Gluten-free Vegan Samosa, Two Ways

Greetings dear readers, and a very warm Eid Mubarak to all those who celebrate!

I mentioned earlier this month that this past Ramadan was one of the toughest yet for me, a rumination only affirmed by the unfortunate bout of pharyngitis accompanied by an admission into the ER with low blood pressure and a high fever. But alas, some antibiotics and many days of much needed rest helped me combat the fatigue and I am feeling almost as good as new.

One thing I find fascinating is that when it comes to eating while sick, old habits die hard. Take a health-nut, superfood-loving, refined-carb hating vegan like me and riddle her with a lousy old virus and what do you get? Someone who won’t eat anything but boiled potatoes with cumin powder, salt and olive oil. When I’m sick, it is by far the only thing I can stand to look at without (excuse my French) resisting the urge to hurl. What’s even more shocking? I actually craved soft drinks. I’m not proud to say it, but I washed down many a plate of potatoes with some ice cold 7UP topped off with freshly squeezed lime.

In my defense, I can’t help it. I think anyone from my generation can attest that we’ve been bred to drink 7UP in the case of a) an upset stomach b) a fever c) any state of being unwell whatsoever. There’s just something about Arab doctors and recommending 7UP!

Anyways, as per usual, I digress. Part one of today’s recipe features our friend the white potato, but in a more wholesome version of a true Ramadan classic, samosas – or as they’re referred to here in the gulf “samboosas”.

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While samboosa is a staple at most any Ramadan table, it’s also a pretty popular street food that can be purchased from hole-in-the-wall type vendors along with chapathi. It typically comes in two varieties, cheese and vegetable and is served piping hot, crispy and deep fried.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say I don’t indulge in the occasional 1 (or 4) when the opportunity presents itself – I do. But hey – all the more motivation to come up with a healthier and more nutritionally dense alternative, right?

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Working with rice paper is tricky at first, but it holds up extremely well in place of wheat pastry – and is deliciously light and versatile.

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And thanks to my wonderful air fryer, and the result of this recipe development session, I can now have samboosa all year round – guilt free!

Cauliflower and Rosemary Soup

I truly believe that necessity is the mother of invention.

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I also believe that when the mother cannot invent, it falls upon her offspring to do so, no matter how devoid of energy they may feel.

Confused? I thought so. Allow me to backtrack for the briefest of seconds.

After what had been a very long and exhausting day at a photo shoot for work on Monday, I drove home in silence dreaming of my dark and quiet room where I would soon be able to rest my head until Iftar time. Upon my arrival I popped my head into the kitchen to bid my mother a barely audible “hello” only to find her almost doubled over in pain, clutching her lower back with a very sour expression. She mumbled something about not having made the lentil soup on account of being fresh out of red lentils, as I did my best to usher her out of the kitchen. I told her to lie down and rest, and that I would whip up a quick veggie soup. It took a bit more insisting and physically prying the cutting board out of her hands but eventually she departed and the kitchen was at last mine.

A quick survey of the vegetable crisper led me in the direction of today’s utterly simple yet delicious recipe for a fragrant cauliflower soup with garlic and rosemary. I needed something quick yet flavorful, warm and comforting and this soup was just the ticket.

 

And there you have it – a rich and and creamy cauliflower soup in under 30 minutes, Ramadan friendly and foolproof to boot.

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Served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper, because we all want to pretend we’re cooking at a fancy pants restaurant every once in a while.

Vegan Taste Tour Nicosia

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Ramadan programming to bring you an installment two of the Cyprus trip re-cap

Prior to my trip, I of course took to conducting some mandatory research via Happy Cow and TripAdvisor to scope out the most veg-friendly restaurants. It was during a half-crazed soy latte powered research session that I happened across the Cyprus Taste Tours – a company boasting walking food tours all across Cyprus, steeped in equal amounts of history and delicious grub. While I knew the odds of finding a vegan-only tour were slim, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Lousia, one of the co-founders and tour operators herself informed me that a vegan tour was completely doable, even in the urban capital city of Nicosia! Needless to say I was delighted.

We met with the lovely Louisa and Yiota at around noon on the busy and historic Ledra street, a stone’s throw away from “the green line” that marks the world’s last divided capital into the Turkish north and the Greek south. First up, some welcome snacks:

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A traditional sesame and nut brittle, alongside some homemade cookies with sesame and what I think were bilberries. I was far too excited to chat to the ladies and get started on the tour to actually note down the names of these, please excuse my oversight.

Then it was time for stop number one – a traditional Armenian bakery by the name of Lahmadjoun Avo where we sampled some Falafel and savoury pastries.

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The falafel was noticeably different to the Arabic version my palate has become so accustomed to, but was just as flavorful – lightly spiced, served with tahini and surprisingly fluffy.

 

 

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We also sampled a deep fried potato pastry of sorts and a traditional spinach pastry.

 

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The potato wasn’t anything special, but I adored the spinach. The freshly baked dough was the standout star above all.

Next up we made our way to Kozeri, a new cafe set within a restored old house that specializes in local recipes.

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Even before we sat down, I fell in love with the unquestionably quirky and retro-inspired decor.

 

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Our food was ordered and we settled in the cosy environment, chatting about traveling, Cypriot tourists and  life in Cyprus as a third culture kid. Both our guides were British-Cypriot, which made for a fair amount of common ground and rumination.

We then enjoyed a fantastically fresh Greek salad (feta on the side for those who wished to opt in),

 

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and a platter of grilled seasonal vegetables and potatoes.

 

 

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I know it doesn’t look like much, but it was spectacular – due in large part to how fresh and delicious tasting all of the local produce was. Even the potatoes were wonderfully earthy and satisfying.

After Kozeri, we headed to what was by far my favourite stop of the entire tour. A little family-run cookhouse called Mattheos Restaurant, nestled in the heart of the old town.

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Everything from the decor, to the turn of the century water tumblers and the clientele was incredibly authentic, I almost felt like I was dining at an old Cypriot family’s home.

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For our tasting pleasure, Louisa and Yiota ordered us two vegetable dishes, cooked in a traditional Cypriot style.

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Stewed cauliflower and eggplant with white rice, and a platter of vine leaves, bulgur pilaf and the creamiest Jerusalem artichokes I have ever had.

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The food at Mattheos was astounding, so full of flavour and heart. Despite being stuffed at this point in time, it was too good not to indulge in and we barely left a crumb on our plates.

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We then hauled ourselves to the next stop further in towardsthe old town for some traditional dessert at 7 Kleida (7 keys).

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We were served a traditional spoon sweet called vaníllia which is actually made of mastic resin and sugar. Our guides informed us that it’s traditionally served dropped into a tall glass of cold water and meant to be consumed like a lollipop. While I’m not usually the biggest fan of mastic, I quite enjoyed the overall sensory experience of eating a spoon sweet dessert.

Our tour culminated at Arsinois Cafe where we indulged in candied walnuts and a rose syrup drink.

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The walnuts reminded me of an earthier version of candied chestnuts – even more fascinating was the fact that you could eat the entire walnut – shell and all!

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And that, is a wrap on my delightful vegan taste tour experience!

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Thank you once again Louisa and Yiota for an amazing day out and for showing me all that Nicosia’s food scene has to offer off the beaten path.

 

 

 

 

Vegan Muhallabia

Greetings dear readers, and allow me to wish all that celebrate a very warm Ramadan Kareem! I can’t believe it’s that time of year again, or furthermore that we’re already 6 days in.

This year Ramadan has been slightly  more challenging for me, I won’t lie. A hectic work schedule that doesn’t seem to let up (irrespective of the supposedly shorter working hours) coupled with the short window of time to eat in (thank you, long summer days) has left me tired and drained of energy. On the weekend I even found myself getting faint and seeing spots – not good.

The solution? Eat more!

I realised a couple of days ago that even if I didn’t get hungry I had to force myself to ingest more than one meal a night in the interest of being a functional human being the following day. I’ve been filling up on seasonal fruit like watermelon and mango and ingesting copious amounts of coconut water to aid with hydration too. So far, so good.

The silver lining to this first world problem is that I feel no guilt indulging in the occasional dessert (or four) – after all, I need the calories right?

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I tried my hand at veganising a traditional dessert that was one of my favourites as a kid – Muhallabia, otherwise known as Egyptian milk pudding. It’s incredibly simple to make, and tastes almost identical to the original version.

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A full disclaimer – the first time I tried this I made it from the regular ol’ box you find at the supermarket, subbing soy milk for regular milk – so if you’re lazy you could totally do that also, but trust me this version tastes significantly better.

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Light, creamy and aromatic with a hint of crunch and texture from the pistachios. The perfect accompaniment to a post-iftar peppermint tea.

I must say, it is slightly torturous to be writing this post while fasting – but hey, only 10 and a half hours to go.

Vegan Eats and Treats in Cyprus

Greetings dear readers! I hope you’ll forgive me for my brief absence from the blog. With Ramadan just around the corner I have a bounty of things up my vegan sleeves, including a trip recap or two! My first trip of 2015 turned out to be a spontaneous getaway to the heart of the Mediterranean, Cyprus.

Despite the fact that I had previously been there many a time both on family vacations between the ages of 5 and 8, as well as on a high school biology trip in the mountains – I was still excited to explore the island as an adult.

But most of all I was looking forward to this.

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Sun, sand, rest and relaxation.

Now, having never visited Cyprus as  vegan, I was slightly apprehensive that there would hardly be anything for me to eat between the copious amounts of seafood and lamb that tend to make up the majority of restaurant menus. Hotel buffets were forgiving enough – although that said by the end of the trip I was more than happy never to look at a baked bean again.

While some areas were definitely more vegan friendly than others – I must say I was pleasantly surprised most of the time.

For one thing, there seemed to be an endless supply of vegan gelato all over Cyprus, particularly in the sunny beach town of Ayia Napa.

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Two generous scoops of lemon and strawberry sorbet – the perfect post-beach treat.

And speaking of strawberries…

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The only way to describe these berries is to say that they were so plump full of flavour and sweetness, I could’ve sworn they were fake. In all my years studying in the UK, I have never had strawberries as good as these. Needless to say many an ice-cold punnet were consumed by the beach.

Dinners in Ayia Napa weren’t half bad either, thanks to a little TripAdvisor research. A nearby Japanese restaurant called Hokkaido had tons of veg-friendly options, including the ubiquitous grilled vegetables, seaweed salad and this avocado maki which was delicious.

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(Apologies for the iPhone quality photography – not the best I know but it was pretty dark on account of alfresco dining)

After a couple days of typical tourist fare, I was craving something a little bit more authentic. Cue a road trip to the nearby city of Limassol. While also on the southern coast of Cyprus, Limassol is far more urban and populous, and it’s busy streets felt worlds away from the resort town of Ayia Napa.

A bit of exploring led us to a delightful little family-run Greek tavern in the heart of the old town, Meze Taverna.

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The staff were more than accommodating when I explained my dietary needs, offering to sub olive oil for butter where needed, and highlighting the veg options on the menu.

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Starters were grilled garlic mushrooms in a red wine sauce, hummus and a babaghanoush-like eggplant dip.

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For my main, I opted for some Imam Bayildi (an originally Turkish dish, if the name didn’t give it away) – which consisted of slow-cooked stewed eggplant in a tomato sauce on a bed of rice. Absolutely heavenly.

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The most vegan-friendly city of Cyprus however, has to be the hustling and bustling capital of Nicosia. Although I was initially unsure of including Nicosia on the itinerary, boy am I glad I did. For one thing, it’s home to the only vegan restaurant in Cyprus, Inga’s Veggie Heaven.

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Hidden in the back streets of Nicosia, it was a bit of a challenge to get to – but well worth the walk.

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Run by an Icelandic expat, the simple menu consists of healthy vegan and vegetarian meals that change on a daily basis. We of course, tried some of everything.

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Buckwheat veggie burgers, as well as a fresh salad with figs and walnuts to start.

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Followed by a delicious red lentil nut roast with tomato sauce and millet stuffed peppers with a tahini drizzle to top.

 

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Both mains were incredibly hearty, dense, flavourful and satisfying in the way that only a rustic home cooked meal can be.

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The idea of a nut roast has always seemed far too heavy – but this was quite the opposite. Light, fresh and rich in flavour.

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The peppers shone through equally, due in large part to the taste of the produce itself. And need I say more about the Tahini drizzle?

Of course, we couldn’t possibly have left without dessert.

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Vegan orange cake with a scoop of homemade banana ice cream, as well as a vegan panna cotta with berry compote.

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The Panna Cotta was nothing to write home about in my opinion, but the orange cake on the other hand was out of this world. Zesty and moist with just the perfect amount of crumble and sweetness – complemented perfectly by the ice cream.

Now that is what I call a fantastic vegan meal.

Luckily for me, Nicosia was filled with many more surprises including an entire day’s worth of vegan food courtesy of a custom designed vegan taste tour. But more on that next time – be well dear readers!