Because I have a Google email alert on the word "vegan," I read a lot of random things people write about veganism. Mostly, they are positive things, though they are occasionally weirdly negative. Lots of times, it's about a new restaurant in a city I've never been to that's opening up (yay!) or closing down (boo!). Really, I subscribe because I like to know about celebs who've gone vegan ("If Travis Barker, James Cameron, and Usher can go vegan, so can you!") But yesterday I got an alert on this one from a college newspaper, Gone Vegan: Halfway There by Shannon Corcoran, about a young woman who decided as a challenge to go vegan for one month, but struggles with it, and I thought it seemed to merit a helpful response.
I actually started cooking vegan before I went vegan, so officially "going vegan" didn't present any kind of "What will I eat now?" challenge. I also did it long after college. In college, I sure didn't know how to cook, so I can understand how this experiment would present such a challenge for her. I can remember those days, and the kinds of things I used to eat. So, I think I can help with some absolutely, positively beginners' vegan recipes. There is NOTHING fancy here, nothing you cannot find, nothing you cannot do, nothing that will scare you. Many of these things I actually used to cook myself back in the day. Girl, you can do this thing!
Garlic-Lemon Pasta with Broccoli
-1 box of whole wheat (or whatever you prefer) spaghetti or linguine
-5-6 cloves garlic
-a head of broccoli
-juice of one lemon
Cut your broccoli into florets and mince your garlic. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Steam your broccoli until it is as soft as you like, or, even easier, put some water into the bottom of a microwave-safe bowl with a lid, put the broccoli inside also, then microwave covered for about 5 minutes, then drain. Or, if you've cut your broccoli really small, you can just cook it in the oil you're about to heat, which is how I always did it. Heat a bunch of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. How much oil isn't exact, but enough to cover your cooked pasta. Put your minced garlic into it, and cook it very briefly indeed. Under a minute -- really, just until it's fragrant. Add the lemon juice into it. It's OK with me if you just squeeze the lemon right into it, as long as you take care not to drop the seeds in. Add some salt and pepper. Put your drained pasta into a large bowl, place the broccoli on top, and pour your olive oil/garlic/lemon over it, and toss. Add salt and pepper per serving to taste. EASY PEASY.
Couscous with Veggies and Chickpeas
-some frozen peas
-some green onions
-whatever veggies you've got, really, none of these are required
-a can of chickpeas, if you want them, drained and rinsed
-a lemon, if you want
Follow the package directions to cook as much couscous as you want. Cut up your zucchini and fry it in olive oil. Add peas if you want, or don't, it's up to you. Whatever veggies, just don't put those green onions in, those should be raw. Add some chickpeas in it if you want, or don't. Mix the veggies/chickpeas and the couscous together. Squeeze the lemon into it, or don't if you don't want to. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice some green onions on top (umm, or don't). I used to eat this constantly before I learned to cook, and I'm not gonna lie, I sometimes still do. EASY PEASY.
Asian Stir Fry with Rice
-whatever kind of rice you're into
-veggies! At least you need an onion, a clove of minced garlic, a pepper (or maybe two, of different colors), and some broccoli
-some more veggies! Other good things include eggplant (diced without skin), bak choy, snow peas, bean sprouts (they're usually sold in bags that are near the tofu when tofu is in the produce dept, although there lots in there and you may not be able to find use for them all), a yellow squash, or whatever else your heart is telling you to eat!
-a package of extra-firm tofu
-if you can, get some Ener-G Egg Replacer and some cornstarch, Otherwise, no big.
-peanut oil, sesame oil, or, if you must, olive oil
-unsalted but roasted peanuts (optional)
Cook the rice according to package directions. Press your tofu by wrapping it in a towel and placing heavy books on top of it while you dice your veggies. If you have Ener-G Egg Replacer, follow the package directions to make, like, 2 Replacer eggs. Cut up your tofu, then coat the tofu in the fake egg. Then coat it in corn starch. Warm your oil, then pan-fry your tofu. If you don't have the Replacer eggs, just fry it in oil without all that stuff, though it won't be as crispy. Fry your tofu for a while, until it's starting to look cooked, then add your garlic and onion first. Once the onion starts looking cooked, add your other veggies. Cook 'em up real nice. Add some soy sauce, why don't you? The moisture will help it cook faster. You'll totally get the hang of this, I promise! Then, just serve the stir fry over the rice with some peanuts on top. EASY PEASY.
Lazy Veggie Sandwich
-hamburger buns or whatever kind of bun you're into (check ingredients to see if they're vegan)
-a package of mushrooms, either pre-sliced, or you can slice them yourself
-a green pepper (or red, if you want to spend slightly more), diced
-an onion, diced
-a clove or two of minced garlic
-vegan cheese slices or vegan shredded cheese
Obviously, get your veggies all cut up like it says in the ingredients. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil into a pan and heat it over medium heat. Add your garlic and onion, cook until the onion is getting clear, then add your pepper. Once it starts looking like it's getting nice and cooked, add your mushrooms. Cook until they release their liquid. Put some of your mixed veggies on a bun, top with vegan cheese. EASY PEASY.
College Campus Breakfast
-an envelope or two or three of instant oatmeal
-whatever fruit they've got around that appeals to you
-some boiling water
Put oatmeal into a bowl. Add boiling water to the thickness you like. Cut up your fruit with a stupid plastic knife, unless they have pre-cut fruit. Either way, add what you have to the bowl and mix it up. Usually those envelopes are pre-sweetened, in which case, rad. If not, add some maple syrup, table sugar, or crazy chemical sweetener to the mix. Cinnamon if you're into that. Mix it up. EASY PEASY
Baked Apples In the Microwave
-an apple, maybe from the campus cafeteria, preferably one you've had before and know tastes good
-1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar, or brown sugar if you're fancy
-some maple syrup (optional)
-some raisins (optional)
Get yourself a damn carrot peeler and apple corer. Core and peel your apple. Place the slices in a microwave-safe bowl and mix the sugar and cinnamon into it. You should put however much of these things you like! Cover your bowl with plastic and microwave it for about 5 minutes. Be careful because it's going to be super-hot, and the air escaping from that plastic when you remove it can seriously burn you. But you can totally do it. Once uncovered, add some maple syrup and/or raisins if you want! EASY PEASY
Hey, also, if you just learn how to do a tofu scramble, you'll have breakfast forever. And as far as baking goes, for real for real, if you like to bake, vegan baking is actually EASIER than non-vegan baking and less expensive! I mean, look for recipes that don't call for anything unusual. These brownies from Vegan with a Vengeance are seriously the best things in the history of the universe, and so easy and cheap (note: arrowroot can be replaced with cornstarch).
And, speaking of Vegan with a Vengeance, girl, get your fingers to a keyboard and do two things. One, reserve vegan cookbooks from the library. Two, go to Post Punk Kitchen and browse recipes and go to the forum and let the helpful and hilarious folks there help you! I don't actually post there because just doing things like remembering all the lyrics to "It's The End of The World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" and writing a review of every book I read for Goodreads is exhausting enough for me without also posting on forums, but every time something brings me there I a) always learn things and b) always laugh because people there are wicked funny.
I mean, look. You'll get way better at cooking. And then you can do things like cook really, really healthy and eat raw food and look like you're 40 when you're 80 and everyone will always be all, "How are you so skinny?" and you'll be all, "I'm a mostly-raw vegan" and they'll be all, "I could never do that!" and you'll remember that article you wrote in college and be all, "Ha! I'm so glad I made the ethical, sustainable, and healthful choice to keep eating vegan, cooking in a minimalist way until I had the ability and resources to do better!" Or, hey, your journey could be totally different from that, but the point is that you must start somewhere, and you should, because we both know that SOMETHING drove you to take this month-long challenge, and I doubt very much that whatever drove you to it will resolve itself in your mind at the end of the month.
And if you don't do it 100% right away (or even ever), that's really OK. Obviously, I think it would be better if you did. But progress is progress, so I will not cast aspersions on you for eating what your family serves for Thanksgiving. I know that Thanksgiving, in particular, is rough. I stress like crazy about making vegan food for myself and traveling across the state with it to my family's table. It's stressful to ME, and I love to cook. So I understand. But the point is, what you eat on Thursday does not dictate what you'll eat on Friday, or the next week, or whenever. Just because you "slip" does not mean your voyage to compassion, sustainability, and health is over. You can get right back up again and move along. And I hope you will! And the friendly vegans of the internet have totally got your back should you require any advice or assistance.