If you have not yet read my post about why I am going vegan for a month, you should.
This post was planned to go a little differently. I had intended to make baked polenta with garlicky mushrooms for dinner, but had not properly calculated timing. Once you have cooked the polenta you need to pour it into a baking tray and leave it to set for at least 2 hours before cutting it into slices and baking it. So, at 6:30 we had two hours to kill before I could really get stuck into making dinner. We decided to go for a drink (thank you once again barnivore) and ended up watching the olympic men’s beach volleyball. (Apparently beach volleyball can be great! Even when played at night, not on a beach, by men! And apparently I desperately wanted Germany to win the match, and Nick desperately wanted Brazil to win, both for no clear reason whatsoever! Who would have guessed?)
After the game (Germany won, to my great delight) we decided to go for a frozen margarita at a rooftop bar not too far from our apartment. When we got to the bar we saw that they not only had veggie burgers, but the patties were described as vegan (Germany wins a game of men’s beach volleyball and we just happen to end up at a bar with vegan burgers? It was going to be a great night.). As none of the other ingredients listed sounded vegan-inappropriate we decided to get a couple and ditch the whole polenta idea for the evening. But, when we went to order, I thought I should just check that the whole thing was definitely vegan, and the server, who was pretty busy, but who was also clearly irritated by the question said immediately that the burgers were not vegan. As we sipped our frozen margaritas I was about to give up on the whole idea of having dinner before we got home (I didn’t just want to order a bowl of fries, and was hard-pressed thinking of good, quick, vegan-friendly dinner options near us), but Nick insisted that I go to the much less crowded downstairs bar to ask again about whether the burgers were vegan. It felt strange the amount of ‘confrontation’ I needed just to establish whether I could eat something that didn’t explicitly list any forbidden ingredients (I kept thinking, if I was just vegetarian, and not worried about dairy and eggs, then I could have ordered the veggie burgers without even having to think about it). The much more patient woman serving downstairs went to the kitchen to make sure the burgers were vegan, and I was very pleased when it turned out they were. And they were delicious! Nick, who has taken up a mostly vegan diet just because I have been cooking all the food this week, but who is not taking part in the challenge, was just as impressed I was. But this very minor difficulty represents my main concern about this month, which is how going out without much pre-planning is going to be tougher than it used to be (even if going out does sometimes come with certain, shall I say, beach volleyball-related perks).
Back to recipes – If you are ever stuck for a vegan meal, I have two words of advice for you: make soup. Soup is (usually) cheap, easy to make in large batches, easy to store once made (just freeze it or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for a few days to a week) and easy to take in to work as lunch (when I was not working so much from home I would often divide a large batch of soup between some jars to take into work – just take off the lid, place in the microwave, make sure you pack a spoon that fits in the neck of the jar, and you have hot soup for lunch at your desk). Soup is also mostly healthy (a great way to eat your vegetables) and often vegan. In the last four days of eating a vegan diet, only one day have I not eaten soup (Nick, on the other hand, has had it every day, as he took pea soup in for lunch to work on Wednesday). But we ate a lot of soup well before this week. It is not just a starter or a diet food. When done well, soup is a bowl of warm, comforting rich flavour, and served with the right accompaniment can be as indulgent as you like. As a child, one of my favourite dinners was a bowl of pumpkin soup with beautiful home-made chips for dipping on the side. The point is, if you wanted to begin a ‘Meatless Mondays’-type routine, but with vegan food, then the easiest, and probably least daunting, way to start is with soup.
Vegan Menu, Day 4
Breakfast – Berry Smoothie with Protein Powder
Lunch – Curried Cauliflower Soup (see below for the recipe), Focaccia with Earth Balance Buttery Spread
Dinner – (From Berry Park Beer Garden) Vegan & Gluten Free Quinoa & Black Bean Patty, Lettuce, Crushed Avocado, Pickled Red Onions, Smoked Red Pepper Sauce, Brioche Bun
Other – Latte with Soy Milk
After breakfast I gave in to my craving for a coffee and was surprised to find that I enjoyed the latte I had, made with soy milk, just as much as I enjoy lattes when made with cow’s milk.
We had the cauliflower soup for dinner on Tuesday – I doubled the recipe, and it looks like we will be eating it for the rest of the week. The recipe is from the New York Times ‘Recipes for Health’ series which, though they are frustratingly not marked as such, includes many good vegan-friendly recipes. It is thick and creamy, and very satisfying.
Note: While the original recipe says it serves 6-8, as a main meal it serves more like 4-6. If you want to double it, make sure you have a really big pot, as it is a very bulky soup to make.
Curried Cauliflower Soup
(From an NY Times recipe by Martha Rose Shulman)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium brown onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2-4 teaspoons thai red curry paste (2 will not make it spicy, 4 might)
1 large head of cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 russet potato, cut into cubes
4 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Paprika (for garnish)
Before beginning, chop up all the vegetables, as you will need to use them pretty quickly, one after the other. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot on medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, until soft and glassy (about 5-10 minutes). Add the garlic, ginger, cumin and curry paste, stir together, and cook for another 3 or so minutes. Add the chopped cauliflower and potato, and the stock (the vegetables should be just covered by the stock, if not then add a little more). Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat so that it simmers when covered with a lid. Leave to simmer, covered, until the vegetables are soft – about 30 minutes.
Take off the heat, add a pinch of salt and some fresh ground black pepper and blend in batches until smooth. When you are blending it is best to leave some of the liquid to one side – this way you can control the thickness of the soup. If it is too thick, add more of the liquid. If you are left with some liquid at the end of blending the soup, keep it in a jar in the fridge, and add it in small amounts when reheating left-over soup later to thin it out a little (it will thicken a little more in the fridge). Taste while blending, and add more salt if needed.
Sprinkle with paprika and serve hot with nice bread.