Saturday 30 December 2017

Recipe: Mushroom and lentil loaf

For nearly 10 years now, I have brought a version of this loaf along to our family Christmas lunch. I'm very lucky that my family makes many of the festive sides vegan-friendly, but if I want something substantial to eat, I need to bring it along. For awhile, one of my cousins was vegetarian, so I became the default supplier of the main part of the meal for the 'picky eaters'. I don't mind, and over the years, people have started to ask for portions of the loaf too - no more serving myself a slice then putting it away to save room on the table, no sirree!
I posted a couple of my practice meals online in the lead up to Christmas, and had quite a few questions so I thought I better finally type up the recipe. It started from a long ago recipe I found online, but I have since tweaked what I do so much, it wouldn't be recognisable in any way to the original.

It's delicious, scales well, is very flexible and forgiving, and best of all, can be made ahead and then just popped in the oven on the day. Winning! I often make multiple at the same time because if I'm going to do one, I might as well make a few, and who doesn't like to share food right?
The original recipe called for a specific ratio of cooked brown rice and cooked French lentils. I have since simplified that for myself by mixing equal amounts of the uncooked and rinsed grain/pulse in the rice cooker and then using the amount I need once cooked. I think it tastes equally good this way and makes my life easier too.

Mushroom and lentil loaf
printable link

  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced (any will do, I tend to use button as they're so readily available)
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • 2 3/4 cup cooked brown rice/lentil mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce (Coles brand is vegan for Australia)
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard
  • fresh parsley, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (mine was made from the stale crusts of my sourdough loaves)  
  1. Preheat oven to 180C degrees. Line a small loaf tin with baking paper and set aside. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine the tomato paste, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, molasses, liquid smoke, and about 1/3 of the minced garlic. Set aside.
  3. In a fry pan over medium heat, add some olive oil and 1/2 cup onions. Sauté 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Add a little more olive oil to the pan, and sauté celery, carrot, the remainder of the garlic, salt and pepper over low heat. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  4. In a food processor, pulse rice and lentils until they combine nicely but are not complete mush (about 10 times), then transfer to a large bowl. Again in the food processor, pulse cooked vegetables, Worcestershire sauce, remaining soy sauce, mustard, parsley, cornflour, and 1/3 of the tomato mix about 10 times, then add vegetable mixture to rice and lentils. Fold in reserved sautéed onions and mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and the 1/2 cup raw chopped onion. Check seasoning and adjust to taste.
  5. Assembly time! Press half the mixture into the loaf pan and spread with half of the tomato topping. Add the rest of the mixture into the pan and press it down (wet hands help) and coat with the remainder of the tomato topping. Cover with foil. At this point you can stop, and put it in the fridge to be cooked later. If you do this, let it come to room temperature first. 
  6. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes covered, then 15 minutes uncovered until the top is browned. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes before serving. 
  • This is one of my favourite dishes and always makes me think of Christmas. Served hot from the oven and cold as leftovers for lunch, both ways are delicious. When I can't face eating it anymore, I freeze individual slices ready to pull out for making sandwiches or quick meals when needed.
  • It's very forgiving - you can add more carrot and celery or change the ratio of rice/lentils if you prefer. Sometimes I've been lazy and just mashed with a fork instead of getting out the food processor and that works well too.
  • It's great if you happen to have gravy (everything is amazing with gravy!) but it doesn't really need it.
  • You could leave out the Worcestershire sauce if you wanted, and maybe add a bit more soy sauce instead.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Recipe: Eggplant parmigiana

I recently posted about my eggplant glut and asked my Instagram followers for some suggestions to use up the harvest. Someone said eggplant parmigiana and I thought that sounded amazing.

It worked out well, because Mr Fork was craving chicken parmigiana so it was a nicely themed meal for everyone.

It was such an easy dish to make, very flexible and uses simple staple ingredients that I generally have on hand. I grew the eggplants and the basil used in it, I made breadcrumbs from the crust of my sourdough, and I got to include a few sneaky extra vegetables in the sauce. I was so happy with how it turned out, I thought I'd share. I think this would be great for a festive meal, and I know it's going to be fabulous as leftovers for work lunches this week too. Everyone wins!

In my opinion the key to making this dish especially delicious is the tomato sauce. I made mine from a mix of tinned and fresh tomatoes that I cooked up with onion, garlic and other seasonings, let it reduce until it was thick and concentrated, and then added fresh herbs to really jazz it up. You could always use pasata and add your own seasonings as well.

Vegan Eggplant Parmigiana
printable link

  • 5 medium sized eggplants (or maybe 3 large ones)
  • olive oil
  • garlic, minced
  • dried oregano
  • 1 onion, diced
  • tomatoes (I used a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, and maybe another 400g fresh ones, diced)
  • fresh basil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • nutritional yeast
  • a large handful of breadcrumbs (mine was made from the stale crusts of my sourdough loaves)
  1. Slice the eggplants into rounds, and salt them. Leave that to sit for 10 minutes or so while you get the sauce going.
  2. In a saucepan, add a little olive oil, the garlic and onion, and a shake or two of dried oregano. Fry that up until it gets fragrant and then add the tomato. I also added a little water to mine, but you may not need to do that - you want the sauce to be thick and not too watery. Cover and let it simmer away for 15 minutes or so.
  3. Rinse the eggplant rounds and then fry or grill them. I did them in batches in a fry pan, putting the done ones aside on a plate while I cooked the next lot.
  4. Check on the sauce and season it. It should be reduced, and the tomatoes should be broken down - I added a little salt, pepper and a bit of red wine vinegar. I also stirred in some fresh basil and some baby spinach leave that needed using up. 
  5. Time to assemble! I used a square dish, about 25 x 25 cm. I started with a thin layer of sauce, then a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, then a layer of eggplants. Keep going in that order: sauce, nutritional yeast, eggplant until everything is used up. Finish with a layer of sauce then a sprinkling of nutritional yeast.
  6.  In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with some dried oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil. I also added a bit of fresh minced garlic, but I know that's not to everyone's tastes. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the dish.
  7. I baked it for about 30 minutes in a 200C fan forced oven until it was all bubbly and golden.

  • This was so good. Served hot from the oven and cold as leftovers for lunch, both ways were delicious. I plated it topped with torn basil on my plate, and little pieces of mozzarella for the kids.
  • If you wanted, you could sub parmesan for the nutritional yeast, but I wanted a vegan version. You could also mix cheese into the breadcrumb layer as well.
  • Next time for more protein and to help absorb a bit of the moisture from the eggplants as they cook, I will add some quinoa into the sauce to help thicken it up a bit. Also, I think sliced mushrooms would be a great sauce addition. 
What will you be eating for Christmas festivities?

Sunday 17 December 2017

Urban trading

My eggplants are producing far too prolifically for me to eat and enjoy them all at the moment. Here's a picture of this week's harvest alone - eleven good sized fruits, and many more nearly ripe still weighing down the plants.
I mentioned my dilemma to a colleague and she said that her lime tree was doing the same. We just looked at each other and brought in a bag of produce to swap the next day! I enjoyed those limes as salad dressing, with gin, in soda water and numerous other ways. Limes are amazing!

Speaking of salad, I traded more eggplants to another colleague for some cucumbers and a lettuce. I generously ended up with too many cukes to use while they were good so I traded some of them plus eggplants for a pawpaw (which was delicious, and I'm hoping some of the seeds will sprout for me).

I have not yet properly learned the art of planting in appropriate amounts or staggering my planting, so soon I’ll have oodles of chillies to play with... anyone interested? 
Gosh I love my gardening friends. Who says that the bartering economy isn't alive and well?!

Do you have a group of like minded people you trade with? What's a hot commodity for you right now?

Wednesday 6 December 2017


Today, my (little) big girl has her kindy graduation. Next year she starts prep at 'big' school and will attend 5 days a week. Until now, she has attended daycare 3 days each week and spent the other two at home with me. We fill our time with extracurricular activities (swimming, acrobatics), social catch ups with friends and learning through doing regular every day activities like library visits, cooking, gardening and playing.

It will be strange to hand over the bulk of her days to someone else. I used to think having one child was hard, and then I had a second and wondered what I complained about. Now as I prepare to have days with only one child again, I wonder how I will cope. How he will cope without his big sister and constant companion. How she will cope at school without me. Have I laid a strong enough foundation for her to build on? I hope so.

I was harvesting my neglected garden recently. It's a bit sad - the basil is defiantly dry and crispy, the leafy greens are present but wispy and bug eaten and the rosemary is looking rather brown. Surprisingly though (or not) because of all the drenching rains we've had lately, my eggplants are thriving. The other herbs are lush and green, and the onions that sprouted in my pantry are pushing through green growth and developing seeds in an effort to preserve themselves and give me future onions. If I'm honest, if I cut the basil back it will come back better than ever. The greens are seeding and when planted will be so strong and healthy. The rosemary will come good with love. I guess it's the compost and chicken poo I lavished deep in those beds paying off for me.

I even have a little self seeded marigold, standing proud next to those previously mentioned onions and doing it's best to repel pests and bring in bees.
What I guess I'm getting at is, gardens, just like people, are resilient. Putting in early work and enthusiasm and love is so worth it, and even with a little distance there, the things you grow and reap are wonderful surprises.
She'll be fine. And so will I.


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