The Economical Vegan

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A Special Dinner

A Special Dinner

So it has been a very busy weekend, particularly after I discovered that the restaurant I had booked for Valentine’s day wanted to charge £45 for a taster menu. I don’t know about other vegans, but I am not prepared to pay that much for vegetables, however well they are cooked. I could buy enough veggies for a month with that. So it was plan B for the big night. I told my partner I would rather stay in and cook a nice meal instead.

It didn’t even take too much planning, to tell the truth. I knew I had most of the ingredients in for a lovely meal and with a bit of extra effort I could make a lovely, romantic meal. To begin with, I set the table with a nice cloth, candles, champagne flutes, napkins etc. I brought the MP3 player dock in for the music, and set up ‘our song’ ready for when my partner came in.


Beer battered smoked tofu with sesame seeds, served with chopped coriander, olive tapenade and baby tomatoes.

I made a batter from half and half Gram flour and Self Raising flour, adding one teaspoon of baking powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder and chili powder, and added sesame seeds. Then I took some organic beer and whisked it in until I had a good batter with a thick texture. I heated organic rapeseed oil in a small, deep pan and took some good firm smoked tofu and cut it into chunks. Then I tossed the chunks in seasoned flour and dipped them into the batter before tossing into the hot oil. I cooked two at a time and left them on kitchen paper, then put them in a hot oven until it was time to serve. I dressed two square plates with chopped coriander, halved baby tomatoes, and a quenelle of tapenade made by whizzing up green and black olives, pickled garlic and sundried tomatoes. I drizzled a patchwork of sweet chilli sauce on the plate then placed the tofu on top.

I have to say that this was utterly delicious, although next time I would add even more sesame seeds!


Main Course: Stuffed Mushrooms with Chips, Salad and Onion Rings.

I took two very large, flat mushrooms and took out the stalks, placed them in a roasting dish and drizzled on a little extra virgin olive oil. I made wholemeal breadcrumbs and added finely chopped garlic and plenty of finely chopped fresh basil, then mixed in salt and olive oil. I stuffed this firmly into the mushrooms and put them in the oven at 180 degrees to roast.

I made another batter, but this time without the garlic, chilli or sesame seeds, and thinly sliced an onion, then dipped this in the batter and fried the slices a few at a time. I put these in the oven to keep crisp. I made chips from sliced organic potatoes with the skins still on, and cooked them in my low-fat chip fryer, adding some freshly chopped garlic five minutes before the end of cooking.

The salad was leaves of organic lettuce, filled with home made coleslaw and thinly sliced fresh tomatoes. The coleslaw was finely chopped onion, cabbage and celery with grated carrot, olive oil, vinegar and English mustard, and a little lemon juice.

I assembled the dish carefully and served it with everything hot, the mushroom was browned on top and soft underneath, really melt in the mouth. The crispy onion rings were light and delicious, and the salad was fresh and delicious.

Dessert: Sticky Fig Pudding with Chocolate Mousse

I boiled dried figs with vegan red wine, sugar and water for about 15 minutes, then added a teaspoon of baking powder and whizzed into a syrup. To this I added self raising flour and a little vegan spread, and mixed well, then turned into silicone muffin trays (small ones) and put straight into the oven at 170 degrees. I then made the syrup, using sugar, vegan spread and molasses, simmering and then adding some soya milk to make a thick, pourable syrup.

To make the mousse, I melted four large squares of dark chocolate, and put this with the flesh of one avocado, sweet syrup and cocoa powder into the mini chopper, whizzing until smooth. I put this in the fridge until time to serve.

Once the sponges were ready, I sliced them in half and put into bowls, then drizzled on the hot syrup, serving with vegan squirty cream and a quenelle of the chocolate mousse.

The cake was AMAZING! The figs gave the sponge a great texture, the flavour was amazing, and it was a real sugar hit!


And that was the Special Dinner. We had a lovely meal, and that was the most successful vegan sponge I have made to date!


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A Post-Christmas Vegan Cook-Off

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Today is the last day before my new veg box delivery, and tomorrow is the first day back in work after the holidays. I’ve had an indulgent, relaxing time for the last two weeks, and watched a lot of cooking programmes on the television. I love watching cooking programmes, especially when I can adapt the recipes. Today, to use up the veggies left in the fridge, and to make tomorrow a little easier, I had a little mini cook-off.
First, I made Vegan ‘Chorizo’ Stew with Chickpeas. I put a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan, and sautéed chopped onion, shallot, garlic and carrots with a pack of vegan ‘chorizo’ style chunks. I added ground cumin and coriander, and some freshly grated nutmeg, bouillon powder and a large chopped green chilli. About two cups of soaked, cooked chickpeas were added. Then I added about five cups of water, brought to the boil and simmered for about 40 minutes. Halfway through I added torn up fresh basil and a tablespoon of tomato puree. I simmered until the liquid had reduced by almost a half, and the sauce had thickened. This was served with roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips, and a cous cous. It was delicious. There is another portion ready for the freezer as well – a good economical dish.
Once this first dish was simmering, I made a Rich Country Stew with Sage Dumplings. I chopped swede, carrots, parsnips, leeks, onions, celery and shallots, and put in a pan with plenty of water, and about a cup of red lentils. I added a stock cube, salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, some dried mixed herbs, a teaspoon of yeast extract, and some sea salt. To this I added two cups of chickpeas.
While this was coming to the boil, I made dumplings by mixing self-raising flour, salt, vegetable suet and finely chopped fresh sage, with a little water to bind. I formed the mix into small balls, about 4cm across – they double in size whilst cooking. They also help to thicken and season the sauce. Once the stew was boiling I added the dumplings, put the lid on, and turned the heat down to a brisk simmer. This continued for about 40 minutes.
Whilst the stews were cooking, I made a quick coleslaw which I can take to work for lunch – an easy way to eat a healthy lunch with raw veggies. I simply used my mini-chopper and finely chopped cabbage, carrot, onion, celery and fresh coriander stalks, and mixed with a tablespoon of vegan mayonnaise and about a tablespoon of lemon juice. A quick sprinkle of sea salt finishes it. I mixed it well and simply put into a container to take to work.
The stew is now finished and ready for tomorrow’s dinner. I find stews and curries often taste better the second day anyway and at least I know I won’t have to cook when I get in tomorrow night. I also know I will spend much of tomorrow looking forward to it!
I’ve realised that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I am either cooking, cleaning, washing up, drying up, doing laundry, or putting food away and sorting cupboards. I also make a lot of cups of tea and coffee. I often feel most comfortable in the kitchen in any house, and I am blessed that the house I live in has a decent sized kitchen with a rangemaster stove which makes cooking easier. I’ve also been blessed to inherit a food processor from my mother (now around 20 years old and still going strong) and to have other very useful gadgets. When people ask me how on earth I can manage to be vegan, I smile. If you like to cook, then being vegan is not so difficult. It does take effort and planning, time and commitment, but it is well worth it.

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Burgers, Burgers, Burgers

Well, there has been a burger revolution in our house. Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of the veggie burger, and have had my own recipe for quick, cheap bean burgers that I have used for over 20 years. But last week, my omnivore partner called me into the living room to watch a TV programme where a man was visiting a vegan restaurant in Canada where they make gourmet vegan burgers! It was fantastic, and very inspirational, and I realised that the humble burger could be a significant addition to my repertoire of economical meals. This realisation was partly fuelled by the fact that I have been going through a very busy period and therefore have had less time to cook and be inventive, and have even found myself running out of willpower and ideas once or twice!
Never again! Inspired, I first made some mushroom burgers. I chopped a large onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and three medium flat mushrooms that were starting to dry out in the fridge, and sautéed them in vegetable oil, until all were soft and well cooked, then added yeast extract, bouillon, leftover cooked rice, fresh herbs and some chickpea flour and breadcrumbs. I mixed this well and seasoned with some pepper, then drizzled oil onto two baking trays, and using two spoons, made balls of the mixture which were then flattened to form burgers. These were then drizzled with a little more oil and baked in the oven until crispy on the outside.

Two days later I was faced with some leftovers to use up – lentil dhal and root vegetable mash. I combined these in the mixer with some gram flour, soya flour, stoneground wholemeal flour, bouillon, gravy granules, and leftover potatoes ground up. Once mixed well I made the balls again, flattened them and baked them. Mmmmm!

Then last night I had a friend over. We took a walk up into a high valley near me, and came back very hungry. I had cooked the dinner beforehand knowing that we would come home starving. I made tofu and white bean burgers. I drained a tin of borlotti beans, and whizzed them in the chopper, then took half a pack of firm tofu, and whizzed it very briefly. These went into the mixing bowl with gram flour, bouillon, pepper, and some oats, one raw onion whizzed up and 4 cloves of garlic whizzed up. Same process – balls, oil, bake. They were absolutely delicious. We had them with baked potatoes and hummus and salad.

The beauty of all of these burgers is that they freeze very easily. This means that I have an instant snack or part of an easy dinner whenever I need it. They also transport well, and so far taste really good cold, making them ideal for lunches or being out and about. Having enjoyed browsing through my Indian cookbook this morning, I have discovered oodles of recipes for Indian ‘patties’ which follow similar principles. Safe to say there will be a lot of burgers consumed in our house in future!

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Wraps, Wraps, Wraps

I love soft flour or corn tortilla wraps. In fact, I love flatbreads in genera – chapattis, puris, pitta breads, anything I can stuff loads of goodies into and eat! One of my mainstay dishes has become vegan wraps, and I have a number of non-vegan friends who love my tofu wraps and will choose them over meat!
So, the key to the wraps, as with everything else, is to look at what you’ve got and what you can use. Key points relate to mixing flavour and texture. The mix of raw and cooked gives great texture and flavour combinations, particularly if you can include some fresh herbs. So here are a few recipes that have emerged ‘on the hoof’ from having wraps and from using whatever I have in the store cupboard and fridge.

Green Pepper and Spinach Wraps.
1 green pepper
3 large soft flour tortillas
Half a pack of baby spinach
A handful of chopped fresh coriander
Ground sea salt
Drizzle of sweet chilli sauce
Leftover bean chilli

Slice the pepper into slim lengthwise strips and share out over the three wraps, Add the spinach and coriander, and grind over a little sea salt. Add the bean chilli – about a tablespoon or two on each wrap, then drizzle on some sweet chilli sauce. Roll firmly into tight rolls, then cut on the diagonal before serving. These are really delicious.

Hummus and Avocado wraps
Two soft flour tortillas or chapattis
1 ripe avocado
Fresh spinach
Freshly chopped chives
Chopped spring onion
Grated carrot
Lemon or lime juice
Chilli sauce (optional)

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist to separate the two halves. Using a large knife, slap the blade into the seed and then twist to remove the seed. Use a spoon and separate the flesh from the skin, then slice the avocados on the diagonal. Share out between the two wraps. Add the other ingredients, spreading them out along the length of the filling. Fold the ends over, roll tightly and then cut in the middle on the diagonal to serve. If not serving immediately, leave as whole wraps. If storing for a few hours, wrap tightly in clingfilm or foil.

Alys’s Classic Tofu Wraps
These are just too nice for words, and are very popular.
Four Soft flour wraps
1 pack tofu
3 chopped spring onions
Plenty of Salad leaves or baby spinach
Fresh coriander, parsley and basil (or whatever of these you have)
3 Sliced red and yellow peppers
Garam masala
Garlic powder
Bouillion powder
Chilli powder
Vegan mayonnaise
Grated vegan hard cheese (optional)

First, slice the tofu and put in a frying pan on a medium heat, with a little oil, adding the garlic powder, chilli powder and garam masala immediately. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring regularly. Then add the bouillon powder, stir again and leave on a low heat. Combine all the other ingredients in the wraps, then share the tofu out evenly between the wraps. Fold over the ends, roll tightly, and serve. This is great for barbecues, buffets or picnics. You can vary the heat and spiciness depending on how much chilli powder you put in. You can also add fresh chillies or pickled jalapeno peppers if you like it hot!

So – there are three examples of wraps for you. But you can combine many more ingredients. Try some salad, veg fried with garam masala, fresh mint and onion bahjis in a wrap with some vegan mayo, or maybe some vegan sausages with onions, salad and mustard! Or keep your wraps entirely raw and combine different veg and herbs for different tastes.

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High Protein Breakfast

I don’t know what it is about Sunday mornings, but they always make me want scrambled tofu for breakfast. The beauty of this dish is that it can change every time. As an economical vegan, it is my mission to use what’s available – and what’s in the fridge – rather than going out all the time to buy specific ingredients for special dishes. This week, I had a lot of herbs reduced in the supermarket, and lots of spinach was also reduced, along with some grated carrot. I found some lovely smoked tofu in Glastonbury last Sunday (there’s a veggie supermarket there) and had about a third of the pack left over from another meal. So I had smoked tofu scramble. This is so easy!
First I chopped spring onion tops and some pickled garlic, and added them to a frying pan with a little drizzle of oil. A pile of grated carrot went in, some garam masala, chopped chives, and some washed spinach. Then I chopped the tofu and added that, along with a good pile of spinach. I cooked this down until the spinach had shrunk right down, and added just a sprinkle of low salt bouillon powder. I had a loaf of sourdough bread that I had defrosted the night before, so I cut come thin slices. When the scrambled tofu was just about done, I scraped it into a pile on one side of the pan, and put the pieces of bread into the pan to toast through. I then put this on the plate and spread it with some hummus from the fridge (also reduced and previously frozen). Put the scrambled tofu on the side, and eat with whatever condiments you like (I like sweet chilli sauce). This high protein Sunday breakfast/brunch makes me feel really good, because it’s full of iron-rich spinach, fibre, and is utterly delicious.
It’s important to remember that you can put whatever you like with your scrambled tofu. It’s good to have something oniony, but you can use finely chopped onions, peppers, courgette – anything really. Just finely chop it so it cooks quickly. Using a flavoured or marinated tofu is also a good idea. This smoked tofu is quite dry and firm, making it particularly nice, but you could approximate this by pressing some firm tofu between two plates for a few hours, then marinating, and dessicating in a very low oven for a few hours. Alternatively, if you like your tofu drier, marinate it, then cook it in a non-stick pan (finely chopped) on a low heat for a longer period of time before adding the other ingredients. The heat removes the liquid from the tofu and can improve the texture.
Before I became vegan I would eat tofu, but wasn’t fond of it. Now I find myself eating it very regularly and have realised it is a highly versatile protein source if you know how to work it!

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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.