COOKING plant-based meals does require some practical knowledge to get it right, as well as some basic organisation to make it an enduring part of the way we eat; and understanding how to pack in flavour when short-cuts such as butter and eggs are no longer part of your larder is essential to keep food interesting and delicious.
I asked some of Cork’s top vegan foodies for their insider tips on how to get organised, plan, and add flavour — and for their best ingredient swaps to veganise your kitchen!
Nutritional Yeast: These little golden flakes have a nutty, almost cheesy flavour to them. Scatter them over popcorn, add to your vegan mac and cheese sauce, or sprinkle over your salads. Purchase the fortified B12 variety for that extra vitamin kick.
Try: Marigold Health Foods — Engevita Yeast Flakes. Available from the Quay Co-op, Sullivan’s Quay.
Tahini: A ground sesame seed paste similar to peanut butter but not as sweet, tahini works in savoury and sweet dishes, adding creaminess to salad dressings or hummus, and a beautiful addition to any vegan brownie recipe.
Try: Al Nahkil, available from Asian Spices, Coburg Street.
Dried Seaweeds: Great for adding depth of flavour, I include them in vegan chowder or when making “tofu fish” and chips (tofu wrapped in a nori sheet, coated in batter). They are also lovely added to any seeded cracker recipe or veg burger. Nori, wakame and dulse are the varieties I use the most.
Try: The Laughing Oyster smoked seaweed flakes, available from SuperValu.
Kecap Manis: A sweetened soy sauce, Indonesian in origin, brings all Asian dishes to life. Simply add to stir fry, vegan nasi goreng or noodle bowls. Wonderful drizzled over mushroom bruschetta or tofu scramble on toast.
Try: Habhal’s Sweet Soya Bean Sauce, available from Jia Jia Market, Corn Market Street.
Liquid Smoke: Ideal for dishes that would traditionally have a smoky BBQ kick. Add to marinades for Seitan Ribs, Carrot Bacon, Vegan Pepperoni or sprinkle a dash into beans or vegan cheese toasties.
Try: Stubbs Hickory Liquid Smoke available from The Good Food Shop at English Market.
The key to being a healthy vegan is simple: Eat vegetables! There are several tempting meat and dairy alternatives to indulge in every now and again, but really the base of a healthy vegan diet is local seasonal vegetables, whole grains, legumes and ferments.
Eating locally and seasonally is especially important as local vegetables are harvested when ripe, and pack more vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. It’s important to support local vegetable farmers and help incentivise other farmers to dedicate more land to growing vegetables for their communities.
Fermentation is an ancient sustainable way to preserve food. It not only preserves vegetables but enhances the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals present in vegetables, making them more nutritious.
Fermentation also increases beneficial bacteria in your gut, which aids in manufacturing B vitamins, and helps synthesize vitamin K. Best of all, fermented food is delicious, sour, salty, crunchy, vibrant, and adds depth to any dish.
At My Goodness, we always feature at least one ferment with every menu item, and raw prebiotic vegetables. One of my favourite dishes we have at The English Market is our Souper Broth: a kimchi broth base, and we load in daikon radish noodles, finely cut vegetables, homemade Burmese tofu or tempeh, crunchy dehydrated onions, and top it with a kraut.
Have a go at fermenting vegetables at home! Our vegan kimchi recipe is available on our website: www.mygoodnessfood.com.
There’s so many plant-based products and ingredients easily available for making meat-free meat at home, and the simplicity of making alternatives is astonishing.
If someone is craving meat, we at VeganKO recommend playing a plant-based God by blending together Vital Wheat, tofu and textured soya protein (all available from Holland & Barrett) with water and spices to get perfect cold cuts or bacon. It’s all about the spices — doubling the amount of spice used to flavour meat increases the ‘meatmass’ of your plant-based meat. There is the same or more protein per 100g in a plant-based burger patty than a beef one, but VeganKO is living proof of all that is crazy tasty too, which leaves many without doubt when seeking alternatives.
For us, it’s all about offering this tasty and much healthier alternative product instead of pushing our own beliefs to different minded people, ending up as another annoying vegan!
Michaela Hlinakova, Mihu’s Alternative Cheeze: Vegan Cheeze is versatile and delicious! Our Cheezes, (Spreadable, Mocarella and Aged), are made from whole nuts, blended, fermented, moulded by hand then aged. It takes about two weeks to make them and they are high in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and fibre.
Our spreadable cheezes can be used for creamy sauce in pasta or risotto recipes, or just spread on crackers or on sourdough bread with fresh tomatoes.
Our Mocarella can be used to top pizzas, grate over pasta, in sandwiches or made into deep fried breaded cheeze sticks. Our Aged Cheezes don’t melt, so they also can be used as a ‘meat’ replacement by frying in a pan with some vegan chicken spice and mix with fried rice. It’s also good breaded and deep fried either in a baguette with lettuce, tomatoes and mayo or simply just with mash potatoes.
Check the press! You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the amount of vegan ingredients you already purchase in your weekly food shopping such as sliced pan, baked beans, pasta, rice, wraps, pasta sauces, crackers, instant noodles, condiments (ketchup, mustard, peanut butter), some spreads, and let’s not forget fruit, vegetables and cereals. By doing this, transitioning to veganism can be extremely affordable. Allergens are always listed in bold print, so when checking your labels for dairy products and eggs, they will be easy to spot.
Veganise Favourite Lunches: Veganise dishes you know and love while you’re familiarising yourself with plant-based cooking. If new to cooking plant-based meals it might feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Recreate classics using vegan alternatives: a delicious spaghetti bolognaise using soy mince (TVP) and then following your normal recipe.
Be Snack Ready: Your body digests plant foods more quickly than animal products, so it is perfectly normal to feel a little hungry as your body adapts to your new diet. Don’t restrict yourself while you’re transitioning and eat when you feel hungry. Make a batch of high energy protein bars or balls for snacking on throughout the day; and when cooking casseroles and bakes (vegan lasagne / shepherd’s pie / quiche), make extra for lunch the next day or freeze for a day when short on time.
Eat the Rainbow: Eating plants of varied colours ensures getting in all essential nutrients:
RED: Tomatoes, Red Peppers, Strawberries ORANGE: Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Butternut Squash YELLOW: Yellow Peppers, Bananas, Lemons
GREEN: Spinach, Broccoli, Lettuce BLUE: Blueberries, Blackberries
PURPLE: Beetroot, Plums, Grapes, Aubergine
I have five mouths to feed so speed is of the essence: no more than 20 minutes cooking —maybe up to an hour if it’s something fancy!
I batch cook my rice, portion it and store in the fridge or freezer. I batch cook veg: particularly potatoes, big trays of roasted veggies, and lentils. I tend to cook and store them ‘naked’ —with no other flavours on them, so when it comes to meals they can easily be reheated and brought to the table with lots of fresh green veggies, buckets of herbs, maybe a savoury cheeze sauce made with nutritional yeast, so everyone can create a meal to their own taste by adding different flavours.
Creating satisfying flavour in my food is really important, and I like to experiment with flavours and see where it takes me!
I always keep a stock of pre-roasted Sweet Potatoes in the fridge. I like to make a ‘Sweet Potato Taco’: a roasted potato cut down the middle filled with lentils, roast veg and a vegan cheeze sauce and just warm through in a roasting dish in the oven. Or for a sweet take, slice the potato, sprinkle over cinnamon and maple syrup.
I don’t batch cook pasta or tofu — both can be ready in eight minutes — and I see no harm in using tinned beans and legumes for convenience, rather than cooking from dry, although I would always prefer organic.
To speed up activation of nuts and seeds, simply cover with boiling water for 10 minutes instead of steeping overnight.
(Nicola also offers coaching for people who are just beginning their plant-based journey too. Contact her on 085 7569746 or email@example.com).
Chocolate: When making decadent vegan treats, start with chocolate! 70% chocolate is naturally dairy free, but if you are used to milk chocolate, try adding a little maple syrup to combat the bitterness. In baked goods, add instant coffee grounds alongside cocoa powder to intensify the richness and chocolate-y goodness!
Butter and Cream: Neutral flavoured oils like sunflower or refined coconut oil are great alternatives for butter. When a recipe calls for solid fat for pastry, I substitute with a vegan butter. I prefer to use the Naturli brand as it is palm oil free, although margarine works too.
To make a delicious thick cream, try coconut milk. Leave a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight. The milk and solids will separate. Scoop out the solids, add 1 tbsp of maple syrup and beat for 2 minutes. Serve straight away or keep in th fridge for an hour if you prefer it thicker.
Eggs: Perhaps the most difficult ingredient to replace vegan baking: they are binders and levellers, and add fat and flavour. I swear by using flax or chia seeds, or aquafaba (chickpea water from a can) as ideal replacements.
1 tbsp ground chia or flax seeds and 3 tbsp water is equal to 1 egg, let sit for 5 minutes to come gelatinous. 3 tbsp
Aqua Faba liquid is equal to 1 egg.
Flax egg is suitable for denser bakes like a banana bread, whereas aqua faba is great light cakes like a Victoria Sponge, meringues or try this recipe for a rich and heavenly Vegan Chocolate Mousse…
Melt 200g dark chocolate and leave to cool.
Beat 120ml Aqua Faba and 100g caster sugar for about 7-10 mins until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the whipped Aqua Faba.
Spoon into serving glasses and let chill in fridge for 1 hour.
Serve as is or with some toasted hazelnuts, orange zest and sea salt or simply some fresh raspberries.
Think about how the food you eat is produced. Organically produced foods means growers are protecting land, biodiversity, soils and waterways. They avoid the use of chemical fertisilers and pesticides using natural inputs and methods instead. Paying a little more for organically produced food means you have chosen to protect natural resources over the cost of producing cheap food.
Ask if your food is local or imported? Think about where the food you choose comes from, who grew it, how it was grown and what resources were used for the food to travel to you. If it must be imported, choose to support organic growers and/or Fairtrade co-operatives.
How is your food packaged? Avoid plastic — you know it’s terrible! Make use of reusable containers for food or opt for minimal or no packaging at all, compost food waste and dispose of compostable materials correctly.
Catch up on Kate Ryan’s full Veganuary series on the link below