Nac Mac Vegan: adventures in rabbit food


Vegan Worcestershire Sauce, and some alternatives

Filed under: Ingredients, Products — Tags: , — Feòrag @ 10:51

Someone in a comment to one of my recipes noted that Worcestershire Sauce is not usually vegan as the canonical recipe includes anchovies. This is something of which I am aware, and is why I specified vegan Worcestershire Sauce in that recipe. I figured anyone who wasn’t already aware of the fish would wonder why I’d been so specific and soon find out. My reply got a bit long, explaining the options available, and as the information might be useful, I’ve turned it into a post.

Worcestershire Sauce has a very distinct flavour, and it would be natural to assume that the anchovies are a significant part of that. But it doesn’t seem to be the case and there are many vegan varieties of Worcestershire sauce out there.

They come in three basic sorts:

* cheap brands that leave out one of the more expensive ingredients (i.e. the anchovies): I’ve had supermarket own brands in the past that were vegan. Check the labels as you might be surprised (this hint probably does not work in Waitrose, but they sell one of the brands mentioned below anyway).

* expensive, usually organic, brands made especially for the veggie market. Examples include Life Free From and Geo Organics in the UK and Annie’s Naturals and The Wizard in North America. Several of these brands are also gluten-free – regular Worcestershire Sauce contains wheat.

* Japanese. This might be surprising, but Worcestershire Sauce is about the only thing that that Japanese don’t put fish in. Ignore what Wikipedia says – the Japanese brands are thin sauces, not thick like tomato ketchup. Some Japanese brands do contain fish – Bulldog, for example – but the other main Japanese brand, Kikkoman ウスター, is entirely free of animal ingredients (it’s in the “Delicious Sauce” range that also includes Tonkatsu sauce and Chuno). For the record, I use a Japanese one bought from a local Chinese supermarket.

An alternative, depending on where you live, is to use one of the other similar sauces. I particularly like Henderson’s Relish (see also), but it’s hard to get outside Yorkshire (though I see they’ll accept orders by post). For a slightly different flavour there’s another traditional British condiment, Mushroom Ketchup, for which recipes abound online, and there’s always the suggestion of the original recipe from which mine evolved: soya sauce.

If all this fails, a quick search reveals some recipes to make it yourself: one from Cooking with Rockstars, and another from Martha Stewart (though her hint for using it seems to be a little daft as, unless you’re allergic to fish or something, a regular Worcestershire Sauce would do perfectly well in that recipe!).




Airline lounges and other hazards.

Filed under: Airline food — Tags: , — Feòrag @ 18:37

I’ve pondered for a long time whether or not to make this post. It could be easily taken the wrong way, seen as some sort of conspicuous consumption on my part. But, the truth is that I do a lot of travel on business and sometimes, not that often, I get to go business class. Part of that experience is the lounge, with food and drink for which you’ve already paid in the fare. Here are a couple of meals I had on my way to Australia.

CDG Air France Lounge meal

Vegan meal in the Air France lounge at Paris CDG.

This first tray is from the lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle. The sandwiches were explicitly labelled as vegan (in French), and contained roast vegetables. Sometimes they have another vegan sandwich containing guacamole with chunky tomato. They’re both pretty good. Most of the biscuits on offer contained egg (mentioned in the traditional 4pt type, in French only), but the ginger ones shown are fine. Fruit salad is boring, but good, and if there’s dairy in that chocolate, I don’t want to know. The coffee is from a bean-to-cup machine and is excellent.

Hong Kong QANTAS Lounge mealA 12 hour flight and some footering at the transfer desk brought me to the QANTAS lounge at Hong Kong. At first I thought the pictured offering was all they had for me – Vietnamese spring rolls with a sweet peanut sauce and Tsingtao beer – but they also had a carrot and coconut milk soup which I found later.

On the way back, we were on a flight that left Melbourne at about 11pm, so there was very little food in the lounge. There was bottle-conditioned beer though, and I did want to sleep on the flight. We’d had a blow-out meal at Enlightened Cuisine (strongly recommended) before leaving for the airport. The Air France lounge at Hong Kong is completely useless for vegans. Even worse, every morning at 6am, several 747s arrive from Australia and disgorge their passengers for an hour while they refuel. This is why none of the shops or restaurants open until 7am. We were there for longer, but the only vegetarian-friendly eaterie I could find was landside, where I could not go.

This was particularly frustrating as the only reason I’d had anything to eat on the flight had been because another vegan on board had not been hungry and refused their meal. It did not go to waste. One big problem with Air France is that they don’t pass on special meal requests to codeshare partners, not even KLM who are the same company. On the way out, I’d asked about my meal at the transfer desk at Hong Kong, and fortunately they only need a couple of hours warning there so it was fine. But as I was an Air France passenger, it was not possible for QANTAS to add a note themselves about it.

The leg from Hong Kong to Paris was Air France though, and the food was excellent. I needed it.


Curry Udon

Filed under: Japanese, Recipes and techniques — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 12:35

Yesterday, the Japan Centre sent me a link to their Japanese Curry Udon recipe. It’s almost vegan. The main problem with it is the tsuyu. All the commercial bottled tsuyu contains fish, as far as I’m aware. Last night’s tea was based on this recipe, and this is my version of it.

For the curry:
2 cubes of hot Golden Curry roux
400ml water
1 onion, chopped in chunks
1 carrot, cut into chunky triangles
2 small potatoes, cubed
4 cherry tomatoes, or one ordinary one, chopped
a handful of dark tvp chunks
vegetable oil for frying

For the soup:
400ml konbu dashi, or 400ml water and half a sachet (4g) instant dashi powder.
2 tsp shoyu
2 tsp mirin (use a cheap one here)

2 bundles dried udon, or two packets of fresh udon

Put the tvp chunks to soak in plenty of warm water about 15 minutes before you need them, then drain well.

Put plenty of water into a large saucepan and start to bring it to the boil. Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the onions, carrots, potato, tomato and tvp chunks for a few minutes until the onions are however you like them. Add 400ml water, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.

By now, the water in the big pan should be boiling so add a dash of oil and the udon, and boil them until they are tender. Drain, put into cold water, then drain again.

Meanwhile, put the soup ingredients into a smaller saucepan and bring them to the boil. Simmer very briefly and remove from heat.

Back to the curry, when the vegetables are tender, add the cubes of roux one at a time and stir until they are completely dissolved. Add the soup and mix thoroughly.

Divide the noodles between two large bowls, then ladle the curry soup on top of them, and serve. It can be quite messy to eat.

You need to choose your curry sauce carefully – there are at least two varieties of Golden Curry, one of which contains beef and the other of which is vegan. The vegan one helpfully had the words “No meat contained” splashed prominently on the packet and seems to be made for the US market. Go for the hot variety, as Japanese curry is incredibly feeble compared to what we’re used to in the UK.

It would be much easier to make this by adding the soup ingredients to the vegetables right at the start, and that’s what I plan to do in future.

You can vary the curry ingredients according to what you have. The version given is a close interpretation of the classic Japanese curry. They have regular cubes of beef in theirs, and the TVP chunks are exactly right in this. Tofu, unless deep fried, doesn’t work too well, but gluten is good. I always add the tomato as it has a dramatic improvement without the flavour becoming too obvious.


Edinburgh for vegans

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: — Feòrag @ 13:59

If you’re here for the Festival and Fringe, you might like to know I have just added a new page: Vegan-friendly Edinburgh. It’s a listing of those eateries which are not vegetarian, but where a vegan can eat well. Such places tend to get missed out of specialist vegetarian guides, and the general guides tend not to be too good at knowing what makes a place vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. The listed restaurants, cafés and pubs are all places I frequent. There are bound to be gaps, especially on The Other Side Of Town, and I’d be glad to hear of other places.


Review: Trader Joe’s Vegetable Panang Curry with Jasmine Rice

Filed under: Products, Supermarkets and convenience stores — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 22:56

I’m on the road again, this time in Massachusetts, at a science fiction convention in the middle of nowhere near Boston. Despite the best efforts of the convention organisers, the hotel isn’t too good for vegans, but the room does have a microwave oven and a fridge freezer. I also realised food would be a problem here, and rented a car for the duration so I could escape to eat.

I’d brought along some crispbread and hummous and other cold bits but was getting fed up of that. There are two Whole Foods Markets and a Trader Joe’s in the area. I’m unhappy with the way the staff at US branches of Whole Foods Market are treated and I’d heard many good things about Trader Joe’s, so that’s what went into the borrowed satnav.

Trader Joe’s is very, very good about marking stuff up as vegan (and vegetarian, and gluten-free and a number of other things that people might take into account). They’re clueful enough to know that refined cane sugar in the US is not suitable for vegetarians. There wasn’t much of interest in the freezer section, but I decided to give the Vegetable Panang Curry a try. It’s also gluten-free as well as vegan.

It was thoroughly overpackaged, with one more layer than you’d get in a British supermarket ready-meal, and the tray itself was more substantial (a good thing, in my mind). It took about a minute longer to cook that claimed on the box.

But, oh! If you’re used to what you find in the freezer section of a British supermarket, you will be impressed. The meal could have come from my favourite little Malaysian eaterie in Amsterdam (near Nieuwmarkt) — it tasted authentic and full of flavour, with no skimping on the spices. And what’s best? According to the receipt, it cost me $2.49 (about £1.80).

Recommended. I think I’ll go back and get the Vegetable Pad Thai for tomorrow.


At last!

Filed under: Ingredients, Shopping — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 15:19

I am lucky to live very close to good local health foods shop. My relationship with it has been strained at times, as they often seem to stock everything except what it was I actually wanted. But today I love them deeply and dearly, for they have started selling the one thing I really wanted. Something which has been very difficult to get hold of outside of North America, and which has taken up a couple of kilos of my baggage allowance on many an occasion. Yes, vital wheat gluten is now available in the UK, approximately a minute from my front door! Not as cheap as buying it in the US, but definitely more convenient. They do mail order too.


Spring Nimono

Filed under: Japanese, Recipes and techniques — Tags: , , , , , , — Feòrag @ 12:28

Spring nimono

When I was checking out the Sankō-in website while writing up my visit there, I noticed a reference to a cookbook written by the current abbess Kōei Hoshino: 精進豆料理 (Vegetarian Bean Dishes). A shopping accident quickly followed, and the book arrived from Japan a few hours before a package from London containing something ordered on the same day. The recipes in the book are divided up into months, with others in chapters for each season. I noticed quite quickly that Hoshino is not as concerned with precise measures for each dish, or timings, or any of the other stuff that we are presumably supposed to know! What follows is, therefore, not a precise translation of a recipe from the book, but my attempts to recreate it with what information I was given.


2 sheets aburaage
3 small taro
1 large half boiled bamboo shoot
¼ tsp shōyu
2 tbl sake
sugar to taste
a small amount of water

You will also need a drop lid, or some foil.

As you can see from the photo, I chose to omit the sugar and replace the sake with a medium-quality mirin. You could easily use rice syrup or any other sweetener. The bamboo shoots are the sort described as “winter bamboo shoots”. You can get smaller ones than the one shown in Chinese supermarkets. They come sealed in plastic bags with saltwater. They tend to be smaller, so use two of these and adjust the cutting accordingly. There are several types of taro available in both Chinese supermarkets, and Indian/Pakistani grocers. The ones used in Japan are hairy, so I opted for the hairiest variety.

In Japan, the three main ingredients are at their peak in the spring, but this recipe could easily be used with all sorts of roots and tubers, including potatoes. I think small white turnips would be particularly nice.

Putting it together
How to cut the vegetablesPeel the taro and cut into bite-size cubes. Parboil the taro for around 5-10 minutes. Drain and then wash the pieces thoroughly. Cut bamboo shoot in half, then into quarters, vertically.

Remove oil from aburaage by holding it under a hot running tap then squeezing. Cut each piece lengthways into three strips and tie in simple knots, keeping the strips flat (click on the images to enlarge):

Tying the knot
Completed knots

Put the taro, bamboo shoots and aburaage knots in a medium-sized saucepan, with the knots on top. Add water to the pan to a level about halfway up the vegetables and bring to the boil very slowly. Spend this time wondering where your partner/cleaner/cats hid the drop lids, or fashioning one from foil. When the water boils, add the other ingredients, stir very gently to mix, and drop in your drop lid (or insert your piece of foil). The idea is to hold down the veg so they do not break up – if you have a set of saucepans, the lid from the size below the one you are using will do. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the taro is cooked through.

The meal in fullThis quantity will serve two as a main dish with rice, or up to six is used as part of a larger meal. I had it with asparagus and broccoli tempura, konnyaku in miso, brown rice and a clear soup with hana fu and green soya beans.


Vegan cakes!

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , — Feòrag @ 20:20

The other day I went for a walk around the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. I popped into the café for a drink, and was surprised to see this:

Vegan cakes at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Not the cheapest, but I had the Date Slice and it was delicious. They also sell gluten-free cakes now.


Sankō-in: a culinary pilgrimage

Filed under: Eating out, Reading matter — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 16:52

The sign at the gate to Sankou-in.Within my cookbook collection, there is one tome that stands out above them all: Zen Vegetarian Cooking by Soei Yoneda, the late abbess of Sankō-in, a Zen Buddhist temple near Tokyo, and Kōei Hoshino, who is the abbess now. It’s my favourite cookbook ever and my copy is well used. My World’s Best Inarizushi was derived from a recipe in this book (my main changes were to use brown rice and to use an expensive, naturally sweet mirin instead of sake and sugar) and whenever I post a picture of my lunch here, several of the items shown will have been made using recipes from the book.

The style is shōjin ryōri—Zen temple food. It’s completely vegan, and emphasises seasonality and balanced flavours. The presentation is exquisite, and it produces the best food in the world. I love cooking the recipes from the book, but there’s one hitch—I’d never had genuine shōjin ryōri (it’s expensive) so I didn’t know if my efforts were any good.

My plans for my recent trip to Japan trip included having at least one genuine shōjin ryōri meal, and hang the cost—it’s a special treat. Thanks to a very helpful member of staff at the hotel, I obtained a reservation for lunch at a Buddhist temple. The cost would be 5800円 (about £40), but I really didn’t care—the temple I was going to was Sankō-in.

Koganei is an ordinary suburb to the west of Tokyo, not a destination a tourist would happen upon, nor have any interest in. A busy place with downmarket department stores, made more mundane by the overcast sky on the day I visitied. Sankō-in is a tricky place to find, especially as the map in Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide neglects to mention the small Shinto shrine on the corner where you are meant to turn right. It’s also behind a large modern supermarket, not the sort of place you expect to find such a sanctuary. But when you go round the back of the supermarket, there’s the gate, with a few of your fellow diners gathered, waiting for the right moment.

Gathered at the gate to Sankō-in

A jolly female statue by the dining hallThe dining hall is round the back of the old wooden temple building, past a small cemetery. I paused. Soei Yoneda is almost certainly buried here. I also stopped to admire the delightful feminine statues dotting the grounds, a permanent jolly note, regardless of the weather.

I entered the vestibule of the dining hall, removed my shoes and donned the provided slippers, before entering. On giving my name, I was taken to my table—a fairly low and sturdy affair, with five miniature tatami mats taking the place of a cloth. My name was written on paper and weighted with a stone at one corner. A single red lacquer tray was placed upon the table.

The food is prepared by local women who are interested in learning shōjin ryōri and experiencing some aspects of temple life. The courses were brought out one at a time, and the signal to start eating was after one of the women had said a few words about the food.

The first course was a sandwich biscuit containing sweet red bean paste. The biscuit was very light and barely there, almost as light as the polystyrene outer of the Flying Saucer sweets I remember from when I was young.

Next up was tea—a supremely frothy, virulently green and bitter matcha served in a deep blue bowl. This shock to the palate ensured no sweetness lingered, a nuclear option to provide clarity for the subtle delights coming up.

The third courseChopsticks were delivered in time for the third course. There was a wonderful familiarity as all the dishes were featured in the book: Mountain yam rolls (p.135), simmered pumpkin (p126), burdock with spicy sesame dressing (p.152), and simmered dried-frozen tofu (p. 178). I’ve tried to make three of those dishes myself and, while my efforts were reasonable—a credit to Yoneda and Hoshino’s writing— they lack the subtlety of the real thing.

The fourth course can be found on page 195. Sesame “tofu” in a thick sauce, served with a knob of grated ginger. Non-tofu tofus are a staple of zen temple cuisine, and are made by thickening sesame milk or juice with kūzu then letting them set. Sesame tofu has a much softer texture than even silken tofu, making this a challenge to my chopstick skills.

Very fresh bamboo shootsCourse five wasn’t in the book—konnyaku and bamboo shoots dressed with sweet white miso and yūzu. The bamboo shoots were the freshest I’ve ever had, with no hint of woodiness. Looking out of the window behind me, I saw newly disturbed earth in the bamboo grove. Could they be that fresh? I think they were.

The sixth course was another classic, a slight variation on the recipe for aubergine with miso sauce in the book. Instead of using halves of aubergine, a small aubergine had been grilled whole then slit almost all the way through. The white miso sauce was then applied and grilled some more, producing a melt-in-the-mouth delight, and another chopsticks challenge.

Next was a simple clear broth containing a single horizontal slice of the same fresh bamboo and sansho leaf, and the eighth course was something I did not recognise at first. It appeared to be a yellowy-green non-tofu tofu on a slice of daikon, topped with darker green stuff and surrounded by broth. Earwigging on the next table (a party of journalists from a Hong Kong travel magazine and their interpreter), I learned it’s something else on my Japan hit list—awa-fu! I’ve been experimenting with making this mixture of cooked millet and wheat gluten, and am pleased to report that my latest effort is spot on. The miso-based sansho topping is another recipe in the book and the broth was exquisitely simple with no dashi.

The ninth course was three pieces of lotus root tempura. To make each piece, very thin slices of lotus root had been quartered, then three of these quarters layered on top of one another before battering and deep frying. The lotus root remained crispy.
Rice, tea and pickles

Course ten was rice, tea and pickles—a respectable lunch in its own right. The rice contained slithers of the fresh bamboo. The three pickles were ume, layers of dashi-simmered konbu with sansho (a variation on p. 108!) and something I did not catch at first but which was a finely minced daikon pickle. The tea was hojicha—roasted green tea.

The eleventh and final course was a mystery—a special tea to be drunk in a special way which involved not removing the lid! Not even for a peek. It was very bitter, very cleansing and a perfect finale to a very special meal.

Mystery tea


Buying sea vegetables

Filed under: Ingredients, Shopping — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 02:35

Looking at the search terms which bring people to this blog, I’ve noticed a lot them are questions about buying sea vegetables, usually in London.

Now, I don’t live in London, and only visit two or three times a year, but I do know the answer to that question, and it includes general information that can be applied to anywhere.

  • Organic and whole foods stores usually have the Clearspring range, which includes the Japanese staples, plus dulse (one of my favourites). Clearspring products are more expensive than many, but the quality is outstanding. There’s a list of stockists online.
  • The Japan Centre on Regent Street, next to Mitsukoshi, has the Clearspring range, several Japanese brands plus some obscurities. There is a small cluster of Japanese shops nearby on Brewer Street which also sell a range of sea vegetables.
  • Chinese supermarkets are another good source, and there are a number of those in Chinatown. The quality is more variable than in the health food shops or Japanese stores, but there are Chinese supermarkets in many cities.

Finally, last time I was there, there was a stall on Borough Market which sold Welsh laver bread. I can’t find it on their list of traders, but there again, I can’t remember what else they sold.


Public Service Announcement: Goodness Direct

Filed under: Eating out, Shopping — Tags: — Feòrag @ 01:32

I do not usually use this blog for political issues, or for discussion of the ethics surrounding veganism. I especially do not use it to discuss religion, but today I will make an exception.

Some religious groups, notably the 7th Day Adventists and some Buddhist organisations, operate vegan businesses. These groups tend to be open about who they are, and you will find material about their beliefs, and how veganism or vegetarianism fits in with them, and yet they tend not to be pushy about them (it would drive away customers, especially me).

They weren’t always so, of course – a quick look at the introductory material in many 19th century vegetarian cookbooks will reveal many pious assertions. While there are always the fringes, these groups are “mostly harmless”, and the businesses primarily staffed by people trying to live by their own principles. There have been allegations of the exploitation of illegal immigrants in some businesses (see the first comment to this entry), but this shit is rife in catering generally.

There are other places that are both by religious groups and are openly used by those groups as a means of recruitment. Again, they’re open about what they’re doing, and I quite simply avoid those restaurants as I find such behaviour incredibly annoying.

There is a third category of business, not limited to the vegan and vegetarian market, which are operated by some of the more dubious religious organisations as a means of raising funds or of gaining access to vulnerable people. They rarely mention this, or will couch it in weasel words, because they know potential customers will be put off. Lists of businesses that are fronts for various organisations of concern can be found easily online.

Today, I learned that special diets foods retailer Goodness Direct is a front for the coercive cult, the Jesus Army (some of the comments might be triggering, so tread carefully if you have issues). Now, this is the type of religious group to which I really object and do not want to fund in any way. Even the Evangelical Alliance won’t have anything to do with them! I haven’t used the site myself, but I know many vegans do and that many vegans also try to use ethical businesses wherever possible.

I am privileged to have a reasonable (for the UK) whole foods shop close to where I live, but for more unusual animal-free products, I have good personal experience of shopping with Vegan Store, which appears to be a small, independent, vegan-owned company.

And now I shall resume normal service. I’m still in Japan thanks to that unpronounceable volcano, and have a backlog of restaurant reviews.


Japan: Hotel breakfast buffets

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , , — Feòrag @ 01:24

I go to a lot of science fiction conventions, all over the world, and the breakfast buffet is something I universally avoid unless I’m really starving and need some beans on toast. All there is for me usually is cereal (if I’ve remembered some soya milk), the toast, beans, hash browns and maybe the mushrooms depending on how they’re cooked.

I am currently in a hotel in Ōmiya, a little north of Tokyo. I already know that the traditional japanese breakfast is miso soup, rice and pickles, plus some leftovers, and breakfast is included in the room rate so I thought I’d give it a go.

Today’s breakfast was: simmered silken tofu topped with ginger; various pickles including a bright blue plum of some sort; hijiki salad; herb konnyaku with mustard, some toasted nori (sprinkled on the second batch of tofu) and a bowl of multigrain rice. If I had brought my little bottle of shōyu with me, I’d have had nattō, too (suspect fish in the little sachets provided). To drink I had acerola juice and the coffee, which was naff, so I changed to hojicha (roasted green tea). I will be buying stocks of hojicha when I get home!

I will also be eating breakfast this weekend.

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