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Friday, 8 August 2014

All homemade, all the time: Vegan pesto, pickles, cheese and pate

Recently, I've been feeling like I'm in an episode of Little House on the Prairie or something - I've suddenly discovered the joy of making all the things I might once have bought.

Back in the pregan days, I tended to purchase far more convenience food - ready-made meals, jars, packets, and all that sort of thing. I was never a convenience queen, but still, I pre-prepared food made far more of an appearance on my shopping list back then compared to today.

So, now I'm a herbivore, I've gone homemade with a vengeance. If it sits still long enough, I'll pickle it, preserve it, can it or compote it.

It's a mania that tends to hit pretty bad in the summer, when there's so many fabulous fruits, vegetables, and herbs in season, they're appearing faster than you can eat them.

Last Christmas, my brother gave me an indoor greenhouse. It's so cool, about one foot by two feet - just big enough to grow some herbs in. It sits next to a sunny windowsill in my kitchen, and the basil I planted inside it grew like topsy.

Alas, after a while, spider mites set on my basil-zilla plant. Eek! I had to harvest what was left, and quick. After that rescue operation, I found myself with a huge bunch of basil - more than I could use in a week.
What I could do with it all? Make pesto, naturally!

I've bought pesto in both my vegan and pregan days, but this was one of the first times I decided to make it myself.

It's not true pesto - I used cashew nuts instead of pine nuts, and obviously there's no dairy in there. It has way more flavour and colour than the ready-packed stuff and, as you can see from the half eaten jar up there, it doesn't last long because it's so darned tasty and versatile. I've used it on roast potatoes, pasta, and soupe au pistou.

Soupe au pistou starts off as pretty much just vegetable soup - onions, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, all that sort of good stuff - which hails from the South of France.  Depending on the recipe you see, there's usually beans or pasta in there too.

What turns it from vegetable soup to soupe au pistou is a big mound of a basil puree daubed liberally right in the middle of the bowl.


Sure, it's a bit messy, but I couldn't be harassed to tidy it up, because I just wanted to get it down my throat as soon as I humanly could. Sorry about that. We're still friends, right? Good.

Next from Homemade World is a dish that may be familiar to you, but it's something of a novelty to me and my countrymen: watermelon rind pickles.

Seriously, these do not exist in England. Anywhere. You can't buy them, and I've never seen them served anywhere - I think I only learned they existed through Vegan Soul Kitchen. I don't know why, but I was seized with an overwhelming desire to make them last weekend.

I checked out a couple of recipes, and apart from the initial brining, none of them really seemed to agree with how best to pickle your watermelon rinds. And I had no idea how to go about it, what with never having laid eyes on them before!

I just guessed how to make them based on other pickles I've made - brined them overnight, mixed up some sugar, vinegar, water, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, juniper berries and boiled it all up with the watermelon rinds for 10 or 15 minutes, then left it to cool.

Did I get it anywhere near right?! Given my pickling guide was wallys, I guess not - but in that case, I may have just invented the first Cockney-Southern American fusion dish! Behold its wonder:


Seriously, why didn't you guys tell us how amazing these are before? Why did you keep their beauty to yourselves? I'm going to forgive you this once, but if you've got any other secret pickles of joy you're hiding, you better share them right now!

You know what these pickles go really well with? Cheese!

That's another great thing I've been making at home, using recipes from the wonderful Artisan Vegan Cheese. I've made a few recipes from the book before, and they've always been pretty good, but when making my most recent batch, I put in less nooch than the recipe called for, and it blew all other versions out of the water.

I think dialling down the cheesy nooch taste allowed the fermented cashews to come out more, and gave it a more complex flavour overall. Since discovering this tiny trick, I've been making batch after batch, and they've all been fab!

Here's one pot of cashew mix fermenting its way to cheesy glory:


My favourite thing to do with homemade cheese right now is spread it on oatcakes with mango chutney. Heaven!

You know what else I like on oatcakes? Or, for that matter, bread? Or just a spoon, straight into my mouth? Chanterelle rillettes!

At the farmer's market the other day, I bought some mushrooms I've never tried before, the wonderfully named trompettes de la mort (that's trumpets of death to you and me), also known equally wonderfully as horns of plenty. What gave them such a good name? Their stunning colour - they're jet black.

Having bought a load of them in their inky marvellousness, what should I make with them? After reading up on the horns of plenty, I found out they were a relative of the chanterelle, I thought I should try this recipe for chanterelle rillettes.

The recipe there's not vegan, but to veganise it, the only change you need to make is to swap butter for your favourite plant-based equivalent. I'd also recommend cutting down the amount of butter too thought - there's two sticks in there! I mean TWO STICKS!

So, yeah, don't do that. But do make it, because it's great. It's a really simple pate - just chanterelles (or your trompettes de la mort) and a few things you probably have knocking around your store cupboard (that's assuming you have madeira in your store cupboard - if you don't, marsala, sherry or white wine would work, I reckon).

Just blend some garlic, lemon rind, tomato puree, and a bit of parsley, and job's a good 'un. There's not much in the way of cooking, but the results won't betray that. Plus, you can tell your friends you're chowing down on death's trumpets - what's not to love?

8 comments:

  1. I can just see Hyacinth Bucket saying to her neighbour, " would you fancy a spot of death's trumpet pate, dear?" I only buy pesto occasionally when I know the brand is not going to deliver olive coloured goo - I love good green pesto and home made is best. Yours sounds great though sorry to hear your basil plant has been overtaken by pests. (though you could come up with a new maxim - when life gives you pests make pesto). I've never been brave enough to try watermelon pickles but curious to know how you eat them. Love vegan cheese - must try more of those artisan cheese!

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  2. I love your homemade streak! I always feel virtuous (unnecessarily so, I suspect) when I make things from scratch - in fact, I still get a kick of out homemade pizza dough! I've not got into pickling though. I'm feeling a pull towards it...

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  3. I'm with Kari, I always feel virtuous when I'm making things from scratch! I almost always have homemade pesto to hand. It's one of the easiest ways to make a meal as it adds such a flavour punch. Love soupe au pistou!
    The pickles sound a lot of fun. Pickling is something I still haven't tackled.
    Great that you got stuck into Artisan Vegan Cheese again!

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  4. Homemade basil pesto is the best :) I love how enthusiastic all your homemade goods are!

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  5. I'm a big fan of homemade condiments like these- They're the staples that form the foundation of countless meals, so it's important that the flavors are exactly to my liking. That's why it's so much better to just make them from scratch! Admittedly, I've never pickled watermelon rind before... But I do love the idea, especially since I eat so much melon and thus throw away tons of potentially delicious rind. You've inspired me to give it a shot at last!

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  6. Haha! Hyacinth Bucket indeed. The pesto looks fantastic! I usually make my own but never really add enough oil so it's not as good. When will I learn? Have always wanted to make soupe au pistou! Nice job.
    Never heard of watermelon rind pickles but they sound ok... the rind really gets soft enough to eat?

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  7. With all the fresh basil in the markets nowadays, I've been making batches of pesto. I never did before. I don't use pine nuts either, I've tried almonds and cashews, both good choices. I don't use any oil either. Now, I'm going to try putting a big dollop of pesto atop my veggie soup. :-)

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  8. I’ve went on the same path as you. I used to be a convenience food person, but now I’m cookin’ cray everyday and making more homemade food! How sweet of your brother, did you take pics of your indoor greenhouse on the blog yet? I wanna see it :) I’ve never made pesto with cashew nuts before, but that’s a great idea since I have loads of cashew nuts to use up! Mmm the soup looks so delish with the ‘pesto’, and I want that pickles with that cheeze!

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