The A-Z of vegan food A beginner’s guide
It’s been called a miracle ingredient, a secret weapon, and the one thing vegans have been waiting for since the term “vegan” was coined in 1944. Aquafaba, or bean water (the liquor from cooking pulses), perfectly mimics egg’s ability to trap air (cue vegan meringue), emulsify (vegan mayonnaise), thicken (vegan ice-cream) and bind (vegan meatballs). For something that until four years ago was only ever drained down the sink, it’s revolutionary.
While a dyed-inthe-wool eggs-and-butter baker might blink at the idea of whipping up something edible without using either, there are endless possibilities for plant-based treats, as the entries for flax, aquafaba and yoghurt show.
With a neutral flavour profile and rich, built-in creaminess, cashews are key to myriad plant-based takes on nonvegan dishes. When soaked and blended in water, they can be turned into milk, sauces, batters, cheese, icing, caramel …
Ready-made snacks, flavour bombs in savoury settings, and natural sweeteners for bakes, puddings and porridge. Many a chef ’s secret ingredient, and a musthave in the vegan pantry.
The Bosh! boys best exemplify the DIY creativity that makes vegan cooking so exciting. “You name it, we can do it. It’s just knowing how,” they say. Their takes on pigs in blankets and fried chicken are as good a place as any to start.
Ground flax or chia seeds – one tablespoon mixed with three tablespoons of hot water – make an excellent egg substitute in baking, particularly if you’re aiming for “crisp, crunchy biscuits that hold their shape”.
To avoid the unhealthy carb trap of timid vegan cooking, Elizabeth Turner of Forks Over Knives highlights whole grains. From millet and buckwheat to wheat berries and wild rice, they provide both a vehicle for flavour and wholesome heft.
Fresh and bunched, or dried to crumble into dishes, it’s all about ramping up flavour (see also za’atar opposite).
You’ll need a decent blender and/or food processor to make your own milk alternatives, nut and seed butters, and tahini; to blend cashews, blitz beans and whip up hidden-veg smoothies. Some gadgets are definitely worth forking out for.
The oversized, fleshy southeast Asian fruit that has pulled-meat aficionados turning vegan. Supermarkets now stock tins of brined pieces, to be turned into the likes of Meera Sodha’s tacos with fried corn and hot cashew sauce.
While kombu (or edible kelp) is an unparalleled vegan source of umami (try it slow-braised in water with sweet soy: a revelation), plus the veganfriendly way to make Japanese soup stock (AKA dashi), the other sea plants out there – from hijiki and nori to dulse and samphire – are as flavourful as they are nutritious.
The Birkenstocks of the food world, and for good reason: pulses in general are cheap, easy to prepare, a source of goodness and very adaptable (black beans make fab brownies, cannellini a good lemon drizzle cake, and lentils great crisps).
Lentils (and other pulses)
It’s possible to follow a soy-free vegan diet, but it’s not easy. Be it umami-rich miso paste, soy sauce and tofu, or nutty, freshly blanched edamame as a crunchy snack, the range of soy-based possibilities is superb.
The Bosh! guys call this magic dust. Heat-treated, it won’t ferment your food, unlike the active yeast in beer and bread, but it will boost its flavour with an addictive, nutty, cheesy tang. Buy it in flake form to add to sauces or scatter on traybakes.
Always, always pack emergency snacks in case you can’t find vegan food wherever you land up.
On the go
The one nutritional prerequisite of the vegan diet about which non-vegans are often the most sceptical, and yet, from pulses and seitan