Christmas and the New Year are behind us, and so ends that annual period of gross overindulgence in all sorts of rich foods. Going meat-free in January is increasingly popular among even the most hardened carnivores- but here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be boring or leave you feeling in any way unsatisfied.
The name “Veganuary” suggests a vegan diet, meaning no animal protein of any kind including eggs and dairy, but being more flexible (especially where cheese and eggs are concerned) will appeal to a wider range of people. I have given vegan options where appropriate, so you can choose the path that best suits you and your family. There are many reasons why a month of eating mostly plant proteins is good for us, and also the planet, and you will almost certainly find that a good number of the recipes you discover and try out come back as firm family favourites.
I’m going to share with you the results of a little experiment I did after Christmas. I had one or two requests for lighter food- someone remembered the awesome falafels she ate in Israel; someone else asked about a particular salad we had eaten in a restaurant in Spain. So I made a point of offering mostly vegetarian and vegan dishes over the New Year, and everyone enjoyed them. I’ve selected a few here which may or may not be familiar to you, but I guarantee that you will make them time and time again. The beauty of these dishes is also that ingredients can often be easily substituted, so if you don’t have everything on the list you may be able to replace them with something you do have.
1. Frittata (non-vegan)
This is my go-to brunch recipe for those Sundays when you’ve had a hard night partying or when guests have stayed over and you need something easy, delicious and simple to prepare.
Serves 2 – 3
1 tbsp olive oil
4 large eggs
1 red or white onion, finely sliced
Half a red and half a green pepper (or one whole red, or green)
A handful of chestnut (Portebellino) mushrooms
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
A handful of baby spinach leaves
50-10g cheese according to taste (I use 50g cheddar, to melt, then 50g parmesan or pecorino to top off)
Optional: 1-2 jalapeño peppers, finely sliced or a sprinkling of chilli flakes
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat until mixed, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the olive oil into a large frying pan and heat until it starts to hiss a little. Add the chopped onions and peppers and fry on a medium high heat until soft and starting to brown. Now pour in your eggs, distributing the mixture evenly over the pan and the contents and turn the heat to a lower setting. Then turn on your grill to 200 degrees or a high setting and leave it to get hot. While the bottom of the egg mixture starts to set, quickly scatter the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes in an even layer over the egg. Leave for a minute or two as the bottom starts to firm, then take the pan off the heat and lay in the spinach leaves and cheese (if using a mixture, always add the cheese that melts best first, and use parmesan/pecorino a minute before serving). When everything is added, put the pan under the grill and let the top set and the cheese melt. This should take no more than 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of the pan and the thickness of the mixture. Take care not to overcook the frittata or it will be leathery.
When ready, cut the frittata into slices and serve with fresh bread and salad or just on its own. Tabasco, pickled jalapeños, chutney, pickle etc. can be added according to people’s preferences.
Alternative ingredients: when in season, asparagus makes a great topping- cut the spears into two, briefly blanch in boiling water then drain and lay in a circular pattern on the eggs. They will sear under the grill, no need to steam first. Oyster, shiitake, button or most other kinds of mushroom can be used instead of portobellinos. You can add olives, capers, a couple of teaspoons of red or green pesto, fresh basil or oregano – pretty much anything that will add to the fresh, Mediterranean flavours and enhance the richness of the eggs. And let’s not forget that before serving, you can add sliced avocado or fresh mozzarella balls.
Note: if you suddenly find you have more people than you have eggs for, or if you need to pad out your frittata to feed everyone, a simple twist is to make a hybrid with a Spanish omelette- parboil a couple of potatoes, slice and lay them in the pan after softening the onion and pepper, then lay everything on top. Alternatively, serve the frittata alongside chunky potato or sweet potato rosemary fries- pan or oven or air-fried, whatever speaks to you.
2. Perfect Falafels (Vegan)
This is a hugely popular snack food in the Middle East that has become well known everywhere, but many people I meet seem afraid to attempt to make it in their own kitchen. It’s actually easier than you think, but you need two essential items to get it right:
1. DRY (not canned) chickpeas
2. A chopper (NOT a liquidiser). Your Nutribullet will not process the mixture as it has no added liquid. You need a food processor, or, as I have, a simple chopper that comes in a set with a hand blender.
Another essential item is baking soda- you add this to the chickpeas to soften them as they soak overnight, and also to add to the mixture to keep it from being too dry. Finally, your falafels will not taste authentically Middle Eastern unless you have tahini (sesame seed paste, preferably unroasted) to use in the topping sauce.
Makes approx. 12 balls
- 2 cups dried chickpeas (that have been soaked in water for 18 – 24 hours) – these are an important ingredient that will give your falafel the right consistency and taste. (Tip: I usually add about ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the soaking water to help soften the dry chickpeas.)
- Fresh herbs: 1 cup fresh Italian parsley. 1 cup of coriander (cilantro). A handful of dill (optional). All herbs very finely chopped.
- 1 onion- yellow or red
- 6 -7 fresh garlic cloves, crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Spices: 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1 tablespoon of coriander, and a half to one teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Sesame seeds: these are optional here, but I do like the added nuttiness.
1. Soak chickpeas for 18-24 hours. Cover them in plenty of water and add baking soda to help soften them as they soak. The chickpeas will at least double in size as they soak. Drain very well.
2. Make mixture. Add chickpeas, fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, and dill), garlic, onion, and spices to food processor and pulse a little bit at a time until the mixture is finely ground. You’ll know it’s ready when the texture is more like coarse meal.
3. Refrigerate (important). Transfer the falafel mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. The chilled mixture will hold together better, making it easier to form the falafel patties.
4. Form 12 small patties about the size of a large egg, rolling the mixture between your hands to get an even surface. If using sesame seeds, the raw ones can coat the falafel balls and cook with the mixture, or cooked falafels can be rolled in toasted sesame seeds when still hot.
5. Heat olive or sunflower oil in a frying pan and add the patties when hot. Press down to flatten them a little to make it easier to cook them. Use a medium to hot setting to avoid burning and to ensure they cook inside, then flip them after 6-7 minutes when they are golden brown. Repeat, then remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot in a pitta bread or wrap of your choice, or on their own, with tahini sauce (see below) and crunchy salad- e.g. iceberg or romaine lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrot or cabbage, sliced red onion etc.
Note: Falafel can also be cooked in the air fryer or the over- spritz with a little olive oil cooking spray to avoid them being too dry.
2 tablespoons good quality tahini (sesame seed paste, unroasted)
1 tablespoon of plain /Greek yogurt or non-dairy yogurt if vegan
1 clove of garlic
Lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients, thinning if necessary with a little water. Add a tablespoon of the mixture to your falafel balls. Enjoy!
3. Tabouli salad (Vegan)
This is a fabulous salad that is popping up all over the place in different variations. The original tabouli, which you may have eaten in a Lebanese restaurant, for example, is made with bulgur wheat and a huge amount of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley and fresh tomatoes, onion and cucumber. In Europe and North Africa it is more commonly made with couscous, and the proportion of grain to salad ingredients is much greater. Mint is also usually added to the parsley to give a freshness to the flavour.
My version is based on a hybrid of a Lebanese and Moroccan tabouli and it can be tweaked in several ways to match your tastebuds.
1 cup medium couscous
1 red onion, finely chopped
Half a large English cucumber, finely chopped
100g fresh cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cup Italian parsley
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Salt and black pepper to taste
A half to one tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil to taste
Add chick peas, red kidney beans or cannellini beans to pad it out and add more protein
Add finely chopped red or green pepper, or a small chilli if you like heat
Add 2 tablespoons of raisins, 4 chopped dried apricots and /or a pinch of cinnamon for a sweeter flavour
Cover the couscous with 1 cup hot but not boiling water and leave for 10-15 minutes to allow it to swell and absorb all the water. The packet instructions usually say to use it like that, but I tend to microwave it for 90 seconds just to dry it out properly.
Chop all the salad ingredients very finely then add them, little by little to the couscous and mix carefully, adding lemon juice, olive oil, the spices, salt and pepper until it meets your taste. You can adjust by adding a little more of any ingredient as you wish.
Leave in a cool place for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse before serving.
This can be eaten as a standalone item or as a side dish for falafel and tahini sauce (minus the wrap), or vegetarian items such as marinated mushrooms, grilled haloumi, ratatouille, or roasted vegetables, for example.