Right now I am licking my lips in a most undignified manner. When I first thought up this scheme of mine of eating only vegan food for seven days, I knew the food would taste good (how could I not create delicious food?), but I didn’t expect it to be lick smacking good!
OK, backtrack. I have a pretty standard method when it comes to deciding what to make for dinner. I go to the store and check out what’s available in the fish section; if there’s nothing satisfactory I go to the meats. I buy the meat or fish first and build the meal around the protein. If nothing catches my fancy I usually settle for pasta-and-sauce or something that can go with beans or chickpeas. Or I just grab a bottle of wine and hope for the best. You need to understand – going meat-free doesn’t come naturally to me. I always knew the little piggy who went to market probably ended up as bacon, and I thought that was a most fitting end.
I thought it was time to challenge myself. Lord knows how I went to the vegan extreme. An ordinary person would say they’re going vegetarian and that would be good enough. Hell, a normal person would have considered meat free Mondays, then gone ahead and made a lovely pork belly roast on Tuesday. (My friend Tim makes a spectacular pork belly roast, by the way.)
I was utterly unprepared for this, but my 7 days of veganism started today. I didn’t have anything appropriate for breakfast, so I guzzled down some clemengold juice before leaving the house. For lunch I mixed up a glass of vanilla Ensure from my emergency office stockpile (I actually had some mushroom soup, but couldn’t find the list of ingredients to check fi it was vegan). Now apparently Ensure isn’t vegan as it contains milk products, but my label didn’t say that so it doesn’t count.
I digress. Dinner.
I swung by my local Woolies on the way home, as I barely had any veggies in my house. I got quite a good haul, but it cost me over R500, which proves the point that veganism is a rather expensive way of life.
While I was sitting at work this afternoon fretting over what to make for my first vegan dinner, my tastes leaned towards a vegetable biryani. I love a good biryani. Lamb biryani, usually, but I can’t stand the stuff people so often have masquerading as biryani. If lentils have been stuck in there I’m not interested. Saffron and layering are integral.
A quick google search and i found a couple of recipes to guide me. Here we go.
I got the rice started. I steamed some basmati with four cloves, half a star-anise, a bit of cinnamon quill, and three green cardamom pods. Don’t cook the rice through; just until it’s 2/3 done.
While the rice was cooking, I sliced up some onions and fried them in way too much oil. But I know that a great deal of oil is necessary, and besides, one of the recipes advised that I should “deep fry” the onions.
While the onions were frying I rinsed some cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, sweet corn, aubergine, and a yellow pepper and chopped them up.
Back to the flying onions. Once they were at that point between translucent and golden, I threw in some curry leaf, sliced yellow pepper and a handful of cashew nuts. Essential for protein, you understand. Be really careful with the cashews; they can burn really quickly without your noticing.
I then fished out the cooked stuff and threw whole cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and whole fennel seeds into the remaining oil. Take a moment to appreciate the sons and fragrance of the cardamom pods popping open. I followed that up by tossing a teaspoon of crushed garlic and a teaspoon of chopped ginger into the pot, then stirring furiously. The scent that emanates from the pot shows how magical an aromatic ginger is. I then went off-recipe and squirted in a good amount of tomato paste.
I allowed the tomato paste to cook out (essential step!) before throwing in the chopped veggies. I sautéed them lightly, then added about a 1/4 cup of coconut cream, a squeeze of lime juice, and a splash of water, before popping the lid on and allowing it to cook for 5 minutes.
While the veggies were cooking out, I finely chopped a handful of coriander with a tiny amount of mint, and also heated up a 1/2 cup of coconut cream with a good pinch of saffron. Oh, and pre-heated the oven to 200*C.
Layering time! I wasn’t about to make something else dirty, so I eased some of the steamed rice up on top of the cooked veggies, the layered the chopped herbs on top. I then sprinkled the saffron-indued coconut cream on the whole lot, before putting one last layer of rice and sprinkling once again with saffron coconut cream. I sealed the casserole with foil, popped the lid on top, then stuck it in the oven for 25 minutes.
Wait a painfully. long. 25. minutes.
When serving, dig right down to the bottom of the casserole to get all layers of the dish.
My verdict: DELICIOUS!!!!!!
I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much. I tossed my serving spoon in the sink after my first serving, and had to get a clean one out when I went for seconds. The coconut cream was MAGIC, adding that creaminess I missed from not using yoghurt, ghee or butter. It was super creamy, super rich, and super tasty. Did I miss meat in the dish? Well, I thought of lamb once while I was eating, but honestly this dish doesn’t need any meat. Or dairy, for that matter.
What I didn’t love about this – I didn’t pay enough attention to the protein content. The only protein came from the cashews, and that definitely wasn’t enough. I need to think more about making sure I have enough protein in my food this week.
Has it completely turned me off this vegan journey? Absolutely not. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s culinary adventure!