A decade ago, when I decided to go vegan for ethical reasons, the word “decadent” was one you’d never have used to describe the food available. More often than not, it fitted the joyless stereotype of lentils, quinoa and tofu, with the occasional Linda McCartney vegan sausage to liven things up. Now, though, ask a vegan what they ate last night and they’re likely to say anything from pizza topped with gooey melted “cheese” to crispy fried “chicken” or pulled jackfruit burritos. The vegan scene has truly exploded, introducing food that’s exciting, colourful and indulgent, whether you’re vegan or not.
When I launched my pop-up, Club Mexicana, in 2012 I wanted to challenge the boringly virtuous chickpea and chia seed perception of veganism. Inspired by my travels in the US, where vegan food is innovative and delicious, I wanted to prove that being vegan doesn’t mean missing out.
I realised the joy of Mexican food doesn’t stem from the meat, but the bold, punchy flavours created by salsas and pickles – the meat is just a carrier for those flavours. We try to be as creative as possible with our dishes, which include tacos with baja “tofish” – tofu fish – and roasted cornbread with pecan mole, smoked soya yoghurt, pickled pear and smoked tomato. When we first started holding supper clubs, a lot of people didn’t even notice the food was vegan, which is what I wanted.
Over the past few years, vegan ingredients have evolved rapidly, which has helped vegan cooking to become as exciting as it is. Vegan cheese used to be terrible, but now you can buy everything from vegan blue cheese and camembert to cheddar and ricotta – all tasting as piquant and decadently creamy as the real thing. At Club Mexicana, we serve deep-fried “mozzarella” sticks made with coconut oil, which are crispy on the outside and oozingly melty in the middle.
People also often wrongly assume that going vegan will mean depriving themselves of indulgent desserts and treats, but that’s no longer the case either. The naughtiest dish we offer is deep-fried ice-cream doused in chocolate sauce – it really doesn’t get more indulgent than that.
More and more restaurants are offering innovative vegan menus. Supermarkets now stock an amazing range of vegan food that’s expanding all the time. Brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s, are constantly bringing out new vegan products that are causing a buzz outside, as well as inside, the vegan world.
There’s never been a better time to be vegan, or just to introduce more plant-based alternatives into your everyday diet. With so many amazing colours, textures and flavours on offer, you never need to feel you’re depriving yourself of the food you love.
Get the inside scoop on Ben & Jerry’s indulgent non-dairy ice-creams at benjerry.co.uk/flavours/non-dairy