Spontaneous Recipes – Using Surplus food….

Given the overwhelming amount of food that gets thrown away in our towns and cities, from our supermarkets and shops, it makes good sense to practice and learn a way of cooking that allows for this, while bringing you culinary diversity and satisfaction.

Alice writes:

Over the last bit of life, I have enjoyed spending more time getting more experimental in the kitchen, using skipped food always necessitates flexibility on the part of the chef.

Most recipes below have been inspired by the ingredients I have found in front of me. Using up surplus and being creative in the kitchen is something anyone can learn, it’s about gaining confidence in what flavors, textures and consistencies work well together. I hate following recipes exactly, for me it takes out much of the fun, but glancing at recipes can give inspiration for new flavor’s combinations or types of dish to try! Once you’re in the kitchen, its often about what feels right i find…..I have learned some general rules along the way which help me along! I’m happy to be putting these to paper and I hope you can share in learning from them as well as for yourselves.

I have found it useful to cook meals of a similar theme several times in close succession, (e.g. Moroccan tagine/curry) as you can learn from how it turns out each time and tweak it till your happy that you’ve generally mastered a meal kind of like that. For example, you may find you added too many raisins as it was too sweet or their texture was overpowering, or you fried the aubergine too long as it rather melted into the mix…

Key to recipes

  • Quantities – I am going to use ‘handfuls’ as amounts in some of the recipes…This means a healthy handful! It’s just lovely to be liberated from the weighing scales. The more you cook for a certain number of people the better you will become at estimating how much of what you need. As a rule, 100g carbs will fill a hungry person.
  • Caramelising Onions – for me, this is one of the most important and most enjoyable points in the cooking. Making a tasty base from which you build your meal is key. See ‘Tasty Vegan Slop’


Savory flapjack

This portable tasty and nutritious snack can be made from almost anything! I thought of making them when I became wheat intolerant and was going on a cycling trip for which I’d need easy nutritious snacks. It can be a snack of its own, eaten as part of a picnic or even a roast dinner.

Really you can design it with any combination of vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices you’d like. The first one i made was using chestnuts during the season and it was amazing! The proportions of fat/liquid can be adjusted to get desired consistency (binded and firm, not too dry, not too sloppy!)

Below is an example recipe, approximately enough to fill an army mess tin/large baking tray. It can be adjusted to suit taste and need.

Spiced Roast Pumpkin and Coriander Flapjack

  • 1kg Oats
  • 500g vegan marg/olive oil
  • 3 handfuls of pumpkin
  • 1 handful pumpkin seeds
  • 1 handful of raisins
  • 2 Onions grated
  • 2 Carrots grated
  • 1/2 bulb garlic
  • Thumb of ginger
  • 4 fresh chili’s (if you like it a bit hot!)
  • Coriander seeds
  • Fresh Coriander
  • Salt ‘n’ Pepper
  • Brown Sugar


  1. First you need to get roasting the pumpkin. Chop into cubes and roast with the coriander seeds, garlic, salt, pepper, and half the chilies. Add some brown sugar half way through for the caramelized effect! You could also roast the pumpkin seeds if you like – pop them in when pumpkin is nearly done – try adding some shoyu/soya sauce for tasty extra seeds! If you don’t have time for roasting, boiled, grated of thinly sliced pumpkin will work just fine.
  2. Whilst bits are finishing in the oven, mix together dry ingredients. The most important methodological thing I discovered for this recipe is to mix the dry ingredients (oats, seeds, raisins) first as it becomes much harder to stir when it gets damp! You could mix wet ingredients, not including marg/oil (grated onions, carrots, ginger, fresh chopped coriander) together first as well.
  3. Combine all wet and dry ingredients together.
  4. Begin to melt marg if you’re using it.
  5. Remove pumpkin from oven and add to mixture. Leave oven on as flapjacks nearly ready to go in.
  6. Add marg/oil to the mixture. At this point you can always add more oats if it’s quite damp or more fat.
  7. Spread out in baking tray, between one and two inches is fine, thickness will partially determine moistness/crispness.
  8. Bake in a medium hot oven (180c) for between 40 mins and 1 hour. You will know it’s cooked when the texture becomes springy and the top looks cooked.


I have also incorporated left over soups and rosaries into this. You can also try crushed linseeds as an alternative/complementary binding ingredient.

Vegetable crisps

For really tasty and crispy crisps, i use a peeler to cut up the veg.

Parsnip, carrot and beetroot is a great combination….test out crisping other veg too – although be warned, turnips will not crisp! It would appear their moisture content is too high and the flesh burns before they crisp up.

It’s possible to do them in the oven, but i have found the best results always come from deep frying – you can reuse the oil, in fact it might add a tasty edge to a savory flapjack.

  1. Heat oil till it’s hot – test it by dropping in a small bit of veg, it’s hot enough when it bubbles straight away.
  2. Put in a handful of veg peelings (if using household size pan) you don’t want to put in too much as it will take too long to cook and burn. It will boil up quite dramatically- this is the water hitting the fat. You can see when they are nearly done as this subsides…
  3. They are done when they have shriveled…you will quickly learn the best time to remove them – too soon and they won’t crisp, but better than too late as you can always chuck them back in for a minute.
    Remove from pan with a drainy spoon.
  4. You can season with salt, pepper or anything you fancy!
  5. Eat or serve while crispy


Making vegan slop tasty and memorable

I begin most meals with a similar, but subtly different approach depending on the required outcome! I feel that one of the keys to tasty food is attention paid to caramelising the onions and getting the base done really nicely. Unless I’m cooking something like a dhal (requiring burned garlic) then i start with the onion first, add to a hot pan and cook for a few minutes. Meanwhile, have your garlic chopped (as leaving it for a while allows enzymes within it to work bringing out flavor and goodness) you can also add salt to it while it sits.

Back to the onions, when they have begun to soften, you add your vinegar or lemon…for curries/most Asian food i prefer to use lemon, for more Mediterranean food balsamic vinegar is best…but any vinegar type thing can be used at this stage. If you are adding spices, you may want add them now, frying spices brings out their flavor, but also changes it a bit and you can play about with adding them now, or later after you’ve added the vegetables.

Cook for a little bit, add some soya sauce (Asian type) or red wine (Mediterranean – the Co-op labels their vegan wines) reduce a little…at this point you may well want to add some sugar, or something with sugar content (sweet chili sauce, molasses, honey) to get them really caremelised. Some freshly ground black pepper is good here and perhaps some more vinegar/lemon now too. Really the quantity and choice of additions here is dependent on how rich/light/sweet/tangy you wanting the final meal to be.

When it’s looking nice, turn down the heat a bit and add some combination of the ‘holy trinity’ of spices – Garlic, Ginger, and Chili

You can go almost anywhere from this tasty base….

Herbs

Most herbs are more delicate than most spices, and fresh herbs are mostly usually added very near the end of a dish. Hardier herbs like thyme may be added earlier, when boiling lentils before adding them to a dish try adding some lemon thyme!

Curries

With a curry, you may want to dry fry some spices before you begin the onions, these can be ground and added later or just left in whole. Different methods of roasting/frying/boiling will change subtly different spices qualities – I am no expert on this and usually do what feels right!

Thats what I got for you for now…..more may follow!

Happy Cooking!
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