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The best vegetarian recipes of 2016

I've been cooking vegetarian in 2016. It's about climate change: meat-eating is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it's something we can change. So here I'm sharing some of the best veggie recipes I found this year. Most of them are not too complex, the point is everyday meals not dinner parties.

Note: you don't have to go full-vegan - phew. You can do meat-free Mondays, you can try Veganuary, you can give up beef, or whatever, it all makes a difference. It's true that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint but it's pretty unlikely we're all going to go that far, and a more vegetarian diet makes a big improvement. (Here's an article with some data about that...)

So here we go, the best vegetarian recipes of 2016 - as judged by a meat-eater! ;)

Spring

Untitled

Summer

  • Asparagus, pea, feta and mint salad - great combination.
  • Pea, mozzarella & lemon tart (from Take One Veg) - wasn't quite as "speedy" as the recipe's name suggested (40 min when I did it...). But maybe it gets quicker once you get handier with the puff pastry. It was really nice, fresh-tasting.
  • Untitled Sweet onion and puy lentil stew - I was so impressed with this, one of those simple meals that if you do it well is really satisfying. The texture+flavour contrast from the onions on top is the key.
  • Grilled orange, carrot & halloumi (from "River Cottage Fruit") - ace, just an ace combination of three flavours, lightly dressed. Easy to make and the ingredients are not exotic. Really handy.

Autumn

  • Untitled Jackfruit "pulled pork". This is extremely handy - it fills a gap that a lot of veggy stuff doesn't, i.e. it's a big barbecue nom with a meaningful texture. Really all you need is to keep a tin of green jackfruit in your store-cupboard, it doesn't need anything else exotic. It's easy to cook (just a pan on a gentle heat for half an hour, really). (However, one tin of jackfruit feeds about me-and-a-quarter. If only we were perfectly size-matched...)
  • Big aubergine and lemon tagine - OH YEAH is really all I've got to say about this.
  • Roast pumpkin and aubergine spaghetti

Winter

  • Butternut squash toad-in-the-hole
  • Untitled Slow-roasted tomato lasagne (from Take One Veg) - great flavour, and easy to make - though the tomatoes take a while to slow-roast, so do note that it's slow even though really easy. Also note that you need loads of tomatoes, you'll be surprised. I was low on creme fraiche so I used half creme fraiche half greek yogurt, that worked fine and makes it a bit lighter.

These are all ones that were new discoveries. Of course there's plenty of standard stuff too. Anyway - pick a recipe, give it a go.

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Vegetarian food in Paris

While in Paris briefly (on my way somewhere else), I decided to go only to vegetarian restaurants. This helps to narrow down the list!

The curiously-named Sense.eat is an Italian veggy restaurant right in the centre of town, just a touch south of the river. Friendly and efficient atmosphere, and lots of really nice flavours. It was a good sign when they served a little starting-taste of creamed sweet potato garnished with wafer-thin slices of yellow beetroot - delicious flavour, expertly done. Then, for my starter, I had a puree of... well I don't really know how to translate what I had, but let's say a puree of some sort of pea, with courgette flowers, topped with fried kale and pumpkin seeds. It tasted ace.

For the main course I went for the fancy-sounding tofu crusted with quinoa, served with a big mushroom and a mushroomy broth. The tofu was fine, but to be honest not really more than the sum of its parts. The mushroom and the broth tasted really deeply though. You can't tell from a photo whether it's just a mushroom or something more, but rest assured it was really flavourful:

Untitled

Later the same day I ate in Brasserie Lola. The fun thing about Brasserie Lola is that it's vegan but they basically keep that a secret - you can't tell from outside, in fact you can't really tell from the menu unless you peer really closely and wonder why the cheeseburger involves "seitan".

I had said cheeseburger and chips, and it's good. I also had a nice starter of leeks in vinaigrette. The sorbet I had for afters was a bit marred by being covered in cream (wtf?) but never mind. The place is nice and has a good feel to it, classic French brasserie style.

I've got to give credit to happycow.net for helping me find both these places.

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Vegetarian armoury: things you might need

I've been cooking more and more vegetarian food this year. It's better for the climate and why not. You don't have to give anything up, in my opinion - you don't ned to go full veggy, just go in that direction.

So, to mark World Vegetarian Day here are my secrets, as a meat-eater, for how I'm cooking vegetarian for myself and not going hungry or getting bored. It's not really a glamorous list. The point is everyday eating. These are things that I didn't always have in the past but are now really handy go-to things to have in the cupboard:

  • Halloumi - lasts ages in the fridge. It's a classic veggie standby but the main reason I've added it is I've worked out a few different recipes with it - it's not just a one-trick pony. Most veggies will tell you "just grill it and eat it, it's lovely" but you need to have a few options. One unusual but easy and good is griddled halloumi+carrot+orange - a trick I got from the "River Cottage Fruit" cookbook - those three flavours go together great as a fast warm salad.
  • Black beans - a tin of black beans is really handy. A full flavour, and versatile. My top tip is my "black bean chorizo": Drain & mash 1 tin black beans, marinate with red wine, paprika, fennel, crushed garlic, salt&pepper. Then keep that in a sealed box in the fridge - it lasts for weeks and weeks and you can add a dab to stews or whatever to add a deep developed flavour that sometimes is missing from veggy life. Other things you can do with black beans include putting them in a wrap/taco, using them in stews, salads, you get the idea.
  • Puy lentils (ready-cooked and vacuum packed) - a pack lasts for ever in the cupboard, can be an emergency meal in itself, and is a great ingredient for a roast tomato lasagne, or a stew. The roast tomato lasagne is a great recipe in Take One Veg by Georgina Fuggle.
  • Chickpeas - kinda obvious, but: chickpeas are (a) handy for curries or tagines, (b) can be whizzed up for a nice fresh hummus at the drop of a hat, and as a bonus trick, (c) the water from a tin of chickpeas can be used for those bonkers vegan meringues.
  • Spinach - lasts ages in the fridge, and versatile - it can be salad, or cooked, or put into curries etc.
  • Cauliflower/broccoli - in British cookery, the tradition is to have these as just a veg on the side of your meat dish. But a cauliflower or a broccoli can totally be the centrepiece of lots of good veggie main courses. Cauliflower cheese is an obvious one. Roasted cauli/broccoli makes a good basis for a warm salad like this one. This year has also seen lots of recipes for "cauliflower couscous" or "cauliflower pesto" in which you put a cauliflower in a blender. Not my favourite thing to do with a cauli, I'll admit, but at least it's showing its adaptability.
  • Nuts! I've now got an old ice-cream tub full of different types of nuts. peanuts (plain), almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc etc. again, they last forever, they add protein and sweetness and variety, and yeah loads of recipes.

None of this is big news, especially not to anyone who's already a vegetarian. But if you're a meat eater, try getting these things in stock, and adding a couple more recipes to your inventory.

There are a couple of things not included in that list above. I'm too impatient to spend a lot of time with tofu (I don't see why I should spend ages marinating tofu to add some flavour to it, when I could just fry some halloumi or some paneer instead), though I love tofu in a thai green curry. Avocados are great but they don't last long, they're expensive, and although people do various weird things with avocados (like make cakes from them), I usually find the best thing to do with an avocado is just to eat it!

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Food in the Bavarian Forest

Just back from a trip to the Bavarian Forest - hiking, eating, wandering around. Here are the highlights of what I ate!

Traditional:

  • Pork Schnitzel Wiener art - classic around here, and in Eisensteiner Hof in Bayerisch Eisenstein I had a really excellent one. The meat was tender and flavourful, and the coating delightfully smooth with some lemon juice sprinkled over.
  • At the Schwellhaus'l guesthaus a lovely deer goulash, with red cabbage and spaetzle (soft dumplingy noodles).
  • Trout is a main fish around there, and at Haus zur Wildnis in Ludwigsthal they did a delicious smoked trout salad. For afters a nice traditional pancake, with a date preserve (I think that's what it was!).
  • I also had very nice little pancakes at the Eisensteiner Hof - that time I did manage to write down what they were: "liwanzen" apparently, Viennese. This time served with a nice and tart berry compote.
  • At Poeschl in Bayerisch Eisenstein I had echt Bayerisch brotzeit ("bread time"), having two boiled white sausages, with a pretzel, plus apfelschorle and some baerwurst to wash it down.

Not particularly traditional:

  • Utaty in Bayerisch Eisenstein is a vegan indian restaurant, open only on Friday and Saturday evenings, and with a set menu written in a notebook in a very dear-diary style:
  • Also on a veggie tip - I've been searching for veggieburgers worth making/eating. Most are... a bit meh. At Adam's Brauerei in Bodenmais I had one of the best veggieburgers I've had. So what was it? In fact it was just a straightforward veg pattie, but you couldn't tell since it was overwhelmed by: two slices fried courgette, a fried egg, tomato, cheese, and some micro salad leaves, all in a beautiful "alkaline" burger bun ("alkaline" according to automatic translation of "Laugen-Burger-Broetchen"...) with guacamole on the side. So that's how.
  • Best ice cream was at Cafe Charlotte in Zelezna Ruda. I had a berry one and another one whose name I couldn't translate.

But my special prize goes to this which is... not traditional but has some "tradition" to it:

  • "Country" pizza on the German/Czech border (in the village of Zelezna Ruda, and almost the closest eatery to the border there - a place called Cukrárna Sněhurka), featuring sauerkraut, sausage, ham, and soured cream. Whether a cynical invention or not, it's a great combination, and a nicely done pizza base, I was very nicely surprised.
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Bacup test kitchen July update

OK a brief PAUSE on my vegetarian year as we report back on the latest iteration of our ongoing project to develop the bacup.

Bacup chef

This time I had some of my black bean chorizo in the fridge so we did bacups with a layer of black bean chorizo, then an egg on top, then some grated cheese on the egg.

Bacups coming out of the oven

After pre-cooking the bacups we wanted to take them out of the little pots so they would crisp up properly in stage two, but they weren't holding together enough for that so we kept them in the pots. Added the fillings, blast them about 10 mins in the oven, and look at this lovely result:

Bacups on yr plate

The egg almost-perfectly cooked, slightly runny yolk, protected from the oven by the cheese - and complemented perfectly with the dark chorizo-y bean mix. Crispy top of the bacon, even though not crispy all through. Best bacups on record, IMHO - taste-wise, at least, even though we still need to work on structural issues.

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Getting better at vegetarian food

I've decided to cook more vegetarian food. Meat-eating is one of our biggest contributors to CO2 emissions and climate change, and certainly it's the biggest one that I can do something about. The nice thing is you don't have to go vegetarian - it's not all-or-nothing - just eat a bit less meat than normal, and you're on your way to improving your carbon footprint.

I'm not a fan of the "fake meat" vegetarian route (quorn, lentil sausages, etc) so what I've done is asked friends for some good new everyday veggie meals. So how's it going so far?

  • The top award goes to Warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds. It's easy to do and it makes a proper main course out of a cauliflower. The recipe is by Nigella Lawson, and thanks to Kitty for sending it me! I know pomegranate is not the most everyday thing ever - I've made it without them and it's OK - but if you've got them it's nice, and fancy.
  • African peanut stew is a great way to use some peanut butter from the storecupboard to make a stew into something rich and hearty. (Thanks Chrystie.) You can also do it with chopped peanuts, as I discovered when I didn't realise I was out of peanut butter...
  • While we're on the subject of cauliflower, by the way, you can't beat a classic cauliflower cheese, flavoured with a dab of mustard and nutmeg, served with crunchy bread/toast and a few leaves.
  • A butternut squash is a handy thing to have on standby. Roast it for an hour with walnuts, garlic, chilli, and some whole sprigs of herbs - covered for the first half an hour - then finish it off with the juice of half a lemon just before serving.
  • And here's another thing you can do with a squash: curried lentil, squash and apple stew (thanks Felix)
  • Veggie moussaka is good, more interesting than veggie lasagne cos after all, the aubergines are still key, so put them together with green lentils and there you go. Warning - this recipe takes a while to put together because of pre-cooking the things and then assembling them. (Thanks to Rachelle and Miranda.)
  • This one might be obvious if you're into Indian food. With lentils and a few other things from the cupboard you can easily make a dhal, to have with some chapati (or other flatbread). I haven't found a recipe I'm particularly into yet, to be honest, but it's a simple thing to do when I'm out of ideas!

Some other nice little recipes I came up with are beetroot nisk soup and kale and rosemary flatbread.

I've been adapting/replacing meaty recipes as I go along - a nice example is to adapt the fab standby tupperware chorizo recipe and simply use mashed black beans (or kidney beans) instead of pork mince. Hey presto you've got this stuff you can keep in the fridge for ages and fry it into a simple meal to add some depth and complexity. Of course the texture is nothing like pork but that's not what I was trying to do.

I'm still eating meat but definitely less, and I find now that I don't need to have meat always in stock as a default fallback. Just add a handful more everyday veggie recipes to your lineup.

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Mushy peas three-way showdown

Lunchtime showdown: three different tins of mushy peas!

  • Harry Ramsden
  • Sainsbury's
  • Batchelors
Mushy peas line-up

All served up with a bit of black pudding.

Mushy peas throw-down

The verdict:

Sainsbury's mushy peas are not very nice - there's a kind of minty flavour (mint is not in the ingredients) which tastes like it's masking something.

Harry Ramsden's …

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How to cook the perfect Lancashire hotpot

Lancashire hotpot is a classic dish where I come from. Lamb, onion, potatoes, slow-cooked.

There's a short version of this post: Felicity Cloake's "perfect Lancashire hotpot" article in the Guardian is correct. Read that article.

Really the main way you can mess up Lancashire hotpot is by trying to fancy …

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The invention of cooking

I found this great old book in an Edinburgh library a few years ago, about the invention of cooking. It's called "Food in History" by Reay Tannahill, published 1975.

I copied out a fascinating couple of paragraphs, let me quote them here:

But how the process of boiling was discovered …

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Best places to eat in Cambridge

I've been staying in Cambridge recently, on a research visit. (Cambridge UK, that is.) So I've had lots of opportunity to try the local eateries. So! Now you get to find out which are the best places to eat, if you ever need to eat in Cambridge:

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South Woodford: the nom review

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Cambridge sushi review

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Ale in Dartmoor and Devon

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Boulder Colorado IPAs

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Sandwich of the week

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Chutney from 2004

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The best recipes of 2012

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Four Alls Inn, Higham

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RMLL has free beer (as in speech)

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Real ale in West Ireland

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