Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Casserole

I love meals that I can cook in the oven. It’s so easy to just chop up some veg, add a few other ingredients, put it in the oven and I can get other stuff done while it’s cooking! This casserole has a few of our favourite vegetables, as well as potatoes and chickpeas so it’s a whole meal in one dish, so less washing-up to do too.

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Spinach and Cashew Pesto

Pesto is such a great food, it’s really quick to make it from scratch and tastes delicious.  Traditional pesto has cheese but it can easily be left out or replaced with nutritional yeast, which gives it a nice flavour and lots of B vitamins.  You can buy vegan pesto too, but it’s really easy to make.  You can mix it up by using any kind of nuts and herbs you like, or kale or wild garlic.  Pine nuts are delicious but pretty expensive so I like to make it with cashews.  They contain loads of protein and loads of iron.  I love making it with spinach so it’s really, really high in iron, and add some fresh basil too for that lovely flavour.  Nobody even needs to know there’s spinach in it if they don’t like it!  This recipe is also oil-free but has healthy fats from the cashews.  If you want then feel free to add some extra virgin olive oil, but it’s also nice without it.

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I used to make this for Rian all the time when he used to go to a crèche when he was younger.  He was going through a fussy toddler phase and only wanted carby foods like pasta, but luckily he loved this pesto!  Like a lot of childcare places, he couldn’t bring nuts to the crèche so I used to use sunflower seeds in place of cashews, so feel free to do that.

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The pesto goes really nicely with pasta or boiled baby potatoes, in sandwiches or wraps, with salad or on a pizza.  I like to serve it on pasta with some raw or roasted cherry tomatoes, and in these photos had that with a tian (thinly sliced roasted aubergine, courgette and tomatoes).

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As you can see from the photos, it’s very much baby and 3 year old approved!  They love it.  It’s so good to be able to get some greens into them.  So many kids love pasta and I love making a healthy sauce to go on it as an easy way to get them to eat veg.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup cashews

2 handfuls of fresh spinach

1 handful of fresh basil

1 peeled clove of garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (optional)

Sea salt (optional)

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How it’s made:

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender.  (You can leave the salt out til last if you want to leave it out of kids’ portions.)

Blend it all up until it reaches the consistency you like.  If using a blender you might have to mix it up a few times to get it all blended.

Serve mixed with cooked pasta, boiled baby potatoes, in a sandwich or salad or however you like!

 

Is it Hard to be Gluten Free and Vegan?

It’s Coeliac Awareness Week so I wanted to write a post about what it’s like being coeliac and vegan and if it’s difficult.  Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to react to gluten, which is found in some grains like wheat, rye and barley.  It can cause serious problems but can be treated by removing gluten completely from the diet.  Some non-coeliacs avoid gluten too for various reasons.

You may have noticed that all of my recipes happen to be gluten free (or can be gluten free if using gluten free alternatives to pasta or flour, etc.)  I have coeliac disease so all the food I make is gluten free, but I don’t talk about it on my blog much, seeing as it’s not a health blog, it’s about being vegan, which is not just a dietary choice to me.  I also don’t think that gluten is bad for everybody, just some people.

Some vegans might want to avoid gluten because they have coeliac disease or for other reasons.  A lot of people ask me if it’s difficult to be vegan and on a gluten free diet.  Some people are concerned that it would be too difficult to be vegan and gluten free, or say that they can’t go vegan as they are already on a gluten free diet and they think it would be too restrictive or even impossible to do.

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Adjusting to Being Gluten Free and Vegan

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease four years ago.  I had to laugh as I was already vegan and thought “just what I need, to have to avoid more food”.  Also I had just put some bread in the toaster when I found out, so that was a bit annoying!  I want to take this opportunity for a little vegan brag, because it can be common for coeliacs to be low in iron, vitamin B12 and other nutrients but my blood tests showed that I wasn’t deficient in anything.  For those who think a vegan diet is low in vitamins and iron, take that!

I had been vegan for 8 years so was well used to being vegan, and had to adjust to being gluten free too.  I did make a few mistakes, like eating seitan accidentally on holiday (that’s like mostly made of gluten!), but overall I found it very easy to adjust to.

Some people have a harder time adjusting to being gluten free.  It can be a big change for people.  And it can take time to learn what foods contain gluten.  Being vegan could make it a bit more difficult in ways.  Some gluten-free foods might not be suitable for vegans, like gluten free bread is more likely to contain milk or eggs than regular bread, and it makes it harder to find food in restaurants.  But in some ways it could make it a bit easier, since we usually know what’s in our food and are used to reading labels.

I soon got used to it.  I figured out the types of bread, biscuits and other foods that I can eat, and I learned what restaurants I could eat in.  There is so much food out there other than animal products and gluten.  It really isn’t as restrictive as people might think.  The food can even taste really great.

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Finding Food

Many vegan foods happen to be gluten free, and vice versa.  Some people who avoid gluten, also avoid dairy, eggs or other allergens, so many of the foods I already ate were gluten free anyway.

I discovered BFree bread, which is suitable for vegans and free from gluten and all major allergens.  Alpro plant milks, yoghurts and desserts are mostly gluten free, as are many other brands of plant milks.  Tesco and Aldi have a few kinds of biscuits that are gluten free and suitable for vegans.  Tesco even have vegan and gluten free ice-creams in cones!  Some Nãkd bars and other snack bars are gluten free and suitable for vegans.  Other snacks like some of the Foods of Athenry range are vegan and gluten free.  Some brands of crisps are vegan and gluten free.  Most gluten free pastas are suitable for vegans, as are many of the gluten free breakfast cereals.  A lot of vegan meat substitutes are made of gluten, but there are some products available that are vegan and gluten free like Dee’s vegan sausages and burgers.  Health food shops have loads of vegan and gluten free products and people working in them are usually very helpful and knowledgable.

Also many vegan foods are naturally gluten free like fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and some grains like rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and oats (if coeliac, use certified gluten free oats in case of cross contamination).

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Restaurants

It sometimes makes eating in restaurants more difficult as it restricts the options more, but nowadays restaurants have to display allergy information, which make it easier for those of us with special dietary requirements.  Even if there aren’t any options on the menu, most places will be able to adapt dishes or make something that isn’t on the menu, a vegetable stir fry with rice, for example.  Some places are still not accommodating and that can be a pain, but that could be a problem even if you are only gluten free.  I’ve learned what restaurants are easy to find food in, and tend to stick to them.  Eating in a new restaurant can be a bit stressful but I’ve gotten used to asking about options or looking the menu up online first and most people are really nice and helpful about it.  Vegetarian and vegan restaurants, especially health food type places, often also cater for coeliacs so they usually have options.  Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants are usually easy to find vegan and gluten free options in.  More and more restaurants are adding vegan menus and gluten free menus nowadays and they often overlap.

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Cost

There’s also the problem that gluten free food can be expensive and specialist vegan food can sometimes be expensive too.  However it’s not always necessary to buy special gluten free and vegan products.  Instead you could try to stick with cheaper naturally gluten free vegan food like rice, potatoes, beans and veggies, whenever possible.  There are also some cheaper options like the Aldi, Lidl and Tesco own brand ranges of free from foods.  A vegan diet can actually be a lot cheaper than a non-vegan diet so that helps.

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Health

As for health, being gluten free and vegan doesn’t have to make it harder to be healthy or get all your nutrients.  Foods like rice, potatoes and gluten free bread and pasta will provide all the carbohydrates that you need.  Gluten free products can sometimes be lower in fibre than regular products, but vegans usually get loads of fibre from vegetables.  Coeliacs can have difficulty absorbing iron and vitamin B12, etc. but a vegan diet can provide loads of iron from dark green veg, nuts and beans, and vegans usually take B12 supplements anyway.  Some people might say that coeliacs should eat a lot of dairy products to get calcium, but there are plenty of vegan sources of calcium.  I saw a registered dietician when I found out I had coeliac disease and she said it was fine to be vegan and I could get plenty of calcium from vegan dairy alternatives, green leafy veg, tahini, almonds and other sources.  Some gluten free products are quite processed so it can be healthier to avoid overly processed foods and choose healthier ones or naturally gluten free food.

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Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to have a gluten free diet, and being vegan can make it that bit harder.  But it’s definitely not impossible.  Once you learn what foods you can eat and get used to it, then it can be totally doable.

 

You can find out more about coeliac disease here.

 

Almost Summer and a Vegan Barbecue

I’ve been really busy over the last few days and haven’t blogged much even though I’ve had loads of ideas for recipes to make.  My sister was visiting from London and staying at my parents’ house around the corner so I was walking over there every day with the kids and spending time with my family, going to the playground and chasing the kids around all day.  So after that I think we were all exhausted!  The kids had so much fun though.  They love their auntie.

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Photo by Grandad

 

We’ve also been busy making the garden nice for summer so have tidied it up, cut the grass, bought a new playhouse for the kids, a new picnic table, some bird feeders and lots of herbs to plant.  Of course the kids had to help me clean, so Oran was carrying around a sweeping brush “sweeping” and Rian was digging in a pot with a trowel and throwing earth everywhere.  So it took a while but it’s finally looking nice and we can have barbecues now using our tiny green barbecue!

In Ireland we count summer as starting on the 1st of May and I like that since I love summer so much, and can’t wait for it to start!  My favourite thing is being able to spend time outdoors without being too cold or wet and getting to eat outside.  And of course I love that the kids get to run around outdoors and enjoy themselves.

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I like to make barbecued food quite simply, with lots of fresh veg and healthy vegan burgers and sausages.  Not your typical barbecue but full of delicious flavours.  We had homemade falafel burgers, marinated mushrooms, corn on the cob, asparagus and Dee’s vegan sausages.

It was my first time cooking Dee’s sausages on a barbecue and they worked really well.  I brushed the grill with a little olive oil, and they cooked perfectly.  They tasted extra good barbecued!

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For the mushrooms I simply drizzled them with some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled on some finely chopped garlic, paprika, sea salt and black pepper and rubbed the mixture in to them, a while before cooking them on the barbecue.  They had such a great flavour.  They’d be extra good with smoked paprika.  You can also eat them in a burger bun as a simple alternative to a veggie burger.

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For the falafel burgers, I simply put two drained tins of chickpeas, 2 peeled cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh coriander, a handful of fresh parsley, a few fresh mint leaves, 1 heaped tsp. ground cumin, 1 heaped tsp. ground coriander, 1 flat tsp. paprika, a pinch of chilli flakes, 1/4 cup of plain flour, and some salt and pepper in a food processor and blended it all up.  I then shaped them into patties, and they were ready to cook.  They also could be fried or baked in the oven.  They’re nutritious and filling and great in a burger bun or wrap with some houmous or tahini, salad leaves, tomatoes, and whatever else you like.

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Oran really, really loved the corn on the cob.  He finished one and shouted at me for another one, which he also finished!  They are a really handy food for baby led weaning, easy for baby to pick up and gnaw on.

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The asparagus was also really nice.  It’s so nice to just put some fresh veggies straight onto a barbecue without doing anything to them.  Fresh, simple flavours are my favourite, especially in summer.  And you can see I painted my table blue.  It’s a bit bright but really brightens up the garden!  I love it.

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I’m so glad that it’s summer now and we can spend time outdoors.  There’s meant to be a mini heat wave this weekend so we’ll definitely be dining alfresco a lot.  And trying some different food ideas on the barbecue!