So I’m now two weeks into my 30 day vegan challenge, and I have to say it’s been far easier than I thought. Aside from the extra preparation and cooking time, it hasn’t got in the way of daily life at all. In fact, I actually enjoy the cooking process now… I always liked baking for other people’s birthdays or for friends and family coming round.

Ally and I would make an occasion of concocting epic feasts: putting on huge spreads of Mexican food or making marinades from scratch because we drunkenly picked up reduced sea bass (definitely one of our better post-pints food purchases). However, when it came to cooking for myself… well, I just didn’t really. More often than not, the limit of my creativity involved mixing three different kinds of cereal together. One time I even ate a raw Pop Tart. I just never saw the point when it was just for me.

I suppose my one culinary saving grace was that I was never into convenience foods. My mum drilled the evils of microwave cooking and ready meals into me from a young age, and even when I did try them I didn’t like them. There’s also not much in the way of convenience or junk food readily available for vegans: I’m sure such things exist, but perhaps not in your standard supermarket frozen aisle.

Nowadays I’ve noticed that I can actually think up recipes with relative ease. If I pick up a block of tofu or some pasta, the possibilities are endless. Mostly because tofu tastes like absolutely nothing and as such is the best starting block for ANYTHING. As I said in my last post, everything I make consists of throwing things together and adding some spices.

*sniff* it’s so pretty…

I was racking my brain on my last shopping trip, following the boy around like a bored child when I picked up some Nando’s BBQ Chicken Rub out of curiosity and discovered- ta daaa!- that it’s accidentally vegan. A couple of shelves along, I found gluten free pasta sauce. One of my favourite ‘throw together’ dinners involved Cajun spiced Quorn chicken, so I thought I’d see how I got on with being more experimental with it. The results? Pretty damn good. Here’s what I chucked in…

Cajun BBQ Marinated Tofu Pasta

150g of wholewheat pasta

120g block of Cauldron Tofu

1 packet of Nando’s BBQ Chicken Rub

1 210g carton of Heinz Gluten Free Tomato & Basil Sauce

2 tbsps of Cajun marinade (I used Asda’s own brand)

1 avocado, de-stoned and diced

½ red pepper, diced

½ orange pepper, diced

½ green pepper, diced

½ red onion, chopped

A handful of chestnut mushrooms (however many that may be), sliced

5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered (I used on the vine ones, for no reason other than they were cheaper)

A variety of spices (such as cayenne pepper, chili flakes, Cajun spices, Jamaican Jerk spices etc)

  • Drain and press the tofu according to packet instructions, then cut it into chunks. Give it a right good rub with the Nando’s powder, and add some Cajun marinade as well. Leave it for a while to soak in- however long depends how much you want it to taste like anything!
  • Put the pasta on the boil. While you’re waiting for the tofu to marinade, add a teeny drop of oil to the mushrooms and rub some of the spices into the mushrooms and avocado.
  • Fry the tofu in some oil for about 6 minutes. Add all the vegetables and whatever spices you choose, give them a good stir and fry them until the vegetables are soft.
  • Stir in the sauce and leave it to simmer while you’re draining out the pasta.
  • When it’s done, stir it all together and resist trying to eat the whole damn lot in one sitting. If it’s any incentive, it tastes even better after a day in the fridge- and better still after a day in the fridge after two hours in the gym.

Again, this was just a potluck attempt at making a substantial dinner, and I didn’t actually have a recipe in mind to follow. I wanted further practice at making tofu as well, as I’d only made it once. Thankfully it was an improvement on my last attempt and I wasn’t even jealous of the boy’s amazing-smelling paella. Well. Maybe a little.

We might have got better at cooking, but we still suck at portion control.

On a final note: I bought vegan cheese a week ago which smelled so awful I couldn’t bring myself to use it. I got home late last-ish last night after a long day at work and a trip to The Fort, I wasn’t in the mood for cooking and was faced with a near-bare fridge… apart from the dreaded vegan cheese.

I can now confirm that it’s not the worst thing if you stir it in with some beans and have it on toast. Voila! Easy vegan comfort food, without having to microwave anything. Or waste money throwing away gross, sick-smelling vegan cheese.

OK, I confess, I had a three day weekend (thanks May for the endless Bank Holidays) and remembering to blog sort of fell by the wayside, to be replaced by catching up with my boyfriend, our extensive list of programmes and films, sleep and even a cheeky visit to the theatre.

(Incidentally if you’re in Glasgow with an evening to spare and a hankering for some culture, I can’t recommend The Libertine at the Citizens Theatre highly enough… but maybe don’t take your nan).

However, after Saturday, one side note is that I’ve noticed that my tolerance for alcohol has gone way down. Not saying I could hold it especially well before, but I feel like it’s taking me even less to hit harder. Which, coupled with my new found distaste for smoking, can only be a good thing. I suppose. Begrudgingly.

One thing I didn’t let slip was actual cooking. I’ve been looking up loads of recipes and bought a couple of beginner’s guides and cookery books to help me get started. I discovered that, with a few alterations, many of them weren’t too different to what I’d made before.

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Picture source: amazon.com

My biggest problem with recipes is that I tend not to follow them. I’ll stick to them for the most part- particularly with baking which is so much easier to go wrong. When it comes to soups, stews, pasta dishes and giant pots of things, I tend to just chuck everything in and add enough spice that I can’t feel my own face.

I found this great wee article about vegan lunches, and decided to start with the most basic of basics: soup. I eat alot of soup. I’m fairly sure if I gave blood, I’d just be donating a pint of lentils. What’s not to love? As long as you choose wisely it’s an easy way to be super healthy and not feel too full. I used to make it all the time when I lived on my own and was short on cash. I’d bulk-buy veggies, make a pot and freeze it in individual batches. That was a while ago, and I decided it was time to try again. The boy and I made some pretty spectacular pumpkin soup last Halloween. In lieu of pumpkin, I went for the next best thing and adapted this recipe for butternut squash soup.

This is a slow cooker recipe, which is fine if you’re making it before you go out of a morning. I wasn’t: I was hungry and I was hungry NOW. However, I wasn’t hungry for celery (yuck) or nutmeg (which we didn’t have to hand). I’d also bought some sweet potato for a different recipe, that we didn’t have time to make. Waste not, want not: in place of celery I bunged in some sweet potato to balance out the spices too.

As well as posting the original recipe, here’s my adaptation… and remember, I like things spicy and I tend not to follow conventional cooking methods. Like measuring. Any spices listed below weren’t measured using a teaspoon, I just gave the pot a liberal shaking.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

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Picture source: fitsugar.com

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped

3-4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large red onion, peeled and chopped

3 spring onions, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 sweet peppers, chopped and deseeded

2 cups of red lentils

1.5 litres of vegetable stock or boullion 

2 tsps Very Lazy Smoked Garlic

A healthy glug of oil (I used chili rapeseed oil)

Spices including turmeric, onion salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and coriander

  • Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, sautee until soft and stir in the garlic. Sautee for a couple extra minutes.
  • Add the butternut squash, carrots and sweet potato, give them a good stir along with the onions and garlic and add a wee bit more oil if need be.
  • Add the peppers, shake in your spices and add your stock.
  • Pour in the lentils, give the whole thing a stir.
  • Stick a lid on it and leave it to simmer until the vegetables are soft, checking and adding more stock or water if you need it.

I accidentally added a little too much water, but there are ways of compensating for this: I quickly microwaved some frozen diced turnip and stirred this in with the blended final product. I also added some crumbled up Ryvita crackers (I tried it to replace bread with soup a while ago and never looked back).

Initially I was a bit hesitant about posting a recipe, especially as I have such a lax attitude towards following. In the end I figured it was a good way of tracking my progress- in terms of how much more preparation and thought I put into cooking. I also thought it’d be a good way of showing how you can take a recipe, adapt it and still get tasty results. As long as you don’t include celery.

I’m also always on the lookout for more adaptations and recipes, so if there are any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!