Super-fast vegan pasta salad

This healthy and nutritious vegan recipe takes fifteen minutes at the most including pasta cooking time. Perfect for a busy family’s midweek dinner or weekend lunch.

When I was at univeristy, I had a friend from Catalonia who had a completely different view of cooking to me. When I went vegan for the first time in 2008, it wasn’t really something people had heard of. My family were very critical of my decision and made it difficult to eat because of the constant criticism.

In hindsight, I think I must have hit a nerve and accidentally unveiled their own insecurities surrounding their food choices, because I don’t naturally evangelize and never have, I’ve always wanted to be left alone to eat what I want and not to be forced to eat something just because someone else thinks I ought to.

My friend and I went to stay with my dad for a couple of weeks in Edinburgh and he nonstop went on and on (and on, and on) about how veganism was stupid and pointless and the only way to eat was to be vegetarian (he brought me up vegetarian until my mum left him when I was 5).

My friend was a meat-eater but she always defended my decision to eat whatever I wanted. One day we went to the supermarket and I was stuck for ideas, she suggested I make a pasta salad. I confessed I had no idea how to make one. She told me that where she grew up, pasta salad wasn’t the same as here. It was literally pasta and salad, with dressing over both.

From that one comment, I came up with this delicious pasta salad which has been a staple in my lunchtime repertoire for the last 12 years.

Ingredients:

Leafy vegetables of your choice. My favourites include iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, rocket and watercress. You can also buy ready-made salad bags with these things in them from the supermarket.

Pasta: Allow 80-100g uncooked pasta per person. I usually do it by eye these days.

Vegan soft cheese such as tofutti, scheese, violife (not as flavoursome as the others) or you could make your own homemade vegan soft cheese. Alternatively, you could use hummus, vegan pesto or something similar.

30g sunflower seeds (or other seed/nut of your choice. I like sunflower specifically because they’re high in calcium as well as protein)

Method:

Put the pasta on to boil. If you have a pinch of fresh thyme or oregano, add it to the pot!

When the pasta is cooked (8-10 mins, taste test if you’re unsure; it should be firm but not crunchy), drain and mix in a large dessert spoon of the soft cheese or hummus. Add more if you like your food saucier!

In a serving bowl, put your salad leaves, then add the pasta, and finally sprinkle the sunflower seeds on top.

Serve.

Add more veg: Chopped tomatoes go well with this.

Dairy Free Cheesy Vegetable Bake

Being dairy-free, the thing I miss the most is cheese. When I first became a vegetarian back in 2007, I didn’t much care about cheese, but over the next twelve months, I really discovered it. Wensleydale. Stilton. Halloumi… I’d never tried such delicious things. I grew up in a house where “cheese sauce” came out of an instant Bisto tub with some hot water added. So the world of proper cheese was a huge discovery for me (and a double-edged sword, when I found out it actually makes me ill as I have non-IgE CMPA).

Despite being dairy-free, I do still try to enjoy cheese (soy or coconut cheese, these days) and I still create recipes that include it. The biggest thing you need to know about dairy-free cheese is it’s not a source of protein (unlike animal cheese) so you need to compensate for that by including protein in your daily diet.

One of my favourite foods is cauliflower cheese, and that’s what this dairy-free vegetable bake is based on (but using more veg for variety).

Thankfully, this recipe is both gluten-free and dairy-free (and vegan) so it’s perfect for anyone with those dietary requirements. It’s also low-carb.

Originally, I wanted to make something resembling a potato gratin, but I’d forgotten the recipe and couldn’t find it anywhere (it’s probably on this blog somewhere). Then it turned out we had no potatoes so I gave up on that, and did this sort of cauliflower cheese vegetable bake thing instead. It uses broccoli, cauliflower and peas, but if you only have broccoli or cauliflower you can use one instead of both.

This takes about 10-15 minutes to prep (it might be a little slower if you do the white sauce from scratch using my vegan white sauce recipe but you’ll get faster at the white sauce the more times you make it) so it’s great as an addition for a dinner party, Sunday lunch or a special occasion, or just to liven up weekday meals, if you’re doing something that takes a little longer to cook than usual, such as a nut roast. If you’re dairy-free but non-vegan, you could serve with salmon or another oily fish.

This could also be a lunchtime main if you added some chopped vegetarian sausages or a healthy sprinkling of sunflower seeds to add protein, if you’re looking for vegan recipe ideas or inspiration.

Dairy free cheesy vegetable bake recipe

Ingredients:

100g broccoli

100g cauliflower

50g peas

250ml dairy free cheese sauce or white sauce

about 100g grated cheese

This recipe is super-easy, and there are plenty of options if you want to “cheat” at making the sauce, such as Asda’s bechamel sauce (white sauce), or Sacla’s Vegan Ch**se sauce, both of which are sold in jars, or Tesco’s instant dairy free cheese sauce mix sachets (do NOT buy the ASDA cheese sauce sachets; they are NOT dairy free, only gluten free).

To make a “proper” dairy free white sauce, use my easy three-ingredient recipe available here.

Method:

First, chop any large broccoli florets and cauliflower florets in half. Now put all the veg into a large saucepan and boil for about 10-15 mins until it’s soft.

While the veg are cooking, make your dairy-free white or cheese sauce.

Drain the veg and put into a large glass oven-safe dish (such as a Pyrex one).

Pour the sauce over the top.

Cover with grated cheese and bake at 160 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5/350F for about 15 minutes until cheese is melted.

Serves 4.

How to make vegan yogurt without yogurt cultures

While living in rural China, one serious problem I had was that it was impossible to buy dairy-free or vegan substitutes to dairy products. There’s a good reason for this. Chinese food uses ingredients differently, and is not a dairy-based cuisine. Dairy products are now widely available in China, and dairy additives have sneaked their way into a lot of modern Chinese snack foods, but there are no vegan alternatives to these, because as far as Chinese cooking is concerned, dairy is the alternative.

A lot of the time, the Chinese approach to dairy meant I could usually eat worry-free in most of China. And it was great to try so many new foods.

Of course, being British and Irish, I like to start my day with a lovely yoghurt (if you’re American you spell it “yogurt” lol) drenched in fruit (my faves are fresh County Wexford strawberries, the best strawberries in the world, or when they’re out of season, fluffy Spanish blueberries from the supermarket). While I’m fairly open-minded, there are some days when I just crave home food from my own country. Especially when I became pregnant and suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme pregnancy sickness… I’m basically allergic to the first 3-4 months of pregnancy).

Yoghurt is also integral to some homemade curry recipes like tikka masala.

Of course, the main problem is every recipe claims to require yoghurt cultures. It is impossible to get vegan yoghurt cultures in rural China (you could get this in the cities or on Taobao but I wouldn’t know enough Mandarin to check the origin or ingredients). In the past, people didn’t need yoghurt cultures to make yoghurt, it’s a modern complication. Could you imagine the Ancient Greeks trying to buy or sell “yoghurt cultures” in the market? They instead used natural alternatives, and you can, too.

With that in mind, I found out how to make yoghurt from local ingredients. Two things which are abundant in China are tofu and chillies (hot peppers). Don’t worry, you won’t make spicy yoghurt with this recipe (weird).

Here’s what you will need (keep scrolling for substitutions/adjustments e.g. soy free):

A block of tofu (about 200g or 1 cup, but don’t get hung up on the size, it largely doesn’t matter).

1 cup of soymilk. In China, you can buy a soy milk maker (on Taobao or in a store) to make your own if you can’t get a carton (Vitasoy in the blue carton from any shop, or Silk from Epermarket are also fine, dependent on your need for organic/no additives etc).

The juice of 2 medium fresh lemons (or 1 very large one).

Half a cup (about 100ml) of boiling water.

A blender or smoothie maker.

12 chili peppers with stems attached.

Method:

Put everything in the blender except the chili peppers. Blend until you get a silky smooth texture then pour it into a flat dish like a pasta bowl or the lid of a casserole dish (not a plate).

Take the chillies and remove the stems. Place the stems into the mixture so the part that joined the chili is now slightly beneath the surface of the yoghurt. These will work in place of yoghurt cultures.

Leave the mixture to culture in a warm spot for about 8 hours (a room without air con or an oven on about 30-40 degrees celsius/90-100 Farenheit is great). If it gets too hot or cold, it won’t culture properly, so take care. If you have a yoghurt maker, that will work, too.

Remove the chillies and store your yoghurt in the fridge in a sealed container for food safety.

This makes a very plain yoghurt that works for overnight oats, tikka masala recipes or you can add honey and chopped fruit to sweeten it.

Adjustments:

If you only have silken tofu, don’t add soya milk, instead use 2 packs of tofu.

Soy allergy? You can use coconut cream (the canned stuff for curries; don’t add the water from the bottom of the tin) and cornflour/cornstarch as a thickener if needed.

If you have no lemon, try lime or apple cider vinegar. You need the acidity level to be right otherwise the good bacteria in the chillies can’t thrive to turn the tofu into yoghurt. In my experience, lack of lemon juice is the only reason this recipe has ever failed for me.

Photo (with the chillies in):

Have you tried this? Let me know in the comments!

Vegan Meaty Stuffed Bell Pepper Tacos

I love stuffed peppers! They’re such an easy way to get more vegetables into your diet and this recipe is super-healthy. This was an experiment in changing things up, because I usually make stuffed peppers with rice, but today I wanted something different, so I filled my peppers with a taco-style filling of soy mince (TVP), sweetcorn and salsa, and topped with my vegan no-blend guacamole but you could also add grated vegan cheese if that’s your thing (or if you have any… I don’t, because my local Sainsbury’s has mysteriously stopped selling all vegan cheese since the lockdown began). This recipe is also perfect for when you are craving tacos but don’t have any taco shells.

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And finally, top with my easy no-blend avocado:

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Ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers
  • Half a cup of dried TVP (soy mince)
  • Half a cup of sweetcorn
  • A pinch of cilantro (leaf coriander)
  • A pinch (or three) of garlic
  • A big dollop of salsa (you can substitute this for some chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon or two of Piri Piri sauce or a teaspoon of any other hot sauce if you don’t have salsa)
  • A teaspoon of Vegemite (or another yeast extract)

 

Method:

  1. Cut the bell peppers in half and remove the seeds.
  2. Reconstitute the TVP with boiling water and add the Vegemite, garlic and cilantro. Mix thoroughly to avoid any Vegemite lumps and leave the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the hot water fully.
  3. Drain off the excess water from the TVP and mix with the sweetcorn.
  4. Put the TVP and sweetcorn mixture into the halves of the bell peppers, taking care not to knock them over. If you have peppers that won’t lie very well in the oven, balance them carefully against each other for support.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a fan oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 6.
  6. Serve with chilled guacamole and salsa.

What’s your favourite thing to put in stuffed peppers? Let me know in the comments!