Going beyond the salad

Aubergine Bruschetta
One of the resolutions that tends to crop up at this time of the year is to eat less (or completely no) meat. No one can argue about the extensive health, environmental, and ethical benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet (you can read about this
 here). I’m not going to preach about this subject since at this point in my life, I myself am not completely vegetarian. For 8 years I followed a very strict vegetarian lifestyle (of which I was completely vegan for 2 years). At this stage though because of the amount of running that I do, I have had to turn to seafood and on the very rare occasion, chicken, as additional sources of protein. 

The majority of my cooking still tends to be mostly non-meat based. The funny thing is that I am now more excited about cooking veggie dishes compared to when I was actually a practising vegetarian. Back then I was less willing to experiment with food and relied on the trusted basics of potatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes, and pasta. This meant a repetitive cycle of meals centred on salads, jacket potatoes, and bland spaghettis. However in the last couple of years, I have become more adventurous with the vegetables, grains and pulses I rely on. This attitude has opened up a whole new world of cooking for me.

I wanted to write this post to reassure people that a vegetarian meal does not have to be boring and and restricted to the plain salad. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love salads. I recently got a new salad cookbook as a Christmas pressie, which reaffirms there are endless of possibilities that you can create, as long as you are willing to experiment to go beyond the generic iceberg lettuce/Caesar salad combination. 

The recipe below for an Aubergine Bruschetta is entirely vegetarian and guess what, not a leafy green in sight! Fine, it uses mint leaves but this is treated as a garnishing rather than a main component. This dish is proof that a vegetarian meal can be excitingly bold in flavours – from the slightly tangy and sweet salsa (sweet tomatoes and salty capers), to the meaty juiciness of the aubergines. The presentation and explosion of flavours remind me of the slightly strange but glorious experimentations by the veggie restaurants Brighton is so famous for (how I miss Terre a Terre). The original recipe from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favourite food blogs, uses ricotta but I’ve substituted this for feta (more value for money in Malaysia). To make this into a more filling meal, I serve the aubergines with bulgur wheat simply cooked with onions and tomato puree to help enhance the tomato tones in the salsa. This dish works just as well without the bulgur wheat, as a starter/canape that is a lighter take on the standard bruschetta.

So if your new year’s resolution is to go vegetarian or simply eat less meat, then read, learn, experiment, get excited, and expand your repertoire of ingredients. Otherwise you risk failing miserably in two months after your fifth Caesar salad or jacket potato! 

Aubergine bruschetta served on a bed of bulgur wheat

Basic Ingredients
Aubergines, tomatoes, red onions, capers, mint leaves, olive oil, red wine vinegar, bulgur wheat, onions, vegetable stock, tomato paste, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. For the aubergines – cut into thick slices. Drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on a baking tray and layout the aubergines. Season with a generous amount of salt & pepper. Grill until the aubergine flesh is dark, smoky in color and soft to the touch. Flip slices and grill to match the other side.

2. For the tomato salsa – de-seed tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes so this was a rather extensive process!). Add the remaining chopped ingredients to the tomatoes – mint leaves, capers, red onions, and crumbled feta. Drizzle some olive oil and red wine vinegar, season.
3. For the bulgur wheat – sauté sliced onions in olive oil. Once onions have browned, cook bulgar wheat with vegetable stock. When bulgur wheat looks 3/4 cooked, season with pepper and add a dollop of tomato puree (roughly about 1 tsp).
4. To serve – scoop salsa onto grilled aubergine slices and serve on top of the bulgur wheat.

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An ode to Sunday brunches

Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils  Mushroom & Caramalised Onions Salad
I can easily say that hands down, today has been the best Sunday I’ve had in KL. I broke away from the usual routine of isolating myself at the yoga centre to feast on the brunch buffet at the newly opened Acme Bar & Coffee at The Troika. Their Sunday brunch setup reminds me so much of Ottolenghi’s cafes in London – platters of wholesome salads, imagination, fusion of ingredients, and odd combinations that work so well together. I loved the fact that there were various moments of ‘oh wow this is good’ as we sampled new dishes. 

Not only was there delicious food, but great company as well. Today reminded me of how Sundays should be spent – lazily eating copious amounts of good food, over an extended period of time with great people, and surrounding yourself with conversation and laughter. The usual Sunday blues (well more like panic attack) of going back to work after being on leave for 2 days last week seemed like a distant memory once the food coma kicked in. 🙂 

Returning home after spending three and a half hours feasting away, I was not in a rush for my next meal but was inspired to try out the recipe below for tomorrow’s work lunch – Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils, Mushrooms & Caramalised Onions. This is slightly inspired by the Acme Bar & Coffee Bar’s Bulgar, Quinoa & Onion salad but I was out of quinoa and had to improvise! I’ll be tucking away into this and thinking of my perfect Sunday when shit hits the fan at work tomorrow. 

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Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils  Mushroom & Caramalised Onions Salad

Basic ingredients
Bulgur wheat, portobello mushrooms, puy lentils, spinach, slivered almonds, cumin and paprika for the bulgur wheat, chicken stock, onions, butter, feta cheese (*at the time of the picture taking I had completely forgotten to add in the feta so this salad can easily work without it as well)

The magic
1. Cook the bulgur wheat with chicken stock and cumin. Season with paprika and pepper.

2. Sautee the portobello mushrooms with olive oil.
3. Boil the puy lentils in some salted water.
4. Toast the almonds. 
5. Now this is where the magic ingredient comes in – the caramelised onions is what makes this dish. I loved the fact that the Acme Bar & Coffee had lovely sweet onions in their salad. Sautee onions in butter until they have caramelized. 
6. Mix all the above ingredients together with the spinach.
7. Top with crumbled feta cheese as a bonus.  

Seven easy steps to get to the goodness of ‘forget Sunday blues’ in a bowl.