"We're here to help everyone eat more plants."
These are the words of Henry David Firth and Ian Theasby, the two men behind Bosh!, the online cooking programme (they have channels on Facebook and YouTube), and bestselling cookbook which has brought vegan cooking and baking to the masses. And while it might at first seem like a bizarre introduction to a subject many believe is just too difficult to get right, for Firth and Theasby, it’s just a matter of knowing what to use and how to use it.
Anyone who’s used to cooking and baking for themselves will be familiar with how many animal products are staple ingredients in most recipes. And, once people shift to veganism, they often assume they’ll never again get to enjoy such recipes. Eggs, milk, cheese and butter are all cooking essentials. Or are they?
If you look at the Bosh! duo's online cooking videos, you'll see that they create an extremely convincing paté known as Faux Gras – it looks utterly delicious, particularly when taste-tested by a couple of cynical volunteers, yet contains no meat, only plants. So if it is possible to create gourmet-standard food like that for vegans, maybe some of the simplest, best-loved meals we've grown up with can be produced using suitable alternative ingredients, too.
When we caught up with Will Rankin, co-organiser of Dubai Vegan Days, about the pros and cons of vegan meat substitutes, he had just finished making some “buffalo nuggets – delicious, unhealthy and as far removed from the fuddy- duddy image of the nut roast as you can get”, which he said proved he didn’t need chicken to make mouthwatering, guilty-pleasure snacks.
He also advised that, as a brilliant substitute for egg whites, cooks and bakers should use aquafaba. The realisation that this “gloop” you get in a tin of chickpeas is rich in protein and nutrients, and has egg-like qualities, has done more to inspire vegan cooking and baking in recent times than practically anything else – meaning Yorkshire puddings, cakes, meringues and other classics can be made and enjoyed, guilt-free. To learn more about this, and for free recipes and other inspiration, check out the Vegan Society’s website: vegansociety.com.
It’s not exactly news that cow milk substitutes are available in abundance; there are so many people with lactose intolerances that supply has more than grown with demand. They might not be so great in your morning cup of tea, but for cooking and baking you can use anything from soy, rice, oat, hemp or nut milk without any issues whatsoever. There are also a number of vegan butters on the market (check the ingredients, though, to make sure they don’t contain unsustainable palm oil).
Many recipes, particularly for baking, call for honey to be used as a natural sweetener, but this can easily and effectively be substituted for maple syrup, rice syrup or agave nectar. If you need it to be thicker for a specific consistency, just simmer it for a few minutes – simple.
For anyone thinking about embracing a plant-based diet, the most important thing to remember is that the internet is stuffed to bursting with good, free advice from fellow practitioners. Even celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, have begun to cater for the growing army of cooks choosing to eschew all animal products, by posting recipes they’ve concocted on their own websites. Don’t be afraid to experiment – the results can be astonishingly delicious.