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).

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 not to miss meat

Breakfast

Wheat biscuits, blackberries, soya milk

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The blackberries were left over from the previous day’s attempt to be resourceful and pick my own dessert. The combination worked really well.

Lunch

Vegan cream cheese and tomato sandwich, fruit

This is a reliable option for a great animal-free sandwich. I really like the Tofutti brand of vegan cream cheese, which comes in plain or garlic and herb flavour and can be bought in Holland and Barrett.

Dinner

Veggie Bolognese, tortilla wrap, salad

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This is a really nice recipe that’s ideal for introducing people to the great taste of faux meats. You can buy the soya protein in Holland and Barrett and I think it has a pretty realistic mince-like flavour and texture. This is probably a good point to mention the excellent range of faux meats available in health food shops, which are ideal if you’re missing the taste of the real thing. You probably won’t find that they taste identical to real meats, but they’re pretty similar and opting for a small change in taste has a huge impact on animals!

To get back to the soya protein, you’re apparently supposed to soak it before use but I didn’t bother and was very happy with the result. The Bolognese would go well with spaghetti although I just had a tortilla wrap on the side. The salad was just some lettuce, celery and Thai flavour rice coated peanuts (or something like that). They’re from the Co-op, come in a pinkish packet and are marked as vegan.

Ingredients for veggie Bolognese (serves 2-3):

– 4 medium shallots

– 3 cloves of garlic (crushed)

– 8-10 tomatoes (on the vine ones are ideal)

– A generous handful of button mushrooms

– 2 red peppers

– 2 large sticks of celery

– Olive oil

– 80g dried soya protein

– 1 veggie stock cube

Method:

1. Chop the shallots and set aside.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and put them somewhere else. Chop the rest of the veg and put in a third location (the 3 groups of veg need to go into the pan at a different time).

2. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a saucepan. Add the shallots and garlic, then sautee gently, stirring constantly, until the shallots turn semi-transparent but not brown (this only takes a few mins).

3. Add the rest of the veg minus the tomatoes and continue to sautee for a few more minutes, stirring constantly. Next, add the tomatoes, cover and simmer for another 5 mins or so, stirring occasionally. Once they’ve begun to form a sauce, add the soya protein, a good splash of water and the stock cube. Cover and simmer for as long as you like, 10 mins probably being the minimum. Stir occasionally and check regularly that it’s not getting too dry, adding more water as needed. Season to serve.

Dessert

Fruit and biscuits (I think!)

I’m running a bit behind on the blog so can’t honestly remember how accurate this is. I’m in the process of catching up!

A revolutionary way to cook spaghetti?

Breakfast

Wheat biscuits with cranberries and cinnamon, soya milk

I was running a little low on fresh fruit, so opted for this slightly christmassy combination. It worked well though!

Lunch

Braised tofu, tomato and vegan mayo sandwich, fruit

This is a great combination that tastes similar to tuna. For a full explanation, please see the sandwich ideas page and scroll down to braised tofu.

Dinner

Spaghetti with cannellini beans and homemade tomato sauce, salad

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This great recipe comes courtesy of a friend of my Nan’s and is really simple and delicious. I’ve modified it slightly due to lack of time and because I never seem able to follow a recipe without changing it slightly! It includes a nice way to cook spaghetti which saves on washing up and makes it really flavoursome.

Ingredients (serves 2):

– 4 smallish  shallots

– 3 cloves of garlic

– 8-10 tomatoes (vine ripened are a little pricier but much nicer)

– Olive oil

– Mixed dried herbs

– 1 tin cannellini beans (rinsed and drained)

– 100g spaghetti

– 1 Veggie stock cube

Method:

1. Chop the shallots and press the garlic. Chop the tomatoes and set aside.

2. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a pan and add the shallots, garlic and a good sprinkle of dried herbs. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the shallots go semi-transparent (but not brown).

3. Stir in the tomatoes, cover and simmer for about 5 mins, until they begin to form a sauce, stirring occasionally. Next, stir in the spaghetti and cannellini beans, then add a generous splash of water and crumble the stock cube into the pan. Cover and simmer until the spaghetti is cooked, adding more water as needed and stirring fairly frequently. This should take about 10 mins or so. It looks nice served in a bowl and garnished with basil (or a watercress leaf if, like me, you’re running low on fresh herbs)!

Dessert

Blackberries, chocolate chip cookies

I live near a railway bridge where there’s an abundance of blackberry bushes. The fruits vary in quality but probably no more than the ones you buy, so I thought I’d pick my own dessert. They were pretty nice, especially combined with some chocolate chip hobnobs. Confusingly, not all chocolate chip hobnobs are vegan, so do check the packet (the allergy advice section is probably the quickest point of reference) to be sure.

Vegan cookie discovery!

Breakfast

Toast with loganberry jam, fruit

This was the amazing loganberry jam made by my Nan which really brightens up any breakfast.

Lunch

Hummus and tomato wrap, fruit

This was one of the Warburton’s square wraps (wholemeal), which I find make great sandwiches. Sliced tomatoes are always a really good addition to a hummus sandwich as they add a nice burst of juiciness.

Dinner

Green lentils with pine nuts, spinach and kiwi

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This is a nice quick dish for a tasty protein boost. It works well served with pitta breads or tortilla wraps.

Ingredients for green lentils with pine nuts, spinach and kiwi (serves 2):

– 2 ripe kiwi fruits

– 2 medium shallots

– 2 cloves garlic (crushed)

– Olive oil

– 1 medium packet of spinach

– 1 tin of green lentils

– ½ packet pine nuts

Method:

1. Peel and chop the kiwi fruits, then set aside. Finely chop the shallots. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a pan and add the shallots and garlic. Sautee gently until the shallots are semi-transparent but not brown, stirring constantly.

2. Stir in the lentils and spinach, plus a splash of water. You may need to add the spinach in batches, waiting for one lot to wilt before you add in the next lot.

3. Stir in the pine nuts and continue to simmer for another 5 mins or so, stirring frequently. You may like to add a little more olive oil before serving. Once it’s been served, top artistically with the chopped kiwi fruits!

Dessert

Apple, chocolate chip cookies

To my great excitement, I’ve managed to find some animal-free chocolate chip cookies. They’re hobnobs, and have dark chocolate chips. They ‘may contain traces of milk’ but I tend to ignore this (my reasoning being that buying such products does not give funding to the dairy industry). They’re extremely nice, as you can imagine!

Why animal-free means less washing up

Breakfast

Wheat biscuits, grapes, soya milk

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A nice energising breakfast that will hopefully keep you going until lunch.

Lunch

Hummus and salad sandwich, grapes

Not the most creative sandwich ever recorded but nice all the same!

Dinner

Peanut and broccoli noodles, salad

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This is a good recipe (please click here to see) for creating a tasty, nutritious dish with a minimal amount of effort. It’s also a good washing up saver, as you can do the whole thing in a single pan. Although saving on washing up isn’t one of the most compelling reasons for going animal-free, vegan dishes rarely use more than two pans (very often just one) and you’ll never be cleaning off anything truly revolting- only plants!

 

A sandwich that should never work

 Breakfast

Porridge with soya milk, golden syrup and blueberries

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An irresistible breakfast choice that might actually be quite healthy if it wasn’t for the golden syrup!

Lunch

Hummus and beetroot sandwich, nuts, fruit, Nakd bar

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This is another surprising sandwich filling that sounds odd but actually works really well. You literally just make a hummus sandwich and add slices of cooked beetroot (i.e. the vacuum packed kind). Without subjecting you to a dull flavour analysis, I’d imagine it’s the slightly sweet taste of the beetroot that goes nicely with the savoury hummus. Just to balance out the healthiness, I also had some salt and vinegar peanuts (available in Sainsbury’s).

Dinner

Chickpea salad, crusty bread

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I was in the slightly ridiculous situation of finishing lunch at about 4pm again, so opted for a late and fairly light dinner. To make the salad, I just put some watercress in a bowl, then added a few spoonfuls of chickpeas (from a tin), cherry tomatoes and a handful of raisin and nut mix, plus a drizzle of olive oil. It worked really well, especially with a par-bake baguette.

Dessert

Neapolitan ice cream

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I’ve been eating this a bit too regularly but it is very good. It’s the Swedish Glace brand, and you can buy the Neapolitan flavour in large Sainsbury’s stores or health food shops. Even if you’re not in one of these places, ice cream loving vegans rarely have to miss out, as even small supermarkets tend to stock at least one flavour of Swedish Glace. Failing that, sorbets are normally dairy-free, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to go without a sugary frozen dessert!