It’s not easy being a vegan in Spain. There I’ve said it. I love Spain, and I particularly love Galicia in the northwest corner where we have an ancient house in a tiny village near a beautiful river. I love the people, I love the fiestas and I love the wildness of the landscapes. But, since I’ve been a vegan, the food has been a bore.
In the last few years, the options for eating animal-free in the UK have improved considerably. Now, many cafés and restaurants, especially in Bristol and other large cities, can rustle up something plant-based. Often it’s just the old cop-out of the vegetarian option without the cheese, which is invariably disappointing, but there is usually something on the menu that a vegan can eat. In the more foodie places, with a day or two’s notice, many chefs are happy to run up something really tasty from scratch.
Spain is a different matter. You might find something plant-based and half-decent in the larger cities if you look hard enough, but not much. Outside the big cities, you’d better get used to salad and chips.
If you’re in Galicia where we are, you can throw some pimientos de Padron into the mix. The Galicians are proud of their cuisine and this reverence extends throughout Spain. But, like most of Spain, it is heavily weighted to fish, meat and cheese. Even the traditional soup, Caldo Gallego, which is full of vegetables and often beans, starts off with a pig foot or hock and has a little cured pig fat tossed in for good measure. A request in a restaurant for something made with purely plants is met with bemusement and the suggestion of an ensalada normal – just lettuce, onion and tomato with an oil and vinegar dressing. It’s fine as a side dish but it’s just not a meal.
So, I have come up with a little solution to this problem – and it works anywhere in the world where you need a little emergency food fix. I carry at all times a small pot of toasted nuts and seeds, spiked with lemon zest, which I sprinkle on any boring salad or dull vegetable dish that is presented to me. It immediately multiplies both the taste and the nutritional value. Easy peasy, delicious, healthy and, in a little screw top jar, stays fresh for ages. We use this mix in our booster salad, along with a hemp oil and cider vinegar dressing which delivers another big hit of flavour and nutrients.
Here’s the recipe:
Seed and nut vegan rescue mix
20g sesame seeds
25g pumpkin seeds
25g sunflower seeds
zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
Toast the hazelnuts in a heavy-based dry pan, moving them around so they don’t burn. Once you can smell the aroma and the nuts are slightly moist looking, tip them out of the pan onto a clean, rough towel. Fold them in the towel and rub them through the fabric to remove as much of the skin as possible – you won’t get them completely clean but get off as much as you can. Once they are cool, pop them in a spice grinder or mini food processor and grind them to a fine meal. Tip into a small bowl.
Then, in sequence, toast the seeds – I usually start with the sesame seeds. Keep them moving with a wooden spoon to stop them burning. When they start to pop, tip them into a bowl with the hazelnut meal. Do the same with the pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Finally, add the lemon zest, give it all a good stir and leave to cool. Tip it into an screwtop container, pop it in your bag, and you’re ready to zhoosh up any unimaginative vegetable dish put in front of you.