LEON RESTAURANTS LENTIL MASALA & BRAZILIAN BLACK BEAN HOT BOXES – LEON! LEON! LEON!

leon restaurants lentil masala
Hi, Pathetically

I’m a big fan of Leon. I love, love, love a Love Burger. And the menu’s full of other interesting plant-based options as well. From doughnuts to Jack Wings and billionaire shortbread.

I was heading home late one night and everything was closed. Everything except Leon London Bridge. The kitchen was closed, though, and the store was selling off whatever was left over.

No Love Burgers. But there were two options that caught my attention – especially at midnight; the lentil masala and Brazilian black bean little hot boxes, served on brown rice. Of course, I bought both.

leon restaurants brazilian black bean
Hi, Pathetically

The thing with Leon is, even though it’s fast food, you do get the impression it’s better than your average greasy diner. Maybe it’s all marketing and aesthetics. But it does taste like high-quality junk food. Sometimes it doesn’t taste like junk food at all. And these little hot boxes back that idea up. A lot.

Impressively, I managed to wait ’til I got home to get started. Needless to say, the smells on the bus ride home were torturous. And when I finally ripped open the bag, both boxes looked amazing too. Like lovingly made home-cooked meals, bursting with goodness and flavour. And no plastic in sight.

It’s hard to say which box I enjoyed the most. If anything, they taste great together. The lentil masala’s a rich, creamy coconut curry, loaded with ginger, cumin and mustard seeds. And the Brazilian black bean option’s cooked with carrots, onions, smoked paprika and oregano – and lovingly topped with mint and parsley. Both meals were like something I’d cook at home. I still can’t believe I bought them at midnight, for a tenner…

WAITROSE VEGAN SUSHI – PLANT-BASED SUPERMARKET SUSHI GETS INTERESTING. FINALLY

waitrose plant-based vegan sushi
Hi, Pathetically

Until now, vegan supermarket sushi’s always been a bit of a grey area. Sure, there have always been vegetarian options. But the ingredients were never clear and you still had to worry about things like stock, sauces, flakes, egg and dairy. And besides, until very recently, vegetarian supermarket sushi just meant cucumber and avocado wrapped in rice and seaweed – probably covered in fish flakes.

Lately, sushi joints like YO! Sushi and itsu have gone all out, dressing vegan sushi up in tasty plant-based ingredients like tofu pouches, umeboshi plums and vegan mayo. And now, finally, Waitrose and Taiko Foods have elevated the vegan supermarket sushi game to the same lofty, taste bud-tingling heights.

The one I found, that’s worth writing on the homepage about, is Taiko Foods’ yasai (vegetable) sushi box. And it includes two Inari nigiri tofu pouches, two shiitake mushroom and mixed pepper rolls, two pickled carrot, red pepper & mooli rolls, and two cucumber hosomaki rolls.

At first, I found “fishy” tasting sushi unsettling and weird. I would triple check the ingredients. On the packs and online. But once you’ve got the all clear – and you know the flavour’s coming from the seaweed – uneasiness gives way to deliciousness. And before you know it, it’s all gone and you want more.

YO! SUSHI VEGAN BOX – INSPIRED PLANT-BASED SUSHI THAT’S ALMOST TOO BEAUTIFUL TO EAT. ALMOST!

yo sushi vegan box
Hi, Pathetically

One avenue I haven’t really explored, until now, is vegan sushi. Sure. Wrap a piece of cucumber or avocado in some sushi rice and nori strips and hey presto. Vegan sushi. But that’s boring and lazy. And good vegan food is neither boring, nor lazy.

Then one rainy Southbank day I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Aka Giraffe and Strada. Luckily, that happened to be right outside YO! Sushi. And suddenly, I remembered an Instagram-inspired gastronomic mental note I’d been holding on to down in long-term storage. Yo! Sushi’s vegan sushi looks banging!

Straight away, I saw what I wanted. The Vegan Box. It looked amazing. A rainbow of new, imaginative vegan creativity. Elaborate. Delicious. Fresh. I went full Wayne’s World on the place. “It will be mine” and all that. And it was.

The box includes one inari taco, one glazed aubergine nigiri, an avocado nigiri, three yasai rolls, two avocado makis and two cucumber makis. All splashed in vegan mayo, soya and teriyaki sauce, ginger and wasabi.

I started with the cucumber and avocado maki, because, you know. Best to get them out of the way. Then I went in for the inari taco. I wasn’t even sure what it was at first. It just looked so intriguing, ornate and delectable. Like a small bag of vegan sushi treasures. Turns out the bag is a “golden tofu pocket.” And the treasures are rice, avocado, ponzu salsa and sriracha mayo.

The teriyaki-glazed aubergine nigiri is my second favourite component. After the inari taco. Followed by the yasai rolls, which contain inari, cos lettuce, carrot roll, teriyaki, vegan mayo, and avocado and cucumber (bit of a reoccuring theme, I know – but it’s how you decorate that counts). Then the avocado nigiri – which is basically just a fancier avocado maki, with added vegan mayo.

True story, on my way home I stopped off at Waterloo Station, popped into YO! Sushi on the upper level and grabbed another box. The second of many, I presume…

HI, PATHETICALLY’S ULTIMATE PLANT-BASED SOY-FREE VEGAN BOLOGNESE

vegan lentil pepper bolognese

Since I went vegan, the one thing I miss making the most is spaghetti bolognese. I loved my spaghetti bolognese. And I loved making it. This year I’ve experimented with a few different vegan versions. Cauliflower. Aubergines. Meatless Farm soya mince. But now I’m convinced I’ve cracked it. The answer? Red lentils and roasted red peppers.

I’ve never transcribed a recipe before, so bear with me. One thing I do know, though, is I hate scrolling through someone’s life story just to get to “ingredients” and “method” at the bottom of the post. So I’ll get right to it.

COOKING TIME: 3-4 hours
SERVES: 4

INGREDIENTS:

2 red peppers
2 red onions
2 sticks of celery
2 medium carrots
1 cup of red lentils
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 handful of sun dried tomatoes
1 handful cherry tomatoes
2 bay leaves
veg stock cube
5-6 cloves of garlic
red wine
red wine vinegar
tomato puree
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp marmite
3 tbs nutritional yeast flakes
seasoning; smoked paprika, cajun, garlic and parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary
fresh basil
salt & pepper
vegan cheddar / parmesan

METHOD:

The first thing I do is preheat the oven to 200°C and dice up two red peppers. Chop them into neat little cubes – I’d use a food processor but that just turns them into mush. Then put them in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and coat in seasoning. All over. The choice and quantity’s up to you, but I usually go for smoked paprika (not hot), cajun and garlic and parsley. About a tablespoon of each. Then stir the bowl, making sure the pepper cubes are all nice and smothered in that banging seasoned olive oil. Add a bit more seasoning if you like. And olive oil. Go on.

Next pop the peppers in a tray and stick them in the oven. If you’ve got the time, go all out. I like to roast my peppers for at least an hour. Maybe an hour and 20 minutes. Til they’re slightly singed, properly roasted little flavour bombs, ready to melt and disappear into your thick bolognese sauce.

While the peppers are roasting heat up a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large pot and dice two red onions. I use a food processor, to get the bits nice and small. When the oil’s heated throw in the onions and fry til they’re nice and soft, and browning a little. Most recipes suggest a few minutes but I proper fry them for about 15-20 minutes. You can use a splash of water to stop them burning if you need to. But go for it. Add two bay leaves about halfway through.

While the onions are frying blitz two sticks of celery and two medium carrots in your food processor. Then throw the bits in with the onions and bay leaves and let that simmer for a while. Grate in five or six cloves of garlic and sprinkle in a bit more garlic and parsley seasoning.

Cook the vegetables til they’re nice and fragrant. Not burnt, just long enough so they know they’re on fire. Now add your roasted red pepper cubes from earlier and a large glass of red wine (make sure it’s vegan). When the mixture has reduced and thickened drop in a teaspoon of Marmite and two heaped tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes. Add a splash of red wine vinegar as well and let that simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until it forms a kind of congealed bolognese paste. The base of all your flavour.

Next add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a stock cube, a handful of diced sundried tomatoes, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a squirt of tomato puree, a cup of water and a heaped cup of red lentils. You can add the lentils later, but I like to really cook them. Pre-dhal. So they play a soft, crunchless, background role in the overall bolognese texture.

Now throw in dried oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary. I also add a bit more garlic and parsley for good luck, a splash or two of red wine vinegar and a glug more red wine. Let the sauce bubble and come together a bit before lowering the heat. Then comes the long haul. You need to let it cook, simmer and bubble for at least two hours. So it turns into a rich, thick, genuine bolognese sauce. You can’t beat it and there’s no cheating it.

The longer you cook the bolognese the better it will be. The only challenges are not letting the lentils turn into dhal and not burning the sauce. Lentil-based bologneses seem to burn easier than meat-based alternatives, so you have to stir and lubricate the mixture quite often, using splashes of water and red wine vinegar when needed. But at the same time, you need to let it cook properly as well. It’s a balancing act. A labour of love. Don’t let it get too watery. Don’t dry it out.

Towards the end I throw in another tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes and salt and pepper. Then I let the bolognese cook a bit longer, until the tinned tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, wine, lentils and everything else has melded into one soft, saucy pot of lentil-based bolognese “mince.” Stir in chopped fresh basil and serve with spaghetti and vegan parmesan (or cheddar). Violife cheese alternatives are usually a safe, easy bet.