Just over six months ago I made quite a big decision: to become vegan. It wasn’t sudden, in fact I’d been moving towards it for quite a while. I’d been pescatarian for probably a year before switching to a vegetarian diet, during which time I explored vegan alternatives to my favourite food and drinks. So when I decided to make the change it was fairly easy, but it was still a huge learning curve.
The first six months of being vegan has taught me to always check the list of ingredients, and where possible choose unprocessed, whole foods.
I hadn’t realised just how prevalent animal products are in foods you’d assume were vegan. Take muesli for example; for the first few weeks I’d been eating muesli that I later realised contained milk powder. I was so cross with myself for not reading the label properly. But I had to accept that I was bound to slip up once or twice in the beginning because there is a lot to learn. This is an ongoing process of making more conscious decisions about what I eat, drink and wear (more on that in another post). The first six months of being vegan has taught me to always check the list of ingredients, and where possible choose unprocessed, whole foods. That way you know for sure what you’re consuming.
Chickpeas have become a staple part of my diet. I could eat falafels and hummus everyday (and often do!) They also make a nutritious addition to salads, soups and curries (and are very cheap). Besides being an excellent vegan and gluten-free source of protein and fibre, chickpeas are high in iron, vitamin B6, and magnesium. They are also a good source of vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, choline, and selenium.
People often ask me how I get enough protein but it’s actually very easy if you regularly incorporate pulses into your diet. I stock up on tinned chickpeas, kidney beans and butter beans when I’m shopping (less than 50p a tin from Lidl!).
Things I haven’t missed
As I’d phased out animal products gradually there hasn’t been much that I’ve missed. Most supermarkets have their own brand bars of vegan chocolate (Tesco’s is my favourite at 45p). For healthier sweet snacks I really like Naked and Nine bars. Aldi sell cold-pressed date and cashew nut bars which are delicious too.
On the savoury side, there are plenty of “meat replacements” although you do have to check the ingredients. Quorn products are generally not vegan as they contain egg white, but they have brought out a small vegan range. They are more expensive, and not stocked in the smaller supermarkets though. The Linda McCartney range is by far my favourite; the sausages, quarter-pounder burgers and beef-style roasts are delicious. (There are also lots of vegetarian options such as pasties and pies). I had one of the “beef” roasts with red wine and shallot glaze for Christmas lunch – an occasion I thought would be the ultimate test but actually turned out to be a doddle. Well, apart from Tesco’s “dairy free” Yorkshire pudding mix, that on closer inspection requires eggs…
Experimenting with aquafaba
…which brings me on to my latest discovery…aquafaba! Have you heard of this versatile vegan magical liquid? Ok, it’s not magical, but it is incredibly versatile and makes a great egg replacement in many recipes. It’s basically the viscous liquid that legumes have been soaked or cooked in. The name literally means “bean water”. Chickpea aquafaba is generally considered to be the best as it doesn’t impart a flavour. When whipped it has all the properties of egg white, so it’s perfect for making vegan meringues, macarons and mouse.
Last week I “veganised” my favourite recipe for banana loaf. I substituted the yogurt and egg for Alpro soya yogurt and aquafaba and it turned out brilliantly. It was absolutely delicious served warm with some Alpro soya custard 🙂 I’m sharing the recipe with you because it’s really quick and easy to make (whether you use the vegan or non-vegan option).
Recipe for vegan wholemeal banana bread with poppy seeds
I recommend using a 20cm x 10cm loaf tin. It’s a moist, soft loaf so oil the tin to prevent sticking.
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 tbsp aquafaba (replacement for 1 egg)
200g soya yogurt (replacement for dairy yogurt, I used Alpro)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 ripe bananas mashed
150g wholemeal self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 160c/140c fan (gas mark 2.5)
- Put the sugar, aquafaba, soya yogurt and oil in a large bowl and whick together.
- Slowly stir in the mashed bananas and sultanas.
- Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, poppy seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg, and fold in gently.
- Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes.
- Test the bread with a skewer by pushing it into the centre of the loaf. If it comes out clean it’s cooked, but if it’s still wet it needs a few more minutes.
Dining out hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. This year’s Veganuary campaign was the most successful ever with a record-breaking 168,542 people in the UK signing up to go vegan – that’s a 183% increase! Interestingly women continue to outnumber men when it comes to trying a vegan diet: 84% female compared to 14% male.
I’ve no doubt that the success of Veganuary made a big impact on restaurants which are now realising the importance of offering vegan meals. After all, if there is one vegan in a group of diners they will most likely eat in a restaurant that caters for everyone. The big Italian restaurant chains have been offering vegan dishes for a while now, as well as the option of vegan cheese on pizzas. Pret a Manger have a very tasty selection of lunch options and there are now three exclusively Veggie Prets in London. I was really pleased when my local gastro pub introduced a vegan menu (which is where we went for our anniversary lunch). You have to order 24 hours in advance though, which kills the spontaneity, but hey I’m not complaining 😉
I’ve recently discovered the Happy Cow website and app, which finds restaurants serving vegan and vegetarian options wherever you are in the world, near or far from home. Very useful for when you’re on holiday.
So far so good
So all in all it’s been a much easier transition to a plant-based diet than I anticipated. There isn’t really much I miss (maybe cake occasionally, and I still haven’t mastered making vegan Yorkshire pudding) but I’m experimenting and learning new recipes all the time. Six months of being vegan has made me feel healthier, less bloated and my digestion is better than it was before. I’m sure it’s saved us money too because I make more meals from scratch and the ingredients are cheaper. I honestly can’t see myself going back to a non-vegan diet now.
Restaurants and food manufacturers are adapting to the increasing demand for plant-based products which is making life so much easier. Even for those who want to reduce their consumption of animal products rather than giving them up completely (so-called “flexitarians”) this is a welcome development. My husband is a big meat eater but even he will try vegan and vegetarian meals. He thought the meal at Hiltl in Zurich (Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant) was delicious. And of course a good meal tastes even better with a glass of wine, so I was really pleased to find a bottle of wine in Tesco marked as suitable for vegans. No more having to look it up on my phone in the shop. I’ll drink to that…cheers!
What are your favourite vegan dishes? If you’d like me to share more recipes please let me know in the comments!