Vegan Halal Guys
Tuesday, 21 Feb 2017

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I’ve been thinking about eating seasonally lately. I had actually committed to it for a few years and was living mainly off a local fruit & veg box - with supplementary proteins, grains and pantry items of course - but all my produce was seasonal, and as local as could be. It was wonderful in the late spring to early autumn, but every year when winter came I had nothing fresh. It was roots, brussels sprouts, kale (I got very inventive with kale), and apples of gradually declining quality as the winter wore on, until we hit the hungry gap. There are potatoes, and everything else must be imported from Spain or elsewhere in the EU. Every year I looked forward to seeing asparagus again as a marker of spring. I held on for a while until one winter I rebelled against the tyranny of weather and went out and bought vegetables from the supermarket. A lot, all green. I eventually cancelled the box (my husband rejoiced, he hates kale).

I’m not saying don’t get a seasonal fruit & veg box. I encourage you to. I do eat pretty seasonally. I’m a fan of markets, of farmer’s markets and go to my local one in Stoke Newington often. I like the variety of produce, some you don’t see in shops like purslane and things like courgette flowers and dandelion greens. Sometimes the fruit was excellent and far superior to anything in a supermarket, sometimes the fruit would be crap, it’s a gamble when you can’t select your own fruit. It’s just that for me, someone who likes to have spinach and pak choi and berries throughout the year, a mixture of seasonal and imported produce is more ideal.

I’ve been reading My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, food writer, editor of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, sort-of role-model. This book didn’t disappoint; it’s a good balance of sensible recipes and reminiscence (without the overuse of adjectives and sentimentality that seems too common in food writing). The title suggests that it’s maybe about eating seasonally in the manner of Nigel Slater. It’s organised by season but isn’t truthfully seasonal cooking and isn’t trying to be. Yes there are elements of the seasonal farmer’s market about it, like purslane in the spring and summer sections (that being said, I recently bought ‘winter purslane’ in early February), and apples in the winter. Rather, I feel that it reflects how most of us actually want to (and are able to) cook and eat through the seasons.

I’ve bookmarked quite a few recipes: the Prune sandwich, the Thai-American noodles, Matzo Brei, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, but the one I wanted to cook most was the Food Cart Curry Chicken. It’s Halal Guys inspired and I love, love the Halal Guys chicken and rice. The recipe for the chicken was so easy that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t a totally legit rendition, and I’d planned to use tempeh anyway so it wasn’t like it would’ve been authentic, but I was a little disappointed there wasn’t a recipe for the rice and sauces. There’s a suggestion for the white sauce and she encourages you to use ‘righteous red hot sauce’ - but what?

I proceeded to do some casual internet research, which unearthed…the not-so-casual research of others. I decided to do a white suace quite like the Thrillist recipe, which unlike the suggestion in the book excluded yogurt, as being too ‘dairy’. I already knew I wanted to add dill, correctly or not, because I love dill and it’s my white sauce, and garlic, also because I love garlic. I only had one lemon at this point and wanted to dedicate that to the red sauce, and figured I’d add vinegar instead as per the back of the Halal Guys packet. I omitted the ground caraway I didn’t have, and used an entire 1/4 tsp each of turmeric, cardamom and cumin. It didn’t blend well until I added a bit of water (about half of a 1/4 cup measure, ie. 1/8), then it was a little too thin, so I added 1/4 tsp cornflour. The effect was a little sour, maybe not exactly the Halal Guys sauce but very good nonetheless.

None of the red sauce suggestions I saw online looked right. Many recipes suggest using Sriracha which I don’t understand, and harissa from a tube which might have worked but wouldn’t have been hot enough. When I read that the original Halal Guys were Egyptian, I looked up the Egyptian hot sauce shatta, but these recipes resembled zhoug with tomato paste. I don’t remember it being very tomato-ey or herby so using tomato paste and cups of coriander and parsley was out (and tomatoes, paste or otherwise, aren’t an ingredient on the back of the red sauce packet anyway), but I do remember it being very hot so I used three types of chillies: fresh red chillies, dried bird’s eye chillies and ground hot chilli powder (the ground chillies as ingredient kind, and not the spice mixture for cooking chilli con carne). I added the juice of a whole lemon, garlic because I like it, cumin as a spice common to shatta and harissa, and sumac as a further souring spice. I love my red sauce. It’s a little sour, it’s very very hot, it’s a good pouring consistency and I felt it was worthy of a Halal Guys inspired plate.

My chosen salad was sliced radishes and cucumbers instead of lettuce and tomatoes because that’s what I had, but when I make it again I’ll definitely make the chopped tomato-onion-cucumber salad, maybe with radishes too. The meal was amazing, and I guess reasonably healthy if you don’t think about the mayo (I might use greek yogurt next time, or make a tahini sauce). Tempeh is a good replacement for chicken as well as it absorbs marinade well, cuts up chunky like chunks of chicken and gets crispy on the outside when you saute it. This is one of the meals I’ll definitely make again at some point, in the meantime I’ll try other recipes from the book.

Vegan Halal Guys (based on Ruth Reichl's Food Cart Curry Chicken)

Ingredients

Serves 2

  • 200g tempeh
  • 1 onion
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried herbs
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
Method

Cut tempeh into chunks. Slice the onion. Put in a ziploc bag.

Blitz all other ingredients in the food processor. Add to ziploc bag, squish to ensure everything's mixed.

Marinade in the fridge for as long as you can, for me it was about two hours.

In the meantime cook your rice. I cooked mine (1.5 cups dry basmati rice) in some stock with 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1/4 tsp cumin.

When the rice is nearly cooked, heat some oil in a pan over a medium heat and empty the ziploc bag into it.

Saute the tempeh onion mixture until cooked, it should be a little dry.

Serve with salad and sauces over rice (turmeric rice as above, or plain white rice).