Pan-fried red pepper & sprouts

The Brussels sprout, the divisive Christmas vegetable. I’ve always loved them, and I’ve never understood why some people hate them with an absolute passion. As a child, I ate Brussels every year with pancetta and chestnuts; this year, they were boiled and slathered in gravy – slightly less impressive, but tasty nonetheless. With a spare packet slowly withering in the pantry, I wanted to try something a little different, to prove that the traditional sprout isn’t only the derided counterpart to the Christmas roast potatoes: here I’ve pan-fried them with spices and red pepper.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • a small pack of Brussels sprouts
  • one red pepper
  • one clove of garlic
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • one small red chilli
  • dark soy sauce
  • sunflower oil, for frying

Begin by chopping off the small stalks and peeling away the outer leaves of each sprout. Finely chop the garlic and chilli, and grate the ginger. (I’ve just discovered how much better grated ginger is for frying. I can tell from the aroma released as it hits the hot oil; and there are no chunky bits of ginger which tend to overpower the other flavours.)

Slice the red pepper in thin strips, then into halves. Heat a good glug of oil in a large frying pan, and add the spices. Fry for no more than a minute, stirring constantly, before adding the sprouts. Mix to combine with the spices, fry for a few minutes, then add the pepper, with more oil if needed.

Fry for around fifteen minutes, moving everything around regularly; but leave the veg to stick to the pan to acquire a bit of a chargrilled tan. In the meantime, set some rice to boil – I will almost always opt for brown, as it’s the wholegrain – the white has been stripped of the bran and the germ, which contain all the fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Here’s a link to a useful article on the advantages (and disadvantages) of brown over white.

Once the sprouts are cooked – soft, but still with bite – add a tablespoon or so of dark soy sauce. I added this for lack of my usual tamari, but in all honesty, I preferred the richness of the dark here: helping everything to caramelise, it complimented the sweetness of the red pepper. Cook for another minute on a low heat before serving over the rice. I also added chickpeas to the pan to cook through, for extra protein. (As I’m at home, I’m enjoying the luxury of organic beans and pulses, and boy are they superior; softer, bigger, and chemical-free. It’ll be hard to shift back to bog-standard tins.) This is a good way to use up a surplus of sprouts, and would go just as well with wholewheat noodles.

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Lentil bolognese

If there any purists of Italian cuisine reading this, I wholeheartedly apologise for what I have done to one of your classics. I’ve ripped the meat out, shunned the egg pasta, and given Parmesan the cold shoulder. I’m not even sure if I can call this a bolognese. Nevertheless, since it retains something of a meaty texture and still oozes a luxuriant, tomatoey sauce, this recipe can keep the bolognese as its birthright.

Also, in my defence – this is delicious. It’s hearty, healthy, and tasty, everything a bolognese should be. Yes, I’ve added peppers, to add more fuel to the fire; but in my opinion, they gave the sauce another layer of sweetness. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to a meat-based bolognese, or, if you’re veggie, or a vegan like me, this is the way to go.

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To serve two generously, you’ll need:

  • 150g dry green lentils
  • two small peppers, red and orange
  • one medium carrot
  • two large sticks of celery
  • one medium brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • one tin of good quality chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • chilli flakes
  • balsamic vinegar
  • dry spaghetti

Begin by putting the lentils on to boil (not too vigorously) for forty minutes, or until tender. Drain and rinse well in a sieve.

Roughly chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Heat a glug of olive or rapeseed (canola) oil in a large saucepan or crockpot (frying pan is too small!). Cook gently for ten minutes, until softened.

Add finely chopped garlic, and cook, stirring, until aromatic. Tip in the finely sliced peppers, and fry for a few minutes – you’ll probably need to add more oil. Add a good squirt of tomato puree and stir until incorporated. Cook for another minute.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, adding a little water to clean the tin out. Give it all a good mix, seasoning well with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes, and leave to simmer for half an hour. Then, add the cooked lentils, and 3/4 tbsp balsamic vinegar – this will give it a lovely sweetness – and simmer for another ten minutes, while your spaghetti is cooking.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water. If you’re serving two, add the pasta to the pan and incorporate loosely with tongs, adding a splash of the water if it needs loosening up. If you’re serving your own lonely self, transfer half the bolognese to a plastic container to cool down before putting in the fridge or freezing, and combine spaghetti with the other half.

Serve in bowls, with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. Delicious!

 

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Christmas dinner: vegan-style

We are all fond of celebrating special occasions through food: from birthdays, visits, achievements, to holidays. Christmas evidently falls in the latter category, with the hotly-anticipated dinner celebrated as the day’s crowning glory. In general, the whole affair is a massive slog: preparing days in advance, cooking for most of the morning, facing the Everest of washing up in the aftermath. But it is tradition, nonetheless, and Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same without it.

Tradition – a handy notion any omnivore could use to justify meat-eating at Christmas, not just in general. Turkey, stuffing, pigs-in-blankets – all essential components of the meal. Gravy must contain animal substances, and potatoes gain ultimate crispness from duck fat. Take away the animal products, and it’s not Christmas dinner. But from anyone’s perspective, it shouldn’t be what you sit down to eat that matters, but the act of sitting down to eat itself. The very essence of Christmas (in a secular view) is goodwill and enjoyment: and the traditional Christmas dinner, in its bare basics, occludes all vestiges of those. Call me a kill-joy, but there’s a bit too much kill thrown into the mix.

 

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Despite this, the veganised Christmas dinner I shared with my housemates was modelled on the one we’ve all eaten throughout our lives: the meaty main, potatoes, veg, gravy. So to an extent, tradition still reigns supreme; but any tradition can be open to interpretation. My vegetarian housemate and I spent an afternoon making a nut roast from Bosh, and she took immense pride in preparing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vegan gravy. We parboiled our potatoes before roasting them in plenty of olive oil (in absence of vegetable), salt, pepper, and rosemary; there were parsnips and vegan stuffing balls; carrots, broccoli, peas. Movement was difficult after. And although I’m not a hugely sentimental person, the food took backseat to the actual occasion, even to the 99p bottle of Shloer.

My point is that Christmas dinner is so much more than the food, although a McDonald’s on the day is pretty blasphemous – but if that’s what you want, so be it. Doing it as a vegan doesn’t make it in any way sub-standard; in all honesty, I never particularly liked turkey anyway, and usually slathered it in sauce to detract from its dry texture. The nut roast, on the other hand, was glorious, and not one bird had their life cut short for it. And when you can make enough stuffing for four people from a 20p pack, you know the veggie option’s at least got cost-effectiveness going for it.

What do I really want? For more people to try a vegan Christmas. Spread that festive goodwill beyond men and women. You wouldn’t stuff your dog’s interior with herbs and serve that as your centrepiece, so there is no reason why you should a bird: a turkey wants life just as much as we do. Merry Christmas!

 

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