My Veggie Store-cupboard…

About 20 years ago I took my veggie kitchen notebook and wrote it up as a veggie cookery book, mainly for my own entertainment and, as I said some little while ago, it’s my intention, when I’m able (it’s the equivalent of a medium-sized paperback, which has to be retyped), to transfer it to my blog, and the easiest way to do this, I think, is in self-contained stages, of which this is the first.

Part 1 – My Veggie Store-cupboard.

On my reversion to vegetarianism this Autumn, I had, perforce, to undertake a considerable restocking exercise, as many products suitable for an omnivore have no place in a veggie diet. This, then, is what’s now in my store cupboard and fridge-freezer. Confirmed veggies may think. Yeah, well, so what? But for newbies, the information might be useful.

You’ll find that what follows isn’t 100% veggie. This is because I’m seriously ill and what’s best or easiest for me takes precedence at times. My priorities are not eating meat, and reducing my consumption of fish to  tiny fraction of what it was.

As I’ve said, I have a preference for a wholefood diet. This has somewhat fallen out of favour, mainly thanks to a bad press from chefs selling poncified veggie cookbooks more suited for dinner parties than day to day living. However, it’s a very tasty, sustaining and, above all, cheap diet and it most certainly does NOT mean living on brown rice and nut cutlets!

It can, if that’s what you want, but it need not. I went that route myself, 30 years ago – I wouldn’t do it now. In addition, because food quality  matters to me, there are two non-veggie items that I use. My veggie sausages are in artificial casings. These are made of beef collagen. However, at a mere 7g of casings to 1.5kg of sausages (the casings are micro-thin), I consider it acceptable. I also use Nam Pla – fish sauce – as it adds a deeply savoury note to dishes.  I don’t, by the way, see that eggs can ever be vegetarian – they’re embryonic chickens, FFS,** but many veggies happily eat them – so don’t even think of giving me a hard time!

**Battery eggs are unlikely to be fertile, free-range, in all its permutations, might be – I’ve had many eggs of late that have clearly been fertilised (“blood spot” on the yolk).

The protein thing. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Pulses are short of 1 or 2. Grains are short of a couple of different ones, but if you put grains and pulses together, you get a perfect amino acid balance. Beans on toast being the classic example, but other cultures have evolved their own solutions, like Mexico’s rice and beans, and the Italian risi e bisi – rice and peas.

In the 60s and for many years after, this lead to the mistaken belief that you had to eat grains and pulses at every meal. You don’t. You just have to eat both pulses and grains at some point in the day – you body will sort out the amino acids for itself.

Some foods, fungi for example (hence Quorn), and peanuts (a pulse, not a nut), have a complete amino acid complement and have a place in a balanced veggie diet. Be aware, though, that peanuts, and proper nuts, can be high in fat.

I should say, at this point, that these days I am only rarely able to cook – simply cooking an evening meal every day is way beyond me. When I am able to, I generally make stews or chillies, often using pre-prepped veg and canned pulses, which require minimum effort, portion them and stash them in the freezer. Just making that clear for DWP snoops.

So, to the basics (where I specify I brand it’s because I’ve found nothing better that’s (a) easily available, and (b) affordable):-

Pulses (which, in conjunction with grains, are the main protein source in a veggie diet).

Currently I have dried pinto, cannellini, borlotti, and butter beans, plus chickpeas (garbanzos in the colonies), plus the same in cans (nothing wrong with canned pulses in a hurry, and  I prefer the Napolina brand for their quality – taking cooking fuel into account they cost no more than soaked and boiled beans), along with split red lentils and green split peas.

You’ll notice that there are no red kidney beans there. This is because there are beans which are far better to eat. I’ll use them in burgers or sausages, where their coarseness can be a virtue, but I won’t eat them otherwise.

A caveat:-

You’ll see, on many bags of dried beans, the instruction to “boil vigorously for 10 minutes”. This is because, in the 80s, a bunch of numbnuts students died from eating a chilli containing undercooked red kidney beans, which are actually toxic if inadequately cooked – which gave rise to the knee-jerk instruction to boil the bejesus out of all beans. IT IS NOT NECESSARY! Do that to butter beans and you’ll wind up with sludge.

I have never boiled a bean, red kidney included. They are brought just to boiling point, the heat reduced, and simmered until tender. As long as they are cooked until tender, the toxins will be destroyed.

Never salt soaked dried beans, or add stock cubes, until tender, as salt greatly inhibits the cooking process.

As for grains, I like rice and that’s about it, so I have Tilda Basmati (the best available to most of us – I also have Sainsbury’s own-brand Basmati, and, frankly, it sucks). I have brown Basmati for use in burgers and suchlike, and o-b is fine for that purpose, plus Camargue Red Rice, which I use in my veggie sausages.

I’ve tried most of my life to like barley, and I simply don’t! And none of the newer grains appeal. I also have rolled oats for porridge and for baking. Ditto oat bran. Plus linseeds (not a grain, but I don’t have a seeds category, so they’re here).

And bread, of course. Or cake. All counts as grain for protein purposes.

Nuts – so far I haven’t needed any, but if I do they’ll be bought as required, as they don’t keep well.

Pasta – I’ve done the wholemeal thing and, dear god, it’s tedious. It’s leaden too. If you have a very high boredom threshold, and little taste, fine, go with it. Me, I prefer a bronze-die-drawn white linguine. Plus rice-sized orzo for tossing into soups for added bulk. That’s it. Unless you’re Italian, and/or dedicated to the stuff, you really don’t need a whole bunch of different pastas for different uses. Stick with one or two shapes that you like.

Herbs – fresh when available/I can get to the shops, frozen or dried if not. I always have frozen rosemary and parsley in the freezer, the former in oil. In dried herbs I have Schwartz’ marjoram, thyme, oregano, bay, mint, plus a very tasty and fragrant dried basil I found online (see here). I also have juniper berries, which go very well with cabbage. Always keep dried herbs in airtight containers, in the dark – not in a rack on the wall – and don’t keep them forever. If not used, toss them after about 6 months – the use-by date only applies if unopened.

Spices – and this applies to herbs too; only buy what you know you’ll use, don’t buy just in case – Schwartz again, ground coriander and cumin, turmeric, sweet paprika, cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, mixed spice, garlic granules, mace. Whole nutmegs too (not Schwartz). Personally, I prefer McCormick’s, but Schwartz seem to have cornered the market.

I generally have mustard seeds (they go into my pickled eggs), and I always have plenty of wholegrain mustard made with apple juice and cider vinegar, which I make myself. There’s usually a jar of Dijon mustard too.

I suppose chillies and ginger come under this heading too, and I always have jars of both, DIY pickled, in the fridge. Pickled/preserved garlic, DIY or bought, in various forms from whole to purée is not, I find, a success.

Vinegars – Sarson’s malt, obviously, plus Aspall Organic Cyder vinegar, of which I get through a lot, along with sherry vinegar and balsamic. Aspall also do a rather good Golden Malt Vinegar which is less, er, assertive, than the brown stuff.

Sauces – as ingredients as well as for sloshing on stuff – Heinz ketchup, HP, Branston Fruity, Geo. Watkins’ mushroom ketchup, soy sauce of various sorts (as a condiment, it has to be Kikkoman, though whatever I can get hold of will do for marinades; the Pearl River Bridge brand is good, and has the virtue of coming in large bottles), Tabasco, Encona Thai sweet chilli, and Squid brand Nam Pla (fish sauce – not veggie but it has its uses).

Stock cubes – Kallo organic vegetable, Knorr vegetable. Totally different products. For me, Kallo enhances without being obtrusive, Knorr is more assertive. I’d use Knorr in a curry, perhaps, and Kallo as, indeed, I just have, in a dish where I want the individual flavours to come through, in this case in a veggie chilli which also features mushroom ketchup, ginger, Nam Pla and sherry vinegar, and which is quite amazingly good.

I have a pack of Knorr Vegetable Stock Pots, but not tried them yet. Knorr do a liquid Vegetable stock concentrate in their Touch of Taste range, which is so dark it’s almost black, and tastes vile. This is because it contains fennel, and nobody in their right mind puts intensely-flavoured and dominant veg like fennel in stock, as it severely limits what you can use it for.

I also have two types of Sanchi – Japanese stock powder. Not veggie (contains dried bonito), but indispensible for oriental-style dishes.

There’s also a jar of mugi miso, which I use, along with the Sanchi and various soy sauces, chillies and ginger, in a marinade for Quorn fillets.

Gravy – Bisto granules are all veggie-friendly. A step up in quality, their Bisto Best gravy mixes, particularly the Caramelised Red Onion and the Roasted Winter Vegetable flavours, are also suitable. The meat varieties contain about 1% dried meat extract.

It’s impossible to buy high-quality dried mixed vegetables. I bought some a while ago which turned out to be very heavy on the dark green parts of leeks. So I blitzed it in the blender, The leafy veg was reduced to powder, the harder root veg, just nibbled at somewhat. Anyway, I sieved the root veg out and put the powder in jar. It’s very good for adding flavour to a wide variety of foods. The root veg can be tossed into soups and stews – there’s even some, cooked with the Camargue Red rice, in my sausages.

In addition I have onion powder, and dried tomatoes and onions, both of which lend themselves to the same process as the mixed veg. It follows, then, that in permutation with the stock cubes and gravies, I have many ways of perking up a whole range of foods.

Bread – I make my own. I buy my flour in bulk from Shipton Mill and store it in an old, but still working, freezer, I haven’t bought bread, except on rare occasions when I’ve been too ill to bake, for years. I have strong white flour (701), plus stoneground wholemeal, both of which go into my standard loaf ( and both have the same blend of wheats, including Maris Widgeon), plus Khorason, spelt, emmer, rye (light and dark), and oatmeal, so I can ring the changes occasionally. The ancient grains (Khorason, spelt, emmer), unlike the heavily hybridised (and GM?),  modern wheat varieties, are often suitable for those with a wheat intolerance. I’ve read that they may be suitable for coeliacs too but have read no convincing evidence, though logic suggests it could be true.

Salt – is sea salt. Maldon where it makes a difference (it brightens the colour of greens, for example), or the crunch is needed, Sainsbury’s coarse for cooking. Fine, bought in bulk, in my bread and in the salt cellar.

Sugars – golden caster for general use, molasses and Demerara sugar for baking, plus golden syrup (for eating), and treacle, also for baking. Barley malt extract is there too, which I use to create a yeast starter for my bread (the amount of malt extract also controls the texture of the dough).

Oil – rapeseed for general frying, also extra virgin olive oil, in conjunction with butter, when flavour matters, and the oil goes in my bread. There’s also light sesame oil, which goes in the above marinade. It’s also good, used with care, with Brussels sprouts, along with soy sauce. Mushroom soy is even better.

Odds and sods – I usually have several packs of instant noodles, for emergencies, plus Udon noodles too. There’s also a couple of packets of Beanfeast. The Mince and Onion flavour, a standby of my backpacking days, is history, but the Bolognese flavour, with added Bisto gravy granules to give it a meaty taste (or the Bisto Best Caramelised Red Onion gravy mix is good too), plus chopped carrot and onion, with peas or green beans added towards the end, is really very good. You’d be hard pressed to tell it hadn’t started out as Mince and Onion. For some reason, the texture of the soya mince is superior to what’s available to the public.

In the freezer is the usual assortment of frozen veg, with chips and hash browns, plus foil trays containing my own foods, and a bag of my veggie sausages, which look like this when cooked. Sainsbury’s do a decent soya-based sausage, and there’s some of them too. I also have several packs of Sainsbury’s fishcakes, for times when doing anything more than slapping something in the frying pan is beyond me. Again, yes, I know they’re not veggie, but veggie convenience foods are remorselessly crap, and there are times when simply refuelling takes precedence.

In the fridge – I always have onions and carrots in the fridge, potatoes too, and fresh garlic. Other veg are bought at need. There’s cheese (extra mature Cheddar and genuine Parmesan), currently a jar of pickled eggs, ordinary eggs, Clover, butter, salted and unsalted, for cooking, milk, and many of the above items (those which are perishable), are in the fridge too.

Finally, not a stock item, but 3 jars of Sharwood’s Cantonese Sweet & Sour sauce is enough for 2 packs of Quorn chicken-style chunks. Mix together, cut up any big pieces of Quorn, and cook gently for 15 minutes, cool, portion and freeze. Serve with Basmati rice (with or without peas added). Quorn do their own sweet and sour with rice ready-meal – this is vastly superior.

The jars, of course, can be washed and used for storage – one of the bugbears of this sort of diet is a need for storage containers, and before I made the change I spent a couple of months hoarding jars, and washing old ones I’d kept from last time.

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