How can you possibly have a nice dinner without meat or cheese? I’m sure that many people who want to eat more sustainably struggle with this question. We are all aware that the impact we have through our eating habits on climate change, soil depletion, and water pollution is significant. But if we do not know how to cook well without resorting to animal based products, then we are not going to change those habits. Food is what binds our culture, our communities, and our families. Nobody wants to sit around a dinner table for a sad salad with bland tofu. Not to mention that children can be fussy eaters, making it hard enough to cook a meal that they will actually eat without throwing a tantrum (I don’t know if this actually happens, this is just what I remember from childhood).
While we live in a time, and a month, where vegan alternatives to meat, cheese, and fish are more readily available than ever, they don’t actually offer a great alternative. Sure, they taste fine, but you may be concerned about the ingredients and production, or you just do not see the use of replacing actual food with some artificial look-a-like. Fortunately, you do not have to. The reality is that plant-based cooking is incredibly easy and accessible, and more importantly, delicious. You just have to know where to look.
Let’s start with the obvious: the Internet. This is where I found my recipes when I turned vegan nearly five years ago. The first place you can explore is the Veganuary website. This organization wants people to switch to a vegan lifestyle, starting with our plates, and they know the most effective way to do this, is by providing easy and accessible recipes. A quick glance at their recipe page shows just how broad and global vegan cuisine is. Personally, I recommend looking at the recipes from parts of the world that are known for their plant-based cooking such as India, Thailand, and (North) Africa. Not only do they taste great, they also offer a convenient option when you want to go vegan for a night, but are feeling lazy. My go-to is to throw together a stir-fry or curry with whatever I veggies have in the house, and then add some (marinated) tofu or beans/lentils and grains. Takes half an hour, and with the right spices, makes a great mid-week dinner.
If you want more choices, there are tons of websites that offer great recipes. The more famous ones you can find on Facebook. You may have heard of BOSH, two guys who’ve been making vegan cookbooks for a few years and had a vegan cooking show last year (on itv, I think). They also sell things like cakes at Tesco, and have items on the menu at Brewdog pubs. Since they started selling books, they make fewer recipes available free, but they still share some great ideas. Very often, they try to veganise existing (British) recipes, such as fish pie, shepherd’s pie, or a nice pasta Bolognese. And if you’re feeling indulgent, there’s sugar rich options like one-pan cookies or chocolate fudge cake. If you are willing to splurge on their cookbooks: I have a few at home, and they never disappoint – although I have an ex-girlfriend, who did point out I was just trying to hide carbs under a ton of veggies when making a risotto.
On the subject of cookbooks, there is now vast range of options available. In addition to BOSH, I’ve been relying on Happy Pear for a few years, a series by two Irish brothers who not only focus on good food, but on healthy living in general. Most of their recipes are incredibly easy, and if you’re ever in Ireland, you can visit their restaurant. My favourite books are Thug Kitchen and Flavour by Ottolenghi. Thug Kitchen is very Californian in style, but the recipes are generally easy, making them great for a quick dinner. Flavour will require you to put in a bit more work often, but the effort is totally worth it. The Portobello steak – slow-cooked for 70 minutes in the oven with an amazing marinade – is absolutely to die for and may be the best thing I’ve ever cooked.
My final suggestion, if you are in the mood for healthy options, is to check out Riverford. They are primarily a veggie box service, but they also have a bunch of great vegan recipes available on their website. Most will take you between 30 and 60 minutes to prepare, so giving you a nice choice between a weekday or weekend dinner. Riverford also has a YouTube channel where they give “Veg Hacks”. These may include non-veggie ingredients, but even where they do, they offer great suggestions for how to use vegetables creatively and make them the centerpiece of your dinner or midday snack.