A friend of mine recently went vegan. I have been a vegetarian and pescatarian in my past life, but I have never gone the whole hog-if you will forgive the terrible pun. It has always seemed a difficult choice, with many people, food outlets and restaurants unwilling to adapt their menus to it. There are lots of convincing arguments for veganism; a plant-based diet avoids any ethical or moral problems about food production. We are aware that we eat too much meat as a society, which impacts on our health, animal welfare and the environment. Although I dislike the concept of ‘clean eating’, as it implies other ways of eating are somehow ‘dirty’, focussing on fruit, pulses and vegetables as the basis of your diet does appear to be a healthier way of eating.
Despite these convincing reasons, my overall opinion is that this diet is not for me. I decided a long time ago to make specific decisions about the items that veganism excludes; I buy less meat, but make sure it is free-range or organic. I buy free range or organic eggs and dairy products. I have at least two meat-free days a week. I ask about ingredients in restaurants and sometimes avoid ordering certain items because of the answers. In reality, I love many meats and fish, but dairy and eggs form a huge part of my diet too.
However, I have respect and admiration for those who wish to eat this way; it appeals to my creative side, as you have to be inventive to avoid eating mushroom risotto at every meal. There is also the necessity to be very mindful of what you are putting into your body, to ensure a nutritional balance. I know vegans who have tried to live on cereal bars and juices and the result is not too pretty.
I cook things that I enjoy, with flavours that will stimulate, comfort or satisfy, according to how I feel at that particular time. It started me thinking about how much that I cook is vegan, just by coincidence. Lots of southern Mediterranean and Indian food happens to be vegan and Middle Eastern flavours seem to compliment this way of eating brilliantly. Punchy spices, pulses and an abundance of vegetables and fresh herbs does not immediately strike you as a diet based around restriction.
Cauliflower has cast off it’s reputation as a soggy, flavourless vegetable, cooked to death for school lunches and leaving the smell of old socks behind it. It seems a very fashionable ingredient at the moment, being used as ‘couscous’ and in salads and soups. It is incredibly versatile, feels surprisingly substantial and responds well to many ways of cooking, but roasting it brings a lovely smoky dimension to it. Cauliflower has unique flavour and a wonderful texture that I urge you to revisit.
This salad is a variation on one that Nigella Lawson features in her latest book. It keeps brilliantly in the fridge. It is great on its own and makes lunchtimes much more interesting rather than grabbing yet another limp sandwich.
So, if you are a vegan or a full on carnivore, please make this recipe knowing that it is vegan, but that it is also delicious.
Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad
Serves 2 hungry people
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small head cauliflower trimmed and divided into very small florets
400g tin of chickpeas
1–2 tbsp harissa
150g cherry or baby vine tomatoes, halved
A large bunch of flatleaf parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 220C.
2. Pour the oil into a large bowl, add the cinnamon and cumin seeds, and stir. Tip in the cauliflower and toss to coat. Pour into a small oven tray and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until it starts to catch a little.
3. Add the chickpeas to the bowl, and add the harissa, tasting it after adding the first tablespoon to see if you want both. Toss to coat. Add the tomatoes to the bowl, and mix.
4. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Toss to combine and return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender.
5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the chopped parsley. Taste and season again if necessary. You can add extra chilli if you like a real kick.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature. You can add yoghurt or feta for more protein, but this will, of course, cancel out the vegan element of the dish.