Vegan Challenge: Spaghetti and Ice Cream?

I’m in two minds about vegan ‘interpretations’ of what I could insultingly call ‘normal food’. Here are my two conflicting thoughts:

Love: t’s a very clever and fun thing to do to reimagine a dish within strict vegan limitations. If you’re an adventurous cook with a good palate, picking out flavours and textures that define a dish and applying them to something new can be fantastic. I truly believe that you don’t need to overload your cooking with oil, butter, cheese etc for it to taste good, although I do very much enjoy all those things. If you can come up with a version of something that stands alone as a delicious meal, then that’s fantastic.

Hate: But on the other hand…you set yourself up for disappointment. Veganism should be about enjoying and appreciating what good food is, as opposed to measuring it against what it’s not. Anyone who has ever tried to make a vegan macaroni cheese knows what I’m talking about. No combination of soy ‘dairy’, nutritional yeast and whole wheat pasta is EVER going to taste like proper mac and cheese, so what’s the point in imitating old recipes when you could focus on new, amazing recipes?

Anyway, I decided to set myself ANOTHER challenge and try to make a meal that borrowed some elements of my favourite foods, but wasn’t a pale, soggy imitation of them. I settled on courgette spaghetti with pesto, followed by banana and raspberry ice cream for my supper. Because I’m being extremely strict with myself, I’ve banned pasta from my diet for these two weeks. You have no idea what this is doing to me. I’m an absolute pasta fiend. It must be my Mediterranean heritage or something, but I’d happily eat it twice, three times a day. But eating that much pasta, plus a load of cheese and butter, is not doing me any favours, and is zapping away my energy. Courgette spaghetti seemed like a good way of creating the effect of pasta, along with a similar texture. By lightly pan-frying it in a little oil and garlic, then combining with pesto, I got a lot of my favourite bits of the pasta experience with none of the unhealthy downsides.

Courgette Spaghetti

2 medium sized courgettes
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

I shaved the courgettes with a julienne grater, and set them aside on paper towels to absorb some of the water. I lightly salted them, because otherwise courgette can be a little flavourless. I then heated the garlic on a moderate heat with the oil – I used lots of garlic because I love it so much. I lightly pan fried them until they’d absorbed the flavours without going to soft. I seasoned to taste. If I’d been doing this dish without the pesto, I’d have used a little nutmeg, or some cayenne, or red chilli to add another flavour.

Lemon & Basil Pesto

1 cup fresh basil
1 big clove of garlic (more if you’re a garlic fiend like me)
3/4 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp cashew nuts
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp sea salt

Quite frankly, you can do whatever you like with the pesto. I’ve used cashews because I had cashews, but pine nuts would be a more ‘traditional’ pesto taste. You can omit the lemon, use sage instead of basil, use almonds, use Parmesan…anything you like. I’d say just judge this one by eye/taste. If it’s dry, use more oil, if it’s dull, use more lemon. Essentially, just plonk all your ingredients in the food processor and whiz them up until you’re happy. I then tossed my courgette spaghetti in the pesto, and served it with a side of tomato salad.

Banana & Raspberry Ice Cream

2 frozen bananas
1 cup frozen raspberries

This is insultingly easy. I peeled some bananas, put them in a freezer bag, and froze them at lunch. At dinner time, I simply blended them in my food processor with a cup of frozen raspberries, and BINGO – a creamy, pretty looking, perfectly textured ‘ice cream’. You could also use a little vanilla if you like. I feel like I’m really late to this whole frozen banana party, but they are SO GOOD. I mean, this? This blew my mind. It tasted exactly like proper ice cream. And I’ve been known to make ice cream featuring clotted cream and white chocolate. I will seriously keep on eating this even if I stop being vegan. The last time I made one was when I got inspired because of Arrested Development…

So that was my supper!

Vegan Challenge: Day One

Don’t worry guys, I’m not going to post every day! But I thought it’d be interesting to do some key days – like the very first. So here’s a round up of day one (yesterday)…

Breakfast

As I said in my original post, I’ve eaten vegan for some substantial periods before, so wasn’t totally freaked out, and I didn’t go out and buy heaps of new, faintly disgusting food. But breakfast proved a real issue. I wanted something filling but healthy. I Googled ‘vegan breakfasts’ to no avail. Things seemed to mostly fall into the camp of: 1. I’ve gone out and bought a ton of vegan meat substitutes and crammed them into a sandwich, or 2. Screw the meat substitutes, I’m going to overcompensate by making a ridiculously unhealthy sounding breakfast that actually looks like pudding.

Seriously. Within minutes I had pages of BREAKFAST CAKES at my fingertips, and even a flipping COBBLER. Look here. While I’m sure these are probably healthier than an actual normal cake, and while I can often be wholeheartedly in favour of cakes at breakfast, I’m trying to eat well here. How about, you know, some actual veg? Or fruit? Anything?? What’s the point in me eating vegan if I’m just going to eat ‘blueberry waffles with lemon icing’ for brekkers. No, ta. Also, ‘tofu scramble’? Save me, Jebus! So I had a big dilemma. I was going to do porridge with cinnamon and fresh apple, but we had no apple (fun anecdote, you can use it if you want. Ahem). Instead, I opted for porridge with fresh raspberries on top, and cinnamon. It wasn’t imaginative, but thankfully it also wasn’t a CAKE.

Snacks

Part of my plan was to try and eat 5-6 small meals a day, which I was mega excited about. Actually working out what to eat for snack food was a little harder. On a normal day, I’d probably have some toast, and over the weekend I got into the bad habit of having baklava. As I said, I haven’t actually bothered going shopping yet, so I’m stuck with what I’ve got in the house. For my morning snack, I opted for carrot sticks with a squeeze of lemon, walnuts, and olives. This is scintillating stuff, eh? By the time I’d planned to eat my afternoon snack, I found I wasn’t remotely hungry. It was insane. I felt like I’d had more than enough food, so I just had a pear and cut my losses.

Lunch

I unashamedly love Gwyneth Paltrow and proudly have her cookbook. It’s a beautiful thing, and the recipes I’ve made so far are delicious. It also isn’t like the vegan recipes I tend to complain about, all nice and fresh ingredients as opposed to some overprocessed lumps of glutinous tofu. Sorry for hating on the tofu, I’ve had some that I’ve liked in the past, but on the whole it can be a bit grim. Anywho, I opted for Gwyneth’s ‘Tortilla Soup’, because anything with chilli, tomato, garlic and lime in it is always going to be a winner for me. It was nice and easy to make, and smelled delicious while I was cooking it. I made enough to conserve some for tomorrow lunch, so saved myself a bit of time as well.

Dinner

I decided to do a couple of recipes I learnt when I did a detox cookery class last year, as they’re tried and tested. Courgettes in chermoula marinade, and baked sweet potatoes with spices. For some reason, I feel like I shouldn’t be having olive oil, but I have to use SOME otherwise I’ll die. Well, I won’t die, but I’ll be bored, and it’ll be nearly impossible to cook anything. I used coconut oil for my sweet potatoes (not much, a little goes a long way), and part olive oil part warm water for my chermoula marinade. Chermoula is so yummy, a combination of coriander and lemon, lime, garlic, chilli, paprika, cumin…so so good. I had it with some peas and tomato sauce, using the leftover plum tomatoes from lunch. My sweet potatoes were delish, I used cinnamon, paprika, cloves, and garlic to flavour them, and they were the perfect balance of sweet and spicy.

Thoughts

Today wasn’t hard. At all. I spent more time in the kitchen than I usually would, but I love taking time to prepare food. Even after just a day, I feel really good (psychosomatic!), and feel like the food I ate was just much more delicious than a lot of things I’d usually have. For this vegan diet, I’m cutting out so many things that I’d usually lazily rely on for ‘comfort’ or texture like cheese or butter. Instead I’m working really hard on flavours, using more garlic and spices to make sure everything tastes as good as possible. I do miss cheese though. Sob. But weirdly, I felt more full than I have in ages – quite a feat considering I had a five course meal on Saturday and a three course meal on Sunday. I already feel much more energetic and focussed. We’ll see if that continues…

Vegan Challenge

Why hello there, readers, fancy seeing you here.

Thought I’d do a little challenge post, because you all know how I love my challenges. I’ve also mentioned how much I love Cassey of http://www.blogilates.com. Cassey is about to embark on a two week vegan eating challenge. I’ve been wanting to eat a little more healthily, as I still don’t quite have all my energy back after the flu thingy I had. I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve gone vegan before and found it very rewarding, if a little too restrictive. I don’t think our country is really quite there yet in terms of appealing, healthy food. There are some great places in London, and others such as Terre a Terre in Brighton (seriously, EVERYONE should eat there once, veggie or not), but I absolutely detest going into a ‘vegetarian restaurant’. Images of lentils and sour goats cheese tend to flicker into my mind, unpleasantly.

I absolutely love food. I love trying new things, and I sometimes get a little miserable that vegetarian eating and great food still don’t appear to go hand in hand. I’m fed up of going to a restaurant and seeing risotto or goat’s cheese tart on the menu. Just because I don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean I’ve lost my taste buds/imagination! I’m a lifelong veggie, and it makes me sad to feel that there’s still a big stigma attached to it. That’s why I’m a big fan of Thai or Japanese food: heaps of flavour and more options. I’m pretty far from your stereotypical veggie, and I have no wish to eat in a stereotypical vegetarian restaurant with crappy art on the walls and unappetising food. I don’t want to have to choose a third rate dish from a menu because the chef decided vegetarians are inferior in some way. I’m totally getting off track here, but this is important to me, goddammit!

Anyway, I’m 100% vegetarian all the time, but when I go vegan I try to be as creative as possible. Everything needs to be carefully considered, flavours enhanced, pleasing to the senses. I’m going to do it for two weeks, starting tomorrow, just to sort out some of the dodgy eating habits I’ve fallen into, and then I’ll assess how I feel afterwards. Because it’s difficult to get all the calories you need, I’ll be eating a LOT (air punch) and about 5-6 small meals a day. I’m going to avoid processed foods and sugars, and try and come up with delicious, healthy meals. I’m sitting here now with a stack of cookbooks and ploughing through them! Cassey of Blogilates.com is going to be putting up her own meal plan, but I’ll probably just devise my own to suit my own tastes. *Cough* NO TOFU *cough*.

So that’s me and my next two weeks sorted. Bit alarmed at not having alcohol – I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to break that next weekend for a night out, but otherwise, it should be interesting. I’ll keep you all posted, and if anyone fancies joining in, shout me up on Twitter @ameliafsimmons. Also, if you know any restaurants which serve great vegetarian food, I’d really love to hear about them.