How do I add bite to mushy vegan food? | Food

How do I add texture to vegan pulse, pasta and rice dishes so my non-vegan family can’t complain it’s just mush?
Signe, Brighton

“It’s all about a drizzle, a dollop and a crunch,” says Bettina Campolucci-Bordi, author of Celebrate: Plant-Based Recipes for Every Occasion. “I add at least two to every meal, and that instantly creates different textures.” A drizzle could be something as simple as good-quality olive or flavoured oil (chilli, garlic, basil) or date syrup, while a dollop is essentially something creamy: “Hummus made from butter beans or chickpeas, a pesto or flavoured yoghurt, say.” As for the crunch, that’s “chopped toasted nuts, a chunky dukkah or za’atar, pomegranate, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, roast chickpeas flavoured with things like tandoori spice”. In short, Signe would be wise to adopt Campolucci-Bordi’s mantra of “more is better”.

Another tactic for avoiding the mush factor is to consider how you chop your veg. “With vegetables that need more cooking, such as potatoes, chop them small, whereas if you’re adding courgettes to the same dish, chop them bigger, otherwise they’ll go soft and mushy.”

For extra oomph on the texture front, Craig and Shaun McAnuff, whose latest book, Natural Flava: Quick and Easy Plant-Based Caribbean Recipes, is out this month, favour roasting their veg (“for an incredible crust on the outside and melty insides”) or grilling it (“it gives you that crispy texture and smoky flavour”). Vivek Singh’s texture tricks, meanwhile, include frying mustard seeds and urid lentils with curry leaves and spices in oil, then tipping the lot into a lentil broth. Another option, says the executive chef and founder of The Cinnamon Collection restaurant group, is to top lentil and bean dishes with raw, pickled or lightly sauteed vegetables (think chopped broccoli or cauliflower). “You can also experiment by adding chopped nuts, fried shallots, and puffed or toasted flaked rice to the top of big, hearty bowls of lentils and rice for extra substance.” Some spicy scrambled tofu wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Singh also recommends khichdi to keep Signe’s family’s objections at bay. “It’s a traditional, home-style rice and lentil dish tempered with cumin, turmeric and vegetables [cauliflower, peas, carrots, chopped tomatoes].” He ups the ante by serving it with a roast aubergine relish: “Stuff two aubergine halves with cloves of garlic and rub with mustard oil. Char the aubergine over an open flame, turning frequently, until blackened evenly on all sides.” Once cool, remove and discard the skin and the garlic, chop the flesh and mix with sea salt, red onion, chillies, coriander and mustard oil.

Finally, when all routes point to pasta, Shaun McAnuff is partial to a “creamy, crunchy” vegan mac and cheese. He caramelises onion, garlic and chilli, mixes that with cooked pasta and vegan “cheese” sauce, and seasons. “Spoon into a deep baking dish, top with vegan mozzarella and breadcrumbs [you could even use broken crackers], and bake.” His brother, Craig, meanwhile, is all about pesto made with callaloo, a leafy Caribbean green. “All you do is caramelise garlic and mustard seed, then blitz with callaloo [or spinach], nuts, avocado, scotch bonnet and spices.” Toss that through cooked pasta and top with a sprinkling of nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) for that all-important crunch.

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