Guess who's coming to dinner? How to feed vegan guests
'Oh no, not vegan!" - your reaction to hearing that already difficult and demanding teenager walk into the kitchen announcing, "I am going vegan" (most likely loudly, because as we all know, vegans like to shout about it!)
If the number of articles in newspapers and programmes on the radio about veganism this year are anything to go by, this must be a scene repeated in households across the country. Is it any comfort to know that you are not alone?
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With the demands on parents, and indeed grandparents, today, do you really need one more issue to deal with? Then there are contradictory reports, a myriad of new diets; more meat, less meat, no dairy, more dairy, what about fish? It all seems too much. And that's before you get to obesity and food intolerances. Nutrition, health, food groups… and now, veganism.
You have surely heard the word, something to do with less meat, or is it no meat? And then your child says: "Only vegetables." To someone who has been cooking meat and two veg for most of their lives, it's not a meal if it's "only vegetables". What is the culinary world coming to?
It is not surprising that the youth are the ones who are some of the first to adopt this new diet. Revolutions start with the young. The recent school walk-outs across the world protesting the lack of action to improve the environment by governments are another example - and do they also have something to do with eating meat? Is there a connection with these actions and the move towards veganism?
Instead of trying to understand the minds of the young from a distance, I turned to a young member of my family and posed the question: "Why do you think veganism has become so popular with young people?"
Looking up from her laptop, a little annoyed at being interrupted, she paused and considered my question. "I guess most young people want fresher, tastier, healthier food and vegan food gives you this. And then there is a lot of talk about the effects of meat on the environment."
As I was leaving her room, she said almost in passing: "There are a lot of role models that we see on social media who are vegan; musicians, actors, supermodels…"
I thought back to the reasons that I became vegan, nearly 10 years ago. They were different from those mentioned except perhaps the influencers - mine was my mother. A strong supporter of the vegan movement for generations, she gently and persistently reminded me that I should try to become vegan. Her reasons were ethical, she did not want animals to suffer in any way for her benefit.
I had been a vegetarian all my life. In the 1960s and '70s, and even in the 1980s, not eating meat was strange to most people. I was regularly teased at school, I was given strange looks in restaurants and often ordered chips as they were the only vegetarian thing on the menu. A French waiter looked at me and addressing those at my table as though I was not there exclaimed, "C'est son probleme!" - it's his problem - and walked off without taking my order.
One day, on coming home from school, a daughter announced, loudly: "I am going vegan!" I was very pleased when I heard this. Being the only vegan in a family of seven wouldn't have been easy, so having someone else to cook for - to cook with - was the motivation I needed to finally make the change.
But becoming vegan was not as easy as I thought. It meant completely eliminating any dairy products. No milk was easy, but no cheese - that was a big problem. I found it difficult to give it up. I am told that is because cheese contains high levels of salt and concentrated fats that are not good for us but that we all love to eat.
Turning vegan also meant that I had to find new foods to give me that filling 'protein' feeling. As a vegetarian we always ate salads, but we often had lasagne, mac and cheese and quiche, all of which contain dairy milk, cheese or eggs. I had not realised how much of it we ate until I tried to give it up. Even our family's favourite meal, Spanakopita - a Greek spinach pie - had feta cheese it. What to do?
At first I made two meals a day, one for the vegans, one for the vegetarians. Yes, it was a lot of work, but this was a cause I believed in, so I did it. I made two lasagnes, one using milk and cheese, one with a dairy-free béchamel sauce.
I changed my culinary attitude. On one hand, I had to embrace the fact that I was making different food. On the other, I was also trying to win over the others in the family, I was hoping to make only one meal for all.
The cream sauce, I worked on. With the help of a little garlic, onion powder, a drop of soya milk, and even a little nutritional yeast, it was eventually accepted by all. Using the soya milk was the clincher, it is high in protein and gives the sauce the full flavour.
Today I make only one lasagne, one mac and cheese. For pizza, some still want mozzarella, each have their preferred toppings. I need to be tolerant, accepting that even if I believe that change must come, not all agree with me - not easy for a hard-headed vegan!
But I digress somewhat. What of the distraught parent? My intention when writing this article was to help the parents and grandparents with their unruly youth. The answer to feeding a vegan is a simple one: Let them cook for themselves!
Why should you bear all the responsibility of their changing ways? Besides, they should be able to cook; they will need to leave the nest and make their own way in the kitchen some day. This leads us to my cooking manual, Hungry Soul. I wrote it with the youth in mind, to help them feed themselves.
As the adolescents in my house started moving away they also looked for help. In fact, my eldest daughter, on an Erasmus year, was messaging me asking for the recipe to our family's green soup, how to recreate our bruschetta, even how to cook rice... And so one recipe led to another, and after a time I had a few put together. I thought, 'Why not help other young people?' and Hungry Soul was conceived. With good timing as it turned out given the rising interest in veganism!
It was important to make it all straightforward. If I wanted it to be valuable to a youth with busy lives and short attention spans, it would have to be easy to use. It would also need to involve ingredients that can be found in a local supermarket or grocery store and that are - very important - cheap to buy.
I added instructions, starting with very basic information such as what utensils are needed, what to have in the cupboard, how to clean and prepare the vegetables, and even how to serve vegan dishes up for special occasions… such as when their parents are invited over for dinner!
So, you distraught parents, if any of your children come home looking to have vegan food put in front of them, present them with a copy of Hungry Soul. And, of course, in the spirit of Weekend's Eating with Friends series, you might even try to cook something from it for them, too.
Jacques Brennan will be appearing at the Slow Food Festival in Lisdoonvarna today. See slowfoodclare.com
Roasted veggie square
Makes enough for six, or three hungry college students
1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
1 sweet red pepper, cubed
1 courgette, cubed
½ aubergine, cubed
1 onion, cut into small chunks
2 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp vegan cream cheese
1. Take the frozen puff pastry out of the freezer an hour or so before cooking.
2. Put all the veggies on a tray into the oven at 180°C for 20 minutes. Once they have softened a little take them out. Drizzle a little olive oil over them, sprinkle with sea salt, mix well, set aside.
3. Lay out a thawed sheet of puff pastry and cut into six squares. Spoon enough of the roasted veggies onto the square pastry allowing a border of 2cm/1in all around.
4. Drop a thin spoon or two of vegan cheese on each square.
5. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the edges of the pastry are browning.
Black Bean burger
Enough for four to six burgers
1 400g/16oz tin black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp corn starch
1½ cups breadcrumbs
1 green pepper, deseeded and diced small
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of dried oregano
Sea salt and black pepper
1. Roughly mash the beans with a fork.
2. Add the corn starch, 1 cup of the breadcrumbs, and all the rest of the ingredients. If it seems a little too soft or wet add more breadcrumbs. Add ¼ tsp salt and a good grind of black pepper
3. Shape 2 tablespoons of mixture into a burger shape, then coat with remaining bread crumbs and place them on the baking tray.
4. Cook in the oven at 180°C/360°F for 30 minutes, turn over and cook for another 15 minutes.
5. Allow to cool completely, they hold together better.
6. Re-heat in a frying pan for a few minutes.
7. Stuff into a good bread roll with spicy tomato sauce, lettuce, a little hummus, tomato slices, sweet onion slivers, dill pickle rounds… anything you might think of that seems nice!
Enough for three or four hungry souls
2cm/1in fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp brown sugar
Pinch or two of chilli flakes
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
½ cup water
250g linguine pasta
¼ broccoli head, broken into florets
1 medium carrot, grated
1. In a small pot mix the ginger, the garlic, the lime juice, sugar, chilli flakes, and the tamari. Cook on a low heat for a minute then add the peanut butter and water. Mix well and set aside.
2. Bring a big pot of water to the boil and throw in the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, stir-fry the broccoli for a minute or two, just so it changes to a bright green colour. Set aside.
3. Once the pasta is al dente, strain off the water but keep a ½ cup.
4. To the hot pasta add the grated carrot and the broccoli and mix together.
5. Re-heat the satay sauce and pour over the pasta and the ½ cup of water. Mix well and serve immediately.
Hungry Soul - How to Cook 100% Vegan by Jacques Brennan, published by Troubador, is available through Dubray Books, Dublin, O'Mahony's Booksellers, Limerick, and online booksellers.