See the alliteration in the title? That’s just the kind of cheesiness we can get away with now that the grounds are laden with frost (at least in Durham, anyway), there’s a whisper of carols in the air, and festivities are creeping in around every corner. Our society is selling tickets for our annual Christmas Meal at the Library Bar (which is forcing me to make a very stressful decision between the Smoked Cheez & Beetroot Tart, or the Festive Spicy Burger), and I just walked through the Market Place to the blaring tune of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. Whatever your stance on when ‘tis officially the season, there’s no denying that winter is well and truly upon us.
For me, the change in weather has always naturally coincided with a change in what I’m cooking, and winter means piping hot dishes packed with hearty legumes and veg, seasoned with aromatic spices. You’ll notice that these recipes don’t have strict measurements – I’ll usually look up a recipe when I want some basic ideas, and then play with the ingredients and quantities until it suits my personal taste – for instance, I was raised on spicy food, so I’m more generous than most with the chilli flakes!
Since my meals are always vegan, it can be fun to look up recipes which usually contain meat and then ‘veganise’ them, either by finding a fake meat replacement in the supermarket or thinking of creative ways to switch the meat for a plant-based alternative. For example, I picked up a good tip from my sister with mushrooms – if you chop them as small as possible, they have a mince-like texture which is perfect for chilli! I hardly ever use fancy ingredients, so these meals are all super cheap to make – I usually spend £10-£15 on my weekly shop – and I’ll make them in big batches, so I only need to cook two or three dinners per week. These recipes are all easy to adapt, and their unique spice bases make for a diverse week of winter warmers!
Pasta with creamy veg sauce
Fry onions and garlic, then add in whatever veg you fancy – personally, I find that mushrooms and aubergines work well! Pour in half a cup of non-dairy milk (I’d go with soy, oat, or almond) and a few spoons of single cream – Alpro does a carton which you can find in most supermarkets. Cook whatever kind of pasta you like, drain and stir into the sauce, ready to serve.
Red lentil dal
Dal is my go-to – being Indian, my mum has cooked it for me on a weekly basis since I was a child, and although I wasn’t the hugest fan then, it’s one of my favourite dishes now! Fry onions, garlic, and ginger along with cumin seeds, turmeric, and garam masala (if you have them, only the masala is essential.) Fry whatever vegetables you’re using – I like red pepper, courgette, and green beans – then add your red lentils and water. Season with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes, and keep stirring on medium heat until the lentils cook and it’s nice and thick – for a creamier dal you can also add coconut milk!
Chilli sin Carne
Fry onion and garlic, then add the finely chopped mushrooms, along with any other veg. Mix in your beans (use whatever kind you prefer – personally I love the kidney beans in chilli sauce, so I’ll use one of those along with a regular tin of any other beans, drained and rinsed.) Add a small carton of tomato passata, bring to the boil and then let it simmer for at least half an hour. Don’t forget your spices – I’d usually add black pepper, paprika and chilli flakes. There are a million ways to serve chilli – you can make your own guac, eat it with tortilla chips, mix with rice…sometimes I like to make this for dinner and then use the leftovers to make burritos for lunch the next day!