Friday, 2 March 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Vegan sausages (Λουκάνικα νηστίσιμα)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

 "Sausages from beans?" was the title of an article by Orestis Thavias in last month's Gastronomos. Not that I have a problem with eating the regular carnivorous version, but I was intrigued to find a recipe for vegan sausages in a Greek foodie magazine, a supplement of the Sunday Kathimerini. The article did not hint at any sign of the times (eg a mention of the crisis), but was talking about an alternative lifestyle, as if nothing is in disarray...

The author is a dedicated vegetarian, but he is honest with his readers. It's not easy to be and stay vegetarian by choice (ie other than medical reasons), because vegetarians eventually come to the realisation that they miss both the unique umami taste and the texture of meat, as well as the feeling of fullness that meat gives you, We aren't born to be vegetarians, we become one by choice, but even then, we don't forget our past preferences so easily.

The writer says that it took him about a decade to realise that he was no longer tempted by the burnt-pan aroma of a meat dish. Before that, he needed 'help' to get over it. He provides a very basic recipe for something he calls 'different' sausages, made with beans (for protein) and breadcrumbs, tomato puree (to bind) and onions (for the umami taste), and some herbs and spices (for more flavour). He admits that his tasty 'sausages' are not really convincing when compared to mass-produced meat substitutes for vegans/vegetarians (available mainly - only?? - at organic shops in Greece), which provides further evidence that we are not born for this kind of life.

Having said that, vegan sausages can be made very cheaply at home, and if I may says so myself, they can be very tasty. The ready prepared food vegans/vegetarians can buy at organic shops in Greece are probably very expensive, not because they are made with cheap ingredients, but, as is common in Greece, such items are imported, in the same way that the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle has been imported to Greece. It's just not Greek to be vegetarian all year round, is it?


But home-made vegan sausages do have one good point about them, and that is that they constitute a very cheap and frugal dish, and they can be very Greek in taste and origin too. My recipe is a variation of the one that I found in Gastronomos. Most of my cheap'n'greek'n'frugal recipes are much simpler than this one, but when you're living without meat, you need to make sure you're eating something healthy as well as tasty.

To make Greek-tasting vegan sausages for four people, you need:
100g black eyed beans (~ 25 cents)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (~ 5 cents; you can also make your own by collecting the dregs left over from a packet of paximathi or friganies - which aren't cheap to buy - or even your own breadcrumbs)
1 large onion*
1/2 cup tomato puree* (I use own home-made one)
a few sprigs of parsley*
a few sprigs of basil* (I used mint from the garden)
some dried oregano*
a sprinkling of cumin powder* (to make your vegan sausages smell like soutzoukakia)
some red pepper (to make your fake meat smell like souvlaki)
salt and freshly ground pepper*

Soak the beans overnight. Drain, boil in fresh water till tender (about 30 minutes), drain again. Place the beans, onion, tomato, herbs and seasonings in a small blender and mix till a soft doughy mixture is formed. Mix in the breadcrumbs and shape into sausages (or balls or patties). Place in the fridge to allow them to become firm. To cook them, roll them in flour (being careful when lifting them off the plate so that they do not break) and shallow-fry in a pan with some olive oil until well-browned.The flour will make them look singed - you can try cooking them without the flour but they may break.

I also made a vegetarian (rather than vegan) version by adding some mizithra cheese. You can also add an egg to give them a fuller more satisfying taste. I served this meal with some bread crusts (my mother-in-law was making skorthalia) and an amazing hot sweet and sour spicy cabbage and fennel bulb dish - another cheap and Greek and frugal meal. NB: This kind of meal doesn't give you a full feeling in your stomach, so you will want to eat a lot.

Total cost of meal: about 1 euro, 25 cents a serving among four people.

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