The Economical Vegan


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VEGAN CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!

A Very Vegan Christmas – Part One.

Well, here I am at my third vegan Christmas, and I am pleased to say that I have learned very many lessons about food, cooking, sharing and about veganism along the way. So this post is a comprehensive account of how to make Christmas a wonderful time, for all vegans and non-vegans alike.

I believe in Christmas – not because I am a Christian, but because I come from a family that made Christmas special. The whole experience was one of anticipation and enjoyment, and the food in particular made Christmas a real pleasure. We were not a rich family, and Christmas was the only time when I could eat as much as I liked, and take pleasure in the abundance of food offered. As I moved into adulthood, I always returned home for Christmas because my mother made it feel so special. So I have tried to do the same, always, for my family. This can seem like a challenge to vegans, however, because the traditional foods are dominated by meat and dairy products. It can also be a challenge if you are the only vegan in the family/household, as non-vegans think your food is not as good as theirs, and you can often be left with expensive meal components that you have bought and which are, sadly, disappointing.

So, here again is a recipe for an awesome vegan Christmas. It takes a little planning and preparation but is well worth it. It will make your house smell like Christmas, fill your belly and provide you with a lot of goodies to snack on over the festive period. This post focuses on the main event – Christmas dinner. More posts to follow will look at party food and other goodies.

Enjoy!

  1. Vegan Starters

The starter course for vegans is often quite boring – as it is usually soup. Now, I love soup, but I want something festive, not just a vegetable soup. And I don’t always want soup! So here are a few ideas for you.

Mushroom Pate

This can be made in advance, sliced, and frozen in slices, or can be made one or two days before and chilled. It is also a useful party food. Serve with thick fresh bread or toast, or with oatcakes or crackers.

Ingredients

1 kg fresh mushrooms

6 cloves garlic

Two onions

½ kg fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs

Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Two to three tablespoons vegetable margarine OR Coconut oil (I prefer the latter)

Two tablespoons of vegan cream cheese or silken tofu.

Dash of brandy or other vegan liqueur

Method

Chop the onion and garlic and sautee until soft (use a LARGE pan)

Roughly chop the mushrooms and sautee, adding the brandy, salt and pepper at the same time. The liquid should start to come out – simmer until half the liquid is gone. Remove from the heat, and mix with the breadcrumbs and vegan cream cheese. Mix well, taste, and season if necessary. Whizz in a blender or mini chopper. Turn out immediately into a greased loaf tin or mould, cover and chill until the pate firms up. Serve in slices.

Spiced Parsnip and Coconut Soup

This is based on a Goan recipe and gives a lovely festive heat. It’s also quick and quite simple.

Ingredients

Teaspoon cinnamon, crushed and ground.

2 onions

1 garlic clove

1 tsp garam masala

Generous grating of fresh nutmeg.

1 tsp curry powder.

1 tablespoon coconut oil.

2 inch square of creamed coconut (the kind that comes in a bar).

Six large parsnips

1 potato

1 vegetable stock cube

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Fresh coriander to serve.

Method

Chop the onion and garlic and sautee in the coconut oil until transparent, then add the spices and sautee briefly. Peel and chop the parsnips and potato, and add these along with the stock cube, stir well then add about two pints of boiling water. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the creamed coconut, simmer and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from the heat, blend with a stick blender, then taste, and season if necessary. Finely chop the coriander and sprinkle this over the soup before serving.

Olive and Sundried Tomato Medley

Ingredients

3 cups pitted olives

2 cups sundried tomatoes

4 pickled garlic cloves

Olive Oil

Wholemeal bread mix

Method

First, make a standard wholemeal bread dough. Just before the final few minutes of kneading, add 1 cup of chopped sundried tomatoes (the kind that come in a jar with oil) and 1 cup of whole olives. Leave to rise, and then bake as normal.

Put the rest of the olives, tomatoes and the garlic cloves in a mini chopper and whizz to a course consistency. Add a little olive oil if necessary. Turn into a nice small ramekins or make quenelles. When the bread is done, cut thin slices and serve with the tapenade. You can also add a fresh tomato salsa to this dish, or a roasted tomato and basil dip.

  1. Main Courses

So everyone wants a good centrepiece to the Christmas dinner, and I would suggest that you put a little effort into this, because it pays off. Last year I made the raised nut roast and pie with cranberries, which you can find elsewhere in this blog – it was amazing! Myself and my stepson had it, and we couldn’t get enough. It really was the best nut roast, and the best vegan roast centrepiece, I ever ate. I froze half of it and we had it a month later and it was delicious even then! This year, I am making my filling for my main course in advance so all I have to do is construct it the night before.

Here are a few potential dishes for your main course. I hope you enjoy them.

Chestnut and Cranberry Wellington

You don’t have to add the cranberries if you don’t want to, but I think they give a nice colour and a lovely flavour.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready made frozen puff pastry – many supermarkets have vegan versions of this.

2 cups of cooked chestnuts

2 cups of dried mixed nuts

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 cup mushrooms

1 tablespoon vegan red wine

2 teaspoons bouillon powder.

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh parsley, thyme, rosemary and basil.

2 tablespoons wholemeal flour

2 tablespoons gram flour

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

½ cup dried cranberries that have been soaked, or fresh cranberries.

A good amount of fresh spinach leaves

1 teaspoon vegetable oil OR vegetable suet

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

First, blanch the spinach leaves briefly so that they are just soft, and leave to cool and drain on a clean towel.

Then, make the filling. Whizz the nuts, onion, garlic, herbs and mushrooms in the mini chopper, or finely chop them yourself. If you want to go the extra mile, finely whizz or chop the mixed nuts the day before, put into a saucepan with about a pint of water, add a stock cube, and simmer for about 40 minutes, then leave the nuts soaking in the pan overnight. Drain the stock the next day and save for your veggie gravy!

Turn into a mixing bowl, and add all the other ingredients (except the pastry and the spinach). Mix well, taste, and if necessary, season. It should have a firm texture; if it feels wet or sloppy, add more flour and breadcrumbs. Now roll out the defrosted pastry to the size you need, and brush lightly with some vegetable oil. Layer on the spinach leaves, covering the whole of the pastry. Now, make a sausage shape of the filling along the middle of the pastry, and fold or roll up in the pastry to make a long, fat, deep sausage. Pinch or fold over each end (I tuck them underneath) to make a good seal. Bake on a greased tray at about 160 degrees until the pastry turns a lovely golden colour and is fully cooked. This can take up to an hour. Serve in thick slices with plenty of gravy.

(My mouth is watering as I write this. This is what we are having this year!)

Roasted Stuffed Cauliflower

If you want to make vegetables the centre of your meal (though I think they dominate my dinner anyway, I make so many) this is a quick-roasting, easy dish that is a great centrepiece.

Ingredients

1 or 2 large whole cauliflowers

1 onion

1 clove garlic

½ tspoon dried mixed herbs

1 tablespoon cooked chickpeas

1 tablespoon peanut butter or finely chopped mixed nuts

1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh coriander

Squeeze of fresh lime juice

Coconut oil

Spice rub made of paprika, sea salt, turmeric and fresh coriander mixed with coconut oil

Method

Take the cauliflowers and remove all the leaves. Remove the stalk to make a hollow in the centre, but do not allow the florets to separate.

Put the onion, garlic, chickpeas and nuts into the mini chopper and whiz up until fine. Mix well in a bowl with all the other ingredients except for the spice rub. Stuff the cauliflower centre with the stuffing mix, and use one cauliflower leave to keep it in place, then upend the cauliflower and place in a roasting dish. Rub all over the cauli with the spice rub, and dab in some extra coconut oil. Bake in a medium hot oven until the cauliflower is soft and starting to really brown.

Serve with a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs and a delicious gravy.

Vegetable Terrine

I made this for my wedding. You can make it in advance and serve hot or serve cold slices with pickles etc. It is a layered vegetable dish and takes a little time as you have to get all the layers right, and some need cooking before layering.

Choose a nice, large, deep loaf tin for this, and grease it well with vegetable oil or coconut oil.

Gently blanch a large bunch of fresh spinach and lay on some kitchen roll to drain. Thinly slice some onion (very thinly). Put some sliced onion in the bottom of the tin, then a layer of spinach leaves, making sure you overlap well and make a nice thick layer. This will form the top of the terrine. Season with some crushed sea salt.

Make up a pack of vegeburger mix first – the kind that requires water and leaving to soak for about 15 minutes. Add some chopped fresh parsley and freshly ground black pepper and mix well. Add this in about a 3cm depth and press into the tin, making sure to leave an even surface.

Next, take around 4 cups grated carrot, and mix well with vegetable bouillon, organic white flour, and some ground cinnamon and nutmeg, mixing in a little lemon juice. Spread this and pack firmly as your next layer.

Now make another layer of spinach, making sure to season with salt.

Next, a layer of mushrooms. Finely mince onion, garlic and mushrooms, add seasoning and some finely chopped fresh oregano or some dried oregano. Mix in a little breadcrumbs, and press again firmly. Finally, make up some vegan sage and onion stuffing mix, and pack this in as your final layer.

Heat the oven to around 170 degrees. In a larger roasting tin, put about 2 inches of water, then place the loaf tin into this. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Take out and leave to rest for around 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate, and serve in slices.

  1. Accompaniments

We always have a lot of veggies with a festive dinner. We have steamed cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, peas, green beans and potatoes. And of course, sprouts. We might also have kale and mashed sweet potatoes.

For perfect roast potatoes, set the oven to 190, and scrub the potatoes but don’t peel them. Cut them in long diagonals. Drizzle with vegetable oil and season with sea salt, and roast until crispy and golden, turning a couple of times. Do the same with large pieces of peeled parsnip.

Red cabbage and cranberries: slice red cabbage and simmer for 20 minutes in water, then drain, and add two tablespoons of red wine, half a stock cube, and a cub of cranberries, along with a little cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook well and stir regularly, until the liquid starts to reduce.

I am going to copy in my blog post from last year here in relation to making stuffing. I can’t add much so here it is.

These can be either baked in a tray or loaf tin and sliced, or rolled into stuffing balls and roasted, or used as a stuffing for vegetables. The first obviously is sage and onion. Now, this is an economical vegan blog, so this is all about the best possible taste for the best possible price. There are two ways to make your sage and onion stuffing cheaply. The first is to buy the very cheap supermarket smartprice stuffing mix. I do buy these. At 15 pence each, they provide a really good basis for making other stuffings and with a little extra love, work perfectly well on their own. So if you do use this cheap option, always add some extra flavour in the form of a heaped teaspoon of vegetable margarine, and some extra sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The other option, one I also use, is to visit the supermarkets at the point when they are discounting the fresh fruit and vegetables. This is the time you will find discounted fresh herbs. You can do this at any time of the year. So pick up the reduced sage (I got a pack the other day for 10p), bring it home, finely chop and toss into some melted margarine in a frying pan. Cook very briefly then put into a small container and freeze ready for making your stuffing. The next thing is the breadcrumb component. Again, in the weeks leading up to the festive season, save any stale bread you might have, and freeze it. When you defrost it, either whizz it into breadcrumbs or use a grater to make your fresh breadcrumbs. Again, reduced bread at the supermarket can be used for this – I got a pack of wholemeal rolls the other day for 10p. You can always make the breadcrumbs first and then freeze in bags – which means you have them ready for your Christmas stuffings. The last component is plenty of onion. Very finely chopped onion goes into most of my Christmas stuffing recipes. Use a food processer to chop them finely and keep in a covered container until ready to add to the recipe. So: fresh sage and onion stuffing. Sautee finely chopped onions in some vegetable oil with a little salt. Add fresh sage, finely chopped, about two tablespoons to about 2 onions, and a teaspoon of dried sage. Stir well whilst still frying, then add some freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add breadcrumbs, stirring well. Add a little hot vegetable stock to moisten the mixture and stir vigorously. Add a little self raising flour and again, stir vigorously, which helps bind the mixture. Press into a baking tray or loaf tin, stuff whatever you want. The next recipe is one I developed myself one year and which has proved a firm favourite. This is a mushroom, chestnut and port stuffing. Sautee chopped onions or shallots, and a couple of cloves of garlic (also chopped), in a tablespoon of vegetable oil, until the onions are translucent. Add some roughly chopped mushrooms, and fry until these start to soften, then add some freshly cooked or vacuum packed chestnuts, roughly chopped, and a little nutmeg and about a quarter of a teaspoon of garam masala. Fry for about five minutes then add two tablespoons of port and a vegetable stock cube. Stir well and simmer for about fifteen minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and add in as many breadcrumbs as needed to make a good mix, alongside a tablespoon of plain flour, and mix well. Taste, and then season if necessary. This one can be packed into large flat mushrooms for roasting if you wish. Another favourite of mine is apple, thyme and pine nut stuffing. This uses freshly chopped apples fried with the onions, fresh and dried thyme, and toasted pine nuts with the breadcrumbs and a little mixed spice. Add some cranberries or other red berries for colour. The other classic Christmas stuffing which I ALWAYS make is the sausagemeat and chestnut stuffing. I can’t do Christmas without it. This is my cheating way. One pack of vegan sausage mix made up ready for cooking, one pack of cheap sage and onion stuffing mix, a tin of chestnut puree, and some extra breadcrumbs and flour. Simply make up the stuffing mix, mix all ingredients together, and if the stuffing is too loose, add extra breadcrumbs/flour to the required consistency. Yum yum yum. One final tip – you can make a nice range of stuffings just by varying the ingredients you use with your breadcrumbs and onions. Try, for example, apple and ginger, cranberry and orange, almond and apricot (mmmm!), sundried tomato and basil – it’s all good! Be inventive. The most I have ever made at one Christmas meal is nine different types.

I have just been informed by my son that he would be happy with a plate of different stuffings and maybe a roast potato or two, so I’d better get preparing. One other thing – you can make these in advance and freeze them – which is what I will be doing over the next week or so.

  1. Gravy

Today’s post will be about gravy! I know that some people dismiss gravy as inconsequential, and indeed there is nothing wrong with not liking gravy, but for me it is essential to a Christmas dinner. A good, rich, taste-bud teasing gravy really makes a meal special. I like mine thick and full of deep flavours. So I am going to share my gravy recipes with you, and hopefully one of them will suit your style and time frame. The first recipe is my two day Christmas gravy. This is a rich sauce that goes with almost any dish. Start the day before you want it, and give yourself plenty of time. First, peel 3 carrots, 3 parsnips and two onions, and chop into large, rough chunks. Add a couple of stalks of celery, and a couple of leeks roughly chunked as well. Spread in a roasting tin and liberally douse with vegetable oil. Add some whole garlic cloves in their skins, some fresh or dried rosemary, and if you have it, a bay leaf and some dried mixed herbs. Season well with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in a medium to hot oven for about an hour, until the vegetables start to caramelise. Then remove and put over a medium heat. Add about two pints of boiling water and a vegetable stock cube, and simmer and stir, along with about a cup of red wine and a cup of sherry or port. Add half a teaspoon of yeast extractIf you prefer a lighter sauce, use white wine instead. Simmer and stir, making sure you stir in all the sticky juices from the roasting pan. Once the liquid has reduced by about a third, take off the heat and allow to cool a little. Pass through a sieve, collecting the stock in a large jug or bowl, and squashing the soft vegetables as much as possible. Set the veg pulp aside to be used in your nut loaf or one of your Christmas stuffings, or add it to a rich vegetable soup. Put the stock in the fridge once cool, covered in some clingfilm, or in a jar with a lid. That’s the first day done. Next day, bring the stock to the boil and add the water from any vegetables you have boiled or steamed. Make a roux of plain flour and vegetable oil, and gradually whisk this in, briskly, simmering, until you have the consistency you require. Add some gravy browning to the required colour, and then taste the gravy and add more seasoning if necessary. Serve piping hot. Now, I know not everyone will want to spend two days making gravy. It is, after all, quite an effort. Another alternative is to simply fry off finely chopped onions and celery with some vegetable oil, add a roux, pepper and a veg stock cube, pour on boiling water and whisk well. Blend with a hand blender before serving. You can add other things to spice up your gravy, such as fresh herbs, dried herbs, or a teaspoon of mustard. If you want to bail out and use instant gravy granules, then fry some onions, add boiling water, and stir in some mustard before adding your gravy granules, or add a teaspoon of port while you simmer your gravy. Alcohol always makes gravy better! If you are serving veggy sausages with your dinner, fry some chopped apple with the onions for your gravy, and add some mustard to offset the sweetness. Other flavourings you can add to your gravy to make it taste rich include: mushroom ketchup; tomato puree; garam masala; wholegrain mustard. Experiment. But most of all, don’t be afraid to indulge in making your gravy awesome to complement the beautiful vegetables on your festive dinner plate. Enjoy!

That’s all for now – I will deal with puddings and party foods in the next post. HAVE FUN!!

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