Alex Rushmer ponders the rise of veganism, and offers some gateway recipes for the unconvinced
Whatever your views on dietary dogmatism are, there is no escaping the cold, hard reality that veganism is happening. Recent surveys suggest that veganism is the fastest-growing lifestyle movement of the last decade. Since 2006, the number of people who follow an animal product free diet has seen a dramatic fourfold increase to nearly 600,000.
The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. Whilst these ethical reasons are a significant factor in many people’s decision to go ‘plant-based’, others are motivated by apparent health benefits or an increased awareness of the environmental impact of a meat-heavy omnivorous diet.
Essentially, a vegan diet is one that excludes not just meat and fish but all associated products including dairy, eggs and honey. This dedication extends beyond what is eaten: leather and wool are also out of bounds. It is a way of living that demands conspicuous conscious action and a steadfast commitment to the core principles.
Admittedly, I’m not intending to make such radical commitment any time soon. However, my dietary habits have changed considerably over the last few years as I’ve become more aware of the benefits of focusing on a plant-based, rather than animal-focused, diet.
“Among these dishes, daal is a firm favourite. It is comforting”
Consequently, I’ve worked a considerable number of wholly vegan dishes into my home cooking repertoire and meat-free recipes make up the vast majority of what I eat away from the restaurant. I find the process of cooking vegetables and pulses more challenging and more satisfying than cooking meat or fish and there is much work currently being done on the health benefits of eating less meat and consuming a much greater percentage of leaves, roots, grains and pulses.
Amongst these dishes, daal is a firm favourite. It is comforting and can be prepared solely from ingredients that are always available from the cupboard. Crucially, red lentils don’t need to be soaked overnight and cook in as little as 20 minutes – about the same amount of time it takes to perfectly cook a pan of (brown) rice. Cook a few spices in a little oil, add some minced ginger and garlic (from a jar) then the lentils and cover with water or stock. A little seasoning and you’re done.
Lentils aren’t the only cliché when it comes to veggie dishes: tofu is another that gets some seriously bad press. I’m happy to admit that until a few years ago, I, too, would snark at anything tofu based. On discovering its true potential though I was fully blown away. My gateway recipe, and one I cook more often than anything else, is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Black Pepper Tofu. Three types of soy sauce and an unholy amount of crushed black pepper are the perfect sucker-punch sauce for the tofu which acts as a vehicle for these punchy flavours. From there it was only a short hop to the glories of a tofu bao – crispy tofu in a steamed bun topped with raw carrot, peanuts, mint, coriander, spring onion and sweet chill sauce. Who knows, you might not even miss the pork belly.