The Economical Vegan


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Going out – take out party food for social events

It’s a common issue for vegans – going out. Whilst it is possible to plan where you go for a meal, by checking online and contacting the venue to see if they can accommodate you, going to family gatherings, parties or events is more problematical. Do you ask in advance that they cater for you, and then deal with the results? Or simply not eat when everyone is tucking in, and pretend you’re not hungry? Well, I’ve tried different approaches and each can result in awkwardness and embarrassment as the host realises you can’t eat their food, and you yet again make a show of yourself being the ‘awkward vegan.’ While I am quite keen to go to restaurants and demand vegan food – I think this is a form of activism and helps educate others – it is a different story with friends or family who are perhaps not that close but for whom you do not wish to cause a scene.

My solution is to take my own food, and I know many vegans will do the same. I am going to a family party tonight, a cousin’s birthday. I don’t see him except every couple of years at some family thing or other – so I can’t expect him to cater for me. This blog is really about the things I will take with me tonight so that I can enjoy the party and not drink on an empty stomach.

Firstly, I am taking a pot of wheat and kidney bean salad, with a good seal on the lid. This is something I can pop on my plate and enjoy with the other things I am taking. It’s got flavour, texture and doesn’t have a runny sauce, so is not messy. In addition I will take some savoury nut balls – these are rolled balls of breadcrumbs, ground mixed nuts, and vegan tofu fake cream cheese with added mustard – a tasty snack to go with the salad. I also have a vegan sausage roll I bought in the health food shop, and some seeded crackers. I will take olives, pickled jalapenos and the fake cream cheese with me, and a small knife, and spread the cheese thick on the crackers then dot them with olives and peppers. Add in a bag of crisps and a couple of slices of Mrs Crimble’s Dutch Apple Cake, and I’ll be sorted! So while everyone else is eating greasy corned beef pasties and limp sandwiches, I will be eating my delicious vegan food and not feeling left out at all!


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Curry in a hurry

I think I have found the perfect recipes for a quick, impressive Indian meal. First, finely chop onion and garlic and sautee until translucent, then add jeera seeds, coriander seeds and garam masala, stirring until the spices start to release their flavour. Add dried red lentils, stir for a minute or so, and add water and a vegetable stock cube and a teaspoon of curry powder. Simmer until the sauce thickens and the lentils are cooked, then five minutes before serving add another crushed garlic clove. Serve topped with crispy fried onions. Whilst this is cooking, in another pan sautee sliced onions, pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms and aubergine, add curry paste or powder, a tin of tomatoes, a stock cube, and whatever other spices you prefer. Simmer until all the vegetables are cooked through, and season to taste. Serve with brown basmati rice, which you start at the same time as the dhal, and a paratha. The paratha is made by making a batter from chick pea flour, water, garam masala and salt, poured over friend shredded carrots, courgette and thinly sliced onions, in a thick based frying pan, cooked on one side then flipped and cooked the other.
Yum yum.


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Veggie Burgers!!!!!

Ah, the humble veggie burger. The instant fall back position of every pub, restaurant and food chain completely nonplussed about feeding those awkward vegetarians and vegans. Unfortunately, this humble and useful food item is something I rarely make myself any more – not just because there are good alternatives available in the supermarket, but because it seems that it is the only thing to eat when I am out and about.
However, the veggie burger is a very useful food to have in the freezer for quick meals – as a traditional burger in a bun with onions, or slice in half and put in a wrap with salad and jalapenos (yum yum!), or even as a quick protein shot on a Sunday dinner, as a change to nut roast. When I first became vegetarian at age 13, I found that veggie burger mix was a vital part of my diet, as it allowed me to make a quick option for myself to go with the vegetables on a dinner. My mother, bless her, refused to cook for me, only allowing me the vegetables but also refusing to roast the potatoes in anything other than lard or dripping, leaving me with a plate of dry veggies. So burgers were a good option to add flavour.
I don’t often make veggie burgers, but I think this much maligned foodstuff should be celebrated by vegans, because they provide a useful addition, and can even be put in sandwiches with some pickle for an easy lunch at work. Today we are going to be watching the rugby, and, harking back to my childhood days, I thought I would resurrect the family tradition of big fat burgers in big rolls topped with fried onions – essential match-watching fare. So I have made some wholemeal flour and mixed seeds bread rolls, which are baking and smelling delicious as I write, and I have made some veggie burger mix for frying later.
This is how I make my veggie burger mix. Like all my recipes there are no weights and measures, and it is very flexible – you can change things about as much as you like. I just used what I had in. First, I used my mini whizzy chopper to finely chop half a fresh onion and three cloves of pickled garlic. Then I did the same with a carrot, two large broccoli florets (broken off from the main bunch), and half a stick of celery. These were placed in my mixing bowl with about half a cup of finely chopped peanuts, again done in the chopper. I then boiled the kettle and to about two tablespoons of dried TVP, added half a teaspoon of yeast extract over which I poured enough boiling water to soak and mix the tvp. This adds moisture, flavour, and a different, looser texture to the burgers. I do not like burgers that come out like bricks, and using the tvp not only takes me back to childhood, but gives a lighter texture.
I added the tvp, one powdered veggie stock cube, and a tin of cooked, drained black eyed peas to the bowl. I would use any type of reasonably soft bean in my burger mix; it helps to bind the mix as well as adding flavour. I also added a couple of tablespoons of breadcrumbs that a friend gave me the other day. To this add freshly ground black pepper, a few dashes of hot chilli sauce and some tomato puree or tomato ketchup. I then turned the mixer on, and whilst it was mixing, added gram flour gradually until it achieved the right sticky texture, thick enough to hold together for shaping and frying, but not so thick as to turn them too stodgy.
So I will fry these in large patties in a little hot oil, allowing the one side to crisp and firm before flipping them, and serve them in freshly baked seeded rolls topped with fried onions and some English mustard. Mmmmmm. The rest of the burgers will be frozen singly ready for when I want quick snack or quick addition to a meal. Yummy.
And by the way – the bread smells heavenly now! .


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A quick delicious vegan meal

I made a lovely meal last night, quick and easy. I had made some non-vegan pies for the family, but I had a vegan one with my dinner. I made a root vegetable mash from carrots, parsnip, potato and sweet potato, seasoned with salt and with a little vegan margerine, mashed well. I sauteed a large amount of spinach with a little salt and pepper, and roasted some baby cauliflower using olive oil. I made a mushroom sauce by frying chopped onions, garlic and sliced mushrooms, and adding flour at the end of the frying, then adding vegetable stock and a dash of brandy. I stirred this well and then let it simmer for a while, before adding extra seasoning to taste. It made a lovely sauce for the vegetables and pies.
I wanted to blog about this because it was very easy to make, and yet was full of intense flavours that really complemented each other. I have never roasted cauliflower before but it was delicious, and the root vegetable mash was like a poem on my tongue. There was a silky, savoury richness to the mushroom sauce but the thick mushroom slices added body and texture and really worked as an accompaniment. I have a second portion of the mash to use today, and also more of the sauce, so I will make some other accompaniments to pad out the meal. I would however quite happily pour the sauce over some toast (home made bread of course) and eat it like that! It’s a good idea to make plenty of gravy or sauce as it can then save time, effort and money for another meal.
It also all looked really pretty on the plate – the colours complemented each other well.


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A Special Dinner (maybe even for Valentine’s Day?)

A Special Dinner
It’s not easy fitting in special meals when you have a very busy lifestyle, and your partner does too. However, as an economical vegan I am always thinking about ways to not only save money and make better use of my resources, thus reducing my impact on the planet in some small way, but also ways to make meals tasty, pleasant, and sometimes, special. This was the case this week when I decided to cook my lovely but non-vegan partner a special dinner. I had picked up a pot of four different types of marinated olives in the shop at work, which looked amazing, and this was what gave me my inspiration. I thought I would do a mix of tapas and Italian antipasti and pasta. It’s not very technical but I set out to make it as tasty as possible. So, here’s what I did.
First, I got a pack of veggie burger mix and added the water to make it up into its usual paste. I left this to soak while I gathered my other ingredients. I then made a loaf of white bread, using strong bread flour, olive oil, salt, a little sugar, yeast, and warm water, and let my lovely mixer do the kneading for me with the dough hook.
Then I made my ‘meat balls’, by taking small amounts of the burger mix and rolling it into balls, then frying in a little oil in a large pan, constantly shimmying the pan to roll the balls around until they were nice and brown. I transferred them to a small but deep baking dish.
In the same pan, I made a basic tomato sauce, but in quantities enough for two different dishes. This is economical because it means you only need to do one lot of chopping and one lot of cooking. I sautéed one chopped onion, six cloves of garlic (crushed and chopped), and some dried mixed herbs in oil, until the onions were translucent. I added two tins of chopped tomatoes, and a tablespoon of red wine, along with a little salt and black pepper, then stirred and simmered (in a deep, thick based frying pan), allowing the sauce to intensify and thicken. This is the key with a tomato sauce – let the sweetness cook into the tomatoes. While that was cooking, I took out my bread dough and shaped it and set it to rise next to the cooker, where it was warm. I placed it on a greased pan and covered it with a clean tea towel.
While the bread was rising and the sauce was simmering, I got a small frying pan and made garlic mushrooms – oil, tons and tons of garlic, salt, pepper, and lots of mushrooms. Yum yum. My partner LOVES garlic mushrooms. Once these were cooked I set them into an ovenproof serving dish. Once the tomato sauce was ready, I decanted half of it onto my meatballs, then added one whole chopped fresh chilli, and a good sprinkling of hot chilli sauce (like tabasco). I then stirred this around and placed the whole lot in the oven at about 170 degrees, along with my bread which was ready for the oven. I also put sliced sweet potato and butternut squash I got reduced at the supermarket, ready chopped, in a baking dish, with rosemary and salt on it, into the oven to roast. I then put some pasta on to cook, and made my salads
The first salad was a simple green salad of lettuce, cucumber, baby tomatoes, plenty of chopped spring onions, and lots of freshly chopped coriander, and a few caraway seeds on top. The second salad was a beetroot and spring onion salad with fresh spinach, seasoned with a little salt and lemon juice. Then my partner came in and set the table with a nice cloth, our nice wine glasses, candles and cutlery. I set out the salads, the olives in their serving tray, serving spoons, bread board and knife, and the margarine. I also put the mushrooms in the oven to get hot again.
Once the pasta was ready I drained it, and tossed in the rest of the tomato sauce and some chopped olives, with a tablespoon of olive oil, stirring it over a low heat until the pasta was well and truly covered. I placed this in a warmed serving dish, and then served the hot fresh bread, hot spicy ‘meat’ balls, pasta, roasted vegetables and garlic mushrooms onto the table so we could help ourselves. Add two glasses of lovely wine and great conversation, and you have your special evening sorted!
The great thing about a meal like this is that you can take your time, sampling everything, taking as much or as little as you like, and there are plenty of leftovers for the next day! It’s nice to try different things and also to use a good combination of flavours. I will certainly be doing this one again.