Vegetable pâtés, a versatile and healthy alternative

Kidney bean, sun-dried tomato and basil pâté.
Kidney bean, sun-dried tomato and basil pâté. / SUR
  • Various flavours can easily be combined with a simple base

Whether for health reasons or dieting, trying to reduce consumption of meat or proteins of animal origin is not necessarily incompatible with enjoying your food. Vegetable pâtés, easy to make, cheap and, in some cases with a long shelf life, are perfect for snacks with family or friends, to take to work or on a picnic, or as an option to keep in the fridge for breakfast or afternoon snack.

The basic principle of any type of pâté is that it is thick enough to spread. For that we need to use ingredients that provide consistency and creaminess. Nuts and oily seeds such as sesame, sunflower and flax seeds are perfect, and they both go with other savoury ingredients (spice mixtures, curry, miso...) as well as sweet ingredients (vanilla, cocoa powder, cinnamon...)

To work the ingredients into a thick paste, a liquidiser or food processor is needed. With 250 grammes of sesame seeds, that have been previously toasted for five minutes (without changing colour), it is possible to make a simple homemade tahini, a popular ingredient in Arabic cooking and which is good on its own as a spread.

Other options include cashews and other 'soft' nuts such as macadamias, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and peanuts. If you want to use harder nuts like almonds, you can remove the skin by scalding them and then leaving them to soak in cold water for a few hours.

Pulses also make an excellent base for pâtés. They are used extensively in India and Arabic countries to make creamy purées to eat with bread . They are part of the Spanish culture and offer a perfect base to complement with other flavours.

A third, lighter option to use as a base for a pâté are vegetables. They should be cooked first and drained well to remove and excess liquid that might make the pâté sloppy. Aubergines, pumpkin, onions and peppers can be roasted, sweet potatoes too. Steamed carrots retain their sweetness and mushrooms can be stewed or sautéed, providing all the liquid is reduced.

To make the pâté more spreadable, it can be mixed with creamy cheeses, thin cream, soft tofu or with the bases mentioned previously: pastes of nuts or pulses. Chestnuts, roasted or boiled, are also excellent for this and bring a certain sweetness to the pâté.

When it comes to flavouring vegetable pâté, there are various combinations to choose from. Garlic is an infallible ally as it goes perfectly with pulses. Dry tomatoes can give a touch of umami to almost any base. Aromatic herbs (parsley, coriander, thyme, rosemary, chives, tarragon, basil ...) provide a touch of freshness. Olives, capers or vegetable pickles raise the tone of almost everything they touch. And if you want to bring an extra touch of umami, miso (red for intense pâtés or white for the most delicate) or soy sauce are perfect allies.

Healthy afternoon snacks for children can be made using banana, chestnuts or sweet potatoes for the base and adding a sweet cream such as chocolate spread. If using banana, the sweetness will increase if you microwave it for 30 seconds before mashing it with a few drops of vanilla or cinnamon and or cocoa powder.

Pâtés made from pulses are easy to freeze, just make sure they are in a closed container with the surface of the pâté protected by cling film. Pâtés made from a base of nuts, seeds or vegetables do not respond well to freezing but can be kept for a few days in the fridge provided they are in hermetically sealed containers to prevent contamination. Seed-based pastes such as tahini keep much longer, as long as they are not mixed with water, and stored in suitable containers. Other nuts, such as walnuts, can quickly become rancid and are best eaten quickly.

Nowadays it is easy to find vegetable pâtés in supermarkets and health food shops. Very reliable, varied and rich are those from the company Coín pa 'Comérselo: aubergine or pepper pâté, sweet creams like sweet potato with spices... La Molienda Verde, from Benalauría, also makes great pâtés from olives and from chestnuts.

Soak the tomatoes in warm water for about one hour. Drain and scrape off any seeds. Chop the flesh finely. Rinse and drain the red kidney beans and peel and chop the garlic clove. Pick the leaves off the basil stalks and chop (you will need about eight leaves). Put the chopped leaves, garlic, tomatoes, three to four table spoons of olive oil, the juice of the lemon, salt and pepper into a liquidiser or food proccessor. Liquidise until smooth. There may be a few lumps of tomato but this isn't important. Pour into a bowl and serve with warm toasted pitta bread, focaccia or crudités. White beans can also be used instead of the red kidney beans and mixed with lemon, garlic, olive oil and salt.

Pierce the aubergines all over with a sharp knife (to allow any liquid to escape during cooking) and roast in the oven at 220º until soft. Leave them to cool and then peel them and drain off any excess liquid. Mash the flesh with a fork in a bowl. Mince the garlic cloves and fry in a little oil with the aubergine flesh, the tomato, spices and salt. Stir to make a thick paste. When it is ready, add lemon juice to taste and check the seasoning. Chill the pâté in the fridge and serve it spread on thin slices of toast.

Clean the mushrooms and chop finely. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion until soft. remove from the pan and place on one side. Reheat the frying pan and sauté the mushrooms for five minutes. Lower the heat and add the onion, salt, pepper and the herbs. Pour over the wine and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Leave to cool. Place in a liquidiser or food processor and add the chestnuts and cream. Process until it reaches the desired texture (it can be left slightly chunky or made really smooth). Check the seasoning and just before serving add the lemon juice. Serve with thin slices of toast.

Fry the onion in 50ml of oil until golden. Add the chopped bread and fry until starting to brown. Add the saffron, the spices and the rinsed and drained chick peas. Stir well to mix and add salt to taste. Leave to cool and then process in a food processor or liquidiser with the honey, the vinegar and two to three tablespoons of water (if needed) until smooth. Serve warm with thin slices of toast. (Recipe, slightly adjusted, from the book 'Tratado del garbanzo', by R. Bistolfi and F. Mardam-Bey.)