The Secret Vegan Project

Vegans that lunch.

16th March 2015
Vegans that lunch

We’ve made it through a week of vegan breakfasts and now its time to tackle the 2nd meal of the day. As someone who eats their afternoon meal solo most of the week I relish the freedom to be much more experimental and self-serving with this more than any other meal of the day. So whether you’re vegans that lunch, scoffing a sarnie at your desk or grabbing a bite on the go there’s an abundance of delicious plant-based ideas for the meal you eat at lunchtime, that’s called dinner.

My favourite dinner is quick and dirty, A.K.A leftovers. My inability to portion control my evening meal does have some advantages. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to meet my early morning self then you know that nothing of any culinary delight is going to manifest before coffee number three, so last nights meal becoming todays dinner (or breakfast if it’s a really bad day) is always the way to go as far as I’m concerned.

Luckily I have access to a kitchen which makes reheating easy peasy but not everyone has the time or facilities to rely on leftovers. Some people just don’t function well on a big meal during the afternoon while others still refuse to eat the same thing two days in a row. (WTF*~K?) And that’s all I have to say about that.

However you roll at dinner time there’s an abundance of plant-based delights to get you through the day.

Soups

Residing in the North of England its fair to say that for at least 8 months of the year hot soup is always going to be a welcome sight at dinnertime. The only time I can face a humble sandwich and not feel hard done to is when it’s paired with a mug of something steamy. My favourite soups are always fresh, never tinned or dried and 99% of the time more substantial than most. It’s fair to say that with few exceptions I think your tea time leftovers can be transformed into delicious nutrient packed soups with the easy addition of a few basic ingredients.

Lets take stock, literally, of the easiest way to prepare a tasty base for your soup. At any given time I have a bag in the fridge or freezer full of the vegetable trimmings from the week ready to go into the slow cooker overnight to produce free vegetable stock. I often start the week by semi preparing or trimming my vegetables in one go ready for the week ahead. This includes removing stalks and smaller leaves from broccoli, cauliflower, french beans, asparagus, spring onions, leeks and celery. I bag these up then as the week progresses add carrot peelings, tomato vines, fresh herb stalks and any other odds and ends until I’m left with a decent sized bag to get me started. Its amazing and kind of shocking, the quantity of usable vegetable matter that would otherwise have ended up discarded in the recycling. If I’m making soup from scratch the stock will usually be done the day before. In addition to a soup base I also use this for risotto, vegetable gravy and any other one pot meal that uses the absorption method of cooking.

I have a preference for hearty soups so I usually add pulses or grains such as lentils, barley, chickpeas, brown rice, orzo or noodles. When it comes to garnishes I’m not a huge fan of croutons but for most people they are the topping of choice. My personal preference is to sprinkle a Tbs of toasted or marinated seeds over just before tucking in. I try to keep in mind the flavour theme I’m going for when deciding on what vegetables, herbs and spices to include and more importantly what to leave out. So for a creamy mushroom soup I’ll bypass most spices other than black pepper and go for a fresh herb such as tarragon whilst my hot and sour lentil soup includes a tomato base and generous amount of pickled lime and coriander seeds that creates a pungent, Indian influenced dish not for the faint hearted.

As involved as all this sounds don’t reach for the tin opener just yet. The majority of my soups are hassle free and thrown in the slow cooker and forgotten about while I’m busy doing other things or tea time leftovers quickly blitzed with stock, tinned tomatoes or coconut milk while I’m cleaning down the kitchen at the end of the evening. If you really don’t have the time, patience or kitchen confidence to go for it alone then there are fresh vegan soup pots available in the chiller aisle of most supermarkets. Be sure to check that your vegetable soup of choice is actually vegetable stock as the majority include meat bases. Don’t forget that you can still enjoy soup on the go with a bit of careful planning you can heat it up at home in the morning while the kettle boils and store in a flask until dinnertime.

If you’re looking for a place to start this recipe for lightly spiced lentil, tomato and kale from Oh she glows would make a great lunch in itself or teamed with an onion bhaji, cucumber and mint wrap.

Salads

Salads are one of my favourite dinners and I’m always looking for ways to add new ingredients to elevate them into a complete meal. When I first met David not only did he not do salads, he didn’t do anything green whatsoever. Many years and many enticing salads later and he’s a total devotee.

As far as a vegan meal goes home-made salads are a pretty effortless way to embrace your dedication for a plant-based, cruelty free lifestyle. Very little is off-limits when it comes to salad ingredients and although the staple of fresh vegetables is always a great place to start there is an abundance of flavours, textures and elements to make sure you never get bored.

I think when talking about salads its vital to stop thinking in terms of limiting yourself to cold, raw, summer specific produce and start experimenting with warm, rich, marinated, goodies that make salads a year round feast for the senses.

No matter the season with the addition of some carefully chosen ingredients its possible to thrive on salads no matter what the weather is doing outside. A few of my favourites include:

  • Roasted Mediterranean veg, shaved asparagus and fresh herbs.
  • Griddled fruits, fresh berries citrus dressings.
  • Marinated mushrooms, olives, sun-baked tomatoes, stuffed vine leaves and peppers.
  • Herb potatoes, spiced lentils and slow cooked chickpeas.
  • Toasted nuts and seeds.
  • Flavoured oils and marinades such as cold pressed avocado, hazelnut and sesame.

What better way to embrace the salad revolution than a months worth of salad recipes. This post by Lasso The Moon of 30 mason jar salad recipes is not only inspirational but finally offers me a productive way to justify my recycled glass jar fetish. Win/Win.

Vegan Sushi

So once upon a time in the 90’s this homely girl from the north packed a rucksack and headed for the shiny bright lights of London town. In between working and commuting away my existence I decided to embrace all the cosmopolitan delights my new urban lifestyle had to offer.

Enter sushi. All the cool kids were eating it, confusing conveyor belt restaurants were popping up everywhere and if you were not rocking bright pink hello kitty from head to toe you were so very last season. This all came about decades before my journey into veganism but I still vividly remember the gelatinous texture and distinct aroma of Blackpool pier that had me retching into my said hello kitty purse. On an entirely unrelated note I headed swiftly back up North, never to revisit the culinary delights of my former life again, until now.

So these days, other than the obvious, there’s very little about sushi not to love, seaweed = good, sticky rice = good, soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger and sesame seeds = all good. Its gorgeous finger licking bite sized morsels are the perfect choice for dinner, minus the body parts naturally. Finding this detailed step by step vegan sushi article over on Clean Green Simple is quite possibly one of my most exciting vegan finds so far. The fact that it doesn’t require a trip on the sweaty London under(arm)ground or making hurling noises into feline shaped receptacles makes it all the more appealing to me.

Then just when I thought my mind could not be blown any wider apart I came across the concept of fruit sushi and just like that, my fear of the S word was gone.

Wrap and Roll

Occasionally, usually after a steaming bowl of vedgeree for breakfast and before a hearty evening meal its possible you may find me with something that vaguely resembles a sandwich clutched between my greedy paws at dinner time. It took David a few years and a few more missed opportunities to realise that when I say ” I’m just having a sandwich” it rarely resembles anything you might find casually slapped between two slices of bread and is closer to something you need to eat in privacy of your own home surrounded by paper napkins.

Don’t get me wrong, I was raised right. As a child we made sandwiches out of everything, you name it we ate it in a butty and to this day if someone serves me mashed potatoes without the obligatory two slices of dirty white bread I’m more than mortally offended; As such I just don’t really consider sandwiches a meal but seeing as I’m married to a man who eats nothing but sandwiches at dinner then I thought it only right to include something along the lines.

I’m always going to be swayed toward something that eats more like a main meal so these Vietnamese Summer Rolls with avocado and mango from Inquiring Chef are the perfect combination of texture together with the experience of rolling and dipping. I would always take these ingredients prepped to wrap and roll on the go so I can’t comment on how the rice wrapper holds up if you’re making these ahead of time.

When I’m looking for something even denser then there’s nothing more satisfying than the Moroccan Inspired veggie burger wrap from Healthy Girls Kitchen. Add in some hot and sticky mango pickle and this ticks all the boxes for a great winter wrap as the burger filling is best hot off the griddle but works just as well cold the following day.

Waste not want not

I have a total unashamed fetish for leftovers. Raised as I was in a home where money was tight and the majority of meals were home cooked I’ve been programmed from childhood to abhor food waste and just can’t pass up on the chance to promote leftovers as THE best no fuss weekday dinner option. All it takes is a bit of forethought, a few minor tweaks and some imagination and you never need go hungry in the afternoon again.

I rarely ever cook pasta, rice, beans or pulses for a single meal. I’m a huge believer in cook once, eat twice. It takes no effort whatsoever to throw in a few extra handfuls of whatever is on the stove. My usual way is to cook it up completely and portion some out for lunch but if eating the same thing two meals in a row doesn’t work for you then you can always freeze it if suitable or separate it out and flavour it up differently for the following day.

Sauces and stews can be watered down and blended into soup. Pulses can be mashed into pates and dips and served up with wholemeal pitta bread. Roasted or marinated vegetables transform into flavourful tapas or salads. Pasta, rice, beans, noodles or potatoes bulk salads up into filling feasts.

I challenge you that for the next month nothing is wasted. Any leftovers and everything lurking at the back of the fridge should be looked at with fresh eyes and upcycled into a tasty nutritious afternoon meal or snack. Not only will it help you use ingredients and combinations in a whole new way but it’ll drag you kicking and screaming out of the dinnertime rut and make you feel like an imperishable superhero. (Cape optional.)

Toasted seed sprinkle

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