Vegan comfort food to get you through Veganuary: Lentil bolognese

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January is traditionally a time for resolutions – big commitments to worthy lifestyle changes for a “better you” this year. Many of us have made the leap to trying veganism as a healthy, ethical and environmentally friendly choice, but you’re a special breed if you’re finding the transition a breeze. The frosty first month of the year is hard work at the best of times, and now that we find ourselves shut in another lockdown, it’s going to take more than a little willpower not to reach for that ham and cheese toastie or another handful of chocolate buttons. To help you hold your nerve, we’ve created a series of recipes for vegan comfort foods that should get you through Veganuary and hopefully beyond. Our first is an appetising animal-friendly lentil bolognese.

Warm and cosy lentil bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese is a faithful friend when you need something warm and hearty at the end of a long day. Replacing meat with red lentils is easy and it’s far cheaper too. Lots of lentils need soaking before cooking, but red ones don’t so they’re a straightforward option you can just chuck into the pan. They don’t have much of a taste on their own but they soak up flavours beautifully. To serve two people you’ll need:

200g red lentils (or 100g plus veg of your choice for extra vitamins – aubergines, mushrooms, peas, carrots or even chopped leftover sprouts will work!)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 vegan beef stock cube (or a vegetable stock cube)
2 cloves of garlic (or more if you’re a garlic fiend!)
1/2 an onion
1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of mixed Italian herbs
Splash of soy sauce or a teaspoon of Marmite
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
100g dry pasta

Wash the lentils till the water runs clear (you’ll need to change the water maybe two or three times). Next, simply put them in a saucepan with all the other ingredients, except for the pasta, bring to the boil, turn down and simmer till the lentils have softened (around 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. The liquid from the tinned tomatoes should be enough for the lentils to cook in, but you might need to add a little water to stop the pan from getting too dry. Meanwhile, you can cook the pasta separately, or, if you’re feeling really lazy, add it to the lentil mixture about five minutes after the lentils have started simmering.

Serve with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast or some grated vegan cheese on top. You can add a leaf or two of basil as a finising touch if you’re feeling fancy! Violife is the best vegan cheese option to simulate the texture and flavour of the real thing without an aftertaste like coconut feet, and it melts gorgeously. If you haven’t discovered nutritional yeast – or “nooch” – already, knock yourself out. The concept is a little weird (it’s deactivated yeast in the form of a goldish powder or granules), but it beautifully complements vegan dishes with a touch of umami, and acts as an excellent substitute for Parmesan cheese. It’s less costly than cheese alternatives and longer lasting, plus it adds a kick of all-important Vitamin B-12.

If you want to go all out, you can add to the carbs quota with homemade garlic bread to accompany your dish. All you need to do is make a garlic butter with dairy-free margarine or butter; Flora do an excellent vegan butter in both salted and unsalted versions, and Violife is a budget-friendly favourite margarine. Preheat your oven to 200C (180C for fan assisted), then mince one clove of garlic with 30g of butter or margarine – you can increase the quantities as needed, but that’s your ratio. Put the garlic butter onto a strip of clingfilm and roll into a log, then chill in the fridge for about ten minutes. Next, cut slices almost to the bottom of a part-cooked baguette, then pop a slice of chilled butter into each slit. Wrap in foil and bake for five minutes or so, then remove the foil and cook for a further five minutes till lightly browned and crispy.

Buon appetito!

Alexandra Fletcher

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