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Recipe: How To Make (Plastic Free + Zero Waste) Seed Crackers

If there’s one thing that is next to impossible to find without plastic, it’s crackers. Before I went plastic-free, I’d buy packet upon packet of crackers – usually with the plastic tray, then wrapped in plastic and with a final plastic or cardboard outer. Packaging overload!

These days I do things very differently. I either skip the crackers entirely, and make crudites (fancy term for vegetable sticks – carrot, cucumber and capsicum/pepper) or use bread; or I make my own crackers.

I’ve shared in the past how I make sourdough crackers and carrot pulp flatbreads, and today I’ve got another recipe for you: 4 seed crackers.

I actually found the recipe via my local Source Bulk Foods store, who sell the ingredients ready-weighed in a little pack. I bought all the ingredients separately in bulk as I wanted to avoid the packaging but if you were short on time or didn’t want random amounts of seeds left in the pantry, the pack would be a shortcut.

Being made almost entirely of seeds, these crackers and gluten-free, dairy free and vegan.

The magic ingredient binding the seeds together is psyllium husk: it’s the husk of a seed that’s high in soluble fibre, and binds with water to form a slippery gel. It’s often used in raw and vegan recipes for its binding properties.  It’s pretty readily available at bulk stores. If that’s not an option, chia seeds might be an alternative to experiment with but it’s not something I’ve yet tried.

Recipe: Zero Waste 4 Seed Crackers

I chose raw seeds rather than roasted ones, as the crackers are baked in the oven. If raw seeds aren’t an option, try with roasted ones but bear in mind you might need to add a little more water to the mix.

Preheat the oven to 160°C, line three trays with baking paper or use silicone baking mats.

Ingredients:

490ml water
200g sunflower seeds
100g sesame seeds
60g pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
60g linseed (flax seed)
15g psyllium husk
5g salt

Method:

Mix all the seeds, husks and salt together in a bowl and pour in the water. Leave to stand for 30 minutes until the mixture has a gloopy consistency.

Empty a third of the mix on each baking tray and spread out thinly and evenly using the back of a spoon. Try to make the mixture as thin as possible. (but be careful of creating holes).

Bake in the oven for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and using a knife, score the cracker lines in the mix. Once they are fully baked they will not cut without shattering, so the lines need to be marked whilst the mixture is still soft.

Return to the oven for 30 minutes. Check the crackers and remove any that are cooked (the middle will take longer than the edges). If possible, separate the crackers and return to the baking tray to speed up final cooking.

Return any uncooked crackers to the oven. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the crackers are completely dry, crisp and crunchy. To dry out further, the crackers can be left in the warm oven once it is turned off. Remove from oven and cook completely on a rack.

Store in an airtight tin. They will keep for at least a week.

Possible Variations

There are plenty of other seeds to experiment with: hemp seeds, poppy seeds, chia seeds, or even chopped nuts. You could try adding cumin, nigella or fennel seeds; or herbs and spices such rosemary or thyme, paprika or ground coriander. Recipes are there to be played with!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do make your own crackers? Has it been on the to-do list since forever but you’re yet to get round to it? Or is it something you’ve put in the too-hard basket for now? I’m always interested in hearing new cracker recipe ideas so if you have any favourites – or favourite flavour combinations – share below, along with anything else you’d like to add!

Zero Waste Kitchen: DIY Chickpea Falafels Recipe

I buy dry chickpeas in bulk, a couple of kilos at a time. I soak them, then cook them, and then proceed to make every chickpea recipe I can think of. (I do freeze the spare for later, so it’s not about needing to use them up. More a celebration of this delicious and super versatile legume.)

One of my staples is chickpea falafels.

Falafels are actually only a recent staple. Well, the DIY version are. Back in 2011, before I left the UK, I’d buy little plastic tubs of falafels all the time. Plastic tub with plastic lid, and cardboard packaging outer – with 8 falafels inside. I could polish those off in one sitting! Oh, the single-use packaging waste! {Cringe.}

Then I went plastic-free, and falafels were no more.

I’ve tried making falafels many times over the years, but every attempt was a dismal failure. Dismal and messy, I should add. (Which is why I purchased the little tubs.)

I figured they were just too hard, until I went to a party where we had to bring a dish, and my friend brought homemade falafels. And they were ah-mazing! I demanded the recipe, and vowed that I would make them too.

Confession: the first time I made them, they were a disaster. But I knew that my friend had mastered it, so I knew it was possible. I stole all her secrets (we spent rather too much time discussing the finer details of falafel making), I tweaked the recipe a billion times to adjust to my taste and what was in my pantry, and now I have a recipe that works every time. Hurrah!

So if you’ve tried to make falafels before, and you’ve found that they’ve been a disaster, I want to encourage you to try again. Not all recipes are equal, and a homemade falafel is worth striving for, in my view!

But first, let me quickly talk about chickpeas.

How to Cook Chickpeas from Scratch

Tinned chickpeas tend to have added salt and sugar, not to mention come in a steel tin can that ends up in the recycling. Bulk dried chickpeas are a fraction of the price, and there’s no (or next-to-no) packaging or additives.

Plus fresh always tastes better.

I buy chickpeas a couple of kilos at a time, and cook a big batch. First, I soak.

I take my soaking very seriously. Soaking makes chickpeas and other pulses more digestable because they release anti-nutrients. It’s not just about reducing the cooking time.

I soak my chickpeas for 2 – 3 days, changing the water every 8 – 12 hours.

After the first couple of days, bubbles start to appear. Then I know that biology is happening and they are becoming more digestible. (They are actually gearing themselves up to sprout, which is what will happen if they get soaked for about 5 days.)

I usually change the water a couple of times after the bubbles start appearing, over the space of a day or so.

After the final rinse/water change, I cook on the stove for 1.5 hours.

Then they are drained (don’t forget to save the water! This rather murky looking liquid is actually the stuff of magic – aquababa!) and left to cool. After that, I pack the chickpeas into jars and containers. They will keep in the fridge for at least a week, and can be frozen.

Or, I make falafels! Here’s how.

Recipe: DIY Chickpea Falafels

You’ll need a food processor or stick blender with a chopper for this.

Ingredients:

4 cups chickpeas
1/2 cup coarsely ground oats
4 tbsp potato flour or tapioca flour
2 onions, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
2 big handfuls fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 big handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped

Oil, for frying.

Method:

If you don’t already have coarsely ground oats, take regular oats (you’ll need slightly more than 1/2 cup oats, as you get more ground oats in a cup than you do whole oats!) and whizz them in a food processor until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Next, whizz the coriander, garlic and parsley together to make a green paste and set aside.

Add the chickpeas to the food processor and grind until coarse. Add the onion and blend again until combined. It’s fine to be a little chunky. You’ll continue to blend as you add other ingredients so it doesn’t need to be super smooth.

Add the flour, oats and spices, and mix again until combined.

Finally, add the green herb/garlic paste and stir to combine. I do this last as it’s easy to see when it has all combined evenly.

If the mixture feels hot and sticky, pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Next, heat up the oil (enough to fill the base about 1/2 inch deep) in a shallow pan.  Take the chickpea mix, and roll into balls, then press down to flatten slightly. Mine tend to be an inch or so across, and a cm or two thick.

The oil needs to be hot or the falafels will disintegrate when they are added to the oil (learned from experience). My hot plate has a range from 1 – 9, and I use setting 7. Put one in the oil to test, it should bubble immediately. If not, wait until it does before adding any more to the oil.

Add the falafels a few at a time, and after a minute or two turn over to cook the other side.I use a fork to flip rather than tongs.

I tend to roll a few, then add them to the oil, roll another few, then turn the first ones over to cook the other side, add the newly rolled ones to the oil, roll a few more then remove the first ones from the oil, turn the second, add the third to keep things moving. If it’s your first time, you might find it easier to have them all rolled in advance – this will take longer.

Once they are done, place on a cooling rack to drain the excess oil.

Store in the fridge, or can be frozen.

Troubleshooting:

If they start to disintegrate, stop. Drain the oil into a bowl using a tea strainer to remove all the bits, then put back in the pan and try again. It might have been that the oil wasn’t hot enough first time.

If disintegrating is still a problem, consider baking in the oven. You’ll need to brush with olive oil. They won’t taste exactly the same but they will still taste good.

If they don’t taste completely cooked all the way through, finish them off in the oven for a few minutes on a medium setting.

Note about the Ingredients:

I’m a big believer that recipes are there to be broken. Meaning, try things out but then make them your own! Add extra spices, substitute ingredients you don’t have for those you do and try things out.

This recipe was originally given to me by a friend (a photograph out of a cookery cook she had) but I’ve changed pretty much every ingredient. The original recipe used breadcrumbs and I changed to oats as I always have oats and don’t always have breadcrumbs. The few times I’ve tried breadcrumbs, they tended to disintegrate. Now I stick to oats.

I used potato flour by mistake thinking it was regular flour (I really should label my jars) and it worked so well I stuck to it. Both potato flour and tapioca flour are great at binding, which is why I use them and it keeps them gluten-free.

Fresh herbs are great and I use parsley and coriander as I have both, but I’ve also made with just parsley. If you like other herbs, try those. I’ve heard that dill is also great.

After chatting on Instagram with an Egyptian lady who makes falafels every day, I tried using raw chickpeas (bear in mind I soak them for three days, so they are pre-sprouted). The mixture is much wetter, but actually they seem to cook even better and the resulting falafels are firmer. The taste is a little different but equally good. I make these if I’m a bit behind schedule and don’t have time to cook the chickpeas first.

Next spring I intend to try with fresh broad beans!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you made falafels? Are you game to try these? Any tips or “how-not-to-do-it”s that you’d like to share? Any other chickpea recipes that you love? Leave a comment below!

6+ Zero Waste Plastic-Free Snack Ideas

This week, I’m talking snacks. Specifically, zero waste snacks that you can make at home. If you have access to a bulk store, then you’ll have access to heaps of delicious plastic- and packaging-free snacks. For example, we can buy vegetable crisps, flavoured nuts, rice crackers, protein balls, and chocolate-coated everything (not to mention chocolate itself).

If you don’t have access to a bulk store, then this is not the least bit helpful. I realise that!

Rather than bore you all (or make you jealous) by telling you how wonderful bulk stores are, I’m going to focus on things that you can do and snacks that you can make without access to a bulk store. Level playing fields for all!

Zero Waste Snacks: Fresh Fruit

I know, I know. Boring! But also very good for you. Extremely easy to find without packaging.

Zero Waste Snacks: Fruit with Extras

I get it. You don’t want fruit. You want chocolate. You want something satisfying. I hear you.

But fruit is very versatile, and can easily be jazzed up. One of my favourite things to make fruit a little more filling (and tasty) is to slather it with nut butter. Apple slices spread with almond butter is the best. (If you’re allergic to nuts, or want a cheaper option, consider seed butters.)

Literally, nut and seed butters are just blended nuts or seeds. The natural oils are released with the friction, so there’s no need to add anything else. Generally toasted (and cooled) nuts will blend better than raw ones, so unless you have a super fancy blender, stick to toasted.

Another favourite is chopping bananas into rounds, and filling two rounds with peanut butter to make a sandwich.

Talking of bananas, I’ve also seen them peeled, dipped into chocolate (maybe half the length) and then nuts, seeds, coconut or other sprinkles used as a topping.

Orange segments, strawberries and raspberries can also be dipped in chocolate (assuming you can find berries packaging-free).

Zero Waste Snacks: Nice Cream

“Nice cream” is often used to describe vegan ice cream, but actually it’s not really ice cream – nothing so complicated. It’s actually just blended frozen fruit, which makes a soft-serve sorbet / ice cream that is eaten straightaway..

This one is mango and banana. A spoonful of nut butter or coconut butter adds a bit of creaminess. Literally take frozen fruit out of the freezer, and blend. Then, eat. So refreshing on a hot day!

Another favourite “nice cream” combo of mine is chocolate banana peanut butter : literally 2 frozen bananas, 1/3 cup cocoa powder and 2 tbsp peanut butter, blended. Yum.

Zero Waste Snacks: Vegetables

Yes, vegetables can be a snack. Carrots, capsicum, cucumber, radish, celery can all be chopped into crudites – although I tend to just chomp on carrots as they are. If you’ve got a dip (such as hummus – see my recipe here) all the better, but they can be good on their own. Pesto and even peanut butter (yes, carrots and peanut butter are a “thing”) also make good dips.

Broccoli has to be my favourite vegetable ever. I could eat bowlfuls of it… and I do. I like to fry it on a high heat so it chars a little, then add a big squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of tahini and mix together. Yum.

If you’ve never made kale chips, you are missing a trick. Yes, they look green and a little too healthy, but actually they are oily and salty and very tasty. I add to a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper and bake in the oven on a low temperature (100ºC) for about 30 minutes.

(The low temp dries them out whilst keeping them green. If the oven is too high they will dry out and be ready quicker, but they will also be brown – not nearly so attractive.)

We don’t buy potato chips as they don’t come without packaging. Sometimes as a treat we’ll make a bowl of roast potatoes (chopped into small cubes and roasted to increase the crispy surface area) and snack on them. Probably not the healthiest option, but potato chips aren’t exactly either!

Vegetable peels also make great potato chips / crisps. I don’t tend to peel my veggies often (who can be bothered?!) But sometimes a recipe calls for peeling. If that’s the case I give the veggies a good scrub, peel and then put the veggies in a bowl with a small amount of olive oil. Mix, lay out of a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 mins or so, turning half way through.

This works for most veggie peels: potato, carrot and parsnip are my favourite (and the tastiest), but beetroot peels and sweet potato peels also work.

Zero Waste Snacks: Other Crunchy, Salty Things

When I crave snacks, it’s not necessarily that I’m hungry. (Usually I’m procrastinating!) Often I just want something crunchy and salty. For me, my go-to option is popcorn.

Even if you can’t buy popcorn from a bulk store and without packaging, a 500g bag of popping corn will make a LOT of popcorn. If you were to buy that many packets of pre-popped popcorn or even potato chips, the waste would be enormous. Even if it comes in plastic, popcorn is a very low-waste snack.

I always make mine in a saucepan. Heat enough oil in the bottom of the pan to coat the kernels (but not so much it covers them) and heat until the kernels begin to pop. Rather than use a saucepan lid, I use a tea towel to stop the popcorn pinging out of the pan. Whilst popcorn is doing its thing, it releases a lot of steam. I find with a saucepan lid the moisture condenses and drips back onto the popcorn – cue soggy popcorn. The tea towel allows the steam to escape and gives you crispy popcorn. Hurrah!

(As soon as the popping slows down, take the pan off the heat, otherwise the popcorn will burn. You can always save unpopped kernels for next time.)

Roasted chickpeas are another snack I make. I tend to buy chickpeas in bulk and cook them up a couple of kilos at a time, so I’ll often make a batch of these. If you have access to dried chickpeas, either in bulk or in large bags, this is a great option. If you can only buy the tins, I probably wouldn’t bother (you’ll end up with way more packaging than snack). You can find my roasted chickpea recipe here.

Zero Waste Snacks: Really Simple Making & Baking

When I think of snacks, I think of something quick and easy. Baking is great, and I love it, but it often requires a little time. However, there are a few things that you can pull together and bake very quickly, so I’ve included a couple of ideas.

Bliss balls are the first option. All you need is a blender or food processor. They are typically made from nuts and dates blended together and rolled into balls. The less ingredients the better, in my view.

These are macadamias, shredded coconut, rice malt syrup and the juice and rind of a couple of lemons. Macadamias, dates and fresh ginger are also a great combo. And anything chocolate-flavoured, of course. Simply google “bliss balls” and you will find millions of options.

Cookies are another simple, low fuss baking solution, and 84th & 3rd’s 3 ingredient emergency cookies are a great zero waste option, requiring oats (these can be bought in cardboard only if not in bulk), pears and chocolate. You can substitute the pear for banana, switch the chocolate for nuts, add a couple of spoonfuls of nut butter to increase the flavour.

I’m not going to delve into full-on baking in this post, but of course, your imagination is your only limitation. Don’t be afraid to google recipes, or even inspiration for single ingredients and see what the internet has to offer. Or even better, experiment!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite zero waste and plastic-free snacks? Any recipes that you’d recommend? Any tips and tricks to share? Any particular struggles that you have? I’d love to know more so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Food Diary (Part 1): Mealtimes

I get asked about this a lot and I’ve been intending to write about this for ages: the kinds of things I eat in a typical week. I confess, I tend to get stuck in a rut of eating the same 5-7 meals week in, week out until inspiration strikes again. (Can anyone else relate to that?)

Even though there is a whole plethora of things I love to eat, my brain seems to forget them all save a few. Then I’ll glance on a long-forgotten recipe, and that will become the new staple for a couple of months, and something else will fall off the list.

So what I’ve shared below isn’t a typical week, so much as a collection of the kinds of things we eat.

I don’t tend to meal plan, at least not week by week. We get a veg box delivered once a fortnight (from The Organic Collective) and we never know exactly what we are going to get. We also have a veggie garden that does not ripen according to any meal-planning schedule. Fortunately, I do have a knack for being able to whip up a meal even when my husband assures me that there is simply nothing to eat in the house.

Organic Collective Veg Box

The veg box arrives on a Tuesday, and I’ll open it up to see what we have and make a rough meal plan in my head for the next fortnight. There will be things that I need to buy to supplement what I want to make. I also tend to buy avocados (we eat a LOT of avocados; grateful they grow here in WA), mushrooms, onions, garlic and tomatoes from the store fairly regularly to supplement the box.

In my veggie garden there is always a variety of greens, plenty of herbs, chillis and some seasonal vegetables. (I recorded a garden tour video last week for my Patreon page; you’ll get access to this and additional content if you become a member.)

Garden Pickings

Sometimes I make my own sourdough, but recently we’ve been buying bread from Escape and Rebellion, a local microbakery. My bulk goods come from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically the Vic Park store), which has everything I could ever need… and plenty of things I don’t but that I buy anyway (hello, enormous and delicious chocolatey section.)

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Breakfast

Porridge is one of our staple breakfasts. I cook the oats on a very low temperature with water, and stir through a little cashew milk as soon as I’ve taken it off the heat. I often add hemp seeds, chia seeds or flax seeds. Sometimes I add fruit: chopped banana or mulberries (when in season).

Toast comes and goes as a breakfast item. I don’t think it’s really that healthy; but it’s easy, and since we discovered the new microbakery we have been eating it a little more. We generally top our toast with mashed avocado, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of hemp seeds.

Muesli is another breakfast basic. I make my own using this no sugar muesli recipe. Sometimes I’ll use it as a topper for porridge or a smoothie if I want some extra crunch.

Smoothies and smoothie bowls tend to be more a summer thing than a winter one. Smoothie bowls are simply smoothies that are thick enough to eat with a spoon. Adding half an avocado and a few spoonfuls of nut butter helps bulk it out.

It is worth noting that I am a huge fan of leftovers, and will quite often have leftovers for breakfast: salad, rice and vegetables, etc.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Lunchtime / Light Meals

It is actually quite hard to distinguish between lunch and dinner in our household, as lunch usually consists of last night’s dinner or other leftovers. We don’t tend to eat sandwiches or wraps or other lunchtime-y things.

One of the reasons I don’t love having bread in the house is that it is all too easy to have toast for lunch as well as breakfast. Sometimes we will have bruchetta at the weekends, but not often during the week.

Great things to put on bread / bruschetta (aside from avocado): dips (hummus especially), pesto, fresh tomatoes, fresh mashed broad beans, lots of herbs.

Dips are really easy to make from scratch. I make hummus often (you can find my hummus recipe here). To make beetroot hummus I simply add finely grated beetroot to the regular hummus recipe (both raw and cooked beetroot work). Hummus freezes really well, so make more than you need and freeze the rest.

To eat I either slather on toast, chop up veggies to make crudites or make my own sourdough crackers.

Salads tend to be a side serve rather than a meal in themselves, unless it’s a 40 degree day. Salads do not have to be boring. If they are insipid and without any flavour or substance, it just means you will spend all afternoon eating chocolate.

I’m a big fan of a colourful salad, but I also like making green salads where the only ingredients can be green. This can include: lettuce, kale, pan-fried broccoli, lots of herbs (ideas include coriander, parsley, Thai basil and mint – probably not all at once!), cucumber, green capsicum/pepper, green jalapenos, avocado. I always add some kind of fat (avocado, nuts and/or seeds) and try to include different textures. Capers add a bit of punch.

For salad dressing I add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, maybe a dash of apple cider vinegar and a drizzle of tahini.

Colourful salads can contain everything! Don’t be afraid to add apple or pear, strawberries (which go amazingly with tomato) or mango to a salad. Roasted vegetables that have cooled are a great addition too (think butternut squash, sweet potato, beetroot). Always add some kind of crunchy topping – nuts or seeds, even croutons.

I often eat salad with a side of quinoa. Generally I mix it all up in the bowl, but here I was being all fancy-like. It’s simply green lettuce, cucumber, avocado, roasted zucchini, quinoa, roasted carrots, olives, chickpeas and sauerkraut (DIY sauerkraut recipe here).

Soup is another lunch option. I tend to like soup that only has one or two vegetables in it (rather than generic chunky veg soup), so it tends to be made if I have a glut of something. I often have a corn cob with soup for lunch, and have been known to use soup as a pasta sauce.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Dinnertime / Heavier Meals

I take a lot of my inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi. The man is a vegetable-cooking genius, and he is not even vegetarian! An Israeli-Italian living in London, he knows how to use vegetables, pulses and beans to create filling, tasty, flavourful dishes. I own a couple of his cookbooks (and as a minimalist, that’s saying something!)

Some of his recipes can be a little fiddly but most are easily adaptable. If you’re unsure how to get started with vegetarian cooking, or using chickpeas and other pulses, I’d recommend his books Plenty and Plenty More (check your library).

These falafels are not from Ottolenghi, but it’s the kind of thing you’d find in his books. (I suspect he has a recipe somewhere.) After struggling to make falafels several times, I’ve finally nailed a recipe and these have become a staple in our house.

(Back when I lived in the UK, before I went plastic-free / zero waste, I used to eat a lot of falafels. They came in a hard plastic tub, with a plastic film lid, then with a cardboard outer. You’d get 8 in a pack. I bought them often. Cringe!)

I almost always serve with roasted cauliflower (not tried roasted cauliflower? You’re missing a trick!) and a rice salad which I’ve talked about below.

This rice salad definitely draws inspiration from Ottolenghi: he has a bunch of salads that look like this. I’ve made most of them over the years: these days I follow a general formula rather than a recipe as such. As a minimum I cook white rice, lentils (usually puy lentils) and quinoa. I cook all three separately and combine when cooled). I’ll thinly slice and fry onions until caramelised. Then I add heaps of herbs (coriander, parsley and mint tend to be the ones I have; I don’t necessarily use all but at least two). Finally I add something for sweetness (pomegranate, cape gooseberries, dried cherries) and something for crunch (roasted almonds, occasionally pine nuts).

Sometimes I’ll add wild rice, or use red rice instead of white rice. The puy lentils can be switched for beluga lentils, or green lentils, or even chickpeas. I’ll use spinach or mizuna lettuce instead / as well as herbs. Sometimes I add cumin or lemon zest. I find it pretty flexible.

I also make an enormous bowl and we tend to eat it for lunch and dinner for a few days.

We also eat a lot of stir-fries and one-pot vegetable dishes. This one below was inspired by Ottolenghi – I didn’t have half of the ingredients, but had similar things so I looked at the picture and made my own version. It’s white sweet potato (pre-cooked) fried in a pan with onion, chard and chickpeas, and lots of lemon juice.

More vegetable one-pot meals: this would be the kind of filling I’d use for baked potatoes or sweet potatoes – topped with avocado and drizzled with tahini.

This is literally a use-up-whats-in-the-fridge meal. I used two pans to try and keep the flavours different and make it a bit more interesting.

We eat pasta occasionally, usually with a tomato-based sauce (we chop up fresh tomatoes), or with pesto (made with herbs from the garden) or a creamy sauce made with avocado. This is chopped greens (kale, spinach and parsley), fried in garlic, drizzled in lemon juice and mixed with some pesto.

We also eat a lot of dahl (which is basically Indian spiced cooked lentils). I tend to use yellow lentils for this. I first made dahl using Nigel Slater’s recipe way back when. I still use it as a base recipe, but mess around with the spices, or add coconut milk (probably not a very dahl thing to do) or add lots of kale.

Usually I don’t mix dahl with rice, but this was a case of reheating leftovers and only wanting to wash one saucepan.

Roast vegetables are a winter staple in our house. I roast a lot of butternut squash and other pumpkins, sweet potato, beetroot, carrots. Once roasted I use in salads, as a side, or with puy lentils to make a more filling dish. Alternatively I used leftover roast veggies to make soup, or add to hummus.

I have a guilty pleasure of roasting actual potatoes and then eating out of a bowl as a snack.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn’t a complete food diary of what I eat in a week – rather I’ve tried to show you as many ideas as possible. There’s plenty more I could talk about. Plant foods are so versatile, it is truly impossible to run out of inspiration!

In part 2 I’m going to be talking about zero waste snacks: in particular, snacks to eat when you don’t have access to a bulk store. Until then, I’d love to hear from you! What are your go-to zero waste meals? Any quick and easy ones you recommend? Or anything that takes a bit of effort but is totally worth it? Any flavour or ingredient combos you love? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How I Feed My Dog Without Plastic

You may remember that my Plastic Free July pledge this year was to stop buying dog food in plastic, and start making it myself. Aside from the plastic, I didn’t love that the brand that suited our greyhound best was imported from the USA, I didn’t love that it was supporting industrial agriculture, and I didn’t love that it was highly processed.

These are all things I try to avoid, and I was very conscious that buying this was against so many things I believe in.

Believe me, we tried other brands. We tried all of the Australian ones, and several other high quality ones. Whilst he ate them all with equal vigour (our boy loves his food), we noticed other effects: fat depositing around his neck, weight gain, loose stools, and one brand that led him to go to the bathroom four times every single day.

Not to mention, all the brands left his skin very itchy. Sometimes he would nibble at his legs so much his skin would bleed.

Enough is enough. I had to at least try homemade dog food.

Our greyhound Hans came to live with us a year ago. It was time to stop making excuses, and start knuckling down and getting the plastic-free dog food happening.

 Getting Started with DIY Dog Food

The internet can be an overwhelming place, and full of contradictory information as to what is best. My three main concerns were:

  • How would I know how much to feed him? (Wet food is very different to dry food.)
  • How would I ensure he was getting all the nutrients he needed?
  • How would I know that the food was safe?

Before I go any further, disclaimer. I am not a vet, nor am I an animal dietitian. This is not professional advice nor a recommendation. This is what I am exploring for our dog based on my own research and am sharing for information purposes only. Please do you own research or consult a professional.

How Much Do I Feed My Dog?

There are plenty of guidelines for feeding dogs wet or homemade food on the internet – and of course, they are all slightly different! I realised that if I underfed or overfed him, it would eventually become apparent with changes in his weight, energy levels and appearance.

Hans weighs 30kg, and he’s being fed 800g – 1kg of food per day.That seems to fit within most recommendations.

How Do I Ensure My Dog Gets All the Nutrients They Need?

I worried about this for a while, before realising that there are plenty of commercial pet foods that fall short here. Dog nutrition wasn’t even considered a few decades ago. Not forgetting, there are plenty of people who do not consume all the nutrients that they need.

In natural habitats, dogs are scavengers. They don’t get two meals a day fed to them out of a bowl. They might not get two meals a day.

That’s not to say I don’t want to do my best. But it gave me some perspective.

I looked into nutritional supplements to add to homemade dog food, but many of the recommended ones are not available in Australia.

I looked at the labels to discover the ingredients, did some research into the nutritional benefits, and opted to make my own.

How Do I Know My Homemade Dog Food Is Safe?

That was the easiest one to answer, because there is plenty of information on the internet regarding ingredients that are safe for dogs, and those that are not.

The second thing I found helpful was to look at the ingredient lists on the dog food I was buying, and try to mirror these ingredients in the dog food I was making.

Half the ingredients are things commonly available: carrots, sweet potato, rice. Other ingredients had unpronounceable names. For these, I asked the internet:

  • What is [insert name of unpronounceable ingredient]?
  • What foods contain [unpronounceable ingredient]?

Then, if I wasn’t sure, I’d ask: is [food containing unpronounceable ingredient] safe for dogs?

It turned out that these ingredients were either preservatives or a component/vitamin/mineral found in many natural foods.

In terms of toxicity, or malnutrition – these things become apparent over time. We are keeping a close eye on Hans and if we notice any change in his appearance or behaviour, we will consult a vet.

DIY Homemade Dog Food – Vegetable Component

Dogs need protein, fat, minerals and vitamins. Dogs don’t actually need carbohydrates at all. Carbohydrates like white rice and corn are  typically used in commercial dog foods as a filler, because they are cheap. But they offer little nutritional value.

For several months before I embraced the DIY dog food, I tested various ingredients on our greyhound. I’d add a small amount to his bowl along with his kibble. He gobbled everything up. And I mean everything.

I’ve heard that greyhounds can be fussy eaters. Not our boy!

The vegetable component has three parts, in equal proportions.

1. Protein component: 33%

Rather than use carbohydrates as a base, I use lentils. They are cheap but contain protein and vitamins. Typically I use red lentils as they are quick to cook. I soak for 30 mins, rinse thoroughly, and boil in a pan for 30 minutes. Once they have cooled I blend to a puree.

Red lentils are my preferred choice, but I have also used green/brown lentils, puy/French lentils, chickpeas and black beans. (Chickpeas and black beans require much longer soaking and cooking times.)

2. Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Cooked Vegetable Component: 33%

Sweet potato is a good vegetable to give dogs, because it contains beta-carotene, a pre-cursor to vitamin A. It also grows well in Western Australia and is available all year round.

Occasionally I use pumpkin (butternut squash or Japanese pumpkins) as an alternative.

I grate in my food processor, then steam for 12 minutes until cooked, and blend together with the lentils.

3. Raw Vegetable Component: 33%

This tends to be mix of whatever is in the fridge or the garden, but typically is 50% raw carrots and 50% of a mix of green leafy vegetables, beetroot, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower), zucchini/courgette and cucumber.

These are blended together raw, and then mixed with the lentils and orange vegetable components.

DIY Dog Food – Vegetable Fats

I add a tablespoon of oil (olive oil or coconut oil) to every meal, and/or 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds. Hans is also a huge fan of both peanut butter and tahini so I sometimes stir this through his food as a treat.

DIY Dog Food – Animal Products Component

Hans gets a fair amount of protein from the vegetable component of his diet, but we also add fish, eggs and other animal products.

Sardines: 4-5 per Week

Rather than feed Hans fish oil or supplements, it makes sense to me to feed him whole sardines. He eats whole sardines (head, guts and all) and he loves them.

Eggs: 2-3 per Week

Several of our friends have egg-laying chickens, so we source our eggs directly from them rather than buying commercially produced eggs. I also save the eggshells, wash, dry and grind them into a powder, and add a tablespoon along with a raw egg mixed in with his food.

Chicken Necks: 4 a Day

We’ve got a system with our butcher now where we drop off a big container, and when he gets chicken necks in, he fills up the container and gives us a call to collect. I was terrified of giving Hans chicken necks at first because I’d read that dogs can swallow them whole. Of course, the first time I gave him one, he swallowed it whole. And the second one. Naughty boy!

Now I have to hold them at either end and feed them by hand to ensure he bites in the middle and chews before swallowing.

Other Meat

I’m still finding my way with this one. I’m still exploring the various butchers and trying various options, and I don’t have an answer… yet. Hans is happy with whatever he gets, so it’s up to me to find a waste-free, sustainable and local option that I’m happy with.

DIY Dog Food – Nutritional Supplement

I make up a supplement to add to the dog food to give it an extra nutritional punch. I looked at a number of supplements (both available for purchase and DIY recipes), looked up the nutritional content of each ingredient, and made my own based on that, along with what ingredients I could find.

The ingredients I use: ground flax seeds, ground sesame seeds, chia seeds, barley grass powder, lecithin, turmeric, maca powder, and seaweed (either dulse flakes or wakame).

(I realise these ingredients might sound very foreign! I’ve been able to find most of them in bulk at The Source Bulk Foods, who have 35 stores across Australia. The only one they don’t stock is wakame. They also sell other things like brewer’s yeast and other green powders which can be used instead/as well as. Outside of Australia, I’d try a health food shop.)

I’m still playing around with quantities of each ingredient, and also how much to use.

DIY Dog Food – Progress so Far

So far, we have been DIYing it for about 7 weeks. As with all new habits, getting into a routine is the hardest part. We’ve also had to pretty much empty our freezer of our food to fit in Hans’ food!

I can’t report back regarding cost yet, as we are still finding our way. I hope to do an updated post in a few months with actual recipes and costs involved.

The Positives:

Hans loves his new food! He gets much more excited now we’re serving up fresh food than he did with kibble (although he still thought kibble was pretty darn fantastic.)

I feel better about what I’m feeding him. I just feel more comfortable knowing his food is natural and not made in a factory somewhere overseas.

His energy levels are unchanged.

His stools are much better! Which is very helpful when you’re trying to pick them up with newspaper and take home to compost ;)

He has completely stopped itching. Whatever it was that was irritating his skin in the kibble, it’s no more. Hurrah!

The Negatives:

Hans has lost a bit of weight. Actually, we think he might have been a little overweight before (something that is VERY hard to tell with a greyhound). Lots of people have commented on how good he looks and how good his coat looks. But we are keeping an eye on him to ensure he doesn’t get too skinny.

We now have a new friend (or should I say trip hazard) in the kitchen. Whereas he never showed much interest before, now he knows that his dinner comes from there, he is like a constant companion. And if you open the fridge door – there he is beside you!

Did I just hear the pantry door open?

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is all new to me, so I’d love to hear from your experiences. Do you make your own dog food, and if so, what ingredients do use use? What lessons have you learned? If you want to give it a go but are unsure where to start, what are you stuck on? Are you a vet and do you have any (off-the-record) advice? Anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!

3 Zero Waste Recipes: DIY Cashew Milk, Homemade Almond Milk + Almond Pulp Brownies

Nut milk. The name sounds kind of ridiculous. But it looks like milk, has a similar shelf life, can be used in similar ways, and in many cases the nuts do actually have to be “milked”, so it’s easy to see why the name took hold!

milking-almonds-to-make-nut-milk-treading-my-own-path

When I started out on my plastic-free journey, I bought cow’s milk that came in returnable glass bottles. But it wasn’t stocked in many places, so finding it was hard – and a bit of effort. Gathering those glass bottles together to return them meant a heap of clutter and a journey across town with them all (there was no deposit return either, only goodwill). Plus what to do with all those lids?!

I began making nut milk alongside dairy milk, because it was a lot easier to find nuts in bulk, and they have a long shelf life (they will last for months in a jar in the pantry, or even better, the freezer). I found nut milk worked just as well in baking, in porridge and in coffee, and I began to use it more and more.

Eventually I thought more about the impact of the dairy industry on the planet. Cows need a lot of water and land to produce milk, they produce huge amounts of methane, cause soil erosion, and the product has to be transported fresh, meaning a higher carbon footprint. Nuts use less water, the trees are beneficial for the environment, and the products have a long shelf life.

Nut milk seemed like the greener option. I decided to stop buying dairy milk altogether (my husband stopped too, but later).

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But of course, I don’t buy nut milk. Some commercial brands of nut milk are little more than bottled water! Alpro’s nut milk contains only 2% almonds, and the second biggest ingredient is sugar. Unnecessary packaging aside, shipping all that water across the globe seems like such a waste when we can ship dry nuts (or even better, use local ones) and make our own.

And I have to tell you, making your own is super easy. It requires no specialised equipment, and takes very little time. You’ll need a blender, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy one.

How To Make Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is my go-to milk because it’s the easiest. Cashews are already quite soft, so they do not need to be soaked for a long time. They also contain very little fibre, so there is no need to strain.

To make:

Soak 1 cup of raw cashews in water for a few hours or overnight. Rinse, and blend with 4 cups water. Done.

I tend to blend my cashews with 1 cup of water at a time, for 30 seconds, before adding the next cup of water. I find that there are less (no) lumps in it this way.

Makes 1.2 litres. Lasts 7 – 10 days in the fridge. It may get thicker over time, in which case add a little more water to it.

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cashew-milk-makes-great-plant-based-coffee-treading-my-own-path

Cashew milk works absolutely amazingly in coffee, too :)

How to Make Almond Milk

Almond milk is the most common nut milk, but it isn’t the easiest or quickest to make. That doesn’t mean it’s hard, mind! It just needs soaking a little longer, and also straining.

To make:

Soak 1 cup of raw almonds in water for at least 12 hours, and even 24 hours (change the water every 8 hours or so). Rinse, and blend with 4 cups of water.Now you need to strain.

I strain my almond milk using cheesecloth as it has a fine weave and is 100% cotton. Spread the cheesecloth over a bowl or jug, pour the milk over and allow the almond milk to drip through. Squeeze to get any remaining drops out.

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I bought my cheesecloth off the roll at a fabric store – it is very inexpensive. (Cheesecloth is not the same thing as muslin. Muslin has a much looser weave and the fibre all gets stuck!)

Alternatively, you could use a clean tea towel or old pair of tights, or even a fine mesh sieve. Before I had the cheesecloth, I used one of my mesh produce bags. There is absolutely no need to buy an expensive plastic nut milk bag!

Makes about 800ml, and leaves a cup of almond pulp. Don’t throw the almond pulp away! It will last in the fridge for a week, or freeze it. And then make chocolate brownies : ) (Recipe below).

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Fresh almond pulp (almond milk on the right). I use cheesecloth the strain, and scrape the excess pulp off with a knife.

How to Make Other Nut Milks

Other nut milks can be made in the same way, and most will require some kind of straining, although they won’t produce as much pulp as almond milk does. I’ve made macadamia milk (no need to strain), brazil nut milk and walnut milk.

Cheaper Nut Milk Alternatives

Nuts can be expensive. Increasing the ratio of nuts to water will make a more cost-effective milk, but will also dilute the milk. I tend to use the ratio 1:4 nuts:water but this could be increased to 1:5 or 1:6.

As well as nuts, you can also make plant-based milk with seeds, oats and peanuts (which are techincally a legume, not a nut).

Pumpkinseedmilk

Homemade pumpkin seed milk :)

These work out much cheaper than nut milks. I’ve tried making sesame seed milk (not recommended – it has a very strong flavour!), pumpkin seed milk (which is absolutely delicious) and sunflower seed milk. Flaxseed milk is also popular, although I’ve never tried this.

As above, the principle is the same. Soak, then blend 1 cup seeds with 4 cups water, and strain.

Now, let’s talk about what to do with the leftover pulp.

What to Do with the Leftover Pulp: Make Almond Pulp Brownies

This recipe has become my go-to almond pulp recipe. I’ve made savoury crackers, and macaroons too, but nothing beats chocolate-y goodness, so I always come back to this one.

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Ingredients:

180g sugar (I use rapadura sugar)
1 cup almond pulp, approx (the pulp left over from using 1 cup of almonds to make almond milk)
80g cocoa powder (I’ve used both cocoa powder and raw cacao for this – I prefer cocoa powder but it doesn’t really matter. You might want to add a little more sugar if using cacao, though)
1/2 cup (110g) coconut oil (I use deodorised as I find the coconut oil flavour a little intense in desserts)
9 tbsp aquafaba (chickpea water – effectively a waste product being put to good use. Find out more here!)
1/2 cup (60g) spelt or other flour
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup macadamias/walnuts/raspberries/chocolate chips/something else delicious
(or you could leave plain. But I consider all good brownies to need some kind of crunch)

Optional: a few tablespoons of cacao nibs and/or chopped nuts to top.

Method:

Line a square baking tin (if you use baking paper) and preheat the oven to 175°C.

Melt the coconut oil in a pan. Turn off the heat, add the almond pulp and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder and flour, and mix well. Add to the pan and stir in. It might seem really dry at first, but it will incorporate. Once combined, add the vanilla essence, salt and walnuts (or delicious thing of your choice).

In a tall cylinder, whisk the aquafaba to form stiff peaks. (This will take longer than you think.) I use a stick blender with a whisk attachment and it takes at least 5  minutes of  constant whisking. Add the aquafaba to the brownie mixture in the pan, slowly folding to incorporate with as little stirring as possible.

This yellow liquid is what you get when you cook chickpeas and strain (and keep) the water

aquafaba-and-chocolate-brownie-mix-treading-my-own-path

Once incorporated, pour into the baking tray. Sprinkle the toppings on (if using) and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until the top is dry.

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Best stored in the fridge if you don’t demolish the whole lot in one sitting.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made nut milk (or seed, oat or rice milk)? Which is your favourite? Which is your least favourite? If you’ve never made it before, is there something putting you off? Do you have any other alternatives to suggest? What about aquafaba – have you ever experimented with that? Are you just a little bit tempted to make these chocolate brownies?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet (but no, I’m not a vegan)

The food choices we make have an impact on the planet. There’s 7 billion of us, and we all need to eat, so we’re talking a huge impact. When I quit plastic in 2012, I stopped buying food products in plastic packaging, which meant processed and mass produced food. Initially I was motivated by waste, but then I began to think about how sustainable my food choices were in other ways.

I started shopping locally and buying whole foods and the environmental impact of my diet reduced as a result.

Recently I’ve started hearing more and more about choosing to go vegan to fight climate change, and “eating for the planet” and it got me thinking about my own diet and whether being vegan was the most sustainable choice for me. I’m 99% meat free and this year I committed to aiming for fish-free too. I avoid dairy.

I guess you’d describe my diet as plant-based, but I’m not a vegan. Here’s why:

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet

Plant Based Diet Not a Vegan Treading My Own Path

I love vegetables.

I mean I really truly absolutely love vegetables. They are friggin’ delicious. Give me all the vegetables any day! I love the fact they are so varied, so versatile – you can eat them boldly, or you can sneak them into anything.

I love making vegetable-based desserts (it’s far more possible – and delicious – than it sounds).

Did I always love vegetables? Not particularly. But when you step away from the supermarket and go to the Farmers’ Markets and grow your own you discover a whole other world of taste and satisfaction.

Creativity in the kitchen.

Experimenting in the kitchen is my creative outlet. I love mixing things together and trying new combinations, or new ways of doing things…and vegan cooking is a world of opportunity.

Vegan food in the 21st century is super creative, with raw desserts that rival conventional desserts, dairy style products made of nuts that are a million miles away from those processed-fake-cheese-vacuum-packed-blobs and clever ideas like making meringues from leftover chickpea brine that make my mind run overtime.

Fish and plastic in the ocean.

I stopped eating meat a long time ago, but my husband and I have always eaten fish. More and more though, when I see the reports of how much plastic is in the ocean, and in our fish, it makes it seem less appetizing.

If you’ve taken part in a beach or river clean up then you’ll know exactly what I mean! That plastic is being ingested by fish (a study showed 25% of fish contain plastic) and what that means for human health is still being researched.

Plastic aside, the other question is whether there really is sustainable seafood. There’s plenty of issues with fishing – like overfishing, using indiscriminate nets and bycatch.

I’m happier sticking with my vegetables.

Bottle Return Schemes are a pain.

Until recently, my husband still bought dairy milk for his coffee. We bought the milk in glass bottles and returned the containers. Simple – except without a car, returning the bottles was difficult, and we’d end up storing several months worth before we could return them.

Cue a cluttered kitchen and much grumbling. We did it because we cared.

Eventually he decided to switch to nut milk (we use cashew nut milk for coffee, or a blend of 50/50 almond milk:cashew milk if I make both at once). The clutter-free kitchen, the fact it is much harder to run out of cashews than milk and the general ease means he won’t be going back.

The Ethics of the Dairy Industry.

If I’m completely honest with myself, I always knew that the dairy industry wasn’t all happy cows and green grass. But I ate so much dairy (milk and cheese) and liked it so much that I never thought I’d be able to give it up – and so I didn’t think about the ethics. (There’s a term for that. It’s called cognitive dissonance.)

I didn’t want to think about it.

What changed my mind was Plastic Free July. It changed the way I shopped and the types of meals I cooked, and I started buying less dairy and experimenting with nut milks and other alternatives without really intending to.

Once I realised I really wasn’t consuming that much dairy any more, I finally opened my eyes to the dairy industry. Cows produce milk after having a calf, but the farmer doesn’t want the baby drinking the milk, he wants to sell it to us. So the calf is removed (sometimes only hours after birth) – and if it’s a male calf it will often be destroyed (and we’re talking millions per year worldwide). Mothers get no time to bond with their young.

To keep a cow producing milk she needs to give birth every year, as milk production declines over time. So 305 days after calving, she is taken off milk production to gestate another calf (she is given 60 days to rest prior), and the cycle begins again.

It’s industrial agriculture.

Cow Angelina Litvin

There’s plenty more I could say, but I’ll just say this: personally, supporting the dairy industry doesn’t make me feel good, and I don’t think (in its current form) it’s a sustainable industry in the 21st century. I try to consume as little dairy as possible, and we no longer buy dairy for home.

Out and about, it’s hard to avoid completely and we do what we can.

Why I’m not a Vegan

I’m motivated by sustainability principles.

I’m also motivated by ethics and health, but my guiding value is sustainability. Living in a city in a country with an abundance of fruit and vegetables, it’s very easy for me to choose to eat a plant-based diet.

Were I to live somewhere else where vegetables weren’t so prevalent, my diet would probably be different. I value local and seasonal over big business agriculture and industrial food systems, and that means I won’t rule out non-vegan alternatives. I’m always open to new ideas.

I still eat eggs.

It’s not possible to get B12 from a plant-based diet without eating fortified foods (mass-produced chemical laden cereal and bread? No thanks) and I’d rather get the nutrients I need from food than take supplements.

That said, I’m pretty fussy with my eggs. There is no way I’d eat a battery egg (despite being banned in the EU since 2012, they are still available to buy in Australia) and after the controversial press surrounding labelling of free-range eggs I stick to super local, organic, clearly labelled eggs – or get them from friends.

Eggs Autumn Mott

I still eat honey.

Bees are amazing, and honey is a superfood – full of nutrients and thought to be immunity-boosting. I love that it can be produced locally, whereas other minimally processed sugars like coconut sugar are imported. The other alternative? Big business sugar cane sugar with all the nutrients stripped out. No thanks.

I still buy non-vegan fabrics.

As I’ve mentioned before, my goal is to have a wardrobe comprised of almost entirely natural fibres. This means silk and wool (both no-nos for true vegans) will be a part of that. I’ve bought leather in the past but since I’ve learned more about how polluting the leather industry is and the toxic effects of chromium poisoning, I’m avoiding this until I learn more.

I’m a ‘freegan’ more than a vegan.

I’m definitely not into labels or trying to pigeon-hole myself into any kind of category, but I can’t bear waste, and this includes food waste. I’m not bothered so much with the waste of food-like substances like pre-packaged, processed junk food (well, I hate the waste of course, but I’m not gonna eat that stuff!), but if I had the choice between eating a grass-fed organic steak or watching it go in the bin and going hungry, I’d probably opt for the former. Fortunately that kind of dilemma doesn’t happen very often.

To sum up, I’d say that negotiating ethics and morals is a minefield, and there’s almost always compromise somewhere. I’m comfortable with the choices I’ve made. Eating locally produced food as much as possible, seasonal always and small-scale and independent as an ideal, a plant-based diet works for me. But no, I’m not a vegan.

Now it’s your turn to give me your thoughts on this! How would you describe your diet? Do you eat a plant-based diet? Would you call yourself a vegan? Whether yes or no, tell me your reasons! Why have you made the choices you made? Have you changed your diet due to environmental, ethical or sustainability reasons, or is food an area that you’re not willing to compromise with? Is it something you want to change in the future, but you haven’t begun yet? Does the place you live restrict the choices you make? This is such an interesting and juicy topic and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

A Beginner’s Guide To Aquafaba

You know when you cook chickpeas (or other beans and pulses) from scratch? You boil them on the stove top for an hour or two, and then you drain off the cooking liquid? You gotta stop throwing that golden cooking liquid down the drain!

I’m serious. Yes, I’m talking about that stinky, kinda slimy, smells-a-bit-like-old-trainers liquid that disappears down the plughole when you strain your freshly cooked chickpeas. Because it is a magical ingredient. I kid you not.

It turns out that chickpea water (chickpea brine), which alternatively and rather more glamorously is also referred to as aquafaba, is a miracle ingredient… something that isn’t waste at all, but is actually very useful! You can whisk it up like egg whites and use it in baking to make cakes, icing, macaroons and meringues.

It’s taking the vegan world by storm because it’s making the impossible possible, but even if you’re not vegan and you eat eggs, the chance to use a waste product to make something edible and delicious can’t be scoffed at!

This yellow liquid is what you get when you cook chickpeas and strain (and keep) the water

I first heard about aquafaba when I posted a picture on Instagram of a big batch of chickpeas I’d cooked, and somebody asked if I was saving the liquid to make meringues. It sounded crazy (and unfortunately I’d just tipped 2 litres of it down the drain) but after seeing some pictures suggesting it could actually be done, and in spectacular style, I was sold.

There might be a lot of beautiful images out there showcasing the miraculous things that can be done with aquafaba, but as a beginner, I had absolutely no idea where to start. Lots of the recipes refer to using the aquafaba from tinned chickpeas, but I cook my own chickpeas, so I wanted to know how to use this kind of aquafaba.

Not being able to find this information on the internet, I spent an entire weekend whisking and testing this chickpea water (and eating far more meringues than I care to remember) and as a result, I think I’ve mastered the basics.

First Up – Cooking Your Chickpeas

If you’re still buying chickpeas (or other pulses) in tins, you are seriously missing a trick. Pulses are super cheap to buy, you can find them in bulk (so packaging free), they take up hardly any space in the pantry and they last forever. You can cook them up in bulk and they freeze really well. Cans are bulky, BPA-lined (meaning chemicals leaching from the plastic into your food), the brine often contain added salt and sugar, plus they are pretty resource-heavy being made from metal, and use a lot more fuel to transport than their dried counterparts. Make your own – it’s easy!

Ingredients: dry chickpeas, water

Soak your chickpeas in water, ensuring they are in a big bowl with enough water covering them as they will expand (depending on the variety, up to three times the original size). Soak for a minimum of 8 hours (overnight). I tend to soak mine for 24 hours or more (changing the water every 8 hours or so) until white bubbles appear in the water. Be sure to throw this water away – it is not the aquafaba!

To cook, place in a large pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and cook for 1.5 hours. You want to ensure the chickpeas remain covered (you can top up with a little extra water, and keeping a lid on the pan will stop as much evaporation) but try to ensure there isn’t too much extra water. As you cook, white scum will come to the surface. Scoop this off and discard.

After 1.5 hours, drain the chickpeas ensuring you keep the cooking liquid – this is the aquafaba!

I usually cook dry chickpeas 1.5 kg at a time, meaning I end up with about 4 kg cooked chickpeas, and this makes around 2 litres of aquafaba. Chickpeas freeze really well. Decant into glass jars and once completely cool pop into the freezer. Wait until completely frozen until sealing with lids. I use regular glass jars and I have never had one crack.

Aquafaba will keep in the fridge for up to a week so don’t feel like you have to use it straightaway. If you don’t want to use all the aquafaba at once, this freezes really well too. Pour into an ice cube tray and once completely frozen decant into a glass storage container and keep in the freezer.

Aquafaba: How to Turn the Yellow Liquid into White Fluffy Stuff

What you’ll need: a good whisk, and a big bowl…plus a little patience ; )

Pour the yellow chickpea liquid into a big bowl, and start whisking. The bowl needs to be big because as it fluffs up, it will expand to more than 5 times its original volume – so be prepared! You will also need a good whisk. A hand whisk isn’t going to cut it. Neither is a food processor or blender, even a high powered one (I tried). I have a stick blender with a 700W motor, 5 speeds and an additional turbo button, and this just about managed, although the motor did get uncomfortably hot. I would recommend a hand held whisk with two beaters, or a mixmaster or something with a little more power.

Whisking Aquafaba Some More

This is my aquafaba before adding cream of tartar. Because I don’t have a super powerful whisk, I found cream of tartar helped form the stiff peaks you need for meringues.

Chickpea water needs to be whisked for a long time. (Long being relative of course, but in the age of electric gadgets we expect instant results, so be warned!) You will need 10 – 15 minutes of constant whisking to get the aquafaba to full fluffiness and stiff peaks. On the plus side, you don’t seem to be able to overwhisk aquafaba like you can egg whites, and if you need a break from holding the hand whisk (or like me, are worried about burning out a stick blender), it seems fairly forgiving to stop-starting.

Lastly, don’t be too worried about how concentrated your chickpea water is. Remember, egg whites are fairly runny before you whisk them, and aquafaba is the same. If you think your liquid is really watery you can reduce it a little in a pan, but don’t be too worried about this. I reduced 2 cups of aquafaba to 1 cup in a saucepan by simmering, and then whisked, and actually found it fluffed ever so slightly less than the original non-reduced aquafaba. The main thing will be a good whisk, and enough time.

How to Make Aquafaba Meringues

I based my experiments on this basic aqaufaba meringue recipe. Far more meringues than I actually wanted to eat later, I think I’ve mastered the basics. My next challenge is to improve the shape – something I think I will achieve with a slightly better whisk, and probably a little more patience!

Ingredients: 1 cup aquafaba; 1.5 cups granulated sugar, ground into powdered sugar; 1 tsp vanilla essence and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.

Whisk the aquafaba into stiff peaks. Ideally you want a mixture so stiff that if you turn the bowl upside down, the aquafaba won’t fall out, but my hand whisk isn’t up to beating quite that well. (If yours is, you may not need to cream of tartar.)

Once the peaks are as stiff as you can get them, add the cream of tartar, still whisking. This will help firm up the peaks. Next, add the sugar slowly. This is important… you don’t want to deflate the bubbles you’ve created. Add 1 tbsp powdered sugar at a time, whisking continuously to incorporate. Yes, it takes ages, but rush and you’ll flatten your meringues.

Whisking Aquafaba Before and After Adding Cream of Tartar and Sugar

The bowl on the right is the aquafaba once the cream of tartar and sugar have been added. The sugar gives a shiny gloss to the aquafaba.

When all the sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla essence.

Turn your oven on to the lowest temp. Recipes state the temperature needs to be between 80 – 110°C. My gas oven actually doesn’t go below 120°C but as it never seems to get to temperature anyway, it didn’t matter. Line baking trays with baking paper, and blob the meringue mix onto the paper (I used a soup spoon, and the blobs were about 4cm diameter).

Aquafaba meringues

Aquafaba meringues about to go in the oven. I still haven’t mastered how to keep the shape once they go in the oven…that’s the next challenge!

Pop the meringues into the oven, and leave for 1.5 hours minimum. You aren’t actually trying to cook the meringues but dry them out. If they go brown, your oven is probably on too high.

To test if they are ready, see if you can remove one from the baking paper (ideally without taking the tray out of the oven). If it still sticks, leave in the oven. Keep testing until the meringues can be removed cleanly from the paper. When they are ready, turn the oven off, open the door slightly and leave to cool completely before removing. You’re better off leaving to cool in the oven overnight rather than putting them in a container whilst still slightly warm.

Store in an airtight container if not eating immediately.

Aquafaba Meringues on a Cooling Rack via Instragram

What’s Next – Aquafaba in Baking

If you’re interested in seeing more amazing creations with aquafaba, there is a great Facebook group called Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses with lots of recipes to try when you’ve mastered the basics. It’s also a great community and a brilliant source of inspiration!

I’m hoping to spend plenty more time in the kitchen experimenting with this stuff! I’ve already attempted making chocolate brownies using aquafaba and was really pleased with the result (especially as it was a first attempt), and with a few more tweaks I’m hoping to perfect this (update! Recipe for aquafaba chocolate brownies has now been added.).

I’m also keen to try macaroons. Playing with aquafaba is so much fun!

Aquafaba chocolate vegan brownie aerial view Aquafaba chocolate brownie slice Chocolate Vegan Brownie

Now it’s your turn to join in! Tell me, have you heard of aquafaba before? Are you tempted to give it a go, or is something holding you back? Have you already experimented with it? Have you created aquafaba masterpieces or struggled with a sticky mess? If you’re a pro, do you have any advice or tips?  Do you have any questions or need any beginners tips…especially in what NOT to do? (I’m no expert, but I’ve had my fair amount of failures in the last couple of weeks!) Or are you totally grossed out by the whole thing?! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

A Recipe: Plant-Based Banana Chocolate Muffins (Gluten-Free)

These muffins may look plain on the outside, but there’s a decadent rich chocolatey centre hiding inconspicuously inside each one. Because chocolate makes everything better, don’t you think?!

They’re great for people with allergies, being vegan and dairy-free, paleo-friendly and gluten-free. They are also full of nutritional goodness; rather than flour and dairy they’re packed with bananas, almonds and flax seeds. Bananas are packed with potassium, magnesium and manganese, and B vitamins including B6 and folate. Almonds are a great source of magnesium, calcium and zinc (as well as many other minerals) and are also high in vitamin E. Flax seeds are super high in omega-3s, B vitamins and minerals including magnesium and selenium.

Did I mention that they’re super tasty too?

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Recipe: Chocolate Surprise Banana Muffins

Makes 10 muffins.

Ingredients

3 bananas (about 300g)
1/4 cup nut milk (I use cashew nut milk – you can make it yourself; it’s super simple)
2 tbsp maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
50g macadamia oil (or other high quality flavourless oil)
175g ground almonds
30g ground flax seeds
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chia seeds

For the chocolate filling:
30g macadamia oil
20g cacao powder
20g maple syrup

What To Do

Preheat your oven to 170ºC.

Blend bananas, maple syrup, cashew nut milk and oil together until smooth. Add the ground almonds, ground flaxseeds and baking powder and mix well.

Put the 1 tbsp chia seeds in a bowl and add 3 tbsp water, stirring well. Leave for 10 minutes or so until the chia has formed a gel.

Separate 1/4 of the cake mixure and place in a separate bowl. If you want to be accurate, use scales. Otherwise guesswork is fine! Stir the chia gel into the larger cake mix portion.

To the 1/4 mixture in the separate bowl add 20g cacao powder, 20g maple syrup and 30g oil and stir until combined.

Put a heaped dessertspoon of cake mix into 10 muffin cases. You should be left with a small amount of cake mix. Using a teaspoon, make a well in the centre of each muffin.

Divide the chocolate mix between the 10 muffins, carefully filling the well in the centre using a teaspoon.

Top each muffin with a thin layer of the remaining cake mix, using a spoon to seal the gaps. You shouldn’t be able to see any of the chocolate mix.
pic12premuffin1 premuffin2 premuffin3 premuffin4 premuffin6Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

Enjoy!

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Tips:

  • I used chia seeds to help bind them together as these muffins don’t contain egg. Flax seeds and bananas are also great binders though, so if you can’t find chia seeds just leave this step out.
  • If you think the assembly sounds like too much hassle, don’t stress. Just fill the cake cases with half of the plain mix, add a spoonful of the chocolate one and then top with remaining plain mix. They might not look quite so neat but they’ll still taste amazing!

A Recipe for Coconut Milk Yoghurt (Dairy Free + Plant Based)

I did something this month that I haven’t done for over a year. I deliberately bought something in a plastic container.

Oh, the scandal!

The product in question is a dairy-free yoghurt alternative called CoYo, made from coconut milk and full of probiotic cultures. I’d seen the name pop up in various places and was intrigued. Since being advised to cut out dairy from my diet as much as possible, yoghurt is something I miss, and I particularly believe in the benefits of probiotic foods for maintaining a healthy gut. This product seems like a win-win… apart from the packaging. Of course, I questioned whether I would be able to make it at home. When I saw it in stock in my local health food shop, I was intrigued enough to buy it.

coyo

I have to say, CoYo tastes amazing. If I was to describe the flavour, I would say it has the yoghurty-ness of yoghurt, and the coconuty-ness of coconut milk. (Does that make it any clearer?!) I guess what that means is, it has the tangy, slightly acidic taste of yoghurt, but the creamy smooth richness of coconut milk, with that exotic coconut flavour. It is also super smooth and literally melts in my mouth. It is also a stunning bright white colour – like coconut.

It also has a pretty amazing price tag. One small 400g tub cost me over $13! Indeed, I have suffered for my sin.

For reasons of both price and plastic packaging, I can’t justify buying this again. However, now I know how good it is I can try to make my own (and I have a benchmark to measure against), and I can use the CoYo as my starter culture. Its deliciousness has only made my resolve to make my own stronger! I want this in my life!

After a couple of attempts at recreating it, I’m now pretty happy with the recipe I’ve come up with. This recipe makes 1 litre, and should keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

How to Make Coconut Yoghurt

Ingredients:
2 x 400ml tins of organic coconut milk/cream
200ml water (to make up to 1 litre)
8 tbsp arrowroot powder (also called tapioca)
20 drops stevia
1 tbsp CoYo (or other starter culture)

Method:
Blend the arrowroot, coconut milk and water together briefly to remove any lumps.

Heat to above 80ºC for several minutes to allow the mixture to thicken, stirring with a spoon.

Cool to 45ºC.

Add stevia and stir.

Add a spoonful of Coyo to pre-warmed thermos flask. Add a cup of the coconut milk mix to the flask and stir well. Fill the flask halfway and stir again. Add the rest of the mix, stir a final time and seal the lid.

Leave for a minimum of 12 hours but preferably 24 hours.

Pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge.

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Notes:

I use Woolworths (Australian) organic coconut cream which comes in a BPA-free tin. It’s one of the few items I still buy at the supermarket and it’s one of the better organic brands that I’ve tried… although I’d love to find a independent brand or make my own in the future.

I used arrowroot and stevia as these were what CoYo lists as its ingredients. It may be possible to use other thickeners. The stevia is to give the friendly bacteria a food source. Other sugars might work too, I just haven’t tried them yet.

I used CoYo as the starter culture as I already had it but if you’re not lactose-intolerant or vegan you could use ordinary live yoghurt. Another option is to use a vegan probiotic capsule.

Coconut yoghurt takes a lot longer to culture than cow’s milk yoghurt. I find that leaving it for 24 hours gets better results.

I have also found that the yoghurt thickens over time, something that doesn’t happen with dairy yoghurt. I don’t know why this happens, but if your yoghurt is a bit thin, you should find it thickens up after a few days.

Obviously, once you’ve made your first batch you can use this as a culture for future batches – no need to keep buying things in plastic containers!