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 pretend you’re on holiday

Breakfast

Muesli, blackberries, soya milk

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This is normally a really great combination but the blackberries were unbelievably bitter! I was suspicious when I saw that they had little purple patches but decided to be optimistic and give them a go. My optimism was not rewarded.

Lunch

Hummus sandwich, fruit and nut mix, strawberries

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This was a really nice light lunch, and the fruit and nut mix made quite a healthy crisp alternative.

Dinner

Spaghetti with herbs, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes. Salad (with dried cranberries and more pine nuts)

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I’m lucky enough to have some amazing ingredients at the moment as my parents have recently been on holiday to Italy and brought me some fabulous edible presents. The spaghetti, herbs and olive oil were all Italian and really did taste special. Even if your ingredients are from the UK (as mine usually are), this is a bit like the Italian spaghetti with oil and garlic dish so you might just be able to pretend you’re on holiday!

Ingredients for spaghetti with herbs, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes (serves 2):

– 150g dried spaghetti

– Olive oil

– 3 cloves of garlic (crushed)

– A generous sprinkle of dried herbs (e.g. oregano)

– Pine nuts

– Cherry tomatoes

– Rocket

1. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the spaghetti, along with a splash of olive oil. I always find it easiest to break up the spaghetti (although this is probably very un-Italian). Simmer for around 10 mins until tender, stirring occasionally.

2. When the spaghetti has about 5 minutes left, heat a good splash of olive oil in a separate pan and add the garlic and herbs. Sautee very gently over a low heat without allowing the garlic to  go brown. After a minute or two, add the pine nuts, rocket and tomatoes.

3. When the spaghetti is tender, stir into the sauce and enjoy.

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Dessert

Time for another blogging confession I’m afraid. I’m running a few days behind and can’t remember what I had for dessert! Fruit and dairy-free chocolate is probably the most likely option and I’ll be catching up on myself at the weekend.

Why vegans don’t have to bring packed lunches

Breakfast

Maple sunrise cereal, soya milk, strawberries

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This is a vegan cereal that I’ve recently discovered and is also gluten-free. It’s satisfyingly sweet (maple syrup based), so perfect with unsweetened soya milk. The brand is Nature’s Path and you can find it in the gluten-free section of supermarkets.

Lunch

Couscous salad, nuts, pineapple

I picked up a couscous salad (the one with butternut squash and wheatberries) from the M&S at Paddington Station. It was nice and felt like a very healthy option, especially combined with a decidedly overpackaged ‘nut selection’ pot.

From going into shops and seeing row upon row of meat/fish/dairy/egg sandwiches, you might think that vegans had to go around with Tupperware boxes of animal-free options. Fortunately though, this isn’t the case and it is possible to buy vegan food in ready to eat form. On this occasion, I had to buy lunch and dinner, which was a good (if pricey) way of illustrating the point.

Dinner 

Hummus and salad wrap, vegetable chips, banana

I was travelling home at dinner time, so bought a wrap from the Camden Food Co. shop at Charing Cross Station. It was helpfully labelled as dairy-free as well as vegetarian, which is definitely a step towards vegan-friendliness. Hummus and/or falafel is often available, although some shops seem determined to add a yogurt dressing. If your cafe of choice is completely devoid of animal-free sandwiches, there’s usually something like a couscous salad to fall back on, and suggestion boxes might lend themselves to a polite request for increased vegan-friendliness.

Dessert

Strawberries, chocolate

More of a snack than a proper dessert, but ideal for a sugar boost when I finally arrived home.

How to make two great side dishes at the same time

Breakfast

Jam sandwich, nectarine, soya latte

If you’re feeling organised, making a sandwich in advance is quite a good way to guarantee a nice packed breakfast on an early morning journey. I would never have been that organised, but my Mum made this one for me! In terms of vegan breakfasts on the move, I see that Cafe Nero do porridge with soya milk, so this might be a good option. It’s also possible to buy vegan goodies from e.g. Sainsbury’s bakery (just ask an assistant to check whether your item of choice contains dairy or egg),  and freshly baked bagels are surprisingly good without any spread, although combining with a banana would be another good option. For a really virtuous vegan breakfast on the go, you could just buy a fruit salad. Maybe most importantly though, soya lattes (and other types of coffee) are available in almost every coffee shop, so you never have to go without!

Lunch

Pitta bread with garlic and herb ‘cream cheese’, nuts, greengages, flapjack

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Another vegan cheese discovery! I’ve been (unreasonably) excited to discover the Tofutti brand of vegan cream cheese, which is so great for sandwiches, bagels etc.. It turns out that the garlic and herb version is really lovely too and perfect in a pitta bread. I just added a few slices of cucumber and the effect was great. The nuts were salt and vinegar peanuts, which I couldn’t resist trying. They were nice, but I don’t think they actually beat salt and vinegar crisps (and probably aren’t any healthier). The greengages were from a local fruit stall and were really soft and juicy. I haven’t had one for years, but they definitely lived up to my expectations. The flapjack was one of the Blackfriars range, which do quite a few vegan options. They also come in really chunky bars, so you’ll probably find that half is often enough.

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Dinner

Homemade potato salad. Broccoli, lentil and pine nut salad

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Homemade potato salad is a seriously quick side dish that only uses four ingredients. The lentil salad is also really quick, tastes delicious and is probably pretty healthy. You can easily make these two dishes at the same time- just prepare the lentil salad while the potatoes are cooking. They both work well cold, so if one is ready before the other, you can just put it aside without worrying that it will spoil.

Ingredients for homemade potato salad (serves 3):

– 1 packet of new potatoes

– 1-2 small cartons of soya cream

– Zest of three lemons, juice of one

– A good handful of parsley, chopped

Method:

1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes, roughly chop them and boil until tender.

2. When they are ready, drain, run under some cold water, then place in a mixing bowl.

3. Add enough soya cream to make a good sauce, then add the lemon, lemon zest and parsley. Mix together well. Black pepper is always  a good last minute addition.

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Ingredients for broccoli, lentil and pine nut salad (serves 2):

– One broccoli

– 1 cube of veggie stock

– 1 tin of green lentils

– 1 small packet of pine nuts (you may need less)

– A good handful of dried cranberries

– Olive oil

Method:

1. Chop the broccoli and place in a pan. Crumble the stock cube over the broccoli and add a good splash of water, but not enough to cover it. Simmer gently with the lid on until the broccoli is tender, stirring regularly. Add some more water if the broccoli seems to be drying out.

2. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the lentils, then place in a large mixing bowl.

3. When the broccoli is ready, drain and add to the lentils along with the other ingredients. Mix together, drizzle with some olive oil and enjoy.

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Dessert

Raspberries, dark chocolate

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An unbeatable combination!

The rise of the vegan takeaway?

Breakfast

Improvised cereal, soya milk

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When I went to make toast  this morning, I found that my bread had gone mouldy, probably as a result of the rare heatwave we’ve recently been having here in the UK. I didn’t have much else in the way of breakfast material, so just just combined some fresh fruit (mango and strawberries) with some dried fruit, seeds and chopped hazelnut pieces. Even if it lacked some of the most fundamental elements of a conventional breakfast cereal, it still tasted pretty nice combined with soya milk and was probably reasonably nutritious.

Lunch

Falafel and salad box

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This was the vegan takeaway. There’s a stall just outside Canary Wharf station (called Organic Chickpeas), which sells falafel, hummus and salad. The hummus, salad and falafel boxes cost about £5, which isn’t exactly something you’d want to spend on a daily basis, but is fairly cheap when you consider how substantial the boxes are (easily sufficient for the main meal of the day). I think this particular stall is independent, but there are definitely other falafel takeaways available. I’ve certainly seen a Just Falafel shop in Baker Street, (even if it looks as though you might have to watch out for cheese and yogurt dressings in there), and I’m sure there are others.

Falafel always makes a filling (but not overwhelming) meal, especially combined with hummus and some nice salad. It traveled fairly well, although the hummus did look a bit scraped about by the time I opened the box!

Tea

Wholemeal rolls with roasted pepper salad, crisps

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Unfortunately my toaster was a little over-enthusiastic tonight and the first of the rolls got rather burnt (hence the bit missing from the top)! They were still nice though, and I find that these roasted peppers (sold in a jar) make a great sandwich filling. The salt and vinegar kettle chips didn’t exactly add to the healthiness of the meal but they were very nice.

Dessert

Chocolate soya dessert,  strawberries

You can’t get more instant than one of these Alpro soya desserts, and they really are lovely. You can normally find them in the free from section of supermarkets.

 

How to energise your morning

Breakfast

Soya latte, oatcakes, banana

Travelling again this morning, which was my excuse for another slightly uninventive start to the day. Whilst there’s no shortage of more interesting animal-free breakfast ideas, oatcakes and a banana certainly leave you feeling thoroughly energised (especially when combined with a coffee)!

Lunch

Vegan buffet (potatoes, salad, bread, rice, roasted veg etc.)

This lovely vegan lunch was provided at a seminar I went to today. The general concept was a small spoonful of everything, which was a great way to try out the various dishes.

Tea

Hummus and tomato sandwich, salad, crisps

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Yesterday’s salad ingredients needed using up, so I added the beans and roasted butternut squash to some leafy salad. The crisps were the less healthy side option.

Dessert

Apricots, chocolate

I feel I’m under-representing vegan desserts this week, as I’ve had record shortages on shopping time. You might like to check out my instant dessert ideas (link at top of page) or head over to Poppy’s Patisserie for some impressive and delicious recipes.

Snacks

Various lovely vegan biscuits were provided at the seminar.

How to squeeze in some squash

Breakfast

Soya latte, oatcakes

Not a shining example of a balanced breakfast (oatcakes are definitely not the only option for an animal-free start to the day), but I was eating on the move and the individually wrapped (if not very green) packets of oatcakes are more convenient than dashing along a platform with a bowl of cereal. In fact, there are plenty of other options for animal-free breakfasts on the go (e.g. bagels, bread, sandwiches, fruit etc.) but I didn’t have a chance to prepare or buy anything other than a coffee (which is a non-negotiable essential).

Lunch

Hummus and falafel wrap, rice coated peanuts

Another consequence of a slightly hectic schedule was not being able to prepare a packed lunch. This resulted in another shop sandwich, so I went for  Tesco’s falafel wrap which is one of my favourites. The rice coated peanuts are pretty addictive and probably not that much healthier than crisps but they’re certainly very nice.

Dinner 

Butternut squash, bean and seed salad, bread, bombay mix

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When I went into Tesco to buy my lunch, I was slightly dismayed by the huge queue that went from one end of the shop to another. I decided to use this positively and try to grab some dinner ingredients as I passed the various isles, but this didn’t prove quite as easy as you might imagine. Despite the queue moving very slowly,  I ended up with a single butternut squash and a packet of salad. I didn’t really have time to inspect the squash, and when I got home I found that it was rather shriveled. This didn’t seem to make a lot of difference though, as it still tasted great. The beans were actually a mixture of various ready cooked pulses and were on offer in the Co-op (I felt the need to supplement the single squash).

Despite the dubious appearance of the squash, it actually roasted really well. I put it on gas 7 (220 C), but failed as usual to remember  what time I’d put it in. I’d say that cubed squash takes around half an hour to cook, and needs some olive oil added (I just drizzled some over the top and used my hands to mix it in).

To make the salad for one person, I just threw some mixed leaves into a bowl and added half the butternut squash cubes, a few cherry tomatoes and generous handfuls of  beans and seeds. I always find that olive oil is essential to drizzle over the top, and I served the salad with some seedy bread (lightly toasted), plus a few handfuls of Bombay mix.

Butternut squash may seem like a time consuming vegetable, but if you invest ten minutes or so in peeling and chopping it, you can then leave it to pretty much roast itself while you go off and do something else. I’d check on it after about 20 mins though, just to be sure that the edges aren’t getting too dark. If you combine the squash roasting with a salad that takes only a few minutes to throw together then it’s easy to squeeze some squash into a busy schedule!

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Dessert

Banana, dark chocolate

Not hugely creative I know, but it was very nice. The chocolate was more of  the Fairtrade bar that my grandparents had brought for me (amongst many other amazing items).