Going vegan is a great way to put your culinary skills to the test and will push you to learn new techniques and try new ingredients. But there’s no need to feel daunted as vegan chef Matt Jacobs has shared his advice on how to gain confidence in the kitchen.
With more and more people becoming Vegan the need for cruelty-free recipes has become so much greater, but the same breath individuals are still very wary about cooking and prefer to cook their no-nonsense “go to” meals. The ongoing misconception is that it takes more time to cook something cruelty-free. Let me tell you that this is bogus and it really isn’t the case, cooking is a skill and some recipes do take time granted, however, it is a skill that can be easily learned and there are ways to reduce the pressure in your kitchen. There is absolutely no need to be scared of the oven or any cooking equipment and from experience let me tell you that even the most accomplished Chefs and Bakers still make mistakes, especially when developing recipes or trying a recipe that is unfamiliar, so rest easy!
Now then, how many times have you come across the phrase “preparation is key”? If this is your first time stumbling over it then don’t forget it because it is the most useful phrase as a dynamic within the kitchen, both in a commercial setting and the comfort of your home. This doesn’t mean you have to follow the exact direction of professional Chefs at all, if you are starting out in the kitchen there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying frozen chopped vegetables or garlic paste etc. These are great time savers for making sauces to accompany meals or as a base to many curries and stews.
Pre-cut fresh veg is nothing to be ashamed of either, if you don’t have very good knife skills or find using knives difficult then these are perfect for you. The only downside here is they can only be bought in supermarkets and not Greengrocers….unless you are extremely lucky and the nutritional density will be a lot lower.
Make sure you have all of your ingredients weighted and chopped in separate bowls before you begin, it will make your kitchen easier to move around in and take the pressure away from cooking. If you can do this the day before then it’s much better, you may have overlooked an ingredient or even ran out of greaseproof paper and now have the time to get them.
Preparation extends itself to the recipe itself as well….I advise that the first time you cook recipe “X” you do this as guidance for future attempts. There are some many factors you need to think about when making it for the first time.
You will be using different equipment for starters; your oven may not be a top specification domestic oven so your cooking time may vary, the produce you use may not be as high a quality or even the same brand as the recipe was made with and more importantly, you have never tasted the recipe before!
Make sure you keep notes of what you change; how long you need to cook (or undercook the dish), anything you added or removed and anything else you think will help for the next time you make it.
So let’s talk about Tofu, it is not the enemy! In fact, it is incredibly versatile and not as difficult to use as you may think. There are many varieties of Tofu but the most popular in supermarkets will be Firm and Silken Tofu. Firm Tofu is exactly that, it is firm and solid, but watch out as it still retains quite a lot of liquid so finding a way to “press” the liquid out is essential before working with it.
You can use a Tofu Press or even opt to use some weighty books to press the liquid out. Be careful not to put too much weight on as you are very likely to split it. Firm Tofu is great if you want to replicate a more carnivorous texture to your meal or if you are cooking an eastern dish. Silken Tofu, on the other hand, has a higher liquid content and while you can press it, you won’t get the same desired result as it is incredibly fragile and will in most cases split. Silken Tofu lends its uses in sauces and desserts; and would you believe it, it can be used as an egg replacer too when baking?!
Enjoy the challenge!
There is an incredible amount of information you will learn on your journey in the kitchen and the more you cook and experiment with food the more knowledge and skill you are going to achieve. Ironically, most of the people who I have met living cruelty-free lives’ outshine the majority of the Chefs I have met in my professional career in the kitchen. Move at your own pace and enjoy what you enjoy cooking, everyone has different tastes and palettes so never be put off by a recipe, change it and make it your own…… after all recipes are just guidelines.
So hopefully you are feeling a lot less hesitant about cooking and fingers crossed you know a few new bits of fundamental information that are essential in cooking cruelty-free food, now the rest is up to you! Experiment with flavours, colour and presentation and if you make a mistake keep it noted for next time you cook or better yet ask me!
Matt Jacobs is a dad of 3, Chef and cruelty-free recipe developer who operates under the moniker “The Food Rhino”. He is dedicated to changing the opinions of non-vegans through the medium of food. He is a blogger for Veganuary and is an advocate for The Free Vegan Cookout which he is also an Ambassador. You can find him on Instagram and Facebook.