A guide to treating your vegan guests

This vegan dish from Fairy Goth Mother in Linden looks as good as it tastes. (Shayne Robinson)

This vegan dish from Fairy Goth Mother in Linden looks as good as it tastes. (Shayne Robinson)

If you’re a carnivore being asked to feed a vegan, however, help is at hand. Veganism is one of a number of alternative dietary options that have become popular in recent years. Simply defined, a vegan eats nothing that is of animal origin, and many will not use any animal derived non-food products (such as leather or fur or anything tested on animals).

If you’re trying to feed a vegan this means no eggs, milk, butter, cream, cheese, ice cream, meat, fish, chicken or pork. Some will not consume honey or products processed using animal products, such as refined white sugar and some wines. We’d recommend asking the vegan concerned what they will and will not eat before you start planning your dinner menu.

Other alternative dietary choices include vegetarianism (vegetables only and may or may not eat milk or eggs; products that are harvested from animals without killing them), pescetarianism (vegetarian plus fish), and fruitarianism — a subset of veganism, fruitarians only eat fruit, vegetables, seeds or nuts. Some only eat products that can be harvested without killing the plant, while others only eat fallen fruit. Another offshoot of veganism is raw food veganism, which is pretty self-explanatory.

Other intolerances

Alongside the numerous dietary choices humans have, several also have food intolerances and allergies to contend with, including seafood, nuts, gluten, dairy, garlic, soya and assorted meat and vegetables.

If you’re feeding someone with an allergy or intolerance (and particularly if it is an allergy, which can be fatal), it’s important to get a good rundown of what they can and cannot eat to avoid giving them food poisoning or ending your dinner with a trip to the emergency room. Trust us on this one.

All of that said, feeding people with particular dietary requirements could be fun, if you do your research. The important thing to remember when feeding vegans (plus vegetarians, pescetarians and people with dairy allergies or intolerances) is that butter is a no-no.

It is one of those food items people tend to use without thinking, and it has got to be banned from the kitchen for the moment. You can easily substitute with vegetable oil (olive or sunflower are easy to find) or dairy-free margarine. Most margarines contain milk solids — you’ll need to find Ola or Blossom, which don’t.

You’ll also need to get pedantic about ingredients and read food labels rigourously. Some types of crisps use lactose (milk sugar) as a flavourant and it’s a no-no for vegans, vegetarians and the dairy-intolerant or allergic. Other milk products include casein and whey. Casien is another trigger for people who can’t eat dairy. Whey isn’t a problem for dairy allergies/intolerances, but is and no for vegans, vegetarians and fruitarians is a no-no because it is an animal product.

Lacto-vegetarians eat milk products (but not eggs or meat) so you’re safe there. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but not milk or meat, so you have some leeway there for dinner dishes. Many vegans don’t eat honey, so beware what you use to sweeten your food.

Making progress

Thanks to increased awareness of food intolerances, allergies and alternative dietary choices, it has become notably easier to get substitutes for many problem foods. Soya milk, for example, is a good milk substitute for cooking, as is almond (assuming no nut allergy), oat or rice milk.

You can get dairy-free margarine, as mentioned, and you even get cheese-free cheese (the Sheese brand is pretty common and easy to find). Cream-free cheese comes in the form of Orlywhip, which is all vegetable and there are savoury and dessert varieties so you can have main and dessert covered. Just don’t boil it — it separates.

Coconut milk is another goodie.It comes by the tin not the litre, is amazing in curries, stews, soups and desserts and isn’t very strongly flavoured so, like coconut oil, it can be used as a food substitute without affecting the flavour of the dish.

Dairy-free ice cream is available in some supermarkets, and the internet really is your friend here — try paleo recipes for dairy-free food and vegetarian/vegan recipe sites for vegetarian and vegan food and amazing dairy-free desserts.

If you’re feeding the gluten intolerant it’s probably going to save you some grey hair if you just skip the flour-based products for the evening and go with good old potato. If you can’t resist, there are a variety of gluten-free flours on the market.

I’d suggest buying a premixed pack if you want to bake, however, as the chemistry and physics behind getting bread, for example, to rise without gluten are long and complicated and it’s much simpler to buy premix bread/rolls/brownies (dark chocolate is your friend here, it’s dairy free, but check the label just in case) and cook it with whatever the manufacturer suggests. Expect to pay R70 a kilo, though.

Simplify

Many premixes have with or without egg and/or dairy options so you can cater for pretty much everyone without too much trouble. Just beware some vegans do not eat yeast, and if so you’ll have to make flatbread or do without.

Gluten-free pasta is available; the Puccini brand has maize varieties, which used to be easy to find but haven’t been lately. They’re also the same price as the wheat versions so you don’t get charged a premium, unlike some brands we could mention. Potato is gluten-free and a good starch option.

Beware of rye – 100% rye bread may be gluten free, but not necessarily, so best avoid if you’re not totally sure. If all this seems entirely too much like a headache in the making, there are a number of restaurants that are entirely vegan, or vegan-friendly and you may want to treat everyone to dinner out instead.

If you’re going to brave dinner in, a curry, soup or vegetable stew is always a good, healthy way to feed any one of the above eaters with no hassles — try Googling “gluten and dairy-free vegan curry”, you’ll be amazed at the options (just check your labels, some Thai curry pastes contain shrimp, Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies and some stocks contain gelatin, which is a no-no).

Vegan-friendly eateries, resources and suppliers

  • Johannesburg

Free Food www.freefood.co.za

Amuse Café — Visit their Facebook page to see the menu

Greenside Café www.thegreensidecafe.co.za

Leafy Greens www.leafygreens.co.za

The Fairy Goth Mother fairygothmother.co.za

  • Cape Town

Addis Ethiopia www.addisincape.co.za

Bolo’bolo Infoshop and Cofee House www.bolobolo.co.za

Call-a-Pizza www.callapizza.co.za

Crush www.crush.co.za

Natural Way Café www.narturalwaycafe.co.za

  • Durban

Earthmother Café www.earthmother.co.za

Govinda’s www.iskconinsa.co.za

The Fat Vegetarian www.thefatvegetarian.co.za