Oregano Pesto?? Vegan Pesto??? You better believe it!

I did an experiment yesterday; I wanted to know whether I could make vegan oregano pesto, and whether coriander pesto would be remotely tasty.

Ingredients for Oregano Pesto:

1. A tablespoon of dried oregano (can use fresh, in which case you don’t need the boiling water).

dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).
dried coriander (cilantro, left) and oregano (right).

2. A teaspoon of boiling water.

3. Half a tablespoon of olive oil.

4. A tablespoon of hazelnuts.

hazelnuts ready for making pesto

5. Half a tablespoon of walnuts.

walnuts
Walnuts.

You will need a (hand) blender for the nuts.

Method:

1. Put the oregano in a cup.

2. Add hot water to the oregano to rehydrate it (if using fresh oregano, skip this).

3. Crush the hazelnuts and walnuts with the blender.

4. Add the nuts to the oregano and mix in with the olive oil.

Before I added the garlic and walnuts.
Before I added the garlic and walnuts.

5. Add a sprinkle of garlic to bring out the flavour.

6. Leave to stand until the oregano has softened.

7. Mix about a tablespoon into a bowl of pasta.  Mmmmm….

This was very delicious.
Oregano pesto over spaghetti with peanuts sprinkled on top.  Very delicious.

This oregano one was very, very tasty with my pasta yesterday!  You could substitute basil for the oregano if you wanted a more traditional pesto and I think that would be just as tasty, maybe fresh herbs would add a less strong flavor – a little of this went a long way!

I made some cilantro/coriander (they’re the same herb) pesto (same method, no garlic, use cilantro instead of oregano) and I had a little taste of that and I’m not sure it’s as nice as the oregano one, but I wondered if it was the cilantro I’d bought because it seemed to have taken on the odor from the packaging it was in.  It was my first time not buying a glass jar of dried herb so it didn’t occur to me that this may happen, but the whole lot tasted a little plasticky.  I will try again with fresh cilantro/coriander when I next get any because I know it has a very delicate flavor.  There was supposed to be some growing in the garden but it came up as parsley even though the packet said coriander!!!!

I didn’t use pine nuts (which is traditionally used in pesto) as I think they’re hideously expensive and the quality available has gone right downhill in the past few years, but hazelnuts and walnuts seemed to add a really nice taste to the oregano one.  I also sprinkled my pasta with a handful of peanuts for extra protein.

Do you have a good vegan pesto recipe to share?  Link to it in the comments!

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Meat Free Monday: More Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipes

Given how well my first two cheese sauce recipes went down last week, here’s two more.  They’re a bit more complicated but I’ve made pasta and cheese in all of these methods and can vouch for the fact that it will scratch an itch, even if it’s not remotely nutritious (more advice on making this meal more nutritious at the bottom).  Some of these are more realistic than others, as a general rule of thumb, the harder it is to make, the more realistic it comes out, so it’s up to you how much effort to expend in making vegan cheese sauce.  I oscillate – sometimes I don’t care enough to take any time and other times I’m spending half an hour on that perfect vegan cheese sauce recipe and smoothing out lumps with my hand blender (that’s a pro-tip, btw).  It all depends on how hungry or rushed I am vs how much I miss cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce 3. Using vegan cream cheese, method C:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

About 1 tablespoon of cornflour.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like.

3. Add the cornflour (sieving it into the pan with a fine mesh sieve is the best way to avoid lumps, but work with what you’ve got) and combine well with a fork.

4. Once the sauce has reached the right consistency, serve it all up – put the pasta in bowls and pour the sauce over the top.

Cheese sauce 4. Using vegan cheese slices, vegan cheese sauce method D:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 3-4 dairy free cheese slices per person (Tofutti or Violife are the UK brand leaders),

Method:

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Put the pasta back into the pan. Tear the cheese slices up and drop them into the pan.

3. On a medium heat, stir the cheese slices into the pasta. Need it cheesier? Add more cheese!

4. Serve it in the right number of bowls and eat it.

Nutrition: To make these more nutritious, use cauliflower or broccoli (or some of both) instead of pasta.  I like to also throw in a serving of frozen or fresh peas to ensure there’s some colour on my plate.  A handful of peanuts will help you achieve your day’s protein goals.  I strongly recommend you don’t use lentils – they don’t work well in this sauce.

You can make any of my recipes gluten-free by subbing the pasta for GF pasta.

Stay tuned for next Monday when I will put up the all-singing all-dancing Oven Baked Vegan Mac-N-Cheese Recipe that you will want to get your hands on.

Meat Free Monday: Mac and Cheese Recipes 1 and 2

Pasta and “Cheese” Sauce

Before I developed a milk allergy, my favourite food was mac and cheese, although I would make it with lots of different shapes and sizes of pasta (one of my favourites was pasta shells, because they suck up the sauce). Since I’ve been dairy free, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make pasta or macaroni and cheese.

The one way I absolutely DO NOT recommend is the “vegan” “cheese sauce” that comes in a tub from the supermarket/health food store. It’s a crime against vegetables. It literally tastes like someone threw some herbs in a pan then threw up on it.

Over the next three weeks, I will present several alternative pasta and cheese ideas, leading up to the all-singing, all-dancing “proper” one with a roux and everything; today’s two recipes are the simplest, and both use vegan cream cheese:

1. Using vegan cream cheese, method A:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

1. Cook the pasta and drain.  Gluten free pasta takes much less time than wheat pasta as it doesn’t have to soften the gluten protein.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of vegan cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like. If it’s too thin, add more cream cheese. If it’s too thick or the flavour’s too strong, add more soya milk.

3. Once the sauce is warm enough and reached a decent consistency, divide the pasta in bowls for each person eating and pour the sauce over it in a fair manner, then eat straight away.

2. Using vegan cream cheese, method B:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 1/3 of a tub of vegan cream cheese per person.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Heat the cheese in the bottom of a small non-stick pan (ideally) and once it’s softening, mix the pasta in until it’s all coated in cream cheese.

3. Serve in bowls and eat at once.

4. This one dries hard, so wash your bowls straight after eating.

Note: 

You can make these gluten free by using gf pasta instead of regular, or replacing pasta with either broccoli or cauliflower (although I recommend using my pasta recipe #5 for cauliflower).

These provide none of your 5 a day (fruit and veg), no vitamins to speak of, and negligible amounts of protein. They’re mostly carbs and a smattering of fat. To make it more nutritious, serve with a salad, or replace the pasta with cauliflower or broccoli (or just serve them up on the side) and sprinkle with sunflower seeds or your favourite nuts for protein (dry roasted peanuts are my fave but you gotta eat them fast so they don’t go soggy in the sauce).  I love mac n cheese but rarely eat it these days because it’s a nutritional vacuum.

Meat Free Monday: Kale Spinach And Vegan ‘Cream Cheese’ Canneloni

Recipe

A brief note about measurement:  I believe that people go a bit mad sometimes with measuring things to the very gram, and that it’s more important to get a feel for the amount of each ingredient and how they interact with one another, which is why I work in cups (the American measurement; you can buy a cup set in most homeware stores if you’re not in the US or do conversions if you need to) wherever possible.  I like to use fresh ingredients to make nutritious and tasty food whose sole purpose is nourishment.

(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.

Gluten:
Except for the lasagne and canneloni recipes, you can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in any of these, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, usually you can replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal. I’ve not seen gluten free canneloni but you can pre-cook gluten free lasagne sheets and roll them up if you would like to try out this canneloni recipe and you’re GF.

Kale, spinach and cream “cheese” canneloni

You will need (all food ingredients are per person, scale the dish to fit):

A glass oven proof dish: Choose the smallest dish that fits all the tubes in, otherwise you will end up with a LOT of sauce and not much canneloni.

Four canneloni tubes per person;

1/2 cup of spinach;

1/2 cup of kale;

2 tablespoons of vegan cream cheese per person;

1/2 carton of tomato passata;

Grated vegan hard cheese;

OBT: Basil and garlic (to taste);

1. Boil the spinach and kale until it’s very soft. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the cream cheese in a small non-stick pan (ideally) and stir in the spinach and kale. Add more cream cheese if needed.

3. Stuff the uncooked canneloni tubes full of the spinach and kale mixture, and put them in the glass oven-proof dish.

4. Mix the garlic and basil into the passata and pour the passata over the canneloni tubes.

5. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of the food to cover the passata and the tubes.

6. Put in the centre of the oven at 150 degrees C or gas mark 5 for 35-45 minutes.

7. Remove and serve; don’t cut the canneloni to serve them if you can help it or the filling might come out.

Meat Free Monday: Pasta Scossese

I am away in the Scottish Highlands until Friday evening. I will not be able to reply to or approve comments until I get back. My posts are all pre-set to go live Mon-Wed, I will not be posting Thursday/Friday this week.

As it’s fitting with where I am when you’ll be reading this, I’ve decided today’s food will be Pasta Scossese (that’s Italian for Scottish Pasta). It’s another easy vegan pasta dish. Make it gluten free by substituting GF Pasta or broccoli for regular pasta.

OBT means Optional But Tasty.

Pasta Scossese:
Ingredients:
1 cup per person: Your favourite pasta (depending on density), gluten free or otherwise,
1 cup per person: Curly kale (scotch kale in the US),
1/2 cup per person: Tinned carrots (or 1 chopped fresh carrot per person, but will need boiling for longer to soften),
2 medium sprigs (those little mini-trees) of broccoli per person.
An onion,
Half a cup of Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) mince, or other vegan mince of your choice,
1 carton of tomato passata,
1 tbsp of your cooking oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil),
OBT: A small sprig of rosemary and a larger sprig of thyme (or a little sprinkle of each dried herb), a sprinkle of basil, and a generous dash of garlic and oregano.

This meal is 2-3 of your 5 a day (depending on portion size), and serves 2.

Method:
1. Put the TVP/vegan mince into a bowl and add a little water and Vegemite (yeast extract), mix in and leave for 5-10 minutes to absorb the liquid.
2. Cook the pasta for 10-13 minutes and drain. Put it aside. While the pasta is cooking, boil the carrots, broccoli and kale until tender. The broccoli needs longest so could also be cooked with the pasta if you prefer.
3. Chop the onion in half, then chop it into thin strips, then cut each thin strip into 3 to make little rectangles.
4. Using the same pan or a fresh one, heat the oil and add the onion.
5. When the onion is sizzling, drain your broccoli (if it’s been cooked with the other vegetables), carrots and kale, and add them to the onion.
6. Pour the tomato passata over the vegetables in the pan and add the optional herbs if you wish. Stir it all together well, to ensure no onions are stuck to the bottom of the pan, then simmer on a low heat for 4-6 minutes.
7. Mix in the pasta (and broccoli, if it was cooked with the pasta), until everything is evenly distributed throughout the pan, then serve in a bowl.

Meat Free Monday: Pasta Italiano

So in the first of my new posting schedule, today’s recipe is Pasta Italiano.  It’s a dish inspired by my visits to Italy.  It’s a fairly simple one, but perhaps it’s a good place to start:

(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.

Notes:
You can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in this, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal.

Pasta Italiano:

Ingredients:

1 cup per person (dependent on density of pasta): Your favourite pasta, gluten-free or otherwise,

Half a tin (or about 10-12) olives per person,

1/2 cup of whole almonds,

An onion,

1 carton of tomato passata,

1 tbsp of your cooking oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil),

(OBT): A generous sprinkling of the following herbs: garlic, basil, oregano.

This meal is 2-3 of your 5 a day (depending on portion size), and serves 2.

Method:

Cook the pasta and drain. Put it aside.

Chop the onion in half, then chop it into thin strips, then cut each thin strip into 3 to make little rectangles.

Using the same pan or a fresh one, heat the oil and add the onion.

When the onion is sizzling along nicely, add the almonds, then once the onion starts to go transparent, add the tomato passata and the olives. I like to chop my olives in half but some people prefer to eat them whole. Stir in the herbs and simmer for about 3-5 minutes on a low heat.

Put the pasta in a bowl and pour the sauce over the top.