This is a lengthy heading! But it’s explains what I’m doing so I’m gonna stick with it.
If you’re thinking of switching to home-cooked food for your hound(s) the most difficult aspect is probably finding the time. Part of our slow-living vanlife is that I have more headspace for things like this, but I still don’t to want to spend all my days cooking. I’ve found the easiest way is for us all to eat different variations of the same food groups. This has also helped make a huge leap forward towards a zero-waste kitchen.
Here’s an example of a couple of day’s food for us all. I bought a large bunch of calvolo nero kale and a bunch of beetroot as I love both these autumn veggies.
Start by soaking 1kg dried mixed white and pinto beans (500g of each) overnight. The next morning simmer in a large pan of water until cooked (about an hour). Put cooked beans to one side. About three quarters of them for the hounds and the other quarter for us, mashing the dog’s beans.
For the humans
For us I then cooked a vegan version of Spanish chorizo stew/soup I used to make all the time. Greens and beans is one of my favourite combinations so there’s always something like this on the go in autumn/winter.
Instead of chopped chorizo to fry as the base for this stew I use:
1tblsp olive oil
2tsp smoked paprika
Cayenne pepper (depends on how hot you like it)
Chopped sundries tomatoes
1tblsp dried oregano
salt (to suit your taste)
1 chopped clove garlic
2tblsp tomato paste
This should give the salty, spicy, meaty base for the stew.
In a large pan, fry mushrooms. When cooked add all the above and fry for a minute.
Add tinned tomatoes or passata, veg stock, beans and chopped kale. Simmer until kale is soft. Serve with a good crusted sourdough.
Another dish I make, which can be a warm or cold salad, is beetroot and kale with cumin and walnuts. Beetroot, walnuts and cumin is one of my absolute favourite food combinations first discovered in a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cook book in his beetroot dip. This also makes a great hiking snack when stuffed into a small container.
Fry cumin seeds. Add chopped beetroot and water, put lid on pan and steam for a couple of mins. Add a splash more water and chopped kale, steam some more. Take off lid and cook until beetroot is soft and kale is cooked. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to the pan.
Remove from pan, put in bowl with drizzle of olive oil & salt, top with toasted walnuts (you can glaze these with balsamic instead of putting in with the kale if you like it less vinegary).
For the hounds
I switched the hounds to home cooked food during lockdown in Portugal as it was so hard to find good dog food. We’re vegan so figured that we’d at least avoid meat by putting our hounds on a fish-based diet.
I’m no vet and work intuitively (if they’ve done a lot of running they eat more and vice-versa on slower days) so this isn’t professional advice – this is just what I do. You’ll know what’s best for you and your hound.
Our hounds have 2 sources of protein – cooked beans (pinto, white, kidney), chickpeas, or green lentils etc… I soak them then cook and mash. The mashing is because Kit has a habit of just putting his face over the bowl and inhaling 😳 so the beans can come out whole the other end. Mashing makes sure he gets the nutrients from everything. I also have tinned beans in the cupboard for emergency dinners.
The second form of protein is tinned sardines in oil which is wonderful for healthy joints and a shiny coat. Be aware that this is great for putting weight on your hound, so as ours don’t have a high-fat diet this is perfect but if you give it to a hound in addition to complete dog kibble they’re likely to get overweight quite quickly.
These proteins are added to a carb base which can be – boiled rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes; I’ve also used polenta occasionally but never wheat based: pasta, couscous etc…
Added to this is also boiled veg – this is a great way to use up all your peelings and things like potato, beetroot tops or cauliflower leaves etc… I use carrots, cabbage, kale, cauliflower (inc leaves and stalk), broccoli (inc stalk), beetroot, squash and anything else we’re also cooking for ourselves. Important note – if your meal has beetroot tops and skins in like this one your hounds will pee pink. They’re not dying!
Once the beans are boiled and in a separate container, keep the cooking water in the pan and add the hound’s veggies to this protein-rich water (make sure veggies are diced and not too big). This example has the beetroot tops and skins as well as the kale stalks (also some carrots and a bit of chopped cauliflower stalk). When that’s boiling add rice and simmer until rice is swollen and fat – you might also need to add some extra water. Turn off heat but leave pan with lid on for 10mins for rice to absorbe all the lovely protein and veggie water goodness.
This is a great way to avoid wasting water and keeping all the nutrients in the food.
I tumble all of this into a large clip-lid container. It should do two hungry hounds for two days (depending on how much exercise they do and how hungry they are). As a note I just add the tinned fish and turmeric paste (see below) at each meal otherwise it’ll smell the van out.
Kit also has a tsp of turmeric paste stirred into each meal for his joints.
I make a weekly jar of: 1/2 cup dried turmeric, 1 cup water gently simmered together in a pan until makes a thick paste then take off heat and add 1/4 cup olive oil and 2tsp black pepper. Cool, put in jar in fridge and use as needed.
The best thing to do is a load of research about your dog’s breed (sighthounds tend to be allergic to pork, for example, it gives ours terrible skin complaints) and then start subbing a chunk of their food for homemade until they’re completely switched.
Ours LOVE it and we’ve noticed some huge differences in Kit’s mobility (he’s a 10yr old deerhound x lurcher with dodgy hips). Kit’s eyes had begun to cloud and that has completely reversed. Bonnie now has a coat so shiny it looks like polished marble. Most importantly though – no more stinky hound farts at night. Not at all. Never. Honestly, it’s worth it all just for this.
For the birds
Always throw some scraps outside for the birds, even if it’s just breadcrumbs. I also scatter sesame seeds and nut fragments. We currently have a robin and a few blackbirds making regular van-visits.