Vegans are often keen cooks, sometimes out of necessity but often by choice. Below are a selection of gift ideas for those who like to cook, including kitchen gadgets, recipe books and ingredients.
Vitamix and Nutribullet
I'm starting this article with the stupidly expensive item just to get it out of the way. There isn't a cook in the world who wouldn't be thrilled to get a Vitamix for Christmas. They are seriously awesome and extremely useful for vegan cooks, particularly those who are health-conscious. And they probably don't have one already because they are so damn expensive.
If that's out of your price range, then a Nutribullet isn't a more reasonably priced but still desirable gadget. It's great for making smoothies.
Ice Cream Maker
Although it’s fairly easy to buy vegan ice cream, the number of flavours is limited so for fans of the exotic, having your own ice cream maker is a real treat. They can be bought for less than £25 and they are easy to use - you make up the mixture, leave it to cool then stick it in the machine and let it work its magic.
However, they are going to need some vegan ice cream recipes and luckily there is a book that has loads of them: The Vegan Scoop has recipes for basic ice cream, fruit flavours, chocolate and coffee flavour and the more exotic, like green tea or wasabi! There are also recipes for sorbet and other frozen desserts.. The basic recipe supplied can then be adapted to make any type of ice cream you choose.
If you are buying an ice cream maker as a Christmas gift, the lucky recipient will probably want to get started straight away, so why not include the basic ingredients they need in the gift? They will need: soya milk, two cartons (500ml total) of soya cream, arrowroot powder, sugar and vanilla essence. If you are with them on the day, you will get to try their first batch, so it’s a win-win situation!
Soya Milk Maker (and Tofu Kit)
Another handy gadget for vegans is a soya milk maker. These can turn soya beans or nuts into fresh soya milk in about 20 minutes. If you also purchase some additional kit, they can be used to make tofu. This is where they really come into their own. Although soya milk is easy to buy, fresh tofu isn’t sold in very many shops and can be expensive.
Vegan bread is easy to buy but everyone loves the smell baking break and the taste of fresh, home-cooked loaves. A breadmaker will come with some basic recipes and these can easily be adapted to be vegan using the instructions at the Simple Vegan Recipes breadmaker page. There will also be recipes suitable for those on a gluten-free diet.
Really cheap breadmakers are generally not great but if you spend £50 or more you should get a great machine. It probably isn’t worth spending over a £100 on a really fancy machine as the extra features aren’t likely to be worth the expense.
If you want the recipient of the breadmaker to be able to use it straight away, then give them some strong flour (strong flour contains more gluten and is best for breadmaking) and some dried yeast. If you are giving wholemeal flour you will also want some Vitamin C tablets or powder as that helps the loaf to rise.
Bear in mind that a breadmaker is quite noisy when in use, so might not be suitable for someone in a small flat where they won’t be able to escape the noise.
A rather more low-tech gadget is the sprouting jar. This helps you to grow your own beansprouts on your kitchen window sill. Beansprouts are very nutritious and can be added to salads or thrown into a stir-fry or any other savoury dish.
A steamer is a really useful contraption for any cook. You just wash/peel and chop some veg, throw them in the steamer and turn it on. If stick a pie or something in the oven you can off to the pub for half an hour and come back to perfectly cooked vegetables. Steamed vegetables have more flavour than boiled and an electric steamer is an energy efficient way to cook. It’s a perfect antidote to your grandma’s policy of cooking every vegetable to a mush; Even cabbage tastes nice when it’s been done in a steamer! They can also cook rice which, again, is very handy as you don’t have to stand watching a pan to make sure it doesn’t boil over or burn dry.
A small, cheap steamer for £15-£20 is fine for a single person or a couple. Families will probably want a larger model but there’s no point spending too much as they all basically do exactly the same thing.
Another really useful gadget is the slow cooker, or crock-pot. It’s a really handy way to make hearty soups and stews with the minimum of fuss, so it really comes into its own during a cold winter. You can throw in some vegetables, stock and other ingredients in the morning, leave it switched on and come home in the evening to a ready prepared hot dinner. It can also be used to make jam or cook porridge overnight. A small model can cost as little as £15 and, as it cooks very efficiently, you save money on energy bills. If you’re buying this as a gift, give a vegan slow cooker recipe book as well.
A burger press only costs a few pounds, so it’s a nice gift as a stocking filler. Although intended for use with meat, it can just as easily be pressed into service for making veggie burgers. Give this along with some BurgaMix or other dried veggie burger mix.
Vegan Cookery Courses
Being able to cook is a vital skill for everyone, but particularly so for vegans. A cookery course can be a great opportunity to get started in the kitchen and to learn new and very useful skills. For those more experienced, a course can help to expand your repertoire of dishes and gives an opportunity to meet like-minded people. You also get to eat some fantastic food that you have prepared yourself and for some it could be the first step to a new career.
The Cordon Vert School, run by the Vegetarian Society, is probably the best known and most established provider of courses. They train chefs to professional standards and also provide courses for purely recreational cooks. Some of their courses are aimed specifically at vegans and some of the others can be adapted to suit.
Courses start from under £50 and take place in either central London or Cordon Vert’s home in a beautiful Victorian mansion in Cheshire. If you don’t know which course to choose, or when your vegan is available, then you can buy vouchers starting from £10.
The Vegetarian Cookery School is based in Bath and run by the owners of the wonderful Demuth’s restaurant. Different classes run all the time with some aimed at complete beginners and other for professional chefs. Courses can be a single evening or a whole week. Vouchers are available for the cost of a single lesson.
Fox Hall is a lovely small Bed and Breakfast close to Kendal in the Lake District. The owner is a fantastic vegan chef and runs courses to share her expertise. Courses last one or two days and include accommodation in the B&B. They can be adapted to your requirements and can take place whenever accommodation is available.
There is a huge variety of vegan recipe books available. They range from simple pamphlets to gorgeous, glossy coffee-table books filled with sumptuous photographs.
So, with so much choice, I would like to offer a few guidelines. Firstly, match the book to the ability of the recipient. Someone starting out who needs to cook for survival rather than pleasure will need basic recipes with simple ingredients whereas more experienced cooks will want more complex recipes.
Secondly, the glossy food-porn books are there to be read rather than used. Recipes in these books are often completely impractical and they are full of errors because no-one actually tries the recipes. That said, there are some attractive books that don’t compromise on the quality of the recipes.
Thirdly, consider whether you want to buy a book for a particular type of food (Indian dishes, Chinese, cakes, puddings, stews, salads etc.) or a more general book that covers a wide range of sweet and savoury dishes.
Lastly, if you are buying a recipe book for a vegan, buy a specifically vegan cookbook, not a vegetarian one. Vegetarian recipes are often heavy on cheese and not necessarily easy to adapt to be vegan.
So, here are our vegan cookbook recommendations:
Skinny Bitch in the Kitch is a cookbook with real attitude. The sequel to their uncompromising vegan diet book, the authors have put together a selection of easy to cook recipes that are nutritious and will help with maintaining a healthy weight. They write in a raucously funny style and are strident advocates of the vegan diet.
Next, I would like to recommend anything written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero. Although their recipes use US measurements, they are still easy to follow and give outstanding results. Their first book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, was outstanding and converted many vegans to the joys of baking. Veganomicon has delicious and very practical savoury recipes.