I’m pissed with vegan & vegetarian food. Ok, maybe it’s mostly salt-reduced, fat-reduced, flavor-reduced vegan restaurants that pissed me off. Vegetarian & vegan cooking is one of the big ways that people try to eat more sustainably. I think it’s not the best way. Here are my principles for planet-friendly cooking that also helps make things taste good.
1. No cow, no sheep, no goat, little milk
The biggest climate impact of our food usually comes from cows, sheep and goats. And their milk. That’s why I never cook these types of meat, and try to reduce using dairy products to an absolute minimum. Vegan dairy products taste really good these days.
2. Use meat for flavor, not as the main component
Products like Guanciale, Pancetta or bacon provide a lot of flavor per weight. Ground meat can also help distribute tons of flavor in a dish, even if only little is used. I prefer those instead of the nearly flavorless lean meat (that is also more expensive for some reason). Similarly, products like dashi or fish sauce maximise flavor without having a strong climate impact (because so little is used for each dish).
3. Game is game
Local game is just awesomely sustainable. I love boar or deer, and it’s pretty easy to get here in Germany. Wild boar are pest here, so they need to be killed anyway – of course we should then also eat them. Same goes for local fish, which is common in Germany, even though it’s usually farmed, not wild.
4. Legumes rock!
Lentils, beans, chickpeas … all make great bases for awesome dishes. Most people have never eaten bean burgers, but those are the best burgers that there are. Falafel is another great example – it’s one of the best dishes one can make (also nutritionally), and it has an extremely low climate impact.
5. Cultivate Umami & Fat
Most vegan foods lack flavor. Sorry, but it’s true. There’s also an easy fix: add enough fat and umami. Fat is easy, high quality olive oil is just the start here. You have to work for your umami, though. Learning from the Japanese cuisine has helped me the most: miso and soy sauce are umami bombs! Fish sauce and tomato paste are also great contributors, and of course alliums (onions, garlic, …). Browning is also a big win – a hot wok is a vegetables best friend! Using sweeteners and sufficient salt neatly rounds out the flavor of any dish.
6. Minimize food waste
The key to reduce food waste for me was to think about cooking in components, not in dishes. I might roast some veggies or cook some legumes one day, and used it over the next couple of days in multiple meals. Roasted broccoli might be a tortilla topping on day 1, pasta sauce ingredient on day 2 and a bowl topping on day 3. Preparing components ahead of time also speeds up cooking, and can even prevent ingredients from spoiling. Components are also easier to freeze than full meals are. With meals, thinking about the best way to reheat them while maintaining texture & flavor also helped me reduce waste. Pasta & pizza reheat best in a pan (where they don’t get soggy), for example.