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How being vegan made me a better cook

In my last post I explained how it came about that I started eating vegan. The gist was – I had met some real life vegans who weren’t what I had come to expect from the negative stereotypes in my head. This softened the edges of my knee jerk reactions to the word ‘Vegan’.

Then I got tipped over the edge by this research which says that avoiding meat and dairy is the single best thing you can do against climate change.

I’ve always been keen on saving the world so this was just too compelling for me to ignore.

Why did I not just eat less meat? Why do the whole vegan thing?

I wanted to know if vegan food had to be weird and unappetising like it looked on 90% of the blogs I found. I wanted to know if I could cook and eat without animal products and not sacrifice any flavour or enjoyment.

When I started to pay attention to what I cooked for myself I noticed that something non vegan would always end up in what I was cooking. Maybe just a little, but it would be there in every single meal. My brain didn’t believe it was possible to cook or eat without these things.

My vegan and veggie repertoire was poor for two reasons

Despising vegans and vegetarians is a large part of the curriculum at catering college. In the whole four years I don’t think we ever cooked a lentil.

I also live in these peculiar modern times where meat, dairy and eggs are everywhere all the time. I was fully on board with eating the nicest, most sustainable and ethical animal products but the idea of eating less of any these was new to me.

Necessity is the mother of invention and problems create solutions

You want to get good at using your left hand – tie your right hand behind your back. When do you create your new favourite dish? – When you burn or forget, run out of or drop on the floor one of the ingredients you were going to use in your old favourite dish.

So I took away all the animal products in order to make myself an environment where I had to come up with new things.

It worked.

I have a much better understanding of how to cook without animal products and I enjoy everything I cook just as much as I did before.

It’s made me a better cook. I’ve made so many nice things that I would otherwise never have tried. I’ve followed recipes I would have previously ignored or been too skeptical to try. I’m sitting here eating a pumpkin, cinnamon oat and nut muffin made with no eggs, milk or butter and it’s delightful.

It just took a little brain re-wiring

There absolutely were days when I stood in the kitchen and my brain said, slowly, as if addressing a drunk at closing time ‘There. Is. Nothing. To. Eat. Here’.

When I’m deciding what to cook my brain does a sort of flow chart of all the options it knows based on what’s in the fridge and the cupboards. In the beginning it kept running through channels and ending up at the same red flashing NO banner.

Trying to make it think of a different answer was like rerouting a very rusty old train set.

After a while it got faster and more creative.

Vegan cooking isn’t more difficult than any other cooking, it’s just unfamiliar

I was so excited the other day when I heard Nigella on this podcast saying the exact same thing. She likes when vegans come over because it forces her to think of something new to do with ingredients. Otherwise it’s too easy to stay in the same old patterns.

The experiments continue. I’m still perfectly happy eating like this. Posting more on Instagram over lockdown has helped me too because I was at the point before this where I could eat yummy stuff all day but I hadn’t given myself the extra push to make it pretty or do all the sprinkly, finish-y bits that make something wow.

These are two of my recent favourites. Honestly it did take tying my hand behind my back to make me try a vegan potato salad but I promise you it’s as delicious as any one you’ve tasted until now.

Homegrown potatoes and asparagus roasted with chickpeas and numbing oil with ginger tahini dressing.

Black bean and walnut burger and potato salad with cashew cream dressing.

So that’s the news. I hope you enjoyed. If you have any thoughts I would love to hear them.

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Vegan disclaimer on all posts for food snobs and concerned people:

‘Yeah but yeah but yeah but’

I know. Trust me, I know all the yeah buts.

I know a 700 word blog post may raise more questions than it answers.

Food is complicated. In college when other people were writing papers about fine dining or the next hot thing in food retail I was researching food production and the many faces of fad diets.

I know too much about this for my own good which is partly the problem. The people who know the least often shout the loudest.

Trust me when I say I have done and continue to do the research.

When I get too bogged down in the details I just remember the big picture:

  • Nobody is pro factory farming of animals.
  • Nobody is pro mass production of poor quality food at the expense of nature.
  • You’ll be hard pressed to find a person who says eating more vegetables, pulses, nuts and whole grains is a bad idea for anybody.

Let’s all be very nice to each other, please nobody shout at me, thank you, see you next time.

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