The great news is eating a vegan diet has never been easier. Vegan meals can be as easy and cheap to make as beans on toast or as expensive and complex as tomato terrine with basil infused sauce and poached asparagus. Like anything in life, it’s what you make it. I don’t view it as giving up some foods, but as discovering new ones and finding fresh ways to cook and eat.
There are a plethora of sumptuous vegan recipes on the internet and books on the subject are growing in number all the time. I particularly love ‘Appetite for Reduction’ by Isa Chandra Moscowitz. Plenty of American cookbooks and websites will keep you going if cup measurements are your thing, but the Brits are catching up and charities like Viva! have fantastic recipe resources, as does The Vegan Society. Charities such as PETA and Animal Aid are getting in on the act too and you don’t have to be a fantastic cook to master tofu scramble really, do you? Vegetables are such an important part of our diet, but so many people view them as something to go on the side, rather than being the main event. Beans provide heaps more protein than meat does (without any of the nasties) and how many times have you eaten a vegetable curry, stir fry or pasta dish and thought ‘this is a vegan dish, I’m depriving myself!’? Broccoli is packed with calcium and has none of the horrid fats that milk products do. I can get really excited about vegetables, but let’s not forget the cakes. In answer to your question, can you bake without milk or eggs?- the answer is a resounding yes!!! I first headed over to the Post Punk Kitchen for some cookie and cake inspiration, but vegan baking recipes are all over the internet these days. It’s easy to sub butter and margarine for things like vegetable fat (Trex) or sunflower/olive oil spread. The most obvious substitution for moo-cow milk is plant milk like, oh, I don’t know, coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, hazelnut milk, soya milk…
As for eggs, all you have to do is work out whether the eggs are there for binding and/or leavening purposes and then you can veganise any baking recipe you choose. Popular egg baking substitutes include: for binding, arrowroot mixed with water; ground flaxseed mixed with water; applesauce (which is generally what I use) or blended silken tofu (I know this sounds fancy, but you can get it from Sainsbury’s, I promise.) If it’s leavening you need then you can use apple cider vinegar mixed with non-dairy milk (easy peasy), or non-dairy yoghurt. There are also commercial egg replacers that can do both jobs and these are generally available in health food shops.
If you’re a meat-eater and are interested in going vegan, I’d say try to cut out red meat first, then white meat and fish and see how you go. I went pescetarian for six months before going fully vegetarian, although that was mainly because back in the eighties vegetarians were still seen as somewhat alien, and for the sake of my family I compromised in some restaurant situations (I was only twelve years old.) However, I’d worked out how to get around things in those six months and haven’t eaten meat since. If you’re happily jollying along without meat, then cutting out milk and cream should be easy enough. Try all the non-dairy milks and see which is your favourite. My husband has coconut milk on his cereal in the mornings, which is yummy, but too sweet for me at breakfast time, so I tend to use unsweetened almond milk. I was never a great user of cream anyway, but I can’t really taste the difference between soy cream and the ‘real’ stuff, so that switch was a cinch. The custard that Alpro make is better than the dairy stuff I reckon (available at Tesco), as do many of my non-vegan friends and family. I serve it with homemade apple or rhubarb crumble and they yum it up.
I’m going to be honest here, cheese can be a bit of a bugger to give up, but never fear, there are ways you can make it easier on yourself. First of all, if you say ‘I’m addicted to cheese’ I’m likely to believe you. You see, the milk that cheese is made with has high levels of a protein called casein, which is highly addictive. The reason it’s in there is to keep the baby calf coming back to mum for more so they can grow into an adult cow. Unfortunately the stuff has the same effect on people, perhaps explaining in part why some of us are struggling to keep our weight down. But, help is at hand. Vegusto does some devilishly convincing vegan cheese, standing up to the dairy variety in various blind taste tests. Their no-moo melty (great name!) is particularly good on pizzas. I must admit to being nervous of trying a pizza without cheese for the first time as pizza is one of my very favourite foods. To my surprise though, I found that much of the sensory experience that is pizza, has little to do with cheese. The crispy crust, tomato rich sauce and varied toppings were more than enough to keep my cravings at bay. In fact, when you think about it, some pizzas aren’t covered in mozzarella anyway, some just have little discs of goats cheese. This is again something I’ve tried out on my non-vegan friends. Pizza Express do a vegan pizza and because their base is vegan, if you order any of their pizzas without cheese, you’re good to go. I’ve offered friends a slice of mine and they are always pleasantly surprised. If you choose carefully (some of the supermarket dairy free cheeses for example, are quite frankly, gross) then you can have a cheese free life quite happily. You never know until you try, so try! There’s also a vegan ingredient, available from health food stores, called nutritional yeast, or nooch for short. Now I know it doesn’t sound too appetising, but it’s amazing what whizzing these savoury flakes up with some cashews, mustard and turmeric (amongst other things) can do. There are many vegan cheese sauce recipes out there, and they’re definitely worth trying. Nooch can also be sprinkled on top of pasta or any other dish as a kind of parmesan substitute. (See a more detailed description here.)
More and more restaurants are offering vegan options, especially in the cities. To make things easy on yourself, Asian restaurants are particularly accommodating. If you ask for the meal that’s cooked in oil at an Indian restaurant (instead of ghee, which is clarified butter) then you’re good to go. In a Thai place, as long as there’s no fish sauce or egg, every veggie dish should be open to you. Chinese places are probably the easiest of all for vegans, as even mock duck isn’t an animal, it’s chunks of gluten that can be extremely tasty with the right sauce. Even if you’re in an Italian place, they usually have pasta with a tomato based sauce on the menu and pubs can do you veggie chilli or a baked potato and beans. If you’re drinking, check out the list of vegan beer, wines, ciders and spirits on Barnivore.com to confirm that none of the alcoholic beverages you’re consuming have been filtered through fish or egg albumen or animal bones (yes, they do this.) Some sugar is even filtered though bone char, so go for unrefined sugar as this dodgy practice happens during the refining process. I like to keep a wee note of beers I like that are vegan, just to remind myself (especially if I’ve had one too many…) Chains like Wetherspoons and Toby Carvery both have vegan options and if you’re on the move, the takeaway salads at M&S have good vegan choices.
If you can cut down on your meat consumption, then great. If you go vegetarian, even better. If you become a vegan, then you’re doing something incredibly positive for animals, your health and the planet.