I’m not vegan. Not yet. Probably not ever in the most orthodox sense but a diet less reliant on animal products farmed in the way we generally farm at the moment appeals ethically, environmentally and in terms of my own health. The catalyst for this wave of my ‘could I really give up butter?’ questioning is George Monbiot’s recent piece for the Guardian, I’ve converted to veganism to reduce my impact on the living world. It’s interesting to note that his conversion doesn’t prescribe abstinence from the consumption of all meat – wild rabbit and venison are still on the menu for the time being. Do read the piece and let me know what you think.
I’m mulling over all of this whilst chomping on a delicious but very animal product-laden piece of millionaire’s shortbread so there’s a long way to go if go I do. But I have been thinking about how I would be able to rely less on meat and dairy: extra virgin olive oil to moisten sourdough is already a breakfast staple; now and then I love a topping of toasted crushed nuts on soup, salad, pasta etc. in the stead of cheese. Dips will be crucial to liven up salads and sandwiches and hopefully do all the good things I’d usually call on a crumble of feta or a couple of slices of pan-fried halloumi to do. This little lunchtime salad employs muhammara – a spicy terracotta-coloured dip made from peppers, chillies and walnuts. It’s vegan, not exactly bad for you and bloody tasty.
The salad is simple and you could add in pretty much any veg you happen to have to hand. The peach contrasts beautifully with the spice of the muhammara but you could use a bit of thinly sliced apple, maybe some stoned cherries to achieve the same effect. I finally got round to cracking open my Hodmedods organic Black Badger Carlin Peas to use in the salad and was not disappointed – they’re rather pretty little peas with a wonderful satisfying bite. Pulses really are wonderful things and there’s so many reasons that they should be a staple of your diet. They’re super varied and take on all sorts of flavours really well; they’re packed with good things (plant-based protein and amino acids); legumes are nitrogen-fixing so can be an element of sustainable food production, and can be grown well in the UK (Hodmedods Carlin Peas are grown in Essex). They’re so great that the UN designated 2016 as International Year of Pulses. The BBC’s Food Programme recently dedicated an episode to the pulse – you can listen to it here.
Notes on my recipe
The muhammara recipe below is based on Sally Butcher’s recipe from her superb book Veggiestan. I’ve amended it slightly to my taste but there wasn’t much to change as her version is so damn good – spicy and sweet and so full of flavour.
Ingredients (serves two – with a bit of muhammara leftover)
For the muhammara
- 500g sweet peppers – romano will do the trick nicely
- 2 medium-hot red chilli peppers
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 100g walnuts – crushed but still chunky
- 2 cloves of garlic – crushed
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
For the salad – this really is just a rough guide and can be adapted to use what you have in
- 100g dried pulses – soaked overnight and cooked according to the instructions on the packet then cooled
- A few big of handfuls of mixed leaves – washed and drained
- A decent bunch of fresh coriander (including stalks) – washed and chopped
- A few British cherry or plum tomatoes – rinsed
- A few good glugs of extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt & pepper
- A peach – rinsed and sliced into segments
- A few walnuts – crushed
- Make the muhammara first. Roast the peppers in a hot oven (250ºC / 475ºF / gas mark 9) until the skins are beginning to blacken. This will take about 20 minutes or so. When the peppers are squidgy and blackening, remove from the oven and turn down the heat to about 50ºC / 120ºF / lowest gas mark possible. Leave the peppers to cool for a few minutes before removing any really charred bits of skin, the stalks and the seeds.
- Blitz the roast peppers with the chillies and salt until smooth.
- Spread the puree on a baking sheet and pop into the cooler oven for half an hour or so to get rid of excess water. As Sally explains, this is the equivalent of sun-drying. If it’s hot enough to sun-dry your peppers wherever you are, then please go ahead (can I come visit?).
- Mix the puree with the rest of the muhammara ingredients except the oil. Add the oil gradually whilst mixing until you reach your preferred consistency. It may not be authentic but it will be what you like.
- Now get the salad together. Combine the cooked and cooled pulses, leaves, coriander and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil and most of the lemon juice. Season and taste. What more, if anything, is needed? Adjust the dressing and seasoning as you’d prefer.
- Plate up the salad, adding the peach slices on top as they’re better undressed (tehe).
- Dollop a couple of tablespoons of muhammara onto each plate and top with the crushed walnuts.