Ditching Dairy: guide to plant-based milks

As an omnivore, I was a big fan of almond milk. Mild and nutty, I loved a cool glass to complement my cookies.

Going vegan, however, switching to plant milk was neither quick nor easy. I didn’t like the subtle sweetness of soy, oat, or almond in my cuppa, and grew frustrated with milks that separated in the brew. On the other hand, switching out dairy on cereal and porridge was easy as pie.

I’ve tried the vast majority of milk alternatives out there, and have developed a discriminating taste for which variety and brand suits me best. I’m going to go into a little detail here; so feel free to scroll through. Before, though, here a few tips to factor in when making the switch:

  • One milk does not fit all. I have a preferred variety for tea, milky coffees, hot chocolate, and porridge. If you can drink it fast enough, keep two bottles at a time.
  • Your tastes will probably differ from your dairy-ditching friends’ tastes.
  • It’s been surprising to note the difference in quality between brands, and between organic and non-organic varieties. Organic in general tastes better.

If you’re considering making the switch to dairy, you’ve probably come across the whole almond-milk-stunts-bone-growth argument. The media love to point out, in its regular vegan-thrashing, that calcium doesn’t occur naturally in plant milks as it does in dairy. However, plant milks fortified with calcium contain the same amount as cow’s milk (120mg per 250ml), as well as added B12 and vitamin D.

So, unless you’re sure that you are getting enough calcium through the rest of your diet or supplementation, it’s best to choose fortified plant milks. There’s also been a fuss about the vegan diet lacking iodine, because of the absence of dairy. I’ve personally decided to take an iodine supplement until the research is clearer.

Almond milk.

  • Almond Breeze – un/sweetened. This was the very first non-dairy milk I ever tried – and it’s probably one of my least favourites. I’ve always found Almond Breeze to be too strong in taste, not subtle at all, so not great in breakfast or drinks. I can recall pouring myself a glass one evening from a carton that had been opened longer than it should, and recoiling at the strange artificiality in the taste – down the sink it went. 2/5
  • Rude Health almond milk – un/sweetened.  At £1.99 / litre, it’s expensive, but the flavour is very pure and very clean. However, after their recent media suicide – “…vegetarianism and veganism, promising to save you from cancer and early death and save the animals while you’re at it, if you believe What the Health, Okja and other propaganda films masquerading as documentaries on Netflix” – you probably don’t want to support this brand. 5/5 for flavour alone!
  • Alpro unroasted, unsweetened almond milk. This tastes, as my vegan friend put it, “of nothing”, but leaves a hint of marzipan in the mouth. It went well over cereal, but needed a considerable dose of maple syrup in an iced latte; and it didn’t do well in my morning coffee. I’m not a fan, but suggest it to someone looking for a mild milk for breakfast cereals and porridge. 2/5

Soy milk.

  • The most reliable plant-based milk out there. Some say there’s an aftertaste, some say not. There’s a lot of variation between brands, however.
  • Supermarket brand un/sweetened UHT soy milk. As the cheapest and the most versatile, this is the stuff I buy every week.  Make sure you allow boiling water to cool for half a minute before adding the milk. It’s less likely to separate, although inexplicably the water at uni (hard, as at home) reacted differently. Although at first sniff, it’s got a peculiarly sour odour, this doesn’t manifest in taste. I find it completely flavourless in tea and coffee, although a bit bland on cereal.  4/5
  • Alpro Original soy milk. A go-to milk: great in cereal, in porridge, and in hot chocolate. In tea and coffee, there’s only a very, very mild sweetness. Compared to supermarket sweetened soya, it’s got a much better taste. 5/5
  • Co-op organic soya milk. This is wonderfully creamy, and very tasty: fantastic in porridge, smoothies, and hot drinks, or even just by itself. Although it’s not fortified, the milk has a good, pure taste, with a subtle nutty hint devoid of any artificial ingredients. 4/5
  • Alpro Dark Chocolate Soy milk. This is one you’ll find it hard to keep your hands off. Thick, sweet, and decadent, I love slurping on the child-sized carton of this. Yes, it’s sugary, so maybe it’s not one to drink every day, but if you’re missing chocolate milkshakes, please give this a go. Drinking it makes me thirsty, unsurprisingly, and there are some strange added ingredients on the back of the carton. 3/5 

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    Soy milk hot chocolate

Oat milk.

  • Oatly oat milk. A firm favourite of mine. It’s creamy; sweet, but not too sweet; is great in coffee (although occasionally separates in my tea); it makes a good porridge; and its barista version can’t be beaten in cappuccinos or lattes. I opt for the non-organic, as the organic isn’t fortified. The Oatly team also win in terms of marketing: they are umatched in promoting dairy-free alternatives. Their chocolate milk is also one to try. 5/5
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Delicious oat milk cappuccino

Cashew milk.

  • Alpro Cashew milk. This is a less traditional offering to the nut milk scene, and it’s a good one. Cashew milk has a slightly less nutty taste than almond milk, and is less sweet; and, somehow, it’s thicker and creamier than most milks. I can drink it straight in a glass, as well as over cereal. 4/5

Hazelnut milk.

  • Alpro Hazelnut milk. Creamy and a fair bit sweeter than soy, hazelnut milk has a light brown colour, and is lovely hot or cold. I wouldn’t put it in porridge, as I prefer to sweeten my oats with fruit with a liberal dose of peanut butter, but on cereal, it’s a winner. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near tea, although it makes a fantastic hot chocolate.  3/5

Hemp milk.

  • Good Hemp milk. This is definitely a less popular milk, and I can see why. It’s got an unusual, marzipan-like flavour, with a strange sort of metallic aftertaste. The one I tried was unsweetened, but I didn’t much like it in my breakfast. One thing I noticed was the fat content – 2.5g per 100ml, compared to Alpro soy milk’s 1.8g per 100ml. It’s creamy, for this reason. One glass apparently contains 50% of your day’s intake of omega-3s, which is great; but I’d rather stick to soy. 1/5

Rice milk.

  • Alpro rice milk. I’m not quite sure how anyone gets on with this. It’s very sweet, and quite thin; so not ideal for drinks, or cereal. 1/5

Coconut milk.

  • I can’t give an opinion here: I don’t get on with coconut at all! From what I’ve heard, though, it’s creamy and great in a milky coffee.

I hope that this post has been useful for anyone looking for advice on which plant milk to try!

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Hackney Downs vegan market

At the dawn of this new year, the vegan movement continues to make waves. Worldwide, thousands are sailing through Veganuary. In the UK, vegan options continue to increase, including Tesco’s new range of ready meals, sandwiches, and pizza. In Australia, Dominoes have launched a range of vegan pizzas, including one topped with avocado.

I’m excited for the year ahead and the developments it will bring for veganism. I want to see the movement gain an even stronger foothold in mainstream media. The rise of vegan convenience and ‘junk’ food, especially, should help shed the image of veganism as a faddy diet.

Which brings me to the Hackney Downs vegan market, another relatively recent development. Organised by Fat Gay Vegan and EAT WORK ART, it’s now held every Saturday from 11am to 5pm. There are regular traders, with preference given to businesses run by women and members of the LGBT and BME community.

You’ve most likely heard of Temple of Seitan, Hackney’s finest vegan chicken store. It’s been a massive hit among vegans and omnivores alike. Although I’ve never been inside, I’ve passed the shop and carried on walking at the sight of the queue, snaking way out of the door.

This week, Temple of Seitan had a stall alongside the likes of Eat Chay (Vietnamese cuisine) and Young Vegans (vegan pies). My friend and I came over for the first time and marvelled at the offerings. A connoisseur of vegan cheeses and meats, my friend queued up twice for Temple’s mac n cheese. Judging by the silence as she ate, it was very good. I did sample a spear of pasta from each of hers – one slathered with barbecue sauce and studded with chick’n – but the smell of coconut-based cheese had gotten to me. I’ve a very strong nose for coconut, which I detest in vegan cheese, after a particularly bad experience making my own macaroni. But my friend, and many many others, love the Temple. By 3.30pm, the stall was sold out.

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Barbecue mac n cheese

I opted instead for a lentil curry from Rupert’s Street, who also offered sweet potato latkes and tofu wraps. I’m a big fan of lentils, and on this particularly cold day, it was exactly what I needed. Warm, satiating, and flavoursome, I’d highly recommend this curry if you’re popping by.

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Lentil curry with brown rice

We also stopped by Hell.Yum!, and took advantage of an irresistible three for £5 offer on cookies. I picked up salted chocolate, chocolate and walnut, and white chocolate and macadamia, telling myself that I’d share these at home. This I did not, finishing the bag contentedly by myself.

The final purchase for me was a cup of mulled cider from Clarkshaw’s Brewing. Very sweet and warming.

If you’re interested in top vegan cuisine, healthy or not, pop along to Hackney Downs vegan market. Details of each market are made available on Fat Gay Vegan’s website or on the Facebook page. Arrive promptly – after 1pm, it gets increasingly busy!

Photos courtesy of @_rhiannonnorman.

Vegan pizza @ Pizza Express

A while ago, I wrote about trying the vegan pizza offerings at Pizza Express and Zizzi. The Pianta at Pizza Express, which seems to have been taken off the menu, was a reasonable experience. On the other hand, Zizzi’s rich tomato sauce and its smattering of vegan cheese was a significantly tastier meal. But, having revisited Pizza Express, I wanted to report back on the progress made since.

One point that must be highlighted: the vegan pizza game in the UK keeps getting better. Pizza Hut are grabbing a slice of the action, offering vegan cheese on their bases. Dominoes offer VBites vegan cheese on their pizzas in Israel, with plans to bring this on to Australian menus next year; but in the UK, not even the bases are vegan. I’m hoping that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see this change.

So, how did a vegan and her almost-vegan friend fare at Pizza Express?

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Dough balls

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Veneziana with vegan mozzarella

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Vegan Giardiniera

We began with dough ball starters, perfect little balls of carby bliss. Although we missed out on the accompanying garlic butter, the garlic and chilli oils were a reasonable swap. Both plates were quickly demolished. The marinated olives, roasted tomatoes, and bruschetta (without pesto and butter) are also suitable for vegans.

My friend ordered a Veneziana pizza, subbing the mozzarella for the vegan alternative. Toppings included pine kernels, red onion, capers, and olives. I have to say, I was bemused by the sultanas. Isn’t pineapple a controversial issue? What about the outrageous sweetness of sultanas?

I ordered the vegan Giardiniera, awarded Best Vegan Pizza at PETA’s Vegan Food Awards 2017. It’s a step-up from the Pianta, loaded with red onion, olives, artichoke, and mushroom. Artichoke has a meaty texture which works well. And the cheese? Creamy. I’m really not keen on coconut-based cheeses, but their own version melts well and tastes good.

In terms of desserts, there is a Raspberry Sorbet and Coconut Delight available for vegans. Perfect for when you’ve inevitably not left enough space for afters.

So, overall, Pizza Express have done a great job. The possibility of swapping dairy cheese out on any vegetarian pizza is fantastic, and a real upgrade from the days when you could bring in your own vegan cheese to top your pizza. What’s more, signing up for offers with the company means you can snag a deal of £10.95 for a starter and main. Bargain.

 

5-Veg curry

It’s been a while since I last blogged. Since starting a new job, I’ve had to get used to the rhythms of working life. My hours and overtime have clocked up against my motivation to cook and bake anything new.

But food will prevail, as it always does. On my last day off, I baked Aine Carlin’s fudgy brownies from her book Keep it Vegan, which were a hit. Later on, dinner was an easy improvised curry, a great one for leaving ticking on the cooker while you get on with other things.

The veg used here can easily be swapped for others, although cauliflower and potato are one of my all-time favourite combinations.

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To make this curry for two, you’ll need:

  • one large onion
  • one green chilli
  • half a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • one clove of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • half a head of cauliflower
  • 5 or 6 small potatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • 100g curly kale
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • naan bread (check for milk-free!) or brown rice (if you’ve not yet been able to find vegan naan).

Begin by roughly chopping the onion, and finely chopping the garlic and green chilli. Keep the seeds if desired. Scrape away the skin of the ginger with a teaspoon, before grating.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Fry the onions on a medium heat until they begin to brown. Add ginger, garlic, and chilli, and fry for one minute, moving around to prevent burning. Add the spices, cook for a minute, then add tomato puree and mix well.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, and simmer for five minutes while you prepare the vegetables. Strip away the cauliflower leaves, chop in half, and break into florets. Cut the potatoes into small pieces (not too small – without the skin, they’ll turn to mush.)

Add the cauliflower and potato to the sauce with 200ml water. Put the lid on and cook for thirty minutes, until the veg begins to soften. Meanwhile, trim and halve the beans and wash the kale.

Put in the rest of the vegetables, with the juice of half a lemon, and season well. Cook for another ten minutes. When everything is tender, remove from the heat and serve with naan bread or rice. Enjoy!

 

Corn bean chilli

As busy people, we don’t all have time to cook a balanced meal every evening. In my case, I don’t want to do anything more than boil pasta when I get in from work. How to get round this? Be organised! On your days off, cook extra portions to save for later. Plan quick and low-prep meals. Putting in a bit of effort in advance will save you time and stress later.

I adopt this technique as much as I can – although when you’re cooking for yourself, it’s much easier. This chilli is an excellent bulk-batch meal, as it’s easy to make, freezes well, and tastes really good. I’ve pared it back significantly, adding sweetcorn to bulk it out. It’s delicious, and exactly the sort of meal you want to come home to.

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Corn & bean chilli, served with spinach and potatoes

To serve three, you’ll need:

  • one brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • tbsp tomato puree
  • tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • one and a half tins of kidney beans
  • 250g sweetcorn, fresh or frozen
  • salt and pepper
  • one lime.

Begin by finely chopping the onion. Cook gently for ten minutes, stirring regularly. Add finely chopped garlic, and cook over a moderate heat for another minute. Add the smoked paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper, cook for one minute, and squeeze in the tomato puree. Stir until everything is well combined.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes.

Set a pan of rice or quinoa to cook in a steamer (or potatoes, if you wish), with the sweetcorn overhead. Add the kidney beans to the chilli and simmer for another ten minutes. Finally, tip in the cooked sweetcorn and season generously. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime.

Serve the chilli over your chosen grain, perhaps with sliced avocado and chopped coriander. Put leftovers into plastic containers, and put in the fridge or freezer for when you need it most!

Roasted veg couscous salad

When most people hear the word salad, they think of limp lettuce and low-fat dressing. When I contemplate salad, I picture a big bowl of assorted veg on a grain. A salad for me isn’t a satiating meal without an accompanying carb, be it rice, pasta, or quinoa. On the other hand, lunchtime carbs can induce mid-afternoon energy drops for some people. If that’s you, then make sure you’re stocking up on carbohydrates for breakfast!

This salad is one you can eat for lunch or dinner, and pack in a whole lot of nutrients. It’s full of flavour, with both bite and soft textures.

To serve one portion, you’ll need:

  • 75g dry couscous. (I didn’t weigh mine, and ended up with a huge pile as a result. Remember that this stuff expands!)
  • 5 or 6 closed cup mushrooms, or half a pack of button mushrooms
  • One small / half a large courgette
  • Half a can chickpeas
  • Half a small red onion
  • Handful of parsley
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Pinch of chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock
  • Olive oil.

Begin by preheating the oven to 180C, and slicing the courgettes and mushrooms. Place the courgette in one tray, drizzle with oil, season, and sprinkle over rosemary. Give everything a stir to coat, and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Slice or halve the mushrooms, depending on size, and put in another tray with sliced onions. Drizzle with more oil, season, and add paprika and chilli flakes. Slide into the oven underneath the courgettes. (It’s better to roast mushrooms separately, as they tend to release water when cooked – which can make everything else in the tray soggy.)

Meanwhile, place the couscous in the bowl you intend to eat out of, and pour enough boiling water over to cover by 1cm. Add a tsp of vegetable stock, stir well, and place a tea towel over the top. Leave to absorb for ten minutes.

Chop the parsley, and drain the chickpeas. Feel free to prepare other ingredients to add, such as chopped avocado, pumpkin seeds, or tomato.

Fluff up the couscous with the fork – if it is still dry, add a little more water. When the vegetables are cooked and tender, remove from the oven and add to the couscous with the beans and parsley. Preferably eat in the sunshine!

 

Best tomato pasta sauce

Looking for an easy and incredible pasta sauce recipe? Look no further.

I found this gem in my treasure trove of magazine recipe clippings, originally from The Times Saturday Magazine, and I thought it just had to be shared. As it’s pretty tomato-dense, it’s got a very intense flavour, although a few nuanced additions do well to enhance it. I followed the method below, making alterations to serve one less person.

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To serve four, you’ll need:

  • 1kg vine-ripened tomatoes. Yes, that’s a lot, but you get out what you put in. Make sure they are of a good quality, too – the difference between imported tomatoes and local, seasonal varieties is vast.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Half a bunch of fresh basil
  • Wholewheat spaghetti.

Begin preheating the oven to gas mark 8, or 230C. Roughly chop the tomatoes, peel and crush the garlic, and zest the lemon. Place everything in a roasting tin, with 2tbsp of the olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes – the tomatoes ought to be browned, and there will be a layer of thick juices lying at the bottom.

Transfer everything to a large bowl, add chopped basil, and use a hand blender to puree into a smooth sauce. (You can also use a food processor for this.) Add seasoning if needed, before serving with pasta. This is absolutely delicious, and a perfect sauce to have on hand in the freezer for quick dinner fixes.

 

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