For Veganuary 2018, I have been trying to recreate near-replicas of popular non-vegan dishes, simply and inexpensively, in order to make the transition easier for people who are trying to reduce their intake of animal products while keeping in some recognisable dishes. I chose aubergine for this because it retains a ‘meaty’ texture when cooked, is succulent and juicy when cooked slowly in liquid, and at 75p for an aub, is a sight cheaper than any chicken would be. Folks often assume that a vegan lifestyle is full of expensive substitutes, but if you lay off the fake processed meat-substitutes and instead celebrate vegetables in all their cheap, delicious glory, it actually works out cheaper than the traditional meat-and-two-veg lifestyle. I should know, I’ve been writing budget recipes for six years now (!) and half that time was as a carnivore, half that time as a herbivore, and all that time carefully costing every dish by the penny. If aubergines aren’t your thing, try mushrooms, potatoes, or any veg of your choice. If you aren’t vegan or don’t have coconut milk in the house, you can use any kind of milk in its place – don’t buy it especially if it isn’t something you are likely to use. Grace and Maggi brands both sell powdered coconut milk, usually in the world foods or baking aisles, that is inexpensive and practical.
Serves 2-4 from 30p each
1 large onion, approx 150g, 9p (90p/1.5kg, Sainsburys Basics)
1 large aubergine, 75p (75p each, Sainsburys)
2 tbsp cooking oil, 3p (£3/3l, Sainsburys sunflower oil)
¼ tsp chilli flakes, 1p (80p/100g, Natco or KTC)
100ml coconut milk, 10p (£1/1l, Alpro coconut milk alternative at Sainsburys)
2 tbsp peanut butter, 9p (90p/340g, Sainsburys Basics)
1/2 tsp lemon juice, <1p (50p/250ml, Sainsburys)
100g frozen spinach or kale, 13p (£1.30/kg, Sainsburys)
A pinch of salt
First peel and finely slice your onion and toss into a large saucepan or frying pan. Dice the aubergine and add that too. Pour in the cooking oil and cook on a medium heat for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften. If the aubergine starts to brown, shake the lemon juice over it to stop it. It won’t matter when it’s all covered in sauce but it does make it look a bit better while cooking it.
Pour over the coconut milk and stir in the peanut butter and chilli, and turn the heat up to bring it to the boil. The peanut butter may fragment slightly and look like a split sauce, but it’s just getting its act together, it will melt into the coconut milk to form a smooth sauce soon enough. When it starts to bubble, reduce the heat down to medium again and cook for 20 minutes, or until the aubergine is soft. You may need to add a splash of water to it to loosen it if the sauce gets too thick – not all coconut milk nor peanut butter is created equal!
A minute or two before serving, stir in the frozen greens and allow them to cook. Garnish with a little extra chilli, if liked, and serve.
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