Beyond Veganuary Evening

‘Veganuary’ seems to be the modern nickname given to the first month of the year thanks to the probable over indulgence that took place during the December festivities. We’ve all been there; numerous social occasions enjoying a glass (or bottle, oops) of prosecco, opening the mega sized tin of miniature chocolates a bit early and finding the wrappers the following morning on the arm of the sofa and that’s before the big day itself! And let’s not forget the Boxing Day leftovers which are up there as my favourite part of Christmas! Although we shouldn’t feel at all guilty for treating ourselves over the festive period (besides, we’ve waited 12 months for it), the thought of a salad in January is a welcome relief. To be honest, a salad anytime of the year is a winner in my eyes, and the guys of four established Bideford businesses also agree. So much so, the four collaborated to show us veganuary delights that can be enjoyed beyond the January health kick.

The VIBs (Very Important Businesses)

I am not vegan or vegetarian, but over the past few years my love of vegan and vegetarian food has sky rocketed and the amount of meat I eat, along with enjoyment of meat, has massively decreased. So wanting to learn more about cooking with plant based ingredients, some of which are new to me, came naturally and the Beyond Veganuary Evening at the new Bideford based café, Bread, was a taste bud tingler, as well as an eye opener. Situated in Allhalland Street, Bideford, Bread is the new venture and bakery location of The Appledore Bakery who, quite frankly, produce the best sourdough boules/loaves/bagels around. So much so I wrote a full blown boule blog a couple years ago shouting about them from the rooftops (another shameless plug). Quirky, welcoming and smelling delicious, Bideford’s newest café is one to watch. Who doesn’t want freshly baked sourdough every day? I know I do! And being a naturally fermented product, Bread was the perfect location for the vegan feast.

Talking of fermentation, the second local Bideford based business wowing us with their talent and products was Tracey of I Am Cultured who makes small, handmade batches of live and cultured food and drink, wild fermented and, of course, using locally sourced and grown produce. Throughout this first Beyond Veganuary evening, it was instantly obvious to see and hear how passionate Tracey is about fermentation. I know pretty much nothing about fermentation, other than the generic “it’s good for your gut bacteria” (probably worded that wrong, sorry Tracey!). However, after not only listening to Tracey, but also watching her demonstrations, it filled my passionate little food obsessed brain with excitement for tasting ingredients I know well in a brand new way and how actually, this could be something I could easily give a go in my own green tiled kitchen. What more could you want from an evening? Other than epic food, obviously!

From fermenting foods for extended periods to the super fresh micro herbs courtesy of another Appledore based business, Luke and Nicola of Lively Leafy Greens. Grown at their home, Luke and Nicola nurture an array of different micro herbs from micro leeks, to radish, to micro broccoli and so many more. These small and youthful plants are nutrient powerhouses and round off any meal, as we found out on this very vegan evening. As Luke’s first public speaking occasion, he took us through why he started growing micro greens and herbs and the benefits of them (plenty, by the way!). Just like our fermenting queen, Tracey, the passion Luke and Nicola have for spreading the micro love around North Devon is easy to see without a magnifying glass.

And finally, the superstar chef of the evening, Rebecca of Nature’s Nutrition, a health food store based in the historic Mill Street. Even better, the store is a co-operative so all their profits are ploughed back into the Bideford community in the form of events, talks and projects. How wonderful is that?! I have been served by Rebecca a few times as I only discovered the store during lockdown 1.0 (any excuse to get out the house for a walk!) and the products available include the firm favourites of the other three local businesses already mentioned above. Community spirit at its best! Especially on this very special vegan evening as this awesome foursome of talented, locally based businesses provided a shop-full of intrigued minds and mouths with a plant based feast. It’s time to talk food! *Celebratory dance*.

“It’s Crazy That This is Vegan”

This phrase definitely came out of my mouth in between chewing on delicious vegan food, possibly more than once, because the explosion of flavours you can plough into plant based meals is quite frankly outstanding (I’ve been watching too much Matt Tebbutt on Saturday Kitchen. If you know, you know). Over the three courses so many vibrant flavours and textures were tasted, and smells, well, smelt.

Miso Soup and Cultured Mezze

If anything screams fermentation it’s our wonderful soy based mate, miso, which gives us a umami flavour that can’t be beaten. In the first of her two demonstrations, Tracey effortlessly showed us how easy it is to put a miso soup together and pack it full of other health loving ingredients. The liquid was warming with a depth of salty, miso tang that keeps you coming back for more and more. Flecks of seaweed were earthy and something I had not experienced before, unlike the finely cut pieces of silky tofu and freshness of spring onion which cut through it all. With some white miso standing dormant in my fridge, you can be sure I’ll be attempting this ridiculously easy soup. Hopefully as elegantly as Tracey made it look! No laughing please.

From miso to mezze and it was definitely a plateful I have never had before; full of fermented versions of my favourite things. Taking a small taste of each mezze item one at a time, I was instantly drawn to two and proceeded to slaver them over slices of the famous sourdough boule and sourdough crackers (I couldn’t stop eating the crackers!). The koji cultured cashew paste was by far my favourite mezze item. Super smooth and creamy with a background nuttiness, I wanted to eat the whole jar and decided that I must purchase a jar of said paste as soon as possible (at time of writing, yet to purchase, dammit). A close second was a take on one of my favourite things to dip a carrot stick into; a fermented wild garlic hummus. The hummus was pale green in colour, popping against the white plate, whilst the potent flavour of garlic popped on my tongue. With no carrot sticks in my pockets, I continued to eat too many of the sourdough crackers, dunking them into this funky new hummus experience!

From the recognisable to the “I’ve heard of this, but never tried it” part of the colourful mezze plate; kimchi and fermented vegetables. The contrast on our table regarding the kimchi and fermented vegetables were twofold: I was a virgin to both of these and found the taste a little eye watering and tongue tingling at times, but this was my first tasting and as we all know with foods, it can take time (I had the same issue with the ever famous avocado a few years ago). Whereas, my friends were munching it down like no tomorrow; they love the stuff! Despite not being used to the acidity of the kimchi and fermented vegetables, I really enjoyed the crunch texture and the subtle taste of the vegetables natural flavours, particularly the carrot and cauliflower. A foodie first that left me thinking “yep, I could get used to these!”.

A Trio of Hearty Mains

Now that everyone was in the mood for more vegan food and had more of an understanding of fermentation and microgreens thanks to Tracey and Luke’s individual short talks, it was time to get hearty and show my guts some more loving. Once again, the dishes were full of ingredients I knew, but were put together in combinations I had either not done before, or not even heard of. This is what made the evening so intriguing to me; familiar ingredients in new and exciting ways. The fact we all got to experience taste sensations was a bonus and obviously a perk! Placed onto each table by our wonderful hosts were big bowlfuls of lentil stew with sweet potato gnocchi, baked squash speltotto and non-cheesy broccoli, plus a vibrant bowl of microgreens with kombucha vinegar and miso mustard dressing. Blimey, try saying all of that after a few glasses! Fortunately, no alcohol was available and I was more than content with my bottled water.

Much like the scrumptious starters, I once again had two dishes that blew my vegan brain almost out of the café and into the middle of Allhalland Street. The array of colours and poignant smells were truly eye widening. Nothing makes you want to dive into food than eating it with your eyes first. Served in a crisp white bowl, the baked squash speltotto was my food highlight of the whole evening. If there was a medal available, or even just a sticker to adorn the bowl, this dish would receive it again and again. As well as the rich, warming flavours of squash and thyme, spice from chilli flakes and cinnamon and salty umami from brown miso, the textures in every mouthful ran along the whole spectrum. They were the real winners of the metaphorical stickers I would really be keen to hand out in the future. The squash was so soft it melted on the tongue. The spelt grains were cooked perfectly al dente to give a soft bite between your molars, before a sure fire crunch of toasted hazelnuts. The use of hazelnuts in savoury dishes is underrated (in my opinion) and this dish showcased how such a simple nutty flavour and crunchy texture can round off an already magnificent dish. It was a real shame I had to share it with everyone else on the table!

The second dish I had to again unfortunately share with everyone else (such an annoyance), was a vegan take on the superior, green tipped sibling of cauliflower cheese: broccoli cheese (yes I am stating that broccoli cheese is better than cauliflower cheese. You can thank me later). I imagine this might be one of the most overused phrases regarding vegan food, but I’m going to throw it at you anyway; you would not know that these small pieces of little green trees were in fact liberally covered in a mixture of almonds, soya yoghurt and almond spread. Someone else’s brain just exploded into Allhalland Street to join mine! This was another of those “can I just eat the whole bowl please?” moments. Just imagine how the broccoli felt, it was basically sleeping in the cosiest, creamiest, most delicious non-cheesy cheese blanket, ever! The texture of the slightly off white “cheese” was super smooth and the flavour of almond was subtle. If you weren’t a huge almond fan, you wouldn’t notice and as a result, probably wouldn’t share the bowl either.

Now my brain is firmly back inside my skull, there was one final dish that got our table scratching our heads with a slight bit of a flavour conundrum. But before that, Tracey yet again effortlessly showed us how easy it is to make sweet potato gnocchi. Something I have said for many years I need to make at home, because it is so ridiculously simple. When seeing it literally put together across the wooden counter at Bread by Tracey, that cemented it for me. Vibrant orange, slightly chewy, but soft gnocchi was sitting amongst a deep red sea of humble lentil stew. The stew was not just deep in colour, but also deep in flavour thanks to punchy hits of smoked paprika and tamari. It was again another theme of umami that made you want to shovel your spoon back into the speckled bowl. The flavour conundrum? Our table of five all picked up on a flavour we did not recognise and our faces showed it to our overseeing hosts. A herb? Spice? Rouge vegetable? Much like the beloved British programme, Countdown, our hosts put us out of our misery with both a five and eight letter word: thyme and rosemary. Such well known, distinctive herbs that we could not put our vegan fingers on and again, we couldn’t blame any alcohol! Thankfully, the word that came next was one we all know too much about; dessert!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Bread and Butter Pudding

Just in case our guts were not swimming in enough wonderfully good bacteria, The Appledore Bakery’s resident chief baker, Joe, created and plated a dessert his cafe would be so proud of; more bread in the form of his new gluten free cinnamon and raisin bagels. My lucky mouth has sampled his non-gluten free cinnamon and raisin bagels before and they are possibly the best bagels I have ever had. Every single person was in for a treat! The cutest cups filled with warm and chewy spiced bagel pieces baked in a creamy vegan custard that was pale and light. Plus, we ate it with teaspoons. I LOVE eating with teaspoons! I think it’s because it feels like the food being enjoyed with said spoon is lasting longer (correct me if you find that to be wrong). Safe to say, I ate the whole teacup without a second thought and started eyeing up everyone else’s! And low and behold, I also finished dessert number two.

Nothing says pudding quite like the word brownie, even a brownie compiled completely of fruit, nuts and a bit of cocoa powder. Add into the title the ear tingling phrase “no bake” and everyone wants to be your best friend. Crumbly with a distinct nuttiness from pecans, walnuts and almond butter, these no bake fudgy brownies were not overly sweet, but they did retain the richness every tongue craves from a decadent brown slab. And the white stuff holding its own next to the delightful brownie square? Amazake cream, which I just had to ask my good friend Google to explain! A fermented, sweet tasting cream made from rice. Who knew! I won’t lie, I was not overly sure of the cream, but much like the kimchi discussed above, it was a new flavour and one my eager taste buds would need to get used to. But don’t worry, the weird taste in my mouth did not stop me from giving it a number of goes! Besides, what’s the worst that happens? Nothing, because pudding is involved and that’s always a good thing.

Local Businesses Going Beyond Veganuary

Even from a non-vegan standpoint, the Beyond Veganuary Evening pulled together by four of our amazing local businesses was a truly insightful event, whilst also being so scrumptious even the hardest of non-vegans would not even notice. As well as showcasing their fantastic products for everyone to taste and experience, The Appledore Bakery, I Am Cultured, Lively Leafy Greens and Nature’s Nutrition enthusiastically demonstrated, explained and (literally) fed us with the basic knowledge behind their businesses and how we can just take one small piece of information (or bread, or fermentation, or microgreen) and build it into our day-to-day lives and plates. Not everyone wants to be fully vegan (including myself), which is fine, but it is easy to see why veganism is becoming more popular as the years go on. Whether it’s one month, one week or just one meal that is vegan, if you visit our four friendly businesses you are guaranteed a plant based meal you might want again and again. Plus, from previous experience, you’ll find yourself heading back to their stores to get a stash of your favourite products! Which reminds me, I need to go and get mine!

I would like to thank The Appledore Bakery and Tracey of I Am Cultured for inviting me along to the Beyond Veganuary Evening and to all the businesses involved for a wonderful food filled experience.

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