Those main, trusty companions are resigned once more to life indoors. We leave coats on pegs, gloves in glove pockets and boots on the doormat. Dinner sat on the grass in the park no longer sound ludicrous and actually sitting on the ground eating anything is now an OKAY thing to try to do. It’s always seemed remarkable to me, not how much the seasons can change a disposition, but how much we forget that change. We get to March and feel like there’ll never again be a day where iced coffee is a good idea. And those celeriacs, swedes, pumpkins, kale, kohlrabi and jerusalem artichokes are now taken for granted as the only thing we might ever be able to cook with again.
I said farewell to the root vegetables of the season last Sunday with one final roast dinner. Now it’s time to welcome in the brassicas, the courgettes and the tomatoes. As well, of course, as outdoor swimming pools, rooftops after work, windows flung open when the fry up ensconces the kitchen and those achingly bright reds, oranges, yellows and greens of a spring in full fling.
1. Baked fennel with lemon and maftoul
Fennel isn’t the easiest fella to know what to do with. There’s one at the back of my fridge right now that I’m unsure how to strike up a conversation with. My Dad used to roast it with fish so I decided to focus in on that light crunchiness and aniseed flavour by roasting it with lemon juice instead. I think this would also work well wrapped in foil in the oven, or with preserved lemons.
2. Vegan stop over snacks
These three aperitif recipes were originally designed to entertain my parents when they came to stay in my very small old flat a few years ago. You know how parents get- you leave them alone in your living room to search for a hairbrush and when you come back they’ve re-arranged your bookshelves, put on another load of washing and are asking awkward questions about school friends they’ve found in your Sixth Form yearbook that you didn’t even know you’d left home with. So snacks are important.
3. Bubble, squeak and spice
There’s never really a bad time for bubble and squeak. But cycling through intermittent thunder storms to pick up a loaf of bread you can only afford on the weekend after pay day is definitely worth pairing with some homemade bubble. It’ll soak up any hangover, fill your kitchen with the kind of smell that gets all your housemates desperately asking “ooohh, what are you cooking?’ (Onions. It’s always just onions isn’t it?) and it can sit around for a few hours, gradually turning from one slice to six.
4. To combat an endless winter
Giant cous cous + the vegetables you need to use up will always be a fave combination at lunchtime. This pseudo salad is easy to make in half an hour, or pack into a tub for lunch the next day and assemble at the office. And if you’re yet to try out a homemade pesto recipe, this is a great place to start.
5. Roasted pepper and tomato sauce
When the tomatoes are finally at their best, this sauce is an ideal way to start a soup, a spaghetti bolognese or a chilli non-carne.
6. Pomegranate pasta salad
As I mention in the recipe intro- I get asked a lot about bread or pasta being vegan, and which types, so I think this pasta salad is a great dish to bring along to potlucks and barbecues as the default-vegan offering in the bunch.
7. Key lime pie
This pie is a favourite at the Frank & Olive crochet retreats I’m working on this year as their resident cook. I usually serve it after curry or something else heavy, as the lime juice really comes through and the overall effect is a refreshing, light version of the heavy, whipped cream sister people might be more familiar with. If you have a few gluten free friends in your crew, this is a good crowd pleaser. Just make a little extra filling and then once you’ve filled your pie tin, pour the extra filling into a few ramekins and chill alongside the pie. It sets just as well and means all your guests can eat (almost) the same thing.
8. Cherry tomato and aubergine bake
This recipe is based on the food my friend Joe makes for us. He seems to focus on a few different vegetables and really making those flavours taste great. So everything is always doused in olive oil, seasoned perfectly and sometimes with a really rich tomato sauce that doesn’t have any of that bitterness you get from the rubbish tinned variety. The bake goes well with Turkish pide bread or any type of flat bread- you’ll want to tear off crusts and mix with hummus or baba ghanoush for hours.
9. Chilli tofu scramble
Most vegans I know have a go-to scramble recipe or a general battle strategy when tackling the slightly tricksy nature of tofu at breakfast. You may find tofu just isn’t going right for you. It’s taken me a while to come around to it. My trick is to add as much flavour and extra vegetables as possible, to take the emphasis away from the tofu, whilst still getting all the goodness it provides. Weekend guests will enjoy trying this scrambled egg alternative and once asparagus are in season, it only feels fitting to serve them every hour of the day.
10. Courgette, leek and borlotti salad
Another thrown-together salad I never believe was actually made that way when I read about them, but leeks and beans go incredibly well together and that clean bite you get with courgette is perfect in springtime to counter months of darker leafy greens. I added in quinoa for extra protein but you could swap it for a grain or another bean.
11. Return of the mac
Mac and cheese may sound a little wintry but plied with basil strips, cheese and chilli, and I think this recipe works just as well as a rich side-dish to a summertime chilli. Non-vegans won’t expect it to be vegan, so I always like to serve this at parties alongside some good meat-replacement burgers and hot dogs.
It’s not a recipe, per se, but with the end of the hungry gap, the produce we can simply wash, scrub and nibble on is finally on its way. Add a great loaf of bread, maybe a few vegan cheeses and a good leaf salad and you’ve got a lunch worth lingering over.