Tuesday, 8 April 2008

In which I was unexpectedly smitten by walnuts

I have been a vegetarian for about 17 years, which makes me feel very old. I can’t believe I’ve been doing anything which has involved informed decisions for 17 years. That’s considerably longer than Junior Sis has even been alive. But in all that time, I have never made a nut roast. There are two reasons for this:

1. Whenever I’ve been served one (and there were times in my early vegetarian days where it seemed to be all I was ever given) it’s been crumbly, dry and completely unappetizing

And 2 and perhaps more fundamental: I don’t like nuts.

So, why have I been planning a nut roast? Several reasons actually. Firstly, Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe is hosting a ‘Neb at Nut Roast’ event, and I really like her blog and want to participate. Secondly, I feel I’m missing out on a basic part of being a veggie by never having dabbled in this lively field. Thirdly, nuts are very good for you. And fourthly, some researching of recipes has made me realise that nut roasts are endlessly adaptable, and it thus becomes a challenge to make one I like. I’d been twittering about this for a while when The Scientist broke the news that he would not be participating in my nut roast unveiling. I should have prevailed and argued that this attitude was precisely the reason that Johanna wants to rescue the poor reputation of the nut roast, but I saw an opportunity for mushrooms, sighed meekly and shut up.

Nut-wise, I went for walnuts as I still had some in the baking supplies Kiwi Sis had passed on to me when she left, and also they are high in B vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. A 2006 survey reported by the BBC even suggested that they can reduce artery clogging. Mushrooms provided the star veggie attraction, coupled with tomatoes, and I used cooked lentils and granary breadcrumbs as the filler. I wanted it to be quite moist and tomatoey, and the mixture on its own was actually moist enough that I decided not to add egg or any other binder. I also mixed in some pumpkin and sunflower seeds for added crunch and superfoodiness at the last minute. It was all very brown, but the mixture tasted promising and I duly set it to bake.

To be honest, I hadn’t had massively high hopes for my nut roast in advance, although they were cautiously rising as I noted the nice smells coming from the kitchen. After about an hour it was nicely crisp on the top, and seemed to hold its shape reasonably well. It wasn’t the firmest loaf in the world – cutting it into neat slices to serve at a dinner party might be tricky, but it did hold together. And, oh, it tasted nice. It was so very mushroomy, so nicely and seedily crunchy, so full of flavours – oh, my taste buds were singing with every bite, and I became increasingly effusive as the meal went on. I’d made a little roasted tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce to go on the side in case it was too dry, and while that added a nice taste it didn’t need it to compensate for anything. We both ate roasted sweet potato chips, some pear and leaf salad, and a bit of broccoli on the side, and The Scientist ate some (frankly very boring looking compared with my magnificent and nutritious loaf) chicken.

I really have to thank Johanna for hosting this event. I would absolutely and definitely not have tried making a nut roast if it hadn’t been for her enthusing, and I have thus uncovered new dimensions of veggieness and mushroomyness. The Scientist even looked mildly interested, though I fended him off with talk of fungi, but I may experiment with other veggies in the future to try to find a combination we both like. I made a small roast – just half a standard loaf tin since it was only me eating it, and it will last me a good few meals. I’m afraid that the ‘recipe’ is very rough as I improvised ingredients and quantities as I went along. That’s just what us nut roast aficionados do, you know. As to non-nut-loaf eaters: nebs to the lot of you.

PS: Kiwi Sis, you know I told you on Friday that snow was forecast? Here's the view from our back door on Sunday morning:

Fantastically mushroomy walnut loaf

Preheat oven to 180C

Whizz up about ¼ cup of walnuts in a blender to whatever texture pleases you

Fry a small onion and a clove of garlic in fry light for a few minutes. Add quite finely chopped mushrooms (I used half a big portobello and a couple of small chestnut mushrooms). Add a chopped tomato or two, and a squirt of tomato puree. Season – I used thyme, oregano, stock powder and chilli powder. Cook until veggies are soft.

Transfer veggie mixture to a large bowl with the ground nuts. Add about 1 cup of cooked lentils, about ¼ - ½ cup of dried breadcrumbs, some pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and mix. Add liquid or more dry ingredients as necessary and check flavours.

Spoon into a greased loaf tin, top with sesame seeds and linseeds for further crunch, and bake for about 1 hour (I checked periodically and moved it up to a higher shelf after about 45 mins to crisp up on top. Serve and enthuse.


Johanna said...

that looks lovely lysy - the addition of seeds looks a really good one - thanks for participating and I am so glad you enjoyed it.

If you want it firmer I suggest more breadcrumbs. But I like your attitude of just throwing in the ingredients you fancy - it is truly in the spirit of great nut roasts!

Arfi Binsted said...

i love walnuts. i just made nigel's coffee and walnut cake and it turns out delicious! love walnuts in the salad with blue cheese as well. and this is another way to enjoy it! yum!

LisaRene said...

It will be fun to see Johanna's roundup and get many more ideas for nut roasts. I really like the idea and they are a great way to use leftover ingredients.

The Scientist is missing out on a good thing!