In the last year there has been a giant surge of interest in the amount of exciting, innovative vegan food being produced. From the advent of aquafaba (see below), to the improvement in meat and cheese alternatives – it’s a vegan revolution! Innovation driven by compassion. Meat and dairy replacements may not be your cup of tea, but if these foods save animals then I support them.
The days of vegan cheese resembling tile grout are numbered now we have pioneers such as California-based gourmet restaurateur and vegan food expert Miyoko Schinner developing cultured nut-based cheeses that fool even the most dedicated cheese-head!
Miyoko uses processes similar to those used in traditional cheese-making of culturing and aging the ingredients to produce vegan cheeses with a range of consistencies from soft and creamy to firm. In some of her cheeses she uses rejuvelac (a non-alcoholic fermented liquid made from sprouted grains). This gives her vegan cheeses the complexity and sharpness of their dairy counterparts. It took Miyoko several years of dedicated experimentation to recreate the range of flavours and textures found in dairy cheeses, but she has done it and others are following.
If fermenting rejuvelac sounds a bit fiddly or time-consuming for you there are simpler ways to make tasty dairy-free cheeses that are far superior to most shop-bought ones and considerably cheaper too! I recently attended a vegan cheese workshop where experimental cook Mel Rogers of Mel’s Kindness Kitchen demonstrated how to make Parmesan, Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Cream Cheese using cashew nuts, tofu and coconut oil flavoured with nutritional yeast, miso and liquid smoke. Mel has developed her recipes from the book The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook: A Modernist Culinary Approach to Plant-Based, Dairy Free Foods by Skye Michael Conroy. Most of the ingredients are available in supermarkets and health foods shops with just a couple of specialist items that you can buy online and keep for future cheese-making adventures.
Some of the cheeses are made by simply blending all the ingredients together and pressing the cheese into a plastic tub to set in the fridge, others may require heating, but they can all be made in minutes – you don’t even need to soak the cashews! Mel set out to master vegan versions of cheese as part of her crusade to show others that they can have nice, affordable vegan food. Vegans really can have it all!
Mel’s vegan cheeses all have their own distinctive flavours and textures. Together, they make a wonderful cruelty-free cheese board with no calves being snatched away from their mothers and shot in the head.
Fry’s, V-bites and other mock-meat producers are going from strength to strength. At the Herbivorous Butcher in north-east Minneapolis you can buy salami, bratwursts and meatballs but nothing in the store is made from animal products; everything is vegan. The most popular products are Korean barbecue ribs, pastrami, smoky house ribs and all of their cheeses, which contain soya milk and coconut oil; they also use vinegar and nutritional yeast for flavours and texture.
Then there’s the veggie burger that bleeds. A step too far for me but as I said, if it saves lives… Impossible Foods is developing a new generation of sustainable meats and cheeses made entirely from plants. Google was so impressed they tried to buy the veggie burger start-up for $300 million but their offer was rejected.
In the unlikely event that you have missed the aquafaba revelation… Early last year, an experimenter, engineer and food-lover from Indiana, US called Goose Wohlt posted a picture of vegan meringues in the Facebook group What Fat Vegans Eat. Goose said: “dead simple delicious two ingredient whole food meringues… one can chickpea brine mixed w half cup sugar. perfect-O”. He probably had no idea what this was the start of…
Soon after that, Rebecca Stucki started a new Facebook group called Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses. In just a couple of weeks, this group attracted thousands of members from all over the world, producing meringues with varying degrees of success! The group now has over 37,000 members experimenting and producing new and exciting egg-free food. It’s a hive of activity and innovation driven by compassion – oh and a few egg allergies and the fact that everything is Salmonella-free doesn’t hurt!
At the time, many people thought it was a hoax to be announced on April 1! I’ve since made my own vegan meringues, macarons (not to be confused with macaroons), mayonnaise and killer fluffy chocolate mousse and can confirm – it is all true!
Previously, the chef of one of the US’s top vegan restaurants, Plant, managed to make vegan meringue (using flaxseed I imagine) but said that vegan soufflés would be impossible. Well not anymore! I have already seen one. Goose’s revelation has opened a whole new world of egg-free. Old favourites like lemon meringue pie are back on the menu; our magazine Viva!Life will feature one in the next issue!
In the meantime, leading water scientists have issued stern warnings about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegan diet to avoid catastrophic shortages. Consumption of meat and dairy foods at current rates is simply not sustainable. The new wave of vegan fine dining is an opportunity that we can’t afford to ignore.