Meat Free Monday: Sneaky Ingredients

I just wanted to talk today briefly about the ingredients in food.  I know most vegans check their food religiously, but recipes change and vegetarians often don’t actually check ingredients (I’ve only ever met one who did, and he doesn’t bother any more).  That’s not a criticism it’s an observation.  We tend to rely on Good Faith, you know, you like to think, “how could fizzy orange juice POSSIBLY contain dead fish?” And they lull you into a false sense of security because you are a reasonable person and don’t want to be paranoid about whether there’s cow in your cake or what not.

So here’s some foods you need to be aware of as a VEGETARIAN (vegans, some of these foods are not for you):

1. Cheese:  A lot of cheese (especially in the US) these days is made using vegetarian rennet.  Some cheese (most traditional stuff) is still made using parts of sheep stomachs.  If it doesn’t say “vegetarian rennet” or “suitable for vegetarians” it almost certainly is not.

2. Marshmallows:  Made with gelatine.  Vegi mallows exist, but they tend to be super-expensive and all the recipes I’ve seen don’t yield the right results (although I’ve had to stop questing for this one in the past couple of months – I’ve cut sugar out to improve my mood stability).

3. Beer and lager:  When I was on a tour of Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire, I asked the tour guide, “is it vegetarian?” She said “the fish guts aren’t still in the beer when you drink it, so yes, we would say it is vegetarian.”  Obviously this is a crock of crap, and the fact of the matter is, fish died to make their beer whether they care to accept that this is the case or not.  Many other brands do the same.  Fanta did, too, for a while, but I’m not sure if they still do, as, last time I checked (2011), there were specific types of Fanta that definitely did (post mix syrup) and specific types that probably didn’t (cans).

4. Jelly sweets: Again it’s the gelatine.  Quelle surprise.

5. Anything fortified with “omega 3 and 6”: For example food marketed at children.  Heinz spaghetti shapes used to do it but they have stopped now and it’s 100% vegan again.  omega 3 and 6 can come from veg*an sources but the companies do generally get it from fish, this will always be stated in the ingredients.

6. Thai green curry, Thai red curry, ready made sauces:  Every single brand of Thai curry sauce that’s available in the supermarket in the UK makes it with either shrimp or anchovy paste which means they’re not vegetarian or vegan.  Some of them also contain milk.  They didn’t all used to have fish in them, but standards have clearly gone downhill in the past few years.  If you love Thai curry, get some coconut cream and the Thai curry paste, and make your own, it’s dead easy (I’ll go through it very soon).

7. “Freefrom” rocky road: This contains gelatine in the marshmallows, even though (annoyingly) it’s usually otherwise vegan and always gluten free.  Watch out for this one if someone buys it for you.

8. Refined sugar:  In the United States this is often refined with bone meal.  In the UK I have never come across this.  Tate and Lyle and Silver Spoon both don’t use bone meal, it’s just sugar, so theirs is vegetarian and vegan.  As far as I am aware, all other sugar in the UK is also fine.  I wanted to bring it up though in case you go to the US (or, if you come over here, feel free to stock up on British grown, animal free sugar, I don’t think customs limits export on it so bring a suitcase).

9. Walkers “meaty” crisps (potato chips):  In the past two years, walkers have made a move backwards towards the dark ages (I guess it upset them that they finally made their cheese and onion crisps vegetarian a few years ago).  Obviously they’re not happy if they’re not killing animals for seasonings, so their Smokey Bacon contains pork, their Roast Chicken contains chicken, and the Prawn Cocktail is still completely vegan, as are the Worcester Sauce, Salt and Vinegar (yes they stopped filling them with lactose a couple of years ago) and of course Ready Salted.  I’m not sure about their less “standard” flavours but do check before putting them in your mouth.

Those are the sneakiest ones I’ve found and which I feel don’t really need animals in them to make them tasty or edible or even chemically stable.  It’s just gratuitous.  But now you know.  And the more you know… (add your own to the comments, as long as it’s the most recent ingredients as they change unexpectedly)…

Note: This is prescheduled, I’ll reply to comments when I get back.

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Meat Free Monday: Vegan Lasagna

Dairy Free Vegan Lasagna (In England, we spell it lasagne, but I’ve used the American spelling as I know most of my readers are American/Canadian):

This post contains an affiliate link.  This recipe takes some time (I take just over an hour) so do it on a weekend day!

What better way to celebrate rabbit awareness week than to start it off with a meat free, animal free lasagna?

You will need:
A box of lasagna/lasagne sheets,
A block of dairy free hard cheese that can be grated/melted,

The “béchamel” sauce (method here):
Flour (or gluten free)
Soya milk (or alternative of your choice)
Vegan butter
Grated vegan cheese (optional depending on whether you prefer traditional or cheese béchamel sauce)

Alternative béchamel (if you are in a hurry):

Some cream cheese,
Cornflour,
A tablespoon or two of soya milk,

The “innards” of the lasagna:
1.5 cups Vegan mince or TVP,
1 Onion (or 1 cup frozen onions),
1/2 carton Tomato passata,
1/2 tsp of vegemite or yeast extract,
Herbs: a sprinkling of basil (OBT),

You will also need a square glass dish. You may need to change your measurements to fit your glass dish, mine is medium sized and serves 4-5. If you don’t have one, this lasagna dish set looks perfect.

Make the innards first:
1. Soak the TVP in some boiling water and mix in the Vegemite to add flavour.
2. Fry the onions and add the (drained if necessary) TVP, herbs, and the passata, mix well and set aside.

Then start to work with the lasagna sheets:
1. Follow the pre-soaking guidelines for the lasagna sheets. I usually pre-boil mine before using them so they’re not too hard.
2. Line the bottom of the glass dish with a layer of lasagna sheets, tearing and overlapping where necessary.

Then pour the innards over the first layer of lasagna sheets to totally cover it.

Next, put more lasagna sheets over the top of the innards.

Make the béchamel sauce next:
Here is the recipe you will use for the traditional béchamel sauce. If you’ve got all the ingredients, this one is the best one to make because it’s by far the most realistic. It’s your choice whether to include the grated cheese.
Alternative béchamel sauce using vegan cream cheese:
Put 1/3 of a tub of cream cheese in a pan, and heat it to soften. Mix in the soya milk and stir well. Add about 1 teaspoon of cornflour (sieve with a fine-mesh sieve to ensure no lumps, or just bung it in and live with the lumps) and mix well with a fork. Add more cornflour to thicken if needed.
Once the mixture is thick enough, pour over the top layer of lasagna sheets to completely cover them. You may need more sauce than this, depending on your dish size.

Grate the hard cheese over the top of the béchamel sauce to completely cover it with a decent layer of cheese.

To cook:

Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes on 180 degrees C or Gas Mark 6.

Remove from oven and cut into square slices to serve. I use a wide flat spatula to get it out of the lasagna dish and a spoon in the other hand to stop the filling falling out.

To serve:

If it’s just to serve one, let the rest cool and cover then put in the fridge. When you wish to reheat, remove the amount you want to eat, and either oven it or microwave, depending on what you prefer.

Nutrition:

Approximately 1 of your 5 a day per serving and about 1/3 of your daily protein. For more of your 5 a day (so more vitamins), add some salad on the side or serve with a baked sweet potato and some boiled carrots.

Tips for success:

1. Get used to making the béchamel before you attempt the whole lasagna.
2. To save time you could pre-cook the béchamel for a different recipe the day before and set some aside for today’s lasagna.
3. Stir the vegemite fully into the TVP so you don’t get any lumps of yeast extract in your finished lasagna.
4. You can apparently just put the lasagne sheets in dry but I’ve always pre-soaked them and find this to make them cook better in the oven, as vegan cheese sauce tends to be a little too dry to soften the sheets in the oven.

Notes:
With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, replace your pasta with gluten free pasta and follow the rest of the recipe as normal. Most shops stock gluten free lasagne or lasagna sheets.

Next week: Pizza!

Bene cena!

Meat Free Monday: More Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipes

Given how well my first two cheese sauce recipes went down last week, here’s two more.  They’re a bit more complicated but I’ve made pasta and cheese in all of these methods and can vouch for the fact that it will scratch an itch, even if it’s not remotely nutritious (more advice on making this meal more nutritious at the bottom).  Some of these are more realistic than others, as a general rule of thumb, the harder it is to make, the more realistic it comes out, so it’s up to you how much effort to expend in making vegan cheese sauce.  I oscillate – sometimes I don’t care enough to take any time and other times I’m spending half an hour on that perfect vegan cheese sauce recipe and smoothing out lumps with my hand blender (that’s a pro-tip, btw).  It all depends on how hungry or rushed I am vs how much I miss cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce 3. Using vegan cream cheese, method C:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

About 1 tablespoon of cornflour.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like.

3. Add the cornflour (sieving it into the pan with a fine mesh sieve is the best way to avoid lumps, but work with what you’ve got) and combine well with a fork.

4. Once the sauce has reached the right consistency, serve it all up – put the pasta in bowls and pour the sauce over the top.

Cheese sauce 4. Using vegan cheese slices, vegan cheese sauce method D:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 3-4 dairy free cheese slices per person (Tofutti or Violife are the UK brand leaders),

Method:

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Put the pasta back into the pan. Tear the cheese slices up and drop them into the pan.

3. On a medium heat, stir the cheese slices into the pasta. Need it cheesier? Add more cheese!

4. Serve it in the right number of bowls and eat it.

Nutrition: To make these more nutritious, use cauliflower or broccoli (or some of both) instead of pasta.  I like to also throw in a serving of frozen or fresh peas to ensure there’s some colour on my plate.  A handful of peanuts will help you achieve your day’s protein goals.  I strongly recommend you don’t use lentils – they don’t work well in this sauce.

You can make any of my recipes gluten-free by subbing the pasta for GF pasta.

Stay tuned for next Monday when I will put up the all-singing all-dancing Oven Baked Vegan Mac-N-Cheese Recipe that you will want to get your hands on.

Meat Free Monday: Mac and Cheese Recipes 1 and 2

Pasta and “Cheese” Sauce

Before I developed a milk allergy, my favourite food was mac and cheese, although I would make it with lots of different shapes and sizes of pasta (one of my favourites was pasta shells, because they suck up the sauce). Since I’ve been dairy free, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make pasta or macaroni and cheese.

The one way I absolutely DO NOT recommend is the “vegan” “cheese sauce” that comes in a tub from the supermarket/health food store. It’s a crime against vegetables. It literally tastes like someone threw some herbs in a pan then threw up on it.

Over the next three weeks, I will present several alternative pasta and cheese ideas, leading up to the all-singing, all-dancing “proper” one with a roux and everything; today’s two recipes are the simplest, and both use vegan cream cheese:

1. Using vegan cream cheese, method A:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

1. Cook the pasta and drain.  Gluten free pasta takes much less time than wheat pasta as it doesn’t have to soften the gluten protein.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of vegan cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like. If it’s too thin, add more cream cheese. If it’s too thick or the flavour’s too strong, add more soya milk.

3. Once the sauce is warm enough and reached a decent consistency, divide the pasta in bowls for each person eating and pour the sauce over it in a fair manner, then eat straight away.

2. Using vegan cream cheese, method B:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 1/3 of a tub of vegan cream cheese per person.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Heat the cheese in the bottom of a small non-stick pan (ideally) and once it’s softening, mix the pasta in until it’s all coated in cream cheese.

3. Serve in bowls and eat at once.

4. This one dries hard, so wash your bowls straight after eating.

Note: 

You can make these gluten free by using gf pasta instead of regular, or replacing pasta with either broccoli or cauliflower (although I recommend using my pasta recipe #5 for cauliflower).

These provide none of your 5 a day (fruit and veg), no vitamins to speak of, and negligible amounts of protein. They’re mostly carbs and a smattering of fat. To make it more nutritious, serve with a salad, or replace the pasta with cauliflower or broccoli (or just serve them up on the side) and sprinkle with sunflower seeds or your favourite nuts for protein (dry roasted peanuts are my fave but you gotta eat them fast so they don’t go soggy in the sauce).  I love mac n cheese but rarely eat it these days because it’s a nutritional vacuum.

Meat Free Monday: Kale Spinach And Vegan ‘Cream Cheese’ Canneloni

Recipe

A brief note about measurement:  I believe that people go a bit mad sometimes with measuring things to the very gram, and that it’s more important to get a feel for the amount of each ingredient and how they interact with one another, which is why I work in cups (the American measurement; you can buy a cup set in most homeware stores if you’re not in the US or do conversions if you need to) wherever possible.  I like to use fresh ingredients to make nutritious and tasty food whose sole purpose is nourishment.

(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.

Gluten:
Except for the lasagne and canneloni recipes, you can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in any of these, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, usually you can replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal. I’ve not seen gluten free canneloni but you can pre-cook gluten free lasagne sheets and roll them up if you would like to try out this canneloni recipe and you’re GF.

Kale, spinach and cream “cheese” canneloni

You will need (all food ingredients are per person, scale the dish to fit):

A glass oven proof dish: Choose the smallest dish that fits all the tubes in, otherwise you will end up with a LOT of sauce and not much canneloni.

Four canneloni tubes per person;

1/2 cup of spinach;

1/2 cup of kale;

2 tablespoons of vegan cream cheese per person;

1/2 carton of tomato passata;

Grated vegan hard cheese;

OBT: Basil and garlic (to taste);

1. Boil the spinach and kale until it’s very soft. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the cream cheese in a small non-stick pan (ideally) and stir in the spinach and kale. Add more cream cheese if needed.

3. Stuff the uncooked canneloni tubes full of the spinach and kale mixture, and put them in the glass oven-proof dish.

4. Mix the garlic and basil into the passata and pour the passata over the canneloni tubes.

5. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of the food to cover the passata and the tubes.

6. Put in the centre of the oven at 150 degrees C or gas mark 5 for 35-45 minutes.

7. Remove and serve; don’t cut the canneloni to serve them if you can help it or the filling might come out.