Whether you’re attempting Veganuary, going full vegan or just want to cut down your meat consumption and be a bit healthier in 2022, learning a few new plant-based recipes is a good place to start.
But when it comes to animal-free food, the cashew milk cheeses, fake meats and egg substitutes that now adorn supermarket shelves aren’t exactly synonymous with wallet-friendly food shopping.
In many ways, doors into the world of animal-free eating have really opened up – it’s certainly easier to be vegan than ever before – but easy doesn’t always mean accessible. And many of us are watching the pennies right now, especially given the pandemic’s financial impact.
Henry Firth, who makes up half of vegan power duo BOSH!, along with pal Ian Theasby, agrees: “Vegan food has exploded and now it’s all over the supermarkets, which is great. You’ve got burgers, sausages, fish alternatives, milk alternatives – the problem is, that stuff can be quite an expensive way to eat, if you’re buying all of that in your weekly shop.”
So for their sixth cookbook – BOSH! On A Budget – the pair, both 37, wanted to “show people the grassroots of vegan cooking” instead. “It’s grains, it’s fruits, it’s nuts and seeds, it’s inherently cheap and it’s inherently healthy,” says Firth. “People don’t understand that.”
Their new collection of cheap vegan recipes doesn’t avoid meat and diary alternatives altogether, they’ve just gone very light on them. “We’re not absolutists”, says Firth – there’s a “little sprinkling of vegan cheese, the odd splash of plant-based milk”. But the dishes come in at just over €1 or €2 a portion – and many cost far less. And it was easy, says Theasby, “because vegan food is actually very, very cheap”.
Well, it can be. There are two recipes simply using tinned tomatoes, for example: “The cheapest thing you can buy!” says Firth. “If you treat them with a little bit of respect, for instance, sieving off the sauce and then roasting the tomatoes, you get some fantastic, deep, rich flavours.”
The pair are big fans of the humble chickpea – even cheaper when bought in bulk – and their recipes for chana masala and samosas make use of this nutrition heavyweight.
But saving money in the kitchen is often as much about how you cook, as it is about the ingredients you use. For example, you could cook a 10-portion vegan ragu and then use it in several dishes – from lasagne to bolognaise. A lot of their recipes are specifically designed to be freezer-friendly too.
“Get into the mindset of buying less,” suggests Firth, “and then try to use as much as possible of the thing that you bought. Use the whole veggie as much as possible.” Less waste means less money wasted as well, and it’s good for the environment – a big reason the duo went plant-based in the first place.
From the beginning, they’ve always created dishes they didn’t want to miss out on: think vindaloo curry – “the flavours are just absolutely incredible” – and the Italian cheesy classic, cacio e pepe.
Plus, if nutrition is your priority this January, Firth says: “A very colourful fruits and vegetable-based diet is both affordable and pretty much the best thing as far as your body is concerned.” He believes the notion that it’s hard to get all the nutrients you need in a vegan diet is only true if “all you’re eating is crisps, pasta, chips and beige-coloured things – then absolutely, you’re going to struggle!”
It’s been seven years since the childhood friends went vegan themselves (Firth cold turkey – a method he describes as “difficult and challenging but rewarding and liberating”, and Theasby with a gradual approach) and through their YouTube channel, BOSH.tv (youtube.com/c/BOSHTV) and a massive social media presence, they’ve quelled many misconceptions about veganism since then – yet for men, they feel like there’s still a social acceptance issue.
There’s definitely still some stigma attached to men being vegan
“There’s definitely still some stigma attached to men being vegan,” says Theasby. “It might be a little more difficult for men to decide to make the change to veganism.” The idea that eating lots of meat and drinking lager is ‘manly’ is embedded in our culture, he says, “but those negative aspects of British culture are becoming unravelled and changing for the better. So hopefully, in five years time, it won’t be as much of an issue.”
In fact, some of the biggest influencers on the vegan food scene are men – including sport stars Louis Hamilton and Fabian Delph. Theasby adds: “The more men you see on social media, or in magazines and on television, cooking [vegan food] is going to go a long way to help other men who are on the cusp of changing their diet, to make them think it’s actually OK.”
As we become more and more aware of the environmental footprint of what’s on our plates, new ways to use plants, beans and other natural vegan ingredients are being discovered and developed all the time. So what else does the future hold for the world of plant-based eating?
Well, you might be seeing more TVP (or hearing about it for the first time perhaps). “It’s quite esoteric, little known and a bit weird, TVP is textured vegetable protein – essentially soybeans that are dried out, soybean husks,” explains Firth. “They’re high in protein, nutrient-dense, and you can buy them crazy cheap dried, and then you can turn them into your own meat replacement, hitting them with flavour.” (One recipe in the new book, hummus with Mexican ‘beef’, includes it).
There’s also plant-based ‘fish’ made from algae. “The cool thing is that you get omega oils in it, and it tastes inherently fishy. You can make a gorgeous tuna or salmon replacement with that,” Firth says.
Then there’s banana blossom, which Firth describes as “a flower from the end of the banana tree cooked a lot in Thai food, we’ve started using it in this country. It’s flaky in appearance and takes on flavour.”
But the starting point of animal-free cooking is simple, wholesome, cheap ingredients – and if you’re new to it and want to give it a go, Firth says preparation is key.
“Whether that’s buying a cookbook, finding a good source of recipes online, planning a couple of recipes, getting a shop in, so that you’ve got what you need to get you through three, four, five days.”
BOSH! On A Budget by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby is published by HQ. Photography by Lizzie Mayson. Available now.