Are you firmly committed to Veganuary this year? Or, like me, are you just finding that you’re erring towards a lighter vegetarian diet after the full-on meat feast that Christmas tends to be? One of the few perks of living on my own in these terrible locked-down times is that I have been able to form a support bubble with my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. So while I thoroughly enjoyed the turkey plus all its trimmings, leftovers such as turkey & ham pie and turkey biryani, a divine beef Wellington and a rich venison casserole with my son and family on New Year’s Eve, the end of the festive break has seen me craving fresher, meat-free food. After all, when my plot is in full flow, I tend to eat an essentially plant-based diet.
I’m still harvesting leeks, parsnips, parsley, turnips, kale, chard, spinach and even calabrese down at the allotment, and I have plenty of stored potatoes, carrots (for once!), squash and apples to go at, plus chillies, beans and soft fruit in the freezer, so reverting to a mainly vegetable-centred menu really isn’t a hardship. It seems easier to digest, to say nothing of being infinitely better for the planet, even if you only buy locally sourced meat, as I do on the odd occasions I buy it. I like cheese and cream far too much to even think of going fully vegan, but some of the recipes I’ve been making recently either are vegan or can easily be adapted to make them vegan if that’s what floats your boat.
I have to admit that a reluctance to go shopping more than I absolutely have to (and a shortage of online delivery slots yet again, unless you’re very quick off the mark) have also contributed. Far easier to look to your store-cupboard/fridge/freezer and cook with what you have than to venture out into soaring Covid case numbers, even if the local shops and supermarkets aren’t too busy…
With that in mind, the first recipe I revisited in the cold light of January 2021 was a roasted carrot, orange and spelt salad. The original recipe featured on a BBC Good Food calendar a couple of years ago, but I’ve been adapting it to what I have on hand ever since. I thought it was worth sharing as it’s not only vibrantly orange and therefore cheery in itself, but also incredibly tasty, vegan (if you omit the feta!) and good for you. Oh, and don’t be put off by the word ‘salad’ when it’s the last thing you fancy on a cold, grey winter’s day: this can be eaten warm and is extremely comforting. It also heats up in the microwave the next day if you have any left over.
Roasted Carrot, Orange & Spelt Salad – serves 2-3
200g pearled spelt
2 tsp veg bouillon powder (or use vegetable stock if you have any)
200g carrots, scrubbed and peeled (if necessary), cut into chunky batons
1 white turnip (optional), cut into chunks
½ sweet potato (optional), peeled and cut into chunks
1 fennel bulb, sliced (or use celery)
1 leek, washed and sliced into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and cut into six wedges
1 clove garlic, chopped
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 orange, skin removed and cut into segments
1 tbsp red white vinegar
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (or use fennel leaf if you have it)
10-12 pitted black olives, halved
50g feta cheese, diced (optional) to serve
Pre-heat oven to 180°C fan/Gas 5. Wash the spelt thoroughly, then cook in the vegetable stock or water and bouillon powder for about 20 minutes from boiling, or it until it is cooked, but still has a bit of bite. Drain through a colander, then transfer to a wide dish and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to stop it sticking while you prepare the vegetables.
Cook the carrots for 5 minutes in boiling water, then drain and place in a roasting tin with the chopped turnip, sweet potato, onion wedges, orange zest and chopped garlic. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season and roast in the hot oven for 15 minutes. Then stir, add the sliced leeks and fennel, drizzle with a little maple syrup and return to the oven for a further 15 mins until all the vegetables are cooked.
In the meantime, whisk together 3 tbsp olive oi1, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and the orange juice with 1 tsp maple syrup and seasoning. Taste and adjust the acidity to your liking.
Scrape the roasted vegetables onto the cooked spelt, add the orange segments and parsley (or fennel leaves) and half the dressing – it will soak into the spelt as it sits, so if you’re making in advance you can decide whether you need to add more before serving. Toss together, then stir through the halved olives and sprinkle over feta if using, plus more parsley to garnish.
Another dish I discovered during the first lockdown back in spring (how long ago that seems now, yet here we are again…) was a vegan Bolognese sauce based on lentils. I love lentils in all their guises, but this recipe was particularly good and would, I’m sure, appeal to diehard meat eaters as much as to vegetarians and vegans. The original recipe was by Gaz Oakley, vegan blogger and YouTuber, but I came across it in the Saturday Times, and have tweaked it slightly to use dried lentils rather than canned. I must admit that I serve it with parmesan, but feel free to omit the cheese if you want to stick with the recipe’s vegan roots. You can, of course, change the vegetables to use whatever you have on hand – dishes like this are very accommodating in that respect. And they always freeze beautifully, with the flavour improving and maturing as they sit – perfect for stocking up the freezer for busy days ahead.
Vegan Lentil Bolognese Sauce – serves 4-6
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
6 garlic cloves
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried oregano (or you could use fresh and/or fresh thyme/basil if you have it)
4 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp dark miso paste (or you can use soy sauce if you haven’t got miso paste)
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
240ml red wine
250g green lentils (or use 2 x 400g cans, drained if you prefer)
Add the onion, celery, garlic, pepper and carrot to a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and add the processed veg, then cook for 5 mins or until starting to soften. Add the herbs, seasoning, tomato purée, miso paste and cook for a further 2 minutes, then stir in the lentils, tinned tomatoes and wine. Rinse out the tomato cans with water and add that water to the pan as well. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the lentils have softened. If using canned lentils, which are already pre-cooked, you may not need the additional water from rinsing the tomato cans and you can cut the cooking time down to 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water content and adjust if necessary.
Serve with cooked spaghetti or pasta of your choice, topped with grated Parmesan and basil. If you’re sticking to the vegan theme, the original recipe suggests making a vegan ‘Parmesan’ topping by blitzing 3 tbsp toasted flaked almonds with 3 tbsp nutritional yeast until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. I haven’t tried this, but by all means give it a go and report back!
My final recipe offering was inspired by the need to use up the spelt flaky pastry I made for my turkey & ham pie after the festivities. It is based on Delia Smith’s quick flaky pastry, which is ideal when you want something richer and flakier than shortcrust, but don’t want to go to the trouble of making proper puff pastry – or you suddenly realise you don’t have any bought puff pastry in the freezer! It most certainly isn’t vegan as it uses a fair amount of butter, but I often make spelt pastry these days as my gluten-intolerant daughter-in-law finds she can cope with it much better than standard flour. You can, of course, buy readymade vegan puff-pastry if you prefer. I used wholemeal spelt as I like the nutty taste, but you can use standard spelt flour or ordinary plain flour too. The inspiration for the pie filling was a recipe in the Waitrose Food magazine, which often hits the spot for seasonal dishes – and it really fits my brief for using up vegetables I have available in the allotment at this time of year. Enjoy!
Celeriac, Broccoli and Cavolo Nero Pie – serves 4-6
225g wholemeal spelt flour (or use plain flour)
175g butter, frozen
pinch of salt
I head of broccoli or calabrese (about 450g)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 medium celeriac (about 750g), peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
1 large red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300ml vegetable stock
250 ml milk (you can use oat or almond milk if you prefer)
½ tsp ground allspice
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp thyme leaves
50g dried cranberries (or use sultanas if that’s what you have)
100g cavolo nero
Milk (or agave nectar) to brush the pastry
To make the flaky pastry, make sure you put the butter, in its wrapper, in the freezer for an hour or so before you want to start your pastry. When you’re ready, sift your flour (you can tip back in any grains that are too big to sift) and quickly grate the butter over the flour and salt while it is still frozen, holding onto the wrapper to stop the heat of your hand melting the butter. You can dip the butter into the flour to make it easier to grate if you need to. When it’s all grated, quickly mix with a knife to incorporate the butter into the flour. Don’t use your hands! When it’s well mixed, gradually add enough cold water to form a dough that leaves the bowl clean, using your hands to bring it all together at the end. Wrap in foil and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour before using.
Toss half the celeriac chunks with oil and sprinkle with paprika and seasoning in a roasting tin. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Either steam the broccoli for 5 minutes, or cook in 1 tbsp of water in the microwave for 3 minutes. (The original recipe roasts the broccoli for 25 minutes at the same time as the celeriac, but homegrown calabrese tends to be side shoots at this time of year and I find it frazzles too quickly in the oven, so prefer to microwave or steam).
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pan, add the onion, garlic, thyme and a pinch of salt and sweat for 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the remaining celeriac, cover and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes or until just tender and golden. Add the stock and milk to the pan along with grated nutmeg, allspice and black pepper, then blend with a stick blender (or transfer to a liquidizer goblet if you prefer) until smooth. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, dried cranberries and parsley, and allow to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.
Remove thick stalks from the cavolo nero and roughly chop the leaves. Quickly blanch with boiling water in a colander over the sink, then drain, pat dry with kitchen paper. Add the roast celeriac, calabrese and kale to the cool sauce, stir gently and transfer to your serving dish. Place a pie funnel in the centre if you have one to let out steam as it cooks.
Take your pastry out of the fridge, roll out to the right size, cut a cross in the middle to fit around the pie funnel and place gently over the filling, damping the edge to make sure it sticks to the sides. Use pastry off-cuts to decorate the top if you feel suitably artistic! Brush with milk (or agave nectar), place on a baking tray and cook in the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown, covering with foil if it browns too quickly.
Serve with vegetables of your choice and a virtuous January glow.