Despite careful menu planning, we always seem to have something lurking in the back of the fridge which is just about at the end of its life. On this occasion, half a bag of spinach was watching me woefully from behind the tomatoes every time I went to make a cup of tea. A little wilted but still edible, it had no place in the rest of our meals for the week – but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away perfectly good greens.
Luckily, after the success of our basil and sunflower seed pesto, it didn’t take long to come up with a solution. Spinach pesto! Of course! The half bag of seeds left over made its way into the blender, along with the spinach and some garlic and lemon. And as we’d used up all the lemons in the fruit bowl, I used (promise not to tell?) bottled lemon juice. You honestly can’t tell the difference a lot of the time – and it’s an invaluable addition to our fridge for emergency pancakes, keeping sliced apples from browning and curdling soy milk for baking.
The resulting spinach sauce was fresh-tasting and delicious, but we still had no need for it this week. So out came our trusty ice-cube trays. A good dollop in each section, whacked in the freezer for a couple of hours, and the spinach pesto cubes were ready for transferring to a ziplock bag.
Just grab a couple from the freezer when required, defrost and add a sprinkling of nutritional yeast if desired. Quick, easy and tastes amazing – and who doesn’t like instant food?
- 90 g fresh baby spinach
- 90 g sunflower seeds
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 60 ml olive oil
- 60 ml water
Place all the ingredients except the water and oil into a food processor. Blitz on slow to combine, adding the liquids in a steady stream.
Dollop into ice cube trays and freeze. Once hard, the cubes can be removed from the trays and placed in a freezer bag to save on space.
Use as required!
Here’s a secret: I’m a restless soul and haven’t the patience for bread-making. Our airing cupboard is for drying the laundry, not proofing a loaf – and I suspect I’d come back to find the dough littered with child-sized fingerprints and full of lego pieces if I tried.
Soda bread, however, is right up my street. No labourious kneading (just a quick once-over to knock it into shape) and no tapping of feet while waiting for the dough to rise. Fresh-baked bread with a minimum of preparation? Yes, please.
And so this recipe is well tried and tested at our dinner table. Originally adapted from the fabulous Jack Monroe’s Easy Soda Bread (also vegan), we’ve reduced the liquid content and added flavour through tomato puree and chopped garlic, before throwing in a generous handful of black olives for good measure. Strictly, soda bread should be made with buttermilk – but soya or almond milk curdled with a little lemon juice does the job here and has the added benefit of being cheaper.
So simple and so delicious, this vegan soda bread makes the kitchen smell wonderful, looks impressive when the in-laws come to dinner and is the perfect accompaniment for soups and stews.
- 200 g self raising flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 175 ml almond or soya milk
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp tomato puree
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 1 handful black olives chopped in half
Preheat the oven to 180c.
Add the lemon juice to the almond/soya milk and put to one side for a few minutes to curdle.
Meanwhile, measure the flour and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and stir well.
Once the milk mixture has thickened, mix in the garlic and tomato.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the liquid slowly, mixing to combine. Then fold in the chopped olives. The dough will be very wet but should come together in a loose ball.
Dust your worktop with flour and dump out the dough onto the surface. Knead it very lightly with floured hands and pat it into shape.
Scatter the top with flour and score the top with a wet knife to let the steam out. Drop onto an oven sheet and bake for 40 minutes.
This soup was an experiment in recreating a meal we ate in a wonderful vegetarian cafe in Manchester. I remembered the parsnip and pear soup so fondly that I’ve been meaning to try it for a few weeks, and some parsnips left over from last weekend’s roast gave the perfect opportunity.
There’s probably a golden ratio when it comes to soup making, but as a home cook I often abide by the “chuck it all in a big pot and blend” school. It generally works out with some degree of success. Lately though, I’ve been forcing myself to combine flavours more intentionally in my soups – so they are less about using up the veg languishing at the back of the fridge and more of a meal in their own right. While “mystery vegetable soup” will almost certainly remain on rotation out of necessity, this dish confirms why deliberate combinations are so much more rewarding.
Conference pears add a sweet background to the earthy taste of the parsnip – and whilst the original didn’t contain almonds in any shape or form, I couldn’t resist adding some creaminess via a good glug of unsweetened almond milk along with the stock. The finished soup was subtle and satisfying, perfect with homemade soda bread and a warming end to a blustery January day.
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion - peeled and diced
- 3 or 4 medium parsnips (around 500- peeled and chopped
- 3 conference pears - peeled quartered and cored
- 1 medium potato - peeled and diced
- 500 ml almond milk
- 500 ml vegetable stock
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, thick-bottomed pan.
Cook the onion in the oil for around 5 minutes until it becomes soft and translucent. Stir often to prevent it browning or sticking to the pan.
Tumble in the chopped parsnip, the potato and the pear quarters.
Add in the almond milk and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the vegetable are tender.
Allow to cool as briefly as you dare (hot liquids and food processors don't always mix!), then blend until smooth.
Return to the pan to keep warm until serving. Top with cracked black pepper and flaked almonds if you like.
If there’s a breakfast food which is requested with astonishing regularity in our household, it’s pancakes. Most Saturdays, before I’m even fully awake, a small person (and sometimes a larger person too!) has placed an order for their favourite start to the weekend.
And how can I argue when they’re so simple to make? Usually I prefer to add ingredients by weight (a throwback to school home economy lessons) but this is a recipe where the measuring cup really makes sense. Bleary eyed and pre-coffee, it’s far easier to dig a cup into the bag of flour than it is to ferret around in the cupboards for the scales. And if you use a quarter-cup measure to add the flour and milk, it’s also the perfect size to portion out the batter in equal sized dollops.
The littlest chickpea loves to help mix the dry ingredients and to filch the first pancake from the pan while the rest are cooking. Since the initial attempt is usually a sacrificial test of the correct hob heat, I tend to allow it.
This recipe makes 6 quarter-cup sized pancakes (soft, fluffy and delicious with a little vegan spread and fruit… or syrup if that’s your bag), and is easily doubled if that doesn’t satisfy the ravening hoards.
- 1 cup plain flour
- 2 tbs sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 1/4 cup soya milk or almond milk works well too
Throw the flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and stir briskly with a fork until well combined.
Add the vanilla essence and soya milk and mix in briefly. The batter should be thick but pourable, and it's fine if it's still a little lumpy - overmixed batter can lead to a heavy pancake.
Place a large, non-stick frying pan on the hob and bring to a low/medium heat. Add a little cooking spray if required.
Using a quarter-cup measure (or a ladle if preferred), drop a portion of batter into the pan. Cook gently for a couple of minutes until the glossy edges become matt and bubbles start to form in the centre. Flip over and cook for a couple more minutes on the other side.
If you can bear not to eat them straight from the pan, place in a very low oven to keep warm while cooking the remainder of the batter.
Leftovers (who am I kidding? We never have leftovers!) can be placed in a ziplock bag and stored in the fridge until the next day. Just reheat in the toaster and enjoy!
Quick, simple and guaranteed to be enjoyed even by our super-picky child, pasta is a regular visitor to our dining table. We tend to make sauces from scratch as it’s healthier, more satisfying and a way to sneak extra vegetables in – not to mention it takes barely any more time and is usually just as cheap as buying ready-made.
That said, the one sauce I’d never attempted to make was… pesto. Fresh herbs can be pricy (unless you grow your own), pine nuts and parmesan even more so.
“It’ll be so expensive”, I told myself, “and won’t be worth the effort it’ll surely be to make it”