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My parents used to grow their own vegetables. They were given a piece of land in a place called Rauðhólar, around 30 minutes’ drive from Reykjavík, and made a huge effort to plant trees for shelter and started making their own soil by composting food scraps. Slowly but surely, what had once been a mass of lava, moss, and mud was transformed into a sheltered, nutritious paradise. It was hard work, but they managed to turn the land into a decent vegetable garden. We helped harvest vegetables: carrots, potatoes, beetroot, cauliflower, turnips, red and white cabbages, broccoli and parsnips. As a result, I grew up in a home with a much wider variety of food than my friends – the local store mainly sold potatoes, turnips, and cabbage.
I went vegan in 1980 at the age of 19 and have been on journey with food ever since. Unfortunately, the Nordic food culture lacks an excellent source of nutritious plant protein, various fruits and vegetables, spices, legumes, or grains – fish and potatoes were the main ingredients up until the 1990s. Luckily, when I lived in Copenhagen, I was able to learn about different cuisines around the world, especially those that have a strong tradition in vegetarianism, such as Indian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and the Mediterranean.
When I moved back to Iceland after seven years abroad, I realised there was a lot of food I was used to eating but could no longer buy at the local store. Things like tofu, tempeh and plant-based milks simply weren’t available. I rolled up my sleeves and started making everything I wasn't able to get at the store from scratch. My kitchen became my favourite place. I did not have a garden with my first apartment, so instead I started to grow herbs in pots on my kitchen windowsill because they made everything taste better. Salad leaves soon followed, as did a tomato plant. For me, it is crucial to be growing produce wherever possible, even if it’s just coriander or mint.
I’ve come so far on my vegan journey. Now, I want to help others do the same. I want to help make cooking simpler without compromising the quality; to spread the art of making delicious plant-based food; and to reveal how enjoyable cooking and eating nutritious vegan food can be.
Inspired? Here Are Four Recipes To Try At Home…
Butternut Squash & Bok Choi Bowl
The sweet, nutty taste of the butternut squash pairs very well with the beans and greens. I never peel the butternut, I simply scoop out the seeds (you can clean, dry, and toast them for a snack), and cut the squash into slices. In this bowl, it tastes comforting baked with garam masala and chilli flakes. Feel free to use other varieties of squash
Start by cooking the black beans. You can use precooked beans instead, if desired or you are short on time. When the beans are cooked, rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels before cooking. Heat the avocado oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the spices, and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans, stir until mixed, then simmer for 4-5 minutes. Season with the sea salt, lemon juice, and chopped coriander. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to200°C/Gas Mark 6. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Put the butternut slices onto the prepared sheet, sprinkle with the avocado oil, garam masala, sea salt and chilli flakes, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the quinoa in a sieve and rinse under cold running water for 1-2 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. Put the cumin seeds and the drained quinoa into a large saucepan and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes until golden. Add the vegetable stock, garlic, sea salt, and olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes, then use 2 forks to fluff up the quinoa and set aside.
Put the pecans into a frying pan or skillet and dry-roast over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes until aromatic. Remove from the heat and let cool, then coarsely chop half and set aside.
Preheat a ridged grill pan over medium heat. Brush the mangetout with garlic oil, put onto the hot grill pan, and grill for 1 minute on each side.
Add half the pomegranate seeds and the chopped pecans to the quinoa and mix together until combined. Arrange all the ingredients in the serving bowls, starting with the quinoa, then add the black beans, baby bok choy, mangetout, butternut squash, and cashew cheese. Sprinkle with the remaining pomegranate seeds and whole pecans, top with the cilantro dressing, and enjoy.
As much I love aubergine when well cooked, I feel disappointed when it’s not cooked enough or when it’s poorly baked. In this recipe, I cut the aubergine lengthwise into 5mm slices, brush with oil and bake until golden on each side. I then arrange the slices in a roasting pan as a “cannelloni,” adding a marinara sauce, and cook them for 15-20 minutes. Served with a green leafy salad and salsa, it makes it a beautiful meal.
Put the cashews for the filling into a bowl, cover with water, and soak for 2-4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
For the spiced oil, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
Put all the ingredients for the marinara sauce into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and set aside. It will be thick.
Meanwhile, brush the aubergine slices with the spiced oil and arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, then flip over and finish baking for 4-6 minutes, or until they are golden.
Drain the cashews, then place them in a food processor with the remaining filling ingredients, except the vegan cheese, and pro- cess until mixed together and smooth. Place 2 tablespoons of the filling on the end of each slice, add 1 tablespoon of grated cheese on top, and roll the aubergine up tightly into a roll. Repeat until all the slices, filling and the grated cheese have been used up.
Put three-quarters of the marinara sauce into the bottom of a 23×23×5cm roasting pan, arrange the aubergine rolls on the sauce, and finish by adding the remaining sauce over the top of the rolls. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, then serve straight from the oven, sprinkled with extra grated cheese, if desired, and some basil leaves.
Root Vegetable Curry
Don’t let the long list of spices prevent you from making this dish. The trick is to be organised; use a few minutes to measure the spices and arrange them into the order they go into the pan. If you like, instead of sweet potatoes, beetroot and parsnips, try using potatoes, aubergine and cauliflower – an excellent combination for this dish.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
To bake the root vegetables, mix the avocado oil, cumin, coriander fennel, and sea salt together in a large bowl, then add the root vegetable cubes and toss until coated. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the curry, heat the coconut oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add the cumin and cardamom pods, and fry for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the garlic, ginger, and chiles and fry, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes until softened, then add the tomatoes and fry for another 2 minutes. Add the garam masala, coriander, chili, turmeric, mango powder, if using, and sea salt and stir to combine. Add 120ml of water and the coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the baked root vegetables and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.
Serve the curry with flatbreads, tzatziki, coriander and lemon wedges.
Hazelnut & Besan Brownie
When I opened my first vegan restaurant, Gaenn Kostur, in 1994, a girl called Rubeena from Pakistan worked for me. This brownie is inspired by a recipe she used to make using besan or chickpea flour. Back then, I didn’t know how to work with chickpea flour, but Rubeena taught me about its brilliance, and we developed some great recipes using herbs, spices, and flour from her culture. Besan flour is a great substitute for wheat flour or spelt when baking a gluten-free brownie. The besan has a strong raw bean flavour, so to prevent it from coming through, I use orange-flavoured vegan dark chocolate, orange zest, and a generous amount of vanilla extract.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3. Spread the nuts out on a large baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Transfer them to a large, clean dish towel and roll them around to remove the skins, then let cool to body temperature (37°C), about 10 minutes.
Put the butter and 200g of the chopped chocolate into a saucepan and melt over low heat. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Meanwhile, put the chickpea liquid, coconut sugar, and cream of tartar, if using, into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, or until doubled in volume and shiny. Alternatively, whisk with handheld electric beaters in a bowl.
Sift the chickpea flour, cacao powder, and baking soda into a large bowl and add the hazelnut flour, if using.
Gently fold the cooled melted chocolate and butter into the whisked chickpea batter, then add the sifted flour mix, followed by the vanilla and orange zest, and mix together until just combined. Finally, stir in the remaining 100g of chopped chocolate and all but 1 handful of the toasted hazelnuts.
Oil a 29×24×6cm rimmed baking sheet with oil or vegan butter. Pour the batter into the baking sheet and sprinkle with the remaining toasted hazelnuts, pushing them halfway into the batter. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the brownies are just cooked through in the centre, but still soft and chewy.
Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet, then cut into approximately 42 bite-size pieces (or 9 large ones). Serve or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for up to 6-9 months.