On turning vegan

Asparagus, radishes and Jersey royal potatoes

People often ask me why I became vegan. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? I was curious too, which is one of the reasons I embraced this lifestyle.

Anyway, a plant-based diet is more popular than ever (there are now over half a million vegans in the UK) and I was really pleased to feature in an article about turning veggie in last Sunday’s Stella magazine.

Nicole Mowbray’s piece is a great endorsement for ditching the meat because not only is it easier than ever to be veggie, it’s also good news for your wallet and your waistline.

We all have different reasons for eating the way we do. Here’s what prompted me to make a change to my diet.

Until I hit thirty, I was a typical omnivore and would eat anything put in front of me. Having said that, I’d never eaten much dairy (unless you count chocolate), only had meat and fish when out at restaurants, and I’ve always loved my vegetables. Going vegan seemed like a no brainer. Initially, I did it to be healthier and to feel better about myself. I’d not long come out of a long-term relationship and felt that it was time to try something new.

Then I did some research and watched a few documentaries and realised that I had been turning a blind eye, not only to the cruelty of the meat industry, but also to the suffering of animals bred for eggs and dairy. That made me even more determined to take the vegan challenge.

That was a year ago and not a lot has changed. I still have a healthy appetite; I just eat differently now. My diet is pretty healthy but I’m definitely not part of the ‘clean’ eating brigade. I still drink wine and there’s plenty of vegan junk food out there.

I won’t pretend that the transition was easy (prepare to be tired and hungry for the first month) but your body soon gets used to your new diet and as long as you’re getting the right nutrients, you’ll be fine. I’ve had a couple of slip ups and once in a blue moon, I’ll have some local, sustainably caught fish (it’s the one thing I really miss) but otherwise I eat a completely plant based diet and I love it. Cooking as a vegan allows you to be a lot more creative with ingredients and flavours – I just wish more restaurants would realise this, although it is slowly getting better.

I think being vegetarian and vegan is more popular partly because we are a lot more conscious about animal welfare and mitigating climate change. Celebrities like Beyonce have normalised being vegan or vegetarian and ‘clean’ eating is prevalent thanks to social media sites like Instagram. People want to buy into a certain type of lifestyle and at the moment, it’s cool to eat your greens. Admittedly, this makes life easier for us veggies and vegans as supermarkets and restaurants are keen to cater for this demand, but I don’t think it’s a fad. As it becomes more mainstream, more people are realising that eating plants is healthier, cheaper and kinder to the planet.

 

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Slow burner

I’m really not in a rush to do anything at the moment. It’s hot, work is winding down (a little bit anyway) for the summer and I have a holiday on the horizon. I’m making the most of the long and light evenings before autumn sneaks up on us and taking the time to cook at a leisurely pace.

These aren’t super speedy suppers but they don’t take ages either. Part of the enjoyment of assembling them is taking your time, perhaps with a glass of something, while you have a chat or listen to some music.

Aubergine, roasted vegetables and giant couscous with pistachios

Serves 2

This is great to make if you have friends coming over and the uncomplicated recipe means that you can chat away as you chop. It makes a lovely lunch or a substantial supper.

Aubergine, roasted vegetables and giant couscous with pistachios.jpg

Preheat the oven to 190C and thinly slice half a fennel bulb, a red onion and a courgette. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle on a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds, plus a tablespoon of olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes, then add a handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, and roast for another 10 minutes. Preheat the grill to a high setting and place the aubergine on the highest shelf. Grill for about 10-15 minutes, turning every so often, until it is soft, then set aside to cool. Meanwhile, boil a pan of water and cook 50g of couscous for about 10 minutes. Drain, add to a bowl, and mix in some lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil. Now, place three big handfuls of spinach in a bowl and make a dressing consisting of one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, a thimbleful of white wine (if you have any to hand), a tablespoon of olive oil, plus salt and pepper. Add most of this to the bowl and massage the leaves. Add some chopped cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes and black olives to the leaves and drizzle over the rest of the dressing. Slice the aubergine in half and serve with the couscous, roasted vegetables and salad. Garnish with a handful of pistachio nuts and some fresh mint and parsley.

Broad bean, pea and radish salad with mint puree

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side

This is a fresh and light dish and all the ingredients are in season right now meaning that they taste so much better. You can add boiled new potatoes if you’re really hungry and it would work well with feta cheese if you’re veggie and roast lamb and anchovies if you eat meat

Broad bean, pea and radish salad.jpg

Pod 500g broad beans and 500g peas. I’d recommend doing this as you watch something on TV (I caught up with Celebrity First Dates). You’ll need to double-pod the broad beans, which essentially means removing the ‘jackets’ or leathery skins of the beans. It’s a bit of a faff but reveals the true flavour (and vivid green colour) of these little guys. Preheat the grill to a high setting and thinly slice half a fennel bulb, place in a small baking dish and cover with two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar which will offset the sharpness of the fennel. Grill for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile boil a pan of water and steam the broad beans for 2-3 minutes. Now add the peas and steam for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. To make the puree, take 3-4 tablespoons of the peas and broad beans and place in a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a few finely chopped mint leaves. Chuck in some spinach too if you have any. Blend until smooth, adding a small amount of water. Place the peas and broad beans in bowls with some salad leaves, the grilled fennel, some sliced radishes and top with the mint puree. Garnish with a few extra mint leaves.

Kings of convenience 

I need a break. I’m living, breathing (and dreaming) the Royal Welsh Show at the moment and I’m counting the (21) days until my holiday.

I’d love to be that person who forgets to eat when they’re busy, but that ain’t me. I need food, especially when I’m stressed, but I don’t have the time (or the inclination) to cook this week.

Takeaways aren’t an option as dark chocolate is my form of Rescue Remedy and I sure as hell won’t let an agricultural show turn me into a real-life piggy. I know it’s regarded by some as pure evil (second only to a love child by Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove) but when I’m tight on time, I turn to Tesco.

I personally don’t have a problem with Britain’s biggest supermarket chain. Yes, I buy locally when I can, but Tesco (and most of the others) offer a good range of cheap and seasonal veg. I’m not going to turn my nose up at that.
Vegan ready meals are hard to come by but if you’re clever, you can pick up quite a few things that will make a quick, easy and relatively healthy dinner.

Cheap and cheerful

Those microwaveable pouches of rice and quinoa, for example, are a Godsend. The Uncle Ben and Tilda ones are often reduced and the own brand versions cost as little as 50p.

Homemade houmous is super easy to make but you can pick up a pot for a quid and most varieties are suitable for vegans. You can also get courgetti, boodles (that’s spiralised butternut squash to you and me) and even beetroot tagliatelle these days.
Chuck in some veggies (it’s super easy to steam green veg in the microwave) and a tin of lentils or chickpeas and that’s supper sorted.

Ready in under five minutes

Proof that convenience food can be cheap and healthy.