The Economical Vegan

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The Economical Vegan Dinner Party – Part 1

I don’t know how it is for most vegans, but when it comes to a dinner party, I often feel a little challenged. I live with a non-vegan and most of our friends who live close enough to come to dinner are not vegan, though we do have one or two veggies around. So I feel under even more pressure to perform when cooking for people who think vegans live on brown rice and kale sandwiches. I know they anticipate the worst. As I live with a non-vegan there are often elements to the meal that are not vegan, but I usually plan the menu as a vegan one, which can then have other stuff added by other people should they so wish. Such is the case today. I am cooking dinner for two friends and for my partner. It’s a thank you dinner to one friend as a reward for hanging the kitchen door for us. This is the menu

Quinoa salad with fresh herbs

Main Course
Stuffed flat mushrooms
Sautéed garlic potatoes
vegetable goulash with red beans.

Chocolate torte.

And this is how I did it . . . .

First I stuffed the mushrooms. I took the stalks out of the middle of four flat mushrooms, and put them in the whizzy chopper with – two pieces of brown bread, 1 small onion, eight olives, eight pickled garlic cloves, some bouillon powder, and some nuts. I whizzed this up. Then I put a large dollop of soya cream cheese with garlic and herbs in the middle of each upturned mushroom, and packed the stuffing around and on top. These will bake in the oven for about 40 minutes at 180.

The potatoes are loved organic ones, so I will chop them into 1 inch cubes, with the skin on, and put in the Actifry and cook until starting to turn golden brown. At this point I will add about 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Before serving I will toss in some smoked sea salt.

The quinoa is cooked with water and a stock cube, until it achieves a nice consistency, then I chop the fresh herbs and mix half of them into the quinoa, before making quenellees. I finely slice peppers and layer them onto some salad leaves with some fresh basil, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The goulash is made as follows – chopped peppers, onion, mushrooms and celery, fried in oil with lots of chopped garlic and some fresh chopped basil. Add a carton of chopped tomatoes, water, red wine, paprika and some salt and pepper, and a tin of red kidney beans. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring well, and thicken if necessary with a little tomato puree or vegetable gravy granules.

The chocolate torte I made up today – thought its the evolution of another recipe.

Whizz up half a pack of vegan digestive biscuits in the chopper, with about 6 vegan bourbon biscuits. Take 2 thirds and mix with a little flour, a little oil, and water in a bowl, then press this mix into a silicone tart dish (like a pastry base). Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whizz up another 6 bourbon biscuits, add to the other biscuit crumb, and whizz up about 4 tablespoons dried mixed fruit. Mix well together with a tablespoon of golden syrup, and two tablespoons of cherry liqueur, then melt 2 bars of dark chocolate, and mix this in. Fill your tart with this mixture and press down firmly, allowing to cool. Serve with vegan soya cream OR with a mixed berry compote. I haven’t made the compote yet. There are some frozen mixed berries in the freezer so if I have enough time I will simply heat these, add sugar, spices and then bash them about it a bit. Lovely.

So. Dinner is at 7.30 and this time I will TRY to take some photos of the food. Look out for part two.


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Pasta is Faster

I don’t eat pasta very often, partly because when out and about it is often not vegan, and partly because for many years it was the ONLY thing I could eat when out and about as a vegetarian. I do, however, like a pasta dish occasionally. Living, as I do with two meat eaters, one of whom is a sulky, hard-to-please teenager, I often find myself eat different food to my family, but as often as I can, I make meals we can all eat. Pasta offers a good opportunity for this, and one of the easiest recipes is vegan Bolognese.

First, put some water on to boil, and get your wholemeal pasta ready. I love wholemeal – it has a lovely texture, particularly the spaghetti. Today, we had pasta spirals. Then, heat a little olive oil in a pan, and finely chop one onion, and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Yes – lots of garlic – it is a real flavour enhancer and a must in this dish. Sautee the garlic and onions, and while they are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water, and then finely mince two medium or one large mushroom, adding this to the pan. Finely grate half a carrot, and add this, frying until the onions are translucent. Then add the frozen vegan veggie mince. The key to the texture and flavour is to fry the mince for at least 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add some minced fresh basic and oregano, or dried, or dried mixed herbs, and when the mince is starting to brown, add a jar of passata, and a vegetable stock cube. Simmer and if necessary, thicken a little with some tomato puree. Drain the cooked pasta and return to the saucepan, then toss in the sauce and stir through the pasta. Serve with a crunchy salad  – tonight we had spinach, grated carrot, coriander, tomatoes, olives and a drizzle of the oil from a jar of sundried tomatoes. Obviously, teenager had a big bowl of grated cheese to stick on top of his, but I had some lovely smoked soya cheese with mine, which was delicious.

It was a very, very nice meal. I was very glad to share this with my family and not sit there wondering if their meal was as nice as mine. This time, I knew it was.

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Doing Things Differently = The Ad Hoc Vegan = with some quickie recipes.

I recently had to make guacamole with no lemon juice, and then, after that, found myself wanting to make hummous without lemon juice too. So I used the same approach with my hummus, using a little vinegar for acidity, and then experimenting with what I had in the cupboard and fridge. I had the chickpeas, tahini and garlic, but I added also some soya cream, salt and garlic powder. The resultant hummous was lovely – but different.

How often do television shows and recipe books make us feel that we need a raft of special ingredients to make a decent meal? I find this inexplicable. Yes, for a special occasion, it is worth going the extra mile and buying ingredients especially for the meal. But if you want to cook tasty, wholesome and nutritious meals every day, most people simply can’t go shopping every day. Some people plan their whole menu for the week, and shop accordingly, but I can’t bear to do that. I don’t know what I might feel like from one day to the next. And I prefer to use what I can get, or what I already have, rather than being so proscriptive.

So, for example, if asparagus is reduced in the veg shop, I will make asparagus spears sauteed gently in a little oil, garlic powder and salt to go on top of a mixed salad, or to accompany a hot dinner. I will then put the stalks into soup. It all depends on where the value lies. If there are a lot of carrots going cheap at the market (you can get 50p bags of veggies at my market) I will make carrot soup, simple as that. Last week the supermarket had some HUGE mushrooms in the value box, so I got those and we had mushroom curry.

I think the Ad Hoc Vegan approach is great. It means you look at what you have and make the most of it. But it also means having a good store cupboard of staples to help you pull together tasty meals out of whatever ingredients you have. I like to keep these handy: garlic powder, dried onions, various pulses but especially red lentils, stoneground flour, seeds and nuts, vegetable stock cubes, curry powder, and chilli powder. I also like to have tomato ketchup or puree available, as well as whatever other condiments and seasonings I accrue along the way.

For example, tonight I will do a stir fry of vegetables with vermicelli noodles, and this will be a quick and easy meal. I’ll thinly slice the onion, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, chinese leaves, spring onions, peppers and carrots I know I have in the fridge, along with some cooked black beans I boiled yesterday stir fry in hot oil, add a dash of chilli powder, some soy sauce, and at the end, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. If I have any tofu I might marinade that in ginger, garlic and soya sauce and then toss it in gram flour before frying, and top the stir fry with that. I’ll cook the noodles, drain them, and toss them in at the last minute. It usually takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. Easy Dish.

Tomorrow I am working at home, which means I can be a bit more laid back on timings. I’ll probably make some bread, as I haven’t baked for a while, and a stew or something similar. Or if the weather stays warm, I’ll do a big salad of whatever veg I have – people often forget that any raw veg (barring potato, swede etc) can be made into a salad, if you chop it finely enough. A quick vinaigrette dressin can be snazzed up according to your preferences.

For a quick salad dressing – whisk 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional), pinch salt, pinch pepper. If you want to add extra flavour, try using vinegar from the pickeled onions, or adding garlic, fresh herbs, ginger, lemon juice etc. Another lovely salad dressing is sesame oil, or of course, balsamic vinegar. For an oil-free dressing, whisk english mustard with sweet pickle vinegar, crushed garlic and sea salt OR whisk lemon juice, garlic and sea salt together. For those who like oil, make a quick herb oil by heating a little oil in a pan, and adding chopped fresh basil and a little sea salt, or chopped fresh coriander.

Being an ad hoc vegan requires confidence, fearlessness, and the ability to accept that sometimes things just don’t work. But remember, it’s all about taste. Experiment with everything. I’ve found that over the years, my confidence has grown exponentially just because I haven’t been afraid to try new things.


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A Mexican Feast

The Economical Vegan blog post 5-3-14

A Mexican Feast

Last night I decided to make Mexican. I love Mexican food because you can use a wide variety of veggies and combine different tastes and textures I had some lovely ripe avocados that were reduced at the supermarket, and I always buy wraps when they are reduced as well, and keep them in the freezer. I also had some salad leaves (reduced) and other veg.  So I made guacamole, chilli, brown rice, chips, refried beans,  and salad. Usually I would also make a salsa but we had enough on the plate. However, I will include a salsa recipe here for you.


I usually put lemon juice in my guacamole, to stop the avocados turning brown. However, I had no lemon juice, so I used two tablespoons of white pickle vinegar, 3 garlic cloves, three avocados, and some sea salt. I put the ingredients into the whizzy chopper with some soya cream, and whizzed it up. Done! (This was so delicious I couldn’t believe it! Would be lovely on it’s own with nachos, or on toast, and would make a great substitute for mayonnaise on a salad or when making coleslaw!)


Usually I just whizz up two fresh tomatoes, 1 fresh chilli, some coriander, a red pepper, and half an onion, with some salt, and some tomato puree. You can add in chopped spring onions as well, and dried chilli or chilli sauce.


Mixed salad leaves, chopped red pepper, grated carrot, chopped coriander, chopped gerkins, drizzle of oil.

Refried Beans

Last night I had a tin of ready-made refried beans, but otherwise I would whizz up a tin of red kidney beans with some bouillon and tomato puree, and then cook in a pan until hot.


There are 1001 ways to make chilli. Last night was a quick one. I simply fried some chopped onions, peppers and celery, added a carton of chopped tomatoes, one very hot chilli (I used a scotch bonnet), and a pack of vege Bolognese mix (the dried kind), along with some cooked mixed beans. You don’t need the vege mix but I didn’t have many beans and wanted to increase my protein ratio in the meal. I cooked this, stirring well, then seasoned it and added tomato puree until it tasted right. Normally I would just use plenty of chopped veg and about 3 or 4 different kinds of beans.


2 cups brown rice, 6 cups water, bring to the boil, simmer until all the water is absorbed.


4 potatoes, cut into thick chips with skins still on, sautéed in a pan (or use the Actifry, which is my new best friend – just chuck them in and it does all the work for you). Season with sea salt and paprika before serving

Easy meal. It’s  lovely to combine the crunchy salad, with the refried beans, the very spicy chilli, and the guacamole in a wrap. The chips are an optional extra, frankly, but my 15 year old likes them which is why I cooked them. It was delicious, and very healthy.