Smoky sweet potato rounds

A friend of mine recently accused me of potato snobbery. “You look down on the potato,” she told me, as I extolled the virtues of the sweet over that of the white. Later on, I reflected on my nutritional-ism of sorts, and then that weekend bought a bag of organic new potatoes. They tasted good, boiled and vegan-buttered with a little salt. But, nevertheless, I still hold its sweet cousin as the superior of the two.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with liquid smoke – a sauce flavoured with hickory, molasses, and vinegar. It’s very American-BBQ-esque, and bears both the range of meats it can accompany, and the emblem ‘Suitable for Vegans’. I love it in baked beans and in tofu marinades; here I’ve used it to season my sweet potato, cut into rounds for a more efficient cooking time.

 

 

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You’ll need:

  • one medium sweet potato
  • tbsp olive oil
  • tsp liquid smoke (I got mine from Tesco; a barbecue sauce could, potentially, be substituted)
  • tsp smoked paprika
  • tsp cayenne pepper
  • tsp onion powder / granules
  • pinch of brown sugar / agave syrup
  • salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7. Slice the sweet potato(es) into rounds, and place in a bowl. Drizzle / sprinkle / scatter over seasonings, and use your hands to coat well.

Transfer to a baking dish and roast for forty minutes. Serve with steamed veg and peas, and a veggie sausage or two. Delicious!

Smoky baked beans

Once in a blue moon, I have a beans-on-toast craving. There’s something eternally reassuring about slices of soggy toasted bread, bearing a burden of sweet beans. They bring to mind childhood lunches on cold afternoons in the school holidays, and for many they’re a go-to in times of emergency, idleness, or self-pitying illness.

I won’t dispute the institution that is baked beans on toast: but I will offer a slightly fancier version, for times when Heinz won’t cut it (and there are such times – I’m sorry, these beans are on a whole new level.) I’ve used liquid smoke here, although a good barbecue sauce will do the trick.

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • a can of cannellini beans, mixed beans, or haricot beans
  • a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • one small brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • half a small red chilli
  • tomato puree
  • a tsp each of cayenne pepper, chilli powder, smoked paprika, and cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • tbsp liquid smoke (I bought mine from Tesco)
  • 1/2 tbsp agave syrup, or 1 tsp brown sugar
  • tsp balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper.

Begin by finely chopping the onion, and gently cooking until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and chilli, and cook for two minutes, before adding the spices and frying for another minute.

Squirt in a tbsp of tomato puree, and stir well to incorporate. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, drained beans, liquid smoke, syrup, and vinegar, before leaving to simmer for half an hour, stirring regularly – you want a thick consistency.

Serve with potatoes and steamed veg – or, to pay homage to its roots, pile on top of crispy ciabatta and sprinkle with parsley and nutritional yeast. Now that’s beans on toast.

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Roasted pumpkin and quinoa bowl

Give me a grain, a bean, and plenty of veggies, and I’ve got a delicious dinner. Pumpkin and butternut squash are very abundant at this time of year, and they’re so versatile, lending themselves well to roasting, putting in stews, and blitzing into soups. I love big wedges of pumpkin roasted with plenty of fresh herbs – they can be left in the oven whilst you get on with other things, and then served with a quick assortment of whatever you’ve got in your cupboards.

Make sure you don’t throw away the seeds – they make an fantastic topping to salads, once washed, dried, and roasted in a little salt and oil.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • half of one small pumpkin
  • one small head of broccoli, or a tin of beans
  • one small white onion
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • handful plum tomatoes
  • two cloves of garlic
  • handful sprigs fresh rosemary
  • quinoa / couscous
  • vegetable stock
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • dried herbs: thyme, oregano

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Carefully slice the pumpkin in half, using a large and sturdy knife. Cut one half into six wedges and and rub with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Lay on a roasting tray, and place in the oven for around an hour.

Peel and finely chop the onion, and gently cook until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and cook for two minutes before mixing with a squirt of tomato puree. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer, adding a 2 tsp of dried herbs, and a generous splash of red wine vinegar. After fifteen minutes, add either broccoli florets or beans, and simmer until the broccoli is tender.

In the meantime, put the quinoa on to cook, or pour boiling water over couscous and cover. Do add seasoning to the quinoa as it simmers – a pinch of vegetable stock will do the trick.

When the pumpkin skin is crisped and the flesh soft, serve everything in a bowl, and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Eat with cosy socks on in front of the TV.

 

Stuffed veggie pittas

Sometimes expediency is of the utmost importance in eating lunch. Generally, you’re caught between tasks, you’ve got somewhere else to be, or there is much you need to do. Hence the brevity of this post, and the simplicity of the recipe.

These pittas are very simple, and can be stuffed with whatever is there is in the fridge.

You’ll need:

  • one large wholemeal pitta
  • half one ripe avocado
  • half a lemon (for the avocado), and seasonings
  • stuffings: chickpeas, pepper, tomato, roasted veg will all work beautifully

 

Simply tear the pitta in half and place in the toaster – slightly crisped is the aim. Mash the avocado (to make batch lunches, use more) with the juice of the lemon, and season well with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. Carefully slice open the pittas, and spread the avocado inside. Chop a little red onion and sprinkle within, before adding stuffings of choice – but don’t over-stuff.

Eat immediately, or wrap up and pop in your bag. My absolute golden combination, as of yet, is as follows: avocado seasoned with lemon, s&p, and cayenne; cold yellow peppers, roasted in oil and mixed herbs, perfectly tender; and a few sprigs of coriander.

Butternut squash and carrot soup

It’s definitely soup season. With chillier afternoons and cold evenings, I crave warm and comforting bowls of chilli, stew, or soup, the latter with a doorstop of crusty bread for the dual purposes of dunking and mopping up last vestiges. And if such simple things as bread and soup don’t cheer me on a winter night, then I fear nothing will.

As butternut squash is abundant right now, and delicious, I bought one and then sat a long time looking at it, considering its possibilities. A previous squash had made a vegan mac ‘n’ cheese; another quarter was roasted in a dish with other vegetables, with rosemary from my garden. This one, I decided, was destined for soup.

Carrot and cumin make for a beautiful combination, earthy and mildly sweet: and the squash added another layer of sweetness. I added chickpeas to mine, although these can be easily omitted for a lighter meal.

You’ll need, for two generous portions:

  • half of one medium-sized butternut squash
  • two carrots
  • one medium-sized brown onion
  • tin of chickpeas (optional)
  • two cloves of garlic
  • half of one small red chilli
  • cumin seeds
  • cayenne pepper
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

There are two ways to go about cooking the squash: either cut in half and roast for an hour, skin-side down, in a little water; or go through the lengthy process of removing the skin, deseeding, and chopping into cubes.

Whichever way you choose, begin the soup by toasting half a tbsp of cumin seeds until aromatic. Roughly chop the onion, and cook on a low heat until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and chilli, fry briefly, then add the toasted cumin.

Roughly chop the carrot into small pieces, put in the pan, and pour in 200-300ml of  vegetable stock. If using pre-cooked squash, scoop the flesh out of the skin and add to the pan; if using uncooked cubes, drop them in. To bulk the soup out, you could add chickpeas or a cooked potato (sweet would be interesting).

Simmer for half an hour, or until the carrot and squash are tender. Blitz to the desired consistency, using a stick blender or food processor – I left mine relatively smooth, with the occasional chunk. Season and stir in chopped coriander before ladling into bowls. Add a swirl of plain soy-based yogurt and sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

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Chunky orzo stew

Recipes aren’t just lists of ingredients – for me, they’re interactions of sort. The author is putting out the recipe as part and parcel of an exchange of knowledge, and of culture and identity: they’re sharing their skills, and a memory attached to the dish we’re looking to make. Every recipe I’ve written myself has a little something of ‘me’ in it – my preferences and tastes, and perhaps the recollection of the occasion I first made it.

This one recalls to my mind a vegetable soup my mum used to make regularly in the winter. She’d use fresh organic veg from our weekly delivery box, following one of their recipes. I liked it so much that I continued to make it for myself in my first year of uni, carrying with me a little bit of home. I’d completely forgotten about this now, in my third year – and with the recipe buried away somewhere, I improvised my own.

Hot bowls of hearty soup are an absolute winner in the colder months, and this was no disappointment; the red wine vinegar and basil give so much flavour.

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • Two small / one large courgette
  • Half one onion
  • Half a stick of celery
  • One carrot
  • Two small cloves of garlic
  • Tin of beans – butter, kidney, canellini, chickpeas all work well
  • Tomato puree
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • 150g dried orzo pasta, or other small pasta shape
  • Two handfuls fresh basil
  • Dried rosemary
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Red wine vinegar

Begin by dicing the carrot and celery, and roughly chopping the onion. Heat a glug of oil in a large saucepan, and gently cook on a low heat for ten minutes.

Finely chop the garlic and add to the pan, turning up the heat. Cook until fragrant, before squeezing in 1/2 tbsp of tomato puree. Dice the courgette and add to the pan. Cook for another minute, stirring, before pouring in the tin of chopped tomatoes, and stock.

Add a tsp each of the dried herbs, along with crushed chilli flakes if desired. Stir well to incorporate, add a splash of red wine vinegar, and bring to the boil before turning the heat down and simmering for ten minutes. Top up with a little water if it’s looking dry.

Cook the pasta in the pan for fifteen minutes – towards the end, tip in the drained beans to warm through. Stir in the torn basil leaves, season, and taste: add more vinegar if required. After another five minutes, serve in pasta bowls with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, and eat with spoons.

Going vegan

Such is my dislike of proclaiming my personal beliefs across the rooftops, that I’m nervous even typing this. I don’t like putting myself centre-stage – but as it’s relevant to my blog, I’ll make my foreclosure, even just to organise my thoughts on the subject.

After several months as a vegetarian, most of which I chose not to eat eggs, I decided this summer that to begin making a difference to animals’ lives and welfare, I had to give up buying animal products. It doesn’t make sense, I realised, to consider yourself concerned about animals if you drink Frijj milkshake or buy leather Doc Martens. But this wasn’t an immediate decision – I watched ‘Earthlings’ – the vegan-ator, the trigger, the documentary which is said to turn people vegan before the credits roll – and then made myself a milky cup of tea to help mop my tears. It was an awful, awful watch, one which left me feeling pretty low and angry. But even still, however lucid its clarity, the message didn’t sink in. Whatever clicked in the brains of others as they watched, didn’t click for me; and I continued in my old ways, buying milk, cheese, and chocolate. But there was a realisation, a little moral niggle, lingering there whenever I thought about why I wasn’t a vegan. I knew what was right, but for whatever reason, carried on delaying it.

My issue was that my imagined vegan scenario positioned me as the victim, unable to savour the delights of dairy whilst others tucked in to pavlovas and poured cream over their desserts. I couldn’t fathom a life without mature cheddar, Minstrels, and a decent cup of tea with semi-skimmed. So, my first attempts at veganism were fairly half-hearted, as I ate plant-based meals but drank milky cappuccinos, and continued nibbling at the chocolate hoard I kept in a drawer. I needed a little extra push, which came from a weekend spent in Edinburgh with friends, to whom I’d mentioned my intention to go vegan. Seeing myself from their point of view, I was embarrassed of my inability to commit, my lax morals in trying to pick and choose for my own convenience. It helped, too, that Edinburgh is a great place to be vegan, with an abundance of cafes, health food shops, and vegan-friendly options.

Since that weekend, I haven’t looked back. It has become plain and simple to me: to care for animals is to care for all animals, not just dogs and cats and horses, but for cows, pigs, chickens, and all other species. Just as I would not discriminate between races and nationalities, it’s not okay to place species in a hierarchy of value. An armadillo is worth the same as a guinea pig, a panda the same as a pig. The fact that one is perceived as cuter and more lovable than the other, doesn’t make it more valuable in essence.

The problem is that we don’t see what really goes on in the makings of our animal products: we let ourselves be convinced that the suffering we don’t see isn’t our problem. Education is the key to unlocking awareness: for example, I had no idea until a few months ago that producing eggs takes such a toll on a hen’s body, which is why she lives years and years less than she is supposed to. Or, that once she can’t lay anymore, it’s curtains for her. Nor did I realise that free-range and organic are generally labels which we take to make ourselves feel less guilty about our actions. Just because a cow was grass-fed on rolling pastures, and got to gallumph around happily in the sun, doesn’t excuse the fact that her baby was ripped away from her soon after birth. I have YouTube to thank for my enlightenment, if I’m honest. I’d followed one particular outspoken YouTuber for a while, but never took her very seriously – it was the less in-your-face approaches which engaged me. Rhetoric is a useful weapon in the arsenal of anyone looking to change public opinion, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

But I would quickly regress to point out that I am not morally superior to any non-vegan, and would never openly criticise a meat-eater for doing what I did for twenty years, unless they professed their unashamed support for industries which use and abuse animals. Lambasting individuals for their own choices doesn’t get you far; words can persuade, but it may not be enough to cause a lifestyle change. I’m an example of that. The choice I made was a culmination of sources, working over time to gradually open my eyes – but I did need that little external push. One of my closest friends has been a vegan for years: although she made me feel more aware of my own habits by the simple act of going against the mainstream, this awareness only kicked in seriously in recent months. As with everything, the decision was a laboured one – spontaneity and impulsiveness are my complete polar opposites.

My family received the change in interesting ways, with my dad initially thinking it ridiculous, but has come round to it – although he still likes to substitute ‘hippy’ for ‘vegan’. My mum was completely unimpressed, and made sure to voice her concerns for animals fed on vegan pet food, and vegan children – funny, really, when you consider our overweight cat and my elder brother, who for most of his teenage years subsisted on plain pasta and sausages. She’s also made comments on how my veganism relates to my interest in health and fitness, which in the past has been unhealthy. Fair enough – but not if she knew the progress I’ve made in combatting that, evident in the huge plant-based meals I eat whilst she’s tucking into a tiny bowl of spaghetti bolognese.

I still find aspects of veganism difficult, of course – the primary issue being telling people that I’m vegan. The coffee round at work became stressful when my standard order became black, instead of white; I felt too embarrassed to utter the v-word in front of an office full of omnivores. Such is my horror of controversy, that the words ‘I’m a vegan’ seem loaded with accusations of moral criminality.

But I’m positive that little minor issues like that will work themselves out, and they’re not enough to alter my mindset. I’m embracing this new part of my life, and in navigating a new world and discourse. As someone with a passionate interest in food, I see bags of potential in veganism and the possibility to create fresh and cruelty-free takes on omnivorous classics. I’m not sacrificing anything for veganism – I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything at all.

If anybody made it this far – thanks for reading, and please comment so that I can visit your blog and learn more about veganism.

xoxo