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.
We've discovered some lovely vegetarian recipes this year! The lockdown last year was actually a pretty good opportunity to get better at cooking, especially when we had to dig into our stockpile - yes, it really got to that point, strange to think now. This year was a bit less extreme in that sense, but we've come across lots of new recipes, and in particular getting better at being vegan-compatible. Here is a selection of the absolute best recipes we've been eating this year.
First, main courses - all vegan, all lovely!
- Meera Sodha's hasselback celeriac with pomegranate, miso, red onion --- a gorgeous combination of flavours, great. We've made this multiple times because the flavour combination is so ace.
- Chana chaat - Delicious! Layers of complex, fruity & sour flavours, in this Indian chickpea salad/streetfood snack
- Sweet potato and kimchi cakes --- a great trick with kimchi!
- Jackfruit & bean rendang, topped with lime zest, toasted coconut, and fried onions - served with rice, spicy sambal and a pineapple ring :)
- Turkish spiral flatbread ("BÖYLE BİR LEZZET YOK") - I don't know what this is, but watch the video, it's fun to make, quite easy, and a lovely lunch!
- Red lentil and squash soup with za’atar croutons -- easy, nice, filling
- Winter mushroom stew: many types of mushroom (200g per person), with dark beer (herfstbock), winter spices (star anise, bay, clove), stock, onion rings, and brown sugar. Served with celeriac chips (which were tossed in cornflour and oven-baked for 40mins).
These two main courses are not vegan but lovely anyway:
- Pasta met kruidenpangrattato -- a nice variant: crunchy pasta! This recipe is in Dutch
- Lancashire cheese & onion pie
Desserts (all vegan):
- Figs poached in orange, cardamom and honey (from the book "Fruit" by HFW)
- Rhubarb, cardamom and pistachio tart
- Vegan sticky toffee pudding
Treats (all vegan):
- Vegan banana chocolate chip muffins
- Chocolate courgette cake (I replaced the soft icing with a crunchy choc shell, yum.)
Shout outs to some awesome convenience foods we found in the Netherlands:
- Lidl Vegetarische Bradworst -- very good indeed. Yv said it was exactly like those other dutch sausages, I said it was quite british-sausage-y.
- Kips Vega Pate (the classic version) -- great pate taste. We had it on sarnies on holiday, and it's fabulous.
- Future Sausage -- very nice! One of the nicest veggie sausages we've had - https://futurefarm.io/
- Mr & Mrs Watson "Aged Camemberti" -- phenomenal texture, and very good nuanced flavour. Glad we bought it!
After some in-depth field research, I'm ready to report that the Netherlands alcohol-free beer scene has boomed in the last couple of years. We've now tasted 24 of them! And 7 of them are great.
Van de Streek's "Playground IPA" has been around for a while now and is in all the supermarkets, cafes, etc - and, I have to be blunt, it's still the absolute best low-alcohol IPA we've tasted, even though we've now tried over 100 from around Europe.
But there is a whole carnival of others, and some of them are right up there in the top. There's a good representative for each of the classic beer styles, plus some funky quirky ones too. You should definitely check out:
- Brouwerij 't IJ "Vrijwit" - finally, a delightful Belgian-style wheat beer! Frothy head, a complex full flavour, well-balanced and satifsying. This rises easily to the top spot of wheat beers, and handily it's also available in lots of shops. By the way, the brewery is "'t IJ", named after a river - you can pronounce it "utt eye" if you like.
Other Dutch breweries have attempted the low-alc wheat beer: Grolsch and Brand's are OK, Lowlander's tastes like a bitter lemon not a weizen. (Also, FYI, don't go anywhere near the Hoegaarden 0.0 - it's awful, despite my hopes for it. It's not Dutch... but the warning is needed.) If you want a wheat beer, go straight for the Vrijwit!
Lowlander "0.3% IPA" -- A stunning low-alc IPA - complex, foamy and refreshing, with a bitter hoppy tang combining with rounded mango and orange flavours. Stunning, and more "different" than Playground IPA.
Braxx "Rebel IPA" -- Very interesting malty IPA, almost a brown-ale flavour plus hoppy twang.
And if you want more... van de Streek's other alcohol-free beers: Fun House is a good NEIPA, Non-Bock a tasty bock, the grapefruit IPA good and fruity.
Other IPAs: there are good ones from Jopen, van Breugem ("Klein Zoentje"), Uiltje ("Superb Owl"), Waterland and Brand. The "Brand" is a great choice if you need genuine-zero in an IPA.
As ever - the big spreadsheet lists these and hundreds of others (or here's a PDF of it) from around Europe (124 at time of writing).
Back when I first tried alcohol-free beer, I only knew of one from Sainsbury's (not bad) and Becks Blue (meh) - little did we know that by 2020, there would be so many that it's hard to keep track of them all! There are many good ones but also a few to avoid. I'm shocked to report that not only have we tasted over 70 alcohol-free beers, but also... a whopping twenty-two of them are so nice that I'd enthusiastically recommend them to all of you.
van de Streek "Playground IPA" - a delightful IPA, that beat some of our other faves in a blindfold taste test. It's got a lovely clear taste and mouthfeel, and the balanced but detailed flavour you want. You need to seek this one out!
Big Drop "Lil IPL" - a fabulous low-alcohol "India Pale Lager", a perfect match of late-hopped tang with lagery Helles notes. Big Drop is a UK brewery that only makes alcohol-free beers - they have many good ones but this (a collaboration with Salt Beer) is flipping delightful. You should also try other IPAs and lagers from Big Drop, perhaps easier to find than this one.
Hambleton "Point Five" - a very lovely piney scent and taste, and this one from a Yorkshire brewery has a slightly different flavour than some of the bigger names in alcohol-free (brewed differently? maybe), so is a great one to try.
Brand "Brand IPA 0.0%" - lovely IPA with a hint of sourness. And it's 0.0! This is by far the best 0.0% IPA we've encountered. There are quite a few 0.0% lagers, and 0.5% IPAs, but if you like hops and zeroes, this is our tip for you.
Infinite Session "Pale ale" - a very nice balanced pale ale indeed, this one from London, and possibly the best British pale we've had. The other beers from Infinite Session are also pretty good, but the Pale Ale is the one that hits the nail on the head.
Maisel "Maisel's Weisse" - a superb alcohol-free wheat beer, with a classic Bavarian taste. Slightly more lively and refreshing that the one by Rothaus, but both are great. I really like the classic Bavarian-style wheat beers so I've tested a few, and the Maisel's is definitely the best.
Nirvana "Hoppy Pale Ale" - this has a very clear crisp taste, light and with a good citrussy hop flavour at the end. I wasn't expecting much since I dislike the other beers from Nirvana, but this one's definitely recommendable - refreshing, and slightly different to some others I've had.
Brewdog "Hazy AF" - this is a lovely juicy IPA, with a clear nice citra/citrus dry flavour to finish. Brewdog are well-known for their Nanny State alcohol-free IPA, available for many years now, and they've also come out with "Punk AF". Yvonne and I differ on which of the Brewdog brews are the best - frankly they're all good. For me the hazy is the one I'd most like more of.
Lervig "No Worries Grapefruit" - a great grapefruit-infused IPA from Norway. The grapefruit juice dominates the flavour, but its gentle sourness fits perfectly with the gently bitterness from the late hopping. Extremely well-balanced and satisfying. (See also: Konx by Omnipollo, very similar and almost as good.)
van de Streek "Non-Bock" - a really very nice brown ale. Nicely balanced, no complaints. The Dutch brewery van de Streek have done it again! There aren't many "wintry" beers in the alcohol-free line-up, so this is notable.
San Miguel "San Miguel 0.0%" - an alcohol-free version of the well-known Spanish/Filipino lager. The flavour is good, it's refreshing, and a nice balanced aftertaste. Definitely one of the best I've had from a trad big brewery! (See also the Stella Artois 0.0% - that's also pretty darn good from a big brewer.)
Big Drop & Fyne "Jam Session raspberry gose" - a very interesting raspberry drink with floral/nutty flavours in the background.
Leffe "Leffe Blonde 0.0%" - nice full Belgian flavour, but seemed to us overly sweet. A very good Belgian zero-percent beer. It's not perfect, but, yet again, this one makes the list because it's good to have an alkofrei version of a very classic beer.
Greene King "Old Speckled Hen low-alcohol" - great to have a classic British dark bitter as a decent low-alcohol. This one's nice tasting and well-balanced, though I find it quite drying, so didn't want to stick with it for a full session.
Our other top picks are:
- Mariestads "Sommerlager"
- Jopen "Non-IPA"
- Big Drop "Pale Ale"
- Värmdö "Ingarö Eko IPA"
- Big Drop "Citra 4 hop pale ale"
- Big Drop "Paradiso Citra IPA"
- Infinite Session "IPA"
- Shipyard "Low Tide Pale Ale"
- Mikkeller "Drink in the Sun"
- Adnams "Ghost Ship alcohol-free"
- Rothaus "Hefe Weizen"
- Big Drop "Pine Trail"
- Drop Bear "Tropical IPA"
It's official! Vegan ice-cream is now good.
Don't believe me? I don't mind, that means more for me :) But if you want my credentials: I'm not even a vegan and I think these ice-creams are great.
It's summer. There's a problem. You want ice cream, but the dairy industry produces masses of CO2, making the world hotter. Dammit, a vicious circle. Never fear! Try these amazing ice creams:
Jude's vegan vanilla - it is LOVELY and creamy, with the decandent vanilla bean taste you want.
Oatly strawberry - lovely pink strawberry flavour.
Ben & Jerrys "Coconutty Carameld" - a weird but great combination, the coconut against the caramel -- the type of thing B&J are known for.
ROAR "Coconut mango passion fruit oat cookie" -- what a crazy flavour. This tropical ice cream has really fresh flavours of mango and passionfruit both coming through boldly. I'm not really sure why it has oat flakes in it, but the overall effect is an over-the-top tropical cocktail. -- Oh and I also really like their "hemp seed chocolate brownie" ice cream, which is a straightforward great chocolatey one.
These companies all do other flavours too (for vegan chocolate ice cream, Oatly's is also good). But if you've not tried vegan ice cream before you might not know where to start, so here's your executive summary.
Inspired by my recent trip to India, tried some more Indian cookery tonight.
The main lesson I learnt this time was about amchoor - a powder made from sun-dried green mangoes.
Ah no, the main lesson was actually how to eat curry one-handed using a chapati. But I've definitely not mastered that one yet.
Anyway amchoor has a nice clear flavour and is used in some Indian cuisine to add fruity zestiness to a dish without making the dish too wet. The top hit from this evening's meal was amchoor chana (chickpeas with mango powder). An otherwise simple chickpea curry is made zingy by a generous teaspoon per person of amchoor cooked in.
I'd like to get better at dhals too. Although a basic dhal is easy - just simmer some lentils/pulses for a while, with some spice - I haven't got the hang of the different types of pulses and how you'd use them. Here we were using a recipe which called for a mix of half red lentils, and half mung dal (mung beans). It gave a good gloopy texture.
My thanks to Samira Agnihotri, who kindly gave me some home-made amchoor!
For anyone trying Veganuary this year, or just working out how to cook vegan more often, here are my tips of some handy recipes!
We've sampled LOTS of alcohol-free beer in the past year. Why? Well - you might not believe me about this - some of it's getting really good. And it's great to be able to have a lovely beer even if you don't want to be woozy afterwards.
So WE HAVE DONE THE …
For a cook, Veganuary was a really interesting challenge. A whole month of being vegan! Here are some things I learnt:
- How to make a chia egg - it's a replacement for egg white made of... crushed seeds. Probably the main party-trick I learnt, since I already knew some of the …
Going to try veganuary? We're going for it this year.
Here are some great recipes I made/found recently, all vegan. Maybe they'll help you to enjoy January extra-special:
- Pad thai - do it Vegan Black Metal Chef style! (We used peanut butter instead of peanuts which makes it easier to …