Sugar Free Almond Milk Chai

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A double batch with loads of tea – a little too much, actually, but it makes a striking photo!

…of sorts, anyway.

There are lots of good reasons to enjoy chai – a spiced, milky tea – but too often you get the Starbucks-type version, which is an ultra-sweet syrup added to hot milk. Making your own is a relaxing ritual, and absolutely worth it, if for no other reason than to find a way to use up some of those bottles of spices bought for other recipes but rapidly losing their freshness and gathering dust in a cupboard or rack somewhere.

Now I’m the first to admit the version below is lacking in authenticity in a big way; not only does it use almond milk, but the mix of spices was more dictated by what I like and happened to have in the house than by attachment to any particular tradition. So please see this as an experiment more than a recipe.

This makes a generous mugful; I have also made double the amount and kept it in a small insulated flask to sip through the afternoon. And please note that sugar free means fructose free – so it’s I Quit Sugar suitable, but does contain an optional sweetener in the form of rice malt syrup.

300ml unsweetened almond milk
1 heaped tablespoon black tea (I favour Darjeeling)
6 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
3 whole peppercorns
1-2 cinnamon sticks
A dash of ground ginger, or a small knob of fresh, grated
A dash of grated nutmeg (fresh is nice, but not essential)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (powder if you want to be completely fructose free, but it is just a trace)
Up to 1 tsp rice malt syrup, optional (to taste)

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I do like the odd dash of cinnamon over the top, too… (And do you love the Spaceship Earth-reminiscent mug?)

Don’t be tempted to overdo the tea to get a darker colour – it will stew and add bitterness, as I found out when I got a bit too enthusiastic….

1. Warm the milk on the hob to just below simmering point. Bringing it to this point first prevents the tea from stewing later.
2. Add the tea and flavourings, and keep at a very gentle simmer for a couple of minutes. Take off the heat and allow to sit for another minute so it completely brews without boiling.
3. Strain and sip.

In my more experimental phases, I’ve been known to throw in a teaspoon or so of milky ooling tea to add a buttery caramel note, but that’s definitely an unorthodox mix of cultures…

Food Blogging: The Pesach and Greek Easter Edition

Usually around this time of year, the Roumbas / Goldstein household becomes pretty grumpy. Our self-imposed desire to take part in the two key events of our respective religious traditions is not done with all that much grace or tolerance, which is a shame, because we could be learning valuable lessons in restraint and gratitude. Although actually, Greek Lenten food – mainly vegan, with some seafood-related exceptions – and Jewish Passover treats are absolutely delicious and it all feels a little bit like cheating.

2013 is an unusual exception, as – since the Last Supper was a Seder – Eastern Orthodox Easter generally falls at the same time as Pesach; weirdly, it’ll fall in May this year, but at least my mother-in-law isn’t left wondering what the hell to feed someone at a Seder who isn’t eating any meat, fish or eggs, since I only do the Lenten fast for Holy Week, not the whole 40 days (though I say every year that one year I will do it).

Still, in the spirit of both our traditions, here are a couple of recipes (one’s more of an assembly), one for Pesach, one Greecester-suitable. Enjoy.

Plava

PlavaGluten, wheat and dairy free.

(contains nuts and egg)

Make a great, fluffy sponge without any raising agents? I wouldn’t have thought it possible. But plava’s light, springy texture is derived from separating and whisking eggs – it’s almost a cakey, lemony omelette.

Traditionally you’d use potato flour and matzah meal (which is not wheat free) but I didn’t have any of either and I think ground almonds make for a slightly denser, more delicious cake.

I adapted this from this recipe by Frances Spiegel.

6 eggs, separated
200g caster sugar (some plava recipes call for icing sugar, but I used normal caster sugar)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
135g ground almonds

Key things to note:

  • Don’t grease the tin – it might stick a little, but if you’re patient with cooling (or line with paper) all will be fine.
  • Use a metal spoon when folding in beaten egg white so as not to knock the air out.
  • As ground almonds tend to burn easily, you could cover this in foil before it goes in, removing the foil when there are fewer than 10 minutes to go (don’t open the oven door any earlier!). I did it the other way around – adding foil after half an hour – because I forgot about their tendency to brown alarmingly, and managed not to collapse the cake, but I wouldn’t risk it usually.

1. Preheat to 180 degrees / 160 with fan.
2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until pale and light.
3. Stir in lemon juice and rind.
4. Stir in almonds.
5. In a clean, dry bowl with scrupulously clean and dry beaters  / hand whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
6. Fold in with a metal spoon, carefully and quickly as possible so as not to knock out too much air.
7. Pour into a tin (don’t knock it on the surface to make it even, just spread gently), and bake for around 45 minutes – this is a check regularly after 30 minutes job.

Dairy Free Greecester Breakfast Smoothie

Dairy free smoothieI’ve been experimenting with almond milk recently because much though I love cows’ milk it doesn’t always love me. Also, I’m a sucker for trying stuff I see on supermarket shelves. I really fancied a smoothie recently but I know they’re packed full of juices, and I thought if I was going to go on a glucose binge it might as well be the whole fruit. So I made the following, which would be absolutely fine for a Greek fast (perhaps not quite in the spirit of simplicity, but certainly in line with having a light meal).

Since there’s no cows’ milk or yogurt, it is lower in fat and calories than a traditional smoothie, though there’s no escaping the fruit sugar. At least you get the fibre of the oats and whole fruit to balance it out!

180ml almond milk
1 medium banana
25-30g porridge oats
A generous handful of frozen berries
A dash of vanilla extract (I use a 1/4 tsp of paste – gorgeous)

1. Throw in a blender and pulse until smooth. Drink.

Ideally, you’d leave the oats to soak in the milk from the night before, as then they swell and soften, thickening the smoothie and also blending smoother with fewer little oat bits to stick in your teeth. ¬†They don’t really bother me that much, but it can be a little grainy otherwise.

Using frozen berries means they’re always to hand in the freezer, regardless of season, but it also makes the smoothie ice cold, which is particularly nice if you’ve bought long life almond milk and it hasn’t been in the fridge.

It is apparently very easy to make one’s own almond milk – almonds soaked in water overnight, blitzed in a blender with fresh water then strained – but working out the costs it’s probably cheaper to buy it and I can’t help feeling life’s too short for cheesecloth. But if you want to go the full Pinterest Earth mother hog, don’t let me stop you. And then you could make almond butter as well, which is something I do want to try next.