Vegan Ghormeh Sabzi

It makes me so happy to see that veganism is slowly inching it’s way into the mainstream here in Bahrain. Sure, we may not have any explicitly vegan dining establishments per se – but many up and coming restaurants are starting to include more plant-based options on their menus.

This is important to me for two reasons; the first is that it means that the voices of veg*ns locally and regionally are being heard. The more we speak out, be it on social media, on comment cards or even to restaurant managers in person, the louder our collective voice becomes.  It also may indicate that business owners are being savvy and staying on top of trends – there’s no denying that vegan, paleo, gluten-free and other special dietary needs are being tended to far better than they were even 3 years ago when I first moved back to Bahrain.

The second reason is that every time a popular restaurant or cafe uses the word “vegan” or “plant-based” it helps spread awareness and educate the general public. While the idea of vegetarianism isn’t completely foreign here, most people still don’t completely understand what it means to be vegan as opposed to vegetarian – or how gluten-free fits in (it doesn’t, at least not exclusively). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “You’re the first Arab vegan I’ve ever met” – and while I do enjoy the novelty on some level, I can’t wait for the day where the response will be “Oh – my cousin/brother/sister/friend is vegan too!”

That said – today’s recipe is an adaptation of one such vegan option I had at a local restaurant in Bahrain – Ghormeh Sabzi. Traditionally made with lamb and served with yoghurt and saffron rice, this Persian dish is a slow-cooked fragrant green stew consisting of herbs such as parsley, coriander and fenugreek, spinach, onions, garlic and kidney beans to name a few.

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The version I had was absolutely divine – delicately spiced with black lemon, fenugreek and turmeric, served atop perfectly fluff saffron rice. My one qualm? Not nearly enough beans. I vowed to re-create my own version with enough legumes and the addition of millet instead of rice to pack a decent protein punch.

 

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This was the perfect lunch on a slightly chilly breezy afternoon – fragrantly warming, flavorful and filling.

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Admittedly, my version is a little more rustic than the traditional slow-cooked version, but I can guarantee you it’s every bit as flavourful.

Vegan Shakshouka

On my most recent trip to London last December – I made it a personal mission to frequent as many vegan restaurants as possible, given that vegan and vegetarian eateries are hardly the norm here in Bahrain. A type of “when in Rome” methodology if you will.

That said, when a good friend of mine suggested Nopi for breakfast one morning – I didn’t object. I figured I was a fan of Ottolenghi after all, and that someone with not one but two vegetarian cookbooks would have at least one vegan option on his menu.

As it turns out I was right – there was a singular vegan option of Black Rice Pudding with coconut milk, mangoes and bananas. Delighted, I ordered it whilst everyone else went for the famed Shakshouka – a pan-Middle Eastern dish of broken eggs cooked atop a bed of spicy tomatoes and red peppers.

When the food arrived, my meal was…chewy. Needless to say it wasn’t much to write home about, although I must commend the restaurant for having an option that I didn’t need to say “without the [insert dairy,meat,egg] here”. I’m also cognizant of the fact that not every meal has to be a gourmet dining experience, and that sometimes a mealtimes are hardly about the food at all, but more about the joy and fulfillment of meeting with old friends in a beloved city.

Anyways, I digress. Back to the Shakshouka. Shakshouka is one of those dishes that I actually have no recollection of trying in my younger years – my mother never made it at home and I was never a fan of ordering eggs at restaurants. But yesterday, I remembered Nopi and a stroke of inspiration struck as I sought to make something savoury and flavourful for breakfast.

This may be my most triumphant breakfast recipe yet.

 

The great thing about the tofu mixture is that once it’s baked, it forms a thicker outer layer, but is still soft and creamy on the inside.

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The contrast of flavours, textures and even colours is delightful. It’s perfectly spiced, with just the right amount of kick that is deemed appropriate for breakfast dishes, according to my gracious taste tester.

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I should note also that it took two tries to get this recipe right – but it was definitely well worth the effort. My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it!

Until next time, dear readers!

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

The concept of “red velvet” anything had eluded me for the longest time. What exactly was red velvet? What was it supposed to taste like and what on earth inspired the name? It wasn’t until my first year of university when I visited the infamous Hummungbird Bakery in London with a friend that I had the opportunity to sample their signature and much sought after red velvet cupcake. The first bite ushered in an overwhelming rush of sweetness – the moist chocolate cupcake melding with a tower of tangy cream cheese frosting and just a hint of that oddly familiar taste of food colouring (thank you, 90s childhood for refining my palate so). To say I didn’t enjoy it would be a flat out lie, but it was definitely far too heavy and overwhelmingly sugary – I don’t recall feeling too great afterwards.

Fast forward 6 years and my taste for sweets has definitely evolved. I love my health-ified vegan baked goods, especially when they’re gluten-free and/or naturally sweetened – but I’m also no stranger to the decadent vegan cupcake or cookie pie, because let’s be honest I’m only human. I believe a healthy balanced diet means being able to enjoy an indulgent sweet treat or savoury junk food item guilt free every once in a while.

Which brings me to today’s Valentine’s Day inspired recipe du jour. While it’s not a healthy dessert recipe by any stretch of the imagination, I can guarantee you it won’t leave you feeling comatose unlike the aforementioned cupcake from Hummingbird’s. It’s also not red, which I know contradicts the very namesake of a “red” velvet cupcake – but having made two batches (one with and one sans food coloring) I noticed no flavor difference and decided I could live without the nasty E number ingredients (which are likely not to be vegan-friendly anyways).

 

 

I personally prefer a lower frosting-cupcake ratio, and I’m also not too skilled at decorating cupcakes so I find a small amount piped on top both tastes better and allows for a smaller margin of error aesthetically. That said – feel free to frost as liberally as you like!

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Decorated with heart shaped cake toppers and polka-dotted cases, these made for the ultimate valentine’s day treat.

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And if you’re still not convinced, remember that these cupcakes are 100% vegan and cruelty free – the epitome of what a baked good made to celebrate love and compassion should be. Now what could be more guilt-free than that?

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day dear readers!

Green Bean and Courgette Salad with Tahini Dressing

One of the most nerve-wracking things about new relationships is having to meet and integrate with your significant other’s close group of friends. You worry about their approval and opinions, fret over if you’ll have anything in common with them (besides the obvious person in question), pray that you’ll make a good impression, all the while stressing out over trying to remain true to yourself.  It’s no fun.

I count myself extremely lucky, in that my SO’s friends are some of the most genuinely kind, warm and loving people I’ve ever met in Bahrain. I enjoy their company immensely, and I suspect (or at least hope) that they are quite fond of me too. Needless to say, I had nothing to worry about.

Two of said friends (sisters) have become famed within their social circle for their annual Christmas dinner. When they informed me that they were planning a special vegan version of almost everything on the menu, I was elated, and started crossing days off my calendar in eager anticipation. The food was absolutely divine (so delicious I forgot to take photos – anyone who has ever dined in my presence knows that is the highest order of compliments), but what touched me even more were the personalized gifts they had carefully picked out for everyone in attendance. Mine were of course, two vegan cookbooks, one of which has been on my “to buy” list for years:

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River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall! Having been a River Cottage fan (particularly the all vegetarian season) since my days as a student in the UK, I was super excited to add this book to my humble but burgeoning collection of cookbooks.

To date I’ve made 3 recipes from it so far, all of which have been stunning. Although not all the recipes are vegan, they are all vegetarian and are easily adaptable. What I love about his style of cooking, and about the recipes in this book, is that they all focus on highlighting the merits and flavours of fresh, high quality ingredients. Some of the recipes are what some might call “too basic” but I find that the flavour pairings and cooking methods really lend themselves to creating simple yet stunning, unprocessed, whole food plant-based dishes.

But anyways, enough yacking – how about a recipe?

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This was a perfect complement to the vegan spanakopita (yes you heard right) and chickpea and coriander quinoa that I whipped up for lunch a few weekends ago.

Something about winter commands the use of hearty cooked veggies alongside light and airy greens, crowned by a zesty yet creamy dressing like this one.

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Perfection.

I hope you make this soon – I myself plan on re-creating it with some golden zucchini which I picked up at the farmer’s market today.

Until next time, dear readers!

 

A letter to 2014

Hello dear readers, and allow me to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year!

Now, I know that these reflection-type posts should typically take place at the end of a given year rather than 4 days after the fact – but what can I say, deep within me resides a rebel who defies the rules and plays fast and loose with conventional norms. I kid, I am of course not a rebel by any stretch of the imagination, I have merely been engrossed with the typical hubbub of events and happenings that are ushered in with the end of every year.

For me December meant a whirlwind trip to London, wrapping up loose ends at work, welcoming back visiting friends who live abroad, a Christmas dinner or two to attend, coordinating plans to celebrate new year’s eve and eagerly anticipating my birthday (on that note – thank you to everyone who wished me well!), among other things. Needless to say, I definitely felt like I hadn’t had the time to sit and reflect on the year that was 2014, nor look ahead to 2015. In fact, when I posed the mandatory “what are everyone’s resolutions?” question to my friends (much to some dismay) during my birthday dinner, I was one of the few without any conclusive answers.

So that’s what this post is about – I apologize in advance for there will be no recipes or vegan tips and tricks (though I do promise that there are a few of those in the pipeline).

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Dear 2014,

I know I said this to 2013, 2012, and possibly even 2011 – but you sure were in a hurry to leave us weren’t you! I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to bid you a proper farewell before you were out the door – but hopefully you’ll read this regardless.

Needless to say, you’ve been quite eventful. You took me to all corners of the world, satisfying one of my many ambitious resolutions from the year prior, to travel more. I waded through rice fields, surfed the waves, and ate my way through the fantastic vegan restaurants of Bali, Indonesia. I trawled the streets of Istanbul, found a slice of nirvana in Fethiye, and basked on the beach in Bodrum, Turkey. I reckoned with identity crises in my beautiful home country of Egypt, visiting the Red Sea and my beloved Alexandria along the way. And finally I ventured back to my old stomping ground, resisting the chilly winter and walking the streets of one of my favourite cities in the world – London. For this I am truly grateful – each trip brought with it priceless memories and experiences that have profoundly impacted me, each in their own way.

A friend of mine recently expressed an admittedly less than optimistic sentiment, that there is so much ugliness in the world, and that modern-day life is more difficult than it has ever been. While I can’t help but agree in part, I also have to disagree. There is so much beauty in the world – there is so much to see, to hear, to taste, to feel. It’s easy to lose sight of this living in a bubble like Bahrain, or for that matter any monotonous environment.

You’ve played with my emotions, 2014. There have been more ups and downs than I was even able to keep track of. You pushed me to the limit – showing me new heights to both sadness and grief ,as well as happiness and joy alike. You took loved ones away from me, something you know I’m not great with handling – but I don’t doubt it was their time. You split the path between old friends and I, despite my clinging, clawing and resistance – but I suppose it was also time for that too. You also brought me new friends, and they are some of the most thoughtful, loving and caring people I have ever met. Most recently, you reminded me that when it comes to friendships – old is gold. I am overcome with love and appreciation for the close friends I have known for over 5, 10 and even 15 years – even if we only spend but a few hours a year together.

You put me to the test with difficult decisions, both in my personal life and in my career. I like to think I’ve risen to the occasion in that regard – I’ve even found myself thinking “I’m getting pretty adept at this pretending to be an adult” thing. You taught me some tough lessons about responsibility – ones that I had to learn the hard way. Rest assured, those are nailed in there for eternity – though I’m sure your siblings 2016, 2017, and 2018 will have plenty more to shoot my way.

You’ve nudged me forward in times of self-doubt, and told me not to make any apologies for the way I chose to live. You’ve given me confidence and reassurance that my decision to live a vegan lifestyle is one that I wholeheartedly believe in, from the bottom of my heart, and that no amount of petty commentary from family, silly jokes from co-workers and friends or mindless comments from acquaintances can change. You’ve given me the motivation to keep writing this blog, no matter how busy modern life renders me – you’ve reminded me of the reason I started writing it in the first place.

But above all, if you’ve taught me anything, 2014, it’s that it’s okay to just be. It’s okay to feel like you can’t control everything, and that no, everything will not in fact fall apart because of that. I’ve started to learn to accept everything that life brings, come what may. I’ve learned to identify key, unique life experiences and moments when they appear before me, and to enjoy them too. I’ve learned not to get caught up in the details and the necessity for everything to be picture perfect that I let moments like this pass me by.

So what about your older and wiser sibling 2015? What can I expect from this sweeping year ahead? As we both know, only time will tell – but in the mean time I’ll share with you what I hope to get out of the next 361 days.

I want to be more compassionate – my compassion and love for animals is ever apparent as reflected by my diet and lifestyle choices – but what about compassion towards my fellow human beings? What about compassion towards myself? I know I’m much harder on myself than I need to be, and that I also judge and criticize others (even if not aloud) far more than I should. I’d like to change that, and am consciously considering how I can be compassion in the aspects of my life that fall outside of my dinner plate.

I want to learn more – I swore off returning to higher education after completing my bachelors’ degree three years ago – but my thirst for knowledge craving for mental stimulation is still alive and well. I want to learn a new language, read more books and journals, listen to podcasts and maybe even audiobooks (which I have always had a severe aversion to). More documentaries too – let’s face it, most of what’s on TV is trash nowadays anyways.

I want to try new things. 3 years of being back in Bahrain means I’ve fallen into a routine with most of my daily life – and I’d like to change that, as I would if I were first moving to any new place. Try out new sports, join different groups, explore new-to-me areas. I’m making a vow to try 6-12 new things by the end of the year, and they can be anything.

2014 – thank you for all that you brought and took with you. You will forever be etched in my memory as one of the most influential and important years of my young life. I’m sad to see you go – but also excited for what the future holds.

Sincerely yours,

Nada

happy 2015