Vegetarian “mince”…

First, a little back-story…

Time was when Cadbury’s Beanfeast soya mince came in a basic “Mince and Onion” flavour, and with a little tweaking (adding fresh onion and carrot, handful of frozen peas), was actually quite good. Then, for reasons that will forever elude me, they stopped making it. Now they just do the slightly dodgy Bolognese version, and the dire Mexican chilli – dehydrated kidney beans? Seriously? You might as well boil gravel…

I also tend to tweak the Bolognese version by adding chopped onion, carrot,  and frozen peas, plus an Oxo cube, so no longer veggie but at least it’s worth eating. However, back in the mists of time, during my first veggie stint, I cobbled up a recipe which sort of mimicked mince, while being 100% vegetarian. And – Sod’s Law strikes again – never wrote it down.

It was a mix of Adzuki beans** (yes, kiddies, it had a “z” in it back then, and why it doesn’t now I have no idea), brown rice, split red lentils, and vegetables (carrot, onion, and swede at the time), and it was so good even my carnivorous in-laws were impressed .

**I think the very first version used Mung beans, as they’re smaller, but I never really liked the taste, and switched to Adzuki. The aim being not to produce a mince analogue but to capture, if you like, the spirit of mince – the texture, mouth-feel, and an acceptable taste.**

**I made no attempt to make it taste like meat – what would have been the point? For the most part meat analogues, for me anyway, are unsuccessful travesties of the real thing. This section is in bold because, if a meat analogue is what you seek, this ain’t it. In fact, when it comes to mince, the analogues – soya mince and Quorn in the main – taste nothing like beef anyway, nor do they have the same mouth-feel (Quorn looks, and feels, like tiny bits of folded paper).

So this is how it goes.

Quantities are not critical – it depends how much you’re making. The downside is that not all the ingredients cook in the same time, so it means having the main pot plus two smaller pans on the go for the rice and lentils, the hassle of this being somewhat offset by making a large batch for the freezer. And how long the beans take depends on whether you soak them first, and for how long. The thing that concerns me, with such a small bean, is that soaking might leach out too much in the way of flavour and nutrients. I tried two test batches. One I soaked for 3 hours, one not at all. The unsoaked beans cooked very much faster. Go figure…


250g (dry weight), Adzuki beans, soaked for 4 hours

3 or 4 Sweet Spear carrots, depending on size, halved lengthways and sliced

2 Echalion shallots, (use 3 if small), quartered lengthways and finely chopped

2 cooking onions, finely chopped

Half a medium swede, peeled and diced

1 rounded teaspoon dried basil

1 scant teaspoon dried thyme

A knob butter, preferably clarified

A splash of olive oil

A good squeeze of HP Sauce

A tablespoon of soy sauce

¼ teaspoon of celery salt, or to taste

2 Kallo organic veg cubes

1 good rounded teaspoon Marmite

A tablespoon of Mushroom ketchup

Items in bold to go in when the beans are almost done. Pulses don’t cook well in the presence of salt.

100g Camargue red rice

100g Split red lentils

Marigold Bouillon Powder to taste

Maldon Sea Salt and Fine black pepper

NB: Herbs and spices are always Schwartz unless otherwise specified, in which case there’ll be a link.


I’d originally planned to make this in the slow cooker, but as it was pretty much terra incognita – it’s a long time since I’ve made it and, as I said at the outset, I never wrote it down – I felt that would add a needless level of complexity. Better to use my 3-litre stainless steel casserole, on the hob, plus a couple of smaller pans for the rice and the lentils.

The beans and veggies – all the items before the bold section – can go in the casserole together, the rice can be cooked with a Kallo cube and a spoonful of Marmite (instead of salt), and the lentils, after being briefly sautéed in a little olive oil (gives them a very smooth texture),  can be cooked in just water.

But let’s not get the cart too far ahead of the horse.

Start by melting the butter, with the oil, in the pot (or pan – whatever you use, if it’s smaller than 3 litres, scale back the quantities to suit), then gently sweat the veggies, without colouring them, until the onions and shallots are soft and golden, pour in enough boiling water to cover, stir in the herbs, and the HP Sauce, bring to the boil, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook, checking the water level occasionally (add more boiling water as needed), until the beans and carrots are soft.

While the main pot is cooking, put the rice into a pan, add plenty of boiling water, dissolve the Kallo cube and the Marmite, cover, and boil gently until the rice is cooked (the grains will burst, just like wild rice, but much tastier and with a softer texture). Tip the rice into a large sieve, and strain off and reserve the liquid, there shouldn’t be much, maybe half a cup to a cup. If you have too much, put it in a pan and reduce it over a brisk heat – it’s the flavour you want, not the volume. Set aside.

NB: Check the rice – I found a small stone in mine.

At the same time, heat a little olive oil – a tablespoon, maybe, in a small pan, and stir in the lentils (the organic split red lentils I currently use are much cleaner than those I got from Sainsbury’s – don’t really need washing). Stir until all are coated, then sweat gently over a low heat for about five minutes, stirring  a couple of times. Then pour in plenty of boiling water – the lentils will expand greatly – cover and simmer until they are a smooth, silky, cloud, beat with a wooden spoon and leave uncovered over a low heat to dry off somewhat. Keep an eye on them, you don’t want them to burn, you want a smooth purée.

Treating red lentils like this – it’s brilliant for soup – ensures that they are very smooth, and not gritty or granular in the slightest. Set these aside too, covered, so they don’t develop a crust.

OK, back to the main pot and, when the beans and carrots are cooked, add the rest of the items from the bold section, plus the rice, rice liquid, and the lentils, stir well, bring back to the boil and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring gently so it doesn’t stick, just to take any sense of rawness off the flavourings.

By now it should be quite thick. If, as I did, you have too much liquid, press a sieve into the surface and scoop out as much as you can into a small pan, reduce it by about half, dissolve in it another rounded teaspoon of Marmite, a good squirt of HP and a teaspoon of Marigold Bouillon powder (you can add more to taste should you wish later), stir back into the pot then check and adjust the seasoning.

Stir one last time, cover, and put on the floor, out of the way, to cool.

Refrigerate overnight for the various flavours to snuggle up and do their thing in the dark and, next day, portion and freeze.

Use as you would ordinary mince. It’s especially good as a Rustic Domicile Pie filling (well, Cottage Pie is beef, so can’t call it that!), or as Mince and Tatties.

This gets 3 spoons. Not because it’s hard, but for the nuisance value of having three pans on the go, which some might find stressful. Plus it takes quite a long time and needs supervision and stirring.

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