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A-Z of Vegetables: White beans

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Friday, 24 Nov 2023, 14:06

For the penultimate blog in this series, let’s visit the chicken of the vegan world! No, I’m not talking about tofu. That’s eggs. I’m talking: white beans!

If you’re vegan, sooner or later you will be forced to encounter beans. Down a blind alleyway you’ll be cornered by a thuggish cannellini, rangy and thick-skinned, insisting you get your protein from more diverse sources than the great mono-crops of rice, corn, soya and almond. You might be met by the intimidating, necromantic eyes of black-eyed beans, chanting incantations and disappearing into pasta sauces as if they were never there (although you know they’re there because their eyes were left behind!) The friendliest bean of the lot is the butter bean, which has the flavour of butter and the smoothest texture of any legume that isn’t a chickpea cooked to death. I make beans sound quite frightening, but they’re actually by far the most versatile protein source for a vegan, because they have the starchy blandness you would expect from a potato, but with the added benefits of having nutritional benefits.

So far, I’ve only mentioned white beans. This is no accident, because although kidney beans are the highest in protein and borlotti beans the most beautiful, white beans are the best option for feeding bean-sceptics. You may not believe me, but they are out there, people who think beans make you fart and don’t do anything else for you. And as farting is unacceptable in polite society, they don’t eat beans. We must overturn this stereotype: farting is just farting and it should be accommodated in polite society to avoid trapped wind on a population-wide level. Also, beans don’t make you fart. I’ve checked.

Most people only eat beans if they’re baked beans as part of breakfast – and herein lies the persuasive power of the white bean, because baked beans are white. I believe they’re haricots, which is really just the French word for ‘bean’. If you wash off the (sickly-sweet, regurgitation-worthy) baked-bean sauce, you will discover that they are white.

The thing with white beans is that they soak up flavour. One recipe from Diana Henry is essentially white beans poached in bay-inflected extra virgin olive oil and that’s a side dish! (To pork poached in olive oil. It was something of a theme for this menu.) Therefore, if you’re making a bean broth like the one I’m recommending below, you need to make sure you choose really nice stock and really nice herbs. Like all soups, it’s not so much a recipe as a template, so you can change the ingredients to suit the contents of your fridge. Celeriac, chilli, ginger, coriander, tomato, potato, lemongrass, parsley, turnip, radish, sweetcorn, mange tout – all can go in. You just need the courage – you need to bite the bean.


Bean broth – to serve 2 because I have a very small casserole

  1. So this is how I like to make it. In a 2l casserole or saucepan with a lid, heat up 2-3 tbsp olive oil (the grassier the better) then add 1 peeled and sliced onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
  2. Whilst this is frying, dice 1 broccoli or celery stalk, slice the hardy leaves of 1 cauliflower, and chop 2 carrots and 1/4 - 1/2 swede. Add these to the pot as you go, giving a firm stir to make sure nothing catches. There’s no reason it should, but it could, and that’s the point.
  3. Peel and chop 2 big garlic cloves. Don’t cut them too small because then you won’t have small morsels of deliciousness floating in your soup – and that would be a tragedy. Add these to the pan along with 5 peppercorns, 1-2 tbsp dried herbs of your choice and enough vegetable stock to cover. I measure out boiling water with a measuring cup and then add the relevant amount of stock powder. I am not Melissa Hemsley. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on and simmer for up to 10 minutes.
  4. Add 80g wholegrain couscous and the drained and rinsed contents of 400g tin of beans (butter for preference), replace the lid and simmer for up to 5 minutes. You don’t need to worry if they don’t get submerged, because couscous steams too.
  5. Turn off the heat and chuck in 1-2 balls of frozen spinach, then put the lid back on so they defrost. Serve with a range of toppings on the side – balsamic glaze, pesto, gremolata, toasted flaked almonds, croutons, chilli oil, nutritional yeast flakes, fresh herbs – but I must warn you against adding something acidic like mustard, because swallowing acidic liquid is uncomfortably reminiscent of hangovers. I don’t remove the whole peppercorns, preferring to chew on them, but if you can be arsed to fish them out, they’re not hard to spot.

Notes: Obviously, vary the vegetables to suit what you have, and chop them up so everything cooks at the same speed. Vary the herbs as well and add spices if you so desire: you could use coriander seeds and mint, paprika and nutmeg, lemon zest and tarragon, dill and turmeric, wine and juniper. A world of flavours is open to you. Adding dried fruits with the stock will mean they plump up deliciously.


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A-Z of Vegetables: Violets

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Friday, 27 Oct 2023, 15:24

Roses are red, but violets are better. The classic in the world of British chocolate making is to have pink-dyed rose fondants sharing the box with purple-dyed violet fondants, but in my experience there are always too few violet ones... because they’re not all violet ones. 

Rose is far too common a flavour to genuinely feel exciting: they’re the wtf flavour of so many hand-creams and perfumes, and their gaudy can-can petals make them popular in gardens all over the place. No wonder violets shrink when confronted with so much ubiquity. If Forrest Gump was British, the box of chocolates metaphor would mean the path well-travelled (rose) versus the individualistic, hedonistically fulfilling and unexpected option (violet).

Another fascinating thing about violet flavour is that the particular scent of the flower – that is to say, what it smells like in the wild – has chemicals in it which numb the receptors in your nose. This gives violet its magical, fleeting quality, the sort of miracle you forget the majesty of, thus keeping it secret and special. Unfortunately, this forgettability seems to be driving violets out of existence, culinarily speaking. Crystallised violets, for instance, used to be a common and popular garnish for sweet things like chocolate cake or poires belle Hélène, and now you will be hard-pressed to locate it in a shop which isn’t either online or Fortnum & Mason. And since I don’t have the sort of budget which covers frequent forays into a wedding-cake-masquerading-as-a-Mayfair-department-store, I have to make do with alternatives. Namely: online shopping. Ugh (says the blogger).

In a high-stakes game of most important flavours, violet would easily be at the top. I associate it with happy holidays: the crystallised violets which my baking-fan sister got in a box of fancy cake decorations, which included crystallised roses, coloured sugars and dragées; the violet shortbread which I picked up on my very first visit to Fortnum & Mason, in its own embossed purple tube; the aforementioned violet fondants which was my introduction to expensive chocolate, when my father bought Prestat one Christmas as a special treat (and then taught us all a valuable lesson in sharing); lastly, and perhaps most importantly for me, glace à la violette, which I ate in Brittany and remains for me the very nicest ice cream flavour.

It seems, like so many other foodstuffs, that we have to rely on the French for the continued availability of violet flavour. In order to continue the use of violet in my sweets, I buy concentrated violet flavour or the more accessible violet Monin syrup, which I use in the recipe below. You can also use the Monin syrup to make no-churn glace à la violette: just whip 300ml double cream, 50g icing sugar, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 125ml violet syrup to firm-to-stiff peaks, then stick in a tub and freeze. It helps to whip the first three ingredients whilst pouring in the fourth in a steady stream.


Violet and chocolate shortbread

  1. This recipe is adaptable! Hallelujah! Preheat the oven to 160ºC fan and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream together 100g vegan baking block and 50g white sugar. This means beating it until its light and fluffy – I must have read that phrase a million times when researching baking as a teen.
  3. Carefully incorporate EITHER 3 tbsp violet syrup OR 6 drops concentrated violet flavour. Obviously, concentrated violet flavour varies by brand, so you will have to taste-test this now, before you add other ingredients. Therefore, it needs to be stronger than you would want, but not so strong that you go ack before you add the flour. Don’t be tempted to add more syrup if you’re using syrup though, because otherwise your biscuits will have no structural integrity.
  4. Slowly and carefully incorporate 175g flour, until you have a shortbread dough. 
  5. Incidentally, if by some miracle you have actual violets you can cook with, add these now. Don’t use crystallised violets, they will go burned and horrible. 
  6. Chop up 50g chocolate and add this in, being unafraid to knead a bit. I won’t tell you not to use milk chocolate but I only ever use dark or white with violet: dark because it’s a classic combination, white because the violet might be shrinking and the diminished intensity of white chocolate coddles it back into excitement. In this scenario, white is my favourite.
  7. Just using your hands, make little balls of dough and press them down into the tray to make rounds. Aim to get them all the same size. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes – they won’t colour much, but shortbread is meant to be pale. Leave to cool on the tray for at least 7 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool down.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Kalettes

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:29

I have a feeling that these are trademarked but OH MY GOD have you tried Kalettes? They’re so good! Steam them whole, roll them in a salty salad dressing and pull them into your mouth with a croupier stick. They’re Brussels sprouts in a ra-ra skirt, they’re kale in manageable sizes, they’re lettuces for the Borrowers, they are the most glamorous green you can put on a plate. Also, they’re expensive. Not break-the-bank-to-buy-beef expensive, a bag is only £2, but I mean – come on. They’re leaves. I could just harbour nettles from the park and eat those. But I won’t because Kalettes are THAT EXCITING!

I am not an impulse buyer. I can walk past countless displays of beautiful things that I could spend my hard-earned cash on – luxury chocolates, limited edition outfits, gadgets and gizmos galore – but I don’t, because I need that money for things like saving. But. Vegetables. Sometimes you feel the urge to buy them and you do not even know what they will taste like, so you have to cook them and offer them to your flatmate to eat them first, just in case you’re allergic to it so you want to check that they’re not allergic first, so if you are allergic, they can take you to hospital. Just me? Anyway.

The lovely thing about Kalettes is that I have never actually cooked them in my life. When I’ve been very good and not allowed any flatmate to starve (or poisoned them with questionable vegetables), I’m treated to somebody else’s cooking and it’s always a thrilling moment when the side dish is a steaming pile of Kalettes, shrieking out to be eaten and enjoyed like vegetal flapper girls.

If you’ve never had a Kalette, I imagine that you are absolutely dying to know what the flavour is. And if I have judged that completely incorrectly, it’s my column so I’m going to tell you anyway. You know how cavolo Nero or the dark bits of broccoli have this extraordinary saline, mineral flavour, like the outside of a multivitamin pill? Imagine this, but tempered into a husky floweriness which is entirely appropriate to the petticoat-like vegetable. I keep comparing this vegetable to sexy clothing in spite of the fact that I've never found clothes diverting in my life.

But. Vegetables.


What to do with Kalettes, if you happen to have bought a bag

  1. Wash the Kalettes, if the sack instructs you to do so. Simply waterboard them in a mixing bowl, then shake excess water at encroaching pets. They’re trying to get at your Kalettes.
  2. Put them in a steamer basket on top of a pan shallowly filled with boiling water. When steaming vegetables, you never want to use lots of water in the base – otherwise you might as well be boiling the vegetables. The point about steaming is it cooks vegetables ever so gently, preserving their flavour, structure and nutrient levels. And a vegetable this pretty is surely very healthy.
  3. Cook them until the bases yield to the point of a knife (I don’t know how long this takes, but they’re so diaphanous I’d be amazed if they took much more than 5 minutes). Tumble them onto a serving dish and give them the merest hint of a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a decisive spritz of lime juice. Sprinkle over some optional breadcrumbs if you’re somebody who needs to hear crunch when you’re chewing, then take yourself off to a secluded corner to eat them. Well, Nigella Lawson would approve.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Jersey Royals

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:27

Every spring, food writers from up and down the country get into spasms of rapturous excitement for the new season of Jersey Royal potatoes. Considering that it is simply the season’s first crop of potatoes – a vegetable so basic they don’t even count as one of your five a day – it always seemed to me an excitement wildly out of proportion. No disrespect meant to Jersey, I thought, but that is just a small spud.

Nevertheless, since my dad was also excited for the coming of the Jersey Royals, I thought I’d give them a go and see what all the fuss was about. Apparently they’re supposed to be boiled and buttered because they’re good enough on their own – unlike, presumably, Maris Piper potatoes. I trusted my dad that they would taste nice, but he is also the man who hates carrots and can’t eat rice properly, so he can’t really be trusted when it comes to vegetables. So I tasted the Jersey Royals.

Look. I know potatoes often taste earthy. They’re a root vegetable, to some extent they’re all earthy. But Jersey Royals don’t just taste earthy. They taste of earth. Worse than that, they taste like mud. Worse than that, they taste like soil. Worse than that, they taste like Jersey Royals. They don’t even have the virtue of being described in terms of another foodstuff – ‘top notes of rosemary and lavender, with a background of musk and butter and a final aftertaste of good, hard starch’. The top, middle and aftertastes are all of Jersey Royal and it tastes like evil if evil was a potato!

There are better baby potatoes. Charlotte. Annabelle. Vivaldi. Maris Peer. The generic ones in that big sack from the health food shop. You don’t have to shell out the extra money to buy Jersey Royals when fundamentally, a potato is a potato is a potato. You could be throwing a May Day garden party for your spouse’s family and when your draconian mother-in-law, wearing a dead peacock on her head and a twinset spun from unicorn hair, jabs your bowl of spud salad and snootily asks, ‘I say, are these Jersey Royals?’, you can just lie when you know that they’re tinned ones from the corner shop and she’d be none the wiser. ‘I say, these Jersey Royals are unusually delicious, are they not?’ Yes they are, you silly bint, because they’re not Jersey Royals*.

I’m not claiming to be an authority on the Jersey Royal. Like all food preferences, mine is completely subjective. However, to prove to you that Jersey Royals are a waste of your time, here is a recipe for a different kind of potato salad to make for your friends which simply would not work with the rambunctious flavour of Jersey Royals.


Green potato salad, serves 2 for a healthy but indulgent late-night dinner

  1. Wash, halve and boil 300g baby potatoes in barely salted water for 15-20 minutes until they are the texture of firm butter (test by prodding with a knife). For the last 4 minutes of cooking, chuck in 100g broccoli florets and 100g frozen peas. Pour away the water but leave the vegetables in the steaming, empty pot.
  2. Separately and straight away, mash 1 ripe avocado with 100g vegan pesto (M&S Plant Kitchen is good) in a small bowl and add a spritz of water or lemon or lime juice if it’s too thick to dress the vegetables – because that is what you will be doing with it next!
  3. If not vegan, add 3 slices good prosciutto, shredded (prosciutto is always expensive so you might as well get something decent) to the hot vegetables and give it a stir before adding the avocado mixture. Otherwise, just add the thick avocado mixture to the vegetables, stir to combine, pile into tall bowls and eat on the sofa whilst wearing fluffy socks.

Notes: I’ve never tried this, but my recommended vegan substitute for the prosciutto would be stirring in some white miso and a generous pinch of smoked paprika to the avocado and pesto. Then again, it’s not vital.


*Use of the word 'bint' for the comedic sound of the word only.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Dill

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:30

What’s that? You want a herb which smells like disinfectant and looks like a feather duster? Yes please.

Dill is such a ludicrous herb. Unlike the rest of the culinary soft herbs (basil, parsley, mint, tarragon etc.) it doesn’t even have any leaves! It opts instead for fronds which, if planted in a herbaceous border, make it look like something Alice would find in Wonderland, with a label saying ‘Eat me, I’m a turnip’. It's one of the most improbable vegetables I've ever seen, and if you try to chop it, it goes everywhere. Imagine the culinary equivalent of a dog shredding a down-filled pillow, and you're not far off.

Dill tastes so clean that it’s like taking your mouth to the car wash – garlic in reverse (and both garlic and dill go nicely in tzatziki). But don’t let this stop you. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating it on its own (which I do anyway, because yum), its nasal-cleansing properties make it incredibly useful in a range of dishes – either for giving the sprightliness you would except from, say, lemon juice, or for scaring small children. I am massively keen on putting cucumber in every sandwich because its ability to blandly cut through fatty/salty/tart flavours, and dill does something similarly without making your bread wet. And as we all know from picnics, nothing is sadder than a wettened sandwich.

On flexitarian days, few sandwiches are more satisfying than ones made with dill, cucumber, vermilion Scottish smoked salmon and the sort of German rye bread which looks like it’s used for building houses instead of sandwiches. Whilst this black bread is historically ‘peasant bread’, this sandwich tastes luxurious and, in the grand scheme of animal products, cheap. Unless you have an allergy to salicylates, fish or gluten, you have no excuse not to try it.

Nevertheless, in keeping with the veganism of this blog, I shall share a risotto recipe with you. I credit the combination of tomato and dill as a flavour bomb to Rukmini Iyer and The Green Roasting Tin cookbook, but I have edited the recipe to reflect my own preferences – not least because I don’t like the chewiness of pearl barley. If I wanted to sit at the table chewing until my fillings fall out, I’d eat the placemat. Eating pearl barley is satisfying in its way (like all exercise), but if I’m eating a huge bowl of grains, I really want them to be more yielding.


Tomato and dill risotto, which tastes nicer than it sounds. To serve 2

  1. Set the oven to 160ºC fan and make sure you have some laundry hung up to dry near the oven. You have two options: use a pan and a foil-topped roasting tin, or make life easier and use a lidded casserole throughout. I prefer the casserole option.
  2. Boil 750ml water in the kettle. Heat up 1 tbsp olive oil in the casserole (or pan) and sauté 2 sliced onions with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes until softening and glassier. Easy peasy. Next, add 2 minced or sliced garlic cloves and 150g risotto rice to the pan and stir until the rice grains are all slicked. This is so easy! Sprinkle over a bit of your favourite vinegar and stir that in.
  3. Turn off the heat and, if using sauté pan instead of casserole, empty the sauté pan into the roasting tin. Add the following to the casserole/roasting tin: 200g tomatoes (no need to chop and small ones are ideal), the 750ml boiling water, 11/2 stock cubes or 3 tsp stock powder and 1 tsp dried mixed herbs. Dot the top of it all with 1 tsp vegan butter or margarine, then cover with the lid/foil and bung in the oven for 40 minutes. Make sure the washing is drying near the oven!
  4. Take out the risotto, add 100g frozen sweetcorn, put the lid back on and roast for another 10 minutes.
  5. Wash and chop about 15g fresh dill. Add this to the risotto along with some lemon juice if desired and serve.

Notes: If you have leftover supermarket dill, wash and chop it then freeze it in ice cubes. Add frozen dill to this recipe as you would the sweetcorn.


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