Recently I've been learning more and more how to cook vegan. It seems hard at first to be totally plant-based, for sure. There are some super cheap ingredients which I had no idea were so useful! So here are my absolute top tips, things to put in your store cupboard and you can use every week, for all kinds of uses.
- Peanut butter.
It's surprising how useful this stuff is - not just for spreading on your toast! But also for providing a big nutritious boost as well as a thick sauce in various stews, or thickening up the dough in cakes and cookies. Try these:
- West African peanut stew - this is a lovely dish, and easy enough for a midweek meal.
- Pad thai
- Indonesian peanut sauce. This is a popular sauce in the Netherlands, a bit like "satay sauce" - a dark, sweet and thick peanut/chilli/soy sauce. (NB needs tamarind, and also kecap manis, but the latter can be substituted with soy+sugar.)
You can serve this is loads of ways - a big dollop of it on top of your fried rice; "gado gado" (an Indonesian platter of veg+egg to dip into your peanut sauce), or just dip your chips (fries) in it!
- Kidney bean & peanut butter burgers - very cheap and cheerful
- Vegan peanut butter and rasberry jam Blondies - a slightly posh recipe since it uses chia seeds and coconut oil, but tasty.
- TBC: peanut butter cookies. Seems obvious, but I haven't tried making those.
We don't have a lot of chickpea recipes in British cooking, so I didn't expect them to be that useful, and I certainly didn't think of putting them in the oven or in a frying pan...! The famous chickpea food is certainly hummus, and making your own hummus is very easy, quick and satisfying. Chickpea curry is also a go-to option when you want a big batch of curry!
- Home-made hummus: chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and a touch of salt, all in the blender. Easy! ... If you don't have a blender you can even make "rough hummus" by just mashing it all up with a fork or a masher, resulting in a kind of hummusy salad which is nice on toast.
- Warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds (a Nigella recipe)
- Roasted / slow-fried chickpeas
- Katte chhole (chickpea curry). I use a recipe from "Vegan Street Food" by Jackie Kearney, which infuses the chickpeas in tea (using a teabag) for some extra flavour depth. Other recipes online e.g. this one.
- Chana chaat - this one takes a bit of work, but it's an awesome sort-of indian chickpea "nachos"-type salad dish, layers of amazing flavour.
- Gram flour (chickpea flour).
Chickpea flour is common in Indian cooking (it's used for pakora and onion bhaji), and it's quite different from wheat flour - it's very handy to know how to use it. The thing you need to get right is the ratio of water to flour: in some cases you need a very liquid batter, and in some recipes you need it to be thicker so it doesn't "fall off". You'll get the hang of it!
- Cecina - an italian thing, a kind of oven-baked dish - you can include whatever flavours you like, but I totally recommend the rosemary.
- Spanish tortilla
- Sweetcorn fritters
- Panisse - it's a bit like polenta, you can make up a batch of big panisse "chunky chips" with a smooth texture and a crispy outer crust.
- Pakora and/or onion bhaji
- Herby jackfruit fritters
- Black beans.
You can get all sorts of beans, but black beans are special because they have a good dark and ever-so-slightly meaty taste which helps add flavour to various veggie meals.
So: pick an ingredient, put it in your store cupboard, and learn how to make MORE dishes with that one ingredient. It's good to get better, and the practice comes in handy when you're low on ideas mid-week some time.
Of course there are some much more well-known ingredients which everyone associates with vegetarians: lentils, tofu. I'm assuming that you don't need as many tips about those, you can find recipes everywhere.