Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vegan eating in Barcelona

If you love hummus and you ever visit Barcelona, it's very important to remember one thing.

Hummus is not - repeat, not - pronounced 'hum-mus'.

Oh no.

Learn from my mistake. You've got to pronounce it 'hooomooos', and thus avoid looking like a total eejit in a supermarket while trying to describe how to make hummus with the two words of Spanish that you have - "Er, garbanzo? Limon? Er, make hum-mus with garbanzo?" - in an attempt to explain what you're looking for.

So how did I end up in a supermarket trying to learn how to pronounce hummus like a Spaniard?

In May, I spent a glorious week in Barcelona. I was there with my boyfriend Cormac and friend Fiona (and met up with other friends there) for the Primavera Sound festival, four days of live music at the Parc Del Forum, but I also managed to cram in a little sight seeing.

And lots of eating.

My lovely cousin, Jill, lives in the city with her boyfriend Dave, and we stayed with them for two days before starting our Primavera adventure.

We flew in late on the Monday night in Barcelona, lugged our suitcases onto the bus and landed at Placa Catalunya thankful that we had a bed awaiting us. Our first stop though on that humid night was the Irish bar where Jill was working, where nothing tasted as good as my first rum and coke.

After hugs, kisses, drinks and much catching up, we made it to Jill's apartment, and to bed.

Truly, nothing prepared me for opening the glass doors in our room the next morning and feeling the blast of heat that hit me, hearing the sounds from the street below and getting my first glimpse of the mighty Barcelona.

The city is big and bustling, but still retains that sense of 'laidbackness' that Mediterranean countries tend to have. It's the sort of place where people don't roll out of bed until noon, and stay up into the late hours eating, drinking and chilling out. I absolutely loved it.

As my birthday fell on the Thursday that we were there, I decided to have a little get-together with some friends at the funky vegan café Juicy Jones, which I had already scoped out with Jill and Cormac the day before.

When I eat at places like Juicy Jones I just want to weep - with excitement but also frustration that we have nowhere like this in Ireland. It was ridiculously cool - a *huge* menu, fresh juices, smoothies, sandwiches, salads, curries, was like vegan heaven. And the best bit? It was totally normal. Not some freaky 'vegan only place' or a crunchy hippy restaurant. Just a cool place to go grab a bite to eat. Amazing.

I went for the chocolate, banana and coconut smoothie and the incredible thali (Indian meal with a selection of items) - I had my compact camera with me, hence the terrible state of these photos, by the way!

It was so lovely eating with great friends (there were two veggies there besides me - hey Lauren and Sean! - as well as my friends, fellow food blogger Aoife I Can Has Cook and her boyfriend, Niall, Cormac, Fiona and Kim) in such a relaxed place.

A tip - if you eat at Juicy Jones, go for the 'menu del dia' - it's a three-course lunch for just €8. Bargain!

Eating vegan isn't difficult in Barcelona, thanks to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but most of the time I did as I usually do, and ate in regular places. Due to the language barrier and my mis-reading one or two words, I ended up with egg in a stir fry once (I actually picked out the tofu and wiped off the egg! I was so hungry but too embarrassed to ask for another meal as it was my fault there was egg in it). I also ended up drinking some of a fruit drink with milk in it - who the hell puts milk in juice!?

Contains milk....deceptive. I never noticed the word 'leche', which means milk in Spanish. A definite lesson to read your labels!

Fresh fruit is absolutely delicious in Spain, so every morning - whether at home or eating out - I went for something like melt-in-the-mouth pineapple. Yum, yum, yum.

We did do some shopping for our self-catering apartment, but I ate the majority of my meals out due to being at the festival - and luckily enough, there was a vegan food stand in the (pretty small) catering area! You don't get that in Ireland, believe me.

I had to avert my eyes from the gloveless workers touching the food but hey, when there's vegan food, I've gotta try it. I went for the vegan burger, which was a vegetable patty on white hamburger buns with some salad - nothing outstanding but it totally hit the greasy-food spot. Fiona had a seitan 'beef' baguette which she said was really tasty.

It was the desserts that stole the show, however. Some of the best vegan desserts I've ever had. The only problem? I can't for the life of me remember what the name of the company that made them was....

I think that the key to the taste is the soya milk that's available in Spain. It tasted completely different to the soya milk here. Anyone know why?

I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get vegan food in Barcelona, and I barely scraped the surface of the city. (I didn't, for example, get to go to Sesamo restaurant, which was recommended to me by Mary of Petite Treats and is supposed to be wonderful).

Between the health food shops....

The restaurants...

And the markets...

There is a lot to choose from. However, like in any country, not every restaurant will be able to cater for you perfectly. It's good to do your research before you go, look up the words for 'vegetarian', 'vegan', 'milk', etc in a good dictionary and learn some handy phrases to use in restaurants. Take advantage of the abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, and embrace the flavours and textures.

Above all: don't stress. You're supposed to be on holiday, so who cares if you can't get a 'perfect' meal every time? The key is enjoyment, and with a little research and preparation you can get that. And don't forget to see as many of the sights as you can. I'm already itching for my return to beautiful Barcelona.

And next time, I'll remember how to pronounce hummus.

Some more information on eating vegetarian and vegan food in Barcelona:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tofu for Dummies and Hungry People

I apologise for using the word dummy - but this tofu really could not be easier to prepare, and I've been dying to share this oh-so-simple recipe for ages. It's a keeper.

If you're new to tofu, then I know what you're thinking:

- Ugh! Its texture is weird!
- What is this mushy stuff?
- I miss chicken.
- This smells funny.
- What does it taste like?
- How on earth do I cook this lump of jelly-like white wobbly thingymajig?

It's OK. I've been there before, staring at the wet block of tofu and not having a notion of what to do with it. A lot of recipes require pressing, marinating, all sorts of malarkey.

And really, I'm more than happy to do that. But when I just want some crispy tofu, some filling protein to round out a meal, or something to nibble on, I go for this. And it has never failed me. It's practically foolproof, I promise.

I have baked tofu in a marinade before, but this recipe, which is adapted from the Gluten-Free Girl blog (one of my favourite blogs) is a whole other kettle of tofu-flavoured-fish.

This tofu is roasted.

What does this mean? It's roasted at a higher heat than if it was baked, which in turn means a crispier tofu, and no marinade - and no gooiness. (You don't need to press this tofu.)

Instead, you get crispy, browned tofu on the outside, and puffy, soft chewy tofu inside.


Here's the original recipe and here's what I do:

One block of firm tofu (not silken tofu)



1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Pre-heat your oven to 220C

Pull out a large roasting tin or baking tray and line with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Take your tofu and cut into cubes about 1inch in size. As you can see, I'm pretty terrible at cutting tofu into uniform pieces...hey, I'll just chalk it down to being 'creative'. Ahem.


Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your liking. You could even try some herbs and spices here if you like. I haven't tried this myself but doubt it would be a problem.

If using oil - spray your oil onto the tofu, if you have an oil spray bottle. Ensure all sides are coated.

If you don't have a spray bottle (I don't), then gently put the tofu into a large bowl, add the oil and very, very carefully toss with clean hands to ensure the tofu is coated. 

You can do this without oil - the tofu is slightly less crispy but delicious just the same!

Place the tofu onto the baking tray/oven tray, slide into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Take out, flip the tofu over and roast until the tofu is puffed up, lightly browned and crispy.

(I was in such a hurry I took a blurry photo)

Try not to burn your mouth while sampling the first piece: I speak from experience here!

You can serve this with a dipping sauce, as per the Gluten-Free Girl recipe, or you can do what I did - serve with stir-fried vegetables, rice and a coconut-almond-curry sauce.

This sauce is an adaptation of my almond butter sauce and was made on the fly - I just mixed about 1/4 cup coconut milk with 1 tablespoon almond butter, a little tamari, a few teaspoons of curry powder and a dash of toasted sesame oil. Then I heated this on the stove until it was thick and creamy. Delish!

So, if you're a tofu newbie, or just someone hungry for a new way to eat tofu, try this. And I dare you not to eat the entire lot....

Monday, May 2, 2011

Worldwide Vegan Bakesale, Udo's Oil, and Naughty Vs Nice

Hey folks!

Is it sad that I've been waiting a year for this day to come around again - the Worldwide Vegan Bakesale!? Last year I picked up quite the treats at the sale and I can't wait for this weekend when I can sample even more delicious vegan goodies. (Like vegan croissants!)

Here's the downlow for those of you living in Dublin:
It's taking place on Saturday 7 May, from 12 - 2pm at Exchange Dublin (on the outskirts of Temple Bar). The organisers say:

Proceeds will be divided between the Vegetarian Society of Ireland (to put towards World Vegetarian Day 2011 and The Irish Vegetarian magazine) and World Vision Ireland's Haiti Appeal

If you'd like to bake something or to help out on the day please email
We'd love you and your friends and family to come along on the day to purchase delicious vegan treats too!
There will be a small craft fair on in Exchange Dublin at the same time which will add to the sense of occasion!

If you are involved in a vegan bakesale in Ireland, please let me know and I'll add it to the bottom of this post. If you haven't heard of this event before, here's the official international site.

In other news, Udo's Oil is looking for people to submit recipes for a new competition. So if you have some excellent vegetarian or vegan recipes, why not submit them?

Udo Erasmus, who invented the oil - and who I interviewed last year - is putting together a new recipe book and wants a recipe to represent each county in Ireland.

There is a prize fund for this competition of €4,600 and the overall winner will scoop €2,000 and their recipe will be featured on the menu at the Cellar Restaurant in Dublin's five-star Merrion Hotel.

Naturally, all recipes must feature Udo's Oil as an ingredient (if you haven't used it before, here's some information - it isn't used to cook food, it's added at the end of cooking as it shouldn't be heated).

You have until 31 May to enter, so why not get your thinking cap on?

For more information, or to enter, visit

And in more news, I've started writing for the Irish Independent again, this time with one of my favourite people, Aoife McElwain, who is a lovely friend of mine and a very talented food blogger and writer.

Plus she has ace taste in music, and is so supportive of my vegan lifestyle. I'm delighted to be writing with her and our column, 'Naughty vs Nice', is always a hoot to write. The aim of the column is to contrast our differing tastes in food and offer a meaty dish and a vegetarian/vegan dish so that readers can choose whether they would like to be 'naughty' or 'nice' each week.

Obviously we don't think want people to feel 'bad' for eating a certain way so we approach the 'naughty' and 'nice' tags in a light-hearted and fun way and show that you can indeed have your cake and eat it too!

It's great to be able to spotlight vegan or veggie food each week and hopefully it will show readers that healthy food needn't be boring. Plus Aoife Mc is so good at supporting local Irish producers and she is inspiring me a huge amount in this respect.

You can find Naughty vs Nice in the Weekend magazine of the Irish Independent, every Saturday.

Here's a recent column of ours. 

What have you all been up to recently? Any new recipes or foods you'd like to share?


Monday, March 7, 2011

Savoury pancake Tuesday: vegan, gluten-free Pudla

Happy almost-pancake Tuesday! 

I must admit, I've never been a pancake/Shrove Tuesday gal (despite growing up in your typical modern Irish Catholic family) as eggs and I just don't get along. So that's partly why vegan pancakes are right up my street; there's no need for eggs but you can still enjoy a savoury or sweet pancake of your choice. (As an aside, if you do eat eggs, now is probably a good time to encourage you to please never buy eggs that come from battery/caged hens.)

Tonight I made an Indian pudla for the first time - it's a savoury pancake that's made with gram flour so is not only vegan but gluten-free. These are definitely going to become a regular meal around our house as they are incredibly simple to make. We served the pudlas with chana (chickpea) masala, which was probably chickpea overkill, so next time I might go with saag aloo or something similar.

Pudlas are doughy in texture but not stodgy, and with their yellow colour they are a little reminiscent of an omelette. They can be made with vegetables in the batter or left plain, and can be served with chutney, tamarind sauce, plain soy yogurt or even a big salad.

This recipe makes between 2 and 4 pancakes (depending on the size of pancake you make), and serves 2 people - but the recipe is easily doubled or even tripled depending on how many people you'd like to feed. If you don't have all of the spices or the same vegetables, don't panic. You definitely need a teaspoon of one or two spices like cumin or coriander, some salt and even a bit of basic curry powder if you have it, but don't feel you have to stick with exactly what I used.

~vegan, gluten-free~

1/2 very finely diced red pepper
Finely chopped spring onion - white part of about 5 or 6 of them
Large handful of frozen peas
1 cup (or mug) of gram flour (besan) [this is ground chickpeas]
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of asafoetida
1 cup (or mug, same as you used to measure flour) water
Olive oil for cooking the pudla

Prepare your vegetables, then cook your peas as directed on the packet.
While they are cooking, put a pan on medium-high heat and when hot, add a little water. Then add your pepper and lightly water sauté for about 3 minutes. Don't overcook.
Set vegetables (including spring onions) aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, spices and salt, and mix thoroughly.
Make a little 'well' in the centre of the flour mixture.
Take the water and pour slowly into the centre of the flour, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps.
Slowly add the water until the mixture is combined.
Add the vegetables and stir well.

Leave this mixture to sit for between 20 and 30 minutes to allow the spices to infuse.

I used this time to prepare chana masala.

Bring a large pan to a medium heat, then add a little olive oil and try to ensure as much of the pan surface is covered with oil as possible. If you have a non-stick pan you can probably cook this without any oil.
Ladle in the batter, (about 1/4 of a cup at a time) but take care not to put in too much. The mixture should be thin but will thicken up as it cooks.
After a few minutes, when bubbles start to form on the outside of the pancake, flip and cook the second side until lightly browned.
Serve immediately.

Hope you enjoy these tasty savoury pudlas!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What does a vegan eat...for breakfast?

What do you eat for breakfast? 

Are you worried that whatever it is, if you became vegan you wouldn't be able to eat it?

One of the worries a lot of people have when they choose to move to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and diet is to what level it will disrupt their usual routine. We're all creatures of habit to a certain degree, and the changes you decide to make when becoming vegetarian/vegan can seem daunting and quite scary.

So I've decided to do a little series of posts about what vegans eat - or, in any case, what I eat! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, eating out, eating with friends, on the go, you name it.

If you're interested in transitioning to veganism, I hope you find these helpful. Perhaps you're a committed vegan already and just want to see what others eat; or you're an omnivore who wants to know what to feed visiting veggie friends. Here's my easy and affordable guide to eating vegan in Ireland, where we certainly are not a vegan country! I want to show that it really isn't that hard - most of the time - and that you do not have to be 'deprived'.

Above all, I want to dispel the myth that vegans only eat cardboard, or junk food. Sure, I like my crisps and chocolate, but I believe the core of any diet - vegan or not - is real, nutritious food. Not fake food. Not fake meat. Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc.

If you're a picky eater and think there is no way you could eat all these 'foreign' foods, then take heart in the fact that three or four years ago I would have been the exact same. Putting pesto on my chicken wrap was probably the extent of the 'exotic' food I'd eat...and I'm only slightly exaggerating there.

So to kick things off, here's my guide to what vegans eat....for breakfast. Please chime in with any of your tips and favourite breakfasts, I'd love to hear about them.

Cereal and milk

Growing up, my sisters, brother and I ate bowls of cereal at least once a day. We wouldn't just have them for breakfast, we'd have them as snacks or as a supper before bed. We loved them so much that my dad used to call a bowl of cereal at night a 'bowla'...we'd pour lots of milk onto crispy Cornflakes or Coco Pops and settle down in our dressing gowns to watch TV (and probably fight over something silly).

Yes, you can still have comforting bowls of cereal and milk as a vegan - but with a slight difference, of course. Just choose a vegan cereal (some Kelloggs cereals are no longer vegan, so please double check) that has no added milk, honey or animal-based Vitamin D, and pour on lashings of non-dairy milk.

My favourite combination these days is organic gluten-free Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise cereal with Kara coconut milk (it's a milk made from coconut milk), a tablespoon of flaxseed and a sprinkle of chia seeds.

Why flaxseed? It's a source of Omega 3
Why chia seeds? They also contain Omega oils, protein and calcium

Non-dairy milks:
Alpro Soya range
Kara coconut milk*
Almond milk
Rice Dream rice milk

*My favourite as it has a sweet yet unobtrusive taste and has added calcium

Vegan Cereals
[double check ingredients]
Kelloggs Fruit N Fibre
Kelloggs Rice Krispies
Nature's Path
Kelkin corn flakes
Puffed spelt
Puffed rice
Spelt flakes
Dove's Farm - wheat biscuits, corn flakes

Lots more listed here.


Oats look bland and unassuming, but cooked with water or non-dairy milk they become a filling and nutritious breakfast. I have mine cooked with water, then add flaxseeds, freshly chopped or stewed apple, and lots of ground cinnamon.

Experiment with toppings to find your favourite combination - adding some fruit and nuts is a great way of upping the nutrient content of the breakfast. Just don't add lots of white sugar...

Two days a week I travel by train to work at a newspaper in another county - along the way I see so many beautiful animals like these cute sheep below. The first thing I do when I get into the office is get my porridge ready. It's part of my routine and if I don't eat I turn into a very crabby co-worker....

Smoothies and Juices

I've written about Green Monsters before and they might seem like an odd thing to have in the morning but they're invigorating and a fantastic way to get a serving of greens in before you've even left the house. Non dairy milk, fresh or frozen spinach or kale, frozen berries and a banana are all you need to get started. Add some flaxseeds, chia seeds or almond butter (about a tablespoon) and you've got yourself a refreshing and filling start to the day.

Vegetable juices (juiced using a juicer) are another lovely way to start the day. But as they don't have any fibre in them, you should eat something with fibre as soon as you start feeling hungry. Why not have one an hour or so before a bowl of porridge?

Granola and yogurt

When I don't have the time to make porridge and I'm not in the mood for cereal, I go for granola and soya yogurt. Here in Ireland pretty much the only non-dairy yogurt choice that we have is soya yogurt, but I believe it's possible to get coconut-based yogurt in other countries, you lucky things! I either make my own granola - here's a good recipe - or I use a shop-bought one like Lizzi's granola.

My basic requirements for granola are: low to no-added sugar; no honey; added flaxseeds; no wheat; lots of oats; lots of seeds.

This makes a great snack too - you can even add some fruit. Yum!

Greasy Fry-up

Don't worry, I'm not advocating that you take Sundays off 'that vegan thang' and chow down on some pork sausages, but this section is here to prove that you can let loose and have a greasy fry up now and then without having to eat meat.

I had some friends (one of whom is vegan and the first vegan I ever knew - my inspiration for going vegan) stay recently and in the morning we had a feast of Redwood vegan sausages, white spelt bread and white sliced pan, baked beans and Ballymaloe relish - with lots of black tea and Kara milk (with a bit of sugar for me).

Man, it was so tasty....not the healthiest by any means but it really hit the spot. If you're having friends over who are vegan, or if you're staying at someone's house and you know they'll want a fry the next morning, why not bring some veggie sausages and be prepared? They look just like the real thing and taste delicious with relish.


I have to have a hot drink in the morning. I start the day off with some hot water and freshly squeezed lemon and then after my porridge (etc) I have one of the following....

White tea
Green tea
Black tea
Nettle tea
Dandelion tea
Fruit tea

Fruit, Glorious Fruit

Whatever you have for breakfast, why not add some fruit? A crisp apple, sliced banana or juicy pear is what I usually reach for.
When berries are in season, I love them too - nothing like fresh raspberries in the morning!

Those are my main choices when it comes to breakfast. Where I can, I go for organic or local options without added sugar. I usually go for porridge as oatflakes are wholegrain and don't have anything added to them (although make sure to read the label if they say they are flavoured).

But when I don't have porridge, I'll go for something that is a bit more processed (soya yogurt) or maybe has a bit of sugar (granola). Other mornings, I'm all about the Green Monsters or juices.

Although I have experimented with different breakfasts, I always go back to the simplest options. I'll usually have at least one piece of fruit with breakfast, and I always try to add ground flaxseeds too.

Vegan much choice, eh? What's your favourite?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

St Valentine's Day

I've no problem admitting I'm a total romantic, so I love when St Valentine's Day rolls around.

I'm not all about getting presents or huge bouquets of flowers or any of that stuff - I just like the chance to spend some time with my boyfriend (feel free to puke) and get a bit mushy. Tragic, perhaps, but fun nonetheless.

Handily enough, I got an unexpected payment on Monday (as a freelancer you can wait months and months for money to come through for articles) so I decided to treat myself and Cormac to a meal. It was one of those situations where we walked past a restaurant on the way home from work and went in on a whim, which made it all the more fun.

Dunne & Crescenzi was our choice for a romantic meal - an Italian restaurant nestled just off the bustling Nassau Street in Dublin city centre. It's the sort of place where you can imagine you're in a little restaurant in Italy, with its wall-to-wall shelves of Italian wine, cosy atmosphere and really delicious food.

Just like most restaurants in Dublin, there isn't a huge choice for vegans but Italian food is the ultimate in simplicity so it's always possible to veganize some dishes. I went for the bruschetta to start, which had mounds of fresh, sweet tomatoes piled on crusty white bread, while Cormac went for the minestrone. Some minestrone soups can be thin and watery but this was thick, creamy (but I don't think it had any cream or dairy in it) and full of beans and veg.

 For the main course, I had what I always get at Dunne & Crescenzi - the pasta with tomato and basil. Utterly simple but so delicious. I always think 'what a small portion' when I get this dish and am absolutely stuffed by the end...what can I say, my eyes are bigger than my stomach! Cormac went for the beef lasagne.

All vegetarian dishes are clearly marked on the menu, as are dishes with egg in them (from fresh pasta) which makes it so easy to know what you're getting.

Afterwards there was only one thing to do - go to Cornucopia, where Cormac bought us some vegan dessert. He was definitely proving his worth as Awesome Boyfriend No 1 that night!

Vegan blueberry silken torte with ginger biscuit base from Cornucopia

Half-eaten (whoops!) vegan chocolate fudge cake from Cornucopia

Italian food, wine, vegan dessert....the perfect Valentine's Day!