The lovely Helen has written a blog for us this week. She undertook the ‘veganuary challenge’ and has shared with us her journey after a month of going vegan. I am sure all of us, like Helen to start with, assumed that veganism or plant based eating would be really boring, but the more we have researched it and as Helen will prove, this is most definitely not the case. More importantly, we all need to start doing a lot more of it if we are to help save the planet from the crisis we are in.
This is a brilliant read to help us all get inspired and Helen has some great recipe ideas to help make all this easier, particularly if you have a young family, as she has some great tips so the kids can get on board with it too. We really can’t wait to try out the chocolate fudge cake she writes about! Helen has started up an instagram account which captures all the cooking and baking she gets up to which you can follow @helenelizabethbakes.
I always had the wrong idea about veganism – I used to think vegans must only eat vegetables and fruit because surely what else could there be to eat if you weren’t eating meat or dairy? I couldn’t be more wrong…
My fiancé and I started having one vegan day a week in 2019 as more of a challenge than anything and we were surprised at how easy it was. So when veganuary came about, I decided to take up the challenge of a month being dairy and meat free. My daughters; aged 5 and 1 didn’t take part more because they know what they like and a lot of their favourite dishes are things like turkey mince Bolognese and chillis and no matter what I substitute the meat for they then won’t eat it! They can both be fussy at the best of times so best not to rock the boat by introducing them to a new diet!
I think it’s a great thing that veganism has become such a popular way of life as I found there was an unbelievable selection in many shops and we really enjoyed trying different substitutes for meat and dairy. It became an enjoyable challenge to find different vegan foods and to look for vegan options on menus when out.
As a family we started most days with something simple like overnight oats. We found that it was a very filling breakfast and we liked experimenting with the different ingredients. Plus I, as a Mum if two, absolutely love how I can make it the night before so that when we are all rushing around in the morning getting ready for school, work etc it’s nice to know that breakfast is already sorted. The only one we all surprisingly didn’t like was chocolate overnight oats – I thought my girls, being the chocolate lovers that they are, in particular would love it but we all agreed the plain or fruitier ones were tastier. We otherwise had things like peanut butter on toast or cereal with almond milk. One of our favourite breakfasts was a smoothie bowl with fruit inspired by Fearne Cotton – the girls loved that too especially with all the vibrant colours and anything with fruit is a winner with them.
We had a vegan fry up one weekend with fried toast, avocado, tomatoes and mushrooms which we all enjoyed and agreed it felt a lot less fatty and stodgy than a regular fry up but still kept that fry up feeling.
Lunchtimes a lot of the time we had soups and bread with fruit and a soya yoghurt. Otherwise we had pasta salads and one of my favourites, baked beans on potato or toast – so simple, full of protein and 100% vegan. I think this is one of the things that surprised me with veganuary – the amount of everyday food cupboard items that were already vegan.
Dinner was where I had the most fun experimenting – I loved trying different recipes which we never would have looked at normally as I guess the same with most families you end up doing the same few meals on rotation and rarely go outside the box…I love cooking and baking anyway but I really enjoyed thinking new meal ideas up during January and researching lots of different recipes.
We used mindful chef for a recipe box for 5 meals which was great. All the ingredients came ready in helpful recipe labelled bags and the recipes themselves were so simple and easy to follow – it really took the stress out of cooking completely away. We were able to try recipes using ingredients I’d never even heard of let alone tried before like chermoula and black garlic. I think this was another great thing about veganuary – widening our variety of so many different meals. I now have so many new ingredients in my food cupboard from miso paste to tahini and cacao nibs, all of which I never knew about this time last year.
Now tofu I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. I made tofu scrambled egg and honestly left over half of it as I couldn’t stand it. Same goes with a curry I made last year sometime where again, I left the tofu as just didn’t get on with the texture or flavour. However one of the mindful chef recipes used tofu teamed with ginger, mango, chilli, rice and sugar snaps peas and I loved it in there; it was so full of flavour and had been cooked just right so the texture was spot on. Another time I enjoyed it was when I used smoked tofu in a sandwich with beetroot, miso paste, avocado and hummus – it had almost a Halloumi type texture and flavour to it which really complimented the sandwich perfectly.
Jackfruit was another revelation; I am now a big fan! I love how versatile it is and how it can be used in such a variety of meals. We had pulled jackfruit burgers which we really enjoyed and I don’t think you’d be able to tell much difference between pulled jackfruit and pulled pork – the texture and flavour was there completely. I did like that you can have vegan versions of meaty dishes like burgers and sausages knowing they are meatless but still getting that treat-like feel of having ‘junk’ food.
My youngest daughter who is 21 months old had an egg allergy which was diagnosed during weaning and luckily with help of a dietitian and introducing egg slowly back into her diet, she has now overcome. But because of this I have experimented with lots of egg free recipes over the last couple of years. Egg free normally comes hand in hand with dairy free which in turn makes a lot of recipes vegan. Banana pancakes have become a firm favourite with both my girls! I thought dairy free baking would be quite difficult and worried that cakes would end up quite dry without the eggs and butter, but if anything, vegan cakes taste quite the opposite. I think I’ll carry on baking a lot of cakes dairy free just because the texture and taste always seem to be so good. Our favourite of all the experimenting when it came to baking was Fearne Cotton’s vegan chocolate fudge cake made with dates from her Happy Vegan book – it is one of my new favourite cake recipes and I’ve actually made it four times over the course of a month just because I’m keen to share it with as many of my friends and family as I can. I have a big sweet tooth, so the fact I could still be a bit naughty and have treats every now and again whilst still sticking to veganuary, suited me very well.
Eggless meringues made with chickpea water were another revelation. My Mum has been making them for a while as like me, she started experimenting with eggless recipes to support my youngest’s allergy. My mind is blown that a meringue can be made with chickpea water. They taste so similar to regular meringues, although have more of a toffee like flavour and texture. Plus it is such a great way of using ingredients to the fullest and not wasting much at all. Every time I make a recipe now using chickpeas I always save the water to make something else, whether it’s chickpea meringues or chocolate mousses. It’s amazing that something I used to just tip down the sink, as I’m sure a lot of people still do, can actually make a simple pudding using minimal other ingredients.
Looking back at veganuary, I think my favourite part was trying new recipes and knowing that each and every one of those recipes was relatively healthy. I’ve never been too much of a meat fan so cutting meat out was never a big issue for myself, however I do tend to use it a lot in family favourites such as lasagne, Bolognese, toad in the hole etc, so it was great finding meat substitutes for these recipes. Apart from the odd occasion of having meat when I was out, I haven’t eaten it at home since last year and am really not missing it. Dairy, I’m fully back on, however I am substituting to dairy free a lot more than previously, but I do love cheese, cake and milk chocolate and am not quite willing to sacrifice them just yet! Most of what I’m cooking now is veggie and a lot of vegan. We definitely as a family are eating a lot more consciously and healthier as a result of veganuary which I also think is a big positive. I look forward to continuing experimenting with recipes and different foods.