The Economical Vegan


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September Salad Days . . . and Soup

It is always the greatest irony, that a wet August will give way to glorious sunshine in September, when the schools go back. Working in education means September is a very busy month for me, but it’s also a month when I feel energised and able to rise to new challenges. I love the crisp mornings, the scent of autumn in the air, the kiss of the sun, the light dancing through leaves. This is the opportunity for me to bring back my habit that dominates most of the year, of making soup to take to work for lunch. But it is also balanced with lovely salads.

Today’s salad is a much-loved favourite of mine. You can vary it with different things, such as different flavours of hummous, or different kinds of olives, different dressings and different veggies, but for me, in its simplest form, this salad is filling, delicious and incredibly satisfying. Serve it with wraps or flatbread and you can’t go wrong. Try to stick to organic veggies where you can.

Ingredients:

4 leaves of romaine lettuce

a large handful of spinach or baby spinach

2 spring onions

3 small sweet peppers or one large sweet pepper.

1 carrot, grated

fresh herbs

olives

hummous

smoked tofu

sweet tomato chutney or something similar

pumpkin seeds

To make the salad:

First, get a frying pan hot and toast the pumpkin seeds, then set aside.

Wash the leaves and shred with your hands into your salad bowl.

Sprinkle on the carrots and chopped peppers and spring onion.

Blob on some nice big spoonfuls of hummous

Toss in the olives

Blob on a few teaspoons of your chutney

Sprinkle on pumpkin seeds

Finely chop about half a block of smoked tofu and sprinkle that over the top.

Finely chop some fresh basil, parsley or coriander, if you have any.

DONE!

I love this salad. It’s crunchy, sweet, salty, creamy, tangy and piquant, all at the same time. And it’s filling. It’s a great balance of textures and flavours with plenty of protein to keep your energy up and keep you feeling full.

And now . . .  soup

If you are a regular reader, you will know I love soup. I like to vary it as well, as it makes for an interesting life. Having something warm and delicious in my soup flask for lunch helps keep me going but also allows me to slow down and enjoy my lunchtimes during the working day.

This soup is an oriental-inspired spicy soup full of fresh veggies. Rather than use expensive and exotic ingredients however, I use things I keep in my store cupboard, and I recommend you keep them in as well as it means quick and easy meals are only a few minutes away.

This soup CAN be made with noodles, but the version below uses spiralised carrots and courgettes instead. You can get a spiraliser for under £20 and they are fun!. Enjoy

Ingredients:

1 carrot, spiralised

1 courgette, spiralised

Fresh corn, off the cob

1 sweet pepper

4 spring onions

Finely shredded spinach, cabbage and/or Kale.

1 small white onion

A 1 inch cube of fresh ginger

3 garlic cloves

Vegetable stock cube or powder

Coconut milk or coconut milk powder (the powder is great to keep in the cupboard and is much cheaper than buying the tins)

1 lemon or 1 lime

1 tablespoon Miso (optional – I keep miso in the fridge but if you don’t have it, don’t worry).

Coconut oil

Toasted sesame oil

Soy sauce

Fresh coriander

Arrowroot to thicken (optional)

Chopped fresh chillies (to your own preference – I like my soup very spicy so I use a lot)

To make the soup:

In a large pan, heat the coconut oil. Peel, crush and chop the garlic, chillies and ginger and toss into the oil.

Chop the white onion finely, and add to the oil, stirring well.

Boil the kettle, and while it is boiling, toss in the green veggies, the pepper (finely sliced) and the sweetcorn, and give them a good stir. Then, add boiling water to the desired level, and add the spiralised carrot and courgette. Simmer for about five minutes, then add some lemon/lime zest and the juice of the fruit. Stir in the miso, vegetable stock and add the coconut milk or powder and a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. Taste, and if necessary add soy sauce to your preference. If you want a thicker soup, add a little arrowroot or cornflour. Simmer for about 10  minutes.  Finally, just before serving, sprinkle on some fresh coriander and finely chopped spring onions.

Other options: you could add tofu, seitan or even some of the mock duck you can get in a tin, finely chopped, to give more body to your soup if you wish.

It’s a lovely, warming soup and so tasty and delicious. You can make it as mild or as spicy as you wish. I often take the soup AND a salad for lunch during September, and I am not afraid to admit that I often have them for breakfast as well as lunch. There’s nothing better. These amounts should make 2-4 servings, but you can make more volume and freeze the soup if you wish.

And finally . . . . a quick reminder of my quick, easy and very heartening soup for those with not enough time or resources to make such a complicated soup. A quick lentil and tomato soup is perfect and is done in 30 minutes.

1 tin tomatoes

A heaped handful of red lentils

1 onion

1 carrot

Veg stock cube.

Chop the onion and carrot roughly, and put in your soup pan with the other ingredients. Add water (fill your tomato tin once or twice), bring to the boil and simmer. After 20 minutes, blend with a stick blender, simmer a little more, and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. You can serve this with a drizzle of chilli oil if you like a spicy soup. And it doesn’t get much simpler than that!


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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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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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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.

Guacamole

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!)

Salsa

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.

Salad

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.

Chilli

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.

Rice

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

 Chips

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.


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Inspirational Travels – and all things Hummous

After a weekend away where I sampled some awesome and some not-so awesome food, I thought I would put up some recipes inspired by my travels. Note to restaurant owners – charging 5.95 for a few strips of grilled pepper and a small bowl of sautéed potatoes is not acceptable, and I WILL complain, especially as it was advertised on the menu as having chickpeas, herbs, oil and lemon!

So, to the recipes.

Hummous

Hummous is a staple of the vegan diet, as far as I’m concerned. I eat it at least once a week – either bought, at a restaurant, or made myself. I love my home-made hummous as I can vary the texture and the flavour as much as I want.

Ingredients:

1 large tin chickpeas or 1 and a half cups dried chickpeas soaked, cooked and drained

3-5 cloves of garlic (three to five, not thirty five) – you can add less or more garlic as you like.

2 tablespoons tahini

juice of one lemon

olive oil

sea salt

So, this is simple. Peel the garlic and put into your whizzy chopper and whizz, or crush and chop it finely.

Add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt, and one tablespoon of olive oil to the whizzy chopper, or to your mixing bowl with the garlic. Whizz or mash to the desired consistency. If it is too thick, add a little more olive oil and if you like a very loose, smooth hummus, a little water. Taste, and add a little more salt if necessary.  Done.

I like to serve hummus in many different ways, so here are some ideas.

Hummus, olive and sundried tomato sandwiches. Take some thick wholemeal bread, spread one slice with hummus and then halve some pitted olives and dot them around, adding in some sundried tomatoes. Stick the other piece of bread on top. This is so delicious my mouth is watering at the thought of it as I write.

Hummus jacket potato. Simply bake some potatoes, split, and fill with hummus.

Hummous salad: rocket, watercress, lettuce and spinach leaves in a bowlith some finely shredded cabbage, carrot, celery and something tasty like grated celeriac or thin slices of radish. Top with hummus and pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of olive oil.

Hummous celery snacks. Wash and trim some celery sticks, and fill with hummous topped with sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and any other finely chopped fresh or dry veg or goodies. These are a delicious snack and also make a good party food if cut up a little smaller. You can also fill celery with peanut butter in a similar way.

Hummous varieties – you can vary your hummous flavour easily – try adding extra lemon and some fresh coriander, or garam masala, or fresh chillies, or curry powder, or some chopped olives.

Hummous with patatas gravas and peppers

Diced and sautee some nice potatoes, and in the last five minutes of cooking, add some salt, paprika and fresh chillies. In a separate pan, fry strips of pepper in a little oil, adding in some fresh coriander, lemon and a sprinkle of vegetable bouillon. Cook until the peppers are soft. Serve the potatoes topped with the peppers and then topped with the hummous. Yum yum yum.


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Requested Recipes

Recently a friend asked for some straightforward recipes for simple vegetarian meals. Here you go!

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Curry

Peel, de-seed and cut up one butternut squash, put on a baking tray and drizzle with a little oil, then bake in an oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop one onion and 3 cloves of garlic, and put into a pan with a little oil, heating and frying, until the onions are translucent. Add a tablespoon of curry paste or curry powder, and if you like it spicy, a fresh chilli or one quarter of a teaspoon of dried chilli. Stir well, then add 1 pint of vegetable stock, and a drained tin of chickpeas. Add the butternut squash once it is cooked, and allow to simmer, stirring in a tablespoon of mango chutney or tomato ketchup (for sweetness).  Add some chopped fresh coriander, and then thicken the curry with some grated creamed coconut or a roux made from flour and vegetable oil mixed together. Taste, and alter the seasoning as required. Serve with basmati rice or with some flatbreads.

Easy Cook Vegetable Rice

Use the lost liquid method to cook your rice and it will be fluffy. The rule is 3 to 1. So 1 cup of rice and 3 cups of water in a saucepan, add 1 tablespoon turmeric, sprinkle of salt, and bring to the boil, then simmer – but do not stir at all. After about 15 minutes, add one cup frozen peas and 1 cup sweetcorn. Do not stir. Cook until the rice has absorbed all the water and is nice and fluffy. Meanwhile, finely slice some onions and chop some garlic, and fry in oil with some garam masala until the onions start to brown. Once the rice is cooked, stir briefly, then serve topped with the friend onions and garlic.

Quick Soup

This is my favourite soup recipe and is the easiest soup I have ever made.

1 tin tomatoes

1 onion

1 cup red lentils (dried)

1 carrot

1 stock cube

salt and pepper

Put the tomatoes into a saucepan with the lentils, chopped onion and carrot, and another two tins full of water, and the stock cube. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring regularly. Once the lentils are completely cooked through, blend with a hand blender, then taste. Season to taste, and serve with some nice crusty bread. You can vary the flavour by adding some chilli, or garlic, or sweet chilli sauce.

Easy pasta dish

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

handful of basil leaves

fresh or dried oregano

1 tin tomatoes

tomato puree

1 tbsp. red wine

1 vegetable stock cube

freshly ground black pepper

handful of olives, chopped

Finely chop the onions and garlic, and sautee in olive oil, then add the other ingredients, and simmer, stirring regularly, until the sauce is thick and sweet. This should be cooked a long time to sweeten the tomatoes – vary the amount of tomato puree to get the right consistency of the sauce. Serve with your pasta of choice. You can vary this by adding sautéed mushrooms or pepper to the sauce, or any other vegetables you wish.