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November is World Vegan Month, and it all kicks off with World Vegan Day on the 1st.  Admittedly, we’re not a vegan household but, as we do have one of the world’s most picky eaters in the family (a vegetarian who doesn’t really like many vegetables…), I’m more than happy to cook vegan dishes once in a while, just to add some variety to the stream of pizza and pasta that seems to make up most of our meals.

Chickpeas are usually a safe bet for the basis of a meal.  Given the amount of chickpeas that we eat, I had a go at growing some this year using dried chickpeas from the supermarket, as recommended by Alys Fowler.  I started them off on some damp kitchen roll and planted those that sprouted (and most did) into small pots.  They grew on well in the greenhouse and were planted out into a raised bed in mid June – probably a bit too late because by that time they had grown to more than fill their pots, but I wanted to be sure that they wouldn’t get a chill when they moved out into the great outdoors.  They carried on growing and made nice bushy little plants, just over knee high, with divided foliage and, after a couple of months, a scattering of small white flowers.

After the flowers came bright green pods – by this stage I was getting quite excited.  There were so many crop failures in the veg garden this year, I wasn’t expecting too much but it looked like there was going to be a chickpea harvest of sorts.

Well no, as it turned out the pods were completely empty – not a chickpea in any of them (and I checked every one just in case!).  A bit of internet research reveals that blind pods can often be a problem in cool, damp weather because the insects just aren’t out there to pollinate the flowers.  And let’s face it, one thing we had plenty of this summer was cool, damp weather.  Still, there’s always next year and I’m not ready to give up just yet.

To fill the gap between now and next year’s bumper harvest, there are always those handy tins of chickpeas from the shops.  I used one tin to make a tasty chickpea tagine, served with home made flatbreads.  It’s an easy meal to throw together, most of the ingredients are straight out of the store cupboard, and it’s packed with flavours – rich tomato, sweet apricots and a lovely warming combination of spices.  If I’d had some butternut squash to hand, and if everyone in the family would eat butternut squash, I’d have added that too for extra flavour.

Will you be cooking anything tasty for World Vegan Month this November?  – and this isn’t just an idle question, I’m always on the look out for new ideas that might tempt a reluctant child to try something different!

Chickpea & Apricot Tagine

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

1 400g tin peeled plum tomatoes

1 400g tin chickpeas

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tbsp clear honey

100g dried, ready to eat apricots (or dried apricots that have been soaked in hot water to soften)

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat.  Add the onion and cook gently until it is soft and translucent.  Stir in the cinnamon, ginger and cumin, and cook for a further 2 minutes.  Add the tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and tomato puree.  Stir, cover and cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and again.

Add the honey and apricots and season to taste.  Stir through to mix everything well and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with warm flatbread, or some couscous to mop up the tasty juices.