The Economical Vegan

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Living with Non-Vegans Part Two! Ideas for non-Vegans to cook for Vegans

This is just a quick post to raise another issue about living with non-vegans. I wrote initially from the rather arrogant stance of someone who does a lot of cooking and is comfortable being creative and innovative in the kitchen. However, there is a need to consider the other perspective, and that is, the non-vegans living with me! My partner was dumbfounded yesterday after attempting to cook dinner and not being able to find key ingredients for the small number of meals she is comfortable cooking for me. She is also very concenred she may get it wrong and I end up eating something I don’t want to!So I decided that a good thing to do would be to provide a list of meals that could be easily made and adapted to include a vegan. I am now compiling a simple list of various options and meal ideas, which I will put in the kitchen in a poly pocket, to give an idea of what to make. I think for those of us living with non-vegans who are kind enough to want to cook for us, this is a very useful and practical approach to taking the stress out of cooking for vegans. Here are some suggestions:
Standard dinner: potatoes, vegetables, instant veggie gravy, and vegan sausages (from freezer or sosmix)
Spaghetti with tomato vegetable sauce – when making spag bol, make the sauce separately (with no animal products), syphon off half into another pan, and add lots of chopped veg, simmering for about 20 minutes. Make the meaty spag bol the usual way for the meat eaters.
Check any pasta has no egg in it!
Veggie cottage pie – mixed up finely chopped veg, seasoned, with mashed potato on top
Veggie wraps – any raw or grilled veg with spices wrapped in a tortilla
Bean casserole – any beans with a tin of tomatoes, a chopped onion, chopped veg and stock cube – simmered for about 30 minutes, served with bread
Vegetable curry – the MAINSTAY – fried onions, plenty of veg, curry powder, spices, stock cube, thicken with instant veggie gravy granules, serve with rice, couscous, quinoa, chips, whatever!
Vegetable soup or stew – onions and a load of other veg, boiled up with some lentils or barley if possible – and plenty of herbs and seasoning.

These are just a few ideas. I would welcome any other simple ideas. Have fun.


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Saving Time

In my attempts to be economical, and to stick to a strict vegan diet, I often stumble across ways of saving resources whilst also indulging my love of food and cooking. One of the resources that we find perhaps more precious than ever in our crazy, busy lives is time, and I learned from my short incarnation as a chef that time can be very well used in cooking and food preparation. So this is the focus of my blog today – saving time.
There are many ways of saving time when cooking good vegan food, and the first one, potentially the most important, is peeling and chopping fruit and vegetables. This is an onerous task and it is well worth focusing on developing your skills in this area. I used to be able to peel a whole sack of potatoes in forty minutes, and a whole sack of carrots in thirty minutes, and peeling vegetables quickly is no great mystery. Invest in a good vegetable peeler, hold the vegetable in your non dominant hand, with fingers well out of the way, and use swift strokes of the peeler with the dominant hand, rotating the vegetable with the other hand. This takes a little practice but it gets easier with time. Carrots can be peeled in a few seconds like this, as can courgettes, parsnips etc. Potatoes can be trickier – I usually do the top half then flip it. Do this over a compost bin or bag so the peelings go straight into it. For swede, use a large, sharp knife, chop off the base to give it stability, then stand it lengthwise and peel downwards towards the chopping board, rotating it and holding it at the top.
Another tip is to avoid peeling what doesn’t have to be peeled. Organic fruit and vegetables may not need peeling. Scrub well to remove dirt and use with the peel on where possible – except where the peel is inedible.
Next comes the chopping. Invest in a good, solid wooden chopping board, and put a tea towel underneath so it doesn’t slide around on your preparation surface. Invest in a large, wide-bladed knife and keep it sharp – thick skins of tomatoes, aubergines and the like blunt the knife easily. Place the vegetable on the board, and curl your fingers of your non dominant hand as you steady the vegetable, then slice in even slices, confidently but carefully. Rock the knife in a kind of circular motion like you see chefs doing. With practice this gets easier and quicker. Try cutting veg like carrots on the diagonal for better effect. Keep practising with the knife, get into a rhythm with it, and as long as you keep the item you are chopping stable, and control your knife firmly, you should get faster and faster.
The next time saver is planning. Think of what needs cooking the longest in your meal, and prepare that first if you can. Then while that starts to cook you can be doing the other elements. For example, if you are doing roasted vegetables, prepare these and get them in the oven while you prep your salad or other items. Today I made a mushroom and marinated tofu casserole with a black pepper sauce, and I started this first, but at the same time I chopped the onion for the carrot and coriander soup and put the water on to boil with the onion in. I got the casserole simmering then did the steamed veg and put that on, then chopped the carrots for the soup and added those. Then I cleaned up while everything was cooking, washed up, and tidied my kitchen, in between running back and forth between my computer and the kitchen, and supervising my son’s homework! The dinner turned out well. The soup was delicious (the key is putting the coriander in at the very last minute), and was enough for three lunches.
Another time saver is to avoid shopping! Rather than planning shopping around meals, plan your meals around what you have in the cupboards and fridge and freezer already. Use the ingredients you have and learn to adapt and be creative. If all you have in are cauliflower, soya flour, an onion and some curry powder and seasonings, it’s cauliflower curry with soya flatbreads for dinner! Television cookery shows fool us into thinking we need to collect so many ingredients for a decent meal, but understanding what to do with what you have is the best way to be economical and not waste time on several shopping trips a week. Commit to using up everything you possibly can before you go out to shop again, and you will be amazed how far food goes, and how much time you save.
The final time saver is cutting corners! Yes, that’s right, cutting corners. I don’t have all the answers here, some you will have to figure out for yourself. But cutting corners can include: using vegetable gravy granules to thicken sauces, soups and stews; using pre-prepared crushed garlic, or frozen or pureed garlic; using frozen vegetables in curries, soups, stews and pies; and using pre-prepared spice and seasoning mixes. You can freeze vegetables yourself, for example, or make your own spice mixes for fajitas, roasted vegetables, curry, stew and the like. Another time saver is frozen pastry (check it’s vegan!), which I love, not being brilliant at making pastry myself. When you have plenty of time on your hands, prepare things that can be pulled out in an instant and instantly impress! Or make extra when you are cooking, and freeze it for next time. For example, when baking bread I always make a larger portion of dough, bake two loaves, and freeze one. When making crumble topping, make double (it takes the same amount of time), and freeze half in a freezer bag for next time. Freeze soups in individual portions ready for taking to work or bringing out for a quick meal. And make your own vegetable stock for the freezer, then it’s ready whenever you need to add depth and richness to your dishes. For chopping things swiftly, have an electric mini chopper; and for baking and mixing, an electric mixer, with a dough hook for your bread dough.
The final way to cut the time is to have an organised kitchen. I’m not going to dictate to you how to plan your storage, but make it make sense to you, and keep it as tidy as you can, with the things you use the most easily accessible. This makes your cooking more efficient. It’s frustrating to spend ages hunting for that key ingredient, or to have lost your favourite frying pan somewhere in the recesses of the pan cupboard. It’s your kitchen, take charge, learn to speed up, so you can spend more time enjoying the other glories that life has to offer.
Recipe hint for today: add a teaspoon of mustard to a casserole sauce or to your gravy – it’s lovely!.


Living with non-vegans

This is a controversial issue for some vegans, because living with people who eat meat, fish and dairy can be a bit of a challenge. All sorts of questions arise about whether or not to cook for their diets, for example, or to force them to only eat vegan food if you are cooking. Similarly, how do we manage with fridge space, cooking utensils and the like? What about cross contamination? Some of us might have the luxury of a big kitchen and a big budget, to have separate pots and pans for the vegans, and to even have separate storage spaces. Most of us do not, however. The Economical Vegan has to be a pragmatist, and accept that whilst we can educate, and even evangelise if we are so inclined, it is not possible to force others to our own point of view, and it is more practical to work around some of their requirements. After all, we expect others to respect our right to eat vegan food.
So, this comes down to a few practical issues. For one, have separate areas in the fridge for storing the meat or dairy products. A good approach is to have a large, lidded plastic tub for all dairy products, and another for meat, obviously depending on the size of the fridge. This minimises the chance of cross contamination. You can split your cooking utensils, or else, just make sure the washing up is good. Rinse all those used with meat, fish or dairy, in hot water, before washing up, and wash up the vegan stuff first, leaving the non-vegan till later. Rinse the dishes after washing up and before drying. Again, this minimises cross contamination.
When it comes to cooking, I can say from personal experience that whilst the adults I cook for are perfectly happy with vegan food, the teenage boy in my household is not, and one too many vegan meals results in significant sulks. Certainly others often do not have the same adaptation to taste that we vegans have, and may find some of what we eat unpalatable. To make life easier, I plan meals where the meat or cheese eaters can add extras to please themselves. For example, I might make a nut roast dinner, with roasted and steamed vegetables etc, and veggie gravy. They can add meat if they wish. Similarly, if I make a curry, the meat eaters can siphon some off into a separate pan and add frozen chicken pieces or whatever else they want to make it nice. Chilli bean enchiladas – I let them put their own cheese in. It’s just about adjusting and respecting that others have the right to make their own choices.
I have found that being considerate in this way makes life a lot easier. It reduces tension. It shows respect to others, the same respect that I expect from them. And it allows me to gradually educate their tastebuds so that they get used to the vegan food. It is more economical because it means not having to make two separate meals all the time, and it reduces waste.
It makes a difference to the harmony of the home as well, as we can all sit down and eat together.
Being vegan is my choice, and it is saving me a lot of money, but I can’t demand that others respect my choices if I don’t respect their rights to make their own, can I?

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Soup Again – Saving Money and Making Lovely Food Experiences

We had the leftover/abandoned veggies soup today for lunch – I spiced it up by adding some jamaican hot sauce, and then served it with walnut bread, and a side salad of lettuce, tomato, red pepper, black olives and spring onions, topped with coriander and drizzled with olive oil. I dropped a few chunks of cheezely mature red cheddar into the soup as well, which was delicious. It was a delicious meal and I feel very content. So I wanted to post about it and let you all know how disgustingly healthy and happy I am today.

Just think about how much money you could save if you were to save all your leftover veggies etc to make soup! I suggest keeping a large, lidded tub in your freezer just for this purpose, and if you make a meal or a large salad and don’t want the veg the next day, put them in the soup pot.  Or if you notice some of your veg looking a bit past it in the fridge, chop it up and freeze it in the stock pot. This is then ready for use when you want to make a soup. The flavours can be varied by adding chilli sauce, or tomato puree, or lots of freshly ground black pepper, five minutes before serving. Or topping with finely chopped fresh herbs if you have any. Whilst eating the soup, my partner dipped a spring onion in and commented on how delicious it was, so another suggestion would be finely chopped spring onion on top!

To go with the soup – you could make your own bread, or have some toasted bread, or even make dumplings or croutons. Dumplings are easy – just mix vegan spread with self raising flour, water, salt and some dried mixed herbs, form into small balls, and drop into the soup, simmering for about 20 minutes with the lid on. Croutons are also easier, and a great way to use up leftover bread going a bit stale – just brush the bread with olive oil, cut to the desired size, and either toast on a griddle or in a dry frying pan,on both sides,  before dropping into the soup as you serve it.

Mmmmm, soup!

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This is just a quick post. Yesterday I did a little shopping and needed to clear out the fridge, and there were some sad, tired vegetables left there which hadn’t been used, so i did what I usually do, and made vegetable soup. I just chopped all the veg up, added an onion, water and two stock cubes, a sprinkle of pepper and dried mixed herbs, and boiled for 10 minutes, then added some red lentils, and boiled for 30 more minutes. Blended with a hand blender, all I had to do was adjust the seasoning and i had lovely soup.

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Store Cupboard Essentials – Part 1

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. But I am trying to live more ethically and economically, so I also spend a lot of time reflecting on how to make food go further. Or how to make better food choices. Many years ago I was very, very poor, and managing to feed two people a dog and six cats on around £40 a week. That was for everything – not just food, but toilet paper, cleaning products, toiletries etc. So I ate very simply and learned to make things go as far as possible. One week our money ran out, and we simply ran out of food, and didn’t eat for three days. That was when I realised that having a well stocked store cupboard was vital to being efficient as a cook and housekeeper. This became more evident when I became vegan, as planning is more important than ever.
So I wanted to talk about some of the essential store cupboard ingredients that you might want to consider to make life easier and also make food go a long way. We all love fresh fruit and veg, but other staples help these yummy fresh foods along to make varied, interesting, and economical meals.
In this blog, my focus is on pulses. i’ve mentioned these before – and really I can’t stress how important pulses are to a vegan diet, and how much fun you can have with them. They are cheap, easy to use, and rich in protein and fibre. I use lentils, red kidney beans, borlotti beans, yellow split peas, black eyed peas, cannelini beans, broad beans, peas, chick peas, aduki beans, mung beans and any others I come across on a regular basis. So keeping these in stock is vital. Keep dried pulses in tight-lidded jars if possible. If not, in sealed bags. Apart from lentils, most benefit from soaking overnight in cold water before cooking. Drain the liquid and add fresh water before boiling. They cook at different rates. Red kidney beans require significant preparation to remove toxins from the skins, so I no longer use these dried – they are very cheap in tins and this works out more economical than using so much fuel to boil them for hours!
A pressure cooking can significnatly cut the cooking time of beans that take along time, like soya beans, but be careful.
Tinned beans are a useful quick meal as well, and they come in many varieties. I always look out for special offers on tinned beans and buy them then. For example. the larger supermarkets often have reductions on tins of organic beans because they aren’t selling very fast, so I look out for offers and then stock up on these when I see them.
So, what do we use them for?
Beans are great in soups and stews – they add body, flavour and texture, as well as protein and colour. Red lentils will thicken soup and stew very nicely, and can be added to casseroles. They can be made into a delicious dahl with a few spices, as an accomaniment to other curries. Cooked to a thick paste they can form the basis of burgers or croquettes. But they need flavour.
Red kidney beans make great veggy burgers, and can be added to chilli for texture. They are nice mixed in with well seasoned couscous or in raw salads. Minced up they add body to nut roasts or vegetable terrines. And they make a lovely bean pate with tomato, garlic, and chilli.
I love chick peas. I make my own hummous which goes much further than the shop bought variety, and allows me to make it as strong in garlic flavour as i like. They go a long, long way. they are great with rice, or in curries. gooked, dried, seasoned then gently fried they are a lovely salad topper.
Cannelini beans make great bean soup, bean pate, and are a staple in my vegan Boston Baked Beans, a real family favourite. you can also make your own baked beans with these, and with borlotti beans. Both cannelini and borlotti beans make a good bean dip blended with smoked paprika, salt, pepper, olive oil, soya milk and tomato puree.
Green lentils – these are a lovely addition to stews, and make a great pie filling with mushrooms and a red wine sauce. they are also a fabulous accompaniment to a hot meal when braised in a rich stock, which is reduced down to almost nothing before serving. My omnivorous friends without a palate for vegan flavours absolutely love braised green lentils, or braised brown lentils. I also make lentil burgers and croquettes with these.
Peas – well peas have always been my favourite vegetable, and I love them dried as well as fresh. Try pea soup, crispy pea croquettes, pea puree to go with a nut roast, mushy peas, or use them as the basis for samosa filling. They are also fab in curries.
Aduki beans – these are beautiful little beans and have a lovely texture. Roughly choped or minced, they can be the basis for pies, bolognese type sauces, and chillis, and also make a lovely rough pate.
Soya beans are great chopped, fried and on top of salads, or as a component in bean burgers. They never get truly soft, so they give a nice texture to many dishes, including nut roast.

As you can see, these are just a few examples of my long-held love affair with pulses. I heartily encourage you to stock up when you can. Look for the special offers. For many pulses, buying in bulk is best, so think of going to your local indian supermarket where you can buy huge bags of dried pulses such as lentils and chickpeas for rock bottom prices. The fun is then in coming up with imaginative ways to use them. That’s the best bit, and one of the reasons I love being vegan!
Happy cooking!

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Curry in a hurry

Do you ever have one of those days when you stand looking blankly at the fridge, wondering what on earth to cook? When everything you have in seems singularly uninspiring? I do. But one of my biggest standbys is the curry in a hurry. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like boring curries with no flavour, and I need it to pack a punch, but it is the default meal when I have run out of inspiration. There are many ways to make a really good, satisfying vegan curry. The key to this is onion and garlic for flavour, using a good set of spices or a good curry powder, adding some chilli powder, using a mix of veggie stock cubes, and adding body using beans, lentils or other pulses. Any veg can make a good curry, but it needs to be balanced. Try to have the veg the same size, and cook the onions first in oil to soften and sweeten, and if you use root vegetables, add water and stock and boil these for about 10 minutes before adding softer vegetables like mushrooms, peppers or aubergine. However, add potatoes at the same time as softer veg. Another thing to consider is adding a litte peanut butter to the sauce at the end, to deglaze, and help thicken, and add depth to flavour. Tomato puree will sweeten a curry that tastes too bitter, and lemon juice or lime juice at the end will also lighten up a heavy, claggy type curry. Use chickpea flour to thicken, but not too much or it will taste powdery. Adjust to taste as you go along. Cook on a low heat, with a lid on, simmering to get all the lovely flavours out of the vegetables.

An interesting addition to serve curry is to fry some sliced onions in oil, then when they start to brown, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and a little flour, frying until they turn crispy. This can garnish the top of the curry. Chopped fresh coriander is another good curry topper and gives a wonderful flavour.

To accompany curry: make your usual rice but add a dash of turmeric for colour, and just before serving, stir in a little seasoning or curry paste to make it more interesting.  In addition, make some jeera potatoes – cubed, sauteed potatoes, to which you add cumin seeds during the last five minutes of frying, until they turn brown, and a sprinkle of salt before serving.

Look out for my recipe book which will be coming out on Kindle at some point in the near future!

Happy cooking!