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 are no added sugars, 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.

Lemon drizzle cake

In a few day’s time, I will have submitted my last ever university requirement. I’m currently rounding off a dissertation on the intersection of vegetarianism and feminism in Victorian England: the vegetarian movement (an umbrella term for abstinence from meat and or/animal products) recognised women’s importance in social reform, so encouraged females to get involved. I’ve found it an interesting topic, and enjoyed trawling through the Vegetarian Messenger archives at the British Library. But. Submitting this dissertation will mean no more essays – ever. At this point in my education, when I am completely and utterly done with spending half of my waking moments in the library and stooping under the weight of books in my backpack, this idea is extremely liberating. Although dissertation hand-in moves me one step closer to graduation, unemployment, and moving back home, to be finished with education is VERY EXCITING.

On another note, my housemate recently decided to go fully vegan, and we’ve made a commitment to vegan baking every weekend. It’s proved a nice stress relief, and cake on weekday evenings is a godsend after hours of reading my own writing over and over again.

I would love to experiment with making my own cakes, but for the moment I’m trying out different recipes and getting a taste for different flavours. I hope that sharing my experience with other readers inspires vegans and non-vegans alike to get stuck in making really good dairy and egg-free cakes.

This lemon drizzle cake is spot on: moist, sweet, and flavoursome. My housemate was concerned that it’s a little too moist, even after decreasing the amount of oil; it would be worth swapping the oil out for vegan butter. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend giving it a go anyway.

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Vegan chocolate cake: Nigella Lawson

Here’s another chocolate cake to add to my amassing collection of favourites. This one is super easy to make, delicious, and easily dressed up for extra impact or kept simple. It differs from other cakes of the same sort in that the sponge is fudgy, but not dense, and very moreish; the dried coffee gives an interesting hint of flavour which doesn’t overwhelm at all. Surprisingly, it’s a Nigella Lawson recipe, who is generally known for her lashings of cream and calorific decadence; if you’ve seen Simon Amstell’s Carnage, you’ll have witnessed the morbid pleasure she takes in cracking the ribs of a dead chicken. Nevertheless, she writes on this recipe that it’s her preferred chocolate cake for all guests, vegan or not – even if that’s not true, I’m pleased that a ‘traditional’ chef recognises that vegan food can match, and even trump, the normal animal product diet.

The recipe can be found here. If you fancy making a gorgeous cake, delicious and simple, I recommend giving it a go. I used a white sugar instead of a brown and a dried Americano instead of dried espresso, to no obvious detriment; the icing I completely shunned for an easier (and cheaper) chocolate (vegan) buttercream, made from a small amount of softened marg, melted dark chocolate, and icing sugar. Throw over a handful of chopped almonds, and you’ve got yourself a real winner.

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Aubergine & spinach curry with turmeric roasted potatoes 

When it comes to curry, aubergine is one of my favourite ingredients. It’s got a fantastic ability to soak up flavour, and when cooked through, it’s lovely and tender. From time to time, I used to make an aubergine curry I’d seen made by an Indian lady on YouTube, which satisfied my desire for authenticity; now I just cobble together my own, requiring less effort. This recipe is easily thrown together on a weekday evening, and tastes even better on re-heating. It can be served as I ate it, with potatoes, or with rice.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • One aubergine
  • 100g spinach
  • One red onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • One green chilli (or less, if you’re not keen on too much spice)
  • Half a tsp each ground cumin and coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A few medium-sized white potatoes per person
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes

Begin by preheating the oven to gas mark 7. Wash and chop the potatoes into medium sized chunks. Drizzle with olive oil, dust with half a tsp of turmeric and cayenne pepper, season, and mix well to incorporate. Tip onto a baking tray, and roast for 45-60 minutes, turning halfway; you want a nice golden crisp by the end of the cooking time.

Roughly chop the red onion, and cook gently for ten minutes over a low heat. Finely chop the garlic, chilli, and ginger, then add to the pan. Adding a little more oil to the pan if needed, fry for a minute before adding the ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric, before frying for another minute.

Add the aubergine, chopped into smallish chunks, and mix well to coat in the spice mixture. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and a little water before leaving to simmer for around 35 minutes, or until tender. Add more water if needed.

Meanwhile, check on the potatoes, and turn them over. When both the aubergines and the potatoes are cooked through, stir through the spinach in handfuls. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Serve the curry over the potatoes, and enjoy!