With the number of vegans in Britain reaching half a million, it’s likely you’ll be cooking for one sooner or later. These days there are plenty of vegan foods available at supermarkets, health food shops and online suppliers that will give you all the nourishment and flavour You’ve been missing when eating plant-based dishes.
Here, we take you through all the vegan foods you should try when starting out on your new diet.
Vegan-friendly nuts include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts. They can be sprinkled onto salads or stews for extra crunch or used to make dips like hummus. The latter is really simple to make and is made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Simply place all the ingredients in a blender until smooth, pour into a bowl and serve with some warm pitta bread.
Legumes are an excellent source of vegan protein, fibre and iron. They include beans, peanuts, soybeans and lentils. There are many ways to use them in your cooking – try making peanut butter sandwiches on wholegrain bread with some banana slices or add cooked black beans to salads for extra texture.
Edamame Beans can be bought in the pod or in a bag ready to cook in boiling water for three minutes until tender, then serve with sea salt flakes sprinkled over them.
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) can be made into falafel patties by mixing together crushed chickpeas, chopped onions and parsley along with cumin and garlic powder plus salt pepper to taste; fry in a frying pan until golden and serve in a slice of pitta bread with salad.
Quinoa seeds are an excellent plant-based protein source that can be used to make burgers or added to soups and stews. To cook, just add one part quinoa to two parts boiling water, boil for 15 minutes then turn off the heat and leave for five minutes before serving. You can also buy it pre-cooked in vacuum packs which only require you to reheat them.
Sweetcorn is easy to prepare and makes a great accompaniment to vegan burgers or tacos while sunflower seeds can be sprinkled onto salads for extra crunch.
Tofu is made from soya bean curd and has a very mild flavour that absorbs all other flavours. It can be added to stews or stir-fries to absorb all the spicy marinades. It’s also great in baked goods like cakes, brownies and muffins because it holds together really well when mixed with flour etc.
Soybeans are made into soya milk which is a good replacement for dairy milk, although it may not froth up as much if making coffee/cappuccino etc. It can also be used in cooking or baking though you might need to experiment a bit – instead of using cow’s milk yoghurt, try using soy milk yoghurt instead.
There are plenty of vegan pieces of bread available these days, many of which contain ingredients like coconut oil and carrots to make them tasty. To buy in the UK, try the Green Cuisine brand which produce a good selection that includes seeded rolls, oatcakes and baguettes.
Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans and wheat; it’s salty so don’t use too much! It tastes great with stir-fries or fried rice. Alternatively, try tamari which is gluten-free but even saltier than its soy cousin.
Thai sweet chilli sauce is made primarily of peppers with vinegar, sugar and salt added for flavour – it’s usually very spicy so use it sparingly.
Tahini is roasted, ground sesame seeds and it’s delicious when used with falafel or in hummus – see recipes below for both dishes.
Plant-based chocolate is made from rice milk, cocoa butter and unrefined sugar so you can enjoy something sweet without consuming dairy products. One brand that’s widely available in the UK that I recommend is Booja Booja (see link below)Other companies producing vegan-friendly chocolate include Green & Blacks and Divine. If you’re looking for a treat try making yourself Vegan Affogato which consists of coffee ice cream topped with Valrhona hot chocolate sauce!
Rice malt syrup
Rice malt syrup is a healthy vegan food that is an alternative to honey. It’s made from fermented brown rice and contains nutrients including B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium so it’s great for keeping your energy levels up while on your new diet. Use it in baking or spread onto toast like normal honey.
Vegan cheese has come a long way over the last few years! There are now several different types available that will give you all the flavour of dairy cheese without any of the cruelty that goes into its production. Some good ones to choose include Mozzarella (by Violife), Wensleydale (by Fry’s Family Foods) and Cheddar (also by Fry’s). They can all be used in pizzas, sandwiches or even melted onto
CHOCOLATE & COCOA POWDER
Chocolate lovers needn’t miss out either as there are plenty of vegan-friendly chocolate bars available nowadays. Try Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate bar for an intense but smooth taste sensation. Organic dark chocolate contains at least 70% cocoa solids which means it has less sugar than milk chocolate bars so you’ll get more of that bitter cocoa flavour – not to mention antioxidants! For baking, Cadbury’s Bournville Cocoa Powder is the best known but vegan-friendly options are also available from other well-known brands.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES
Fresh fruit and vegetables are among the healthiest foods you can eat or try freeze-dried versions which will last for years. They’re perfect for adding to stews, soups or salads as well as boosting the colour of your dishes with their vibrant colours. If you want to go one step further, why not try growing your own? Container vegetable gardens are easy to set up on balconies and small spaces so there will be plenty of room left over to chill out after a hard day’s gardening
CEREAL & GRAINS
For a hearty breakfast try muesli with soy or almond milk. Top off your cereal bowl with some fruit and a few nuts for a perfect start to the day. For something more savoury, choose from quinoa, barley or bulgur wheat to add some diversity to your meals at lunch or dinner. If you’re really bored of rice and pasta, try expanding your repertoire with ingredients like couscous, tapioca and arrowroot starch – there’s no end of combinations that will leave you spoilt for choice!
Vegetable oils are a great alternative to dairy products if you’re looking for something creamy and tasty to use in your cooking. Soya oil is the healthiest option as well as being vegan friendly but olive, sunflower and sweet almond oils are also good alternatives for using when baking or frying.
Dairy alternatives have come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years with better tasting products appearing every year. If you need a bit of creaminess to your food, try a tub of soya or coconut yoghurt, both of which make excellent dips for fruit and vegetables. Soya milk is perfect for replacing cow’s milk and can be used in tea, coffee and breakfast cereal. Those who like their cheese should opt for vegan-friendly versions that come in all shapes and sizes from Wofleshurst Slices, Vegan Cheese Spread to Violife Pizza Pockets.
Forget weighing scales when baking as there are usually several ways to substitute dairy ingredients that will work perfectly every time including using mashed bananas or apple sauce instead of eggs. Most Baking powders are also vegan friendly but check the label just in case! If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try making your own vegan-friendly cheese using cashew nuts instead of dairy? All you need is a few simple ingredients and the patience to leave it to sit for several hours!
Protein is essential for keeping us healthy. It’s also found in all meats which means vegetarians and vegans need to try harder to get their share. Tofu has long been used by vegetarians but new products are appearing on the market every year including Quorn™ which is high in protein but low in calories or Fry’s™ Spicy Veggie Burgers made from mushrooms, lentils and spices which are packed with flavour. Other good sources of protein include beans, nuts, quinoa, soya milk, black-eyed beans and lentils.
It can be difficult to get all of your nutrients from a vegan diet so you need to ensure you take the right supplements. Vitamin B12 is particularly important as it’s found naturally in meat and fish but many bowls of cereal, yeast extracts and other fortified foods contain it too. However, if you’re still not getting enough then try a daily supplement. Vitamin D is another nutrient that everyone needs to think about: vitamin D rich foods like margarine or fortified soy milk may not be good enough on their own so look out for specialist products such as Dr Wheatgrass™ Sun Chlorella Superfood Tablets which also contains 22 minerals, enzymes and amino acids to help give your immune system a boost.
For a more satisfying meal, try combining proteins with carbohydrates like grains and legumes like rice noodles, bulgur wheat or chickpeas are high in both vitamins and minerals whilst also filling you up quickly. Other great combinations include mushrooms with pasta or lentil dahl or beans on toast. All of these dishes are quick and easy to prepare so there’s no excuse to get creative!