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6 Things I’ve Learned in Veganuary

Have you ever heard of Veganuary? Until a month ago, neither had I. Apparently, Veganuary is a non-profit organization based in the UK that was founded back in 2013. Their mission is to inspire and support people to try a vegan diet. At the beginning of the year, they encourage people from all over the world to try going vegan for the entire month of January. 

Vegan, Ferndale, Hero or Villain Deli, Veganuary Special, Starfire Combo

Challenge accepted! Over the past few weeks I have eaten exclusively vegan… well almost. I cook at home almost every day and I prefer to make meals from scratch. Of course, if you are short on time to meal prep, we got you covered at Hero or Villain. This month, we are running a Veganuary special that includes our Starfire sandwich and Garden Vegetable soup from GreenHouse Soup & Chilis. For just $10 you can get a ½ sandwich and a cup of soup or $15 for a

full sandwich and a bowl of soup.

No, I’ve never been to culinary school, but I’ve worked in a kitchen for almost 20 years. On top of that, I love to experiment with recipes at home and learn new techniques. All that said, I’ve not had much experience preparing vegan dishes. I’m a few weeks in and I can say, I’ve gained some knowledge through this experience. Here are 6 things that I’ve learned that have helped me and will hopefully aid you in your vegan adventure. 

1 - Do not buy seitan, it is so easy to make at home 

I’ll admit that I am one to buy things out of convenience. I would much rather buy hummus than get the food processor out to make a batch. I buy pre-made pasta sauces. I know some of us still even make pancakes from a box and that’s alright. However, if you are looking to save some money and have just a little bit of free time, you too can make seitan. 

Online you will find recipes that ask you to wash flour under cold water… Nah, let me give you the cheat code for that. Meet my friend Vital Wheat Gluten. Once you have your vital wheat gluten, you just need to season and add liquid. Several recipes online will tell you to knead the mixture, don't! Just mix ingredients to incorporate and then form into a loaf. Unnecessary kneading can lead to the end resulting be tough and rubbery.

There are a few methods on how to cook it from there but that’s pretty much it; that simple. I’ve used both a boil method and a steam method. Results were surprisingly similar. Another key element I learned was to have a ratio of 1 part nutritional yeast to every 5 parts vital wheat gluten. This will be another way to help avoid the rubbery texture that we alluded to.  

2 - Do not buy vegetable stock, save your scraps

This is a trick that I have been doing for years and I recommend that everyone partake. All of those onion and garlic peels, undesirable leafy parts of a vegetable (e.g. beet greens, celery leaves), and the remaining herbs that were more than your recipe called for don’t throw them away. Save them! Turn these ingredients into your very own vegetable stock.

When I do this at home, I use a combination of scraps and new ingredients. I also make this different every time. I don’t have any notes and each time it tastes different than the last. That may not work for every recipe nor every person, but it mostly works in our house. If you would like to follow a more standard recipe, I recommend the Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook. This book is incredible and has a ton of information to go along with some delicious vegan recipes.   

3 - Making vegan cheese isn’t hard

I’ve eaten a fair share of vegan cheese, some great, others not so great. In either case, I was always curious about the process of making vegan cheese. It seemed like such a mystery as if alchemy were involved. Needless to say, the perspective of homemade vegan cheese was intimidating. However, after making a couple of recipes, I have to say that it’s not that bad. I made a vegan French onion soup*, that called for a cashew-based cheese. You must blend well, but the results are astonishing. 

*This French onion soup recipe was good, but just a bit too sweet. The recipe calls for red wine vinegar because apparently, most sherry vinegar isn’t vegan. My recommendation is to do the extra research and go for the sherry vinegar, it would enhance this recipe.

4 - Vegan chocolate is delish

Alright, honestly I thought I would be losing weight already. No, I’m not hitting the gym hard, but I thought a vegan diet would surely shed the pounds, right? Well, I have what is clinically known as a sweet tooth. I love chocolate. The process of making chocolate does not require dairy or eggs. Yes, this does mean I had to cut out some holiday candy… but not chocolate altogether!

I try not to make a lot of sweet dishes at home, but here are a couple of recipes that have intrigued me:

Also, our neighbors at Treat Dreams have a ton of vegan ice creams. Most recently, I have been going with their vegan chocolate peanut butter ice cream. It’s an oat milk based ice cream and is amazing as a shake!

5 - Seeds and nuts should be every day

Chia seeds are a staple in our house, even before Veganuary. I enjoy running and years ago I learned the benefits of chia seeds when training for half marathons. Chia seeds are known to be an anti-inflammatory and can help with hydration when put in water. However, it’s not just great for runners, vegans also receive great benefits from consuming chia seeds, as they are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals.

Cashews are a big component of many modern vegan cuisines. This is mainly due to their versatility and use as a vegan binding agent. Not only are cashews a vegan substitute for cooking, but they are also extremely healthy and less of an environmental concern than some other nuts. Cashews are dense in protein and minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Hemp seeds are amazing for you! Rich in protein, omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids, and minerals, these seeds are easy to sprinkle over oatmeal, vegan cereal, or even salad. As the stigma of hemp has decreased over the past decades, you can now find hemp regularly used in healthy snacks.

Soaking raw nuts and seeds is highly recommended. Eating raw nuts and seeds can lead to consuming phytic acid. The process of soaking nuts can also make the nuts easier to absorb the dense minerals in these foods.

6 - Choose your level of difficulty

Just like all things in life, there are levels to being a vegan. Some hardcore enthusiasts might disagree, but what eating vegan means to you, may not be the same definition for others. When shopping at a grocery store, you have probably seen vegan foods that have been identified as ‘certified vegan’. Things that would not be certified vegan might be coconut water that uses donkeys as a transportation resource. Or as alluded to previously, in our vegan cheese section, items that are filtered may use animal by-products. 

Things like honey are not vegan, but maybe that isn’t as important for you. Choose your own level. During our challenge, we did use honey. I will say though, that agave is a good vegan option for honey most of the time. Everything that I bought for recipes this month was plant-based, but honestly, I didn’t only get certified vegan items. The way I see it, regardless of your level of participation, you are making a change.

Bonus!!! I have also included some of the recipes that I used throughout the month. Please enjoy!

Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook (I’ve used several recipes from here. Buy the book, it’s a great investment)


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