We’ve just about recovered from our horrible Monday dinner experience, so Veganuary is back on track for now. We ate out with some friends last night and I managed to cobble together enough vegan-friendly items from the menu to form a very presentable meal. I may yet make it to the end of the month without giving in – at the moment, the only thing I am really craving is cheese. Luckily, the cheese choice here is not exactly exciting, so that’s helping my cause – if I were within a stone’s throw of Neal’s Yard Dairy or Paxton & Whitfield, it would be quite another story and very likely that I would be found face down in the nearest wheel of Brie.
Like the rest of Eastern Europe, we’ve been having some particularly horrid weather, so it’s been pleasant to see the sun shining today. We are making the most of it, as apparently the storms are going to be back tomorrow (in snowy form according to the BBC). Our cats have made a takeover bid for the sofa, and they squabble over who’s going to sit nearest the fire. In fact, Toast has eschewed the sofa in favour of sleeping, dog-like, right in front of the hearth. I may join her.
Today we are having a 5:2 diet day, so that usually means soup. I am being less strict about the calories on 5:2 days this month, since we are generally consuming fewer calories than usual on our vegan regime – we’re having no yoghurt, eggs, butter, cream, chocolate or any of the other naughty business we normally get up to, never mind the chicken, meat or fish element. It is very cold outside, and I feel the need for something substantial, so I’m making a vegetarian version of Harira.
Harira is usually made with lamb and its ingredients vary widely from place to place, as well as from cook to cook. Its staple ingredients are lamb, lentils, chickpeas and spices, with either vermicelli pasta or rice, which are used to thicken the soup to make it more of a meal. A mix of fresh parsley, coriander and mint, plus a generous squeeze of lime or lemon, give it a lovely fresh flavour. In Morocco, this soup is traditionally eaten to break the fast at the end of each day during the month of Ramadan, so that seems appropriate since we’ve been fasting today.
Obviously my vegan version doesn’t contain any lamb, but it’s still a deliciously spicy, warming and substantial bowlful, especially when served up with Turkish pide bread – which, coincidentally (and I didn’t plan it this way), is the bread that is traditionally made here for the evening meal during Ramadan. Pide normally contains yoghurt, so I have substituted some soya milk and a squirt of lemon juice to replace the acid content.
As with most soup recipes, you can mix and match, or just substitute whatever you’ve got in the cupboard or fridge. Swap the spices, exchange the chickpeas for beans, use red lentils instead of green – whatever rocks your Harira boat is absolutely fine.
Serves 4 – 5
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions (I used one red, one white just because I felt like it), thinly sliced
A 2cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
A piece of leek (white or green) – mine was about 15cm long – thinly sliced
2 sticks of celery, diced (or leaves and fine stalks of a celeriac)
Coriander stalks, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 x 400g (approx) tin of tomatoes (or use passata)
1 litre vegetable stock (or stock and water – a cube or bouillon powder are fine)
1 x 400g (approx) tin chickpeas, drained (save the liquid for aquafaba if you wish)
50g green lentils
Zest and juice of a lime or lemon
25g tiny pasta shapes or you can break up some spaghetti into small pieces
A couple of handfuls of spinach (mine was about 100g after trimming)
1 tablespoon each chopped parsley, mint and coriander
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onions and ginger. Cook over a medium heat until the onions are soft and are starting to turn a golden brown.
Add the celery, leek, coriander stalks and garlic, give everything a good mix and cook for a few minutes more until all the vegetables have softened.
Stir in the spices and then add the tinned tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil, then add the chickpeas and the lentils. Season generously with salt and pepper and add the lime or lemon zest and juice.
Turn down the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 25 minutes. Add the pasta, return the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash and shred the spinach and add to the pan with most of the chopped herbs.
Simmer for another two or three minutes until the spinach has completely wilted.
Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the remaining chopped herbs and serve with plenty of crusty bread (see below for Turkish pide recipe).
Cuts into 8 – 12 wedges
450g plain flour
1 x 7g sachet of fast action dried yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
150 – 175ml luke warm water
2 tablespoons yoghurt (or 2 tablespoons milk replacement plus a squeeze of lemon juice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Çörek (Nigella) seeds for sprinkling
Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Make a well in the middle and pour in the water, then add the yoghurt (or replacement) and the olive oil. Stir with a table knife until the mix is just starting to form a dough, then tip on to the work top.
Knead for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough – it should be quite elastic and if you press it with the tip of your finger, the dough should spring back quite quickly.
Put a few drops of oil in the bottom of the mixing bowl and turn the dough over in it – this will stop the dough sticking to the bowl when it has proved.
Cover loosely with cling film and leave in a warm place (not in direct heat or direct sun) for about 1.5 hours or until at least doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to 230C.
Tip the dough out of the bowl, flatten and cut into two (you can freeze half for another day if you wish, but make sure it is tightly wrapped in oiled cling film and thaw overnight in the fridge when you want to use it).
Sprinkle some semolina onto a large baking tray (or brush very lightly with oil if you don’t have any semolina).
Shape each piece into a ball, then roll out each piece into a large round – mine was about 23cm in diameter – and place on the prepared tray. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rest for about 10 minutes.
When the ten minutes are up, use your fingers to poke indents all over the dough. Brush with milk replacement (or beaten egg if you are not following a vegan diet) and sprinkle with the çörek (Nigella) seeds.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes or until the bread is a deep golden brown.
You can either serve the bread straight away, in which case it will be quite crisp, or you can wrap in a clean tea towel and leave it for a few minutes, which will give a softer crust. Cut into wedges to serve.
Any leftover pide (as if!) is delicious toasted to serve with humus or other dips.