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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: Onions

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I’m pulling out yet another tray of roast onions. The belch of steam from the oven temporarily fogs up my glasses and I question why Specsavers has not brought out their windscreen-wiper range. Anyway, the triangular prisms on the tray are bubbling away in the scant balsamic syrup beneath them; their outermost layers have become rumpled and chewy, like old bootstrap leather (vegan options are available). Their central layers have scorched and torched, like crisp ashen crowns upon their heads. The layers in between the chew and snap are succulent and yielding, slippery soft as silken bedsheets. How could one person tolerate such radically different textural experiences in one bite of vegetable? You can’t. You just press your knife at the base of the onion wedge and the layers flip apart for you to savour every last distinct mouthful.

I never used to have such a helpless dependency upon onions. Once upon a time I could go through dinner without an allium passing my lips. Now, as Nigella Lawson memorably said in How to Eat, I feel I cannot cook a thing without them. In fact, this is almost true, because pretty much every dinner recipe in my recipe jotter (which, humiliatingly, I bought when I was an unusually twee twelve-year-old yet continue to own) involves an onion. Is it their earthiness, their sulphurousness, their sweetness that I’m responding to? Is it their papery skins which feel so satisfyingly like scab-pulling when you peel them? Is it how useful they are for playing bowls? Or is it simply because at heart, I feel I ought to have been French and have internalised a British stereotype to compensate? Who could say? Zut alors (whatever that means).

Back to my roasted onions. What I’ve done is peeled and quartered or eighth-ed them depending on size (it’s absolutely vital to remove the papery skins on the outside, otherwise you will have paper cuts on the inside of your mouth), then tossed them in olive oil, chopped rosemary and balsamic vinegar and roasted at 180ºC fan for half an hour. You can also roast them for even longer and then mush them a bit and spread them onto crunchy bread – if you do this in privacy nobody will stare whilst your eyes roll like Catherine wheels in your head. I think onions get a bad rap as a vegetable, but I think that’s unfair when you consider how sweet and delicious they are. Think how many recipes begin with frying an onion. Gravy. Risotto. Soup. Stew. Pasta sauce. Omelette. Bhaji. Flammkuchen. I for one wouldn’t mind kissing somebody with onion breath – provided the person has had a shot of balsamic first, obvs.


Delightful side dish of onions – or something you can easily incorporate into other dishes

  1. See recipe above. What? I've a right to be cheeky sometimes!

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A-Z of Vegetables: Mint

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Tuesday, 21 Nov 2023, 17:55

In the classic cocktail party game of ‘What Would You Have Strapped to Your Face for the Rest of Your Life if You Had to?’, I would have to choose mint. Don’t get me wrong, mint faced stiff competition from wild garlic flowers, violets, my specs and Joan from Mad Men, but mint – specifically peppermint – won out. Of all herbs and salad leaves, I think it’s absolutely fair to say that mint is far and away the most fragrant; the sort of vegetable you can smell coming before you see it. 

It also has the rare distinction of being able to beat intense onion and garlic flavours into submission – who has ever eaten tzatziki and gone, ‘Oof, that’s garlicky but whatever happened to the mint?’ This is a form of culinary domination that you wouldn’t expect from such a wrinkled, floppy-leaved plant. Why wouldn’t I want it strapped to my face for the rest of my life if I had to?

Moreover, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no one mint, in the same way that there is no one potato. There is a multiplicity of mints out there, including but not limited to peppermint, spearmint, garden mint, curly mint, apple mint, liquorice mint, toothpaste and the Royal Mint (which I prefer to imagine is some sort of extra-delicious, extra-sturdy golden herb with enough menthol aroma to stun a cow at twenty paces). And for me, too much mint is too little mint. When I have something mint flavoured, I want the mint to steamroll all other flavours like a maniacal attention-grabber. I want it to be the top note, mid note and back note of the flavour profile. I want it so minty that it makes my eyes hurt. I know somebody who made a vinaigrette to pour over especially good mackerel, and she wept with how sharply delicious it was. I want mint choc chip to make me cry. If mint were a film, it’s Brief Encounter.

Now. Obviously mint isn’t for everyone (just like Brief Encounter). For many, mint sauce justifiably terrifies. (Why is it both musky and fresh at the same time? Why does it taste like blackcurrants?) Mint in milk chocolate was described by Niki Segnit in The Flavour Thesaurus as less appetising than what she finds in her dishwasher filter (amen, sister). Bendicks bittermints are the most morbidly foreboding hockey pucks I’ve ever eaten. I get it. And if you’re not ready to make mint your mantra (with melon, oh please try it with melon) then why not try the potato recipe below?

(This is not entirely a coup de recipe. I was originally planning to write M for Maris Piper Potato, but got sidetracked when I walked into a farmers market display and ended up with a bunch of mint strapped to my face. Anyway, enjoy your spuds. I’ll have mine with mint sauce.)


Sunday spuds which are just like crisps. Serves 6 but scale down if you don’t have three baking trays! Disclaimer: these are not crisps. These are no titbit. Share not with undeserving palates who don’t know what’s good.

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC fan for optimal crispiness. If you don’t have a fan oven, then move house. Line three baking trays with silicone baking mats, or foil then greaseproof paper.
  2. Get out a big mixing bowl. Thoroughly wash 750g floury potatoes – trust me, you want the skins on for this. Using the slicer on a box grater, or a mandolin, or a sharp knife and strong grip, finely slice the spuds into 3mm-thick pieces. As you go, dump all the spud slices into your big mixing bowl and dry your eyes periodically. You haven’t even started slicing the onions yet but you’ve never done so much chopping in your life, it’s natural to cry.
  3. Remember how I mentioned onions? Peel 3 onions and quarter them through the base, then cut each quarter in half so they’re in eighths. Add these to the mixing bowl along with 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary and 2-3 tbsp olive oil. Give everything a good oil-slicking mix and then lay out the slices across the trays, in one layer, and bake for 30 minutes, by which point the potatoes will be cooked and excitingly semi-burned.
  4. Leave to cool on the trays for a bit before scraping off the trays so the maximum amount of steam can escape. Alternatively, and if you have the table space for it, serve the potatoes on the trays as they are and encourage everybody to go in with cake forks. The logic of cake forks is their diminutive size stops people’s forks crashing into each other. Obviously use ordinary forks as Plan B. Plan C is croupier sticks.

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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: Brussels sprouts

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

I could have chosen any vegetable for the B. There are so many. All manner of bean, beetroot, borage, butternut, bell peppers, not to mention bamboo and bean sprouts and of course, the royal vegetable dynasty that is the brassica family. Leafy green vegetables are one of the healthiest things you can eat and their broadly generic flavours make them appropriate sides to everything. I want to teach the world to sing the praises of red cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and all the other brassicas (except kohlrabi, that’s foul) as some of the finest foods money can buy, and cheaply. So I decided to go with the most hated brassica of them all: Brussels sprouts.

Considering the British penchant for midget vegetables (baby leeks, baby corn, baby carrots), I don’t understand why what is essentially a cabbage in miniature is so despised. Brussels sprouts are adorable, like marbles for eating. Just watch the little children flick them across their plates – they’ll grow up to be bowlers. But then I realised why people hated sprouts so much. They’re eating them wrong.

The only way to save a boiled or steamed Brussels sprout from sulphurous-flavour hell is to douse it in sharp salad dressing; but if you want a tasty Brussels sprout to start with, you have, have, have to roast it. Cooked this way, they are like the popcorn of the vegetable world. Roasting sprouts rather reminded me of how tofu is so broadly hated, but again, it must be roasted to be likeable. The combination of the two led me to create this light, wintry dinner, which is simply my favourite thing to cook. Do it in November-January, when all the sprouts, pomegranates and hazelnuts are in season. The dish has the added bonus of looking almost unbearably kitsch and festive, with all of those Christmas-tree colours. It sounds like a crazy flavour combination, but trust me. And remember to add some bulgur wheat or something if you want more of a meal.


Winter tofu traybake, to serve 2

  1. Set the oven to 190ºC fan. Use the fan to ensure maximum crispiness. Line a baking tray with foil. Use foil to ensure maximum crispiness. Nobody wants a soggy sprout, so let's focus on MAXIMUM CRISPINESS instead.
  2. Drain then chop 1 block of firm tofu weighing about 250-300g, and put in a big mixing bowl along with 4 whole, peeled garlic cloves (optional). In a small, clean jar with a lid, pour 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or other sweet, fruity vinegar), a drop of runny honey or other syrup and 1/2 tbsp wholegrain mustard. Put the lid on the jar and shake it, then pour this dressing over the tofu and toss the tofu to slick the lot. Put to one side.
  3. Begin the long-winded but undemanding task of thoroughly washing and peeling away dead leaves from 400g or so Brussels sprouts. (It sounds like a lot, but they are the main thing in this meal. Anxious sprout-eaters can start with half that amount.) Halve all the sprouts and arrange on the baking tray, making sure as many as you can be bothered to flip are cut-side up.
  4. Scoop the tofu and garlic cloves onto the tray, then pour the remaining salad dressing over the sprouts. Roast for 20 minutes.
  5. Whilst the sprouts are roasting, de-seed 1/2 a large, heavy pomegranate into a bowl and get out 50g hazelnuts. Incidentally, my preferred method of de-seeding pomegranates is ripping it apart over a bowl and flicking the seeds from the pith. Yes, this is a handsy recipe, but so worth it.
  6. Take the tray out the oven, sprinkle over the hazelnuts, and roast for a further 10 minutes.
  7. Dish up the traybake, topping each portion with half of the pomegranate seeds. This is not a garnish, but an important flavour component. Don’t substitute it for anything else.

Notes: If you really do have to substitute the pomegranate seeds because pomegranates are just too hard to buy and you don’t live in the Med, I suppose you may roast 150g cherry tomatoes with the sprouts, but use almonds instead of hazelnuts. Hazelnuts and tomatoes are not happy bedfellows. I also like to serve this with carrots – watch out for my next post on those!


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