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.

Starter:

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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Saturday Recipes

Saturday Recipes

Every Saturday I get up and watch a cooking programme on tv. I enjoy the programme, despite the fact that they don’t feature much vegan food, because I enjoy the enthusiasm of the chefs and I also love the challenge of trying to convert every recipe into a vegan one. But it also makes me hungry, so I spend much of my Saturday mornings fantasising about food before heading into the kitchen to make something delicious. Today’s recipes can be found below.

Vegan ‘Cheese’ Toasties

I love toasties, and toast in general. Pates and spreads bought from the shops can be very expensive, but here is a simple recipe that any vegan can make for a delicious, healthy snack.

Take two small shallots or one medium onion, peel, and finely chop or whizz in the mini chopper.

Grate around 250g of vegan cheese.

Grate half a courgette.

Mix all together in a bowl, and add some salt, pepper, a teaspoon of English mustard, and a tablespoon of vegan mayonnaise. If you don’t have the mayo, use a tablespoon of vinegar mixed with soya flour, gram flour or plain flour.

Mix all ingredients together well.

Lightly toast some bread, and drizzle with a little olive oil, then spread the mixture evenly on the bread, and put under a hot grill until the mixture starts to brown on top.

Eat

Delicious!

You could also stuff baked potatoes with this mix and twice bake them.

Easy Spring Rolls

Finely slice onions, celery, Chinese leaf, kale, cabbage, chillis and fresh coriander. Crush and chop some garlic. Mix well in a bowl with a little sesame oil, soya sauce and sweet chilli sauce, and then mix in some arrowroot to thicken. You can also add some chopped tofu if you wish.

Take some ready made filo pastry, and brush lightly with olive oil. Cut large rectangles and place some of the vegetable mix in the centre, then fold the ends in and roll over into spring rolls. Place on a greased baking tray and drizzle with some oil, and bake about 180 degrees until crispy and brown. Serve with some sweet chilli dip.

Quick Spicy Noodle Soup

Thinly slice onion, garlic, ginger, fresh chillis and any vegetables you have in the fridge. Heat some vegetable oil in a large pan, and toss the vegetables in, stir frying until they start to soften. Meanwhile, boil the kettle. Add boiling water, soya sauce, vegetable stock, and some instant noodles and boil rapidly until the noodles are soft. Finely chop fresh coriander and some more fresh garlic, and toss in just before serving. Season to taste, and serve.

‘Leftovers’ Sausages

A friend of mine called this ‘brickettes’ because they came out irregular and very large when I cooked them at a camp I attended last year. They make a great brunch or lunch dish, and can be frozen and then rewarmed as required.

Leftover cooked rice.

Leftover cooked vegetables.

1 small pack of instant sage and onion stuffing mix

Leftover cooked lentils

Vegetable stock powder

Gram flour and wholemeal flour

Salt and pepper

Tomato ketchup

Smoked paprika

Make up the sage and onion stuffing mix according to the instructions. Mix well with the lentils, vegetables and rice, and add a little stock powder, salt and pepper, smoked paprika and a good tablespoon of tomato ketchup. Mix well with some added gram and wholemeal flour to bind the whole mix together. Form into sausage shapes, and fry in a pan, or put on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, and bake until golden and crispy. This is a great, cheap recipe that uses up leftovers and provides a really tasty dish. The key is adjusting the seasoning to your own taste. You don’t have to include the stuffing mix but you may need more gram flour to bind. They are great in a roll with some chutney, or with some beans on toast, or even with chips.

Enjoy!

I love Saturdays!


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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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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
Hummus
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 does Goa!

Well, I’ve just got back from 15 glorious days in Goa. What an experience! To begin with, the flight was over 9 hours out, and eleven hours back – a long time to be stuck in a metal tube with no means of escape! I was pleasantly surprised to find that my request for a vegan meal had been granted. The dinner was curry and rice, with fruit for pudding, and water biscuits and a small pot of marmite instead of cheese. It was ok. I had packed a load of vegan tofu jerky and similar snacks just in case, but didn’t need to call on these during the flight. There was no soya milk for my tea, but I had packed the Whitey vegan coffee whitener which is ok (though it does make the tea tast of vanilla). It was an overnight flight, and strangely, four hours after they served dinner, we switched to Goan time, and had breakfast. This was less inspiring. I had bread, fruit, and jam, with an orange juice. And more tea. But I didn’t mind – I felt absurdly happy that there was food at all!

We arrived at our hotel just after 9 am, dropped our bags in the room, and went for breakfast. This was when I learned about Indian breakfast – there is a curry soup called Sambha which is served every day – it’s spicy and hot and very tasty, and I had it most mornings. Different breads were served each day, and idli (some kind of rice dumpling) and they also had Dosas – which had egg in. So I didn’t eat that. But there was also the ‘welness’ breakfast – sliced tomatoes, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, and sprouted beans, with lots of fresh fruit. So I usually had a mixture of indian bread (eg poori) with the soup and the raw stuff, and sometimes their version of baked beans, or the potato cakes. Garlic mushrooms appeared frequently as well. So that first day, and every day after, I breakfasted well. The tea was good as well, and plenty of it, but every single day the waiters offered me milk with it.
The food overall was fantastic. We were only staying bed and breakfast, so we ate out most of the time. We could get a delicious curry at a beach shack for less than £2. I had dahl fry – delicious – and tadka dahl – and every place was slightly different. It was a successful holiday by vegan standards, as I found out on the first day that in Goa they use coconut oil or vegetable oil rather than ghee, and if you order a chapatti or other kind of bread, they will only put butter on if you ask for it. A few days soon had me realised what could be ordered and what couldn’t. There was a vast array of choice on every menu – including a huge variety of vegetarian food. However, I did learn to be cautious, because unless I specified otherwise, many curries came with cheese in. I figured this out and was able to specify what I wanted.
Obviously, they were all made with fresh spices, and tasted like no Indian food I have eaten in the UK. I had spicy vegetable kadai, and a local dish called Xacutti which has over 25 spices in it. THe curries were rich and thick and full of vegetables, and utterly delicious. We would have a bowl of curry and some bread at lunchtime at a beach shack, then eat at a different shack or a restaurant each evening. It was the most relaxed I have been since becoming vegan, as I knew that no matter where I went, there was ample choice. I sampled samosas the size of my fist, crispy and fluffy on the outside, and filled with tasty delicious vegetables. I ate chutneys and jeera rice and garlic parathas and more curries than I can name, and felt utterly happy.
Goa was an amazing experience – mangoes hanging on the trees next to cocunut palms, and other trees with huge, low-hanging jack-fruit. I sampled the local liquor – Caju Fenny – made from the fruit of the cashew tree. It tastes like a mixture between really strong vodka and cleaning fluid – but it packs a punch and is great in a margarita!
We visited Mapusa market and were overwhelmed by the traders with the veg and fruit and strange new items, and all the spices. I have never smelled spices like it. I bought many different fresh spices, and each one I sampled before buying – cinammon, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, and garam masala like I have never smelled. I can’t find words to describe the colours and smells of that market, and the heat driving us to find shade whenever possible. But it was lovely.
It was a wonderful holiday, made all the more wonderful by the food. And it was cheap – really cheap. As a vegan, I would recommend it.


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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.