It’s not so long ago that I found even the suggestion of meat-free Mondays difficult so I was under no illusion that going vegan would be easy. But they say you can make or break a habit in 30 days and I was keen to experiment, not least to get me off the hook from feeling compelled to attempt an alternative hair-shirting post-festivities detox like Dry or Red (Run Every Day) January. Here’s what I have learnt:
• It takes commitment (when the going gets tough it seems easier to flash-fry a steak) but also a whole lot of preparation – especially if you want to do healthy vegan.
• Veganism is now so mainstream that there are ready meals aplenty but many over-compensate by adding way too much salt and sugar. Notable exceptions are Deliciously Ella’s new range and All Plants. As I have learned, it is the delicate balance of herbs and spices, pulses and grains that can more than match the traditional meat and two veg.
• Get your spices, pulses, seeds and beans in order: stock up on esoteric herbs like asafoetida (to alleviate the inevitable wind … don’t worry, it eases) and spice combinations like garam marsala. Buy in Biona beans such as black-eyed beans and haricot beans as well as freekah, lentils and coconut milk.
• Don’t be tempted to put a whole load of vegan products in your shopping basket, hoping for the best. I am a buy-the-best-I-could-afford meat and fish and throw it all together cook, but cooking vegan requires research to bring out the best flavours. Thankfully there are many expert cookery writers to help.
• If you are eating out, check that the restaurant has a vegan menu or at least a couple of options. And get proper reassurance that they don’t just take out the non-vegan ingredient, which has happened on more than one occasion. I had actually got email reassurance from one well-known restaurant that they had full vegetarian menu that they can adapt to vegan; I ended up with a small plate of lentils.
• You’ll need to take B12 vitamin supplement; if you go vegan long-term, it’s wise to get your bloods checked to see if your body is not getting specific vitamins. It is also hard to know how much protein your body needs.
• Don’t attempt veganism if you don’t like aubergine or tomatoes!
Recommended Vegan Cookery Books and the Best Recipes
I have had two of her books for years and there’s no better vegetarian chef or writer out there. Highlights from A Modern Way to Eat include:
- • Tomato and coconut cassoulet – the sourdough (the best is from Poilâne if you can get it) makes this dish; you will be scraping the bottom of your Le Creuset pot to finish it.
- • Bay and saffron-roasted cauliflower
- • Mushroom and parsnip rosti – make this for a dinner party or special occasion as it looks stunning.
- • Lemon maple granola – low fat and low sugar. So simple to make and it keeps well too. Top with coconut yoghurt and pomegranate or berries.
And from Anna Jones A Modern Way to Cook:
- • Black-eyed beans with chard and green herb smash
- • Sweet potato rosti
Though not vegan, there are plenty of recipes in this book that are either vegan or can be adapted. Favourites are:
- • Puy lentils with aubergine, tomatoes and yoghurt – substitute dairy for coconut or soya yoghurt
- • Mint and pistachio chocolate fridge cake – Divine is a good vegan brand of chocolate. To make chocolate mint, use plain chocolate and use peppermint oil to flavour.
15 Minute Vegan by Katy Beskow
This is an essential book. Particularly good for inventive side dishes like broccoli with orange and chilli, relishes like pomegranate, cucumber and mint, snacks – particularly the flapjacks and salad dressings. Her Kerala cauliflower curry is a favourite.
The Plant-based Cookbook by Deliciously Ella
This is another essential book that’s full of simple, failsafe recipes. Follow her online too as she posts new recipe ideas all the time. My favourites include
- • Mushroom and chestnut sliders – spiced and herby
- • Sri Lankan curry – one of the absolute highlights of the month, we have made this a few times. With a whole tin of coconut milk, it feels indulgently creamy.
- • Aubergine and fennel curry
Great British Chefs
Great British Chefs recently won Best Website Award at the Good Web Guides. It’s easy to see why – there are so many great recipes there including plenty for vegans. Take note of the preparation time tho as some can run into hours. We liked:
The Spruce Eats
This blog is useful for recipe ideas – and the falafel is particularly good. The trouble with the delcious ones in the supermarket (Cauldron etc) is that they are deep fried at 65 calories a pop. This low-fat, baked recipe (I substitute a red onion for the white one) looks and tastes wonderful.
Madhur Jaffery’s Ultimate Curry Bible
Many of these delicious curry recipes can be adapted to be vegan. My favourite is the cauliflower and grated tomato curry.