By Michelle Donkin
I’m a newbie vegan. Not one for half measures, until six months ago I was fully carnivore. Meeting lots of inspiring vegans convinced me I couldn’t ignore the nagging truth in the back of my mind any longer. I woke up one morning and decided I couldn’t justify eating meat or dairy.
At home I’m cooking up a vegan storm. However, there are gaps in my culinary knowledge and my busy schedule means that I sometimes fall off the vegan wagon or simply make mistakes.
I’ve often stood in the supermarket for an age, staring at ingredient lists and wondering if that jar of sauce is vegan even if it isn’t immediately obvious. While smart phone search engines help, having a vegan community to call on is priceless.
Luckily, I live in Brighton, one of the vegan capitals of the world. The sheer number of vegans around makes it relatively easy to find a willing vegan mentor when confusion strikes.
This month, my problem area was finding a healthy afternoon snack for work. I work in a school with a strict ‘no nut policy’. I wanted a relatively healthy savoury vegan snack that didn’t cost the earth and didn’t contain nuts. Time is also tight and I never get around to preparing a nut-free snack in the morning or the night before, like I should.
One social media call out later and I find myself meeting up with Brighton vegan, Miranda Morris. Miranda has been vegetarian since she was ten and vegan since 2013. She created the Facebook page and YouTube channel Munch with Moz, where she shares her latest vegan foodie finds, articles and recipes. She believes that an ethical plant based diet expands your palate and opens up a world of exciting new ingredients, flavours, textures and cooking options.
We met at a local coffeehouse – Black Mocha in Brighton’s famous North Laine. Ordering a couple of soya lattes, I explained my foodie predicament. We discussed the more traditional option of carrots and hummus but that didn’t really appeal to me. I wanted something with more of a savoury, salty and meaty kick. It turns out that I was craving the umami flavour found in liquid aminos, soy sauce and, as Miranda suggested, miso soup.
I’d heard of miso but what I didn’t know was that it is a Japanese fermented flavouring made from soy beans and koji (a fungus). It can be used as marinate, a stock or a soup. There are lots of types to choose from too, including white miso, barley, brown rice and red. All miso has that satisfying umami taste I craved and it’s high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals. I thought it contained fish but Miranda explained that while some does contains bonito (a fish of the tuna family), there are vegan options.
We headed to the most obvious nearby shop for all things vegan: Infinity Foods. Infinity Foods is a wholefood cooperative on North Road in Brighton which sells a large range of organic, wholefood, vegetarian and vegan products. Inside, we found an array of vegan miso options in paste or powder form. I opted for a jar of Clearspring’s Organic Brown Rice Miso paste and a pack of King Soba’s Mighty Miso Instant Organic Soup with Pumpkin and Vegetable, taking both home for a mini taste test.
The Clearspring paste was my favourite. Rich and flavoursome as a broth, I could easily have added some tofu and spring onions with rice noodles to bulk it up to a full meal. But for work, carrying a jar of half-used miso paste along with schoolbooks was going to spell disaster. I needed something a little more convenient and, yes, lazy.
The King Soba soup fitted the brief entirely. The packet contained six handy pouches and though it didn’t have the same depth of flavour, there was still one heck of an umami punch. Plus the tang of pumpkin and a few nibbles of onion hit the afternoon snack spot perfectly.
Miranda recommended checking bigger supermarkets for the itsu vegetarian miso for those who don’t have a wholefood shop on their doorstep. Labelled vegetarian it is accidentally vegan and it comes in a paste. That means you can get that great fermented flavour in individual pouches.
Let’s be honest, I’ll have to try and move away from the less eco-friendly individual pouches over time. Perhaps one morning I’ll be organised enough to make a flask of Clearspring miso broth before work. But for now, I’ll cut myself a little slack and know I’m on the right path. With Miranda’s help I’ve discovered a new afternoon snack for work. I’m getting there one vegan step at a time.
About the author: Michelle Donkin is a new vegan, freelance writer and Co-artistic Director of Cast Iron Theatre, Brighton.