David and Stephen Flynn, AKA The Happy Pear, have been running a veg shop for 18 years and have written six vegan cookery books that focus on fresh, healthy vegan recipes. From how to cook aubergine to what to do with leeks, The Happy Pear are experts on cooking with veg.
Their latest book, The Veg Box, features 10 different vegetables and demonstrates how to cook then 10 different ways – with 10 ingredients or less.
We spoke to them on the Simply Vegan podcast to get some much-needed tips on creative cooking with common vegetables.
How to cook aubergine
“Aubergines are part of the nightshade family and they’re one that people are afraid of because so often people undercook them and they end up chewy and rubbery,” says Stephen. “But when you get past that caramelisation point, it melts in your mouth.”
“It has a wonderful capacity to absorb a lot of oil,” adds David. “It’s like a sponge, so you need plenty liquid if baking it.” This has the added advantage of not having to worry about how to dispose of cooking oil.
“I typically chop it into small chunks – the smaller you cook any vegetable, the quicker it’s going to cook in an oven so try to cut it to a similar size.”
The Happy Pear explain that traditionally, aubergine needed salting and then washing to remove its bitter flavour, but this has now been bred out.
“They’re amazing carriers of flavour when you roast them. I will always use tamari or soya sauce with aubergine because they add that umami flavour.
“People will take them out of the oven and shake them around and remove them when they’re a bit slimy, but you want to draw the moisture out.
“They should come out kind of slightly golden and when you put it in your mouth it will literally just melt!”
From baba ghanoush to curries and Reubens, The Happy Pear have perfected how to cook aubergine
How to cook with cauliflower
So now you know how to cook aubergine properly, what about other veg?
Like many of us, The Happy Pear admit to hating cauliflower when they were growing up. When boiled or steamed, cauliflower can be bland and mushy.
“Cauliflower has quite a high degree of moisture in it, so when you roast it it has the ability for that water to evaporate and then the sugars caramelise and char. It’s just magnificent,” exclaims David.
“It would be in our top three vegetables now,” adds Stephen.
“Most people discard cauliflower leaves, but you can rip them off and slice them. Take a bit of the spine out if it’s too hard and just roast them along with the cauliflower.
“Add a little salt and oil and they crisp up – they go like a packet of crisps!”
“And typically, per one cauliflower head, one tablespoon of oil will suffice and a generous pinch of a coarse sea salt and then put in things like smoked paprika, a bit of tamari or a maple glaze,” says Stephen.
This cauliflower tray bake by The Happy Pear is an example of how versatile veg can be
How to cook with mushrooms
“There are six times more fungi in the planet from there is actual plants, so there’s such a variety of mushrooms out there.” Says Stephen.
“They’re just such carriers of flavour and you can get meaty, grizzly textures.”
For those of us who don’t like the sometimes slimy texture of mushrooms, The Happy Pear advise cooking them like a steak, as they’re a great example of being able to use vegetables for meat alternatives.
“So the whole idea is that you take, say, an oyster mushroom and you flatten it in a pan. And if you get a clean pan and compress it down on top of it, you’re gonna get more charring.
“You’re encouraging more evaporation of the moisture, so you get this really incredible texture. Once you start adding flavour into that, you really can get that steak-like note.
They add that their favourite mushroom is Lion’s Mane.
“It’s a white fluffy cloud mushroom and you can get this almost chicken-like steak.
“Studies have shown that they can help create more neural pathways in your brain. It looks like a brain and it’s heralded in terms of brain health,” they tell us.
When cooked right, mushrooms can be a great replacement for steak
How to cook with beetroot
Much more than just something to slice on your salad, beetroot can in fact be used to make delicious soups, stews, curries, burgers and even desserts.
“Beetroot is typically the sweetest of all vegetables. It combines really well with chocolate and coffee,” says David.
“I love the beetroot pesto,” says Stephen, referring to the recipes in their new book.
“So the idea of beetroot pesto might sound ridiculous but it has such a vibrant pink colour. You want it to emulsify so that it’s kind of got a consistent texture. Because beetroot’s very high in water and it’s quite starchy, you’re gonna end up with chunks in it unless you do it properly.”
The Happy Pear go on to recommend the beetroot balls in their book, which are made with less than 10 ingredients.
The beetball recipe from The Vegan Box by The Happy Pear uses just 10 ingredients
How to cook with leeks
“We have a serious love affair with leeks,” laugh The Happy Pear.
“In the UK, we typically use the white part of the leek but if you go to Northern Spain, they just use the green part of the leek.
“But what we do is we’ll use the green and the white. It’s such a subtle, soft, delicious vegetable. There’s a tenderness to leek, which takes time and patience,” says David.
“I think it steams really well,” adds Stephen.
“Give it a good rinse, because lots of sediment often hides in the middle. Chop it up to whatever kind of size you want, but you kind of want it to hold onto the integrity of the leek and then pop it into your curry or whatever you’re cooking.
“Put a bit of salt in just to draw a bit of moisture and put the lid on and allow that moisture to evaporate and sweat for five or six minutes.”
But don’t stop there – Stephen explains how to get a nice, caramelised edge to your leeks.
“Take the lid off, allow the moisture to evaporate and you’ve gone from steaming to frying.
“Get the base of the pan to just char ever so slightly, so you get the soft, subtle sweetness with the caramelised bit on the outside.
“It almost tastes like sweets – it’s like that hybrid between savoury and sweet.”
Whether you want to know how to cook with aubergines or have a glut of courgettes to use up, the key is to experiment.
Getting creative with vegetables is one of the most exciting things about being vegan – so don’t be afraid to try something new not you know how to cook aubergine, cauliflower, beetroot and more!
Ready to use all these brilliant new cooking tips? Check out our huge selection of tasty and nutritional vegan recipes.