It happens to us all at some point. You’ve invited some friends for dinner. Just before the night, one of them discloses that they are vegan: ‘is that ok?’. ‘Oh yes, of course, that’s fine’ you say. Then roll on the blind panic!
So, what do vegans eat? And how on earth does a non-vegan cook for them?
‘Let’s start by defining what a vegan does not eat,’ says Louise Palmer-Masterson, founder of vegan restaurant Stem + Glory. ‘Vegans avoid all animal products, so that means no meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs, and no honey. Basically, if it has come from animal, whether the animal has been killed to provide it or not, a vegan won’t eat it.’
‘However, that leaves a huge list of foods they do eat, so cooking for a vegan doesn’t need to be as scary as it may initially sound.’
Here, Louise tells you all you need to know to help you not only get it right, but to totally impress your guests.
1. Dream up your ideal menu, and then veganise it!
Okay, this might not work if you were planning steak and chips, but say you were planning Indian, Italian, Asian or Middle Eastern – pretty much any style of cuisine works. Compile your signature dishes and then Google a vegan version. There are stacks of vegan recipes online and you can literally put in your ingredients, then add ‘vegan’ and ‘recipe’ and you’ll find something.
2. Use umami to your advantage
Nature has given us a fifth taste – umami – which in a nutshell is ‘deliciousness’. Often it is the umami in food that makes it ‘mouth watering’. Italian food is generally rich in umami and a great choice to veganise if you are new to vegan cooking. Tomato paste is very high umami as are olives (also umami), olive oil and sun dried tomatoes.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, Japanese food is also rich in umami and easy to veganise. If you feel like going for a more classic meal, there are a huge number of vegan burger recipes out there. Add mayo, pickles (high umami), ketchup (high umami) to a meat free burger. Toasted seeds and many spices are also high umami and can be used liberally. Cumin – vegetable curry. Smoked paprika – vegetable paella.
3. Shop smart
If you are not such a keen cook, get down to the health food shop and stock up. You can get vegan alternatives to almost anything now. For example, vegan mayonnaise is easy to make, but there are a number of off-the-shelf versions that are really tasty. There is even vegan cheese and plenty of plant-based milks and creams (soya, coconut-based, oat, rice, almond, cashew…) so dessert is easy to veganise too.
4. Don’t forget the drinks…
Search out vegan wine and beer. Co-op is best for vegan wine labelling and there is a really good website called Barnivore which lists all vegan wine, beer and spirits you can buy in the supermarkets. Your vegan dinner guest will really appreciate that you have done this research.
5. …or dessert
Eat out in a non vegan restaurant, and finding a vegan dessert is almost impossible. The best you’ll find usually is a fruit salad! So here’s your chance to shine with your vegan dinner guest.
Raw ‘cheesecake’ is super delicious and really easy to make. It’s usually made with cashew nuts, and my favourite is raspberry or chocolate. You literally just blend all the ingredients and pour over a crust made from nuts and dried fruits. That’s for a completely raw version, but you can also buy vegan digestive biscuits (Doves Farm brand – get them on your trip to the heath food shop). Mix crushed digestives with melted coconut oil for a more traditional cheesecake crust.
In conclusion: be creative! Be bold! I’ve lost count of the number of times I have visited a non-vegan restaurant and asked what they can provide for me only to be offered a risotto or a ‘salad’. Worse, when probed that the ‘salad’ contains that exciting combination of lettuce, tomato and cucumber.
Cooking vegan is easy, a lot easier than you think. It’s also cleaner, healthier and a more sustainable way to live. Our dependence on animal products comes more from habit than it does from actual ‘need’. Rise to the challenge of veganising your menu. Remember to liberally add high umami vegan flavours and you’ll be on track to produce a delicious and satisfying meal, and your guest will leave super impressed.
Feature by Louise Palmer-Masterton