My first attempt at veganism left me living on chips. This time, Zoe Williams explores a whole new world of culinary possibilities, from vegan cheese to falafel koftes
Im going to describe the process of making vegan cheese. Later, Ill tell you how popular veganism is, how its the dietary habit of the age, how all its staples and hangouts have changed and how to cook a vegan dinner for omnivores in a way that wont leave them feeling shortchanged on deliciousness or still hungry. But first I have to talk about the cheese, because I found it quite traumatic.
You grind cashews in a food processor, then add garlic powder, salt, onion powder and deactivated nutritional yeast. The latter ingredient wont make anything rise; it brings nothing to the party except its distinctive flavour, which vegans call cheesy, but is more accurately yeasty. That done, you heat soya milk with oil and several flakes of agar-agar a tasteless vegan alternative to gelatine which dissolve into the liquid over 10 minutes, except they dont, not really.
Nothing coheres the way you expect. Substances float around each other until you crush them all with a blender. Add a bit of white miso, lemon juice, truffle oil, chives: survey your wreckage, which will be the wrong colour (cream with a hint of grey) and the wrong consistency (gluey). Then set it for a few hours, whereupon it becomes something else entirely. It still doesnt taste of cheese, and it has a spongy bounciness that is unlike any cheese I have met (not even Edam comes close), but its actually fine. There is nothing wrong with this substance. Slice it over some asparagus and toasted walnuts and you have a perfectly edible thing. But the process took me miles away from anything I understood about food, into the realms of papier-mache or slime. As Otto von Bismarck supposedly said of the sausage, if you want to enjoy it, its best not to see it being made.
The experiment was part of my attempt at being a vegan and a foodie. I wanted to find out if there was a way for veganism to open up a world of culinary possibilities, rather than shutting them down. It is possible to be quite an unhealthy vegan, as I discovered the first time I tried cutting out meat and dairy, for fitness purposes. If you dont plan it, you end up living on chips. This time, I vowed, would be different.