People eat meals with no animal products in them for many reasons; you may be vegan, you may be vegetarian but wish to cut out the amount of cheese and cream you eat in your food, you may want to try something different, you may be under doctor’s orders to cut out the amount of meat and dairy in your diet or you want to sign up for the Meat-Free Monday campaign but don’t know how to cook without it. Every reason is different and personal but whatever your reason, there is absolutely no need for anyone to cook and eat a meal that has no flavour or excitement. When you cook with meat, fish, dairy or eggs it’s easy to rely on these ingredients to provide the basic flavour that the dish is based upon. That is absolutely fine as those ingredients, especially meat, are the main component of the dish and you base your surrounding flavours around it.
But what do you do to if you are cooking a meal with no eggs, dairy, fish or meat to flavour your food? What do you do if the main component of a dish has a subtle flavour – Butterbeans or Tofu or Courgettes for example? Where do you go to create those rich full flavours of a French Onion Soup or the deep and spiky taste of a slow cooked Chilli? Where can you go for a tasty, exciting Fresh Herb Pesto without the cheese to give it that well-rounded boost of flavour? Well maybe this will help you out.
To me, creating and cooking a dish is like building a house; you start from the bottom and you build your way up to the top. To me, all good food starts with its base flavours, moving up to the middle flavours and finally working their way to the top and you should be able to taste them on your tongue as you eat it. Now if you don’t have any eggs, dairy, fish or meat to give you flavour, you have to go elsewhere to find it. This can be really exciting and I often see it as working with a blank canvas – there is no dominating flavour and I can create something that tastes and looks great without any restrictions! Great eh? Just remember though, ingredients such as vegetables and beans do have a flavour of their own so whatever you cook needs to work with them and not overshadow them completely.
There are some amazing products available on every supermarket shelf and over the years I have built up what I call my ‘Flavour Bible’. Over the next few weeks I shall be sharing this with you and taking you through it so you can begin experimenting yourself with all the different tastes and flavours that are animal-free.
To start off however, I would like to take you through a recipe; one which has all the three stages of flavour building and is absolutely delicious! It’s a really simple Pesto recipe which I developed over the years but is rich, zingy and packed full of flavour. It’s also incredibly versatile and with a tweak here and there you can make loads of different dishes with just this one recipe. Instead of just giving it to you though, I’m going to walk you through the ingredients so you know which ingredient provides what type of flavour and how they work together:
Sun-Dried Tomato, Rocket and Herb Pesto
You will need:
A Food Processor
Preparation time: 10 minutes (Once you have pre-soaked the Sun Dried Tomatoes)
275g Sun Dried Tomatoes (These give the pesto it’s base notes with the richness of the concentrated tomato).
½ tsp Capers (These add a further depth of flavour with a hint of sharpness. If you hate capers leave them out but you can’t taste them I promise!)
Dash Tamari or dark soy sauce (Just a tiny dash of this rich, strong salty sauce replaces the salt needed to bring all the flavours together but with an extra dimension of taste .An unusual ingredient to use in Pesto but it works.)
5 Cloves Garlic, peeled (Garlic is the perfect foundation builder. It gives the dish a bit of a kick on the tongue and lifts the tomato and capers nicely.)
125g Walnuts (A middle flavour. Walnuts give the pesto it’s earthy, creamy taste at the back of your throat and carries the main dish along. If you find the taste too earthy, used de-skinned walnuts or replace half the walnuts with cashews.)
95g Rocket (This adds a middle-top flavour with it peppery taste. It adds a little spice too.)
25g Basil (The classic herb for pesto. This unique top flavour is classic in any pesto and should be dominant in this dish. Feel free to add more if you wish.)
130ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil (This binds the dish together but also adds another top flavour.)
Juice ¼ lemon (The ultimate kick in the pants! Just a little lemon juice will lift the whole dish and bring out all the flavours to their best potential. Absolutely essential.
To taste Freshly ground Pepper (There is a lot going on in this dish but you will be surprised just how a few turns of the peppermill can make all the difference.)
Cold water (in case it gets too thick)
Place all the ingredients except the Extra Virgin Olive Oil and lemon juice into the food processor. Add around half of the olive oil and pulse the mixture until it starts to blend. Gradually add more olive oil and continue to blend. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and add the lemon juice. If you feel it is a bit too thick, add a small splash of water and blend until you reach the desired consistency.
When you taste it, you will see that it is very rich, very deep, very creamy and zesty all at the same time. It has some wonderful flavours in it and all of them animal free.
I make my mixture quite thick and keep it in an airtight tub in the fridge and it lasts for about a week. This is because it is so versatile and you can make so many different things with it:
Pesto/Pasta Sauce: Stir a little more oil and a few dashes of water into a few spoonfuls and stir through freshly cooked pasta for a quick and delicious meal.
Pate: Roll it in chopped herbs and spread it on toast or freshly baked bread.
Tartlet: Add a little water till it’s of a spooning consistency. Place 1 or 2 spoonfuls onto a cut-out circle of pre-rolled puff pastry. Place into a medium oven for 10-15 minutes until risen. Add a spoonful of tofu cream cheese or soya yoghurt mixed with lemon juice. Return to oven for 5 minutes and serve immediately. (See picture)
Salsa Verde: Add a splash of white wine or cyder vinegar and more oil until you have a sauce you can pour. Marinate some chopped mushrooms, courgettes, tomatoes and peppers in the sauce for at least 2 hours in the fridge. Remove from the marinade and stir fry or barbeque on skewers until tender. Remove from the heat and pour over the remaining marinade. Serve immediately.
There are lots of other uses for this pesto but I won’t overload you with them all now. If you need further inspiration, drop me an email and I will be happy to provide you with some.
Hopefully this recipe has shown you how to build flavours from the bottom up and how different flavours work together, but more importantly, I hope it has shown you that you don’t need to rely on meat, fish, dairy or eggs to make tasty food. Don’t be afraid to mess around with this recipe and change it according to your tastes. Find the flavours that excite your palate and create a whole new recipe of your own. At the end of the day, food should be fun so enjoy it!
Don’t Be Scared, It’s Only Food!
Lots of love
The Caper Tree