Just over a year ago I made a decision to put a hold on writing recipes. The decision came after feeling stagnant in my progress. Though I was putting a great deal of effort into my writing, I didn’t feel at the time that I was moving forward. My second book, Vegging Out, wasn’t selling too well and my property maintenance business (the business that pays the bills) was suffering due to both my lack of enthusiasm for it and putting all of my energy into the writing. I had virtually no money and a lot of frustration. So, feeling tired and resentful, I put down my pen and closed my notebook.
For a while I didn’t cook much at all. Instead, I sunk myself into my job. I read and listened to business book after business book and I spent a lot of time working on myself. I ate perhaps a little too much oven-ready food and I played a lot of guitar.
Then a remarkable thing happened.
A few months later my attitude to my day job had improved greatly. I was working harder, putting in more hours and, as a result, making more money. Not long after that I went from living permanently in my overdraft and worrying about every bill, to having money that was actually my own and even a separate savings account with a regular amount going into it each week.
I had had, in that time, a sort of epiphany.
My whole life I have been a creative. I have written, cooked, taken pictures and played music for almost as long as I can remember, and I had always assumed growing up that I would make my living from some or all of these things. I had spent so long feeling stuck in my day job while waiting for my creative journey to begin that I had never stopped to consider the fact that I had been on the journey all along. I just hadn’t been taking the time to appreciate it. Instead, I’d been putting the rest of my life on hold, waiting for the magic to happen when, in truth, the magic was happening every day.
As the country went into one lockdown after another, my business became successful enough for me to take on two members of staff. I was, and still am, being offered more work than I could cope with and I had never been happier. I kept on creating, only this time with a new perspective. Not with an urgent need to make a living, but simply with the desire to produce the work that I wanted to put out there. I resumed work on a novel I had started some years before but had never taken seriously (I’m now half-way through the first draught and going strong). The realisation I came to was simply this: That I didn’t have to make a living out of my art in order to be an artist. This was one of the best and most liberating things that could have happened to me.
A year later and I began to miss writing recipes. I made a few tentative posts on social media, mostly I guess to see if anybody was still out there. Then I began posting some of my old recipes. The response was instant and gratifying. People had missed my work. When I stopped, I had been so focused on not seeing the numbers growing that I had completely overlooked the fact that I was making a difference to a small number of people. My audience might not be big, but it is full of people who care about my work, who love what I do and want to see more. And for those people, for you now reading this, I am eternally grateful.
So, tentatively, I present to you my first recipe in a year. I began the preparing of this dish feeling rusty and unsure of myself. I needn’t have worried. It is, apparently, like riding a bike. My confidence came back quickly and I was so thrilled to be back at it that I created another dish the very next day using similar ingredients.
This dish takes about 25 minutes to cook and uses just one pan. It is a vegetable side that can be paired with a variety of main dishes. We had it with roast vegan sausage, red onion and apple, but it will also go just as well with simple boiled rice. I’ve designed it to maintain a good, crisp bite when cooked, perhaps a little shy of al dente. If you like your veg a little more well done then try putting a lid on the pan for about five minutes during cooking to soften them up.
Prep time: 5 minutes. Cooking time 20-25 minutes.
To make gluten-free, switch the soy sauce for tamari.
2 tbsp olive oil
400g fresh, trimmed green beans (you can also use frozen)
½ a small red cabbage (300g), thinly sliced
3 shallots, peeled, cut in half lengthways and sliced
A 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
100g walnut halves, chopped into slightly smaller chunks
50ml soy sauce (use tamari for gluten-free)
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp maple syrup (golden syrup, or anything similar will also work)
A handful of chopped coriander to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add the green beans and cook for 8-10 minutes on a medium heat. Stir them often to get them evenly cooked. Once they have started to brown and soften a little, add the cabbage and give it another 7-8 minutes. Again, stir every minute or so. Now put in the shallots and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until they have softened a little. At this point, stir in the grated ginger, cook for 2 minutes and then add the walnuts. Cook for 3 more minutes or so.
In a jug or small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, lime juice and maple syrup. Pour the liquid straight into the pan. It will start to sizzle and evaporate straight away. Keep the heat going and keep stirring the dish for a minute or to more, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat straight away, sprinkle over the chopped coriander and serve immediately.