Monday, March 31, 2008

nut loaf that some would call a roast

It’s been years since I made a nut roast but I will never forget my first experience of one. Living in London in my early 20’s, I was fortunate enough to have two Christmases. The first was at my boyfriend’s house before everyone took off to their families for the big day. It involved a roast turkey (which being vego I avoided), paper hats, lots of alcohol and a fair few waifs and strays, mostly of the melancholic Welsh variety. On the 25th I hopped on the tube to South London with the friend who I’d been staying with, for an all girl, mostly lesbian, vegetarian Christmas. There was paper hats, lots of alcohol, a rousing game of Trivial Pursuits – and nut roast. How quaint, I remember thinking.

Living in London through the next year I quickly discovered a nut roast is the way that the British vegetarians mark a celebration. Or at least they did in that part of the twentieth century. I bought the tradition back to Melbourne to some of the vegetarian shared houses I lived in. But folks, it’s been a while and although I embraced this culinary challenge (spurred on by Lucy) it has involved a lot of digging in my memory banks to dredge up a recipe. I know there have been many variations. I have used the same recipes to even make more labour intensive nut or tofu balls, rather than the roast which is essentially a loaf. On that point, I don’t believe the dish has in any way represented faux meat, rather it is a “roast” in the sense that it is a hearty baked dish for a cold climate, one that is shared with friends and family, often in celebration. But technically speaking it is a savoury loaf of the vegetarian variety.

My nut roasts have tended to include ground almonds and other nuts and cooked brown rice or tofu. Using only nuts tends to make a very rich loaf. Adding rice can cut that richness but sometime makes it heavier and more crunchy. Tofu reduces both the richness and weight. For this venture I decided to combine all three. For flavour I have always used sautéed onion and garlic and a generous splash of tamari (a less harshly flavoured, Japanese version of soy). A dash of roasted sesame oil is a great way of adding the essence of the seeds without the bulk. Lucy’s version, though cheesy, appealed to me by including mushrooms – so since I was heading back to the drawing board on this recipe, I added some fresh shitake mushrooms for the first time and they were a definite winner.

Ok quantities, don’t laugh – I actually did some weighing and measuring for this one but I’m going to throw my notes out. After all, every loaf tin or container I have cooked this in over the years has varied in size – so I am going with a radical suggestion regarding the amounts needed of three of the main ingredients – to do them by eye!

Nut Loaf with Shitake Mushrooms

Approx 300g, raw nuts, I used almonds and cashews, ground in a food processor. (Pulse the nuts til you get a coarse, breadcrumb like consistency. If you over do it you will end up with nut paste)
1/2 – 1 block, firm tofu, squeeze out the excess water, crumbled
1/2 – 1 cup, cooked brown rice
1 – 2 tabs, vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
100 – 150 g, fresh shitake mushrooms, diced
2 (possibly more) eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon, tamari
Roasted sesame oil or raw sesame seed

Cook the brown rice in advance using the absorption method. Leftover rice is fine.

Heat your oven to 180c. If you want to eat some roast vegetables with the loaf, it is a good idea to prepare them first and get them underway. I roasted a lovely acorn squash and some parsnip, which was perfect.

Sauté the onion and garlic slowly in the vegetable oil and allow to cool. Do the same with the mushrooms.

Now here comes the radical bit – get your loaf tin and half fill it with nuts before grinding them. This give you a base amount of nuts and the other dry ingredients to use. Use about half the amount each of tofu and cooked brown rice. If you want a less rich loaf, only 1/3 fill the tin with nuts and try equal quantities of rice and tofu.

Mix the ground nuts, rice, and crumbled tofu in a large bowl. Add the cooked onion, garlic and shitake mushrooms. In a separate bowl, beat your eggs with the tamari. Slowly mix the eggs into the other ingredients – you want the mixture to hold together without being too eggy. Try rolling it into a ball and see how smooth it looks.

Press the mixture into your loaf tin lined with baking paper and either sprinkle sesame seeds or splash the top with a little sesame oil.

Depending on the size of your tin and the wetness of the ingredients it will take about 40 minutes. Start checking from 30 minutes.

Serve with a sauce or gravy of your choosing. In the past I often put together a very speedy and simple mixture of miso paste and tahini, whipped together with warm water until it was the consistency of gravy. This time I went whole hog and made a slow cooked tomato sauce, with finely chopped onion, lots of garlic, wine, salt and pepper. It really gave the loaf a bit of a lift.

This post has risen to Johanna’s challenge ”a neb at nut roast". Entries close April 18.

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Blogger Lucy said...

A thing of great beauty, that nut roast of yours, AOF.

I agree that it's a Brit thing - many more Brits seem to have the 'fear' of being served it than anyone else apparently. I reckon it's the carnivores who 'dread' it the most...

Love the tofu idea (mine was really too heavy and could have done with this lighter touch), totally agree about the playing-it-by-eye-and-feel approach and how gorgeous to see a properly set table!

6:11 pm  
Anonymous kitchen hand said...

I wonder how cheese would work in that as a kind of cheesy nut casserole (non-rennet cheese, of course, such as paneer).

3:09 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

KH got to Lucy's post and it gives both the cheese based nut roast recipe and what she thought of it. While I was still a dairy-eating thing in England I cannot remember if the varieties I ate were cheesy. It certainly can stick a loaf together very well.

For the vegans - I know I have made this without egg. Use a bit more tofu and include the slurp of sesame oil into the mixture. It holds together ok (but then again, don't forget the sauce, it covers up all the cracks).

3:24 pm  
Blogger Johanna said...

thanks for taking on the challenge aof and sharing your memories as well as a delicious loaf. I love how you give the measurements for the ingredients and love a bit of tofu in a nut roast!

11:17 pm  
Anonymous glutenfreeforgood said...

Oh YUM! This looks awesome! And I love shiitake mushrooms in anything and their medicinal substances are wonderful additions to healing foods. And sesame seeds! High in calcium. Good, good job on this recipe. It's a keeper. Thanks for sharing it with us!
In good health,

1:59 am  
Blogger bee said...

what a delightful post!! and recipe.

2:52 am  
Blogger LisaRene said...

You sound like a nut roast aficionado! I have never had one before and made my first nut roast for this roundup with good results. After looking at all the nut roasts in Johanna's roundup I'm having a hard time deciding which one to make next :) Thanks for sharing your nut roast tips!

2:28 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks for the positive feedback :)

6:57 pm  

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