Vegan in Copenhagen

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What a spectacular castle!  We visited it on our last day in Copenhagen, which was the only day we actually enjoyed there.  Oh, I hated Copenhagen, almost from the moment we arrived.  I was going to give a long rant about everything that went wrong, but I think this poem sums it up nicely, composed during one of our many wasted hours at the train station (my beau contributed a couple of rhyming words and insists on a co-author credit):

Why is Copenhagen so rubbish?

It could be because of the rain.

Why is Copenhagen so rubbish?

I think it’s because of the trains.

Trains disappear from the screens

And are cancelled without prior warning,

You can begin your journey at noon

And be in the same place the next morning.

The ticket machines are so stupid,

They won’t let you pay with notes,

Staff refuse to give a straight answer,

It would be quicker to travel in boats.

Building an ark is the best plan,

For when it rains, it pours and it floods,

The skies are constantly gloomy and grey,

Copenhagen just isn’t that good.

In fairness, there were some impressive castles both in the city and within day-tripping distance, and we went to a brilliant, free art museum and really enjoyed our guided tour of the city.  But the weather and the transport made it into a headache of a destination and for my own sanity I think it best never to go back.  When our train out of the city was cancelled as well and we could have been forced to stay longer than planned, that was probably the lowest point in my life.

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But the company was excellent, as was the food.  On our first full day, after being on our feet all day and trudging around in the rain, we cheered ourselves up with a sushi feast at Green Sushi.  It was pricey (everything in Scandinavia is), but very good quality food.  Vegan options are clearly marked on the menu, and we went for the 14 piece vegan set menu.  Everything was tasty, but the nigiri pieces closest to the camera were simply divine.  I was quite tempted to go back for more, but in the holiday spirit we did a bit more exploring.

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Sticking to the idea of nibbles, we went to Simple Raw and had one of their raw tapas plates.  I was unsure what to expect from it:  I’ve had a few raw cakes (including the most amazing raw brownie at Levenshulme Market a couple of weeks ago, for anyone Manchester based), but not much savoury.  My conclusion was that the raw tapas were very fresh and flavoursome…but the falafel and patties would have been better warm.  The salads were fantastic, and the hummus and crackers were both good.  I would definitely recommend it even to fellow raw-sceptics like me.

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As tradition dictates, I had no qualms about the raw desserts:  we shared the triple chocolate cake and chocolate fudge cake.  They were both intensely chocolatey and delicious, and we hadn’t even told them we were sharing yet they came in two conveniently small slices.  Perfect!

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For our breakfasts we decided we had to honour the noble tradition of Danish pastries, and helped ourselves to lots of Naturbageriet treats.  On our first day we arrived at this little bakery too late to have our choice of the baked goods, but the banana/apple cake was nice and moist and the cinnamon bread was so nicely spiced, they made for an unusual but tasty start to the day.  The next day we had chocolate croissant, which had a delightfully thick line of chocolate on the outside as well as a gooey centre – still not as good as Dr Pogo, though.  And finally, a good old cinnamon whirl, which was a bit dry but still tasty.

There were a decent number of vegan options in Copenhagen, though not as much choice as in Berlin, nor as much affordable food.  However, the food was probably the only thing I didn’t complain about in Copenhagen, so we’ll call it a victory!  Maybe I would risk a return visit for some more of that sushi…

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Vegan in Berlin: Friedrichshain

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Friedrichshain was all about one building for us until our last few hours in Berlin.  From Warschauerstrasse station it’s just a short walk to the building that is home to Veganz (a vegan supermarket, bigger and better-stocked than Dr Pogo’s), Goodies (a predominantly vegan cafe and bakery) and Mio Matto (a vegan fine dining restaurant).

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Our meal at Mio Matto was the fanciest of our holiday and we were really looking forward to it.  The boasts of a ‘panorama lounge’ proved somewhat groundless, when the promised view was just the balcony doors over the busy road below.  But still, the restaurant was very stylish and had a lovely atmosphere.  There are three menus to choose from:  fresh, regional or creative.  Each menu lists only the key ingredients, rather than telling you what the dish actually is.  Whatever you choose, you get the same amuse bouche of zesty carrot soup.

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My beau chose the regional menu and started with this beetroot, apple, almond, fennel and peach concoction.  He enjoyed the individual components but didn’t really feel like it all came together as a complete dish.

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His soup should have been this garlic one, but our dishes got switched around and we hadn’t been keeping track, so I had this one.  The garlic came through really strongly, which I liked, and the deep-fried shrimp balancing on the crouton there was a very welcome addition.

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Unfortunately he was also pretty underwhelmed by the ragout main, which was let down by the chunks of mock meat – they were a bit too chewy and tasteless.

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Dessert, happily, was a winner in his eyes:  chocolatey and delicious, and all working together beautifully.  I had been deterred from this one by the pear listed in the ingredients, but I overcame my hatred to try a little and it really was good.

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I opted for the creative menu, which kicked off in style with this plate of sushi:  colourful, fresh, tasty.

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For the soup I should have had this one before our mix up.  The mushrooms were brought out dry, and a pot of tea was poured in to serve.  It was quite autumnal and meaty.

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I really enjoyed my main, which was a pumpkin and coconut curry with deep fried balls of normal and black quinoa for texture.  I comfortably won that round.

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Dessert, however, was a bit flat, mostly because I always choke on popcorn and so derive no pleasure from eating it, but also because I don’t technically classify something as a dessert if it contains neither chocolate nor cream.  Actually the blueberry layers in the glass were quite tasty and refreshing, but it wasn’t quite what I was after.  Overall we enjoyed and appreciated the experience in Mio Matto – it’s great that there are restaurants doing this fine dining for us.  However, the food itself didn’t quite live up to the presentation.  I’d happily go again, but it wasn’t the best food of the trip, even if it was the most expensive meal.

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Downstairs we spent a fair amount of time browsing the supermarket shelves and stocking up on rice milk chocolate (the ultimate vegan chocolate), and also sampled a few of the goods from Goodies.  On our first visit I tried the sweet potato BBQ bagel, which sounded really tasty but was alas lacking in the BBQ department.  My beau definitely won that round with his beet falafel.  Happily, we both struck gold when we split this beautifully rich chocolate and walnut cake.

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We went back a couple of times for takeaway treats, including a breakfast of cinnamon roll and croissant (the chocolate was not all oozing and nutty like at Dr Pogo, but it was still decent).

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And to fuel us at the airport on our journey to Copenhagen we got this gorgeous vegetable rosti and interesting China roll – a breadcrumbed spring roll.  It made for a satisfying and affordable meal on the go.

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That was definitely enough to fuel us because we’d already got bellies full of cake following a mid-afternoon trip to the pretty, pink, Parisien patisserie place, Oh La La.  This cafe is 100% vegan and has a good crepe menu, but we just split two heavenly cakes.

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First was the chocolate pyramid, which was just like a Snickers bar with its nuts and caramel.  After completing it, I told my beau the next one couldn’t possibly be as good.  I was wrong.

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It had an oozing centre of chocolate sauce and vertical lines of thick chocolate amongst the mousse, and a delicious nutty coating.  It was absolutely sensational, and a fitting farewell to Germany, one of the most vegan friendly places imaginable.

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Vegan in Berlin: Kreuzberg

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Kreuzberg is perhaps the most famous alternative area of Berlin, and thus it may be the one with the highest concentration of vegan-friendly eateries.  To give an idea of how ‘alternative’ it is, we went on a walking tour to see the local street art and graffiti and a member of the group with a Primark shopping bag was advised to cover it up lest she get bottled by the locals.  Hardcore!  But it’s hard to imagine the people we observed on our leisurely summer strolls attacking a tourist:  it was a really lovely and interesting place, and we were able to eat outside in the sun on several occasions.  And the food is good!

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Our first stop in Kreuzberg was Yellow Sunshine, a vegetarian fast food place with a good selection of vegan options.  I got a “chicken” burger with a heap of fries that really hit the spot – it’s never going to be the best meal of your life, but it’s satisfying and tasty when you’re in the mood for it.  We had been looking forward to a slice of vegan tiramisu but they were sold out, so we wandered along to a nearby vegetarian cafe for dessert.

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Rootz turned out to be one of our favourite spots of the holiday.  We split a peanut butter devil’s food cake, and just look how thick the icing was!  That’s the kind of cake:icing ratio I heartily approve of.

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We were so impressed that we were back for lunch the next day.  I went for the Mexican bean burger and the Square Rootz chips, from a variety of root vegetables.  The burger was spicy and good and certainly didn’t need to be doubled – one was plenty.  That’s not to say I didn’t have room in my pudding stomach, obviously.  We split a salted caramel cupcake, which I could happily eat every day.

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Every Thursday evening there’s a Street Food Market in Kreuzberg, so we made that a priority in our trip.  There was a fantastic array of food, and the vegans were also spoilt for choice.  I showed my northern roots by scoffing this pie from the Hallo Good Pie stand:  the pastry was so good (as was the filling, but I’m crazy about pastry), and the little salad was nice and refreshing.  My beau got this plate of Ghanaian food, which is all vegan except for the yam balls, which reportedly were a touch disappointing anyway.  The other bits I sampled tasted lovely.  And we also shared a couple of Turkish nibbles as well.  We found the lentil fritter a bit dry, but the rolls were really good.

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Although there were dessert options in the hall (both cake and ice cream), I had my eye on a prize just a few metres down the road:  Eissalon Tanne B, where we picked up some scrumptious Belgian waffles with ice cream and whipped cream.  What a feast!  It’s pretty rare that I see vegan waffles anywhere, so this was a real treat.

One of the downsides of being vegan is that you can’t just jump in and try any street food or local delicacies you like when you’re on the road, so any time I find an accommodating market like this I’m in my element.  It was fantastic to treat ourselves to an assortment of street food for very little money, and then get a sumptuous plate of dessert as well.  All hail Kreuzberg!

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Vegan in Berlin: Neukӧlln

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Ah, post holiday blues.  I hadn’t been on holiday for so long, I’d almost forgotten about the inevitable comedown, but here it is again.  While I’m far from enthusiastic about returning to work, I have had the blow somewhat softened by a timely tax rebate and the exciting prospect of having lots of good food to write about.  During the last two weeks I travelled to Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm and ate some wonderful, wonderful food (oh, and saw some nice sights too, of course).

In Berlin we did most of our eating in three areas:  Neukӧlln, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.  My first holiday post is going to focus on Neukӧlln.  This holiday was my first time using airbnb for accommodation, and more through luck than good planning I ended up choosing a room in vegan-friendly Neukӧlln.

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On our first night we were torn between two almost-neighbouring, 100% vegan establishments:  Sfizy (a pizzeria offering the elusive vegan calzone) and Let It Be (a creperie).  The decision was made for us when we discovered that Sfizy was closed for the rest of our stay, and so our German adventure began with some fine French food.

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Let It Be is small but bright, and has a wall of interesting art and a shelf of vegan cookbooks to browse.  They serve sandwiches, burgers and cakes, but we were all about the crepes.  Each crepe on the menu is named after a famous herbivore.  For my main course I was tempted to order a Woody Harrelson purely because my beau refuses to believe that he’s a vegan (how could someone as cool as Woody have anything in common with me?), but instead I went for the Erykah Badu, a tasty chickpea curry wrapped in a crepe.  It was pleasantly spiced (not too fiery) and really delicious.  Unsurprisingly my beau also refused the Harrelson, opting instead for the Daryl Hannah, a vegan twist on the Caprese salad, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

20140824_19180520140824_191133 We are not the kind of people who shy away from eating a double course of crepes:  we ordered a sweet one to share for dessert.  We were hoping for an Alicia Silverstone (chocolate, cream and bananas), but as it was late they were out of bananas so we settled for the Prince instead.  It was sublime – a very Nutella-esque filling with a sweet caramel sauce on the side.  A hot chocolate alongside it may have been overkill, but I can’t say no to a bit of whipped cream when it’s on offer.  We rolled our full bellies home feeling excited at the prospect of all the holiday food awaiting us, and relieved to have a good back-up plan so nearby if all else failed.

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Still slightly disappointed by the lack of vegan calzone, the next evening after a long day of exploring the city on foot we  went to a local vegetarian pizzeria with plenty of vegan options, Trattoria Ponte Verde.  I decided to keep things simple with the mushroom and olive pizza – it was tasty, and the vegan cheese was mercifully inoffensive (I find that stuff a bit hit and miss), but the pizza was a wee bit oily.  My beau got the four seasons and found the mock meat slightly unpalatable – all in all, a good but not amazing pizza experience.

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Eating out for breakfast every day is a sure fire way to break the holiday budget, so we tried to keep the costs down by coming prepared.  The morning that we flew from the UK, my fellow got us ready for the journey with one of his delicious cooked breakfasts.  We packed up the surplus tofu scramble with a pack of tortillas, and those wraps provided our breakfast for the first two days in Berlin.  After that we treated ourselves to some nougat croissants from Dr Pogo Veganladen Kollektiv, a small all-vegan supermarket not far from our apartment.  I wouldn’t describe them as nougaty, but full of delicious, nutty chocolate filling that oozed out with each bite.  Delicious!

20140829_09334020140829_091617 And we did allow ourselves one breakfast out during the trip, with a meal at Pele Mele, a lovely little cafe.  Hot drinks there are served with a little biscotti, which always equals an extra point in my book.  We both chose the hearty Mediterranean breakfast  featuring salad, Mediterranean tofu, olives, sun-dried tomaotes, a tofu/tomato/pesto Caprese salad and a bread basket.  It was a tasty, summery breakfast, but perhaps a bit too much – we had to smuggle two of the bread buns out with us for our picnic lunch.

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Speaking of picnics, we frequently stocked up at Dr Pogo’s for light bites to take with us for lunch on the go.  These falafel moons were our first choice, and we supplemented them with either spring rolls or lucky stars for a vegan feast at the Bundestag or a castle in Copenhagen.

All in all, we were extremely satisfied with our Neukӧlln eating and it’s definitely the area I’d opt to stay in again.  It’s not quite as hip and alternative as the other areas we ate in, but that’s probably why I liked it so much!

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Raspberry Crumble Squares

Raspberry Crumble Squares (12)

For her recent birthday, my mother expressed an interest in a celebratory afternoon tea.  There are few things I love more than afternoon tea, so I was determined not to miss out on the occasion:  I swiftly volunteered to provide the feast myself.  And so I did, with extremely pleasing results.  I put together a vintage tea set in the month leading up to it, and thought long and hard about suitable savoury options (not being a fan of sandwiches generally, it was quite tricky).  But really, of course, it was all about the cake.  Scones were a necessity, and the birthday girl herself requested a jaffa cake.  Then I opted for an easy golden syrup cake, a light and dreamy lemon poppyseed cupcake and these raspberry crumble squares.

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They have a delicious flapjacky base, a layer of zingy fresh raspberries and a sublimely crunchy crumble topping:  very special indeed.  They are also easy to throw together, and keep very well – they kept us going for almost a week afterwards!  The recipe below really does make a lot, so halving it might be a plan.

Now I just need some more ideas for my next afternoon tea – I don’t want my pretty tea set going to waste!

Raspberry Crumble Squares

Very slightly adapted from Ms Cupcake

Ingredients:

350g plain flour

300g rolled oats

100g brown sugar

100g caster sugar

50g ground almonds

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 banana, mashed

2 tsp vanilla extract

250g margarine

1 tsp almond extract

350g raspberry jam

300g fresh raspberries

a handful of flaked almonds

For the crumble:

50g plain flour

50g rolled oats

Method:

Raspberry Crumble Squares (1)

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a 33x23cm baking tin (or cheat and use a foil one).  Mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, caster sugar, ground almonds and bicarb with your hands.

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2.  Add the mashed banana, vanilla, margarine and almond extract and give it another good mix with your hands.

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3.  Set aside 350g of the mixture in a separate bowl, and spread the rest into the prepared tin.

 

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4.  Cover evenly with the raspberry jam, then top with the fresh raspberries.

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5.  Mix together the 350g reserved base mixture with the extra flour and oats for the crumble.

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6.  Sprinkle this mixture on top of the fruit.

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7.  Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and scatter over the flaked almonds.

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8.  Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, then set the tin on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Vegan in Manchester: Greens

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Greens is something of a Manchester institution:  a fairly fancy vegetarian restaurant in a fairly fancy part of town (Didsbury).  I have long been a fan of Simon Rimmer, the omnivore who bought the restaurant, learned to cook and kept it all vegetarian.  For any special occasion since my family moved to Manchester, Greens has been the immediate and obvious choice.

I fully expected to love it as much once I became vegan, but truthfully I can’t say that’s the case.  While there are at least three vegan options for starters and mains, none of them are marked on the menu which means dragging over the waiter to check – not a massive inconvenience to anyone, I suppose, but I try to keep my veganism as unobtrusive as possible.  Similarly the wine list isn’t marked either, and I constantly find this the biggest problem in being vegan.

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That’s not to say I’ve completely lost faith with Greens:  the food is still good.  When I was there most recently, my boyfriend and I found the food tasty but not particularly overwhelming.  We kicked off with the taster plate of black pudding (the mayo is not vegan, that was just for my fellow), which was beautifully crisp from deep-frying, but besides that not too different from the kind we buy in the local veggie shops and occasionally add to a breakfast fry-up at home.

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The last two times I’ve been I’ve chosen the same starter and main, and I’m genuinely not sure if that’s because they were so good or just because I wasn’t massively tempted by the other options (and also my belief that where possible I should avoid ordering the same food as my companion).  This scorched broccoli is like a plate of health – I don’t care if it’s doused in oil, I always feel extremely virtuous when I eat it – and the dressing is full of Asian flavours:  ginger, soy sauce, lime and garlic, with hazelnuts thrown in for a bit of crunch.  Occasionally I feel like scorched is too fancy a euphemism for burned, but the richness of the flavours win me over.

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And for my main I’ve had these sublime aubergine koftas twice.  The tabbouleh (capsized by the waiter, not by me, I hasten to point out) I can take or leave, but the koftas are like meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.  They inspire in me that classic dilemma of wanting my beau to share in the joy, but not wanting to lose out on any of the deliciousness myself.  In scenes of unprecedented generosity, I allowed him not one but two spoonfuls.

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Dessert is where Greens falls down for me.  None of the regular menu items are vegan- you actually have to ask and they provide one option only.  This makes it seem like vegans aren’t exactly welcomed, and that wowing the vegan guests is not a priority.  And to be honest, the desserts I’ve had really don’t deserve a place on the regular menu.  Greens isn’t exactly fine dining, but it does aim to be classy and impressive, and the vegan dessert never meets the normal standard.  The first vegan pud I had was this crumble.  The presentation isn’t much to shout about, and it was just a pretty basic crumble.  On my last visit it had changed to a carrot cake – just a slice of cake with no icing.  Come on – we may be vegans but we still want treats!  This time it was back to crumble, though as the picture at the top of the page shows, at least the presentation has improved.

Bistro 1847 in the city centre is still the new kid on the block when it comes to higher end vegan dining in Manchester, and I feel like it may have surpassed Greens.  I just need to convince my fellow to take me for another fancy meal so I can begin a more complete assessment!  They do at least take much more pride in their vegan desserts and mark all their vegan options – small things which make you feel a bit more at home and a bit less of a nuisance.

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Thai Overnight Scramble

Thai Scramble (9)

Breakfast is, as everyone knows, the most important meal of the day.  For the first six months I was back in the UK, I never had any morning classes and could enjoy a leisurely breakfast any day of the week.  Now I’m back working mornings and a hasty bowl of Weetabix is all I can squeeze in.  This means that lazy, luxurious weekend breakfasts are once again worthy of week-long daydreaming.  I usually lean towards something sweet for a treat breakfast, but I do occasionally rustle up something savoury as well.  This scramble is lovely, and preparing it the night before is just a bonus that means you actually can enjoy it for a mid-week pick-me-up breakfast too.

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The flavours are delicious, and the sponge-like tofu just soaks it all up.  When I became vegan I thought I would miss having eggs for breakfast.  Far from it, when there are alternatives like this!

Thai Overnight Scramble

Serves 4, from Isa Does It

Ingredients:

1 pack of tofu

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp Thai red curry paste

100g thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

2 tbsp bread crumbs

1/2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Thai Scramble (1)

1.  The night before:  crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl.  This is very satisfying!

Thai Scramble (2)

2.  In a ramekin, mix together the lime juice and curry paste.

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3.  Add the paste to the tofu with the mushrooms, spring onions, breadcrumbs, thyme, basil, coriander, garlic, ginger, turmeric, red pepper flakes and soy sauce.  Mix well with your hands.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

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4.  In the morning, heat the oil in a large pan.  Cook the tofu for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until warm and lightly browned.  Season and serve with toast.

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