A record number of people in the UK are joining Veganuary 2019, making this month the perfect time to showcase dishes based on the infinite culinary richness of the plant kingdom. I am not a vegan - I merely describe myself as someone who eats a mainly plant-based diet. Why? Because I thrive on it while animal products seem to sap my energy and drag me down. Plants on the other hand give me a real boost and always put the sparkle back in my eye and the spring in my step. I have however been a real and proper vegan in the past and during one of those phases, I wrote a plant-based cookery book: Vegan Cookbook The Essential Guide, which is coming back into print next month after an absence of a year or so. So what better way to welcome this year's Veganuary than with one of my favourite and most popular recipes from that book!
ONION BHAJI PANCAKES WITH POMEGRANATE AND CUCUMBER SALSA
The traditional cooking technique for bhajis is deep-frying, but since this particular method is banned from my kitchen on health grounds, I have transformed the bhaji into a pancake which can be cooked with a minimum amount of olive oil.
Makes 6 to 8 pancakes so serves 4 as a first course or two as a lunch dish
100 g chickpea flour (also known as besan or gram flour)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
150 g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red and 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
50 g fresh coriander/cilantro, coarsely chopped
25 g red onions, peeled and finely chopped
25 g fresh mint, coarsely chopped
Seeds from 1 small pomegranate
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 lime, grated zest and juice
100 g cucumber, deseeded and diced
3 tbsp olive oil + extra for frying
250 ml plain plant-based yoghurt such as CoYo coconut yoghurt
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 lime, juiced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sift the flour, spices, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and add just enough cold water to make a very thick batter.
Stir in the sliced onions, chillies and half the coriander, and set aside to rest.
For the salad, combine the red onions, remaining coriander, half the mint, pomegranate, garlic, juice and zest of one lime, cucumber and 2 tbsp of olive oil in a bowl. Season just before serving.
Mix together the yoghurt, molasses, juice of one lime, remaining mint, 1 tbsp of olive oil and some seasoning.
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting and put a plate in to warm.
Heat some olive oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Drop large spoonfuls – as close to 1/8th as you can! – into the pan and flatten them slightly with a spatula.
Lower the heat and cook for about four minutes, until you can see that the pancakes are starting to turn golden around the edges. Carefully flip them over and cook the other side for about two minutes. You want the onions to be cooked but the pancake to remain moist.
Remove the pancakes to the plate in the oven to keep warm and cook the remaining batter in the same way.
Transfer the pancakes to warm plates, drizzle them with yoghurt, and serve immediately with the salad.
And what about this dish's nutritional talents? Pomegranates are anti-inflammatory, a rich source of anti-oxidants and Vitamin C and are thought to protect against cancer and dementia as well as offering cardiovascular and cholesterol benefits. Onions are a natural antibiotic, packed with polyphenols, flavonoids and sulphur compounds which may aid in cancer prevention and increase bone density, blood sugar balancing, and may even improve fertility. Coriander removes toxic metals from the body, is high in antioxidants and minerals, lowers cholesterol and improves memory. Cucumbers are hydrating and cooling, anti-inflammatory, brain protective, contain lignans which help protect against cancer, and pack a real punch of B vitamins to combat stress. What a powerful nutritional profile for a plate of onion bhaji pancakes!