There are many reasons to be vegan – concerns about animal welfare, the environment and personal health being the obvious three. I’ve never been good at being any “one” thing, but, though I’m not vegan, I can go for days eating as if I were, not least because there’s a fourth reason to feel passionate about eating vegan, be that sometimes, often or always: because it can be so darned tasty. Vegan ingredients are my daily staples – my olive oil and bread, my pulses and tahini – and they’re also what I reach for when I want to dial up the savoury flavour in my cooking; miso paste, in particular, does the job here. When I want a briny kick, I’ll often reach for capers, while when I want a smooth, creamy texture, silken tofu works wonders. On other days, it might be black garlic, preserved lemon and tahini, for much the same reasons. And the list goes on. So, today, two recipes for those who are vegan every day and for those who find themselves being so accidentally.
Warm vegan spinach and artichoke dip (pictured above)
I like this with lots of fresh crudites – fennel, radicchio and radishes are particular favourites – and tortilla chips; it also works really well as a creamed spinach-style side to eat with roast vegetables such as wedges of butternut squash or celeriac.
Prep 30 min
Cook 40 min
90ml olive oil
1 large onion, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced (220g net weight)
3 red chillies, 2 finely sliced on an angle, the other deseeded and finely chopped
25g coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 x 285g jar artichokes in olive oil, drained (190g net) and oil reserved
350g frozen leaf spinach, defrosted, well squeezed and roughly chopped (or enough fresh spinach to wilt down to 350g, roughly chopped)
3 tbsp capers, drained and roughly chopped, brine reserved
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced (85g net)
3 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
600g silken tofu, drained
4 garlic cloves, peeled, three left whole, the fourth crushed
2 tbsp white miso paste
2 tsp cornflour
60g panko breadcrumbs
Put 90ml oil in a large, shallow, ovenproof saute pan on a medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 18-20 minutes, until soft and caramelised. Add the chopped chilli and coriander stalks, cook for a minute, then add 115g drained artichokes, all the spinach, two tablespoons of capers, three of the spring onions, all but a tablespoon of the coriander leaves, a tablespoon of the lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Stir to combine, take off the heat and set aside.
Put the sliced chillies in a small bowl with the remaining two tablespoons of lemon juice and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then set aside to pickle. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9.
Put the tofu in a food processor with the three whole garlic cloves, miso, cornflour and remaining 75g artichokes, add two tablespoons of caper brine and a tablespoon of reserved artichoke oil, and blitz for a minute, until completely smooth. Pour into the onion pan and stir well. Smooth out the top, then clean the exposed sides of the pan with a piece of kitchen paper.
In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, a tablespoon of olive oil, the crushed garlic and the last tablespoon of capers, then sprinkle evenly all over the top of the spinach mix. Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through, until golden brown.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle over the remaining tablespoon of coriander, spring onions and pickled chillies, and serve at once, or set aside and leave to cool to room temperature first.
Okra and red onion bhajis with mint yoghurt
It seems almost obligatory with any recipe that features okra to point out that this is the dish to convert any doubters, but as long as okra prejudice persists, I’ll keep making that observation. Don’t mix the vegetables into the batter until just before frying; and when you do, the batter will be a bit sticky and feel very much as though it won’t hold, but don’t worry: it comes together the moment it hits the oil.
Prep 25 min
Cook 20 min
Makes 12, to serve 4 as a starter or snack
About 1 litre sunflower oil, for frying
225g okra, tops trimmed, then cut lengthways into 4 long pieces
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced (150g net weight)
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (25g)
5¼ tbsp (20g) roughly chopped coriander
50g plain flour
50g chickpea flour (AKA gram flour)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp baking powder
125ml cold tap water
For the mint yoghurt
20g mint leaves, roughly torn
2½ tbsp (10g) roughly chopped coriander
150g unsweetened coconut yoghurt
1 lime, zested, to get 1 tsp, and juiced, to get 2 tbsp
First make the mint yoghurt. Put the herbs, half the yoghurt, the lime juice and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in the small bowl of a food processor, and blitz smooth – you’ll need to scrape down the bowl a couple times. Transfer to a small bowl, stir in the remaining yoghurt and set aside.
Pour enough sunflower oil into a medium saute pan to come 5cm up the sides, and put on a medium-high heat. While the oil is heating up, put the okra, onion, chilli, lime zest and coriander in a large bowl, and mix to combine.
Put both the flours, all the spices, the baking powder and a teaspoon of salt in a small bowl, and whisk to combine. Still whisking, pour in the water and whisk to a smooth, thick batter.
When you’re ready to cook, scrape the batter over the vegetables and stir until they’re all well coated. Using your hands, take a small, roughly 40g handful of the okra mixture and compress it together a little; don’t worry if the okra is sticking out in all directions – you want that spidery look. Drop the fritter into the hot oil, and repeat with two more fritters. Fry the fritters in three batches, flipping them over once halfway, for about five minutes, or until golden. Lift out the cooked bhajis with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining fritter mix. Transfer to a warmed platter and serve hot with the mint yoghurt on the side.