A book and a bite: plant-based recipes to lock down to…

I have big plans for lock down. The imposed isolation is for our own good and I’m going to try to turn the challenge into an opportunity.

I will do my usual amount of walking and going to the gym, which is just a bike and a running machine and a mat upstairs, and I have a pile of ten books I intend to read, a variety of novels from Margaret Atwood to Bernadine Evaristo, from Candice Carty-Williams to Madeleine Miller and Ross Greenwood.

My larder isn’t hugely stocked although I do have a few tins of beans and the wherewithal to make sauces and I have a few indulgent items like rose harissa and preserved lemons. It’s always useful to be able to make things taste nicer and a vegan pantry can often be quite different to a non-vegan one as we tend to have tofu and things that make bland food taste nicer. But, perhaps at the moment, there will be some plant-based-pantry goods available on line. I have enough veg in the fridge to last a few days and my neighbour has kindly given me some sprout tops, so my plan is to read, rest, eat and exercise, not always in that order.

(Oh and I’m going to write another novel too. I’ve written the synopsis, the first chapter, and a fairly organised plan. I reckon I can have fun with that one and finish before the really hot weather arrives…)

But nourishment is the important factor here – we can’t work and work out without something to sustain us and there’s a level of uncertainty about how we’re going to feed the family so here are some of my own ideas on how to throw some good food together. All my food is plant-based– I’ve been vegan for almost thirty years now and B12 tablets are a must if you’re going to follow plant-based eating but in the spirit of a lot of things not being available to buy online at the moment, here are some ideas which might help. I hope so. Enjoy!

Hummus. The best hummus is made from jars of fat chickpeas but any chickpeas, mixed with garlic, tahini, lemon juice and a bit of olive oil in a blender is food from the gods. I eat it as a dip with carrot chunks or pepper chunks or bits of cauliflower, if there’s any available, but more about that later. Bread sticks are brilliant with hummus – just whisk dried yeast, warm water and sugar together to rise for ten minutes, then add a bit of oil and some flour together and knead as dough. I add rosemary, fennel seeds or some lemon zest, let it rise for an hour, prove for another hour shaped into long twists and then bake for 15 minutes, flipped over after ten. It’s great with soup too.

Soup. Several onions, softly cooked for twenty minutes, makes great onion soup. Any onions, red, white, shallots, a mix of them all. Garlic or thyme or other herbs  help it taste nicer, as does a stock cube or a spoonful of miso. Blend with water and eat hot with bread sticks. The same applies to onions and sweet potatoes, onions and half a butternut squash, or parsnips and a pinch of chilli, or sweet peppers and a sweet potato. If all else fails, frozen peas, (mint!), onions, garlic and a bit of chilli makes an incredible soup. If you have a bit of stock, some miso or bouillon to add to it, even a spoonful of Marmite, the flavour improves.

Bake any stale bread with a bit of oil and garlic for a short while in the oven and throw the croutons on top. Add a pinch of paprika, cumin, cayenne or coriander to make all the difference.

Chocolate Mousse. Save the water from your tin of chickpeas. Whisk it for a while until it’s white and peaky like meringue. Melt your favourite chocolate – I have a salted caramel one that’s lovely – and stir it into the aquafaba (chick pea water). (If it’s really dark bitter chocolate you might need to add a bit of maple syrup.) Put it in bowls in the fridge to set. Often I crumble a cinnamon biscuit on top or underneath with a shot of liqueur, which is really decadent. Whatever you like…

Tagine. Any veg, cooked slowly in an oven or a crock-pot, especially with a teaspoon of harissa and a half a preserved lemon, chopped, is brilliant. I mean, any veg is good in a stew – sprout tops, broccoli bottoms (the bit that’s not the floret), old Brussels, the end of a cabbage, any beans, peas, potatoes that have seen better days, all are delicious. It’s good with rice, pasta, minty couscous. If you have no harissa then anything you can find – herbs, spices, sauces, miso, even half a pint of beer thickened at the end of cooking with a little cornflour will make it very hearty and delicious and nutritious. All that B12! Oh and if you’re really hungry, a bit of plant-based suet, flour, some herbs mixed with orange juice and skin makes great dumplings to add to the pot for the last thirty minutes.

Cauliflower, if you can still get it, broken into florets rubbed with chilli and a bit of oil and baked in the oven for 20 minutes is delicious. Even better, make a flour/water paste, dip the baked cauli chunks into it and then roll them in breadcrumbs, put them back in the oven and bake them again for fifteen minutes. Cover them with a sauce made from tomatoes and chillies and maybe some yogurt.

Jackfruit is often quite cheap as a tin will feed four and I don’t think the tins are selling out fast. Drain then shred the jack fruit and bake it in the oven, covered in a bit of Sriracha sauce or tomatoes and chilli for twenty minutes. I add anything I can find to it that will help it – onions, peppers, a bit of plant-based Worcester sauce or soy or liquid smoke. When it comes out of the oven, serve it in warmed tortillas. Add anything you like – a dollop of nut cream or cheese, some beans.

Cannellini beans. Drain them and add to fried onions and a mushroom, some pepper and a glug of ketchup and serve on toast. Better than commercial baked beans which may now be hard to find.

Cream cheese! Soak a handful of cashew nuts in boiling water for an hour and then drain them and blend them to a pulp with some garlic and a bit of plant milk or yogurt to get the texture you want. Macadamias work just as well if you have some in the back of a cupboard. Added cumin or any fresh herbs makes this really lovely on its own.

Add some of this cheese to a huge pile of sautéed onions and a small silken tofu if you have it; add a bit of plant milk to loosen it to a thick pouring texture. Use this to fill a pastry case made from some plain flour and non-dairy butter, bake in a medium oven for fifty minutes and you have a tasty quiche.

Salad. I love to get inventive with salad. If there are any green leaves, a bit of leftover rice, a tomato, a bit of cucumber, a piece of warmed bread cubed and sautéed with garlic, then it’s nice to mix it up with half an apple or a sliced pear, walnuts, raisins, coleslaw made from red cabbage, carrot and onions with raisins and mayo, and maybe some oven-roasted tofu.

Easy peasy ketchup is a mixture (to taste – mine is quite vinegar-heavy) of tomato puree, good vinegar (not malt – I like apple cider vinegar…) and sugar or maple syrup. Add a pinch of salt – (I love Himalayan salt) – or some garlic and it’s really special. I use it as pizza topping on a base made from flour, water and dried yeast. Add anything left over in the fridge: mushrooms, tomatoes, Plant-based cheese is ok on top and some herbs – parsley, oregano, thyme – will improve it.

Bread. Basically, it’s a teaspoon of dried yeast, a teaspoon of sugar and warm water, left for ten minutes, added to strong flour. I like to mix white flour up with rye flour, whole wheat, then add any (not all) of the following; linseed, herbs, sunflower seeds, toasted, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, herbs, rosemary and lemon zest, pureed beetroot (Mmmm!), sautéed onions, plant-based cheese, a drop of oil, garlic. Knead like for for twenty minutes – great workout. Leave to rise for 50 minutes somewhere warm, knock it back with your hands on a floured surface, shape into a loaf, rolls, batons, bread sticks, whatever you like. Leave for fifty minutes and bake in a 180* oven for as long as it needs. It’s done when it’s hollow when you knock the bottom of the bread. Brush the top with oil, oil and salt, oil and garlic, seeds, whatever you like before cooking.

And, to finish the day with a book and a tasty bite, take anything sweet you can find in the cupboard – biscuits, nuts, marshmallows, seeds, raisins and suchlike and add a melted bar of good chocolate, mix it up, put in a small tin, refrigerate for two hours and slice it up, and you have an almost guilt-free version of rocky road. It’s even better if you dry roast the nuts in a frying pan. Healthy-ish, sweet and the treat you deserve for all the work you’ve done keeping body, mind and soul together during this difficult time. Sending best wishes. X

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