I adore cooking! It is one of my treasured hobbies and I love that I get to cook every day and experiment with new and exciting recipes!
Veganism created my love of cooking! Before that, I was very uninspired. I hated the idea of handling meat and dairy, so I avoided cooking as much as possible.
When I decided to go vegan, I wanted to learn about the lifestyle. To be honest, I was stumped about what I could eat as a vegan so I bought lots of cook books to help me work out what to cook. It soon became clear that, by choosing vegan, I hadn't limited my choices at all, I had actually opened a door to a whole load of new and amazing food options that were so much more exciting than anything I would have eaten before!
Just 4 years ago, when I made the transition, supermarkets didn't have big vegan and 'free from' sections like they do today! (How amazing is it that is has grown so much in such a short space of time?!) So I got in the habit of cooking fresh vegan meals every day. I soon developed a passion for cooking that I never expected to discover! Now I have a pantry full of pastas, grains and legumes and a fridge full of colourful veggies that I look forward to using in my meals every day! I want to share with you my top tips for vegan cooking!
1. Get a Blender and/ a Food processor!
When I first when vegan, I was on a health kick! I had terrible issues with my stomach that led me to feel nauseous all the time and the doctors just kept giving me medication to mask the symptoms. I was tired of feeling rubbish and so I took my health in to my own hands. I decided to focus on what I ate! So I started to cut down on sugary foods and focus on vegan raw desserts to satisfy my sweet tooth. I made raw cashew nut 'cheese'cakes, raw date brownies, date and nut energy balls, date and almond chocolate truffles and more! All of which were delightful and NEEDED a food processor to exist! It turns out that vegan raw deserts are incredibly yummy! I highly recommend them! I was following recipes from Deliciously Ella and other vegan blogs online.
Food processors are also a must if you would like to make 'Cheesy' sauces and pestos. One of my favourite meals is vegan mac and cheese with smoked tofu pieces. Oh it is DELIGHTFUL! It involves blending cashew nuts with plant mylk, mustard powder and nutritional yeast and couldn't be made without a food processor. So tip number 1 is definitely - get a food processor and/ a good blender!
2. Make Much-room for mushrooms (Oh dear!...)
Mushrooms are amazing! I personally dislike the texture of mushrooms and will always pick out the big rubbery mushrooms from a dish- HOWEVER, the taste is wonderful. Mushrooms have a fullness and offer a depth to cooking that, I reckon, could convince any meat eater to eat more vegan food! Use mushrooms to make mushroomy, garlicky pasta sauces, to make asian 'hoisin' inspires shredded mushroom tacos, add mushrooms to Bolognese... oh there is so much that can be done! If you are like me and hate the texture, just cook them for longer! Simple as that. I love to experiment in the kitchen and make up my own recipes (maybe one day i'll publish them on here!) but i'm sure you can find plenty on google! Have a browse and discover the full mushroom potential.
3. Superb Soy Sauce/ Shoya sauce/ Tamari
I basically now swap salt for soy sauce when I cook! I add a drop of shoya sauce or tamari to my cooking and it brings a fuller flavour than adding a pinch of salt! I always try to avoid E numbers and ingredients that I don't understand, so will always opt for Meridian Shoya sauce or Organic Tamari (which is a great option for anyone looking for gluten free soy sauce). Shoya/ tamari adds a great flavour boost to cashew 'cheese' sauces, pasta sauces, homemade gravy, bean chilli and much much more!
4. Go Bananas for Bananas!
Bananas are incredibly versatile! I use them to make breakfast muffins.. half a mashed banana is a great egg substitute. I usually mix a teaspoon of peanut butter in with the banana to give it extra binding power and it works wonders! I use banana to make pancakes- just whizz up banana, plant milk, flour, a pinch of baking powder and a little nut butter to make a brilliant pancake batter. I even make ice cream with bananas that are going a bit brown! They can be blended with a little coconut cream and flavourings of your choice to make a lovely creamy ice cream! There are hundreds of vegan banana recipes online so have a browse!
5. Magnificent Miso
Miso is a fermented paste made from soy beans, rice and salt. It is incredibly full flavoured and you only need a little bit to flavour a full dish. It is great for gut health and is a good sauce of vitamins, minerals, folic acid and protein. There are so many uses for miso in cooking, especially if, like me, you love asian food!
Use miso to make miso soups, stir a touch of miso in to vegan mayo (sooo yummy), make hoisin sauces with miso, use it for dressings on salads and buddha bowls.
I couldn't be without it!
6. Nutritional Yeast is a Pantry Must!
Nutritional Yeast is a dried inactive yeast that has a naturally cheesy flavour! I use it to make 'cheese' sauces for mac n 'cheese', Cauliflower 'cheese', nacho 'cheese' etc. It is also great in a tofu scramble, sprinkled on to pasta or whizzed up with pine nuts and basil to make pesto! I highly recommend having a tub of it in your cupboard. A lot of the time it is fortified with B12 too! Bonus!
7. Get a Spiralizer
I have a small £5 hand held spiralizer that I love to use! I LOVE vegetables and I really enjoy eating fresh, colourful meals. A spiralizer makes vegetables in to noodles! It's like magic! I love to add carrot noodles to a stir fry, or use courgette spirals instead of spaghetti with a warm pesto and olive sauce, fresh cucumber spirals with a light tahini and ginger dressing as a side salad! There are so many ways you can add curly veggies to your food! It's yummy and it's fun!
8. Love Legumes
I LOVE legumes! They are the best thing ever! In my pantry I always have black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, butter beans, green lentils and red lentils. I get mine dried from the zero waste shop and soak and cook them in the slow cooker, but you can get them tinned as well to save time.
They are SO versatile! Black beans are my personal favourite because I love Mexican food and black beans work brilliantly in burritos, burger patties, tacos, chilli and blobbed on top of 'cheesy' nachos. ... oooo i'm drooling! They are wonderful!
Coming in at a close second has to be the cheeky chickpea! Another insanely versatile legume! They are the heart of every hummus and every felafel. They are lovely in a curry and great in buddha bowls! A little tip is to coat them in a little oil of your choice, add a pinch of salt and roast them until they go crispy like little croutons! A yummy snack!
But all legumes have potential- try a few different ones and find your favourite! Browse bean recipes and get creative!
9. Keep the crunch
The days of boiling vegetables and having floppy, flimsy bits of green on your plate is well and truly in the past! The key is to keep the crunch! I love cabbage! I never used to because it was always floppy and I thought it had to be, but now, I get through one red and one green cabbage every week! I shred them in to small strands and pop them in a frying pan with a small drop of oil, a lid full of apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of agave syrup and lightly fry them for 2 minutes tops! Just until the colour gets really vivid. And broccoli- a quick 2 minute steam or a little longer in the oven just until I can push a fork through the stalk! It applies to all veggies! Keep the crunch and enjoy vegetables again!
10. Make Your Own Flour Tortillas!
I used to buy flour tortilla wraps. but decided to stop when I cut down on plastic packaging. Instead I went online to find out how to make them myself. It turns out it is very easy to make tortillas! Just mix flour and water together with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt. That's it. Then you kneed it in to a dough and roll it in to rough circle shapes. Get a large pan on the heat for a few minutes and the throw your Tortilla in the pan. It needs a minute (if that) on each side.. just until the dough starts to bubble.
I can't tell you how much tastier homemade tortilla wraps are and they don't have all of the preservatives and unknown ingredients that the supermarkets ones have! So next time you are making burritos, hoisin wraps or whatever yummy vegan contents you are creating- wrap it all up in a nice warm, fresh, homemade tortilla!
So those are my tips for vegan cooking! I hope you have been inspired to find some fun recipes or experiment with some of your own!
If you're anything like me, the idea of filling a bin bag with rubbish and throwing it in to rubbish bin full of other bin bags, fills you will frustration and is just NOT an option!
I avoid packaging of all kinds as much as I can. Every week, I get on a train and I go to my nearest zero waste shop with my reusable cotton drawstring bags and fill them up with grains, pasta, seeds, beans, flour, sugar and everything else that I need for my weekly shop. Bottles of washing up liquid, surface cleaners, detergents and fabric softeners get refilled at refill stations and my face cream, make up remover and deodorant is made at home on my hob with simple ingredients!
When I go to the supermarket or the green grocers, I pick from the loose fruit and vegetables, placing them in my reusable bags and taking them home in my tote bags.
I am so pleased to have managed to cut down the amount of waste I have by at least 80%- HOWEVER, it is incredibly difficult to be entirely 100% free of all waste. There is always some little sneaky bit of packaging somewhere that is hard to avoid. But don't beat yourself up over this, be mindful of the efforts you are making and the good you have done for the planet!
This is my guide to disposing of any waste you DO have in the most sustainable way possible!
Image by Joke vander Leij
Composting is a great, natural way to dispose of food waste and create compost for your garden! If you have an outdoor space, I highly recommend getting a compost bin. It's particularly great if you are a vegan because, I don't know about you, but I get through a LOT of vegetables! I compost vegetable peelings, banana skins, apple cores, stalks, coffee granules, tea bags, tomato tops, stale bread and other plant based foods. I also put paper packaging and compostable corn starch packaging in my compost bin. It's worth checking a list of compostable food items before throwing everything in there. Be careful not to compost oils and cooked sauces as they can attracts rats, but most other vegan scraps are fine! You can find lists of acceptable composting foods on various websites.
2. Build ECO BRICKS
Eco Bricks are basically plastic bottles filled with little pieces of clean, dry plastic packaging that are used as building bricks for build projects such as garden walls, chairs, tables etc.
I started building eco bricks last year, finding the plastic bottles on beach cleans and littered around town. Every time I buy something that has that hard to avoid plastic packaging, I wash and dry the plastic and put it in an eco brick. For example, the little plastic wrap around a block of tofu, the plastic window in a paper bag, plastic labels, the rubber bands around bunches of spring onions and asparagus and so on. Eco bricks have to be packed so tightly that It took 6 months worth of little bits of plastic packaging for me to build one 500ml brick! Once you have built one, you weigh it to make sure it is heavy enough to be used as a brick and then you can either donate it to a local project collecting eco bricks or use it yourself!
3.TERRACYCLE RECYCLING PROGRAMMES
Image taken from www.terracycle.com
'TerraCycle reuses, upcycles and recycles waste instead of incinerating or landfilling it. This moves waste from a linear system to a circular one, allowing it to keep cycling in our economy.' Terracycle.com
I have a slight crisp and chocolate obsession! Honestly, there are so many amazing vegan chocolate bars and crisps and I was fooled by the foil looking wrapper and packets, thinking they were not plastic. In actual fact, they are! But Terracycle is a recycling programme that takes those 'hard to recycle' items and turns them in to new products! They have various recycling schemes for different types of waste. I have been keeping used crisp packets and confectionary wrappers, asking my family to collect theirs to give to me and I have also been finding them on beach cleans and littered in the streets. Over the last 6 months, I have built up a collection which I am almost ready to pack up and send off to Terracycle to be upcycled in to something new!
4.RE-USE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Before thinking about how to dispose of items, ask yourself if they could have another purpose. Often things like jars, tubs, tins, bottles. bags and other containers can be used as tupperware, containers for zero waste pantry foods, plant pots, stationery holders, lunch bags.. the list goes on. I have dedicated a whole blog post to upcycling ideas for waste! You can find that blog post HERE and get some ideas!
5. Recycle as a last resort
Photo by Anna Auza
If you can't compost it, re-use it, Eco brick or Terracycle it, pop it in your recycling bins. The reason this is a last resort is because less than 50% of the items we put in our recycling bins actually get recycled in the UK. The good news is this: if you have cut right down on packaging and if you use all or some of the above methods, you should find that there isn't much left to recycle! I do have items that go in to my recycling each week- but it's mostly glass and it's not much at all!
So there you have 5 ideas of what to do with whatever waste you have! Another quick tip for any waste you may have that has not been covered by the above ideas, depending on what waste it is, make sure you put it in either a paper, degrade-able or compostable bin bag. It is just that little bit kinder to the environment.
Thank you for reading!