My biggest self-imposed challenge so far has been tackling the evening meal. Despite my supportive and fabulous family, as the main chef of the household I feel pressure. I feel the need to perform, to wow, to woo and ultimately to convert. More than that I feel a duty to curb my appetite for the more exotic vegan fare and mainstream it to suit everyone’s palate. In short I feel like the tiger who came to tea. Grrrrrrrr!
So the reality is with a full-time job, a hard-working husband, a constantly hungry teenage man/boy and two large hairy dogs underfoot just finding the tin opener is sometimes all the enthusiasm I can muster. But regardless, the show must go on.
I’m all about that base
My least stressful creations of late have consisted of flavourful one pot wonders which serve as a complete meal for me, whilst complimenting an occasional side order of something savage to satisfy the boy’s idea of sustenance. I’ve been thrilled with the gradual changes we’re making overall and hand on heart never expected to be serving up vegan meals for the whole family several times a week. Some of the most popular dishes so far include fragrant sweet potato and coconut milk curry, roasted vegetable risotto, rich Moroccan couscous and sun-dried tomato pasta bake, all served as is, without the need for unpalatable extras. My personal favourite of the moment is the Mushroom Bourguignon over on The Simple Veganista. The fact its enriched with vegan wine is in my mind, totally not optional. I’m pleased to also have been introduced to the invaluable app that is Barnivore, a comprehensive community database to help you check the vegan credentials of your favourite tipple.
Despite the excellent progress we’ve made there are still many things, particularly tofu, beans and pulses, that just don’t sit well with the boys so in order to not compromise my needs we’ll start with the communal base then separate out into two pots at the crucial moment ensuring everyone’s happy. All dairy has been replaced with vegan alternatives so no-one feels like they are missing out when it comes to creamy sauces or garlic butter and having a vegan based recipe to begin with makes for a simple switch to boost individual dishes with last-minute additions.
The one pot wonder Thai style peanut pasta recipe on Apron Strings blog is a great example of something that could fully sustain the vegan in the household as well as serving as a satisfying base for the omnivores.
Another simple yet effective tactic is to minimise the physical size and importance of the main dish by increasing the size, variety and quantity of tasty plant-based side dishes and salads. This works particularly well with a variety of international dishes such as Mediterranean tapas, Indian breads, sides and sundries, spicy Mexican sharing platters and Chinese style starters. The Mediterranean baked sweet potatoes over at Minimalist Baker are a great place to start.
It’s also worth bearing in mind this style of eating if you find yourself having to cater for a group of omnivores who are less than certain about trying anything new or potentially (horror of horrors) anything vegan. Likewise if you feel stuck for takeaway or restaurant options take a look at the side orders or starters and chances are that put a few of those together and you’ve got yourself the makings of a feast.
If you’re looking for a few ideas to get you through the week then the around the world in one week, vegan style post from One Green Planet may just be a lifesaver.
Fake it until you make it
If you’re craving a touch of the familiar as you move through your vegan transition then a simple way to achieve this is to take your faithful tried and tested favourite meals and experiment preparing them with a vegan twist.
I’ll admit that for me, the first few months have not been the healthiest. I’ve relied heavily on readily available carbs and easy to identify substitutes. Thankfully I dislike totally all the vegan faux meat, cheese and chocolate alternatives I’ve tried so although these are unlikely to become a part of my day-to-day diet I’m intending to make more positive, plant-based choices moving forward.
That being said I think that a simple way to lessen the overwhelm that can come with a drastic lifestyle change is to start with something you’re comfortable cooking and eating and replicate it as best you can. Not only has this helped me to gradually make the changes necessary to my routine but it’s also reassured my family that vegan food is not weird or complicated, which in turn has allowed mealtimes for the most part to continue in a relaxed and natural way. They eat burgers, I eat burgers. They eat chilli, I eat chilli. I think it would have been much harder all round for me to have to prepare two entirely different meal plans week after week and I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t want to give the wrong impression of a vegan lifestyle by sitting down to a boring plate of salad or plain veggies every night.
I’ve read about lots of people going full vegan, full raw overnight and I think that’s truly inspirational, but for those, like me, without that level of commitment, discipline and confidence I think it’s really important to reinforce the fact that a few smaller, consistent changes can be the stepping-stones towards implementing a dramatic shift in creating a dedicated, conscious, cruelty free lifestyle.
I began my own transition by basing the majority of my evening meals on everyday ingredients, flavours and recipes just with a twist. It’s important that unless following a specific recipe you bear in mind this way of cooking is very intuitive and experimental. This for me has been extremely challenging. I don’t mind admitting I’ve had as many flops as I’ve has successes over the past few months, but most importantly I’ve learned from every meal.
Texture is extremely important, much more so than I ever appreciated in all the years I spent cooking with animal produce. An example of this is the first time I attempted to improvise my own version of a veggie burger and ended up with dry, crumbly hash. Thankfully for my next attempt I found and subsequently devoured this Chunky Portobello veggie burger from the kitchen whisperer which in addition to restoring my reputation makes a worthy addition to any BBQ.
When thinking a little more deeply about the meal you’re planning, move beyond ingredients to refine the individual flavours and textures that you’re trying to capture. Does that texture or flavour already exist in the natural state of a particular plant-based ingredient or will you need to prepare or cook it a certain way to bring it out. Will you need to prep earlier, cook things less, marinade for longer or use a different technique to get the desired effect. This is all part of the experimentation which requires a bit of a mindset shift, particularly if like me you’re known for being a confident and successful home cook. I’ve had to almost start from scratch, learning new techniques, rediscovering my joy of basic cooking and accepting that it’s a learning curve in the story of my vegan life and not an episode of master chef.
This may seem daunting if you don’t consider yourself much of a cook or lack confidence in the kitchen but in reality it means for the most part you’re starting with fresh eyes and will likely be much more open to the differences in prepping and cooking (or uncooking in the case of raw vegans) than if you had to unlearn years of meat based cooking experience and techniques.
The good news is that although you’re going to find it much more beneficial to develop your intuition around food and cooking until you get there you’ll find more vegan resources, recipes and meal plans online than you could hope to cook in a lifetime yet alone a year. Fake it until you make it and you’ll be amazed at the progress you can achieve in a short amount of time. If you’re really stuck for inspiration my vegan that came to tea board on Pinterest is a great place to start as you mean to go on.