Cooking vegan meals is more fulfilling than I thought.
This is a statement I never thought I’d say.
If you are a reader of this food-obsessed blog you will already know it’s unlikely I have partaken in this month’s Veganuary, especially as my last post described my recent meat spree in graphic and visceral detail, and also because this blog does not offer dietary advice or interesting meal plans – it is literally just here for me to tell you what I eat. Which is, evidently, a lot.
So no, this isn’t a blog-post describing the effects of the Veganuary lifestyle, or that middle of the month cop-out after drunkenly eating a pepperoni pizza, but it is to offer a curve-ball.
Cooking vegan food is easy. Eating it is enjoyable. Without realising, a lot of meals are vegan whether it is hummus and crudités, soup, a comforting plate of toast smothered in jam, fluffy couscous mixed with orange zest, mint and pomegranate molasses. If you’re cooking for one or if you’ve just got vegetables in the fridge it can be just as satisfying eating a vegan dinner as eating sausage and mash (although sausage and mash is very good).
That said, I have an issue with Veganuary. It is advertised as a life improvement strategy. Immediately after Christmas, we are targeted by companies and businesses with adverts pronouncing the slogan #newyearnewme, whether it’s Wagamama’s claiming you should have a ‘positive 2018’ or Retinol’s new year skincare resolution. Our insecurities are used as advertising fodder to great effect and we instantly jump on the self improvement-bandwagon. We hit the gym with a religious fervour (and take pictures), we whiz up some ‘detoxing’ green juice (and take pictures), we restyle our hair, we quit smoking, we try anything to feel virtuous and better about ourselves, and it always reinforces that sense of fulfilment if we get a few likes as we do it.
And now, there’s a time-frame. By tagging ‘January’ in a phrase we only have to restrict ourselves to this self-loathing for one month. Seemingly this makes it easier, however, January fads, and food fads in particular, are a lot of pressure to maintain. Without a doubt, we all feel guilty after all the cheese, wine and mince pies but, let’s face it, January is a miserable month. We trudge back to work in the bitterly cold, dark mornings and, after a month full of excitement and celebration, the taste is exceptionally bitter. In the case of Veganuary, we are considerably altering our meals, removing essential food groups and depriving ourselves of nutrients which we need in deep winter, and, as it’s only for one month, there is less incentive to take the necessary supplements. I ardently agree with Tamasin Day-Lewis when she says, ‘a fast, or famine, leads to a feast.’ Restricting your diet to a time limit could mean the hard work you have achieved in January may be ruined by February.
Instead, take these restrictions and time-frames with a pinch of salt. To maintain Veganuary you need wiggle room, even if it’s just one vegetarian day a week because you simply love macaroni cheese. Use this as an opportunity to challenge your cooking and experiment. Stock up on lots of interesting foods in jars, which is basically the crux of vegan cookery – olives, capers, tahini, coconut oil, mustard – which can be tossed into salads, stews and soups, and buy a spice rack as you’ll soon have new favourites to add to your collection. Soon everyone’s hashtags of #newyearnewme won’t show someone flexing at the gym, instead a plate of delicious homemade vegan food as we don our chef hats to become pros in the kitchen. Here’s to a new year of good food and personal challenges!
In the eloquent words of Monica Geller: ‘In your face last year me!’
Spiced carrots with couscous and preserved lemon
It is so handy to have a jar of some kind of useless pickle or marinade at the back of the fridge. I had been looking past this jar of preserved lemons for weeks – they are almost definitely out of date – until I only had them, carrots and rosemary sitting on my shelf. I decided to see what would happen if I mixed them all together and now it’s my easy, after-work dinner.
This recipe is based on the fact my oven is utterly useless so if you have a functioning oven you can either try it this way or roast the carrots halved length-ways with garlic, rosemary and spices in some oil until buttery and tender. Once cooked stir in the preserved lemon and serve.
If this is your vegetarian day, eat with a dollop of garlicky yoghurt.
4 small carrots
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 peeled cloves of garlic
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp turmeric
Pinch of cinnamon
¼ preserved lemon
A small handful of sultanas
- Wash carrots and chop them into pieces on a diagonal.
- Drizzle some olive oil in a deep frying pan and, once hot, tip in all the carrots. Sauté with a pinch of salt, and the garlic cloves lightly smashed with the back of a knife, the rosemary sprigs and the cumin, turmeric and cinnamon for five minutes until fragrant.
- Stir in the ¼ finely chopped preserved lemon, before pouring in 100ml water and covering with a lid.
- Allow to cook until the water has almost evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile make the couscous by adding the sultanas and covering with boiling water. Once fluffy stir in some lemon zest and a pinch of salt to taste. The sultanas will add a lot of sweetness but the carrots will be salty so don’t go overboard with the salt.
- By now the carrots should be tender and syrupy. Pull out the woody twigs of rosemary, shredding off any leaves still attached and stir them into the carrots. Spoon it all on top of the couscous and eat.