Introduction to vegan cooking

It's difficult to define vegan cooking as a particular type or style of cooking, as there are so many different dishes from various regional cuisines that are or can be made suitable for vegans. The only thing that defines vegan cooking is that it does not involve the use of any animal products.

Like many forms of cooking, vegan cooking can be as simple or as creative as you want it to be, from beans on toast to Thai green curry, spicy falafel, sausage and mash, burritos, stuffed crust 'ham' and pineapple pizza, soups, curries, pasta, sandwiches and wraps, chocolate cake... You don't need an ingredients list as long as your arm and follow exotic cooking techniques to make a tasty vegan dish, but if you enjoy cooking you do not have to be limited or restricted in your creativity - in fact, you can explore a whole new range of ingredients you probably never knew existed! Having said that, you don't have to rush out and buy lots of expensive, unfamiliar ingredients to cook a tasty vegan meal - vegetables, pasta, rice, fruit, beans, potatoes, bread, herbs and spices are all vegan staple foods that will be familiar to most people.

To understand vegan cooking, it may help to take a slightly different view of the components of a meal than the conventional British one, i.e. the ‘three things on a plate’ formula of meat, potatoes and vegetables, or the idea of a piece of meat (or any single ingredient) being the central focus of a dish. Also, try to avoid thinking in what I call 'cookery book food groups': many recipe books categorise their recipes as '(red) meat', 'poultry', 'fish' and 'vegetables', sometimes with a 'dairy and eggs' chapter, which I suspect contributes to the assumption that if you don't eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs, you must live entirely on vegetables...

Vegan meals tend to be more self-contained, for example a curry, chilli, risotto or stir fry, contain a variety of ingredients mixed together in the one dish (rather than just one main ingredient served with separate potato and vegetable side dishes) and often served in combination with rice, pasta, noodles or bread. As a result, many vegan dishes are colourful, include varied combinations of flavours and textures and have the advantage of only needing to cook one dish rather than several separate main and side dishes. Vegan recipes often make use of various herbs and spices, which adds plenty of variety.

Vegan cooking often leads to healthier meal choices and corresponds to many current dietary recommendations. Vegan meals often contain plenty of fruit and vegetables and wholegrains (so plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre) and are lower in saturated fat, calories and cholesterol than conventional cooking. Having said that, it is technically possible to live on chips, chocolate and fizzy drinks and still be a vegan, and like any way of eating it's what you make of it that counts.