Ameer Kotecha

Can a carnivore survive Veganuary?

Can a carnivore survive Veganuary?
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Veganuary is not normally something I’d go in for. I’m sceptical of food fads at the best of times and these are sadly not the best of times. If I’m going to be stuck in lockdown I want a steak dinner to cheer me up after a hard day’s Zooming, and maybe just a rasher or two of Ginger Pig bacon to motivate me on a dreary morning.

But having eaten enough turkey (and goose, and ham) for several people on a friendless Christmas Day, I see the attraction of going cold turkey for a month. It’s also always been restaurants that have stopped me attempting Veganuary before. I mean, who wants to go to Dishoom and not get the bacon naan roll? Or go to Nando’s and opt for a big plate of coleslaw and chips? With no restaurants this January to tempt the carnivore in me, it seems as good an opportunity as I’m ever going to have to give veganism a try.

Much of the country seems to have made a similar calculation. Organisers of the UK-based campaign are expecting their biggest year ever and they look set to get 500,000 sign the pledge (up from 170,000 who did so in 2018). The popularity of the idea has been boosted not just by people’s heightened concern around the need to live healthily amid the raging pandemic, but also by our increasing environmental awareness. All very admirable, I hear you say, in between bites of a sausage sarnie, but I value my taste buds thank you very much. Well, here's how to give it your best shot, without feeling as though you've lived off a diet of cooked cardboard for a month:

Follow the foodies

Veganuary needn’t be taxing or tasteless. I’m approaching it not with the ascetic fervour of the sometimes sadistic clean-eating brigade, but rather as a celebratory month to enjoy some of my favourite veg. Think of it as the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall way: if someone as passionate about their meat as he is can write a whole cookbook of solely veg recipes that tells you something. Have a go at his roast cauliflower, squash and chickpea patties, paired with his vegan gravy so you can get that Sunday roast comfort.

Squash and chickpea patties make for a filling meat substitute

Ottolenghi is a master of all things vegan and he has a wealth of veg-centric recipes. Nigel Slater knows how to conjure up vegan recipes that do not compromise on the comfort factor. Try his onions, baked with sherry and miso, and served with rice. And just the smallest tweaks can turn a vegetarian dish into a vegan one: try his spiced pumpkin, lentil and noodle soup, substituting olive oil for the butter and coconut milk for the soured cream.

It's not just about vegetables

If you’re worried about those meat pangs striking, think beyond just veg. Lentils, like Puy, are of course part of the answer. But also use tofu: the silken variety in a fiery Korean soup, and the firmer type in a stir-fry. Thin slices of tempeh, made from fermented soybeans, can be brushed with Marmite and maple syrup and then fried a little like bacon. 

Tofu coated in maple syrup and marmite is surprisingly tasty

Experiment with jackfruit too: it can take the place of pulled pork in a taco or be prepared to resemble tuna. There is also a whole world of mock meat substitutes—from seitan and quorn to explosively popular new arrivals like Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger (so-named because it’s, apparently, ‘impossible’ to tell the difference between it and real meat). They are fine in moderation if you have a real hankering, though they are often ultra-processed, and high in fat and salt.

On your doorstep

Sourdough vegan pizza from Veganizza, new to Deliver

Living as we are in the age of dinner delivery, there is also a world of possibility online. DabbaDrop are a start-up specialising in vegan Indian meals delivered by bicycle in reusable Mumbai-style “dabba” boxes in time for your Friday “conscious curry” night. Veganizza is a “plant lovin’ vegan pizzeria” doing artisan, sourdough pizzas topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, nut-based cheese and even meat-free pepperoni, N’duja and Tuscan sausage. Their Bake at Home kits are available for delivery across the UK.

And for pud? You can try experimenting with aquafaba (chickpea can water—a replacement for egg whites) to whip up some baked goodies, or save yourself the trauma and instead order some of the vegan (plus gluten-free and refined-sugar free) “pocket-sized pies” from Pri’s Puddings. Or a batch of vegan brownies from Cake or Death. Who doesn’t want a box of assorted sea salt, peanut and biscoff brownies popped through the letterbox? There really has never been a better time in human history to be a vegan.

One last thing. It is a rather cruel turn of fortune that Veganuary coincides with the trend for Dry January. Vegan first timers might be better off choosing one or the other to avoid outright gloom. There's nothing better for washing down your wild mushroom fricassee than a glass of red wine.