Monday, 18 April 2011

Baby Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Maple Candied Pecans and Balsamic Dressing

Baby Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Maple Candied Pecans and Balsamic Dressing

Well, between this and my last post you may have gauged that I like spinach, you'll all have to start calling me Popeye! This has always been one of my favourite salads, whenever I see it in a restaurant I'll be sure to order it. It's a pretty classic combination although it's often just with toasted pecans. I love and I mean LOVE the Maple Candied Pecans from the 'Smlove Pie' in Veganomicon that I couldn't resist adding them here.

It's an altogether beautiful combination, everything just balances perfectly here - the sweet strawberries and pecans with the spinach and that slightly spicy balsamic dressing just works. I was debating what kind of dressing to use and opted for my all time favourite balsamic dressing from my Warm Puy Lentil Spinach and Watercress Salad. Wasn't sure about adding the dijon and garlic but so glad I did, the slight spice is perfect with this. Also, once you toss this with the strawberries, a bit of their juice mixes with the dressing making a slight strawberry balsamic dressing. I could almost drink that stuff. Seriously.

I also opted to make this as there were some fresh Irish grown strawberries in the shops, it may be a bit early for home grown strawberries but do make sure you get locally grown strawberries here. They are a main ingredient here and you want them fresh and sweet, not those pale, watery flavourless strawberries you tend to get out of season.

Like I mentioned above, the Maple Candied Pecans are from Veganomicon's Smlove Pie, I usually would not  repost a recipe from a cookbook but as this recipe is posted by Isa here, I will for ease of use. I also highly recommend making more of these pecans as they are simply gorgeous to snack on and makes it easier to just throw this salad together anytime!

Baby Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Maple Candied Pecans and Balsamic Dressing - serves 2

100g Baby Spinach, larger stems removed
200g Strawberries, halved or quartered if large
40g Maple Candied Pecans 
1 Recipe Balsamic Dressing

Add the baby spinach to a large bowl and add the strawberries, pour over the dressing and gently toss. Divide among 2 salad bowls and top with the pecans.

Maple Candied Pecans:
1/2 cup whole pecans - about 66g
1 tsp vegetable oil
pinch salt
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup

Toast the pecans in a saucepan for a couple minutes until just light brown and fragrant. These will burn easily and I have several times before and they are not nice burnt so watch carefully. Add the oil and salt and stir to coat. Add the maple syrup - it will bubble away, stir all the time until it looks fairly dry. Using a rubber spatula scrape onto a sheet of baking paper and separate the pecans and let cool. As they are cooling seperate them a bit more if need be. They should end up with a nice crispy coating.

Balsamic Dressing:
3 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
about 5-6 grinds black pepper

Measure the olive oil into a small bowl, with your whisk ready slowly start whisking in the vinegar until emulsified. Do not do this the other way around or add it all at once or it won't come together. Add the dijon and whisk well until it is fully incorporated and there are no little dots of dijon - it will happen :-) Now whisk in the salt, garlic and pepper. Set aside until ready to use then give it another good whisk before using.

Nutritional Information: per serving
Calories: 403
Fat: 38.1
Sat Fat: 4.5g
Protein: 4.1g
Carbs: 16.8g
Sugar: 9.7g
Fibre: 5.2g
Sodium: 394mg
Calcium: 84.1mg

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Tuesday, 5 April 2011


Vegan Spanakopita

Yes, that exclamation mark is necessary here, as I am that excited!! Once more that almond feta has come in to replicate one of my all time favourite vegetarian dishes - spanakopita. If I do say so myself I used to make the best spanakopita, but as it was full of feta and eggs a no-go having gone vegan. Further, like the couscous salad below, it needed the feta. This isn't just as good as my old recipe, it's better. Seriously. It does take some planning of course as you'll need a day to make the almond feta first, but it is so worth it!!

Edit! - I've recently discovered you actually don't have to make the almond feta first with this. Like my Orzo, Spinach and Almond Feta Pasta Bake you can just blitz up the almond feta in the blender then mix it with the prepared spinach and onion. It did result in a softer, creamier filling but just as good and so much easier. Anything that gives me Spanakopita quicker is a win in my book! I also added 1/2 tsp oregano and 1/4 tsp dill to the cheese which was a lovely addition. 

Terrible photo taken at night, and I used puff pastry instead of filo here, but just to show you the filling comes out just fine using this quick method!

Quicker Version Spanakopita:

150g ground almonds (1½ cups)
60ml lemon juice (¼ cup)
125ml water (½ cup)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pureed
1¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp dried dill - optional
½ tsp dried oregano - optional

Simply blend all of this together in a blender until really creamy. Add it to the spinach and fried onions as indicated in the recipe. Scrape into the filo shell as instructed but bake at 180C for 30 minutes. I should explain here that I've only tried the quicker version with puff pastry. If using filo you'll need to keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn as the filling will need longer to cook with this method.

Vegan Spanakopita

serves 6

550g fresh spinach, tough stems removed
about 150g filo pastry
1 recipe almond feta  - omit the drizzle oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g vegan margarine, melted
freshly ground black pepper

First you need to wash and reduce the bulk of the spinach. As you can see 550g of spinach is a bloody lot! That's one large colander and my biggest mixing bowl full up.

Put the spinach into your (clean!) sink and wash. With the leaves wet, very generously pour salt over the leaves, don't worry as it gets washed off, this is just to break them down so really pour it on. Now rub the salt into the leaves while you tear them into small pieces, keep going until it really reduces in bulk. Rinse very well and then squeeze all the excess water off. You should end up with this much spinach:

That's just one of the above bowls barely 1/4 full. Now I like to take this mixture and give it a good chop just to get it a bit finer, in case there are still some big pieces of spinach, but it's not essential. 

Now heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and about 20 grinds of black pepper. Gently fry until soft and slightly golden, about 7 -10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, it's ok if it's warm.

Scrape the fried onion into the bowl with the spinach and crumble in the feta. Stir well with a fork until the feta goes all creamy and it's all mixed up well. Your mixture should look like this:

 * Quicker version - mix together the blended cheese, spinach and fried onions.

Set aside now and prepare the pastry. Make sure the filo is defrosted and out of the fridge a couple hours before hand. In a small saucepan melt the margarine and have a brush ready. I used a 6.5" x 9" roasting tin here, but size isn't too important, bigger and you'll have a thinner spanakopita, smaller and you'll have a thicker one. Brush some melted margarine in the tin you are using and preheat the oven to 200C.

Take one sheet of filo and make sure the rest are covered with a damp cloth so they don't dry out. Brush with  margarine and fit into the tin. Repeat with another sheet and place in the tin but fan it out from the first one so they don't all pile on top of one another. Keep going, brushing each sheet with margarine until you have a couple sheets left. It should now look like this:

Now spoon your filling in evenly and level it off:

Now fold over all four edges until it's covered and take the remaining sheets and loosely scrunch over top. Give it all a final brush of margarine and it's ready for the oven:

Bake in a preheated 200C oven for about 20 minutes. The top layers may brown very quickly as mine did and I was prepared to cover it with foil to ensure it didn't burn but didn't need to in the end, it cooked the full 20 minutes uncovered and didn't burn. However, all ovens are different so you may want to have some foil ready just in case. After 20 minutes it should look like this and be hot in the middle - check by sticking a knife in the centre and feeling if it's hot.

Now simply slice into 6 servings, or less if your really hungry! Serve immediately and enjoy - it's positively delicious! Despite the production in making this, I'll be making it a lot - believe me :-)

Nutritional Information: per 1/6 of pie
Calories: 375
Fat: 27g
Sat Fat: 3.6g
Protein: 9.7g
Carbs: 25.6g
Sugar: 2.8g
Fibre: 5.4g
Sodium: 732mg
Calcium: 160mg

Also, you are not limited to a pie here, using filo to make little hand pies is also very common with spanakopita filling and would be great for summer picnics. Easy to transport and these would still taste great cold, after cooking and cooling of course! When I first made that feta and was craving spanakopita I didn't have any filo but did have some spring roll wrappers defrosted. So I made a smaller portion of the above recipe, cut the spring roll wrappers in half and spooned in a teaspoon of filling. Simply roll them up, brush  with some melted margarine and bake in the oven:

 Voila! Mini Spanakopita rolls!!

These were just as good as the full pie and unbelievable morish - I could eat a very large plate of these. They would be perfect for parties, vegans and omni's will love them equally.

A scaled down recipe to make about 6 mini rolls:

40g spinach
about 1/4 onion, chopped fine
20g almond feta
salt and pepper
bit of melted margarine
3 sheets standard size spring roll wrappers

Simply follow the filling instructions as per the pie above. Slice the wrappers in half, spoon in a teaspoon of filling. Fold over end bit over filling, fold sides over and roll up. Brush with either melted margarine or olive oil then place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and bake in a 200C oven for 20 minutes. Perfect!

Nutritional Information: per mini roll
Calories: 58
Fat: 3.7g
Sat Fat: 0.5g
Fibre: 0.6g
Carbs: 5.3g
Sugar: 0.7g
Protein: 1.3g
Sodium: 96mg

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Monday, 4 April 2011

Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Almond Feta

Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Almond Feta

Well, like I said in the post below, I hope you all like feta as it'll be featuring in quite a few upcoming posts! As soon as I tried that almond feta I couldn't wait to try it in recipes, particularly some of my old favourite vegetarian recipes. This is one of those - I've been making this for years but stopped when we became vegan as the feta really is essential in it. I'm so happy as the almond feta is a spot on perfect replacement. I mentioned that this cheese tastes just like feta to me, well, it tastes even more like feta when used in recipes than it does on it's own. I really truly could not tell the difference between this and when I used to make it with  "real" feta. So gleefully happy to have this back in my life!! :-D

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side dish. Double as need be.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Almond Feta: 
100g dry weight couscous (1/2 cup)
65g almond feta, crumbled
25g pine nuts (2 Tbsp)
1 large spring onion, finely chopped
100g drained red kidney beans from a tin (1/2 cup)
100g tomatoes, diced (1 medium - large tomato)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp dried oregano or 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh
1/8 tsp salt
black pepper

Cook couscous according to package directions then set aside to cool. Periodically fluff it with a fork to ensure the grains stay seperate and don't congeal into a mass. Meanwhile toast your pine nuts in a dry non stick frying pan till slightly golden then set aside to cool. When the couscous is cool, add it to a large bowl with the pine nuts, spring onion, kidney beans, almond feta and tomatoes and toss well. Put the olive oil in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the lemon juice until emulsified, add the salt, pepper and oregano and whisk. Scrape this over the salad with a rubber spatula and toss well. Chill. 

Nutritional Information: per 100g
Calories: 177
Fat: 9.7g
Sat Fat: 1g
Protein: 5.1g
Carbs: 18.1g
Fibre: 2.6g
Sugar: 1.2g
Sodium: 211mg

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Friday, 1 April 2011

Baked Almond Feta

Baked Almond Feta - vegan recipe
You know when you come across a recipe that you know is going to change your life? This one has mine. Seriously. I must first stress here that this is not my recipe, I got it from food dot com whilst on a search for vegan feta. The poster of the recipe states that it is actually from a 2009 edition of Vegetarian Times and was one of the 'editor's picks'. I was prepared to make a vegan feta with cubes of marinated tofu despite preferring to keep my soy levels low but am so glad I found this. The 13 raving reviews also sold me and I set about making it.

It is unbelievably good, full of flavour and remarkably like feta. While all the reviews raved about this cheese most felt it wasn't like feta. I have to disagree, it is almost spot on. I have a few recipes from back in the vegetarian days that need feta and I instantly started thinking about making them! Now normally I don't re-post recipes I make from elsewhere, I'll usually just provide a link back but I will re-post this one as I made a slight change which I'll explain below.

Baked Almond Feta - vegan recipe
Don't be put off with making cheese, this is so, so easy (especially my way) and very versatile. It crumbles like feta but is also creamy enough in the centre to spread onto crusty bread, crackers, toasted bagels - whatever you like. Also, the original recipe drizzled a thyme and rosemary infused oil over top. While you don't have to do this step at all I chose a dill oil. I'm sure the other herbs is beautiful over this but I had some fresh dill and simply love the stuff, so dill it was! Fresh Greek oregano would be my second choice here, for a more authentic feta.

Now the change I made was this: original recipe called for soaking blanched almonds overnight then draining and blitzing in a food processor or blender. I know from experience that my weak ass food processor and blender cannot get nuts as fine as would be needed here. So I went for straight store bought ground almonds instead. That would be almond flour or almond meal in North America I believe. Not only did this cut out a long step but I can always find ground almonds in the grocery store, big bags fairly cheap too. The replacement worked perfect, I'll be making this a lot and I hope you all like feta as this will be featuring in a lot of upcoming posts! 

Edit: I wasn't kidding either! Here are a few fantastic recipes I've made so far with this cheese, this stuff is incredible!!
• Greek Style Orzo, Spinach and Almond Feta Bake
• Spanakopita (Seriously the best I've ever had!!)
• Jumbo Pasta Shells filled with Basil Almond Feta with Creamy   Tomato Sauce
• Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Almond Feta
• Pizza with Almond Feta, Spinach, Black Olives and Spring Onion
• Buckwheat Crêpes filled with Almond Feta and Walnuts with a Tomato Cream Sauce
• Curried Carrot, Zucchini and Almond Feta Fritters
• Hickory Smoked Baked Almond Cheese
Baby Spinach Salad with Sage Roasted Sweet Potato, Walnuts and Almond Feta
Creamy Lemon Barley Salad with Asparagus and Peppered Almond Feta
Simple Creamy Almond Feta, Tomato and Basil Pasta 

I've even made a SWEET version with it!
~perfect for a 4th of July celebration~
Now, on with the recipe!
Baked Almond Feta - vegan recipe

Baked Almond Feta:

145g ground almonds (about 1 1/2 cups)
60ml lemon juice (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup water (4 fl oz)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 tsp salt

Simply place everything there in a blender and blitz until super creamy and smooth. Mine took only a few minutes. Stop and scrape down if need be.

Now line a small bowl with 3 layers of cheesecloth:
Spoon the mixture into the cheesecloth:
Now bring all the sides of the cheesecloth together and tie into a ball, I just use a rubber band. Then place the ball in a strainer and place over a bowl:
Now just place it all in the fridge for about 12 hours. I have made this in the morning and baked it off in the evening or I just leave it overnight and bake it off the next day. After the 12 hours there will be a bit of liquid that has drained off:
If you are using the same dish, wash out the drained liquid and I like to give the dish a dusting of cooking spray to ensure it comes out easily:
Preheat the oven to 180C and unwrap the cheese from the cloth:
...and transfer to the greased baking dish or a lined baking sheet smooth side up:

Bake for about 40 minutes or until slightly golden and cracked on top and firm to the touch:
Baked Almond Feta - vegan recipe
Now just leave to cool in the dish then it's ready to be transferred to a serving plate or used in a recipe! Enjoy!

The herbed oil is entirely optional, I made it the first time I made this cheese but honestly haven't added the oil the hundreds of times I've since made this cheese. I find it doesn't need it as it's so good on it's own.

Dill Oil:  (or whatever fresh herb you like)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

Heat the oil and dill together until just warmed, don't let it simmer. Remove from heat, pour into a small bowl and leave to cool.

When ready to serve, remove cheese from the fridge and drizzle over some of the oil. Serve with crusty french bread, crackers, toast triangles....and of course some wine ;-) I served some of it above with butter broiled french bread. You just take some slices of french bread, spread with vegan margarine and broil until golden, repeat with the other side.
Baked Almond Feta - vegan recipe

Nutritional Information: per 100g

Calories: 490
Fat: 43.7g
Sat Fat: 4.5g
Protein: 12g
Fibre: 6g
Carbs: 14.6g
Sugar: 2.6g
Sodium: 1136mg

Source: Slightly altered recipe that originally appeared in a 2009 edition of the Vegetarian Times Magazine. Reposted on

Note: Some were asking in the comments how long this keeps for. I just ate some yesterday that I made 2 weeks ago and it was fine, so, at least 2 weeks!

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