I'm back with my update on week 2! You can say one thing for veganism- it certainly aids regular blog posting.
There have been some interesting food developments though. After a couple of false starts, I think I've finally found an acceptable soy yoghurt. Unfortunately, I can't seem to locate any plain coconut yoghurt (my preferred option) around here and the (delicious) raw chocolate ones from CoYo are just too much like pudding for me to take into work for a mid-afternoon snack. I tried the Tesco Free From soy natural yoghurt in week 1 but it was pretty horrible- a weird chalky taste, and a smell of slaked clay that reminded me of those mud mask sachets I used to apply as a teenager. It was verging on inedible for me, even when I tried it with lots of chopped up fruit and vanilla extract. I'm sad to say I had to chuck this. Next up was an Alpro vanilla soy yoghurt, initially purchased as there was no plain one available in Tesco. Thankfully this was heaps better. Still a very slight chalky after-taste, but nothing terrible and lots of vanilla flavour. In many ways this was more like a vanilla custard, which is probably due to the amount of added sugar in it. I don't want a load of glucose-fructose syrup in my yoghurt though, so was relieved to finally track down some plain soy yoghurt from Alpro. This was not exactly delicious but had minimal chalkiness, so was acceptable with fruit.
I've also tried three vegan 'cheeses'. The soya-free Cheezly brand one was vaguely ok-ish when crumbled over my hot chilli in week 1. Although it doesn't melt, it tasted faintly savoury, like a sort of homeopathic feta. I tried to add it to my lunchtime salads too, but it's far less successful cold. It was just about edible but not that pleasant. I also tried the Tesco Free From strong soya cheese. This was more cheese-like in texture, and looked a bit like (cheap) Cheddar. But I'm afraid that it just didn't work for me in terms of taste or texture, and I could only eat a tiny bite of it. I'm not even sure why, as it wasn't that unpleasant, but I was immediately sure that that tiny bite would be enough. I still have it in the fridge though, and now a few days have passed I'm wondering if I should try cooking with it. But I don't want to ruin a perfectly nice dinner with the cheese of instant aversion. We shall see. I have fared much better with a Free From garlic and herb soft cheese-style soya spread from Tesco (also soy based). The texture of this was much more like cream cheese, and the strong flavourings meant that pretty much all you could taste was herbiness. Not amazing, but nice enough to go on a Ryvita.
Dinners have continued to be rather successful. I sautéed butternut squash with garlic and za'atar, and made a cheese-free rocket and basil pesto to go over steamed broccoli, which was served with tofu one night and Linda McCartney sausages the next. I also made some frickin excellent lentil and mushroom burgers, which I ate with sweet potato fries, and a big green salad. The burgers were inspired by this recipe from food enthusiast and vegan, ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek. I changed quite a few things due to an ingredient deficiency and not quite reading the recipe properly, so my version is below, but these were genuinely fab and I will be making them again.
Lentil and mushroom burgers (makes around 6-8 depending on size):
390g tin of green lentils (I used one from Tesco)
Around 100g chestnut mushrooms
3 medium spring onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
0.5 tsp paprika
0.5 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp English mustard
1 tblsp gram (chickpea) flour
Around 1 tblsp chopped hazelnuts
Around 100g quinoa cooked in Marigold vegetable bouillon stock (and cooled)
Plain oil for frying
So firstly, I didn't have things like ground flaxseed and nutritional yeast which the Jurker uses in his recipe. I subbed those and the breadcrumbs for quinoa and Marigold stock powder. I find this quite salty too, so didn't bother adding any more to the mix. I also didn't read the bit about cooking the vegetables first. So I basically put everything above, except the nuts and quinoa, in the food processor and pulsed and until it had a suitably coarse burger-like texture. I then added the other ingredients put it all in the fridge overnight. The mixture turned out to be a little on the wet-side but not too sloppy. When it came to dinner time, I heated up a thin layer of oil in a non-stick frying pan, took a heaped tablespoon of the burger mix and plopped into the pan, using the back of the spoon to push it down and shape it a bit. These needed around 3-4 minutes on each side to form a crust and colour up. They were just about robust enough to be flipped over and later manoeuvred onto a plate. I'm pretty sure that a lot of moisture was coming from the raw mushroom, so I will definitely cook these first next time, and that should make the patties a lot more robust. But nevertheless, these burgers tasted damn good. Lentil and mushroom immediately summons up some sort of stupid hippy, dippy cliché, but these were properly packed full of flavour and had a great succulent texture. I did think that a bit of melted cheese over the top would be an excellent addition, but obviously that's not very vegan, so some grilled onions and tomato ketchup were a very acceptable substitute. The burgers would be great in a bun with green leaves, but I kept mine au naturel and ate them with some sweet potato fries and a big salad.
The weekend involved polishing off lots of the above as leftovers, snacking on salted crisps, crackers with peanut butter, a variety of raw and roasted nuts, and moderate quantities of dark chocolate. As it was so flipping hot (and humid), dinners minimised cooking and were mostly salad based. On the left is a romaine lettuce, fennel, raddish, carrot, spring onion, artichoke heart, and yellow pepper salad, with a side of beetroot, the now ubiquitous Linda McCartney sausages (rosemary and red onion this time) and a stuffed mushroom courtesy of Sainsburys (a rare cheese-free pre-prepared item vegetarian item).
I also managed a visit to the Gog Magog cafe during the week. My concerns that I'd have to sit in a corner with a black tea, while everyone one else had coffee and cake were unfounded as obtaining a soy milk latte was totally non-problematic, and there was even a vegan cake offering in the form of a damn good date flapjack. Huzzah! And now onwards to week 3!