A couple of quite momentous and seemingly unrelated things have happened to me over the past couple of weeks (well, for me anyway, but I’ve got some strange priorities). The first is that I bought my first batch of black garlic. Having heard a little of the buzz that has been going round about this stuff I knew that I wanted to try it, and soon. But the other, and probably even better thing was that I discovered how to make vegan bacon bits, courtesy of blissful basil.
Now, if you’ve never heard of black garlic, don’t worry. You soon will and in a couple of years or so it will probably be available everywhere, but until then we have to content ourselves with buying it online, here is a good link (if you are in the UK at least). For those of you who haven’t heard its story, here’s a quick recap. Originally from Korea and Thailand, black garlic, or similar preserved garlic products have been around for hundreds of years, but have only really gained popularity since 2008. Kept in a sealed container in a warm place for at least 30 days, the usually white, harder cloves turn black and take on a jelly like consistency. For some it may seem counter-intuitive to eat it, but black garlic is often seen as a health food product in Asia due to its impressive nutritional make up. Although it has far less allicin than normal garlic (regular readers will know about what a fan of allicin I am) it still manages to deliver double the anti-oxidants, in particular SAC. This sulphurous compound has been shown to be more stable and more easily absorbed by our bodies, one of the suggested reasons why black garlic has been shown to be more effective than normal garlic in reducing the size of tumours.
After having received my first batch, I spent many a happy hour thinking up, and trying out new ways to cook with the stuff (well, more like eat it really). It can be used in place of normal garlic, but it’ll impart more of a gentle balsamic vinegar sweetness, and less of the heat that you’ll be used to from raw garlic. But it is surprisingly versatile, and as it won’t leave any telltale aromas that you’ve been munching on garlic, you can sprinkle it chopped over soups, pasta sauces, cheese on toast or anything that you fancy giving a little bit of a wow factor to. I’ve tried them all, but from the word go, I thought I’d like to give it a go in a more creamier sauce to bring out its sweetness. Then I saw this recipe for a vegan bacon bits on blissful basil and I knew I had to give a black garlic carbonara a go.
I chose to base my sauce on silken tofu, because it really gives a very creamy, egg like texture to sauces, and in combination with the roasted courgette, it came exceptionally close to the original. So much so that my carnivorous boys and husband had no idea what they were eating. One of them even asked, excitedly “has this got bacon in it?” He couldn’t believe his luck when I told him it had. I just didn’t mention that it was my new vegan bacon discovery that will be popping up a lot more often now in my house. Try it for yourself, if you can’t get hold of any black garlic, feel free to leave that bit out or substitute it with some nice roasted vegetables instead. Or just go for more of the mushroomy bacon bits!
Vegan Carbonara Recipe
340g silken tofu
1 courgette (zucchini)
2-3 tbsps olive oil
2-3 tbsps of sea salt and celery seeds ground together in a pestle and mortar (or you could just use celery salt)
400g shiitake mushrooms
4-5 cloves of black garlic (optional)
Start off by making your vegan bacon bits. Preheat your oven to 200 deg. C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Wash and slice the mushrooms quite thinly, then toss them in the olive oil and salt/ celery seed mixture. Spread them out in a single (or as close to it as possible) layer, then put in the oven for around 25-30 mins. Turn them every so often, I did mine three times.
Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, slice your courgette in half lengthways, then put that in the oven as well, cut side facing up.
When the mushrooms are done, take out of the oven and leave to one side to cool. Try not to nibble on them, they are very moreish! The courgette should also be done by then, so take that out and leave until it is cool enough to handle.
When you can touch it, scrape the soft flesh out of the courgette and put in the bowl of a food processor with the silken tofu, and a scant handful of the mushrooms, salt and pepper. If you are using the black garlic chuck that in too. Then blend until you have a smooth sauce then check your seasoning.
When your pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it off then return it to the pan. Pour your prepared sauce over it, and return to the hob. (I had turned mine off by this point as this was still enough residual heat but if you may need to leave it on very low)
Stir for a minute or two, then sprinkle over some vegan parmesan and serve with a lovely side salad.