As a meat eater and keen carnivore I can’t deny that marrying a vegetarian has somewhat put a spanner in the works when it comes to mealtimes. Sunday roasts aren’t quite the same; there’s no chateaubriand for two on date nights, whilst my famous seafood linguine and homemade chicken Kiev’s have had to take the back seat at dinnertime.
My general attitude to cooking a quick midweek meal has changed dramatically and for the better. I can honestly say I feel far healthier (and thinner!) for a more plant-based diet. I’ve been challenged creatively with my dishes and have had to rethink and rework my usual repertoire to accommodate the lack of meat to create flavoursome and wholesome vegetarian dishes.
After feeling such a positive change in wellbeing so quickly, I decided to take things one step further by trialing a month of veganism. The prospect of ditching the dairy for the month was although challenging, not completely daunting and I was keen to push myself in the kitchen creating exciting dishes that were 100% vegan. Anyone, that knows me will attest, my true passion in life lies in cheese and butter and in vast quantities. Cheese is such an easy option to adding rich flavour to many a vegetarian dish.
I started out strong, determined and organised. I watched the documentaries that got me totally on board morally (Cowspiracy and What the Health) and cooked up some seriously good food; homemade pasta using silken tofu, rich garlic and turmeric dals with homemade flatbreads, Mexican DIY style wraps, curries, Asian style broths, cashew cream ice creams, risottos, filo pastry pies. There were endless salads, roasted, charred and confit vegetables, vegan pestos…Things were going well. Even dining out was relatively pain free with most restaurants more than accommodating, especially if we gave them a heads up when booking.
So did I last the whole month? The truthful answer is no. Things were very much on track until we visited the Grandparents! I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t tell my Nan on her 89th birthday that I wasn’t going to eat her cottage pie. It’s the same cottage pie she would make for my brother and I the moment we were weaned onto solids and I’ve had hundreds since. As you can probably tell this isn’t just an average cottage pie, it comes served with the hugest jug of mince meat heavy, thick, rich gravy, garden grown green beans and carrots from the chap round the corner. I caved, kept quiet and enjoyed every mouthful. A small blip in an otherwise successful month.
My month long trial was a great experience. A vegan diet seems very on trend at the moment and not a day passes where I don’t see a new vegan product, restaurant or book on the subject. I genuinely agree with the benefits that are preached. I felt healthier and less sluggish, my conscience was clearer and I enjoyed researching new and exciting dishes. For now, I’m aiming to keep meals at home 100% vegan and have the odd cheese binge or fish treat when I dine out. I’m keen to still feel the benefits but not feel like I’m missing out on the things that I love. For me, a ‘Flexi-vegan’ or ‘Flegan’ diet feels like a challenge anyone can achieve with some simple planning and research. Why not give it a go? Here’s some tips and info to get you started.
– If you’re craving bold flavours, go for Asian style dishes. Coconut milk will be your saviour – Thai broths, curries, dals or anything with a tomato base has zero dairy involved. Just watch out for ghee used in Indian cooking – this is a type of clarified butter and isn’t vegan. The homemade route is a safer option here.
– Bread is back on the menu. After years of curbing the carbs, now is the time to get back on them and enjoy every second of it. Good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar have never tasted so good.
– Don’t worry about the lack of protein in your meals. Many vegetables are in fact packed full of it; cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus to name just a few. Quinoa, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses are also great sources of protein and can be used to easily bulk out any meal ensuring no one is left hungry.
– Craving the equivalent of a fried chicken burger or dirty mac ‘n’ cheese? Then look no further, vegan fast food places are popping up everywhere. Temple of Hackney can’t make their Seitan fried ‘chicken’ quick enough whilst Haunt and V Burger also have queues around the block. There are also vegan only food markets popping up all over the place such as Hackney Downs Vegan Market becoming a monthly fixture.
– Be out and proud! There is no need to make a fuss about your veganism but equally be sure to not be ashamed or feel like a burden. Be aware that everyone has an opinion on the hot topic which they’ll probably want to discuss it at length with you!
– Char, roast or smoke your vegetables to add extra flavour and texture.
– A Sunday roast with cauliflower cheese is still very much possible, as is mac ‘n’ cheese, lasagna, ice cream and a bounty of sweet desserts. Cashew cream (soaked and blitzed cashew nuts) will be the answer to most things requiring the equivalent of cream. It’s all about rethinking the ingredients you use and researching your options.
– Good quality seasonal produce will make mealtimes that much better. The riper the vegetable, the more flavoursome your dish will be.
– Stuck for inspiration? Then just search vegan on instagram and a flood of inspired dishes will be at your fingertips.
Favourite people to follow include-
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Vegan food spot Plant food and wine –
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– Fresh herbs such as coriander, parsley, Thai basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano used sparingly add an abundance of flavour and extra interest to almost any soup, stew or salad. Ginger, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chilli are great for adding zest and spice to even the dullest of creations.
– Finally, if you’re determined but struggling to stick at it, there are vegan support groups out there should you need them!