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A-Z of Vegetables: Yeast

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 2 Dec 2023, 09:50

It’s time to go out with a bang! In spite of my best efforts, I could not provide you with a vegetable which began with X or Z – although I did consider calling it zalzify instead of salsify. I decided I couldn’t get away with it. Thank you to everyone (well, anyone) who read this blog. It has been fun for me to write and hopefully will lead to more exciting things, like, I dunno, the A-Z of fruit. I’ve already got U for ugli fruit, but I haven’t a clue what that is.

Anyway, our last vegetable is yeast, which we eat more of than we realise. It’s in bread, it’s in Marmite, it’s in shop-bought tortellini and pesto, it’s in beer (is that right? I’m teetotal). It’s also vital to the vegan diet, what with veganism generally not having enough vitamin B12 in it. However, this is not because vitamin B12 is found only in meat and dairy – it’s because vitamin B12 is found in the sort of microorganisms which exist in higher concentration in animal products. The solution? Eat the microorganisms. This is how we get ‘nutritional yeast flakes’ – a name for a mushroom which has been harvested off molasses and turned into a cheesy sprinkle. Why they decided to call them nutritional yeast flakes is beyond me. I don’t see anything wrong with marketing something as ‘cheesy sprinkle mushroom’.

Nutritional yeast’s unnerving similarity in flavour to Parmesan makes it extremely useful in making vegan versions of cheese – which is the thing most commonly pined for by new vegans. Macaroni cheese, béchamel and onion soup can all be livened up with nutritional yeast. I use it to make the best (easiest) cheat’s pizza ever: oatcake, tomato paste, nutritional yeast. Done.

I hope that despite nutritional yeast’s visual similarity to wizened cornflakes, it becomes much more popular with people and more widely available. The carbon footprint of hard cheese is gigantic, and hopefully nutritional yeast can be an effective substitute. The below recipe was written when I was craving something with the same sort of meaty munch quality as, well, meat, but I decided to rely on the umami found in plant products. Paprika, mushroom, miso and yeast are the best suppliers of umami in my kitchen, and when I combine them all it makes for a hearty and comforting meal. And my heart will be comforted by all the good fibre and low saturated fat in my dinner.


‘I don’t miss meat at all’ baked orzo, serves 2

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC fan. In a small roasting tray (I use one that’s about 30cm x 23cm), stir 125g orzo pasta, 2-4 chopped garlic cloves, 1 tsp dried or freshly chopped rosemary and 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika.
  2. Drain and rinse a 400g tin mixed beans. You can also use tinned bean salad, but don’t drain it, keep the sauce! Pour the beans (with sauce if present) on top of the orzo. I do this around the edges to stop the orzo floating up.
  3. Chop 1 big onion or 2 small ones any way you like, then sprinkle this on top of the beans and orzo. Drizzle the lot with 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp wine vinegar, then pour in 250ml boiling mushroom stock (made with stock cube).
  4. Put the tray in the oven for 25 minutes, by which time the orzo should be cooked in a chewy, frangible way. Stir in 3 level tbsp miso paste and 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes. Dish up and serve.

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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: Lambs lettuce

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:26

I suppose a lot of people don’t feel they have time to wash vast amounts of salad leaves, which have the highest volume-to-weight ratio of any vegetable on the planet – which is where the washed-and-ready-to-eat packets of ‘designer leaves’ come in. They’re easy, and eating food out of a plastic sack gives the pleasing vibe of being an astronaut. Incidentally, they’re the easiest vegetable to eat with pizza-box-level slobbishness: simply tear open a small hole at the top of the bag, pour in salad dressing, shake the bag and then eat the salad straight from the bag with inappropriate chopsticks. You’re welcome. Careful, I think you just dropped a beet leaf on the cat.

Broadly speaking, salad leaves taste of leaves. There’s nothing very much to say about them. However, lambs lettuce is something of a special case. Compared to watercress, pea shoots, beet leaves and all the rest of the elfin salads, lambs lettuce has the brilliant whimsy of being named after an animal’s ear shape. I know! And it’s alliterative! I know! How great is that? The leaves cluster like four-leaved clovers just sprouting from the field, dancing across the platter like metal jacks (add balls of vegan feta and cherry tomatoes and you’ve edibly got yourself a game). My initiation into the ways of lambs lettuce was at Christmas, and it is quite the most party-ready instant salad you’re liable to have, by virtue of looks and name alone. But let’s talk about it’s flavour. 

Um. It tastes like leaves.

Ok, I’ll try to be more specific. Whereas watercress tastes like ditchwater, and rocket tastes like sour peppercorns, and beet leaves have a very faint flavour of beetroot, and pea shoots taste like peas, and spinach tastes metallic (try it raw and undressed and it tastes like chewing cans), I think you’ll find that lambs lettuce tastes the most appealingly green of the lot, with a sprightly pepperiness which doesn't shout so much as suggest. When all you want from a salad is for it to taste fine on its own, so you can eat vast quantities of it without feeling overwhelmed but with feeling pious, lambs lettuce is the leaf to go for. And the funny thing about lambs lettuce? It tastes like fresh grass. That’s right: lambs lettuce is exactly what you’d expect lamb’s food to taste like. Who’d have thought?

Don’t let this stop you. Are you one of those people that walks past a fresh-mown lawn and things it smells incredible? Then lambs lettuce is for you. I think that if you like a smell, then that flavour in something edible is a present from the gods of good taste. Which is why I got a bottle of jasmine-flavoured syrup. I thought maybe sorbet. But as I doubt you’ll want to do that with lambs lettuce, let me suggest an alternative.


Lambs lettuce, lemon and loveliness salad. Serves 1 but upscale once you get used to the concept.

  1. Trust me. I ate something like this in a restaurant once, but it was with spinach and quite frankly, I think lambs lettuce is just nicer. However, if you can only get spinach, then you can of course use that instead.
  2. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon thoroughly. Put the juice in the fridge, you won’t be needing it. What? Lemon juice has loads of uses, just stick it in a tomato sauce or soup or something. Or drink it neat if you’re hard enough! Do step 5 in the small saucepan from step 3 if you’re low on time.
  3. Now you have a shell of lemon rind, slice it into long strips of rind (cut away the membranes for extra Brownie points) and simmer in a small saucepan for 30 minutes. Or steam until soft in the microwave. I don’t have a microwave, hence my blasé instructions in this bit. They should be as soft as a ripe pear. The lemon strips, not the microwave.
  4. Whilst the lemon is cooking, soak 2 tbsp sultanas in 3 tbsp apple juice and wash minimum 100g lambs lettuce. Of course, you may have bought washed-and-ready-to-eat lambs lettuce, which makes life infinitely easier.
  5. Toast around 15g almonds (which is 15 almonds) in a frying pan without oil, i.e. dry-fry them, stirring continuously. This should take about 5-10 minutes, depending on the obstinacy of your nuts. They should smell fragrant and be catching slightly. Tumble into a cool dish so they don’t continue cooking. Pre-roasted almonds also exist.
  6. Now everything is ready, tumble the lamb’s lettuce onto your serving plate (wide and flat is easier than tending-towards-teacup). Artfully arrange the lemon strips on top and artfully scatter over the almonds. Drain the apple juice from the sultanas (into your mouth) then artfully scatter the sultanas also. Drizzle the lot with 1-2 tsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp runny honey, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and eat. With inappropriate chopsticks, obvs.

Notes: Substitute other nuts, other citrus rinds, other dried fruit to suit the mood. Hazelnuts, lime and ginger syrup instead of honey? You can add vegan cheese (vegetarian options available) if so desired. Also, has anybody ever thought of cooking polenta in apple juice? I bet that tastes good.


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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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