You’ve all been there. 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?
Here are a few tips to help you not only get it right, but to totally impress your guest:
Dream up your ideal menu and then veganise it! Ok, 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 actually. 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.
Success with vegan cooking depends on being able to cook up deliciousness. Nature has given us a fifth taste - umami - which in a nutshell is ‘deliciousness’ and 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 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?
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, plenty of plant-based milks and creams too (e.g. soya, coconut-based, oat, rice, almond, cashew…) so dessert is easy to veganise too.
Start reading packets. As a non-vegan you probably don’t know what non-vegan products are sneaked into your everyday cupboard staples. Even now with veganism on the rise, packets are usually labelled ‘vegetarian’ but not necessarily ‘vegan’. It has been helped by recent changes to the law that allergens have to be written in bold, so it’s quite easy to scan ingredients lists for eggs and dairy which are the main culprits. So be really careful what you use.
Search out vegan wine/beer. Co-op is best for vegan wine labelling and there is a really good website http://www.barnivore.com/which lists all vegan wine, beer and spirits you can buy in the supermarkets. Your dinner guest will really appreciate that you have done this research.
Sweet showstopper. 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.
And finally, if you are really in the mood to spoil your favourite vegan, you can now buy vegan Baileys! Called Baileys Almande it is made with Almond milk and is delicious. Serve with a couple of vegan chocolates – my favourite is the Booja Booja brand whose salted caramel truffles are to die for – and your vegan dinner guest will be purring.
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! And please, from the bottom of my heart. Do not serve stuffed things if it’s me coming to dinner!
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 vegansing 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.