Veguary, a retrospective

Veguary. 28 days (29 this year) sans creatureflesh. One truly cringe-inducing portmanteau.

Mushroom peposoWhy? Well, variety and a nagging ecological anxiety for starters. I waft at that in the first post I could find that mentions it, which amazed me by dating back to 2012.

It’s not particularly strict. I give myself some “don’t be a dickhead as a dinner guest” get-out clauses, and I’m certainly not trying anything as rigorous as “Veganuary”. The fun part is getting more innovative in the kitchen.

So this year I did it again. I’ve posted a couple of the recipes, and there are more to follow, but here’s a little overview of how it went.


So, how did it go?

Short version: it was kind of boring. It turns out that going veggie for a bit isn’t that hard when you really like vegetables. Year one was a real wrench; I was fucking jonesing for chorizo. But after that I just quietly worked a lot more vegetarian dishes into my regular diet, and by year four it wasn’t much of a twist on the usual repertoire. Oddly, this year the only thing I really missed was smoked haddock.

As ever, eating out is the hard part. So many places have such a cursory veggie offering, and Cambridge seems particularly bad. We do have a vegetarian restaurant, but if you need further deterrent than the knowledge that it is called the Rainbow Cafe then I’ll simply offer the observation that they proudly display endorsements from Gillian McKeith. It’s that full seventies hairshirt veggie experience, all hefty stodge as though they’re more concerned with the experience on the way out than on the way in. No thanks.

IMG_4855Curry houses and noodle bars usually do pretty well, and the Backstreet Bistro is pretty veg-credible, but otherwise Cambridge is a struggle.

Cooking at home is a lot easier, but living on my own and with a tendency to over-cater, there were a couple of pretty repetitive weeks this Veguary. Hello, four nights of mixed veg dhansak.

For quick suppers it’s easy to lean on pasta with a rough tomato sauce (fried, halved baby plum tomatoes FTW) and some arbitrary veg. Roasted cauliflower was a regular feature this year. Simple noodle soups featured prominently too. Rich veg stock or something with miso, pho or udon, and handfuls of shredded greens come together quite quickly into something satisfying.

Having done this a few years on the trot, I’m a little ahead on learning not to try and fake the meat. Or just replace it with beans or lentils. Sad lasagne, insipid stew, rice-stuffed peppers; these are the path of sadness. Do not walk that path.

I say that – it’s been the substitutions this year that have really shone out. The smoked tofu chowder and the mushroom peposo were pretty credible. I ate an amazing pepper and (green) bean gumbo. I think the key is taking meat dishes as a starting point and working out, rather than trying to fake them like for like. The root vegetable carbonnade, for instance, was a squishy car crash.

If you’re minded to try Veguary (it’s fun, honest) and don’t know where to start, I’d just pick up Veg Every Day and see where that leads you.

New Veguary recipes, 2015

Roast squash taco filling

I’ve published a couple so far:

It’s been a fungus-oriented experience, for sure.

I also made:

  • Spinach, cheese, and onion pie (stodgy)
  • Cauliflower and broccoli shawarma-style wraps (win)
  • Cauliflower cheeseburgers (basically the fritters)
  • Vegetable dhansak (probably the best curry I’ve ever made, and I forgot to take notes)
  • Char siu flavoured nut roast (epic win)
  • Mac & cheese burgers (nope nope nope)
  • Smoked tofu corn chowder (pretty decent)

…and quite a lot of dull quick stuff – simple pastas, a tortilla here and there. Amazingly, there was no ribollita this year.

A few of those will make their way onto the blog over the next week or two, once I iron out some of  the kinks.

Mac & cheese burgers
Making spinach mac & cheese burgers

A few flat-out didn’t work. The mac & cheese burgers are just too heavy to be a patty substitute. There’s a reason dirty burger joints use these (admittedly tasty) fried pasta pucks as substitute buns. Even with spinach and pesto to even it out, this was coma-inducing.

They’re great drizzled with a thin pesto though. Perhaps they’ve got a future as a buffet-table croquetas alternative. They’ll be easier to batch-make and handle, for sure.

I may also do a post based on Dave’s amazing veggie gumbo. Seriously, this was chuffing epic. Deep, thick, savoury, and based on a blend of toasty roux and okra fried within an inch of its gooey delicious life.

The gumbo was probably the star find of the month, although the char siu nut roast makes an interesting second. Yes, yes, that sounds like howling nonsense, but you can really get the flavours in there, and they balance beautifully with the sweetness of the parsnip. To work up your own, start with the Felicity Cloake version, switch the nuts around a bit, and throw your favourite char siu marinade ingredients at it.

The other find was Henderson’s Relish, a vegetarian alternative to Worcestershire sauce that my vegetarian friends assure me can be slathered on basically anything, to succulent effect.

Did anyone else do Veguary this year? Any particular favourites?

Smoked tofu chowder
Smoked tofu corn chowder

I’ll post the nut roast and the smoked tofu chowder over the next week or two.

3 thoughts on “Veguary, a retrospective”

  1. New things I tried:

    Fennel tart, my variation in comments here: (success)
    Stir fry with tofu: 1 smoked, one marinated (over-fried the tofu: further experiments required)
    Carrot and lentil soup in slow cooker (used too many lentils, too earthy, possibly slow cooker not best method, ended up chucking the extra)
    Veg thai curry (mostly out of a jar, but good quick option)

    Old favourites:
    Glamorgan sausages
    Mushroom white Lasagne
    Enchiladas (coffee and chocolate and caramelisation used for richness)

    And I can’t really remember what else I ate.

  2. Yeah, I cans ee carrot and lentil in the slow cooker going askew. Green or Puy lentils, I’m guessing? I’d figure red would be more forgiving? Perhaps not.

    Enchiladas makes me think – I wonder if you could work up a plausible mole sauce alternative around a moutabel/baingan bharta style smoky aubergine base.

    1. “Green or Puy lentils, I’m guessing?”

      Nope, tiny red lentils, so they would just mush in. I think I lost too much of the carrot flavour with the lentil balance: obviously it still tasted of carrot, but the lentil muted it. Also probably would have benefited from some freshness in the serve, such as leaf coriander at the end.

      Actually I love puy lentils and always forget to cook with them.

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