5-Veg curry

It’s been a while since I last blogged. Since starting a new job, I’ve had to get used to the rhythms of working life. My hours and overtime have clocked up against my motivation to cook and bake anything new.

But food will prevail, as it always does. On my last day off, I baked Aine Carlin’s fudgy brownies from her book Keep it Vegan, which were a hit. Later on, dinner was an easy improvised curry, a great one for leaving ticking on the cooker while you get on with other things.

The veg used here can easily be swapped for others, although cauliflower and potato are one of my all-time favourite combinations.

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To make this curry for two, you’ll need:

  • one large onion
  • one green chilli
  • half a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • one clove of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • half a head of cauliflower
  • 5 or 6 small potatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • 100g curly kale
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • naan bread (check for milk-free!) or brown rice (if you’ve not yet been able to find vegan naan).

Begin by roughly chopping the onion, and finely chopping the garlic and green chilli. Keep the seeds if desired. Scrape away the skin of the ginger with a teaspoon, before grating.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Fry the onions on a medium heat until they begin to brown. Add ginger, garlic, and chilli, and fry for one minute, moving around to prevent burning. Add the spices, cook for a minute, then add tomato puree and mix well.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, and simmer for five minutes while you prepare the vegetables. Strip away the cauliflower leaves, chop in half, and break into florets. Cut the potatoes into small pieces (not too small – without the skin, they’ll turn to mush.)

Add the cauliflower and potato to the sauce with 200ml water. Put the lid on and cook for thirty minutes, until the veg begins to soften. Meanwhile, trim and halve the beans and wash the kale.

Put in the rest of the vegetables, with the juice of half a lemon, and season well. Cook for another ten minutes. When everything is tender, remove from the heat and serve with naan bread or rice. Enjoy!

 

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Corn bean chilli

As busy people, we don’t all have time to cook a balanced meal every evening. In my case, I don’t want to do anything more than boil pasta when I get in from work. How to get round this? Be organised! On your days off, cook extra portions to save for later. Plan quick and low-prep meals. Putting in a bit of effort in advance will save you time and stress later.

I adopt this technique as much as I can – although when you’re cooking for yourself, it’s much easier. This chilli is an excellent bulk-batch meal, as it’s easy to make, freezes well, and tastes really good. I’ve pared it back significantly, adding sweetcorn to bulk it out. It’s delicious, and exactly the sort of meal you want to come home to.

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Corn & bean chilli, served with spinach and potatoes

To serve three, you’ll need:

  • one brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • tbsp tomato puree
  • tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • one and a half tins of kidney beans
  • 250g sweetcorn, fresh or frozen
  • salt and pepper
  • one lime.

Begin by finely chopping the onion. Cook gently for ten minutes, stirring regularly. Add finely chopped garlic, and cook over a moderate heat for another minute. Add the smoked paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper, cook for one minute, and squeeze in the tomato puree. Stir until everything is well combined.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes.

Set a pan of rice or quinoa to cook in a steamer (or potatoes, if you wish), with the sweetcorn overhead. Add the kidney beans to the chilli and simmer for another ten minutes. Finally, tip in the cooked sweetcorn and season generously. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime.

Serve the chilli over your chosen grain, perhaps with sliced avocado and chopped coriander. Put leftovers into plastic containers, and put in the fridge or freezer for when you need it most!

Roasted veg couscous salad

When most people hear the word salad, they think of limp lettuce and low-fat dressing. When I contemplate salad, I picture a big bowl of assorted veg on a grain. A salad for me isn’t a satiating meal without an accompanying carb, be it rice, pasta, or quinoa. On the other hand, lunchtime carbs can induce mid-afternoon energy drops for some people. If that’s you, then make sure you’re stocking up on carbohydrates for breakfast!

This salad is one you can eat for lunch or dinner, and pack in a whole lot of nutrients. It’s full of flavour, with both bite and soft textures.

To serve one portion, you’ll need:

  • 75g dry couscous. (I didn’t weigh mine, and ended up with a huge pile as a result. Remember that this stuff expands!)
  • 5 or 6 closed cup mushrooms, or half a pack of button mushrooms
  • One small / half a large courgette
  • Half a can chickpeas
  • Half a small red onion
  • Handful of parsley
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Pinch of chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock
  • Olive oil.

Begin by preheating the oven to 180C, and slicing the courgettes and mushrooms. Place the courgette in one tray, drizzle with oil, season, and sprinkle over rosemary. Give everything a stir to coat, and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Slice or halve the mushrooms, depending on size, and put in another tray with sliced onions. Drizzle with more oil, season, and add paprika and chilli flakes. Slide into the oven underneath the courgettes. (It’s better to roast mushrooms separately, as they tend to release water when cooked – which can make everything else in the tray soggy.)

Meanwhile, place the couscous in the bowl you intend to eat out of, and pour enough boiling water over to cover by 1cm. Add a tsp of vegetable stock, stir well, and place a tea towel over the top. Leave to absorb for ten minutes.

Chop the parsley, and drain the chickpeas. Feel free to prepare other ingredients to add, such as chopped avocado, pumpkin seeds, or tomato.

Fluff up the couscous with the fork – if it is still dry, add a little more water. When the vegetables are cooked and tender, remove from the oven and add to the couscous with the beans and parsley. Preferably eat in the sunshine!

 

Best tomato pasta sauce

Looking for an easy and incredible pasta sauce recipe? Look no further.

I found this gem in my treasure trove of magazine recipe clippings, originally from The Times Saturday Magazine, and I thought it just had to be shared. As it’s pretty tomato-dense, it’s got a very intense flavour, although a few nuanced additions do well to enhance it. I followed the method below, making alterations to serve one less person.

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To serve four, you’ll need:

  • 1kg vine-ripened tomatoes. Yes, that’s a lot, but you get out what you put in. Make sure they are of a good quality, too – the difference between imported tomatoes and local, seasonal varieties is vast.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Half a bunch of fresh basil
  • Wholewheat spaghetti.

Begin preheating the oven to gas mark 8, or 230C. Roughly chop the tomatoes, peel and crush the garlic, and zest the lemon. Place everything in a roasting tin, with 2tbsp of the olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes – the tomatoes ought to be browned, and there will be a layer of thick juices lying at the bottom.

Transfer everything to a large bowl, add chopped basil, and use a hand blender to puree into a smooth sauce. (You can also use a food processor for this.) Add seasoning if needed, before serving with pasta. This is absolutely delicious, and a perfect sauce to have on hand in the freezer for quick dinner fixes.

 

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One year as a vegan

It feels like only yesterday that I wrote about my experiences six months into going vegan. Everything in that post remains relevant; both another six months has elongated the learning curve. So, what else have I realised?

  • Confidence comes with time! For a while, I couldn’t talk about veganism with family members without getting angry, accusatory, and upset. Now, with more knowledge under my belt, I can engage in conversation and am trying to improve my method of pointing out ethical hypocrisies, e.g. my meat-eating brother cooing over newly hatched chicks; the ridiculousness of happy smiling Percy Pig sweets made from pork gelatine; the idea that organic eggs are more acceptable to eat than battery farm eggs. I’m really impressed by the dialogue technique used by some activists in outreach: mostly asking questions, and letting the other person join up the dots, while you empathise with their realisations.
  • Remember that you weren’t always vegan (unless you were). When my vegetarian father protests that he doesn’t like soy milk, therefore doesn’t want to ditch the dairy in his tea, I often forget that I went through the exact same thought process. Coming from a place of understanding and empathy is so much more effective than accusing, or expecting a person to go vegan immediately after you’ve explained why they should.
  • Veganism prompts a chain reaction. It took me two years to see the light after one of my closest friends went vegan. At the time, I didn’t understand what it meant, and I hadn’t a clue why anybody would go even further than vegetarian. A few months after I went vegan, my twin brother said he wanted to go veggie (although this wasn’t an immediate process), my housemate went vegan after conversations about the egg and dairy industry (and now sends me links and screenshots of other people’s hypocritical behaviour), and a few months ago, my dad went vegetarian. Amazingly, my younger brother – who had previously admitted that meat-eating is unethical, but continued eating it nonetheless – watched What the Health and informed my dad that we’ve all been lied to. The fact that animal industries weigh in heavily on the information put out by professional health organisations made him feel cheated. A week on, the teen who for many months ate three eggs for breakfast hasn’t touched animal products. You are a role model to other people, even if you’re not aware of it. Individual efforts are not futile!

Who knows what the next year will entail!

Here’s to another year! x

Courgette and chickpea sandwich

Sandwiches are the perfect lunchtime food. Forget salads, soup, beans on toast, it’s the sandwich that is the undefeated champ of the midday meal. I think that a well-executed sandwich is unequivocally the only thing which can pull you back from a disappointing morning, and the ideal food to motivate you towards lunchtime.

Lately, I’ve been working on my sandwich game. Sure, hummous and veg between toasted brown bread is a beautiful thing, but there are higher levels of satisfaction to reach. Substitute the hummous for avocado, and you’ve progressed a little. But stick slabs of smoked tofu between slices of sourdough, layered with crisp lettuce, cucumber, and red pepper, topped off with a touch of relish, and you’ve got yourself a belter.

Here’s a new favourite of mine, ideal for when you’ve got a little extra time to prepare your lunch, or if you know you’ve got a difficult morning ahead and want something to look forward to. For those who live and breathe carbs, like myself, the doubling-up of them in this sandwich will satiate the most deep-set of hungers.

To feed one person, you’ll need:

  • two slices of thick HIGH QUALITY bread. None of that bleached white abomination or limp branded granary. Visit a bakery (or supermarket bakery), or even better, invest in a bread-maker (which will churn out pure joy for the rest of your life).
  • one petite, or half of a medium courgette
  • 1/2 can of chickpeas
  • handful plum tomatoes, or one or two salad tomatoes
  • small clove of garlic
  • lettuce leaves
  • tahini
  • juice of half a lemon
  • paprika
  • chilli flakes
  • handful of coriander / parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • sweet chutney or relish (I used tamarind chutney).

Begin by halving the courgette, and halving again. Slice into rectangles. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and set the courgettes to cook until well-browned on each side. Just before they’re done, add thinly sliced garlic and cook for a few minutes, before seasoning with salt, pepper, and a pinch of chilli flakes.

Meanwhile, place two thick slices of bread in the toaster. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, before mashing in a bowl with a fork. Add a tbsp of tahini, a few coriander or parsley leaves, a decent squeeze of lemon, and then season with salt, pepper, and half a tsp of paprika. Mix well to create a thick paste.

When the bread has toasted, layer one slice with the chickpea mash and sliced tomato. Tip the courgettes and garlic on top and arrange precariously. Spread a small amount of chutney on the other slice of bread, place on top of the other, and press down. Use your bread knife to slice diagonally into two perfect triangles.

Serve with salad leaves, or wrap up to put in your lunchbox. This one’s a winner.

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Volunteering @ the Vegan Society

A while ago, I read a little notice on the Vegan Society’s website calling for remote editorial volunteers to help proof-read articles. What a good way to get a little extra experience on my CV, I thought, and to have some involvement with a charity that works hard to get the vegan message out there. I quickly signed up and within a week, I had arranged to actually do a week’s worth of volunteering in the offices. The Vegan Society provide invaluable resources in nutrition, products, transitioning to veganism, and perspectives on the lifestyle, so volunteering seemed a fantastic way to get an insight into how they work, and learn a lot on the way.

The offices are based in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, and I learned from Dr Sam Calvert (Head of Communications and expert on history) that the city was chosen over other destinations for its good cost of living and location. The Society was founded by a group of non-dairy vegetarians, including Donald Watson, marking themselves apart from the Vegetarian Society. You can find more about the Vegan Society’s history on this webpage, including a really fascinating history of the Society’s beginnings by Dr Calvert.

In my week of volunteering, I met officers of campaigns, PR, the CEO, dietitian, the senior advocacy officer, and more. There’s far more going on than I was aware of, with the trademarking of vegan products a significant operation – that little logo our hearts fill with joy to see. They’re a committed group and do a great job!

I spent time researching an article for the Society’s magazine, The Vegan, and penned a couple of blog posts for the website, including one on the interaction of veganism and minimalism. I wrote a film review (of Okja, nonetheless), helped to edit a section of the website posting news, and subtitled YouTube videos. I researched worldwide vegan animal sanctuaries for a directory, which gave me so much optimism – there are so many people out there absolutely dedicated to caring for vulnerable animals.

The most striking aspect of volunteering is the sense of community: used to the fact that you have a minority belief, coming together with like-minded others bolsters your sense of the impact you’re having. It’s easy to lose sight of the growing population of vegans until you come into contact with so many at once! If you do feel disconnected, I’d really recommend taking steps such as joining vegan Facebook groups (UK Vegan, Vegan UK, Vegan Dogs United, What Skint Vegans Eat, and local groups), going to vegan festivals, or finding vegan cafes. YouTube is obviously an inexhaustible treasure trove of resources: try Nutritionfacts.org for everything you need to know health-wise, Mic the Vegan to debunk vegan myths and anti-vegan studies, Joey Carbstrong and Earthling Ed for fantastic activism, and vloggers such as Naturally Stefanie and Jon Venus if it’s gains you’re after.

To sum up – my volunteering experience made me realise that you don’t have to dedicate yourself to activism to be a ‘proper’ vegan. There are some people who would have you think such a thing – but I think that as long as you’re touching other people’s lives, you’re making them think about issues they might not have previously considered – and that in itself is enough.