Vegan Scene

mushroom and bean stew with kale slaw
August 13, 2010, 6:27 pm
Filed under: recipes | Tags: , , , , ,

England is much farther north than anywhere I have lived on the East coast of the US. This means the days get longer in the summer and shorter in the winter. The weather is described as moderate. It is often chilly here. The summer does get warm sometimes, but it rarely ever gets hot.

Stew, kale, and beet root are all pretty hearty foods, and they are all perfectly in season right now. Yes, in England we are eating stew in mid August to revive ourselves after a soaking wet hike with the pooch. Lately it has been raining buckets and soups and stews have been timely and warming.

I made this stew by sauteing onion, mushroom, and carrots with cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, and garlic. Once the onion browned, I added kidney beans, aduki beans, water, and more crushed garlic. I simmered the stew and after a bit, I added potatoes. Fifteen minutes later, some cauliflower. I added barley miso before serving and garnished with coriander/cilantro.

For the slaw, I just shredded kale and beet root, mixed it with a bit of crushed garlic, tamari, hemp seeds, pumkin seeds, and lemon juice.


hard lessons in comfrey tea
August 10, 2010, 9:36 pm
Filed under: ethos/philosophy, gardening | Tags: , ,

I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching with my most recent comfrey tea endeavor. I have had to make a decision, not for the first time, that every vegan will face at one point. I’ll get to this in a moment.

First, let me say that comfrey is a powerful plant to have growing in the plot. It provides nourishment to the garden and will grow freely in many conditions. Utilizing the nutrient rich comfrey plant to make a simple comfrey tea fertilizer gives us the opportunity to grow our own fertility. It’s an opportunity to stop being a consumer, and start creating bonds with nature that exclude the super stores. It is imperative that gardeners start creating fertility, rather than buying it in. Doing so will not only create food with a much smaller carbon footprint, but it will also ensure that crops are grown without the use of animal products, which we want to avoid not only for the ethical atrocities associated with the animal industry, but also because of the chemical residues these manures will pass on to the crops from parasites, anti-parasite medication, hormonal, and antibiotic treatments that “livestock” animals receive. Composting, growing green manures, using local mulches, and creating teas to water our crops are all ways that we can grow truly self-sustaining fruits and veggies.

The last time I put a batch of comfrey tea together, it was the beginning of July, and the comfrey was growing out of control. I haven’t done this too many times previously, and I accidently made a bit too much.  I filled a two hundred litre barrel halfway with comfrey, put a stone atop the comfrey to weight it down, and filled the barrel all the way up with water. Next time, I will do a third as much. After filling the barrel, I placed a wooden pallet over the top as a covering. I’ve read that a loose covering would be sufficient in keeping debris and bugs away from the fermenting liquid, but that information proved wrong, and this is where I began my moral dilemma and soul searching.

Two weekends ago, I went to the tea barrel because I was planning to dilute it and feed it to the plants. I was shocked to find maggots swimming on the surface. You see, I hadn’t made the covering of the barrel air tight because none of the gardening resources I consulted mentioned that being necessary, and as I result, flies got in to lay their eggs. The surface of the liquid was teaming with what appeared to be thousands of maggots. I was unable to identify the particular species of larvae. I had to make a decision. I did not want the larvae a) preventing me from using the comfrey tea, or b) having a detrimental effect on the garden’s environment. I had to choose between sparing the lives of the thousands of maggots inhabiting my home brewed fertilizer, or killing them to protect my massive batch of tea, and perhaps the garden’s health and fertility.

After doing a bit of research, I made a decision to strain the comfrey tea and deposit the maggots in the meadow land near our house, where they would die on the field and be picked over by scavenging birds. In the same way that I would and will kill fleas or other parasites if I encounter them, I acted in a manner of self preservation. It’s a hard reality to confront and may seem a bit cut throat, but a gardener, and especially a vegan organic gardener that does not use chemical inputs, is going to encounter unexpected infestations, and it is the gardener’s goal to preserve the garden. If we do not save our crops, we do not feed ourselves.

I know I could have let the maggots hatch in my 200 litres of potent comfrey tea fertilizer. I was not going to starve if they destroyed my tea, or even my crops, but I don’t feel that it would have been right to let the maggots take over, either. Veganism is about nonviolence, and respecting other species and life forms. I am strongly committed to these ideas.  However, a vegan, too, must preserve their right to live. Maintaining the production of our food  is obviously one of the integral aspects to maintaining homeostasis in the body. If the maggots interfere with that process, then it is only natural to implement control measures. Unfortunately, I provided conditions for the maggots to grow in, and I won’t do it again. Aiming for prevention of the problem altogether is ideal, rather than having to use offensive tactics once the problem has arisen.

Similarly, and not long after the tea incident,  I found a few aphid colonies settling in amongst my kale plants. I should have been intercropping to encourage a local population of hover flies. I moved a few pots of coriander and dill near to my kale plants, which in turn encouraged hover flies, which eat aphids. Next year, I won’t have a big patch of kale. I’ll have different crops surrounding each kale plant, hopefully creating an environment that keeps the pests away.

I do need to combat the problem so I’ve also applied a diluted neem oil spray to the leaves, which is an organic and completely non-toxic insect killer. The bugs use their backs to breathe. The neem oil coats and suffocates them. This all sounds like a shocking and unjust activity to carry out, and perhaps it is, but if we are to keep crops, we must accept that we will need to protect our crops from certain insects.

I  do not think taking any life is a small or insignificant occurrence. This applies even to so called “garden pests” when I am killing them, as I try to claim domestic crops for my own human use, and they try to use the plants for their own uses and natures. It was a hard, confusing, and certainly thought provoking decision. I’ve read that insects aren’t sentient, that they do not have nervous systems. I can not determine an insect’s sentience myself, but I believe that universally we should always try to use nonviolence as the first means of dealing with any situation or conflict. In the future, I will be sure to cover my brewing vessel with an air tight lid, so as not to allow for this situation to happen again. I’ve read lidding is fine, but to expect a much darker, stronger final product that will need to be more diluted before application. Deterring or disabling the pests from settling into the garden with preventative measures are hopefully ways to avoid what felt like a total slaughter.

Here is the simple method for brewing your own NON-INFESTED comfrey tea:

1)  Gather comfrey leaves in a lidded container- you will not need more than 50 litres, even this may be too much!

2)  Put a brick stone atop the leaves, fill the container with water, and seal the container.

3) After 3 to 8 weeks, the tea is ready for use. It will smell horrible- like rotting cow manure. You can certainly tell it is potent with plant nutrients. Dilute the liquid- you can use a 1:1 ratio or even a 1:10. Just make sure you dilute by at least half. A weaker tea applied more frequently is better than a super strong one-time application.

**Don’t apply to brassicas or lettuce. If these groups are overfed, they will bolt.

jamaican bean and smoked tofu burgers
August 7, 2010, 4:59 pm
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A main focus of veganism is food. One of my main focuses is food. If you can’t tell, I love to cook. It started about 3 years and 4 months ago, when Daley took me into his kitchen and showed me what it meant to eat from scratch. Since then we’ve been cooking, and now growing, from scratch. We  recently had a two year journey cooking commercially, selling our food at an organic farm, in health food shops, for private parties, and at local festivals. I wouldn’t be surprised if we  go back into catering again. Cooking is a huge part of our lives. It’s a great joy and an appreciated service.

I like to cook in new environments and with new tools. Undeniably, it is the tools that create the flow of cooking. I love sharp machete knives, wooden cutting boards, our seasoned cast iron pans….and I also adore our food processor. Before we got our food processor last year, I had only heard stories about the new culinary adventures one of these would bring to our kitchen. Daley would tell me stories of kitchens gone past, from years stretching into last decade, when he was a chef in the trendy restaurants of London. He’d often talk about a food processor’s usefulness in so many recipes: delicate mousses, spreads, salsas, dips, mixes, doughs. When we finally purchased a used Robot Coupe, I learned first hand about the magic and convenience of a “whizzer.” I love to create with this tool. Slaws, pestos, burgers, butters, bread crumbs, cake, hummus, smoothies, milks….there are endless ways to create.

This is a crazy delicious burger we stumbled upon with the trusty Robot Coupe  the other day when we needed a good meal. It features a smoked tofu that has a rich, smoky smell and taste to it.

You can definitely make this by manually mashing if you don’t have a food processor. The recipe is roughly as follows:

spices: mustard seed, cumin seed, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper

herbs: chives and parsley

1 onion

a big pile of mushrooms

1 can of Jamaican gungo beans – but you could use any beans

a big handful of cashews

1 heaping tablespoon of tomato puree

225 grams smoked (or other) tofu

Start by popping the mustard and cumin seeds in a hot pan. Add the onion and mushroom. Let the mushrooms get soft and liquidy- then add the other spices. Mix in the beans for a moment. Now crumble your tofu into the food processor or hand mash. Add the nuts, tomato puree, sauteed ingredients, and fresh herbs. If you’re hand mashing, you will need to grind your cashews separately. An easy way is enclosing them in a a piece of cloth, then smashing them with a cup or some other hard object. Taste and and adjust seasoning if necessary.

burger mix ready to get whizzed

Now get your pan back on the stove, roll your burger mix into patties, and fry em up!! You’ll get 12 or so amazing patties.

when in doubt or freaking out, stir fry.
August 3, 2010, 8:13 pm
Filed under: recipes | Tags: ,

Many times people tell me things like “Well, I would be vegan if it was more convenient,” or “I can’t be vegan because I don’t have the time to cook for myself all of the time.”

Actually, there are lots of non-fussy vegan options in this vast universe. Here we shall discuss the stir fry.

The protein dish can be as easy or demanding as you like. I didn’t pre-plan my most recent stir fry when I made it, so I hadn’t marinated anything. Marinating is a cool thing to do if you have ten minutes to kill or you need to unwind from a long day, because you are sowing seeds for tomorrow’s or the next day’s awesome side of tempeh or tofu. I will be happy to devote a whole post to making marinades in the near future. But as I said, the last time I decided to make a quick stir-fry, I didn’t have anything like that ready. Instead, I crumbled a package of  tempeh with curry powder and garlic, let it brown in the pan, and served it atop  stir fried beet root, carrot, onion, pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, and kale. With the right knife, the veggies take all of ten minutes to clean and chop, and ten additional minutes to saute. I seasoned mine with ginger, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, a touch of cumin, salt, and pepper.

I didn’t cook any grains because  it was getting late and they’re not always needed.  Sometimes I follow the ideas of ‘food combining,’ which basically suggest that most carbs and proteins aren’t properly digested when eaten together. I do find that my digestion and energy levels improve if I’ve made sure to food combine for a few days.  Anyway, leaving the grain out makes for an even quicker, easier meal to cook!

So remember, chop-chop and sizzle the stir fry when you’re drained, stressed, or in a hurry.

Quick Chomp Mountain: broccoli sprouts, curried tempeh, and stir fried veggies

August 1, 2010, 8:15 pm
Filed under: recipes | Tags: , , ,

We’re still on potato and kale this weekend. The cropping is heavy, and with only two busy little sometimes-farmers living here, we will need to eat these crops until we explode. I shouldn’t complain- there could be worse things than having piles of vegan-organic food around! We’ve still got two beds full of potatoes, having gone through our first two. I estimate that each plant produced about five medium sized potatoes. We fit about 12 plants in each of our beds, and I reckon one whole bed has produced about 4 kilos of potatoes. It’s possible that we over watered our potatoes, and thus reduced our yield. I read in a gardening book that potatoes only need water once every two weeks in drier times, and we were watering nearly every day! I guess it’s just another one I will have to experiment with next year.

Anyway, no longer are we eating chowder, but instead 2 separate dinners of sauteed kale and olive oil-baked potatoes.

We also got to sample our green beans for the first time ever, last night! They’re just coming into season, so we don’t have a bean glut yet. Right now, there’s only a precious few to steam.

fresh climbing beans

As for the kale, tonight I cooked it with the remains of some store-bought green curry paste in my fridge. It consisted of garlic, green chilli, onion, lemon grass, salt, galangal, kaffir lime peel, fennel seed, coriander, and pepper. I added it with some water several minutes after starting the kale stalks and onion. I also added thinly sliced carrots and soaked apricots (soaked in boiling water for 5+ minutes). Last night I had a basic onion and kale saute with mustard seeds, and I added tahini dressing at the end.

Both nights, the potatoes were sliced, brought to a boil for a few minutes, quickly added to a sizzling pan coated in olive oil, and transferred to the hot oven, where they baked for 15 minutes.

last night's kale, bean, and potato dinner

tonight's apricot kale and potato dinner

baked falafel and beet slaw
July 30, 2010, 6:57 pm
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fragrant falafel, creamy tahini, and slaw piled atop our vegan- grown salad leaves

Before we started messing around with our own falafel recipes, we’d buy dry falafel mix, add water, and shallow fry them with lots of oil in a pan. Even after pat-drying, they were always oily, and the insides were dry and colorless. Hot, freshly made, just-baked falafel is a totally different food altogether, and one of the most comforting additions to a colorful salad.

When we cook, we usually cook a lot of food so that we have more than just one meal available from our efforts. This mix supplied over four dozen small falafel balls, so we’ve enjoyed many quick falafel-and-salad meals this past week. We made up the batter and left it in a plastic, lidded container. Whenever we wanted to eat, we rolled out the balls and baked them. The beetroot slaw and tahini dressing  stay fresh in tupper-ware  for a few days, too.  This dish is great if you happen to be catering for many people and you’ve got access to an oven.  You can pre-roll the falafel balls to bake just before serving, and prepare the salad ahead of time. It’s definitely a ‘cook in bulk’ favorite.

This is not a traditional falafel mix. We have taken the liberty of adding all the flavors we love. Feel free to drop certain spices or herbs. Whatever you want.  We do not actually have a set recipe,  but I want to share the basic structure we follow.  The integral instrument for this dish is the food processor. If you don’t have one, you can try using an electric mixer. Mashing/hand whisking might work too, but will probably require significant time and effort to get everything into a chunky batter.

Falafel Basic Ingredients:

  • 2 chopped onions
  • 7 cloves of garlic
  • lemon juice from one or two lemons
  • these fresh herbs: parsley, basil, oregano, coriander ( aka cilantro outside of UK)
  • olive oil
  • one teaspoon or more of the following spices: paprika, cumin, cumin seed, mustard seed, curry powder
  • about 120 grams dry bulgar wheat
  • about 120 grams graham flour
  • 2 cans of cooked chickpeas (or if you’re re-hydrating, about 250 grams dry weight)
  • salt n peppa

The procedure is as follows:

  1. First, set your oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, cook the bulgar. Simply place it in a pot, cover in water, sprinkle with salt, boil, reduce heat to the bare minimum, and cover until all the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. This should all take about 5 minutes. Cook the chick peas if you’re re-hydrating them yourself.
  2. Put the fresh herbs, stalks and all, into the whizzer. If you don’t have one, you will need to chop the herbs finely. Be generous! Blend/Stir/Mix.
  3. Add 2 or 3 (or 4?) tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic- it’s  nice but not essential to quickly roast it for 5 minutes or until soft before incorporating. Again, if you don’t have a processor, you will need to mince this stuff up.
  4. Toast A few tablespoons of cumin and mustard seeds in a dry pan set to low-medium heat on the stove.  This only takes a few minutes. You can stop when they are popping.
  5. Add the popped spices along with the powdered spices (paprika, cumin, curry powder). Stir it up for a moment.
  6. Add the other ingredients (the cooked bulgar, chickpeas, graham flour, onion, salt, pepper,  and lemon juice), gradually, blending as you incorporate bits of each ingredient. Blend it ’til it is a goopy paste that is thick and form-able. You probably won’t need to add water, but do so gingerly if you do. Beware the fatal mistake of adding too much liquid.
  7. Now you are ready to roll the batter into balls and bake them. Use non-stick baking paper. After about ten minutes, turn the balls over. Bake for another five to ten minutes, at which point they should be ready. Test one by cracking it open if you want. Now they are ready to eat!

As for the slaw, you’ll need to peel three or four medium sized beet roots. Next grate the beets with a large red onion.  A food processor is excellent for this step.  Add lemon juice and whatever seeds you have on hand. Tinker with the dressing ingredients or add new veggies to the slaw to make a new creation. Pile up on salad leaves or by itself to serve along side pretty much anything!

We also used a tahini dressing for the falafel and salad, which keeps fresh when sealed in a container and chilled. Simply whisk a few heaped table spoons of tahini paste, six or seven minced garlic cloves (slightly roasted is nice here, too!),  a few table spoons of lemon juice, salt and bit of water.

The above will make enough for two people to eat three or four light meals. It may sound involving, but it only took about 45 minutes to prepare everything and get our first servings on the table.

hello, young sprout
July 29, 2010, 7:04 pm
Filed under: gardening, health, recipes | Tags: , ,

Sprouts are meant to be some of the most health giving foods ever. They are alive as alive could be. They have phytochemicals, pretty much every nutrient, proteins, and enzymes. I love googling the health properties of different sprouts, especially when I’m having a slow day.

My favorite seed to sprout is definitely broccoli. It very quickly turns from a sleepy, black seed to a bright green, crispy carpet of yum.

broccoli seeds ready to eat after 2 days of germination!

broccoli seeds, ready to eat after only 2 days of germination!

We love all the different kinds of sprouts around here. Alfalfa is especially healthy and tasty, but I have discovered it is a faster growing sprout in cold weather. My alfalfas were germinated the same night as my brocs, but these guys still need to grow. In the winter, when the kitchen is much cooler, the alfalfa  zooms out of its golden shell.

alfalfa having a slow day in the heat

If you’re new to sprouting, you will need to find a jar and a piece of breathable cloth like moslin or cheese cloth.  You could also purchase a sprouting container. In my experience, the container is worth the money. With the jar, you can’t drain off as much moisture, making for damp, sometimes moldy growing conditions. The design of the container (we use a  Vogel Biosnacky) allows for more moisture to escape.

Most seeds need to be soaked overnight to get them germinating, but some only need a few minutes of soaking. After this step, put the seeds in a jar for a few days, rinsing and draining once to twice daily. Before long, your sprouts will be ready to eat.

There are so many different seeds to sprout. We’ve tried chickpea, sunflower, mung bean, buckwheat, and the spicy radish!