Congratulations! You’ve Made the Decision to go Vegan

You’ve thought long and hard about it. You’ve weighed up the pros and cons. You’ve watched all the grizzly videos on social media, and now finally you’ve made the decision: This is it. You’re going to become vegan.

Firstly, I salute you. Take a moment to think about the enormity of your decision, the positive repercussions it will have on your health, as well as on the planet in general. This is enormous. You should be proud. You are about to embark on the greatest food adventure of your life. Not only will you enjoy incredible health benefits from your new diet, you will also be able to appreciate everything you eat, knowing that you have not contributed to animal suffering in order to get great-tasting food. You are in for many pleasant surprises along your journey, particularly if you are an adventurous cook (and I do hope you are).

New and often astounding taste combinations are now open to you. Ways of doing things that you might never have thought of before making this decision, that you might not have even considered possible. There’s a lot to learn, but take it one step at a time and you’ll be enjoying a happy and fulfilling vegan lifestyle before you know it. Now you’ve decided to do this you’ve got to make a few changes, and one of the major areas in need of adjustment is your store cupboard. Have a look at yours. Go on, I’ll wait. What have you got there? Some mayonnaise, a few tins of ravioli, some ketchup. Someone hasn’t been shopping for a while. Now, a couple of those things are probably going to have to go. When I say ‘go’, I don’t mean put at the back of the cupboard, in the section la belied only eat in an emergency! I mean so long, farewell. It’s time to remove the safety net.

At this point I feel I must say, don’t grab everything non-vegan off the shelf and throw them onto an open fire, dancing triumphantly around the burning embers or your former lifestyle. If you’re not going to eat it anymore, give the food to a friend or family member. Better yet, donate it to your local food bank. Now that your shelf is clear, you need to start filling it up again with things that are animal-free. Seems like one hell of a task, right? Well… yes. At least at the beginning. The trick is to take small steps. Changing what you eat does not necessarily mean starting again from scratch. Try adjusting to vegan versions of things you used to eat anyway. You like pancakes on a Saturday morning? Don’t panic.

Vegan pancakes are no more challenging to make than the ones you’re used to. Bolognese was your Tuesday night staple? No reason why it can’t still be. You just switch your meat mince for veg mince. A word of caution when changing to veggie products: Not all of them are vegan. Eggs and milk are quite abundant in vegetarian ready-made food, even ones that don’t seem immediately obvious.

A couple of vegetarian minces contain egg. At the time of writing Tesco’s own brand frozen veggie mince contains no egg or milk and is very easy to use (just pour it into your sauce ten minutes before the end). There are some very good dried minces available online, which I use almost exclusively now, as they are also gluten-free and my daughter is coeliac. www.realfoods.co.uk is where I go for mine. Chilli is also an easy switch. Try making a list of the things you like eating now. We’re all creatures of habit and tend to eat the same things often. Write them down, then you can see what changes you need to make for them to be vegan. Often, it’s only a few changes.

Cheese

The selection of vegan cheese available now is nothing short of astounding, and it seems that new varieties are added with increasing speed. Until recently, getting vegan cheese to melt like dairy cheese was something of a challenge, but there have been some great improvements of late and now there are a few that will melt perfectly for pizzas, or whatever else you have in mind. My wife and I still buy most of our cheese from specialist online suppliers, but the supermarkets are getting much better at meeting the demand. At the time of writing Tesco has at least twelve varieties of vegan cheese and Sainsbury’s stock eleven. I’m sure that, by the time you read this, those numbers will have increased. The versatility of these cheeses ranges greatly. Jeezo do a 400g block that is really good for melting, but has quite a mild flavour if you prefer more strength and character. It does come in a decent size, however, so it’s a good all-rounder for the family. At home, it is our main go-to cheese, used in sauces, on pizza, or for sandwiches. Jeezo is available at www.vegancheese.co.uk. Violife’s Prosociano is a hard Italian cheese alternative that is outstanding and Sainsbury’s own vegan cream cheese means you’ll never again be far away from a good bagel.

When I first started out I was a little disappointed with the vegan cheese alternatives I was eating, but that is no longer the case. The breadth of range available now means that there is something for everybody to enjoy and to suit just about every dish. Try a couple of them. If one isn’t to your taste, don’t be put off. There are many more out there to sample.

Tofu

Although being vegan is not all tofu-eating, as some might have you believe, it is certainly a powerful tool to have in your arsenal. Tofu is typically the protein of choice for vegetarians and vegans, containing anything from 12-20g of protein per 100g of product. Though it is far from your only source, it is a good place to start when switching from a meat-based diet. Tofu has a lot of uses. You can pan-fry it with spices when making a curry. It can be cooked with nutritional yeast and gram flour to make the vegan alternative to scrambled eggs. It can be blended into quiches or tarts (page 219), and even used in chocolate mousse. Tofu comes mainly in block and silken varieties, which differ in density depending on the one you buy. It can be bought sitting in water, marinated or smoked (which is extra firm and particularly delightful), and you can even buy it seasoned, diced and ready cooked, either to stir-fry or eat as it is. I’ve included a number of tofu recipes in this book, which I hope will demonstrate its versatility. Fresh Produce Stocking your fridge with delicious fresh fruit and vegetables is an unbeatable way to fully embrace the vegan diet, and will certainly help you to move beyond the cabbages and peas you grew up with.

There are some vegetables that I would consider a must in a vegan diet, such as avocados, spinach, cherry tomatoes, aubergines and, of course, kale. If you’re new to the seemingly endless array of fruit and veg out there, then choosing what to get might seem a little daunting. My advice would be to pick a recipe you like the look of and start with the vegetables for that. Like what you’re eating? Get the same things again, only this time branch out to one or two other items. What I wouldn’t recommend is filling your fridge so full that half of what you buy ends up going in the bin.

Take it slow to start, and minimise your waste by only buying what you’re sure you’re going to use. Vegetables are, and should be, the centre point of a vegan meal. When I’m cooking, I tend to start with the vegetables I want to use and then work from there. Of course, that can sometimes translate as ‘what vegetables need using up in the fridge before I have to throw them out?’ which is a question that can still lead to some quite creative cooking. It is horrifyingly easy to be an unhealthy vegan.

There are countless sugar and fat-ridden traps to fall into, making it all too easy to forget the benefits of a vegan diet, which is healthy eating. We all transgress, and I try to atone for my sins with other, more wisely-considered food choices throughout the week. This is where vegetables, and a good variety of vegetables at that, play an important role. If you’re already a seasoned veggie-eater, then keep at it. If you’re typically a green food avoider, then it’s time to get your feet wet, or at least dip your toes in the water for the time being.

The recipes provided here encompass a large selection of fruit and veg, legumes and seeds for all tastes, to give as balanced a diet as possible, using ingredients that are easy to find and will get you creatively cooking. Many of the dishes are gluten free, some naturally but others by choice, in order to make the book as inclusive as possible. It is my hope that making these dishes will give you as much variety of fruit and veg as possible, so that, not only will you be eating more healthily, but you’ll also never be stuck in a rut at dinner time again.

Going Vegan: Over 100 Vegan and Mostly Gluten-Free Recipes. 256 Pages of Plant-Based Eating, Practical Advice and Cooking Tips

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Richard Church