It’s getting ever easier to follow a vegan diet, even outside major centres. The same can be said for gluten-free eating. Clear labelling, the removal of unnecessary fillers, switching to vegan and gluten-free ingredients where possible – the food industry has adapted to the growing awareness and popularity of these diets.
At the same time, the vegan and gluten-free processed food industries have exploded. There are growing sections in cereal aisles, frozen food and dairy cases, and snack and condiment aisles. This is a mixed blessing. As nice as it is to have more options, these processed foods are not any more healthy than their conventional equivalents.
Then, there’s the expense. There is a premium on vegan and gluten-free products, even for single-ingredient staples. This can be partly explained by the scale of the markets for these products, but unfortunately, a large part of the cost can be attributed to the growing popularity of vegan and gluten-free eating. Once the word diet comes up, so does the price, just as it did with low-carb and low-fat products in the past.
The difference, of course, is motivation. People eat vegan for reasons of health and ethics, while many people who follow a gluten-free diet do so because they must – celiac disease is not a choice.
So, what to do? Many people are finding the solutions in their own kitchens, relying on whole foods and homemade. That can seem like a sentence to an unvaried diet, or a daunting program of food preparation.
They have been experimenting with making their own pantry staples for years, posting the results on their blogs, A Dash of Compassion and Vegan Culinary Crusade. After two forays into e-cookbooks, they’ve brought their favourite recipes for staples into print.
You can fill your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and even your spice rack with healthy alternatives to the mixes, sauces, and packaged foods you pay such a premium for in the grocery store. It’s cheaper, uses less packaging, and contains far fewer fillers, sweeteners, and preservatives than store-bought foods.
DIY pantry ideas often stop at spice mixes, preserves, and condiments, but this book walks you through making your own base ingredients and mixes all the way to recipes for meals, snacks, and treats that can be stored and pulled out when you need food fast.
They’ve also included a sample schedule of when you’d typically plan to make more of those staples, from things you’ll likely make weekly to staples you’d mix up twice a year. Each section starts simple, then branches into more complex tasks, interspersed with recipes that use the staples the chapter covers. All of this makes stocking your pantry from scratch less daunting. After all, once you’ve made your own non-dairy milk, it’s not that much more difficult to put together your own butter substitute. Then, what’s stopping you from trying to make your own simple cheeses? Suddenly, making a vegan version of a Classic Cheese Ball doesn’t seem like a big deal.
This follows through their chapters on cereals and snacks, spreads and sauces, and desserts. But, it’s the chapter on homemade mixes that’s truly inspired.
So often, the biggest obstacle to cooking is getting started. It’s the reason convenience foods have such an enormous share of the market. DIY Vegan recognizes that and provides recipes for dry mixes, seasonings, spice pastes, and even drink bases that will make homemade seem simple. Their Mac & Cheese Sauce Mix will keep you away from the boxed stuff forever – it’s cheaper and healthier by far. The DIY Vegan pantry includes containers of pizza dough mix (including a gluten-free version), muffin mix, cake and cookie mixes, and more. Spending a little time on a Wednesday evening or Saturday morning mixing these up isn’t a bad investment of time if it means homemade pizza, muffins, and cake more often.
It’s also a book of solutions, especially for households that include vegan and gluten-free eaters, as mine does. Lemon curd, Worcestershire Sauce, and vegan sour cream are only a few of the things that can be hard to find or make, or extra expensive to buy. I’m looking forward to making a lemon curd topped version of their vanilla cheesecake recipe.
I’m also thinking about investing in some more mason jars. Their cereal recipes alone have claimed my extras already. I’ve been given permission to share one of these with you, for a cereal that will have you baking triple and quadruple batches.
CINNAMON TOAST CEREAL
Makes 5 cups
Fold down the corner of this page. If you love cinnamon-flavored cereal as much as we do, you’re going to want to come back to this recipe a lot. Think of it as a template for your perfect breakfast bowl. Bake the cereal while you make yourself a cup of coffee or squeeze some fresh juice, pour the cereal into a large bowl and add whatever toppings you have on hand—a sprinkle of hemp hearts and a few slices of banana, or goji berries and pecans and a splash of almond milk—and take pleasure in the fact that you can make cereal that’s better than the boxed stuff.
- 3 cups puffed brown rice cereal
- 2 cups puffed quinoa
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
Optional add-ins: sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, nuts, dried fruit
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine the puffed brown rice, puffed quinoa, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Add the maple syrup and coconut oil and stir until all the cereal is coated.
- Spread the cereal evenly over the prepared pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until dry to the touch, stirring halfway through. Let cool completely. Mix in the optional add-ins, if desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 1 month.
The only difficult part of this recipe might be sourcing the puffed quinoa, for some. I have a health food store nearby, but a store with a big bulk department or one that specializes in gluten-free ingredients and flours would also carry it.
This was as simple as melting the coconut oil and mixing all the ingredients together. The cereal baked beautifully and is delicious on its own or with whatever mix-ins or fresh fruits you prefer. It’s nice to mix it with another kind of cereal, too, as my partner found.
The maple syrup sweetens the cereal just enough to enhance the cinnamon’s flavour, without the cloying sweetness that many commercial cereals have. The sea salt is an especially nice touch, playing against the flavours of the cinnamon and the syrup. I keep eating it right out of the jar, so we have to put it away and take it out only at breakfast time. The cereal keeps for a month, but I can’t imagine that’s information anyone would need, unless they’re making multiple batches. This cereal disappears embarrassingly fast.
The recipe is typical of Axworthy and Pitman’s recipes – it’s clear and concise, without skipping steps. Their serving suggestions are great and they always provide gluten-free alternatives for recipes that aren’t naturally gluten-free.
The recipes serve as inspiration, too. Once you know how easy it is to make your own cereal at home, you’ll want to try making ones with your favourite ingredients and flavours.
This book is going to be well-used in our kitchen. But, it’s especially useful at this time of year. So many of the recipes would make great gifts. Even the omnivores in your life wouldn’t say no to Maple-Masala Mustard or Chocolate Hazelnut Butter. And a jar of gluten-free banana-walnut muffin mix, with baking instructions, can make holiday breakfast at the family’s place a whole lot easier.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the preparer, the experimenter, the explorer, and the beginner
Come back next week for a review of a book full of spice and comfort.