Adapting to a vegan diet has never been easier. The supermarkets are now full of plant-based alternatives to your meaty favourites, and inspiration for healthy homecooked vegan meals can be found everywhere from Instagram and the best vegan cookbooks to your local gastro pub. That said, even the most accomplished cook might find it a bit tricky to make veg the focus of every meal – the novelty of cauliflower 'steak' soon wears off.
Take it from me though, if you have the right tools in your arsenal, cutting down on animal products (or cutting them out altogether) is, dare I say, fun. How do I know? Because my diet is pretty much completely plant-based.
So what do I use to make my meals interesting, delicious, varied and – most importantly – easy? See my top picks for loving that vegan life below. From essential kitchen kit to top ingredients, you will want to add these Veganuary must haves to your basket now.
1. Give a vegan recipe kit a go for some tried and tested meal options
Vegetables are delicious if you know how to treat them right. The best way to find out what flavours, cooking methods and seasonings work well is to try some recipes out and I think buying a few recipe kits or trying a food delivery box is the way to go. They also mean you don't have to buy a load of obscure ingredients that only get used occasionally.
I have been using Mindful Chef for a few months now and think they are one of the best for vegan recipes. Everything is pre-portioned so you just have to wash and prep and while I can't afford to make all my meals Mindful Chef kits, you get a recipe booklet that you can keep and DIY. It has changed how I cook and given me little tips when I cook, like adding a squeeze of lemon juice to pretty much everything for that next level flavour.
Alternatively, try some spice kits instead. These include dried or fresh spices that you can use to turn whatever veggies and tinned pulses you have into something truly delish. Tastesmiths make my favourite spice kits – they include fresh garlic, ginger and things like currys leaves and pandang leaves that can be hard to come by. They can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or frozen until you need them. The Tastesmiths Rogan Josh is amazing and helps teach you the basics of cooking the perfect curry.
2. Invest in a stick blender
If in doubt, soup it out. That's what they say, right? No? Well either way, soup is not a boring starter or something from a tin. Soup is about to be your new best friend on a vegan diet. Filling, warming and so easy to make – all you need is some veggies, stock and a stick blender and you can whizz anything into a delicious soup.
If I buy too much of a certain vegetable I will make soupe. I like to roast the veggies first to add depth of flavour, then I freeze them. When I need a quick and easy dinner, I simply sauté an onion and garlic, add the frozen veg, and spices I want and some veg stock, bring to the boil, then blend with my stick blender. Done!
You can also use your blender to make salsas, dressings and all the other things that take veg from drab to fab. Look for one with a cup or bowl attachment for extra versatility.
3. Buy a tofu press
Tofu is much maligned and does not deserve it at all. Done well, it is a great protein source that will go with pretty much anything. So where do people go wrong? Well first: right tofu, right job. Silken tofu is soft and is used for its creamy texture. Firm tofu is the perfect meat replacement (my favourite is Tofoo Co firm smoked tofu), but to make it really delicious you need to cook it well so it has a lovely crispy outside and tender middle, and season it to perfection.
However the biggest game changer for me was when I bought a tofu press. This gets even more liquid out which a) helps improve texture and b) makes it suck up your sauce or seasonings more easily. Try it and you will be team tofu in no time.
That Tofu Thing Tofu Press | £24.95 on Amazon
Sure you can wrap it in a teatowel and squish it under some books, but the best way to press tofu is with a contraption that allows the water to drain as you press. This easy to use tool does just that. It needs about 20 minutes and you tighten the screw as the liquid comes out. Easy, extra firm tofu in no time.View Deal
4. Get a slow cooker
If you don't already have one, a slowcooker is another great piece of kit for the vegan kitchen. Most people think slow cooker and they think melt in your mouth meat – but not here sunshine! This is the perfect appliance to make big batch soups, stews and veggie casseroles that you can prep ahead, dump in the slow cooker and cook while you get on with life. If you make enough to freeze leftovers, even better.
When I get a big shop in, I do at least one recipe that includes five or six fresh veggies and batch cook it in the slowcooker. Pulse-packed chillis are a favourite, but veggie sausage casserole and vegan goulash are good winter warmers that freeze well. Having a few portions ready to go takes the stress out of midweek meals in those first few weeks as a new vegan.
5. Find some good vegan substitutes
While a good vegan diet should be made up of as much fresh, unprocessed food as possible, sometimes we all want something quick, easy and familiar. And, just because you don't want to eat animal products, it doesn't mean you stop liking the taste (tell that to the next person who asks why a vegan would want to eat something pretending to be meat).
Luckily, the world is full of inventive vegans who have made great products that mimic the taste and mouth-feel of meat, cheese and dairy. A lot of these are available in your local supermarket, but if you want to browse the full range in one place, check out online offerings like The Vegan Kind Supermarket.
Not sure which ones are best? I have spent the last few years trying pretty much every new vegan product on the market. Here are my star buys:
- THIS isn't bacon: the closest thing to bacon I have tried (nb: I haven't eaten bacon since I was eight, but my bacon loving other half loves this stuff)
- THIS isn't chicken: they do tikka pieces, salt and pepper and goujons. They have somehow managed to replicate that roast chicken skin flavour and the first time I tried it, I thought it was a trick by some meat industry villain to get me to eat chicken, it was that real.
- Meatless Farm mince: it isn't as dry as Quorn or TVP mince so you can use it just as you would meat mince. Shape into koftas, meatballs and even burgers, though they make those too (and amazing sausages).
- Alpro My Cuppa soya milk: tea is the only thing that I have struggled with finding a good milk for on a vegan diet, until I was sent a bottle of this to try. It is very similar to cow's milk – so similar that I enjoyed it on some cereal and even drank it neat.
- Moma oat milk: I think I have tried pretty much every oat milk now, but this is my favourite. It foams well, in fact just a good shake before pouring will give your coffee a lovely foamy top.
- Linda McCartney sausages: these have been around since I turned veggie as a child and back then they were a weird pink shade and tasted a bit odd. Now though they are my go-to veggie sausage. Affordable and they crisp up well to go nicely in casseroles or pasta dishes.
- Heinz Vegan Mayo: available at most supermarkets, this vegan mayo is so close to the real thing that I don't miss it at all. They do a vegan salad cream too and flavoured mayos have just been released.
6. Buy at least one great vegan cookbook
Knowing what to cook is the thing most new vegans find the hardest. Meat substitutes mean you can make vegan versions of your favourites like lasagne and Bolognese with ease, but good vegans find ways to make veg the star of the meal. That is where some great vegan inspo from the pros comes in.
Get your hands on at least one or two really good vegan cookbooks. So many celeb chefs have one now, but I have found the best are by those living a plant-based life full time – think Matt Pritchard, AKA Dirty Vegan and Ian and Henry of BOSH! fame.