Friday, 22 April 2011

Vegan Kitchen Basics

When I first started going vegan, almost a year ago, I couldn't cook, and didn't regularly.  I live with my grandmother, who is an old-fashioned kind of cook - big slabs of meat, and veg boiled brown.

I liked cooking occasionally, and would sometimes whip up some fancy little thing, mostly cakes, but I didn't do it regularly.  In fact, some of the first vegan recipes I made were cakes (these, if you're wondering).

What I'm getting at is, I only learned to cook when I realised that no one else was going to be able to make yummy vegan foods for me.  I actually found vegan cooking a lot more fun than as an omnivore.  I had to be more creative, which was pretty fun, and I've found that vegan recipes tend to be more interesting.  Vegan communities too, I've found to be more supportive, presumably because we're doing something outside of the norm.

Anyway, since I started cooking for myself, I've found the following items to be essential.

One thing that isn't essential is a rolling pin.  Highball glasses work fine.
A good set of knives.  You don't need many.  One little sharp one and one serrated one are the only really essential things, and you can probably omit that second one, too.  I just find it easier to cut onions with a blade that grips them.  Otherwise the little suckers fly across the kitchen like woah.

A saucepan and a frying pan.  The saucepan is for cooking pasta, rice, quinoa, potatoes, sauces, or chilli, or whatever.  The frying pan is for sautéing onions, and for pancakes, or pan fried potatoes, things like that.  Generally speaking, if I'm sautéing onions, they're going into a larger recipe, so I do it in the saucepan anyway.  It's probably easier to fry pancakes in a frying pan, but I bet you could do it in a saucepan if you really wanted to.

A vegetable steamer.  Good for steaming vegetables.  And seitan.  With seitan, you're probably going to need to make smaller loaves, or sausages or patties, and swap the layers of the steamer halfway through cooking, to cook evenly.  Or you could get another larger steamer, too.

A good set of spices.  I picked these up piecemeal, as I made recipes that called for them.  I mostly use salt, pepper, and garlic granules, but things like sage, cumin, and onion powder show up in a fair few seitan recipes, and paprika tends to show up in anything 'cheesy'.  Ginger, cinnamon, and all-spice can really brighten up a PB&J, or some oatmeal, too.

An oven-proof tray.  You will probably want more than one of these.  It's easiest with a tray or a cookie sheet, and a cake tin.  Maybe a tray with edges if you fancy drizzling things in olive oil.  I use these for baking bread, cakes, and cookies, making chips (fries), cooking some kinds of seitan, and making pies.

Some kind of seive.  This is to drain pasta, rice, or whatever, so get a fine one.  We actually have two, one that's good for rice, and one that's good for bigger things like potatoes.  You can live with just the smaller one, though.

Scales, and a set of measuring cups and spoons.  These really are important.  Why?  Because most vegan recipes you'll find are either American or slightly modified from American recipes, and use cups and spoons.  It is possible to cook without them - for instance, knowing that pancakes call for equal amount of flour and water, I just poured the flour into a jug until it hit the 150ml mark, then topped it up to 300ml with water.  That probably won't work as well for more complex recipes, or recipes you haven't made before.

The Internet.  I still don't own any vegan cookbooks.  I'd like to, and there's a few non-vegan ones I picked up in charity shops, but I just can't justify the cost right now.  Not when there are so many google-able recipes out there.  You could try searching for 'easy vegan recipes', but I prefer to have an idea in mind first, just to narrow the search results down.  Even if you can't find a good vegan version of something, have a look at omni recipes, and then google 'egg replacements' or whatever, and experiment.  Look at a few different recipes, and try to get an idea of which bit does what, so you can replace things more easily.  Over time, you'll accumulate more ingredients and confidence, and once-complex recipes will start to look easy.

Most of these things go for omni or veggie cooking too, naturally.  We're really quite similar in some ways.

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