You can choose what you want to eat, you can choose what you do not want to eat, but you can’t choose your family– or your tastebuds, basically.
“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.”Mark Kurlansky, ‘Choice Cuts’ (2002)
Disclaimer: (i) You don’t have to be Nigerian for this post to be relevant. (ii) If you are Nigerian then you may think, based off of the title, that this post is an absolute joke; I assure you, it is.
So you’ve probably heard me say a couple of times that I’m not vegan; which I’m not but I’m nearly there. Despite what this title may imply, I’m not not vegan because I’m Nigerian, I’m Nigerian because I’m not vegan.
I also have a bunch of different reasons as to why I don’t eat certain things but that’s beside the point.
There’s so many cultures that have been eating and using animal products for centuries and based off of what we’ve seen where social issue are concerned; you can’t argue with culture, or can you?
I’m now officially pescatarian. I’m not exactly dying to have a bite of chicken; though I doubt I’ll be able to go fully vegan given my weight instability. However, when it comes to making Nigerian food, because I love to do that from time to time, there’s some things I also wouldn’t argue with.
For example: crayfish.
When I make Nigerian food I expect it to taste exactly like my mum’s. I mean, how else do I know it tastes right? And if I don’t put crayfish in my Okro soup or if I use grapeseed oil instead of palm oil (I don’t use vegetable oil or oils with trans fats) then obviously it would taste horrible.
Who wants that?
With anything else, any other cuisine, I would happily substitute ingredients.
So recently, I made a vegan Shepherd’s Pie. Now, I’m not going to post the recipe because a) I don’t come up with my own recipes, I just follow instructions up to a point and then stop when they say “season with salt and pepper” because I don’t have a whole cabinet of spices for no reason. B) There’s no point in copying and pasting a recipe in here like this is a blog about food.
I would say, however, that I may have thrown in a little sprinkle of Nigerian.
But while we talk about this recipe, I’m also going to use this opportunity (given the current state of our planet) to share some Kitchen Etiquette, because I watched a bunch of what I eat in a week Vegan edition videos on Youtube and I was pretty horrified.
And not just because of the total and complete lack adequate spices; I’m used to seeing that already.
First of all, do you wash your vegetables? Your fruits? Your meat? (For those of you who still do that…)
Because I saw a lot of girls chopping up potatoes they had picked fresh from the pantry or the store or something without washing them! My mum was very uptight about this, she would wash all the produce in warm water and salt. She would either rub the salt all over it or kind of soak it in salt water. I mean, yeah you’re going to peel them anyway so why wash it, right?
WRONG. We are living in a pandemic. And there is a reason why.
Also, if you do not wash your produce then you better peel the skin off of your potatoes or whatever it is you’re cooking with. This one girl on YouTube shoved some sweet potatoes in the oven with the skin still on and then ate them afterwards… with the skin still on.
I know she didn’t wash them either.
Anyway, I enjoyed using mushrooms in this recipe, I never thought eating fungi would be so enjoyable. I also generally enjoy chopping things up; this recipe required a red bell pepper; which I didn’t have at the time so I used the pepper and onion mix I bought from Walmart.
Two things: Isn’t it funny how in a pandemic some things never sell out? Healthy food ingredients for instance, frozen bags of vegetables and fruits; it wasn’t hard for me to find these things. Also I’m not worried that some of you lot are building castles of milk in your shopping carts. I don’t eat dairy. Second, I see a lot of people cut their onions and garlic in such huge, chunky pieces. Why?!
So I don’t use oils with trans fats because they’re bad for your skin. I’m talking about vegetable oil, sunflower oil, etc. Before you gasp and close this page out of shock; there are many other options. There’s olive oil, almond, avocado, coconut (for certain things, please, let’s not be ridiculous this year), grapeseed, sesame oil, etc. Are they more expensive, yes, because your economic system would rather you be poor and dying so you can pay an arm and a leg for healthcare.
But you didn’t hear it from me.
It’s worth it in the end because olive oil smells great when it’s heating up in a pan.
Another aisle that will be fully stocked during a pandemic is the aisle with all the spices so (ahem) we have nothing to worry about.
Whenever I’m cooking I’m usually using an array of different variations of some kind of pepper. I’ll use paprika, cayenne, crushed red peppers, etc, I’ll use them all in one recipe because in the end one spice tramples them all. In the end, I’m only going to taste one thing…
There. The sprinkle of Nigerian I mentioned earlier. Ironically, it’s not even Nigerian. We’ve more or less embraced it though. That’s Cameroon Pepper. I usually don’t use too much of it, I’m more than happy to add some more to my food when it’s done. I use Cameroon Pepper when I actually want my food to be spicy, because everything else just gives it taste but for the real burning sensation I usually have to resort to the things I’ve smuggled from Nigeria.
Here, I’ve added in the fake meat. I don’t actually have a problem with plant-based meat; I started buying it recently and I really like it. I just like calling it fake meat because it’s fun.
Also, more spices. I guess that’s kind of the reason why I don’t want to call this your typical Shepherd’s Pie.
I also just want to say, it really isn’t hard making western cuisine vegan or more akin to Nigerian tastebuds. The reason I decided to make this meal was because I had gone through a steady diet of rice and pasta for a couple of days and to me, it’s not a meal if there’s no carbs. I was dying for some kind of potato dish and I pulled this out of a vegan cookbook.
Also, may I add? Don’t buy instant mashed potatoes. I don’t necessarily regret buying it but if you’re not like a huge fan of mashed potatoes then don’t even bother. Seriously.
So I was kind of excited to put this whole dish together. I wasn’t that hyped-up about the vegan cheese because I never even liked regular cheese and couldn’t care less about removing it from my diet. However, I don’t hate the idea of plant-based cheese; I think it’s pretty cool.
I think being a vegan in this day and a age is really cool and there certainly are these changing attitudes and these companies making it a lot easier for people to stay healthy while also staying within their dietary restrictions.
However, if you’re obsessed with cheese, I don’t think vegan cheese melts like that so you may not be the biggest fan.
I am not going to include a picture of what this dish was supposed to look like (you can look it up yourselves) because while I want you to know that I failed, I don’t want you to have a visual representation of my failure.
This is my blog okay?
The point is, we all follow recipes and sometimes it doesn’t go well. I want you to know that this is a safe space; none of us really know what we’re doing and if we think we do then our mums would beg to differ.
Now, my Vegan Shepherd’s Pie tasted wonderful; I already said that I’m a Michelin 5 star chef. The presentation as you can see was questionable. But it tasted good. Remember that.
Some last minute kitchen maintenance tips before I sum up the point of this post: clean up as you go. I know you know this one but it really is the most helpful way to get through it. Also, spray all drawer handles with Lysol; if they haven’t run out in your local grocery store.
So the point of this post is, if you are thinking of changing your diet in some way, it’s not hard and it definitely isn’t impossible. It gets challenging with cultural dishes and I’ll probably illustrate sometime soon but who cares? I don’t think it’s terrible if you use a chicken-flavoured Knorr cube in your Jollof Rice even if you won’t be using any meat.
The only way to be vegan-adjacent and Nigerian or Turkish, or Colombian or Jamaican or Taiwanese is to be both.