Look, I know nuts aren’t technically vegetables! But name me a vegetable that begins with ‘N’ and I will show you a seaweed. There’s nothing wrong with eating seaweed – it’s a way to get some iodine into your diet if you’re vegan – but it’s not something I use much. I get my iodine from choice plant milks and tofu. So with that established, let’s talk nuts.
As is right, most people first encounter nuts in the rather enticing coating of chocolate – be that Nutella, the Brazil in Quality Street, Toblerone or, if you’re really fancy, gâteau d’opéra, that multilayered French confection of almond, coffee and chocolate. Yes, I have done my research. And no, I’m not counting Snickers because a ‘peanut be not a nut’ (try saying that after a glass of Frangelico).
But once you have grown up and moved on from an overwhelming obsession with chocolate (when is that supposed to happen, by the way?), you begin to mix nuts in more savoury contexts – which is just as well, because the relatively restricted range of proteins available to a vegan requires forays into the worlds of nuts and seeds – and we can’t eat chocolate morning, noon and night. Even if the little voice inside us tells us it would be a lovely idea.
One of the most useful things to know is that nuts don’t all taste similar. Those big bags of mixed nuts are a trick to lead the hapless connoisseur astray, even if they are fantastic value for money. I do not consider it beyond the realms of decency to sift patiently through the bag to differentiate the nuts into ornamental bowls. If you’re including nuts in a meal, you have to check that their flavours complement what you’re cooking.
Almonds are easily the most versatile. They are almost the only nut which can pair with tomato harmoniously, and I can recommend flaked almonds sprinkled on top of risotto or pasta sauces if you want a slightly cheesy edge – although Tom Hunt also suggests grating walnuts. Almonds are also incredibly cheap and can be grown in Europe, so you don’t need to support ecologically devastating mono-crops of almonds in California if you want organic Portuguese ones instead.
Pecans are one of the least versatile. They’re slightly peculiar in flavour, rather like maple syrup, sawdust and shoes, and they’re almost inevitably stale when you buy them. I wonder if I'm going to list all the nuts there are?
Oh hang on! There is a nut which is a vegetable! Butternut! Awesome – here’s a recipe for a hot lunch if you’re home alone in autumn. It uses lentils; sorry. What do you mean a butternut is a squash?
Roasted butternut lunch with miso lentils, serves 1
- Preheat oven to 200ºC fan and get out a small roasting tray. An ovenproof dish for soufflés and crèmes brûlée will also do the trick.
- Wash and chop 150g butternut squash and 1 stick of celery (use cauli leaves if allergic or phobic) into 2cm cubes and tumble into the designated roasting tray. You don’t have to peel butternut because the skin is edible, which is an enormous relief because peeling those bastards is really difficult.
- (Sidebar: those butternut seeds are edible – remove the frondy bits and simmer for 10 mins, then roast for 10 mins with a piece of greaseproof paper on top of the seeds so they don't pop over into the darkest recesses of your oven. Stick in a jar once cooled and sprinkle with abandon. They taste like popcorn.)
- Anyway, back to the squash and celery. Sprinkle over 1 tsp dried or chopped fresh rosemary and 1 tbsp olive oil, and toss to mix, then roast for 30 minutes.
- Drain and rinse one 400g tin green lentils. Stir together 1 tbsp brown miso, 2 tbsp water and 1 tsp your favourite vinegar or citrus juice into a runny paste. When the butternut is ready, pour the lentils in and around the veg in the tray and pour over the miso dressing and roast for another 5 minutes. It is a lot of lentils, but it’s supposed to be a meal in its own right.
- Time to eat! Sprinkle over some nutritional yeast flakes (optional) and tuck in! If you’ve chosen a decorative enough roasting dish, you could just eat straight from that and cut down on washing up. It’s not slobbishness, it’s economy. If it's good enough for brûlées, it's good enough for butternut.
Notes: If you can’t bear lentils, small tinned beans like haricot or black-eyed would be good too.