Pâté would seem to be a perfect dish for vegetarians. It is nutritious, full of flavour, attractive in appearance, extremely convenient because it is prepared in advance of a meal, and very adaptable. Making pâté, and especially devising your own personal favourites, has many practical advantages as well.
It is a good way to learn about and experiment with foods such as beans, lentils, nuts and herbs, and also with textures and flavours. In addition, it is a way of preparing and serving in an attractive, tasty, and digestible form, foods which are of considerable nutritional value to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians but which can cause some people dietary problems.
In its most familiar role as a starter, spread on warm toast, fresh bread or biscuits, vegetarian pâté more than holds its own with meat or fish equivalents, whether it is served casually as an hors d'oeuvre while guests are gathering or more formally as a first course at table. It's just as good used in other ways as well.
Accompanied by a salad, olives, cheese, or a bowl of homemade soup, it becomes a satisfying lunch or supper. Served alongside eggs, with which many bean and lentil pâtés seem to have a natural affinity, it can transform a Sunday breakfast. It can also make a valuable contribution to a spread of miscellaneous dishes, either in the Mediterranean manner of mezze or a more British style buffet or high tea.
In spite of its many attractions, vegetarian pâté receives relatively little attention from cookery writers. Of course, most vegetarian cookery books will contain a sample pâté in sections under such general headings as ‘Soups and Starters' or ‘Dips and Snacks'. It deserves, though, to be given more prominence than simply this.
All of the recipes for pâtés given here are based on beans or lentils. Intended to be spread rather than sliced, they are all smooth, and the basic method of preparing them is the same, though they vary greatly in taste and texture. Following a main principle of TBVC they are made with a minimum of ingredients.
The recipes are intended to be very adaptable and a starting-point for individual experiments. One type of bean or lentil can usually be replaced by another; different herbs, nuts or spices may be used, and other ingredients added. The addition of cream or soft cheese together with, say, a teaspoon of truffle or avocado oil, whether added during or after blending, can make a simple pâté quite luxurious. It should be remembered, though, that pâtés containing cream or soft cheese keep fresh for a shorter time in the fridge and should not be frozen.
The one crucial point to observe in this method of making pâtés is that the prepared mixture needs to be virtually free of liquid before being placed in the blender. This is best achieved by reducing the liquid in the saucepan, or, alternatively, by spooning or pouring off any excess liquid. If the mixture doesn't blend easily, then add small amounts of more liquid to the blender until it does. Too much liquid will affect the final texture and spreadability of the pâté.
Spoon the mixture into pots. Leave to cool thoroughly before covering and placing in the fridge or freezer.
Something about terms first as they can be confusing. Pulses is the general term now commonly used to cover all edible seeds of leguminous plants. Leguminous means grown in pods. Legumes, a term that is sometimes used as a synonym for pulses, are the seeds themselves (i.e. beans, peas, and lentils).
The word pulse derives from the Latin puls which was a kind of thick porridge made of cereals, grain, vegetables, and flavoured with herbs and spices. It was a flexible, all-purpose dish. When available, meat or fish or one of the strong sauces so enjoyed by the Romans, might be added. It was great favourite and has been claimed as the origin of a number of modern dishes, most notably Italian risotto. For many, puls would have been a vegetarian dish by necessity, though conscious vegetarianism was also a part of Roman life.
Beans and lentils are truly ancient foods. They were known long before the Roman Empire, and in many different parts of the world, including Greece, Egypt, the Far East and the Americas, north and south. The Romans were very fond of beans, especially what we now call broad beans and chick peas, but they did not know the many varieties of kidney bean that are so familiar to us. These were brought to Europe from Central and Southern America by the Spanish and Portuguese.
Although modern usage has turned pulses into a generic term covering many kinds of seeds and pods, as far as cookery is concerned they are not all to be treated in the same way.
Most need to be soaked and cooked before being used. Specific details will be given with the recipes, but generally speaking, beans are soaked in fresh cold water for up to about eight hours, hence the usual advice to soak them ‘overnight'. This makes the process sound rather mystic, as though it needs to be performed under lunar influence. It is in fact a perfectly mundane direction. Beans put to soak in the morning will be ready to cook late afternoon.
Lentils need to be soaked, if at all, for only two or three hours, but longer does no harm and speeds up the cooking time.
For health reasons, it is usually recommended that beans be given a ‘hard boil' for five or ten minutes. The heat is then reduced to a more manageable simmer. If they produce froth or scum during cooking, this is not harmful and is easily removed with a slotted spoon. Cooking times for beans vary from about thirty to ninety minutes. Salt is not usually added to the cooking water because this is said to harden the skins of beans and lentils.
There are big advantages to cooking beans and lentils for yourself. Apart from the issue of freshness, once cooked they keep very well in the fridge for a few days. After you have made your pâté, the rest are ready to be used differently later in the week, and there are countless ways of doing this. Beans and lentils are quickly turned into tasty side dishes or combined adventurously in soups, stews and casseroles. On cooking more than you need immediately, it is worth remembering that soaking substantially increases the weight of beans and lentils, something I draw attention to in the recipes.
Given all of this, it still has to be admitted that although freshly cooked beans and lentils are to be preferred, they do take time to prepare and tinned pulses are a perfectly acceptable substitute for pâté-making. They are convenient as well. The net weight of the contents of the usual supermarket tin is about 400g (just under 1lb), and the drained weight about 240g (just over 8oz). That's a perfect amount for the eight recipes given here.