Category Archives: Veganuary ’18 +
Collection of reflections, recipes and recommendations from my Veganuary 2018 experience and beyond
The quasi-Vegan diet I struck for myself back at the end of January is still going strong, thanks in no small part due to continued exploration of vegan dishes – tweaking things I already did, trying out new recipes altogether.
As you may recall, I ended up eating a lot of humous over January and, while I’m certainly not sick of it, some variety is definitely appreciated. Which is why my interest was piqued by the idea of swapping out chick peas for a different kind of bean – borlotti beans.
I caught a few recipes online that recommended sumac, which I think I’d like to try. This time, however, I elected for the Arabic spice-blend used in kabsah (or mandi, if Yemeni is more your style). I had it on hand, and wanted to start getting through it whilst still fresh. Worked a treat.
Breakdown of the humous, then:
-4 tbsp tahineh
-400ml (volume) cooked borlotti beans
-2 small onions, diced and pre-caramelised
-healthy glug of olive oil (~3 tbsp)
-1 tbsp kabsah spice blend
-juice of 1 lemon
-splash of water to thin, as necessary
-2 tsp salt
-pepper to taste
Caramelising the onions in advance really rounded out the flavour. I cheated and did it over moderate heat, which cut the cook time to around 10 minutes or so. I threw in two teaspoons of caster sugar, which was another deliberate fudge. I’m sure it’d be even better done properly. The blending of the spread is haphazard – so long as you end up with a texture you’re comfortable with in the end, it doesn’t really matter the order in which you add the ingredients, really.
The tabouleh was a pretty straight-ahead affair – handful of mint, maybe three or four times that parsely, half a head of green lettuce, several tomatoes and half a cucumber, a single lemon juiced, with plenty of salt, cumin, coriander and pepper to taste. I pre-cooked one (dry) cup of bulgur and let it cool before getting on with the rest of the mix. Tossed with a healthy amount of olive oil, it did quite nicely. Hearkening back to the facile tips of yore, I microwaved the lemons half a minute to more easily release the juice.
I quickly made some some flatbreads up (mix of self-raising and gram flours, water, aqua faba, basil and salt) to round off the meal. Ended up being a bit dish intensive on the prep-side, but the actual time spent was minimal.
Another recipe riffed off of Jackie Kearney’s ‘Vegan Street Food’, with a few alterations. This was my first attempt at the Tibetan dumpling staple, and, while there’s room for improvement, it didn’t come off too badly.
First, the ingredients I went with:
3 medium carrots
2 moderate tomatoes
4/5 bay leaves
A dozen or so peppercorns
2 tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
Good handful cilantro
3 dried star anise sections
3 garlic cloves
(all vegetables roughly chopped – this is just broth, after all)
2 large potatoes
300g red cabbage
200g red bell pepper
hearty knob of ginger
1 spring onion
1 tsp hoisin sauce
~1/2 tsp salt and pepper each
2 healthy dashes of turmeric
The hardest part of trying out a new recipe, especially one with more than a few moving parts, is figuring out how to make the timing work and cut back on waste and mess. Initially, I had thought to steam the cabbage and potato using the broth as it boiled. Alas, the amounts just didn’t jive (a real shame, the cabbage and potato leached a really vibrant blue colour that would have been sweet for the broth), and so that was separated out into two pots. Kearney recommends 40 minutes for the broth to simmer, and I probably got there and more by the end of meal prep.
I put aside the creation of the dumpling dough until after I had the filling on the way, but I would probably switch the order next time. I used about 1 and 1/2 cups of plain flour with a sizeable pinch of salt, and somewhere north of a 1/2 cup water (at least so you know the ratios – more on that later). Kneading took about 10 minutes – a stiff dough is desired. The recipe originally says to set aside for 30 minutes, and I don’t think I left it quite that long.
Getting back to the filling for a moment – as I mentioned above, I steamed the potatoes and cabbage, each finely chopped, for 15 minutes. In the interim, I gave the ginger, pepper, and spring onion a chop themselves – the onion was on the rougher side, but the ginger in particular was minced. After taking my steamer off the pot, I (regrettably) emptied the indigo water and added a dash of sunflower oil, returning to the hob to heat. First went the ginger, followed shortly by the pepper. This was fried for about 5 minutes, enough time to render down. The potato/cabbage was added to this and mashed. This mix was poured into a moderate-sized aluminium bowl (the same I’d used to prepare my dough, rinsed) and the remaining ingredients were stirred in. Set aside to cool.
The recipe advises 16 “lime-sized balls” of dough, rolled out to a 3 mm width and sectioned with a 7.5 cm cookie cutter. I, erm, fudged that width part, and it came back to bite me. I suggest you follow it.
As I said earlier, I’ve told you the ratios I used for the dough, because you’re probably going to want to make more than I did – I only used about a third of the filling I ended up with, as you’re only meant to add a teaspoon to each dumpling.
Wet your fingers a bit to seal up the top, or lip, depending on the style you elect – moons or money bags. Have a small amount of oil heated and ready in a pan – I used sunflower again, but any high heat type will do, I’m sure – as you will want to fry the bottoms of the dumplings till golden brown, before transferring to the steamer. Having left my dough too thick, I wasn’t able to achieve the sought-after translucence within the recommended 7 – 10 minute steam-time, though they did cook through.
Don’t be like me.
Thin your dough.
Though the dumplings were thicker than necessarily optimal, the flavour was present. The broth was a success, as well – the anise really pushes through. The original recipe calls for half a fennel bulb, which, though I didn’t have it on hand, I wouldn’t mind trying out next time. Other things that were changed were celeriac for celery (it’s what I had), the absence of a broccoli stem in the broth and sherry in the filling (have port, no sherry – ill equipped larder, right here), and the addition of the bell pepper and turmeric.
It seems a shame to toss so many vegetables post-broth – I’m going to see if I can make something worthwhile from the remains, and certainly won’t hold it against you should you try the same.
Following that heavy dinner, tried to play it light yesterday with a lunch of Miso soup.
You can find plenty of recipes online, and it’s a pretty simple dish to prepare. It took all of twenty minutes, and even that was an external constraint – the spring rolls had to be in the oven.
I used a moderate saucepan’s worth of water, maybe about 1 – 1 1/2 L, which I set to boil. Added 3 medium mushrooms, cut in slices, to the water fairly early on so that they had time to cook down a bit. If you elect to go with dried mushrooms you’l probably want to reconstitute them well in advance. I had some fresh on hand at the time, and used those. After maybe five minutes, I dropped the temperature and added two good tablespoons-worth of white miso paste. Towards the end of that twenty minutes I added several loose handfulls of dried seaweed and a teaspoon of soy sauce. The kelp didn’t take very long to take on water. I also put in another tablespoon of miso, for good measure.
Just before serving, I threw in some green onion and tofu. I only added these at the end to avoid losing their consistency – the green onions are nice and sharp raw, and the tofu, being silken, was likely to fall apart if cooked too aggressively.
I skipped out on adding any mirin, as most recipes will ask for, simply because I didn’t have it on hand. The broth was good, particularly after the mushrooms and seaweed had time to open up, but could have been a touch saltier.
Kept to the theme of ‘unheavy’ with dinner, a quasi-banh mi – something I’d been craving for the last couple of days. No luck getting a proper baguette at the market, so I elected for ciabatta instead. Getting further from the original, I used some of the kimchi as an ingredient – it’s grown no less powerful!
Kept things standard with the use of cilantro, and, instead of the customary meat, I was able to pick up some flavoured seitan – made in Switzerland, of all places.
In recognition of the day, thought I’d try out something thematic.
Swapped out a few things from the recipe, given that this was a spur of the moment decision. Rather than the sprouted wheat berries, opted for the same amount of quinoa. We all know that that is no-where near enough garlic, whether powdered or fresh. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pick up any nutritional yeast flakes, and it was too little time to prepare my own. Otherwise, things were more or less the same.
As any vegetarian worth their salt will tell you, bean burgers are hella difficult to cook properly. This blend was no different. I tweaked the balance with every fresh round to hit the pan – making them smaller, adding aquafaba, and finally gram flour directly. There was definite improvement each time, but they still came out fairly crumbly.
I took a run at the beetroot/gram flour wraps before doing the burgers themselves, which was…a beneficial tuition, shall we say? Initial efforts had the heat set too low, and the size of the pan made flipping the wrap unwieldy. The texture of the gram flour is quite granular in comparison with standard wheat, and is much denser without any gluten. This resulted in undesirable wrinkling and tears through the cook. Post-burger prep, swapped out the large pan for a smaller one, higher heat, and less batter per wrap. Improved the experience immensely.
Work intensive, for sure. Be warned – between the protein-heavy bean burgers and the ultra-dense gram flour wraps, this is a very filling meal. Don’t be expecting to polish off that box of Godiva tonight!
Tried out this recipe earlier in the week, with a few tweaks.
The base recipe is entirely vegan, which fits with the continued effort to stick to Veganuary+.
Took care of a good chunk of the kale on hand, though I ended up grabbing an additional punnet of mushrooms. I suspect my ratios were a bit off of what the recipe recommends, and so we didn’t end up with quite the ideal sauce-to-pasta balance. As per the photograph, I also added a courgette that needed using.
Like a villain, I ended up adding some parmesan when we first had it. The recipe as is just isn’t quite round enough. The wife made a good suggestion, saying the addition of something like chestnuts might get us there – will try it next time. There was also the thought of tomatoes, but I kind of felt as if this should be an alternative to the go-to, standard red pasta sauce, if you feel me. I ended up having the non-dairy-adulterated version for lunch today, and it certainly wasn’t terrible. Perhaps time was the necessary ingredient. Not thyme, because thyme tastes like mould.
Tonight’s soup was properly vegan – finishing off the kale, with a butternut squash, mung beans and various root vegetables. Not the best colour, but fortifying stuff.
And that bread!
No guarantees that it is vegan, as I picked it up from the baker’s stall in the market – bread should usually be vegan, and these folks generally do a straight job, but without listed ingredients it’s impossible to say. It was particularly cold today – coldest week of the year, thus far – and I didn’t want to detain the proprietor longer than necessary. There was a queue. It simply isn’t done.
That superior hue comes from activated charcoal – supposedly, rife with health benefits, including “detoxxing” (which your body does just fine itself, btw) and curing hangovers, but likely just a load of woo. The flavour is that of a regular sourdough, and it’s got a nice smell to it, but, at £6 a loaf, this is one impulse buy I shan’t be making regularly.
So, here we are at the end of the month – how did I make out?
As I was hoping, I’ve been able to try out some new recipes and hone some fresh techniques – the increased use of tahineh, especially that sauce, was revelatory, breaking down my reticence to work with tofu is going to come in handy, and the triumph of the injera is something I’ll be returning to regularly.
Well, as noted at the half-way mark and, really, throughout, this hasn’t been that large of a change for me, starting as I did from a near-vegetarian diet. The restriction throughout the day made for some tight moments – even just today, come 11:20, my empty stomach was making its presence known. Much to the enjoyment of my most proximate colleagues. I’ve certainly been getting enough to eat at meal times, but the absent inter-meal grazing is still a lack sorely felt.
Regrettably, I didn’t weigh myself at the start of this whole thing, so it’s difficult to say whether I indeed lost weight. What with only really starting into exercise half-way through, and fairly light-on at that, I suspect that there wasn’t a whole lot shifted.
In the same vein, I’m afraid I can’t comment on what the drain on the purse has been, comparatively. Also, it’s not as if I was approaching this sustainably – in an effort to try new recipes, I was buying ingredients to fit the meal, rather than working in a more economical mindset. I was making heavy use of specialty stores and bodegas, notorious for inflating costs. I don’t usually make extravagant purchases, so I’m content to keep a fairly loose handle on the finances – so long as I’m in the black come the end of the month, I know I’m doing alright. I usually am.
Having to take the time to actually think through meal-prep and ingredient acquisition has brought an unexpected focus on the passage of time – so often, a month slips by, I wake up and it’s the 26th or later, and I wonder how it all went so quickly. Not so here – I don’t know if it was the recognition that the month, as a unit, was something distinct and unusual, or it it was that greater attention to the moment, but I feel like this January has been a bit more…thoroughly experienced? It’s difficult to articulate.
All in all then, a positive experience, with qualifications. There are still recipes I want to try, limits that I want to push. A month isn’t really enough for (slight) diet adjustments to make themselves felt. But…what about two months?
Having done a crash course, I now know what to be looking out for, what to improve upon. I should be able to back track and get a rough estimate of how much I spent, and the average before that, too – it’s been something I’ve been intending to do for a while, so the excuse is a convenient one. I’ll be approaching my weight in a more attentive manner, as well, which will actually give me some numbers to work with, rather than the fuzzy concept of ‘feeling.’ Also, having an idea of what is available locally, food-wise, I should be better equipped to really push the margins on recipes.
Thinking this through earlier today, I was reminded of this piece in (you guessed it) the Guardian. No doubt taking advantage of the New Years Resolution season, the article is written by a fellow reflecting on his former problem-drink habit. Sobering stuff in itself, but what really came to mind was his description of the ability, for a while, to turn off the desire to drink. For a period of ten years, he would spend the first three months of the year teetotal, until his birthday came in the Spring, from whence he would increase the consumption of alcohol throughout the rest of the year to Wakemanesque levels. But, during those first three months, he didn’t have any problem with it at all – was social, in pubs, at parties, you name it – without any desire for a drink. Speaking to a neuroscientist who specialises in this sort of thing, the author discovered that there is a known behaviour in play here – once convinced that something is off-limits, the temptation for it dissipates. Obviously, I’m not comparing my desire for the odd biscuit at work to someone’s alcoholism, but it’ll help to have something to stiffen my resolve, beyond the normal.
To that end, I think I’ll take up a version of the ‘Daytime Vegan’ diet. This will keep me away from the chocolate during the day, whilst giving me some more felxibility for socialising. My mate has a gallon of home-made mead that’s just come of age, and it ain’t going to drink itself. Plus, we’ve a growing collection of comestibles gifted to us by friends that have sat sadly neglected this past month. No longer!
It’s obviously not going to be a whole-sale forsaking of veganism – that would kind of defeat the purpose. I’ll still be trying to cook to a vegan diet, but, just, little things – a slice of cheese here, a litre of wine there. Nothing big, nothing regular. Still mostly vegan. Right?
Though the pace at which I report on my progress will slacken, I’ll still put together the odd post should I come across a worthwhile recipe, or if I’m noticing a big change weight- or energy-wise.
In the spirit of that, then, I offer up this – another from the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday!’:
Keeping to the appreciation of tahineh, we have a recipe for beet and walnut humous. Beyond the pre-cooked beet (about 200g) and walnuts (50g), there was also a recommended 1 tbsp tahineh, juice of one lemon, salt, 15g stale bread, one garlic clove, and 1 tbsp toasted cumin seeds. Obviously the tahineh amount was too little, so that was doubled. I cheaped out and just used ground cumin, though, the next time, I’ll do it properly. All in all, a nice twist on the usual!
Realised it was getting a bit late in the week and we’d not yet used any of the potatos from our veg box. Plus, between the spinach in the salad spinner and the goodly bunch of kale, space in the fridge is at a premium. What to do?
Stole some time whilst at work to hunt about for recipes – kale and potato, kale and potato…not feeling a soup, could do without a hash…but what is this, several pages deep into Google? Quesadillas!
Didn’t get to use any potatoes, but I put a good dent in the kale, which is win enough for me.
Apart from a glance at the recipe at work, made this one up more-or-less free hand. I more than doubled the sweet potato recommended, used a whole can of black beans, and maybe 3 or so sizeable double-handfuls of cut kale. I’m not a big fan of smoked paprika (though I do enjoy the non-smoky variety!), so I swapped that out for two fat, fresh chillies.
Baked my potatoes, after slicing into discs, for 40 minutes at 200. About half an hour into that, started prep on the other ingredients – steaming the kale, frying the onion, chilli and black beans together. After all the various parts were done their individual cooks, into the blender they went. Given the amount I was playing with, it took two rounds, with the mass recombined afterwards (our blender is a hand-me-down, and, while we’re grateful for it, there are better designs. You might be able to get away with just one go).
Divorcing further from the original recipe, I spread a bit of salsa on half of the tortilla previous to filling with the kale/potato mash. Before folding the tortilla over, I sprinkled a few leaves of cilantro and an appreciable amount of the tahineh sauce, recalling how well it did with the lasagna. I’d finished off another jar of stewed peppers the other day, and so fried the quesadillas in the leftover oil for a bit of an extra flavour kick. In an effort to multi-task, I was filling the next quesadilla while the initial was frying, which caused some overcooking – though never to a burn. In the end, that amount of veg mix made for 4 quesadillas, with a reasonable portion added to each. I was full after 1 and 1/2, so, while it mayn’t stretch as far as some other recipes I’ve used, it’s not terrible.
Last night, took another crack at the makhani dhal I made back at the start of the month, this time with proper urad lentils – though I’ve still not picked up any asafoetida! I was prepping the urad from dry, having soaked them from that morning. I didn’t have any trouble myself, and I did cook the whole batch for at least, probably more than, the recommended time, but my wife found more than few undercooked lentils. Which is never fun. Maybe it’s just her, though. Didn’t catch any today at lunch. Probably just making it up…
(Pre-soak yer lentils fer at least 24hr!)
Brought it a bit closer to home tonight – at least as close as the Maghreb. As the title suggests, elected for a tajine.
Though I hadn’t really intended to hew so close, the dish ended up looking basically the same as this one from the BBC (I pay my television license, least I deserve is some free recipes!). Obviously left out the honey, and rather than a harissa paste, used this, another purchase on the fly –
The instructions call for only 2 tsp, and, though I used a bit more than that, it’s not far off the mark for the amount of veg I used. Strong lemony flavour, and I can see it being too tart at more substantial amounts.
I think, when I go to do it again, I’ll up the amount of cumin and pepper I use, to provide a counterbalance to the heavy lemon. Also, as you can see, the tagine was pretty full – and that’s only with one courgette and a half capsicum. It’s the first time I was using the tajine we have – housemate bought it maybe half a year ago, and I’m not sure why I held off for as long as I did. We’re lucky to have as large an oven as we do here in Britain, and we needed it – the top of the lid was just shy of scraping the ceiling. Boiled over ever so slightly in that second cook, but it wasn’t too bad and I caught it before any real damage was done.
Rather than the more standard flatbread or couscous tajine is usually served with, picked up some lavash – my usual go-to to pair with Ethiopian (before the success of the injera, that is!). Doesn’t do so well for soaking up the flavours, but it does do a good job as a scoop. The piece in the first photo is actually half a sheet torn, and unfolds four or five times from there. Thin. But strong.
Half-way through the month!
And how am I doing?
As I said at the start, this isn’t really that big a shift for me, coming from a more-or-less vegetarian diet to begin with. I’ve definitely tried to branch out from my usual recipes, and I’ve done an okay job with it – either trying new things altogether, or mixing up ways I’d do things normally.
Save for that slip-up at the start, I’ve not snuck, or even really been tempted to sneak, any dairy. I’ve certainly had it around me, in the house, at work, but it’s not been terrible. One thing I have noticed is the shittiness of the tea at work – much better with milk to mask. I think I’ll start taking my own in, something with a bit of flavour to it.
I don’t think I’ve been any more irritable than usual. Every time I’ve been in a bad mood, it felt justified – but then, it always does, doesn’t it? Had a pretty wicked headache for most of the afternoon today, nicely ensconced behind the left eye. Even that, though, likely had more to do with last night’s poor sleep than anything else. It cleared up pretty quick once I got some paracetamol in (and no, it didn’t have any gelatin, lactose or carmine, so there). Similarly, I didn’t really get a massive energy spike at the start, the way that some people describe. Neither, though, was I over-burdened with animal protein to begin with, so there was no massive decompression or anything like that. Nor would there have been any scramble on the part of my body to find it’s usual source of nutrition, suddenly absent.
Have I lost any weight? Kinda…? It’s difficult to tell – it’s pretty early on yet, as you wouldn’t expect much to change up in 2 weeks. Plus, I’ve not been exercising heavily, though I intend to ramp it up a bit for this latter half. I’ve definitely felt hungrier than I usually do, but I don’t think that has to do with a reduction in the quality of the food I’m eating so much as it does the inability to graze on biscuits or grab the customary pre-lunch sandwich. So, yeah, probably eating less over-all. I’ve been upping my use of the old fizzy-make-feel-good, on the assumption that an effervescent tablet every day or two’ll cover off any nutrients I’m missing out on. As you’ve seen, I’ve been doing alright keeping things balanced, but it can’t really hurt and it’s affordable.
So, that’s the half-month in broad focus. More proximately, the weekend saw a rather less-adventurous effort. Thursday saw the completion of that satay in a curry-style dish. Had a head of broccoli that needed using. Friday I was working late again (wooooo 11 hour days!) and so my wife gave the vegan lasagne another run. Anticipating in advance the dryness, we ended up with a much more…moist…dish. Apologies to our poor friend who had to deal with the first attempt! Saturday and Sunday saw some store-bought vegan burgers, from Aldi. Not bad, but not something I would’ve gone with if not feeling so lazy (or hungover – turns out a lot of the beer I had on hand was vegan).
Tonight, resumed the experimentation. Nothing too bold, picking up from where I left off Thursday before last with another deep-fried tofu dish.
Did a stir-fry of hoisin sauce and chinese five-spice, and elected for a store-bought tempura batter for the tofu. I also threw in some re-hydrated shitake, which I fried a bit before adding. Didn’t come out too badly, had a good, earthy-smoky flavour. The tempura-fried tofu was alright – was able to do the whole of my 600g pack, which means I’ll have to pick some more up for another meal I intend to do, later in the week. I don’t know if I’d grab that tempura-mix again, it was a Blue Dragon number, and was suitably generic-tasting. Ah well, got the job done for tonight, and it was purchased on a whim.
Keep your eyes peeled for a post that should be coming soon – inspired by the succesfulness of the injera, there’s something else on the ferment…