A comfort food classic with a healthy twist

Macaroni 'cheese' with kale and sage Macaroni ‘cheese’ has to be one of the world’s best comfort foods, but this recipe contains plenty of goodness besides the comforting carbs. As you would hope, it’s quick and easy to make, but the taste is really special. Any brand of vegan cheese should work fine in this, but if you are able to get hold of some Vegusto or Violife, that will help to make this really special. You can order Vegusto online, or get it from some independent health food shops. The same applies to Violife, although I think it’s now stocked in some of the larger Tesco stores too. You’ll notice the deliberate mistake in the definite absence of macaroni, but I found fusili worked just as well.

Ingredients for macaroni ‘cheese’ with sage and kale (serves 2):

  •  150 g pasta
  • A splash of cooking oil
  • 100g kale
  • 100g courgette
  • 4 tbsp vegan margarine
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 800 ml soya milk
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 2 tsp yeast extract
  • Vegan cheese to taste (this will depend completely on the strength of the cheese you’re using)

Method: 

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then add the pasta, along with a splash of oil. Cook until tender (around 10-15 mins).
  2. Meanwhile, grate the courgette, and if using whole kale leaves (rather than pre-chopped ones) pull the leaves off the stems and tear into medium-sized pieces.
  3.  Gently melt the margarine in a largeish pan, then add the kale and sautee for a few minutes. Add the flour and stir until a paste forms, then cook for a minute or so, 011stirring constantly.
  4. Gradually add the soya milk, stirring constantly and bringing to the boil until the sauce reaches a nice thick consistency. If you find it becomes too thick, you can add some more milk, and more flour if it’s not quite thick enough.
  5. Stir in the sage, yeast extract, courgette and cheese, and simmer until the cheese is melted (if you’re using a brand that melts) and the pasta is ready.
  6. When the pasta is cooked, drain and stir into the sauce. Serve with some nice crusty bread for the full comfort food experience!

 

Three steps to a budget-friendly feast

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Refreshing veg and tomato chutney are good sides

I think people often imagine vegans as wealthy individuals who can afford to spend large sums of money on expensive items found only in health food stores, before devoting several hours to coaxing their purchases into something that looks and tastes vaguely appetising.

In reality of course, people who choose animal-free diets are as diverse as any other group, with different budgets, tastes and styles of cooking. That said, many of us are pretty bargain-focused, and take great pleasure in the fact that Poundland sells cruelty-free cleaning products, while soya milk has been spotted in Lidl. In fact, animal-free food is ideal for saving money, as many of the staples can be bought at rock-bottom prices, and even fruit and veg can be good value if you look for what’s in season. Above all, key sources of protein like beans and lentils are much cheaper than meat or fish, and – as well as being cruelty-free – lack the saturated fat and other undesirables found in animal products.

A simple vegetable curry is a great way to get some nutritious protein in a quick, cheap and tasty format. If given undivided attention, I think this could be ready in under twenty minutes, as you can do all the preparation (‘all’ being mainly chopping an onion and sauteeing it) while the potatoes cook.  If you don’t already have a well-stocked cupboard then the spices will slightly undermine the saving factor, but they’re a good investment for tasty cooking, don’t cost all that much and last for a long while.

Ingredients for chickpea and potato curry (serves 2):

  • 2 small baking potatoes
  • A jug of veggie stock
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2  cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp dried coriander
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp tikka curry powder
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained
  • 1 carton of soya cream

Method:

  1. Peel and chop the potatoes, cutting them into fairly large chunks. Place them in a saucepan, cover them with the stock and bring it to the boil. Simmer until tender, then drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion and crush the garlic. Heat a generous splash of oil in a saucepan, then add the onions and garlic, sauteeing until the onion is tender. Turn the heat down slightly, add the spices, and sautee for another few minutes, stirring constantly and taking care not to let the spices burn.
  3. Stir in the potatoes, beans and chickpeas, then add the soya cream and simmer for a few more minutes until it’s hot through.

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If anyone is interested in seriously cheap and nutritious recipes, Animal Aid produces a booklet called Meat Free Feed Four for Under a Fiver, which you can download here (or order a free copy by emailing info@animalaid.org.uk).

A few festive highlights

Having taken an awkwardly long break from blogging, I thought the best way back in might be a few festive highlights, some of which are hopefully still available in the shops if anyone feels in need of yet more food.

Sausage rolls 

These are incredibly easy to make, but you can also buy them ready to cook in Holland & Barrett. You only need two ingredients to make your own though- a pack of Jus’ Roll puff pastry (a sheet makes life even easier) and a  packet of vegan sausages. I really like the Vegetarians Choice brand (available predictably enough in Holland & Barrett), but it’s normally possible to find a vegan sausage option in the supermarket. Frozen sausages work fine for this- you just space them out on the pastry sheet, form them into rolls (more detailed description here) and bake them in the oven on gas 8 (230 C), for about 20-25 mins.

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Cream-free cheese

Not strictly a festive item but great on crackers as part of a Christmas tea. My favourite is the Tofutti brand, which comes in plain or herb/garlic flavour, and can be bought in health food shops. Other great items for an animal-free Christmas tea include mini spring rolls, nuts (unsurprisingly), crisps and dates. You can also buy lots of different types of vegan cheese, the Vegusto range being the nicest in my opinion. (Nessie the cat likes to warm her ears under the lamp and didn’t see any reason to move just because food was on the table.)

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Winter vegetable mash

This goes really well with a flan, pie or vegan sausages, and makes a nice change from mashed potato.

Ingredients (serves 3):

  • 4 shallots
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 large parsnips
  • 2 potatoes
  • Cooking oil
  • Herbs e.g. parsley
  • Veggie stock

Method:

  1. Peel and dice the veg, keeping the shallots separate.
  2. Heat a good splash of oil in a large pan and add the shallots. Sautee gently until they go semi-transparent, stirring frequently, then add the veg and continue to sautee for a few more minutes.
  3. Add a generous splash of stock, plus the herbs.
  4. Simmer very gently, stirring frequently, until most of the stock has been absorbed and the veg forms a mash-like consistency. Add more stock if it starts to look dry at any point.
  5. When the veg is ready, mash as required and serve.

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Vegan Christmas cake

The brand is Lazy Days, and it’s available in Holland & Barrett. The slices are very petite (you need a few for a decent cake fix), but they have a nice spicy taste and a satisfyingly thick layer of icing. Christmas decorations optional!

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Hotel Chocolat Tiddly Penguins

Extremely cute and marked as suitable for vegans. Actually not so tiddly- the chocolate is nice and chunky.

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The key to stress-free flan making

Breakfast

Soya yogurt topped with crunchy cereal and grapes

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Knowing that lunch was going to be both early and a main meal, I opted for a reasonably light breakfast. The yogurt was the Alpro lemon and lime variety (not one I’d tried before) and the cereal was the satisfyingly sugary maple and pecan crisp. I find this is quite a good morning snack, but probably not the kind of thing that would sustain any kind of physical exercise.

Lunch

Aubergine, pomegranate and pine nut flan, roasted sweet potatoes with orange and pecans

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I wouldn’t normally make anything with quite so many ingredients but a family visit gave me the perfect excuse. Although this isn’t an everyday meal, it doesn’t require you to spend hours in the kitchen- you really just need to be around to put things in the oven and take them out again. The sweet potato recipe is a version of one by Yotam Ottolenghi, who can also be credited with the aubergine-pomegranate-pine nut combination (and the aubergine cooking method). Jus’ Roll puff pastry is one of those great accidentally vegan ingredients, and I find it takes any stress out of the pie/tart/flan/ making process.

If you’re making the flan and potatoes together, I would suggest:

  1. Roast the aubergines in advance
  2. Roast the potatoes
  3. Move the potatoes to a lower rung while the flan base cooks

Ingredients for aubergine, pomegranate and pine nut flan:

  • 3 medium aubergines
  • Vegan margarine (e.g. ‘Pure’)
  • 1 packet of Jus’ Roll puff pastry
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 carton soya cream
  • Dried herbs
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • 1 packet of pine nuts (roasted if possible)

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 7 (220 C)

2. Top and tail the aubergines and place on a baking tray, whole.  Roast for about 45 mins-1 hour until the skins are really charred and the aubergines feel soft when a knife is inserted. You can turn  them once half way through cooking but this isn’t essential.

3. Meanwhile, lightly grease a flan tin with the vegan margarine, roll out the pastry and place it in the tin. If you let the pastry hang over the edges you’ll end up with a thicker crust for your flan. Put the flan case in the fridge.

4. When the aubergines are ready, remove from the oven and set aside. Place the flan in the oven and bake until it’s golden and puffy (around 25 mins). The sides will collapse and it will rise to look like a pie but don’t panic- this is supposed to happen!

5.  While the pastry case is cooking, cut the aubergines open lengthways and scoop out the flesh. It may help to steady the aubergine with a fork and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. You might want to cut up some of the larger pieces (kitchen scissors are useful for this).

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6. Place the aubergine flesh in a saucepan, along with a splash of soya cream, a sprinkle of dried herbs and the zest of a lemon. You can make a sauce for the flan by placing the rest of the soya cream in a separate pan, along with the zest of the other two lemons and some more dried herbs. About 5 mins before the pastry is ready to come out of the oven, gently heat the aubergine mixture (and the sauce if you’re making it).

7. When the pastry is golden and puffy, remove from the oven, deflate the centre (run a knife around it) and fill it with the aubergine mixture. Top with the pine nuts and pomegranates, then serve.

Ingredients for roasted sweet potatoes with orange and pecans (serves 4):

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 orange
  • Olive oil
  • Maple syrup
  • A generous handful of sultanas
  • 1/2 packet pecan nuts (roasted if possible)

Method:

1. Peel and cube the potatoes. Preheat the oven to gas 6 (200 C).

2. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil, mix this in and roast until tender (around 30 mins).

3. Meanwhile, cut the orange and squeeze the juice into a bowl, then add a splash of olive oil and maple syrup. Mix well with a whisk or spoon.

4. When the potatoes are ready, remove from the oven and stir in the sauce, along with the pecans and sultanas.

Dessert

‘Pudology’ dessert

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If you want to splash out on a high quality instant dessert, you might want to consider the Pudology range which you can buy from some Waitrose or Sainsbury’s stores (list of stockists available here).  They come in tiny tubs, but they’re also extremely rich and generally very delicious.

Tea

Falafel sandwich, nuts, mini carrots and hummus

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Falafel is a good hearty sandwich filling, although I don’t find it travels very well in packed lunches as it has a bit of a tendency to fall out of the bread. I also think it works best to add some chutney or vegan mayo (which I didn’t tonight) and this helps to ensure a nice moist filling.

Dessert

Pomegranate seeds, chocolate square

The chocolate square was one of the Lazy Days range which you can buy in the free-from section of Sainsbury’s (next to all the gluten-free products). They come in a variety of flavours (ginger, tiffin, caramel etc.) and are great for a sugar boost.

How to liven up a hummus sandwich

Breakfast

Wholegrain malties, banana, soya milk

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Always an energising way to start the day.

Lunch

Wholemeal rolls with hummus and sundried tomatoes, apple, soya yogurt

This is a really great sandwich combination that I’ve recently discovered (although I’m sure it’s not entirely original). As you’ve probably guessed, you literally just spread the bread/rolls with vegan margarine and hummus, then add some sundried tomatoes from a jar. If, like me, you don’t have time to rinse and dry the tomatoes, it’s probably worth using a roll or some crusty bread as flimsier varieties may be subject to sogginess!

Dinner

Broccoli, pumpkin seed  and olive spaghetti, hummus and veg

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This is a super-quick dish that tastes great. Traditional tapenade seems to contain anchovies but Sainsbury’s do a version that’s marked as vegan so is evidently fish-free. It also works well spread on toast (in my opinion at least). Hummus and veg sticks are always a great combination and make a nice alternative to leaf-based side salads.

Ingredients for broccoli, pumpkin seed and olive spaghetti (serves 2):

– 1 red onion

– 1 largish broccoli

– 150g spaghetti

– Olive oil

– 2 garlic cloves (crushed)

– 1 veggie stock cube

– 1 pack of pumpkin seeds

– 2 generous tablespoons of olive tapenade

Method:

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, chop the onion and broccoli (keeping them separate).

2. When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti along with a splash of olive oil. Simmer until tender (about 10 mins), stirring occasionally.

3. While the spaghetti cooks, heat a good splash of oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Sautee gently for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft but not brown. Then add the broccoli, stock cube and a generous splash of water. Cover and simmer until the broccoli is tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed. This should only take about 10 minutes.

4. When the spaghetti is cooked, drain and set aside, then when the broccoli is tender, combine the two. If the broccoli has a lot of liquid left, you may need to drain some of it off.

5. Finally, stir in the pumpkin seeds and tapenade, heating the whole thing through gently and stirring constantly.

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Dessert

Fruit, biscuits

The biscuits were the accidentally vegan chocolate chip hobnobs. They confusingly seem to do both vegan and non-vegan versions of the same biscuit, so I’d suggest just checking the allergy advice section to see whether there’s any dairy (I don’t think they often have egg in).

How to dispel the tofu myth

Apologies for the blogging silence that has fallen over the past week or so. My rather feeble excuse is that I’ve been seriously busy and not able to cram it in. Since the busyness looks set to continue, I may have to resign myself to just few posts per week but I’ll be blogging as much as I can. I don’t honestly think any of this has a major impact on anyone’s life but I wouldn’t want people to think I’d abandoned my blog (or indeed the animal-free diet!).

Breakfast

Wholegrain malties, banana, soya milk

A filling and nutritious start to the day. The wholegrain malties are from Sainsbury’s and are kept with the kiddies’ cereals.

Lunch

Celery, sultana and vegan mayo sandwich, plums, flapjacks

This is a really good sandwich option which works especially well with fresh wholemeal bread. To make the filling (as you may have guessed!) you just chop some celery, add some sultanas and mix in some vegan mayo. The filling seems to keep quite well in the fridge (I made a pot earlier in the week), so I’d say it’s worth making a bit extra. I tend to use the Plamil brand of vegan mayo, which you can buy in Holland and Barrett. The flapjacks were left over from a fabulous birthday batch that my Mum had made, but the Blackfriar’s brand does quite a few vegan flapjacks which are a good option if you don’t have time to make your own.

Dinner 

Tofu with sweet potato and pine nuts

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This is quite a good recipe to cook for anyone who objects to tofu on the grounds of its alleged tastelessness. It shows how well tofu absorbs flavours and adds a light but nutritious protein boost to any dish.

Ingredients for tofu with sweet potato and pine nuts (serves 2):

–  1 pack of tofu (e.g. Cauldron brand)

– 2 smallish sweet potatoes

– 1 veggie stock cube

– Olive oil

– 3 large cloves garlic (crushed)

– Mixed dried herbs

– Around 75g pine nuts (about 3/4 of a small pack)

– 1 smallish packet of spinach

– Soy sauce

Method:

1. Drain the liquid off the tofu and place it between two plates so even more moisture gets squeezed out.

2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the sweet potatoes. Place them in a pan and add a good splash of warm water, but not enough to cover them. Add the stock cube, cover and simmer until the potatoes are just tender (this should only take about 10 mins). Check regularly that the water isn’t disappearing and add more if needed.

3. While the potatoes cook, remove the tofu from the plates and cube. When the potatoes are ready, drain and set aside.

4. Heat a generous splash of oil in a different pan, then add the garlic and herbs. Sautee very gently for a few minutes, stirring constantly and taking care not to let it burn. Add the sweet potatoes, then the tofu and continue to sautee for a few more minutes,  trying not to mush up the tofu too much.

4. Stir in the pine nuts and spinach. You’ll probably need to add the spinach in batches though, waiting for one lot to wilt before adding the next lot.

5. Add a good splash of soy sauce to season and enjoy!

Dessert

Fruit and dark chocolate

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A tried and tested combination. The chocolate was a birthday present from Hotel Chocolat which now seems to do a good vegan range.

How to make a great breakfast without bread or milk

Breakfast

Muesli with soya yogurt, fruit and golden syrup

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This was a bit of an improvised breakfast as I’d completely forgotten to get any soya milk or bread (no idea how!) and didn’t have any obvious breakfast items to hand. This makeshift solution worked really well though and I’d definitely recommend it. I basically just mixed some muesli with soya yogurt, then added chopped fruit (plums and a kiwi) plus a drizzle of golden syrup.

Lunch

Vegan cream cheese and salad sandwich, fruit

Once you’ve opened a packet of vegan cream cheese it’s quite hard not to use it repeatedly in sandwiches as it makes such a quick and easy filling. It’s great combined with tomatoes or leafy salad. I use the Tofutti brand, which you can buy in Holland and Barrett (in plain, garlic and herb or herb and chive flavour).

Dinner

Mushroom pasta, salad

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I had some mushrooms to use up from the previous day’s Bolognese and this is a great recipe for a quick and tasty dinner. You can see the recipe here, although I didn’t use the spinach this time.