I mostly like cooking. It’s a good counterpoint, too, to the mental work I do all day as a writer and tutor. Growing and preparing food is something so essential, so creative, so earthy, so non-mental, handling the creations of the soil, the rain, the compost, the sun, the magic of seeds.
When you have to create recipes too, for instance when the harvest glut is coming in – as ours is now, finally, after a long slow start – it’s an interesting challenge to find a new way to cook courgettes, or green beans.
So here are some recipes for you. They’re all vegan, but non-vegans will enjoy them as well; and although they mostly include beans, these are in reasonably digestible forms. Because they’re vegan, I take care to include protein. (For more on supplying the nutritional essentials on a vegan diet, see here.)
Sorry there are no photos of the meals – I realise what a difference they make, but never think of it until we’re halfway through eating! Here instead are some photos of our veg over the years. (I know that’s not the same, but they’re pretty.)
Three essential ingredients for the vegan larder/fridge:
- Nutritional yeast flakes (Engevita); buy the one with added B12 (blue pot). I was a lacto-vegetarian for 40 years, and knew that one day I’d need to take the logical step of removing the products of animal suffering entirely from my diet, but in the four or five years I’ve been vegan I still miss cheese a lot. Yeast flakes help add that – well, yeasty nutty tang.
Occasionally I will buy myself some Violife pizza ‘cheese’ – it’s not a bad substitute; made from coconut milk, it’s both processed and a bit high in food miles, though, but, you know, one can only be virtuous a certain percentage of the time without pissing oneself off with self-righteousness, as well as one’s table-mates.
- Coyo; the vegan yogurt, made from coconut milk. It’s completely delicious, and the sweeter flavour can be compensated for with a shot of lemon juice (my daughter calls lemon ‘the third condiment’, and it really is). I’m not going to beat myself up a 2nd time for coconut-miles.
I used to miss yogurt, too (I mean dairy yogurt) – not any more (and if you’ve never tasted Booja Booja non-dairy ice cream, you’ve a treat waiting).
- Cashew nuts are very high in nutrients, and there is no nut (or anything non-dairy else) like them for whizzing up for sweet or savoury sauces with one or other or both of the above; plus they make a fabulous base for a very tasty vegan ‘cheesecake’ (yes, really). But there’s the food-miles issue again; plus unless you buy Fairtrade, the trade is dirty (as of course is eg the cotton trade, unless it’s organic cotton) in terms of poor pay and working conditions and some toxicity for the pickers.
For savoury dishes, sweet chestnuts are a great alternative, and I collect them regularly, even in England, in the autumn, and collect masses to bring back if I’m in France. Not so good for sweet dishes, in my opinion, though – although they are used widely in France, Italy and Switzerland for desserts. (In fact, remembering this, I think I might have talked myself back into them.)
- In addition, beans – canned beans – of all sorts, including the highly nutritious chickpeas, and all lentils. Of course, in season, green beans; and we grow various beans to freeze so that we don’t have to buy canned: pea bean, borlotti, soissons.
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds add an extraordinary amount of protein to any dish; try dry-toasting these, sunflower seeds and, if you’re feeling rich, pine nuts too, and when they’re popping throw in a dash of soy sauce and the juice of half a lemon.
1 This first one is not mine, but the invention of Meera Sodha, Guardian food columnist at The New Vegan.
It’s a warm salad of samphire, potato and chickpea, with chaat spices. My version below uses green beans instead.
While I had masses of samphire in my fridge – fresh from a stone wall at Cape Cornwall after leading my Land’s Wild Magic course down there in June, I had none this week, so I substituted French green beans (Cobra) from the garden. I also had no mango powder (strangely enough) but had some coconut flour (I suppose that’s equally strange; it was a gift), so I mixed that with a little lemon juice. We did have our own Charlotte potatoes (tick), which didn’t stay in neat tidy small cubes like Meera’s in her photo, but it didn’t matter as the whole dish is divine.
If you don’t like your food too hot, substitutedhalf a teaspoon each of mild tagine spices and smoked paprika for the chilli.
I topped it with Coyo, and we had slow-cooked garlic courgettes on the side.
2 I was at Greenway, where I’ll be writer-in-residence this autumn leading workshops (several more to be uploaded yet) as well as creating my own new writing, with the co-ordinator the other day. I was treated to lunch in the café, but she’d brought her own delicious-looking ‘allotment soup’. Hmmm. Good idea for the glut.
Our garden can come up with the goods now. (I love the Keravel Pink onions which we brought back as sets from Brittany.) So here’s my herby cream-of-garden soup (for 2):
2-3 tbsps olive oil
I onion and 3 cloves garlic, chopped
double handful green beans, chopped
1 large potato cubed or diced
stock or Marigold bouillon (up to 1 litre; make it strong)
1 tsp yeast extract or 2 tsps soy sauce
1 double handful fresh sorrel leaves if you can get them – sorrel is easy to grow (wild sheep sorrel will do, but beware it might be tough by now)
1 handful fresh parsley
1/2 handful fresh marjoram
1/2 a dozen sage leaves (all chopped finely)
1/2 tsp each:
1/2 tub Coyo
juice of 1/2 lemon
SOFTEN the onion in the oil. Add sliced courgettes and garlic, and when they’re soft add the potatoes. Turn up the heat a little and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently so the potatoes don’t stick, then add the beans.
Add half the stock etc; add more as needed (keep the soup thick). Throw in the spices, and leave to simmer for an hour (stir now and then).
Then add the Coyo and finely chopped herbs, stirring well, and turn off the heat. Leave to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve with crusty bread with maybe a splash of olive oil. You can sprinkle yeast flakes on top.
3 Pasta e fagioli with mushroom sauce (for 2)
When I was a romantic young student, I met an Italian in a remote part of the Catalonian Pyrenees, and eloped with him right up onto the border with Spain, where we spent a winter in a commune with no electricity, an open fire for cooking, and water collected from a spring half a kilometre away.
Once that autumn I got chased up an apple tree in an ancient abandoned orchard by a trio of wild boar who clearly considered scrumping apples to be their prerogative; but that’s a different story.
|Drawing by Michael Fairfax, from The Polden Pig
Later, I married him (the Italian, not a boar), and he’s the father of my daughter. He died suddenly in late 2015, and in his memory I offer this recipe. He was a good cook, and pasta e fagioli (beans) was one of his staples, though the sauce here is mine.
He also used to make all our bread by hand, and, as he was taught by his rural grandmother, he’d use no yeast except what he could gather by leaving a tea-towel out in a clover-field overnight to collect the dewy clover-yeast (yes, really). He was also the best gnocchi maker I’ve ever known.
The mushroom part
2-3 tbsps olive oil
1 big onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 dozen mushrooms, sliced
a handful of fresh herbs: oregano, parsley, a sprig of rosemary, some thyme – mix and match
Soften the onion in warm oil; add garlic, mushrooms and herbs. Sauté gently.
Put a big pan of water on to boil.
Blend together on a low heat:
200 gms natural Coyo
200 gms ground almonds, finely chopped cashews, or hazelnuts
3 tbsps yeast flakes
1 tsp bouillon powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp nutmeg
juice of 1/2 a lemon or to taste
salt and pepper
(I added some leftover mashed potato)
When the water comes to the boil, throw in some pasta (I use red lentil pasta as I love it and it’s full of protein), and a double handful of green beans (or to be more traditional other podded beans) chopped into roughly 2cm lengths. They’re ready after 8–10 minutes (salt at the end). Drain and put back in pan with a dash of olive oil.
Mix the mushrooms and the sauce and stir into the pasta e fagioli.
Finally, 4: butterbean and cashew (or other nut) paté or spread
This works well with broad beans early in the season and later podded beans like soissons or borlotti too.
Put into a whizzer (I use a handheld Braun stick thing):
1 good handful cashew
1 tin butterbeans or kidney beans (or any other bean really, but the butterbeans’ mild flavour allows the nuttiness to emerge), drained and rinsed
big slosh of olive oil
handful each fresh parsley and basil
1/2 handful fresh oregano or marjoram
1 tbsp capers
few drops Tabasco (to taste)
nutritional yeast flakes
shake of Tamari
salt and pepper
(a little chopped onion if liked).
Whizz and enjoy!
I think it might also be good with cucumber and dill weed instead of the other herbs; also sorrel.