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.

Easy Patatas Bravas style Mediterranean potato recipe

I love doing fried potato recipes. This is like patatas bravas but a little different. Instead of being fried potatoes with a separate dipping sauce, this puts everything together during the cooking process. It’s a one-pan recipe that’s quicker and easier than a “traditional” patatas bravas recipe. Oh, and it’s vegan and delicious served with Spanish chicken (or tofu)!

As you will see from the photos, it’s not very photogenic. But I strongly believe that some of the most delicious food doesn’t photograph very well, and that there are a great many beautiful looking dishes on Instagram that would be absolutely disgusting to actually eat. It’s also not very spicy (but full of flavour) making it a perfect recipe for younger children, people with dentures and fussy eaters, too! Just put it through the blender before feeding to little ones who don’t have all their teeth, yet.

Ingredients:

150g potatoes, peeled and diced

6 cherry tomatoes

A handful of fresh thyme

2 tsp paprika

1/2 onion diced

1 pinch garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Peel and dice the potatoes and put in a pan to boil with a pinch of paprika. When the potatoes are done, drain and put aside. Wipe out the pan with some kitchen roll and use again

Chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters

Tear the thyme to release the flavour

Put the olive oil into a pan and add the onions. Fry until they turn transparent

Add the rest of the paprika, the tomatoes and the thyme

When the tomato skins are beginning to separate from the centers, add the boiled potatoes and stir well. Cook on a medium/low heat until the tomatoes are disintegrating.

Serve immediately.

I saw another recipe for patatas bravas and it was literally terrible. It involved so much salt (over a tablespoon for 2 portions of food) I think it would have made anyone very sick, and it also called for cups of olive oil! It claimed it was an authentic recipe but I think the “Chef” got it from a before-scene on Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares.

After reading that recipe, I knew I had to invent my own potato recipe and share it with you because there aren’t enough good patatas bravas recipes (and other interesting potato recipes) around.

Vegan white sauce recipe

White sauce is the foundation of most milk-based sauces, including cheese sauce, peppercorn sauce, bechamel sauce, parsley sauce and soups such as clam chowder (the white one).

I know this because, when I was 11 and learning Home Economics (now called the much edgier “food technology”) at school, I spent most of my time copying pages and pages out of textbooks while my classmates were busy cooking.

At my school, the teacher would buy the ingredients for us and we just had to bring in the money (usually about 80p-£1), or we could bring in the ingredients if we preferred. My mum refused to give me the money for the ingredients OR to buy the actual ingredients, which often left me not able to participate in home economics. The teacher, thinking I was just lazy, made me copy out of textbooks as a “punishment”.

I think I learned more from this than my classmates did. In my experience of attending 13 schools and 3 colleges, home economics teachers are singularly oblivious to the social issues that prevent children from learning. They all seem to be jolly-middle-class women who think everyone has “tagliatelle” at home.

I had been cooking for the whole family since the age of 9, but because I had never eaten a fairy cake, let alone made one, I was seen as “bad at cooking”, a label I internalized and carried with me into adulthood until I finally realized, at 27, I wasn’t bad at cooking, I just didn’t know how to cook the standard middle-class British dishes of the 1970s (which people still seem to judge us on today).

That’s fine, because people like that home economics teacher who think there’s one true way to cook “properly” are usually the first people to get upset about catering for dairy free guests, on the basis that they only know how to follow a bunch of recipes they learned at school or from Delia Smith (sorry, Delia, but you have some unimaginative readers).

So I took great pleasure in subverting white sauce for the vegan agenda and I hope you enjoy the fabulous results of using this sauce as a base for all your dairy-free milky sauce dishes that Western cuisine seems so obsessed with.

This dairy-free white sauce is very customizable, because it’s the base for so many other sauces. Leave it as-is for béchamel sauce (for lasagne/lasagna), or add things to make cheese, parsley, peppercorn sauces etc. It only requires three ingredients to make the basic sauce.

Ingredients:

25g Dairy-free butter

250ml Soy milk (other milks such as almond also work)

25g Flour

This will make enough sauce to cover two servings of cauliflower cheese. As you can see, the measurements are a ratio: For every gram of butter you need one gram of flour, and 10ml of dairy-free milk (add a bit more milk for a thinner sauce). This makes a very easy-to-scale recipe and I often measure my ingredients by eye, adding one part flour to one part butter, then I add the milk slowly from a big carton until I hit the right consistency.

Method:

Put the vegan butter in a saucepan and put it onto a medium heat. Melt the butter.

As the butter turns into a puddle but before it starts to bubble, add the flour gradually, stirring constantly. You are currently making something called a roux, which is the base of most thickened dishes.

Keep stirring (it might start to feel quite dry) until the roux turns crumbly and very slightly golden yellow (don’t let it burn). The quality of the roux will determine the quality of the finished sauce. If the roux turns brown, throw it away and start again.

The flour and butter should look like this.

Gradually add the non-dairy milk, a dash at a time (about a tablespoon’s worth, or a shot, if that’s easier to eyeball), stirring continuously. Only add more when the milk starts to thicken. I usually take the pan off the heat for this part because it’s easy to burn the milk. If you add the milk too quickly, you will get a LOT of lumps (some lumps are inevitable). Squash the lumps out with your fork.

Keep stirring the mixture until it’s a nice, thick, saucy consistency.

Now you’re done! It’s time to either serve it, if you’re making this as a béchamel sauce, or to add the other ingredients such as dairy-free cheese, if you’re making cheese sauce, or peppercorns, if you’re making pepper sauce.

Has your sauce gone lumpy? Fix it!

The main way this sauce can go wrong is if you end up with lots of lumps in a fairly watery sauce. There are two ways you can fix this:

Either use a fine-meshed sieve (if you have one; the sort with holes small enough to drain rice without any grains falling through) or a hand blender.

Lump Removal Method 1: With the sieve, get the bowl ready, put the sieve over it (bowl must be wider than sieve, unless you tilt the sieve so all the sauce falls from one place, or you will have cheese sauce everywhere), pour the cheese sauce into the sieve, and wait for the sauce to drain out, then throw away the lumps that are left.

Lump Removal Method 2: With a hand blender, leave the sauce in the pan and just blend out the lumps.  It usually thickens a LOT when you do this (because the lumps are the flour and butter that is also the thickener that gives the sauce its consistency).  If it’s too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

Vanilla dairy-free choc-chip ice cream recipe

Gordon Ramsay’s advice is that the best way to do homemade ice cream is to buy a really good vanilla ice cream then add toppings to it at home. Only, there’s no good dairy-free vanilla ice cream available here. So I decided to do my own. Also, I like the texture of chocolate chips, so I decided to add them during the churning.

This vanilla dairy-free choc-chip ice cream recipe was created out of necessity. I had dabbled at making ice cream at home before, when I lived in China, where there is no such thing as dairy-free ice cream (or even dairy-free sorbet). Every food of western origin gets milk added to the recipe over there. I think they think it makes it more authentic.

I had been a little spoilt living in America for 6 months, where a certain Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry have created the most incredible range of dairy-free ice creams that are available in every one-horse (and thousand-horse) town I visited. I’m not proud of it but I developed a taste for American dairy-free ice cream. And in the UK, the supply of dairy-free ice cream was reasonable. Even in Malaysia I had no issue getting dairy-free ice cream.

But in Ireland, dairy-free ice cream is overpriced and there’s almost none of it available. Literally over the (non-border) in Strabane I can get 3 ASDA dairy-free imitation Magnums for £1.50 or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough dairy-free ice cream for £2.99 (on offer) or £4.50 (normal price), which I think is quite a lot to pay. But in Ireland? That same tub of cookie dough costs €7! SEVEN EUROS! Seven. Euros. Or as I like to call it, daylight robbery. If you can even find a shop that sells it.

As I am currently pregnant, and it’s summer, I need ice cream like I need air to breathe. My attempts to make ice cream in China were okay, but not great. It turns out those recipes to make ice cream without an ice cream maker are blarney. So, since I am now in a country where it’s harder and more expensive to buy electricals, I decided I needed an ice cream maker. I crunched some numbers and it cost £32 (+ free delivery) for an ice cream maker, which is 4.5 tubs of Ben and Jerry’s at Supervalu prices.

So as long as I make only 2 litres of ice cream with my ice cream maker, it’s paid for itself.

This recipe comes out a little bit less vanilla than I’d like, but it works from ingredients you can find in your local Supervalu, Centra, or most small rural Irish shops (maybe not the local chipper), so I’ve sacrificed a little bit of flavour for making this a recipe you can make ANYWHERE in Ireland.

To vanilla it up some more, you do something with vanilla pods. Good luck finding vanilla pods in the arse end of the West Coast because I couldn’t.

Vanilla choc-chip ice cream recipe

Ingredients:

1 tin coconut milk (the type for making curries)

1 tsp vanilla essence

100g honey or other sweetener (don’t use granulated sugar, it will not dissolve at this temperature)

1 packet of chocolate chips (Sainsbury’s dark chocolate chips were dairy free when I last bought them)

Method:

Refrigerate the coconut milk overnight.

If you have a cheap ice-cream maker without a compressor, freeze the ice cream maker’s bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (I recommend leaving it in there overnight).

Put the coconut milk, honey and vanilla essence into a blender and blend for 30 seconds (don’t add the chocolate chips yet).

Take the ice cream maker’s bowl out of the freezer, assemble the ice cream maker and add the mixture. Add the chocolate chips to the mixture. Let the mixture churn, it should take 7-12 minutes depending on your ice cream maker.

When the mixture starts to thicken into a texture that’s thicker than a dough but not quite completely solid, turn off the ice cream maker and immediately transfer your mixture to a freezable bowl. I have a pottery bowl with a plastic lid which I brought back from my two years in China. Freeze the mixture for an additional hour or two (or longer) and take out of the freezer for 10 minutes before serving. Makes about 500ml (just under 1 pint) of ice cream.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make in the reviews of cheap ice cream makers is they leave the mixture in the machine too long, expecting the machine to freeze it completely. If the mixture gets too hard, the electrics will break. A motor turns the paddles, and it doesn’t know to stop, so even when the mixture gets too hard to mix, the motor will still try and turn the paddles, until something snaps and then your ice cream maker won’t work. So it’s better to take it out a little early and freeze it the rest of the way. Remember, you only need the ice cream maker to churn your mixture, you have a perfectly good freezer that can freeze it (if you don’t have a freezer, you can’t make ice cream this way)!

Ice cream stores for up to 1 month.

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!

The two-minute Valentine’s breakfast that will melt your heart!

Forgot Valentine’s day? Looking for a quick way to say “I love you”? Or do you just love eating fun-shaped toast? Whatever your reason, here’s a quick and easy Valentine’s breakfast that you can do in two minutes! Feed it to your husband, your wife, your kids, or even just make it for yourself. Nothing says “I love you” like a heart-shaped Valentine’s breakfast that’s so easy, a six-year-old could make it (adult supervision required)!

You will need:

Two slices of bread.

A pair of scissors.

Your favourite spread.

A toaster.

That’s it!

Here’s how to make your 2-minute Valentine’s breakfast:

  1. Take the scissors and cut the bread into heart shapes, by cutting along two of the crusts then shaping the other end of the bread (leave as much bread as possible) into a heart shape.
  2. Put your heart-shaped bread into the toaster, leaving the pointy end up to make it easy to get them back out.
  3. Wait for your bread to pop.
  4. Boing! It’s popped! Put your favourite spread on the toast.
  5. Arrange on a plate.
  6. Take to your beloved (or your child, or to your favourite sitting spot).
  7. Eating time!

Once you’ve got the knack for shaping the bread, you could go crazy and do this toast with scrambled eggs, baked beans (sorry, Weetabix, you’re not needed today) or even something fancy like eggs benedict or eggs royale (check out my easy vegan hollandaise sauce recipe if you’re planning one of these).

Did you enjoy this super-easy and quick Valentine’s breakfast? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or on our Facebook page!

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!

 

Home made avocado face mask

One of the most fun things I did while I was in the US was to make my own avocado face mask. It was SUPER moisturizing and all you need are these things:

  1. Half an avocado (per face).
  2. One sprig of fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
  3. A hand blender, smoothie maker, full-size blender or food processor (any of these will work).

Method:

Open your avocado by cutting around it in a circle from top to bottom then from bottom to top. Twist the avocado, and pull it apart. You should now have two neat halves of avocado (no drama).

Scoop out the insides from half the avocado (ignore that big seed in the middle). Put it in a bowl, if you’re using a hand blender, or put it straight into the jug/container for your blender/smoothie maker/food processor.

Make sure that rosemary is finely chopped. You don’t need much of the stem. When it’s all chopped up, there should be about a big teaspoon’s worth. If not, you may need to chop up another sprig. I use scissors to chop herbs because they don’t seem to cut as easily with knives. Add it to the blender.

Blend the ingredients until they have formed a smooth, creamy paste. If your avocado was unripe, it won’t turn creamy, in which case, add about a tablespoon of coconut milk and blend it again. Luckily, if you put it on your face before you realize (like I did… the hazards of inventing recipes I guess) you always have another half an avocado to work with. 😉

 

Now it’s ready, apply to your face and leave for 10-15 minutes. I found cotton wool helped remove it. As well as eliminating dry areas, I also found this face mask really helped my skin with redness. This mask gets very messy, though, so make sure you’re not wearing anything that might stain with avocado, and I applied it with my fingers, and then I couldn’t take any pictures because the avocado got all over my nails so I couldn’t unlock my phone!!

 

 

Southern Fried Catfish and Hush Puppies

Has anyone tried this dish? I really want to make it, but I don’t know where to get catfish in the UK! It sounds very delicious.

And I could listen to this lady’s voice all day: