I have a confession to make. I don’t like to cook. I like to eat, definitely, but I wouldn’t mind if I never had to cook again! I’d rather be doing pretty much anything else and I make very little time in my life to cook. My cooking ineptitude even prompted my mother to christen my kitchen “The Burns Unit!”
However, I’ve been vegan for 28 years and I certainly wouldn’t change. And if I can do it, anyone can!
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to survive and thrive after removing all animal-related products from your diet. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me something like, “I couldn’t be vegan because I can’t cook” or “I hate to cook” or “I don’t have time to cook”, I’d be able to employ MY OWN COOK. Well, maybe not quite, but I think you get my point.
Why do people think being vegan is so hard? Admittedly there are new foods to find out about and try, (some you will love straight away and others may be more of an acquired taste), and you have to get into the habit of avoiding the animal-based foods that are all around us. But as there are so many foods and tastes to savour, I never feel like I’m missing out.
If, like me, you are a lazy cook/very busy/hate cooking/would rather do anything else (delete as applicable), here’s some advice:
I like to make large quantities of stews, soups, curries etc, so that I can put several portions in the freezer. (Do remember to label them, as I’ve had some puzzling moments months later, trying to decide what strange concoction I have in front of me). Also, IMPORTANTLY take care the food doesn’t burn, as in my experience the greater the quantity of food I’m preparing, the more likely I am to create the burnt version!
Adapt dishes you used to enjoy with meat and/or dairy products and substitute vegan alternatives. Replace meat with veggie burgers, sausages and pies, (OK, not super-healthy, but neither are their animal-based counterparts), and have vegan cheese to grate over the top of dishes for extra deliciousness. Check out the ideas here for non-animal substitutes.
Labour-saving devices can be handy. One of my favourites is a rice cooker. A relatively recent purchase – it prevents rice burning on the bottom of the pan! As my patient partner will testify, it’s hard to get me to hang around in the kitchen to watch the food. I also use a blender most mornings for a tasty, healthy and easy smoothie, (frozen berries, greenery [such as silver beet, kale or spinach], a banana, soy milk and whatever else I want to throw in), and a food processor, to chop and shred.
Come up with a collection of dishes that involve minimum preparation time. Here are some of my favourites:
- Risotto – cook up some brown rice, (without burning – see rice cooker above), and create a risotto with a tin of beans and whatever veggies you have around (even frozen ones if you are rushed)
- Pitta Pockets with falafel, hummus and salad – just toast wholemeal pitta bread, wash and chop the salad, add olives and anything else you like, and stuff it all in. Ready prepared falafel can be found in the chiller aisle
- Cauliflower/broccoli cheese – with vegan sauce mixes, such as Angel Food and Leahey that just need soy milk added, (a whisk can be handy to get the lumps out – did I mention that I’m no good at cooking?), and a mixed salad with bean sprouts and seeds
- Pizza – Use pre-made pizza bases (several vegan ones are available in supermarket chillers), that you load up with your favourite veggies
- Pasta – (Most dried pasta is vegan, just check it doesn’t contain egg). Add a pre-made pasta sauce and throw in some veggies and tinned chickpeas to cook in the pasta water
- Jacket potato – with baked beans and a salad
- Nut roast, roast veggies and packet gravy – For the nut roast fry an onion and garlic; grate a carrot, chop 3/4 cup nuts, create breadcrumbs from five slices of bread and then chop a carrot all in a food processor (in that order, so wet stuff last), add soy sauce (1 tbsp); mixed herbs, salt, pepper, 2 tbsp tomato paste,
a veggie stock cube or some vegemite; stir all together in a bowl and cook in an oven-proof dish until done (about 40 minutes in medium oven), i.e. a bit brown on top. (You can top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds). The quantities are very flexible and the only way you can stuff it up is to burn it!
Get inspiration from others. If you are in an area where Vegan Pot Lucks are held, they are a great way to try out a variety of dishes and meet like-minded people. Check out the Vegan Society to see if there is one being held near you.
If not, the web is full of blogs and recipes – enough that you could eat something different every day for the rest of your life, but I avoid the ones that look too complex/take too long.
Here are some easy recipes to get you started. As these are written by an American, I suggest substituting Fry’s Chicken Strips for where it says Soy Curls in ‘Chick’n Salad with Cranberries and Pistachios’, and it’s useful to know that cilantro is the US word for coriander! You can also check out lots of delicious recipes on the SAFE website.
There are also Vegan Facebook groups where you can get advice and share your thoughts.
Before I finish, I have to share with you the easiest and most delicious chocolate mousse recipe.
Use 2/3 of a 250g Whittaker’s dark chocolate block, (Dark Ghana, Dark Cacao and Dark Block are all vegan), broken into pieces and a 425ml tin of Kara or other thick coconut cream. Heat and stir together in a pan until the chocolate is melted and it is simmering. While heating, add 1 tbsp vanilla essence, 1 tsp mint essence and 2-3 tbsp sweetener such as agave syrup. Put in a container or several ramekin dishes, chill for several hours, then enjoy, preferably with friends, as it’s very filling. Yum! Even with my lack of skill, this smooth, luscious mousse has always turned out great. (Just don’t burn it!!)
I hope I’ve shown you that during my many years of cooking (mis)adventures, I’ve learned to make my life as easy as possible. Anyone can enjoy being vegan. It’s just a new way of looking at the world and the food we eat. I LOVE food and also I LOVE that my diet also is good for animals, my health and the planet.
So why don’t you join me? Take the Big Veg Challenge.
Marianne Macdonald, Campaign Officer