Today marks the beginning of The Occasional Vegan blog hop – two weeks of recipes, giveaways, reviews and articles from some of the UK’s best foodie blogs. To kick things off we have an interview with author Sarah Philpott, and a free recipe – Kentucky Fried Cauliflower.
The Occasional Vegan, your new cookbook, has just been released and we couldn’t be happier. You describe in the introduction how you dived straight into veganism, giving up meat and dairy cold turkey after making the decision that you wanted to eat more ethically. What was the hardest part about changing your diet so radically and so quickly?
Well, it was a bit of a shock to the system and it took my body a little while to adapt so I was quite tired and hungry at first. That didn’t last for long though, and as my taste buds changed, I soon realised that there was so much food for me to eat. It’s easier now than ever because there are so many vegan alternatives out there and plenty of biscuits, cakes, and even cheeses, to enjoy.
Would you recommend the same approach to others who are considering the vegan diet? And which resources would you recommend, to help with the transition?
Everybody is different and it’s important to do what feels right for you, your body and your lifestyle. If you want to try eating vegan, you can introduce new things gently and gradually, perhaps buying almond milk for your cereal or making a spaghetti bolognese with lentils instead of minced beef. There’s plenty of support out there and we’re a friendly bunch in the vegan community – we don’t preach, we teach! Veganuary is a great resource and there are plenty of great vegan cookery books and blogs out there – some of my favourites are Avant Garde Vegan, Anna Jones and Aine Carlin – and Instagram is full of inspiration, too.
Criticism of veganism often leans towards comments about ‘rabbit food’, kale, and boring salads. What do you have to say to people who think vegan food lacks variety and flavour?
It’s such a myth that vegans don’t like food! Of course, vegans can eat salad all the time, but most of us don’t! And if your salads are boring, you’re not making them right. Cooking as a vegan forces you to be more creative and to play around with different flavours and textures. What’s not to love about that?
What do you cook for your non-vegan friends and family? Do you have a go-to dinner party menu that has proven to be a hit?
Luckily, most of my friends and family don’t mind that I cook without meat and my boyfriend is a vegetarian so that makes things a lot easier. I tend to cook hearty but healthy meals like spaghetti bolognese, chilli, and warming stews and casseroles. My salads always go down well; I like to experiment with different flavours, and beetroot, orange and fennel is a current favourite combination. I also make a mean chocolate mousse.
All of us have times when we fancy eating something naughty – perhaps late at night, or maybe even the next morning. What’s your favourite go-to greasy food?
I don’t think that any food is ‘naughty’, because enjoying a bit of what you fancy is an important part of balanced eating. If I fancy something a bit greasy I’ll sometimes have chips or I’ll make a toasted sandwich with vegan cheese, and if I want a real treat I’ll make KFC – that’s Kentucky fried cauliflower! – which tastes amazing and is surprisingly easy to make. My favourite breakfast is avocado on toast with peanut butter and Marmite because it’s sweet and salty and a good source of protein and healthy fats – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
There are masses more vegans now than there have ever been before. Do you think the popularity of plant-based diets will lead to real social, ecological and agricultural change? What would you like to see happen?
I’d like to see more people embrace the idea of veganism, even if they decide not to eat that way all the time. Every little helps and reducing our consumption of animal products can make a real difference. People are a lot more aware of the impact that agriculture has on the environment and the cruelty that animals suffer and I think they want to change that.
And finally, what do you most hope people will get out of your book?
I hope people will try the recipes and discover that being vegan can be just as delicious – if not more so – as any other way of eating. Giving up meat doesn’t mean that you have to miss out!
Thank you Sarah for giving us some insight into your vegan experience. And now for a little vegan comfort food…
Kentucky Fried Cauliflower (KFC) with sweet potato fries
Delicious, cruelty-free and surprisingly easy to make, this Kentucky Fried Cauliflower uses most of the ‘secret’ spices in KFC’s blend. By grounding the flaxseed, you create an egg-like binder which makes the spicy coating stick to the cauliflower. There’s no other way to say this: these are delicious. Seriously good and definitely worth the mess.
–1 large head of cauliflower, cut into largish pieces
– 200ml vegetable oil, or more depending on how shallow your pan is
For the dry coating
– 3 tsp salt
– ½ tsp dried thyme
– ½ tsp dried basil
– ½ tsp dried oregano
– 2 tsp black pepper
– 2 tsp sweet paprika
– 2 tsp smoked paprika
– 1 tsp ground ginger
– 2 tsp brown sugar
– 150g plain flour
For the wet coating
– 2 tbsp ground flaxseed (or linseed) or chia seeds
– 3 tbsp hot sauce
– 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
– 1 tbsp maple syrup
– 70ml water
For the sweet potato fries
– 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tsp smoked paprika
– ½ tsp dried rosemary or thyme
– 1-2 tbsp plain flour or cornflour
– Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C. Make the chips by popping everything into a freezer bag and shaking it so that the potato fries are coated. Place them onto greaseproof paper on a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the wet coating for your cauliflower. Put the seeds into a food processor or grind in a pestle and mortar. Add to a bowl and mix together with the other ingredients. Stir well and give it a few minutes to thicken.
Make your dry coating. In a large bowl, mix the flour with all the spices, sugar and salt and pepper.
Pour the vegetable oil into a large pan (make sure it’s about 2-3cm high so that the cauliflower pieces are fully submerged when you dip them in) and place on a high heat. Make sure that it doesn’t get too hot – it shouldn’t bubble or splatter.
Now comes the messy bit. Take a cauliflower piece and dip it into the wet coating, making sure to cover both sides. Dip into the flour coating, again covering both sides. Now, repeat the process: roll in the wet coating and then again in the flour mixture.
Using tongs, take the cauliflower and submerge in the oil. Cook for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until brown and crispy. Place on a plate with some kitchen roll to absorb some of the oil. Repeat with all the pieces (you may need to top up the oil), then serve with the sweet potato fries.
The Occasional Vegan is available from all good bookshops, and also the Seren website (£12.99).