The Real Vegans: buy a cookbook, not a packet

I saw someone buying a vegan ‘beet Wellington’ in the supermarket the other day. It was in Waitrose, of course. I can’t think of many dishes that are less ‘veganisable’ than a beef Wellington, with its fillet and pâté, and it’s difficult enough to make properly anyway, but someone in marketing obviously thought it was a good idea.

I am entirely resistant to PR-driven rubbish like ‘Veganuary’, or ‘Meat-free Monday’ (I can’t even be bothered to link to them, they bore me so), mainly because I have plenty of ‘ideas’ for how to eat well, at any time or on any day of the week, but it seems like a lost opportunity to me. Why would anyone who is interested in changing their diet in such a way seek the answers in ‘fake-meat’ ready meals and vegan sausage rolls? Especially when there are so many fantastic food writers out there who make it entirely easy to be vegan and eat gorgeous dishes. As long as you learn to cook.

So, in the spirit of trying to encourage cookery rather than reheating, here are some suggestions for how to improve your diet, vegan or otherwise, with three of the best cookbooks out there. They rely on plants and grains, not sulphite ammonia caramel and palm oil, to deliver taste and I happily cook from all three, omnivore that I am.

First, Fresh India by Meera Sodha (and her column in The Guardian) is essential for anyone wanting to cook a vegetable diet. This is one of my favourite books these days, so much so that I now have to resist posting everything I make from it on here. Last week I made her cauliflower korma and cabbage and potato subji; before Christmas I made her Mysore lemon pickle and last night I tried the ben ben noodle recipe from her column. Everything shines in her work, and though some things need a curry leaf or two (now, ahem, available in supermarkets) most of the ingredients are completely accessible. Not all of the recipes are vegan but most can be made so and even the completely ‘antis’ like me will find great delight in the pages of this book.

Second, anything by Anna Jones. If you are interested in vegetables, she is your woman. I’ve recommended her book, The Modern Cook’s Year, to so many people and they all love it. At this time of year, try her not-chicken soup, butter bean stew with kale and sticky blood oranges, or the pomelo and peanut winter noodles with carrot and coconut dressing. If you are vegetarian, not vegan, try the excellent mozzarella and citrus with toasted coriander seeds, the chard, lentil and bay gratin or the figs, ricotta and radicchio. Then, for the rest of the year, dip into the other 250 recipes that take you through all the seasons. Again, not all the recipes are vegan, but she offers ways to make them so.

Finally, if you want something that really simplifies cooking and shopping (without, of course, losing any of the flavour) try some of Elly Pear’s Let Eat recipes. Her particular genius is creating bases that can be used in several ways so, instead of having to plan for five or six dinners every week you can shop for two batches of something fantastic, but still be eating a different dish every night. The mushroom, lentil and walnut ragù can be used as a pasta sauce, as a chilli or as a shepherd’s pie with a sweet potato, miso and smoked garlic mash. Or try her Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew as a soup, with gremolata or a toastie. Once you start cooking like this, it becomes much easier to solve the problem of how to eat well, without constantly restocking the cupboards. Like Anna and Meera, she can be found on Instagram too, and is always offering recipe ideas and solutions, both vegan and not.

This is intelligent, inspired food, made to appeal to everyone. And a sign that, whatever you eat, however complicated your requests, it doesn’t have to come in a packet. Please, if you want to eat more vegetables, put that Wellington back on the shelf, and buy yourself a book. You won’t regret it.

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One Response to The Real Vegans: buy a cookbook, not a packet

  1. Emma Cownie says:

    When I first became a veggie I had to learn to cook from scratch because there was very little premade veggie food in the supermarkets. I welcome the vegan sausage roll, in principle because some time when I am in town and get hungry, I want to eat a pasty but I don’t care for cheese and onions ones! I haven’t had one yet but I am happy that I have the choice now!

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