How to stay vegan after Veganuary is down to an 80/20 rule, says chef Jay Morjaria. He shares 18 tips for going vegan (well, mostly) without relapsing to bacon sandwiches or losing friends
Hands up if you did Veganuary this year? You and 168,000 people across 165 countries so there’s no stopping the vegan trend. Chef Jay Morjaria, who is well known for his experimental, plant-based take on Japanese and Korean cuisine, says being vegan most of the time with a small sideline in meat and fish is the secret to sticking to a plant-based diet long term.
Morjaria’s Instagram feed (@chefjaymorjaria) is testament to how good-looking vegetables can be. In fact, if restaurants cooked vegetable dishes in more interesting ways with bolder and gutsier flavours, more people would eat them, he says.
‘We’re humans, we want to eat tasty food.’ After years spent living and travelling Asian countries he now flaunts Asian cooking techniques with mostly vegan and vegetarian makeovers, to his London supper clubs and pop-ups.
Over lunch at Great Guns Social, where he’ll been dishing out an exclusive Korean and Japanese inspired menu until 17th March (book here), he presented me his 80-20 menu which reflects his philosophy.
The menu is mainly vegan with one vegetarian dish and two meat or fish dishes. ‘That way, the vegetarians and vegans will have more choice than usual but their meat-eating friends will enjoy it too.’ They’re still taking bookings so do not miss your chance to sample this amazing menu. Here are his 18 new rules for going vegan:
Figure out your motivation
‘I’ve gone meat-free many times in my life, sometimes for the environment and planet but most of the time it’s for me and my health.’
Discover your own boundaries
‘I settled on this 80-20 rule about 15 years ago when I was completely vegan. I was travelling a lot through Asia at the time so started eating a bit more meat and ended up breaking my own veganism. The boundaries I cut myself were personal so I didn’t have to answer to anyone or anything.
I really enjoy eating vegetables and enjoy being veggie / vegan. So it was about trying to find that balance personally.
Create your own rules
‘I gave myself a rule which was only eat meat which I haven’t eaten before which made it relevant to my profession and my curiosity as a professional chef as I still want to discover things. I don’t eat much dairy, I’ll avoid it if I can. It’s just meat and fish.
‘When we start to put too many rules around food people end up lapsing back to old habits. What you actually want is a sustainable way of eating for yourself.
Your approach is personal
If you choose to live or eat in a certain way it’s a personal thing so don’t expect to persuade or change the minds of others. Let people make their own decisions. Eventually most of the planet will become vegan because we’ll have no other choice.
Eat more vegetables
‘In my opinion, why not encourage millions of people to eat less meat, eat more vegetables and be vegan most of the time instead of changing just a few hundred thousand people to be entirely vegan for just one month of the year and the following month they’re back to their old ways. As a result the price of meat will go up, we won’t have the horrible issues of animal welfare in intensive farming and there’ll be a seismic shift. If we can make vegetables more interesting and add great flavours then people will eat more veg. We’re humans, we want to eat tasty food.
Eat 80-20 vegan
‘For me it’s week vs weekends so I’ll try to keep a rule where I just eat vegan or vegetarian all week and on the weekends I’ll have some high quality meat or fish just once or twice. But I’ll make it something special. I’ll go somewhere special to eat a particular dish I’ve researched or cook something special, organic and better quality. At least that way if you want to eat meat you’re doing it in a way that is totally sustainable and ethical.
‘I wouldn’t just grab something crappy like a supermarket bacon sandwich. We have more choice for vegetarian and vegan foods in supermarkets and takeaways now so we should be able to make better choices and more informed choice. If you are doing the 80-20 thing then go somewhere where you know it’s going to be worth it.
‘Allowing yourself to have that bit of meat in certain places or at the weekends will give yourself a bit of structure. And that’s really important – structure in the week and bit more relaxed at the weekend – and you will naturally create habits for life.
Watch your wallet
‘Buying better meat is expensive so if you’re eating meat every day it’s going to inevitably end up being lower quality which means it hasn’t been treated well and not great for your health so why not change that and just eat it once or twice a week from better sources. Your wallet will naturally dictate how you eat and you will naturally eat less because it’s more expensive
Don’t rush it
‘If you want to transition to long term veganism it’s a slow process because it’s all about making sustainable choices. Don’t just go in there and try to become vegan overnight, unless it’s for your ethics and it’s something you feel strongly about.
‘But if you want to transition for reasons such as your health or because you just feel like it’s better to eat less meat consider it a three, six or even 12 month process. Allow yourself the time to slowly start cutting back on dairy, red meat or whatever you feel like is not going to be good for you, and take your time.
Beware of vegan junk food
‘There’s a lot of junky vegan food at the moment so try to be discerning with your food and restaurant choices. It’s great that somewhere is totally vegan but is it any good? Make it delicious and make it great quality.
‘There are lots of restaurants stuck in vegan classics like vegetable curry, which is easy to put together and relate to but don’t be afraid of trying something completely brand new or experimenting with new flavours and dishes.
Is it natural?
‘Don’t confuse plant based with mock meat – dishes made with ingredients such as seitan (wheat/gluten meat) to resemble meat dishes. People forget vegetables and plant-based foods are beautiful so there’s no need to mash them up, hide them and make them look like something else.
Stay open minded
‘Don’t overlook a restaurant just because it’s not vegan. You can have a meat restaurant that specialises in meat but they may have the most amazing vegetable dish and it’ll be vegan. Go somewhere where they do something well – even if it’s just two things. Restaurants like Foxlow (a steak house) have recognised that a group of vegan and non-vegan friends all want something decent to eat and the vegan in the group doesn’t just want an aubergine or goats cheese stack and is looking for something a bit more interesting. I think in the future we will see more restaurants offering 50-50 meat and plant-based menus.
Best things to do with tofu
‘Cut up firm silken tofu into cubes and just coat in cornflour and seasoning and pan fry or bake. You can also mix soya sauce and mirin sauce and marinate your tofu and pan fry or bake it. It will go lovely and sticky like a teriyaki.
Essential vegan cooking ingredients
‘My essential food items are miso – red or brown rice miso – sesame oil and soya sauce. If you have garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soya sauce along with a soya bean paste and / or a spicy soya bean paste you can make any Korean food vegan and make anything taste amazing. I also use a lot of mirin now in cooking.
Best sources of vegan protein
‘Sources of protein – miso and soya bean paste are great sources of protein. That’s why a lot of our dishes contain miso when they don’t contain another protein. Mushrooms are a fantastic source of protein. Lentils if you’re not doing Asian food. As well as tofu, of course, and plant proteins such as edemame and sesame seed paste. Over time you really get what you need from Asian dishes.
For speedy vegan cooking
‘For I’m-too-tired-to-cook, noodles are the easiest. Grab whatever you have in the fridge or whatever leftovers there are, chop up, stir fry and have some chilli oil to hand, it’s simple. You can even make your sauce in advance – mix your soya, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and whatever else you like and keep it ready and chuck it all in the pan when you make your noodles. Within ten mins you have a meal.
Get the hang of meal prepping
‘If you’re really busy it’s all about prepping in advance. There’s no harm in cutting things up, putting them into containers and leaving them in the fridge and then chucking them into a pan when you need it. If you’re already meal prepping for lunch just do a bit extra for dinner later.
Watch out for laziness
‘When you’re busy you can become lazy. If you eat out a lot it’s very easy to pick up something quick, fast and might default to a meat sandwich. Know your options. Plan ahead. The big supermarkets have started to offer vegan ready meals like Wicked Kitchen, great if you’re stuck and pretty tasty. Alternatively try companies like Allplants who deliver freshly made frozen meals straight to your door, which helps get you off the ground in the beginning and for busy days which we all have.’
Jay Morjaria is a chef, food and restaurant consultant and founded Sutra Kitchen, central London’s first meat-free cooking school. Jay has also helped open several restaurants for clients and worked with well-known brands advising them on how to improve their menus, train their chefs and create innovative dishes. Culinary training in Korea and Japan has increased his expertise in East Asian food leading to the launch of his plant forward, Modern Asian brand, Dynasty. He has had regular appearances on BBC Radio, TV and hosting food shows and panels at trade shows. Find out more at jaymorjaria.com.
Healthista’s digital director is Yanar Alkayat also a health and beauty writer for the UK national press. She blogs on ethical beauty and lifestyle at brightershadeofgreen.co.uk and tweets at @YanarBeauty.