Red lentil, spinach, and green bean curry

I’ve mentioned previously my love for a well-flavoured daal, specifically those cooked with coconut milk, for a delicious balance of earthy spice.  A week on from my last batch cook of this godly stuff, I had the dahl cravings again, but decided to satiate them in a novel way: red lentil curry.

In another note, I come from a multicultural town where you can often smell south Asian cuisine as you wander the streets at dinner time; and the strongest of these scents I’ve finally identified, after using it in my own food. Fenugreek is potent stuff, seeming to cling to the very air the morning after you’ve cooked with it. But it adds another taste to curries, one which is hard to describe; suffice to say its powerful smell is easy to tolerate once you’ve tasted the outcome.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert at all in any culture of cooking. I just like to play about with different flavours and foods – and while this recipe may fall short of a more ‘authentic’ version, it did the job for me – hearty, healthy, and flavourful.

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For two generous portions, you’ll need:

  • one onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • one red chilli
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 each tsp ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1/3 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 120g dried red lentils
  • 100g green beans
  • 100g baby spinach
  • tin of chopped tomatoes

Begin by rinsing the lentils well, and setting to cook for half an hour while you prepare the curry base.

Finely chop the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry the onion gently in oil for five – ten minutes, or until softened. Put the mustard seeds in a dry frying pan on a medium heat, and cook until you hear them begin to pop. Add garlic, ginger, and chilli to the onions and fry for another minute, adding more oil if needed. Then, tip in all the spices and cook for a minute, stirring well.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes with 50ml of water, stir, and leave to simmer fairly vigorously for around twenty-five minutes. Meanwhile, get a pan of brown rice boiling. Trim and halve the green beans before adding to the rice and cooking for eight minutes, before setting aside. Drain the lentils.

Shortly before the rice is cooked, begin adding the spinach to the curry in handfuls. Afterwards, stir through the beans and the lentils, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Serve the curry with the rice and enjoy.

Review: V Rev, Manchester

For those who still hold the assumption that vegan food is all salads and spirulina, a visit to V Rev in Manchester’s stylish Northern Quarter is a must. Not only is there no single head of broccoli in sight, there’s no limp side-salad available for the sensible vegan, either. Entering the doors, you go all in for unhealthy eating, the stuff of parents’ nightmares and American fast-food dreams.

V Rev is a completely vegan diner, specialising in beefburgers, chk’n burgers, and fully-loaded fries. There’s a range of organic and fair-trade soft drinks to complement the meal if one doesn’t opt for a huge milkshake or beer. Most strikingly, the creative powerhouse behind the menu has utilised all of their pop culture knowledge in naming each item: from the ‘Hell-vis Presley’ beef patty to the ‘Wake Me Up Before Mojito’ cocktail, the levels of pun are atmospheric. It’s canny marketing, capturing the diner’s modern aesthetic and giving the traditional vegan stereotype – long-haired, anaemic, tree-worshipping – a right kick up the backside.

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Guac to the Future

Walking in on a Friday night, the diner is busy and bustling, but it’s not long before I’m guided to my reserved table in a quieter zone. We order beer, cider, the special donut burger, and a ‘Guac to the Future’. The first consists of fried chik’n, cheez, baecon, fried onions and maple sriracha sauce sandwiched between two sweet donuts, and it’s an interesting combination. Hard to get your mouth round – but the different layers of sweetness bring it home. The Guac is made from breaded, deep-fried seitan, and I try it in that hope that I get over my first average experience of it – but I don’t. The texture isn’t chicken, but it’s chewy and reminiscent of it in a way which doesn’t twist your brain wondering if it actually could be the dead stuff itself. Also included is cheez, guacamole, chipotle mayo, salsa, and lettuce – all good toppings. Both burgers come with sides of fries, which I drown in slightly luminous and watered-down ketchup. The drinks are great, though, and the service friendly – “Where did you get your blouse?” – so we tip gratefully.

A factor close to my heart is cleanliness, with no complaints. The decor fits in with the old-school American diner feel – food’s served in red plastic boxes, with squeezy condiment bottles. The wall prints had me Googling “You’re the nutritional yeast to my macaroni” to self-mail next Valentine’s.

So, V Rev have an awesome thing going with their unique menu and whole aura of what my dad calls ‘trendiness’. While the food’s no Temple of Seitan, it’s still tasty, and I’ve heard excellent reports on the milkshakes. Most importantly, it’s idolised by vegans and omivores alike, if their social media feeds are anything to go by. You can find their Instagram here and website here.

V Rev, 20-26 Edge St, Manchester, M4 1HN

Sweet courgette pasta sauce

Sometimes, things we put little thought into end up turning out well. Think spontaneous trips, impetuous decisions, and the undeliberate decision to go out for dinner. Although I am generally not at all a person to act on impulse, I can occasionally throw together a tasty meal with little planning or thought, as this recipe shows. The tomato puree, sugar and balsamic vinegar bring together a lovely sweet sauce, mimicking the variety of expensive organic tomato we can never justify buying in the supermarket.

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(Those unappetising chunks lining the bowl’s perimeter are Cauldron’s vegan sausages – in my opinion, the most superior veggie sausage on the market. They aren’t meaty, but soft and beany – so perfect for anyone who prefers a beanburger over their soy protein mockmeat.)

To serve two, you’ll need:

  • one red onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • one small carrot
  • one large courgette
  • half a bag of kale
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • dried rosemary and oregano
  • dried chilli flakes
  • balsamic vinegar
  • sugar

Begin by roughly chopping the onion and leaving to cook gently for ten minutes. Finely chop the carrot and add to the pan. After these ten minutes, add sliced garlic. (To remove the skins easily, shake each clove in a jam jar before peeling.) Cook for a few minutes.

Add a tbsp of tomato puree and stir well to incorporate. Finely slice the courgette and put in the pan. Tip in the chopped tomatoes, with a glug of balsamic vinegar, two pinches each of the dried rosemary and oregano, two pinches of sugar, and a tsp of chilli flakes. Stir again, and leave to simmer for twenty-five minutes, or until the courgette is tender and the sauce well-reduced.

Meanwhile, set a pan of fusilli to cook. I also steamed a few handfuls of kale, seasoned with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve the pasta with the sauce, and sprinkle with nutritional yeast.

Banana ‘nice’ cream

Three years late, I have finally jumped on the vegan nice cream bandwagon. A little tired of sorbet, and craving a cheap alternative to the luxury of Booja-Booja, I dug out the frozen bananas I’d squirrelled away in the freezer. Blending them in my food processor with two tablespoons of cocoa powder yielded a gloriously luxuriant dessert, anchored down by the sweetness of the banana (frozen when brown) and transformed by the cocoa.

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Most delightfully, this ice cream is healthy: there is no added sugar, chemicals, stabilisers or other nasties. I’d quite happily whip this up as a  satisfying dessert, snack, or breakfast.

To jazz this simple recipe up, try adding:

  • frozen berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, cherries
  • mango chunks
  • dark chocolate chunks
  • crumbled Oreos
  • peanut butter
  • flavourings or extracts, such as vanilla, peppermint, caramel…

Roasted red pepper & tomato sauce

Stir-in pasta sauces are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they cut down cooking time by at least 70% and put a dinner on the table, stat. On the other hand, they discourage folk from making their own more delicious, fresher, and nutritious sauces. Aside from the standard chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herb affair, a beautiful pasta sauce can be made from blitzing roasted vegetables together. This recipe is one I have been playing around with: it’s more time-consuming than the other options, but the final product is well worth it.

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • two red peppers
  • twenty plum tomatoes
  • one red onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • chill flakes
  • balsamic vinegar
  • tomato puree
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • wholewheat spaghetti.

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 6, and slicing the red peppers. Drizzle in oil, arrange with plenty of space on baking trays, and intersperse with the tomatoes. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until tender – you may need to switch your trays round to ensure even cooking.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and and cook gently for ten minutes, sprinkling with salt and a pinch of sugar. Add sliced garlic and cook for another three minutes, before adding a tablespoon of tomato puree, mixing well, and leaving for another minute. Pour in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and simmer very gently for one minute.

Set up your food processor, and tip in the roasted vegetables, onions, and garlic, with a sprinkling of chilli flakes and seasoning. Blitz until smooth. Check seasoning, adding more sugar or balsamic if you want it sweeter.

Set the spaghetti on to cook, with spinach in a steamer for some complementary greens. Mix the pasta and sauce and warm in the pan. Serve with the spinach, and enjoy!

Chickpea and spinach curry

Although it’s June, British weather keeps us forever in thrall of its impetuous decision-making and rash promises. On days like today, when it’s rained consistently for hours on end, a hot bowl of curry provides a dose of relief from the glum skies and damp pavements. Here, chickpeas pack a double-dose of heartiness to a big pile of happy-inducing rice, and the warm flavours almost make the rain disappear. This recipe is relatively simple to make, and is fantastic for batch cooking for busy weeknight dinners.

To serve two, you’ll need:

  • One red onion
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • One red chilli
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 3/4 tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek
  • One tin / carton of chickpeas (soaked and cooked from scratch, or use an organic variety if you’re able to, for plumper and softer pulses)
  • One tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 150g fresh spinach, or around eight frozen lumps
  • A handful of coriander

 

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Begin by finely chopping the onion and leaving to cook gently for ten minutes on a low heat. Finely chop garlic, ginger, and chilli before adding to the pan and frying for one minute. Add the spices and fry briefly before tipping in the tomatoes. Stir everything well and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Add the coconut milk (please choose full-fat – it tastes so much better) and the rinsed chickpeas. Season, and leave to simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes.

Put on your choice of rice to cook (I will always choose the texture and nutritious benefit of brown), and if using frozen spinach, pop this into a steamer. After ten minutes or so, press down on the cooked spinach to squeeze out excess liquid. Tip the spinach into the sauce, and use your spatula or spoon and a fork to separate the clumps of spinach out.

Serve the curry over rice, garnishing with a handful of coriander. Enjoy!

Vegan fried chicken: the mock-meat question

Not everyone is in agreement over mock meats. Are they helpful in weaning omnivores off meat? Do they provide a healthy source of plant-based protein? Is it really vegan to advertise a product which “tastes just like meat”?

For me, I think that whatever helps a person give up meat is a very valuable tool to the vegan cause. So, an uncannily beefy burger made from soy is infinitely better than the actual beef itself. That being said, I’ve found that I don’t enjoy eating products which recall the taste and texture of meat. Although that sounds quite puritanical, if a friend kindly provided me with a veggie sausage at a barbecue, I would happily accept; and, I’m quite partial to a Quorn fishless finger. On the other hand, the new variety of burgers which supposedly bleed take the mock-meat to the next level, one which I don’t necessarily agree with. Why does a vegetable burger need to square up to its animal counterpart? Why can’t we hold it as something entirely separate to meat, rather than comparing it constantly with something it’ll never quite be? A burger which bleeds models itself on a product of extreme injustice and cruelty. Perhaps this burger seeks to perpetuate the so-called human craving for meat, in tricking both our eyes and our tastebuds. This carnivorous ‘instinct’ is not innate – from the moment we’re born, humans are conditioned to think, act, and be a certain way,  and foods we are taught that we need to eat is a part of this. Arguably, a mock-meat which looks to satisfy this conditioned craving for meat, to the extent that it bleeds, damages the vegan attempt to argue that eating flesh is not natural. 

I like to believe that in consuming the average soya protein sausage, we are parodying the meat-power association: meat has always been a symbol of inequality, from the days in which the wealthy flaunted their meat consumption over the vegetable diets of the poor, to the diners today in expensive restaurants who buy vastly overpriced steaks or consume a live octopus to show off their wealth and refinement. I read a study recently which corroborated Carol J. Adams feminist-vegetarian critique in The Sexual Politics of Meat (an absolutely eye-opening and fascinating read): men today eat more red meat than women, and see reducing meat intake as a perversion of Western masculine hegemony.  So, through eating burgers which look and even taste like meat, but essentially are not meat, we can challenge the performative aspect of meat-eating as associated with power and masculinity.

I recently tried vegan fried chicken for the first time, out of curiosity. That might make me a hypocrite, but it’s better than unfairly condemning the mock-meat family. This variety was made from seitan and deep-fat fried; they smelled quite like chicken nuggets, recalling the McDonald’s of my childhood. Resembling popcorn chicken, they were crispy on the outside, and ‘tender’ on the inside; my omnivorous friend said that there was a definite similarity to chicken, although not a striking one. In all honesty, I wasn’t too keen. They didn’t taste fantastic, even when smothered in barbecue sauce, and I felt laden down and heavy after eating five or six of them. What’s more, they cost more than most other options on the menu, at £13.50 – which for me highlighted the way in which the vegan diet is often made out to be ‘exclusive’.

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Veganism is not a binary. There are shades of opinion and varying beliefs within the conscious choices vegans make. I know those who don’t like salads, and marvel at others who shun cooked food. Where we stand on mock-meat is another issue. When we can get enough protein from beans, pulses, grains, and nuts, soy burgers aren’t essential; but not everyone has the time or motivation to plan what they eat quite as carefully, in which case soy mince in a spag bol is the best option. Moderation, as always, is key, so eating a lot of mock-meat isn’t the best way forward. Experimentation with wholefoods can lead you in new directions, including to the beautiful discovery of homemade lentil and beetroot burgers. But there’s nothing at all wrong with vegan popcorn chick’n once in a while.