Learn to cook vegan food the fast and easy way with recipes, advice and tips from Katy Beskow of the recipe blog Little Miss Meat-free.
When did you make the decision to go vegan? As a life-long animal lover, I have been a vegetarian since childhood. I became vegan when I stumbled across a colourful fruit-and-vegetable market, which left me intoxicated with new sights, fragrances, and tastes. Every Saturday morning, I rushed to the market as early as I could to get the freshest produce and be back in time to be inspired by a day of food TV programs. I didn't have Nigel Slater's kitchen garden and I couldn't afford to shop in Nigella's delicatessens, but I had a brown paper bag of colourful fruits and vegetables waiting to be cooked into something delicious (even if it was in the tiniest of kitchens, with just two pans and a cracked jug). I had a limited budget and discovered that by not using any expensive animal ingredients I could experiment even more with flavours and textures.
Why are people moving towards a vegan diet? People choose to become vegan for many reasons, including ethical values, environmental issues, sustainability, reduction of food costs, and health improvement. For me, any health benefit of a vegan diet is a happy side effect of choices that are primarily ethical. More questions are being raised about where food is coming from, the ethics, production, and environmental and humanitarian impact created by what a consumer chooses to purchase and eat. Due to this, there are more people than ever reducing their meat and dairy intake, whether it's to live a vegan lifestyle or simply to try something a bit different in their diet. My new book 15-minute Vegan (Hardie Grant) isn't designed as a resource for discussing the politics of veganism, but as a celebration of great, fast food that can be enjoyed by everyone. Vegan food is no longer considered bland or minimalist. If we see past the 'meat-and-two-veg' style of eating and look at better ways to prepare, eat, and enjoy our food, a world of new flavours, textures, and dishes awaits. So many people eat the same old meals, perhaps due to habit or lack of confidence in the kitchen, but are not truly enjoying their food, which is a good indication that it is time to shake things up and try new ingredients and methods of cooking.
Many people find it easy to give up meat – but not dairy and eggs: Reducing dairy and eggs isn't as difficult as it may initially seem. Many of us have learnt dependence on dairy products, rather than trying something plant-based that can be equally as delicious. Think you can't enjoy a bowl of chilli with a cooling swirl of sour cream? Slice over a creamy avocado. Wonder how you will ever get that soup so thick and rich? Use coconut milk. There's an alternative for everything, which just involves stepping outside the box.
Is it really possible to get a meal on the table in 15 minutes? Yes! Vegan food lends itself particularly well to fast cooking, as the basic ingredients are easy to prepare and cook. There are fewer food safety concerns compared with the storage, preparation, and use of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs; just be sure you wash your fresh vegetables thoroughly, store non-dairy milk and yoghurt products in the refrigerator, and ensure any beans and pulses are cooked thoroughly before eating. Great vegan food doesn't have to be complicated, and I promise it won't be bland. Yeast extract is a magical ingredient when you're short of time; a teaspoon stirred through a sauce gives it a deeper, richer flavour, as though it's been cooked for hours. Antipasti vegetables preserved in oil are a useful ingredient for any cook, particularly when you want to create a great dish with little time. Get some music on, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy cooking! Too many people find cooking a chore; relax, get creative, and reap the benefits.
Fast, fresh essentials
Fast cooking calls for fresh ingredients that are easy to prepare and cook quickly. It's always worth having a selection of fresh ingredients in your fridge, so when the need for a fast meal arises, you have the essentials to hand.
Soft fruits: Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and blackberries require no preparation and can be used for a quick morning smoothie, simple snack, or baked into a crumble for a dessert. Other low-preparation fruits include peaches, nectarines, bananas, and cherries. Choose your fruits seasonally for the best flavour, price, and variety all year round. It's worth keeping a couple of peeled, ripe bananas in the freezer to throw into smoothies or whip up a banana split ice cream.
Lemons and limes: These provide fast bursts of flavour in a dish when the juice is squeezed over at the end of cooking. Always choose unwaxed fruits as they are often waxed for aesthetic purposes with an animal ingredient such as shellac, which is not suitable for vegans. Squeeze lemons and limes when they are at room temperature to get the most juice out of them.
Vegetables: Nearly all can be quick-cooked, depending on the method you use. Some vegetables, including mushrooms, tomatoes, capsicums, and long-stem broccoli, cook quickly, while other root vegetables require longer cooking times. Look for vacuum-packed pre-cooked root vegetables, like beetroot, which normally require a long roasting time, but whose pre-cooked versions can be simply sliced before eating. Opt for versatile vegetables, such as spinach, which can be served as a salad leaf or added to a curry; kale, which can be stir-fried or crisp-roasted; and celery, which can be used as a base flavour for cooked dishes or to give added crunch to salads. Sweetcorn, peas, edamame beans, and butternut squash all retain their great taste and texture when frozen, making for a convenient and economical way to enjoy these vegetables.
Onions and garlic: These make for a fast, flavoursome base to many dishes when used either together or individually. Have a selection of brown and red onions to hand for variety, and keep them in a cool, dry place for longevity.
Fresh herbs: Parsley, coriander, and mint can be quickly torn or chopped and added to a dish to take it from simple to superb, adding layers of fresh flavour. If you have the space, grow them in a window box or keep them refrigerated stem-down in a jar of water. Basil is best stored at room temperature.
Dairy-free products: Soya, almond, cashew, macadamia, oat, and rice milk are all available as sweetened or non-sweetened, so choose which suits you best. I tend to opt for an unsweetened soya milk for use in cooking, alongside a nut milk for drinks and desserts. A pot of non-dairy yoghurt is also a useful ingredient to keep in your refrigerator; for use in a savoury dish, opt for an unsweetened, sugar-free soya yoghurt. Sweetened or flavour soya yoghurt is best used in sweet dishes. If you enjoy cheese, do try the ever-growing range of vegan cheeses now available in most supermarkets and health-food shops.
Vegan pastry: I make no apologies for using shop-bought pastry; it's quick, fuss-free, and even top-name chefs like the convenience of a premade pastry sheet. I tend to keep a steady supply of shortcrust, puff, and filo, ready for a speedy dinner or dessert. Store in the freezer or refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before using for best results. Many brands are accidentally vegan, using vegetable fats instead of butter – simply check the ingredients list.
Wine and beer: These can be added to a dish to give a hearty, warming flavour or enjoyed alongside your meal, although some varieties contain eggs, gelatine, and isinglass, which is derived from the swim bladders of fish. Check with your supplier or do some research on one of the many great online resources. Do bear in mind that brands change their ingredients form time to time, so be sure to check before re-purchasing.
This is an edited extract from 15 Minute Vegan by Katy Beskow published by Quadrille RRP $29.99 and is available in stores nationally.