G’day, my name is Duncan and I’ve been a vegan for over 4.5 years. It’s been a journey full of new experiences, trials and tribulations, but it is not something I would change for all the money in the world!
For me, as a previously relatively conventional person, the most fundamentally difficult part of being vegan is being a proper outsider, being in awkward social situations where everyone at the table is not vegan and you are being mocked and derided. I never realised what I ate in my own home in my own life (it is my choice right? Right?) would be such a problem for some people in my life. The bit of being vegan that wasn’t a problem was the “what to eat?” bit. Really, I eat like a friggin’ King.
Look, I understand that not everyone is married to a superwoman vegan food blogger, so I’ve created this guide to help you get started. I’ve also created it because I realise that when people turn vegan, sending them a link to a fully-fledged cooking blog can be a little bit full on. They don’t know where to start and they often get overwhelmed by the niche ingredients that are relatively common in vegan cooking. So I’m writing this as a starting point. I’m here to talk you through it. This is my background:
- I’m a simple man. My wife, Ania, refers to me as “chimpu”, because I sit there with my big spoon that I grip “like a monkey” and I shovel food into my de-evolved gob at lightning speed.
- I’m not an obsessive nutrition freak. I don’t know how many mg of spirulina I need to get every week. I use up too much of my emotional energy on cricket to have any spare for nutritional calculations.
- I’m an athlete (of sorts) – a marathon runner (with a PB of 3:09). I run between 65-90 km a week every week. I generally run every day. If I miss a day it makes me sad in a way that even patting the cat can’t fix. So if I can get enough nutrients to sustain my lifestyle on a vegan diet, it is likely that you will be able to as well.
- I don’t believe a juice or a smoothie is a meal. I’m not going to tell you that you need to be eating a kelp paste smoothie for breakfast. I like to chew. Smoothies are baby food at 3 times the price. I’m going to focus on real food.
So, I’ll go through each individual meal and give you some useful pointers.
The first and most obvious thing to eat for breakfast is toast – buy some decent bread (not supermarket bread in a packet) and some high quality jam or nut butter (which you can make yourself) and you are all set. This may seem like a simple meal lacking in everything you “need” for a day of work, but this is the breakfast of choice of Kenyan Marathon runners, one that they usually consume between the 1st and 2nd run of the 3 runs a day that they often do when training.
Porridge is also fairly straightforward as you can just swap cow’s milk for a plant-based milk (like rice, soy or almond) and it will taste nice and creamy. I recommend using good quality unprocessed jumbo oats, sweetening the porridge with maple syrup and the addition of chopped almonds on top. This one is very nice, but you can also go with low-effort toppings like a spoonful of shop-bought fruit compote or chopped up banana (caramelised banana is even better)!!
Tip: Making your own almond milk is usually cheaper (if you buy almonds in bulk) than buying it from the shop and the milk you make is much creamier with a much higher percentage of actual almonds in it. We explain how to make it here.
Pancakes are also very easily made vegan by using plant milk instead of cow’s milk and using a mixture of baking powder, baking soda and acid (lemon juice or vinegar) to make them nice and fluffy. In fact we have over 5 different pancake recipes on the blog and many of them are ideally suited for breakfast.
“Hero Options” – To impress your partner!
My 2 hero options for breakfast are both Mexican inspired. You can do an amazing Mexican beans on sweet potato toast (that uses the sweet potato as actual toast), or the slightly simpler vegan breakfast tacos. Yum!
Rant about breakfast
We currently live in England and English people are very big on this notion of the “Full English Breakfast” which is sausages, eggs, bacon, baked beans, mushrooms and toast. This is apparently the ultimate meal to consume on a weekend as it “sets you up for the day”. Historically, this was a day of working in the fields. Nowadays, this is a day of sitting on the couch watching television. Really, the only thing a 2000 calorie meal of wall-to-wall carcinogens “sets you up for” is a heart attack in your 40s or 50s. Often on a Sunday I will run between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, which burns around 1500-2500 calories and I’ve never found that toast or porridge fails to provide me with the energy I need to do this!
Avo toast option
My absolute go-to super simple lunch option is to toast some bread, spread ripe avocado on it and add a pinch of chilli, some pepper and salt. This gives you everything you need, is super simple to make and is absolutely delicious! We have a slightly more complicated version here, but if you can’t be bothered you can dispense with the chickpeas and other toppings and it is still wonderful!
When it comes to the simple sanger, you don’t have the high salt and fat content of meat or cheese to play with, so I recommend you try one of our awesome tricks to inject flavour and texture into your vegan sandwich:
- use quality bread like sourdough or foccacia
- add a textural element such as baked or fried sweet potato, aubergine, tofu, tempeh
- add a punchy condiment (sambal oelek, chilli oil, Sriracha, a spicy pickle (I like mango pickle))
- add a burst of freshness by including things like crispy lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper and/or fresh herbs
- add a burst of flavour by adding coconut bacon, sharp pickles or spicy nut and seed topping
- add a bit of creaminess by including a few slices of ripe avo, a dollop of hummus or vegan mayo
Our Mediterranean vegan sandwich combines charred vegetables with delicious sourdough bread and is very easy to make. We also have a tofu bánh mì which combines the chilli of Sriracha and spicy baked tofu. And, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can make a sushi sandwich (called Onigirazu in Japan) which uses rice as ‘bread’ and has a tofu + pickles + fresh vegetable filling.
Falafels are a staple (naturally vegan) food of the Middle East and are usually made with chickpeas but we make ours with sweet potato too for a bit of a twist. They are indulgent, full of protein and naturally 100% vegan. We have classic falafels, which are fried and sweet potato falafels, which are delicious baked.
A bowl is kind of like a salad but with quite a bit more heft to it. We like to include stuff like spiced chickpeas, miso marinated tofu, bread-crumbed tofu, oyster mushrooms, tempeh, some grain and an assortment of fresh veggies brought together by a flavoursome sauce / dressing like this harissa dressing, for example. You can also mix it up with a Korean bibimbap or go with some simple fried rice, all these things make it more like a meal than just a sprinkling of different types of lettuce. If you prepare the basic ingredients of these bowls in bulk, you can have a salad bowl (with slight variations) on multiple days.
“Hero Options” – To impress your partner!
An absolutely wonderful dish on a cold winter’s day is this lentil chilli with walnuts, which is surprisingly simple to make. I also highly recommend this roasted red pepper garlic soup which tastes just as delicious as it looks!
Pasta is my absolute favourite dinner meal. The trick with vegan pasta is that you have to inject a bit of flavour that is missing when you take out the Parmesan cheese. You can do this by adding nutritional yeast, capers, coconut bacon, vegan parmesan, pesto, pine nuts, miso or some ravioli finesse. This classic bolognese has actually made a lot of our friends start using TVP mince instead of actual mince because they have loved it so much. And the simplest (but still delicious) pasta you can make is this spaghetti aglio e olio, which in its simplest version only requires some olive oil, garlic and pasta.
Noodles are also a very delicious and easy-to-cook alternative to pasta. We’ve done a version of Wagamama’s famous yasai chilli men, a very quick sesame and ginger noodles, a lovely ginger and turmeric broth and you can’t go wrong with a good old Pad Thai.
Burgers and Fries
If you want something that feels even more solid than pasta and noodles, I can recommend a large veggie burger and fries. Personally, what I miss the most about eating a hamburger is the texture of the burger patty, the bun and the taste of the condiments. I’m much more into a burger on a freshly baked bun with pickles, tomato sauce, fresh lettuce where the burger is made out of chickpeas than a poorly made hamburger with ground beef. With a bit of love and care, you can have that wonderful burger experience again, and also some delicious fries to go with it. Also, you can go for a tofu burger or even a fish finger sandwich.
“Hero Options” – To impress your partner!
Something that you might not immediately think of as a vegan dinner option is gyros, which you can make with jackfruit or tacos, which you can make either with jackfruit or shredded mushrooms. Another massive crowd pleaser is our take on the classic katsu curry. I promise you it will be worth the effort!
This guide is mainly a survival guide for people that are new to veganism. But it would be remiss of me not to give a passing mention to the sweet options available for new vegans. I’m just going to show them all here and I’ll let you pick them out with your eyes!
(For those that have read this far)
Peter Siddle is one of the Australian cricket team’s many vegans (others are listed here). Here he is taking a hat-trick in the Ashes. I won’t say this was a highlight of my cricket watching life, but when it happened I screamed so loud I almost tore a vocal chord.