I remember the day I became vegan – it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I’d already been experimenting with vegan recipes and had switched to plant milk, but I still felt out of my depth. You might think that it was easier because I was already vegetarian, but my diet relied so heavily on cheese and egg that I don’t think I had much of an advantage compared to a meat eater.
My first trip to the supermarket took around three hours as I scoured the back of every packet, whilst frowning and chewing my lip, wondering if I’d ever be able to eat again without having to plan everything in advance. Well here’s the good news: after a month or two, a vegan lifestyle becomes a natural way of life – and that’s the beauty of learning anything new. You develop new habits when choosing food and preparing meals and the supermarket no longer seems like an obstacle course.
But, whilst you’re adjusting, here are a few simple dinner ideas to help you in your first week, and as time goes by you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was hard at all. So many regular recipes can be ‘veganised’ by just substituting the meat and dairy with plant based alternatives.
Since becoming vegan I’ve discovered a love of cooking from scratch but, if you’re not yet a fan of the kitchen or are pressed for time, the dishes below can be prepared using pre-made sauces, and adapted to be gluten free and / or nut free and / or soya free.
Did you know?
Many companies don’t label their products as suitable for vegans if they are processed in the same factory as eggs or dairy, but most vegans consider them okay to eat (even food products registered with the official vegan trademark can carry a ‘may contain’ warning about animal allergens), just make sure you check the ingredients for any unexpected animal products. The Vegan Society website has some great articles to help:
1. Spaghetti Bolognese
I don’t know many people who don’t like a good spag bol! Simply substitute the meat in your usual recipe, or use a jar of sauce for convenience. It really is worth throwing in veggies to a pre-made sauce if you can: fried onions, garlic and peppers add extra flavour and goodness.
Substitute the minced meat for:
- Soya: I use frozen soya mince because I find it keeps its shape and texture much more than dried soya. I personally like the taste of Tesco’s Meat Free Vegetarian Mince but most supermarkets do their own version.
- Veggies: You can select your favourite veggies like onions, courgettes, bell peppers, and mushrooms to make a vegetable-based Bolognese. Add pinto beans and cannellini beans for extra texture and protein (you can buy them dried, but for convenience canned works fine).
- Lentils: Red lentils work well in this kind of dish – just don‘t overcook them as they can turn mushy. You can buy them dried, but for convenience use canned and add to the sauce five minutes before serving (canned lentils need only be heated through). If using lentils, be sure to add fried veggies for extra texture and bite.
- Use dried spaghetti (but double check the back of the packet) as fresh pasta contains egg. If you have a gluten allergy, you can buy a gluten free spaghetti or pasta.
2. Stir fry
Stir fry is so easy to whip up and most supermarkets stock bags of prepared veggies! You can make your own sauce or buy one from the supermarket for convenience.
Substitute the meat for:
- Tofu: I remember not liking tofu at first, but as time went by my taste buds changed and now I really enjoy it! My favourite brand by far is Tofoo; it’s easy to cook and comes in variety of flavours.
- Don’t substitute – just add more veggies! Stir fry is so delicious using just vegetables, and I often prefer this.
- Quorn: with Quorn expanding their vegan range, there are now vegan Quorn pieces and Quorn fillets (which you can slice up and add to your stir fry). They even have vegan Quorn Fajita Strips which have really nice flavour and can be used for this kind of dish.
- Some stir fry sauces contain honey or fish so be sure to check the back of the packet.
- Many Chinese-style noodles contain egg but rice noodles are a good alternative and most are suitable for gluten allergy sufferers (Amoy Straight to Wok Rice Noodles are gluten free). I personally enjoy Blue Dragon Wholewheat Noodles (these are dried and just require simmering in water for five minutes).
3. Burger and Chips
There are a variety of vegan burgers now available in shops and I’ve tried loads in the past year, but my favourite are the Spicy Vegan Burgers by Quorn. These have a little spicy kick, and are great in a bun with some relish and a side portion of chips and salad.
- Make a super delicious and easy burger relish by frying a red onion and one clove of garlic until soft, then adding half a teaspoon of sugar and frying until the onions have caramelised. Add the relish to your burger, topped with sliced tomatoes, rocket and ketchup – so good!
- Add some vegan mayonnaise. I absolutely love Follow Your Heart Vegenaise, but most supermarkets should stock something in their Free From range.
- Most bread is vegan, just check the back of the packet. If buying fresh from a supermarket bakery (and the product doesn’t have a list of ingredients), you can ask a member of staff to check their files, which will include a list of ingredients and allergens.
I always use an Old El Paso dinner kit when making fajitas, which contains the salsa, seasoning and wraps. Fry two onions and a red and yellow pepper (per kit) until they start to soften, then add a punnet of fried mushrooms (I fry these separately and drain off the liquid first as I find they can make the wraps too soggy), together with the seasoning AND the salsa. Although you are supposed to use the salsa cold, I prefer it mixed it with the main ingredients and served hot.
Replace the meat with:
- Beans: add black beans to your fried veggies. If using canned beans, be sure to rinse well and add to the fried veggies five minutes before you are ready to serve (they only need to be warmed through).
- Quorn: Quorn now do Vegan Fajita Strips, which really complement the veggies really well.
- Tofu: I love the brand Tofoo which currently comes in three flavours: naked, smoked and oriental. I enjoy the naked version, cut into strips and fried in garlic, salt and pepper.
- Many ready-made guacamole dips contain milk, but it’s super easy to make your own – and I think it’s much tastier. Simply mash a ripe avocado, with the juice of half a lime, a crushed garlic clove and sea salt. You can add coriander, finely chopped red onion and tomato, according to your taste, but I prefer my guacamole smooth.
5. Sausage, Mash and Onions
When I first became vegan, I went on a quest to find the perfect sausage for sausage and mash. I’d previously enjoyed Quorn sausages, but could no longer eat these as they contain egg (Quorn are yet to come up with a vegan sausage at the time of writing this).
My favourite sausages are:
- Linda McCartney Red Onion and Rosemary Sausages: I cook mine in the oven for the recommended time, and then add them to the pan of fried onions for around ten minutes to finish them off.
- Linda McCartney Sausage Rolls: sounds a bit weird to use sausage rolls but these taste soooo good, and the pastry is lovely. I remember when I first tried these and had to get the packet back out of the bin because I didn’t believe they didn’t contain meat! They have fooled many a meat eater, and make for a great dinner.
- Vegusto: I tried these sausages at a vegan festival in November and they were amazing! According to the Vegusto website, they even do a gluten free version as well.
- To make the mash, I add a splash of soya milk and vegan vegetable spread. I’ve found that the best spread to use – for everything, including jacket potatoes – is Pure Sunflower Spread, which is deliciously creamy.
- Many supermarket gravies do not contain animal products, however I just love Bisto Onion Gravy Granules. I wrote to Bisto who said they could not label this vegan as it is manufactured using the same equipment as other non-vegan products. There are no animal products in the ingredients or in the potential allergen list (and it is marked as suitable for vegetarians), so I personally consider this suitable.
I love a good curry! Most vegetable-based curries can be made vegan, and most Indian restaurants will cater for you – just be sure to ask that the veggies are not fried in ghee (which is a type of clarified butter). If making curry at home, you can either use your regular recipe (substitute the butter for oil or vegetable spread), or for convenience use your favourite jar sauce.
Substitute the meat for
- Veggies: potato, cauliflower, aubergine and spinach taste amazing combined.
- Lentils are delicious in curry and a great source of protein. Add veggies too if you prefer more texture and bite.
7. Chilli non Carne
Chilli is surprising easy to make from scratch, so either use your favourite chilli con carne recipe (see my recipe for chilli) or, if you’re pressed for time, pick up a jar sauce.
Substitute the minced meat for one of the following:
- Soya: I use frozen soya mince because I find it keeps its shape and texture much more than dried soya. I personally like the taste of Tesco’s Meat Free Vegetarian Mince, but most supermarkets do their own version.
- Beans: I like using pinto beans and cannellini beans to create a bean chilli. You can buy them dried, but for convenience canned works fine.
If you’d like some recipes to inspire you in the kitchen see my Pinterest page where I have scoured the internet, collecting of recipes from great food blogs and websites.