Don’t Be Scared, it’s Only Food!

Question:            So what do vegans eat?

Answer:               Food.

My wife is lovely. She is smart, beautiful, intelligent and witty and she lights up a room whenever she walks in.  You may think (and quite rightly) that I am biased due to the nature of our relationship, but you might be surprised to hear me ask the question: why, when we go to restaurants, do people look at my wife as if she is has an embarrassing debilitating illness and have no idea how to deal with her? Oh yes, I forgot to mention; my wife is Vegan.  If we are going out for dinner with our families she’s very responsible and always phones at least 4 days in advance and asks what is on the menu for her to eat. Sometimes the chef says they will cook her something special, sometimes she has to make do with jacket potato and a salad. Sometimes the dish the chef has prepared is jacket potato and salad or for instance at one place, she was given a tiny plate of lettuce, couscous with red pepper and baked beans. All on the same plate.  She was then told if she wanted anything further to eat, she could help herself to the meat trolley. She doesn’t make a fuss, she gets on with it. She eats whatever she is given (provided it is Vegan) and she politely thanks the staff for their troubles.

The thing is, she is not alone. There are over 3 million vegans in the US and 186,000 in the UK , so why is it that so many british restaurants, cafes and the chefs working in them have such an aversion to vegan food? You could say that eating establishments just don’t care and think they’re all fussy and cause problems wherever they go but I think it’s more simple than that. I think it all boils down to one simple word: VEGAN.

To the uninitiated, the word Vegan can be shrouded in confusion, mystery and only for hippies. Vegans are thought to be malnourished, underfed tree-huggers with a deathly paleness about them because they aren’t getting the essential vitamins and minerals you can only get from meat. Well anyone who knows about being vegan knows that this is simply not true and you can get everything your body needs from a non-animal diet. The vegans I know are happy, healthy, full of life and colour and only hug trees on weekends when no-one’s looking and in the privacy of their own home.  So what is it about the word Vegan that turns people off?   Say the ‘V’ word to some meat eaters and it’s like you’ve found the secret code word to switch off their brain; their eyes glass over, their speech centre goes on strike and they start to make a hasty retreat for the comfort of the nearest mixed meat platter or the soft caress of a pork pie. The alternative response is one of utter disbelief which then progresses into a barrage of questions mainly ending with, “but why don’t you eat meat? Why, Why, why? “  Each vegan has their own reasons and whether they choose to share them with you or not is their prerogative, just as a carnivore’s choice to eat meat is their’s.

I think basically, it comes down to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing what vegans eat and what they choose not to eat and I think it’s time that the walls of myth and confusion surrounding the word Vegan, was pulled down.   It’s simple: vegans eat food. Just like everybody else. So for those who don’t know what Vegan means (in food terms anyway), let me break it down for you:

A Vegan consumes every type of food or drink that doesn’t contain meat, fish, dairy and eggs, or anything containing a by-product of meat, fish, dairy and eggs. For instance, they don’t eat jelly containing gelatine, (boiled up cow or pig hooves), but there are some great alternatives on the market which don’t use gelatine which are wonderful. Some vegetarian products on supermarket shelves contain albumen (egg white) which is a binding ingredient so a vegan would find an alternative to that as well. When it comes to alcohol, a vegan would choose a bottle of wine which was filtered through charcoal instead of gelatine or isinglass (the air bladder of a fish), which many of the wines on sale are. The same also goes for beer.

Now there is more to being a vegan than that but in dietary terms, that’s it in a nutshell. See? It’s not weird is it? It’s just food with paying a little more attention to the ingredients that’s all! It’s true that with a vegan diet you have to be aware of what you eat to make sure you get everything your body needs, but shouldn’t everyone? Just because a person eats meat doesn’t mean they are eating healthily does it?

To be honest, I don’t blame people who are afraid of the word vegan and I truly believe that it’s up to us to change that. How are people supposed to change their views if we don’t raise awareness and dispel the myth and stigma surrounding the word Vegan? I don’t know about you but I want an end to the hastily thrown together last minute restaurant meals my poor wife has to endure. I want an end to the annoyed and frustrated looks she gets from chefs who don’t know how, or refuse to, make a very simple effort in catering for someone who phoned days in advance to make sure she was no bother. I want an end to the ignorance of people who just hear the word vegan and look at you as if you just asked them to do something highly questionable with a close member of their own family. I want everyone to know what vegan means and accept that this is how it is.

Now I am a vegan chef. I have been cooking in vegetarian and vegan cafes and restaurants for 7 years now and I find creating vegan recipes and making vegan food enjoyable and something that comes quite naturally to me. I must admit however, it was rather daunting when I first started; where do I get my flavours from? If I can’t make a béchamel sauce for my lasagne with butter, milk and cheese, what the hell do I do instead? What do you mean I can’t put an egg in the burger mix to bind it? How is it going to stay together? No butter and beef stock in the French Onion Soup? Are you crazy?? But I learned the ways of the vegan chef  and I have to say that cooking a meal this way is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things to do. When developing a dish, you have to think about your flavours and how maximise them so it tastes every bit as delicious to a non-vegan as it would to a vegan. (more about building tastes and flavours in my next blog.)

You may be thinking right now, ‘oh it’s all right for him. He knows how to cook vegan food. He can just do it whenever he feels like it. What about the rest of us?’ Well fear not because with every blog I post, I shall be giving you a vegan recipe which is quick and easy to prepare and tastes absolutely delicious. These recipes are perfect to keep for whenever you have a vegan friend for lunch or dinner or if your son or daughter brings home a new boyfriend or girlfriend and tells you 2 hours before lunch, “Oh didn’t I tell you, my new girlfriend’s vegan.” (Sound familiar Dad?) These recipes aren’t exclusively for the non-meat eater. To all you carnivores out there, I urge you to try these recipes and I dare you to tell me honestly, that you miss the meat.

I don’t expect non-vegans to suddenly understand what being vegan is, just to accept it. It’s a personal choice just as it is your choice to eat meat. I may not like the fact you do eat meat but I accept it as your choice so why can’t you do the same for me?

Don’t be scared, it’s only food.

Love from

Danny  x

The Caper Tree

Slow Roasted Tomato and Pepper Tricolore Ciabatta

This is a perfect lunch dish and great for entertaining. The vibrant colours of the peppers and tomatoes combined with the deep richness of the soft slow roasted vegetables makes a wonderful combination. Make sure the peppers and tomatoes are completely soft and almost mushy; this is when they give out their full roasted flavour. However, keep an eye on your tomatoes as they can dry out and burn if you’re not careful.

Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 2 hours (it’s worth the wait!)

Ingredients

2 of each                   Red, green, yellow peppers

6                                  Tomatoes

6 sprigs                      Thyme

1                                  Ciabatta loaf

Handful                     Basil

Handful                     Rocket

Drizzle                        Balsamic vinegar

Drizzle                        Lemon juice

Drizzle                        Olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation Time: 10 minutes       Cooking Time: 2 hours

Pre heat oven 170c / 150 fan / gas mark 3

1. Cut the top off each pepper and deseed. Wash out the remaining seeds and place whole peppers in a roasting tin lightly seasoned with olive oil.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half and place in the roasting tin

3. Destalk the thyme and place on each half of tomato. Drizzle olive oil over the peppers and tomatoes and sprinkle with salt. Place the tin on the bottom shelf of the oven and allow to cook for 1 hour and 50 minutes – 2 hours. Halfway through cooking remove from oven and turn peppers over.

4. Once the peppers have cooked, cut ciabatta in half lengthways and put in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes until crisp and slightly brown.

5. Rub the ciabatta with garlic and place the basil and rocket on top followed by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

6. Place the peppers on the herbs, followed by the tomatoes. Squeeze the lemon juice over the sandwich followed by olive oil if desired.

If you want to cut the cooking time, you can increase the oven temperature to 200c. The peppers and tomatoes won’t be as soft but will still taste delicious.

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to roast your tomatoes and peppers in the oven, cut and deseed your peppers, cut them into slices approx 1 inch thick and pan fry them for approx 10-12 minutes, sprinkling the thyme and salt on as you go. Place in a pre-heated oven to keep warm and repeat with the tomatoes, being careful not to break them in the pan. Retain any remaining pepper and tomato liquid from the pan and drizzle over the sandwich before serving.

Tell Me Your Comments on the vegan food and recipes you see here. It's OK, don't be Shy!

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