“ Brand: Innocent / Type: Other Ready Meals „
Much as I love cooking, there are times when... urm... time is against me. Finding something effort-free and yet still healthy is something of a challenge, which is where Innocent and their veg pots come in. Providing three of your recommended five a day, these pop into the microwave and are ready in less than five minutes including the required stir in the middle.
The Portuguese Spicy Red Pepper Piri Piri (to give it its full title!) variety is a little bit different from the rest of the range - at least the ones I can eat (i.e. not containing mushrooms or other icky stuff!) - with the carbohydrate content coming from potato rather than rice or couscous. The listed ingredient is in fact patatas bravas - a tapas favourite of mine, and why I originally wanted to try this variety.
Those "intrepid potatoes" form almost a quarter of the pot, so you won't be short of a good sized chunk per mouthful. As with every veg pot I've tried, everything is kept nice and bite-sized, but not so tiny that the whole thing turns to mush. I was quite impressed with the consistency of the potato bites: perfectly cooked, yet still firm enough to make you feel you're eating something substantial. The whole thing, in fact, is more filling than you might expect from the size of the pot and lack of meat.
Alongside the spuds this contains both pinto and black turtle beans. What beans? No, I'd never heard of them either, but they seem harmless enough now that I've eaten them! There's also a lot less of them than I'm used to from other varieties, whereas the other veg - red pepper, onion and tomato - seem to just form lumpier bits of the sauce. The cabbage was more... interesting, shall we say! I liked it, but it does stay a bit fibrous and the long strips can be a little awkward. When you first open the pot, the cabbage is all layered on the top, so perhaps if you stir it in before cooking it'd be a tad less chewy.
The piri piri is touted as the spiciest of the veg pot range, and I can testify to that - as can my title, perhaps! ;) Actually, I do recommend one of these if you have a cold and need your sinuses unblocked! The heat comes from chilli sauce, chilli powder and smoked paprika (*), and to be honest I'd have to suggest there's a bit more heat than flavour - much as I like this, I'm finding it difficult to describe the overall flavour in relation to anything else I eat - okay, it's chilli, but I do just keep coming back to 'hot' more than chilli! It's not a huge criticism, as I do like these and will pick this as one of my top three varieties (alongside morrocan couscous and indian masala), and it's far better tasting than most things you can find in a pot! ;)
I tend to eat veg pots for lunch - an awkward meal! - and these are ideal to take to work, if you have access to a microwave (you can heat then on a hob, but probably not in the office!). The plastic tubs are sturdy for transport, although I've had increasing difficulties removing the little tab needed to get the top off - be warned! Also a warning: the instructions call for the lid to be placed loosely back on the pot before heating, but I thoroughly recommend leaving it offset somewhat. This could be the reason my cabbage remains a little firm, but otherwise I find a vacuum-effect sucks the lid down and seems quite dangerous to me.
Also on the danger front: warning - these do come out HOT after the second 2-minute heating!! I have actually scalded myself with one before, so urge caution! The pot itself gets quite hot, along with the contents.
Now for the big downside: veg pots are rather expensive for convenience food! The usual price is around £3.79, and as such I only ever buy them on offer (currently in Sainsbury's at 2 of £6 - still not cheap!). They're also not completely easy to get hold of, not being stocked in all supermarkets - Sainburys, Tesco and Waitrose should have them, at least in the bigger stores. Do keep an eye on the best before dates, though, as I often find a week's difference between the ones on the shelves locally.
I'd also challenge this variety slightly in terms of general dietary healthfull-ness: the 300 calories doesn't seem too bad, and the high fibre and (meat free!) protein content is great, but a quick look at the nutritional info shows a worrying 27% of GDA in salt. Okay, so that's only 0.65g, but still a bit 'hmm'. The fat is a little better at just 7.2g (10%) with minimal saturates.
Mainly, then, I do still buy these purely for lazy moments - at which point I do appreciate the easy way of getting my recommended veggies - and the Piri Piri is one of my favs, at least when I'm in the mood for spice! However, they are just too expensive for frequent purchase.
I'll rate this a slightly generous 4/5 - definite points off for cost, but in the scale of it all I do like this one! :)
(* full ingredients can be found at: www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/things_we_make/vegpots/piri_piri/)