Thursday, 24 July 2014

Going vegan- week 2

I'm back with my update on week 2! You can say one thing for veganism- it certainly aids regular blog posting.

I've carried on with many things from week 1. I'm still eating my Bircher-style muesli for work-day breakfasts, and coconut yoghurt at the weekend. I'm still taking some form of salad type stuff in for lunch, but this time with homemade caramelised onion hummus and some genuinely tasty Ryvita crispbreads (the multigrain one). And I'm eating more Linda McCartney sausages than expected.

There have been some interesting food developments though. After a couple of false starts, I think I've finally found an acceptable soy yoghurt. Unfortunately, I can't seem to locate any plain coconut yoghurt (my preferred option) around here and the (delicious) raw chocolate ones from CoYo are just too much like pudding for me to take into work for a mid-afternoon snack. I tried the Tesco Free From soy natural yoghurt in week 1 but it was pretty horrible- a weird chalky taste, and a smell of slaked clay that reminded me of those mud mask sachets I used to apply as a teenager. It was verging on inedible for me, even when I tried it with lots of chopped up fruit and vanilla extract. I'm sad to say I had to chuck this. Next up was an Alpro vanilla soy yoghurt, initially purchased as there was no plain one available in Tesco. Thankfully this was heaps better. Still a very slight chalky after-taste, but nothing terrible and lots of vanilla flavour. In many ways this was more like a vanilla custard, which is probably due to the amount of added sugar in it. I don't want a load of glucose-fructose syrup in my yoghurt though, so was relieved to finally track down some plain soy yoghurt from Alpro. This was not exactly delicious but had minimal chalkiness, so was acceptable with fruit.

I've also tried three vegan 'cheeses'. The soya-free Cheezly brand one was vaguely ok-ish when crumbled over my hot chilli in week 1. Although it doesn't melt, it tasted faintly savoury, like a sort of homeopathic feta. I tried to add it to my lunchtime salads too, but it's far less successful cold. It was just about edible but not that pleasant. I also tried the Tesco Free From strong soya cheese. This was more cheese-like in texture, and looked a bit like (cheap) Cheddar. But I'm afraid that it just didn't work for me in terms of taste or texture, and I could only eat a tiny bite of it. I'm not even sure why, as it wasn't that unpleasant, but I was immediately sure that that tiny bite would be enough. I still have it in the fridge though, and now a few days have passed I'm wondering if I should try cooking with it. But I don't want to ruin a perfectly nice dinner with the cheese of instant aversion. We shall see. I have fared much better with a Free From garlic and herb soft cheese-style soya spread from Tesco (also soy based). The texture of this was much more like cream cheese, and the strong flavourings meant that pretty much all you could taste was herbiness. Not amazing, but nice enough to go on a Ryvita.

Dinners have continued to be rather successful. I sautéed butternut squash with garlic and za'atar, and made a cheese-free rocket and basil pesto to go over steamed broccoli, which was served with tofu one night and Linda McCartney sausages the next. I also made some frickin excellent lentil and mushroom burgers, which I ate with sweet potato fries, and a big green salad. The burgers were inspired by this recipe from food enthusiast and vegan, ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek. I changed quite a few things due to an ingredient deficiency and not quite reading the recipe properly, so my version is below, but these were genuinely fab and I will be making them again.

Lentil and mushroom burgers (makes around 6-8 depending on size):

390g tin of green lentils (I used one from Tesco)
Around 100g chestnut mushrooms
3 medium spring onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
0.5 tsp paprika
0.5 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp English mustard
1 tblsp gram (chickpea) flour
Around 1 tblsp chopped hazelnuts
Around 100g quinoa cooked in Marigold vegetable bouillon stock (and cooled)
Plain oil for frying

So firstly, I didn't have things like ground flaxseed and nutritional yeast which the Jurker uses in his recipe. I subbed those and the breadcrumbs for quinoa and Marigold stock powder. I find this quite salty too, so didn't bother adding any more to the mix. I also didn't read the bit about cooking the vegetables first. So I basically put everything above, except the nuts and quinoa, in the food processor and pulsed and until it had a suitably coarse burger-like texture. I then added the other ingredients put it all in the fridge overnight. The mixture turned out to be a little on the wet-side but not too sloppy. When it came to dinner time, I heated up a thin layer of oil in a non-stick frying pan, took a heaped tablespoon of the burger mix and plopped into the pan, using the back of the spoon to push it down and shape it a bit. These needed around 3-4 minutes on each side to form a crust and colour up. They were just about robust enough to be flipped over and later manoeuvred onto a plate. I'm pretty sure that a lot of moisture was coming from the raw mushroom, so I will definitely cook these first next time, and that should make the patties a lot more robust. But nevertheless, these burgers tasted damn good. Lentil and mushroom immediately summons up some sort of stupid hippy, dippy cliché, but these were properly packed full of flavour and had a great succulent texture. I did think that a bit of melted cheese over the top would be an excellent addition, but obviously that's not very vegan, so some grilled onions and tomato ketchup were a very acceptable substitute. The burgers would be great in a bun with green leaves, but I kept mine au naturel and ate them with some sweet potato fries and a big salad.

The weekend involved polishing off lots of the above as leftovers, snacking on salted crisps, crackers with peanut butter, a variety of raw and roasted nuts, and moderate quantities of dark chocolate. As it was so flipping hot (and humid), dinners minimised cooking and were mostly salad based. On the left is a romaine lettuce, fennel, raddish, carrot, spring onion, artichoke heart, and yellow pepper salad, with a side of beetroot, the now ubiquitous Linda McCartney sausages (rosemary and red onion this time) and a stuffed mushroom courtesy of Sainsburys (a rare cheese-free pre-prepared item vegetarian item).

I also managed a visit to the Gog Magog cafe during the week. My concerns that I'd have to sit in a corner with a black tea, while everyone one else had coffee and cake were unfounded as obtaining a soy milk latte was totally non-problematic, and there was even a vegan cake offering in the form of a damn good date flapjack. Huzzah! And now onwards to week 3!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Going vegan- week 1

Nothing very interesting has been happening here in terms of eating. I've generally been cooking the same range of things and not eating out that much, which is pretty normal really. Anyway, for various reasons I thought that this month I'd try a 30 day vegan challenge. Veganism has always seemed a bit daunting, but after a bit of research it actually seemed pretty achievable. As I don't eat meat anyway, I didn't think it would be that much of a shock to the system and there seem to be a lot of vegan substitutes available too. However, most of these seem to be based on soy and as I didn't want to become one giant walking soy bean I tried not to go too crazy with these. As an additional factor, I've also been minimising the amount of sugar and processed grains I eat, so no relying on pasta or toast for dinner either.

So as I near the end of week 1, here's what I've been eating, some recipes, and some of my views on the vegan products I've purchased.

One thing I've realised about being vegan is that a bit of preparation is often key. So for workday breakfasts I decided on a sort of seed-enriched Bircher muesli with almond milk.

Bircher-style muesli (enough for around 4 portions):

4-5 tblsp coarse porridge oats
Around 50g Asda seed mix (containing pumpkin, sunflower, hemp seeds, and linseeds)
Around 50g Asda triple berry and seed mix (similar to the above but with dried cranberries, goji berries, and blueberries too)
2-3 tblsp chia seeds
Around 100ml, or enough to submerge everything, of Alpro almond milk

I put all of the above in a bowl and left it covered in the fridge overnight. The next morning I took out around a quarter, topped it up with some more almond milk and added some toasted coconut flakes and chopped up fresh strawberries. I have to say that this was very nice indeed. The almond milk was genuinely tasty, all the nuts and seeds meant that the muesli was flavourful as well as filling, and the bit of fresh fruit added some natural sweetness. I would definitely have this again.

I think I got a bit carried away with my work lunches (the fear of being hungry was strong). So I took in a carrot and brazil nut dip, peanut butter hummus, little gem and tomato salad, red pepper and celery sticks, and a couple of Carr's water biscuits with Vitalite sunflower spread. This was actually a bit much, but did facilitate grazing.

The carrot dip was inspired by this Vegan Society recipe, but here's my version.

Carrot and brazil nut dip (easily enough for 4):

4 medium carrots
Around 50g brazil nuts
1 spring onion
0.5 tsp ground cumin
1 tblsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the carrots, and either boil or steam until they are just cooked. Put in a food processor (yay for the Kenwood mini-chopper), roughly chop the spring onion and nuts, add the oil and cumin to the carrots and process until coarsely blended. I wouldn't normally use un-toasted spices, but in this case the hot carrots apply a bit of heat to the cumin and also soften the spring onion. Season the dip to taste, and leave to cool.

The hummus is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe which replaces tahini with peanut butter. I blended around 1.5tblsp of crunchy peanut butter with one clove of garlic, a 400g tin of drained chickpeas, 2-3tblsp olive oil, and a similar amount of water to form a nice hummus-y texture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Again, this makes loads.

For dinner in week 1, I thought I'd go for a big one pot meal-type thing which would minimise cooking after work later in the week. Having decided on a chilli, this plan was a bit overly successful as I ended up with enough to feed at least 8 people. I threw in lots of spices and garlic with a tomato base, and used soy mince for texture and protein. I ate this with a guacamole, a sweetcorn salsa, and some tortilla chips. Here's my basic recipe, which can be easily tweaked depending on what you like or have available.

Mexican-style chilli (easily enough for 8):

454g bag of soy mince (I used the frozen one from Tesco, and left it to defrost in the fridge before cooking)
1 stick celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 green pepper, chopped into chunks
1 yellow pepper, chopped into chunks
Half a red pepper, chopped into chunks
5-6 medium chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 medium onion, finely sliced
5 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
210g tin of kidney beans, drained
400g tin of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
1 heaped tblsp sun-dried tomato purée (I use the Gia brand)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3-4 tblsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Sweat down the celery, carrot, and onion, with the bay leaf in the olive oil over a lowish heat. Once soft add the peppers, mushrooms, garlic, herbs, and spices. After a few minutes, stir in the soy mince, and after a bit more cooking add the tinned tomatoes and purée. I also half-filled the (now empty) tin of tomatoes with water and put that in too, but you might want to vary this depending on the chilli consistency your prefer. After adding salt and pepper, the chilli simmered for around 20 minutes. Add the kidney beans, check the seasoning, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, or until the peppers are fully cooked.

Due to making so much of all the above stuffs, the weekend was mainly filled with eating the leftovers (I still had to freeze some of the chilli). But an excellent additional breakfast option was a raw chocolate CoYo coconut yogurt. These were genuinely delicious, and tasted more like a chocolate mousse really. As with the Bircher muesli, I'm sure these will be reappearing in post-vegan life.

Weekend dinners were a bit more mixed. One involving a tomato, fennel, and black olive stew, green beans with almonds and garlic, Linda McCartney sausages, and a salad of raw mushroom and jarred artichoke hearts was excellent.

Another involving cumin roasted cauliflower, courgettes with garlic and chilli, guacamole, and smoked tofu with caramelised onion was less good. All the bits tasted quite nice, but it was a pretty random combination which didn't really complement each other. Perfectly edible, but I have realised that beige and green is never the best look for an appetising dinner.

Overall week 1 of veganism went rather smoothly. I ate more beans and soy than I would normally, but probably also more vegetables. I definitely wasn't hungry, and certainly didn't feel I was missing out on anything. So pretty positive really. I can't say I feel particularly 'healthier' either, but that wasn't a particular aim and seven days of doing anything probably isn't going to have much impact. So anyway, onwards to week 2!