From burger rants to eating plants
"I used to be a notorious carnivore. Burgers every week, nuggets all day and bacon on everything. Yet, this is about the creative renaissance I’ve experienced in the kitchen thanks to turning vegan."
BY FREEK RONNER
I used to be a notorious carnivore. Burgers every week, nuggets all day and bacon on everything. Somewhere deep down it didn’t sit right with me, but why would I stop if I loved the taste and texture of meat so much? I ranted on about ‘the perfect burger’ on a regular basis. Heck, at one point I visited five Michelin star restaurants in the span of one year and consumed more kinds of game than anyone could come up with.
And don’t even get me started on cheese. I’m pretty sure I would’ve killed for just a bite of queso de cabrales.
Late 2016 something changed though. Blame the overkill of cute piglet videos on Facebook, blame the almost symbiotic relationship with my pet cat, but I couldn’t get myself to eat pork anymore. Soon afterwards, beef became a no-go. Shortly thereafter, I was done with poultry too. And less than a year ago I realized I couldn’t continue eating or drinking anything derived from animals. Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin and more, I was simply done.
This isn’t about that though. I can preach and explain as much as I like, but I believe this is a choice you can only make in your own time, of your own volition. Nobody could’ve convinced me a year ago, I needed to go through this process myself. No, this is about the creative renaissance I’ve experienced in the kitchen thanks to turning vegan. Because despite all of the horror stories about dry tofu and having to spend way too much time or money on vegan food, I’ve found it to be an eye-opening experience.
Highlights of the dish
The first thing I realized was that the standout ingredients in a lot of meat dishes weren’t, in reality, the meat. Herbs, marinades and sauces define so many of the traditional dishes out there; whether it’s the sweet and sticky sauce you have with your Peking duck, the herbs you throw in chili con carne or the marinade you use for ribs, those are the highlights of said dishes.
Just the other day I even prepared shawarma by stir frying pumpkin, paprika and sweet potato with a heap of shawarma herbs. Throw all of it in some pita bread, add a bit of homemade garlic sauce and you’re good to go. The same is possible with cauliflower buffalo wings, minced mushroom tacos and many, many more recipes.
One of the other realizations I had, was how much more Asian cuisines have to offer me than I gave them credit for. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore a good old fashioned full English breakfast (with its fair share of alterations, obviously), creamy pasta or comforting paella, but most Asian kitchens seem to have been invented for a plant-based diet.
Butter is skipped in favor of oil, coconut milk’s used instead of dairy, and vegetables take center stage way more often. Go visit any Indonesian (tempeh!), Japanese (inarizushi!), Thai (tom kha gai!) or Vietnamese place (banh mi!) and you’re bound to find a plethora of vegan or easily-turned vegan dishes.
Trial and error
This has also led to me experimenting within these cuisines way more often. Marinating tofu for a day or two, using different types of noodles, preparing every curry I can think of: most Asian kitchens lend themselves perfectly for a trial-and-error approach. An over-seasoned pasta is nigh impossible to save, for example. If you use too many herbs for a curry however, simply throw in some extra coconut milk and soak it up with naan bread.
If a French dish is too salty, it’s just that: too salty. Because of the more contrasting and stronger flavors in Asian kitchens though, it’s easier to balance out a dish that somewhere along the line went wrong. Your tempeh’s too spicy? Add a bit of ginger syrup. Have too sweet a curry? Throw in some soy sauce.
The best thing by far though? That would be the interest my friends have in all the new stuff I’ve been making and the joy I can bring them by serving it. From homemade garlic bread and “chicken” nuggets to pita crisps and a red pesto pasta with vegan chorizo, I’ve been serving new dish after new dish throughout the last year. It’s a cliché, but food brings people together like crazy. And me adopting a vegan diet hasn’t led to me being isolated, “different” or an outcast, but to my friends looking more forward than ever to having dinner with me. It’s the perfect win-win situation.
While deadlines can leave him with a bad taste in his mouth, FREEK RONNER thought working on AWE's Food issue was pretty sweet. In his daily life he's a copywriter and marketeer, which can lead to some bitter monologues regarding big business.