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Mel Grows Vegan Food

November 15, 2011

I started gardening like I start most hobbies, by going to the library and picking up a book. I really had no idea what I was doing but I did know that I wanted to be able to tend to my own little plant babies, so I got myself a styrofoam box from the fruit shop, some potting mix and started planting. I’ve seen a few sad-looking plants and had handful of run-ins with the local bush turkeys…

I will eat all your food! Image: Wikipedia

…but overall I think I’ve actually picked up a few things about gardening and have had more wins than losses.

Now I live in an apartment I’m having a go at making the best use of my balcony and fire escape, and the experiment is bearing fruit!

I see red! I see red!

Chocolate capsicum


Eggplant flower


Lettuce, basil, thai basil, maybe some parsley hiding in there

Bush bean and rainbow chard babies

Lionel the Lemon




Golden Tempeh Puffs

October 15, 2011

This recipe comes from everyone’s favourite breakfast book, Vegan Brunch by Isa Moskowitz. It’s really simple to pull together and simply involves cutting thawed puff pastry (check the package to make sure the fat is vegetable-based and that it doesn’t contain animal products. In Australia, manufacturers are legally required to state under the ingredients list whether a product contains major allergens, which include milk and eggs, so label-reading is pretty easy) in nine squares and placing a small amount of tempeh crumbles on top. The tempeh is first marinated in some veggie stock, lemon and soy sauce, and then cooked up with garlic, onions, red capsicum and spices.

Tempeh is another all-vegetarian protein powerhouse. You can think of it as tofu’s Indonesian cousin. Tempeh is made from fermented whole soybeans and along with protein, gives us fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Uncooked Tempeh. Photo from

I first experimented with tempeh when I still ate meat. I picked out some from the supermarket (it’s next to the tofu) and pan fried it with veggies.  Let’s just say my first experiences were, erm, not so successful. Then I actually learned how to cook it.

It can be quite bitter at first, but steaming it with a bit of water draws that out and leaves you with tender bites of yum. I recently read that a lot of brands pre-steam it these days and I know that the one I bought at the supermarket that day has since reformulated. The brand I used for these puffs is my favourite tempeh, Mighty Bean, which is produced locally on the Sunshine Coast. Tempeh’s a great way to bulk up your meals and get some good quality fermented foods into your diet.


Tiramisu cupcakes

October 13, 2011

This recipe comes from vegan royalty Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romano. Although every recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is stellar, I constantly find myself flipping to the Tiramisu page whenever I make cupcakes for a party or event. Why mess with a good thing? These cupcakes bring together fair-trade espresso and chocolate, coffee liqueur, light and fluffy vegan cream cheese icing and a delectable golden vanilla cupcake base. They’re always a hit and are sure to inspire many conversations about vegan baking!

Brisbane City Libraries has many books from these authors on the shelves and I highly recommend you check them out. Buy their new pie book while you’re at it. Once you’ve tried the fail-proof recipes you’ll realise that being vegan is simple, and really, really delicious.

P.S. October is the Vegan Month Of FOod. Otherwise known as the month I try not to be a slack blogger. Vegan Mofo is a celebration of how delicious vegan food can be. You don’t need the rotting corpse and calf food, get inspired and give it a go.

Quiche and empanadas

October 2, 2011

Here is an experiment I did in the world of the mini-quiche. I used a few sheets of filo for the base, silken tofu, nutritional yeast, herbs, garlic and onion for the filling. They need a bit of work but were pretty yummy. The empanadas are a standby from one of my favourite cook books, Viva Vegan.

Product Review – Notzarella vegan cheese

October 1, 2011

Living without cheese is a lot easier than it seems when you first ponder the thought; nonetheless, sometimes I crave a big cheesy pizza, just hopefully without the animal pus and residual stomach ache. The non-dairy cheese market in Australia isn’t much to write home about. The soy cream cheeses are good but if you were after a grilled cheese and tomato toastie then you’ll have to look elsewhere. You can make a homemade cheesy sauce or nut-based cheese, there are some great recipes out there, like Vegetarian Times’ almond feta and cashew goat’s cheese.

However, at times convenience simply trumps the urge for something homemade. There are a few brands of hard cheese in the cooler next to tofu et al. but they either remind me of dirty socks or contain casein, a dairy protein (what are you doing in my soy cheese CASEIN???!!! Just one of the many mysteries we can file in products-that-are-so-close-to-vegan-it-hurts file for now…). Redwood’s Cheezly is one brand I quite like but now we have a new Brisbane-based entry to the cheesy scene, Ali Dark’s Notzarella.

The main ingredients in Notzarella are organic coconut oil, soy beans, salt, garlic and agar but Ali is experimenting with a Lupini bean version for those who can’t take soy. It’s yet to hit the market officially as he is still raising money to bring that dream to fruition. For now you can order off his website and pick it up in Brisbane or get it express posted to you. Unfortunately, the postage makes it a luxury product right now but I’m hoping the cost will be easier to bear once it hits the shops. In saying that, 500 grams is a pretty big block that made numerous pizzas. The cheese is melty and tasty. It doesn’t quite have the stretch or browning qualities yet, although it’s very good just how it is. I made a simple pizza of tomato pizza sauce, fresh cherry tomatoes and basil, based on this recipe .

We had some garlic bread on the side. My favourite way to make garlic bread is to toast good-quality bread (a ciabatta or sourdough is nice) then ‘grate’ the garlic on the toasted bread and spread over a little vegan margarine. You can also dip the bread in olive oil prior to toasting and leave off the margarine if you prefer.

After subduing my envy of American all-vegan pizza parlours with Daiya cheese, I’m really hopeful that Notzarella will be a big success for Ali and will break new ground in Australia.

If Notzarella is out of your reach for the moment, never fear, you can still make a great pizza sans cheese. Pizza bianca is a good one, or just pile on the veggies and appreciate the veggie goodness, sauciness and crispy base as is. Here is one I made not that long ago, with a tomato-based sauce, loads of caramalised onions, thinly sliced sweet potato and rocket thrown on at the end. I also used some Fry’s strips here but next time I think I’d leave them off, the caramalised onions really sing through on their own.

Massaged kale salad

September 30, 2011

Kale is such a high-achiever, sometimes it needs a little massage from all that work it does delivering nutrients to your body (kale gives us protein, fibre,  Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, Manganese…phew! It’s quite the powerhouse). It’s usually eaten cooked in some way, I often steam or sauté it. However, when you get your hands in the bowl and give it a good massage with some olive oil, it softens right up and is tender enough to eat as a salad green. The recipe I used is based off the one in Mimi Kirk’s Live Raw but there are lots floating around the internet if you want to give it a try. Kale is yet to really hit it off with the Australian market but I predict the demand will grow in the future. It pops up from time to time in the supermarkets and my local fruit store would carry a few bunches. It’s usually widely and cheaply available at farmer’s markets. I get huge organic bunches at West End markets for about $2.50. It comes under lots of different names, you may know it as Tuscan cabbage, cavolo nero, laciento kale, dinosaur kale or curly kale. There are two main types – one with big straight leaves (goes by those first four names), or, well, curly leaves. This salad also contains blood oranges (15 cents each at the market, couldn’t go past that!), sultanas, cashews, red onion and other yummy things. There is a whole bunch of kale in this bowl, it really shrinks down. Go getcha some!

Banana Bread

September 29, 2011

This banana bread is based on the lower-fat one in Veganomicon. It contains very little oil and the authors employ apple sauce for extra moisture that would otherwise come from fat and eggs. I added lemon zest, blueberries and a little coconut sugar on top. This is a classic recipe that always comes out well.