamy, pretty looking, perfectly textured ‘ice cream’. You could also use a little vanilla if you like. I feel like I’m really late to this whole frozen banana party, but they are SO GOOD. I mean, this? This blew my mind. It tasted exactly like proper ice cream. And I’ve been known to make ice cream featuring clotted cream and white chocolate. I will seriously keep on eating this even if I stop being vegan. The last time I made one was when I got inspired because of Arrested Development…

So that was my supper!

Vegan Challenge

Why hello there, readers, fancy seeing you here.

Thought I’d do a little challenge post, because you all know how I love my challenges. I’ve also mentioned how much I love Cassey of http://www.blogilates.com. Cassey is about to embark on a two week vegan eating challenge. I’ve been wanting to eat a little more healthily, as I still don’t quite have all my energy back after the flu thingy I had. I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve gone vegan before and found it very rewarding, if a little too restrictive. I don’t think our country is really quite there yet in terms of appealing, healthy food. There are some great places in London, and others such as Terre a Terre in Brighton (seriously, EVERYONE should eat there once, veggie or not), but I absolutely detest going into a ‘vegetarian restaurant’. Images of lentils and sour goats cheese tend to flicker into my mind, unpleasantly.

I absolutely love food. I love trying new things, and I sometimes get a little miserable that vegetarian eating and great food still don’t appear to go hand in hand. I’m fed up of going to a restaurant and seeing risotto or goat’s cheese tart on the menu. Just because I don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean I’ve lost my taste buds/imagination! I’m a lifelong veggie, and it makes me sad to feel that there’s still a big stigma attached to it. That’s why I’m a big fan of Thai or Japanese food: heaps of flavour and more options. I’m pretty far from your stereotypical veggie, and I have no wish to eat in a stereotypical vegetarian restaurant with crappy art on the walls and unappetising food. I don’t want to have to choose a third rate dish from a menu because the chef decided vegetarians are inferior in some way. I’m totally getting off track here, but this is important to me, goddammit!

Anyway, I’m 100% vegetarian all the time, but when I go vegan I try to be as creative as possible. Everything needs to be carefully considered, flavours enhanced, pleasing to the senses. I’m going to do it for two weeks, starting tomorrow, just to sort out some of the dodgy eating habits I’ve fallen into, and then I’ll assess how I feel afterwards. Because it’s difficult to get all the calories you need, I’ll be eating a LOT (air punch) and about 5-6 small meals a day. I’m going to avoid processed foods and sugars, and try and come up with delicious, healthy meals. I’m sitting here now with a stack of cookbooks and ploughing through them! Cassey of Blogilates.com is going to be putting up her own meal plan, but I’ll probably just devise my own to suit my own tastes. *Cough* NO TOFU *cough*.

So that’s me and my next two weeks sorted. Bit alarmed at not having alcohol – I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to break that next weekend for a night out, but otherwise, it should be interesting. I’ll keep you all posted, and if anyone fancies joining in, shout me up on Twitter @ameliafsimmons. Also, if you know any restaurants which serve great vegetarian food, I’d really love to hear about them.

Healthy Living: End of week 2

It’s been a long week. Not in any way related to my new lifestyle, just a typically long, slightly chilly, end of November/start of December week. So, how are things in healthy land?

Exercise

Going well so far. Like I said last week, the early stages of starting any new regime are always easy, because you see results very quickly. The Pilates videos I’ve been doing (from Blogilates.com) are becoming a bit easier – I can push through for more reps, and I can just go for longer in general, so both my strength and stamina are improving. I’m working out for 6 days a week – fairly demanding, but while I’m doing a kick start, I want to really push myself. I’m doing a kind of ’90 day challenge’, and after that’s over I’ll settle into a more socially acceptable regime.

I also decided to buy a set of 3 Tracy Anderson DVDs from Ebay. I’ve followed a few of her webisodes and I like her teaching style. People seem to absolutely love her or hate her, and I’ve read a lot of angry comment-leavers denouncing her as a ‘fraud’….slightly alarming. I’ll be writing a more in depth review once I’ve got my DVDs and sampled them properly.

Eating

Slightly more tricky has been the diet quandary. I’ve never had issues with being careful with my eating, but the problem has been knowing when to stop. I make tiny alterations and keep doing so until I’m segueing from a normal healthy diet into just eating some rocket leaves with nothing on them and calling it ‘lunch’. This week has been interesting, but red flags have gone up. I started with cutting out caffeine and most sugar two weeks ago, then this week I’ve cut out wheat, and more or less cut out dairy. The temptation is always for me to stop replacing things with healthier options and just keep restricting myself.

I’m trying not to do that, as I want this to be something sustainable. So I’ve created rules. I’ve told myself that if I really want to have something, I’m allowed it. I have to eat 5-6 small meals a day, and I’m not allowed to go under 1200 calories a day. And so far, it’s actually been working. I’m not skipping meals and my blood sugar level is remaining stable because I eat every couple of hours. Skipping meals is another danger zone for me – I went for over 3 months in late 2009 when I didn’t eat lunch, ever. Just a small breakfast and dinner. It’s bad habits like this that I’m trying to unlearn. It sounds naff and totally hippie-ish, but I’m trying to learn to respect my body.

I went to a detox cookery course in Kensington on Thursday, and I learnt a lot about nutrition and how best to get it from the food you eat. For example, we learnt that pouring coconut milk over a fruit salad helps to prevent the sugariness of very sweet fruit hitting your bloodstream. And we also learnt that Coconut oil (or butter) is a fantastic ingredient that the body uses as energy instead of fat. Everything we ate had tonnes of garlic and herbs in, and most things we ate were either raw or cooked at very low temperatures. I learnt that kale, broccoli and herbs like coriander actually give your body calcium! If you’re interested, the company were called Nosh Detox and you can visit their site at http://www.noshdetox.com.

Anyway, I was pretty inspired by it, and cooked the whole three course meal at home on Friday night. So to sum up, I’ve learnt a lot this week, but I’ve also spotted problematic areas. I just want to prove to myself that I can eat a healthy diet without a) becoming obsessive or b) cutting out meals. I’ve also learnt that I respond well to solid rules, as long as they’re healthy. So here are my rules:

  1. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day
  2. Eat at least 5 portions of fruit/veg
  3. Eat 5-6 small meals a day
  4. Don’t skip any meals
  5. Never go below 1200 calories
  6. No caffeine, sugar or white bread/pasta
  7. Limit dairy
  8. Be good 80% of the time but if I really want it, have it
  9. 30 minutes muscular structure and 30 minutes cardio every day
  10. Only weigh myself once a week, if that – weight is not the important thing

And there we have it folks, the end of my week two of healthy living. Why don’t you check this to see how I got in such a horrible state in the first place: https://ameliaflorencesimmons.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/how-advertising-destroyed-my-health/

Also, happy December everyone! I’m already feeling festive!