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Soft-drinks that pubs should serve but don't

Why, if you're in a pub in Britain, and you don't want to get drunk, are you supposed to drink litres of sugar? Fizzy drinks are like that, but also so are the fruit-juice based things like J2O - waaaay sweeter than beer or wine. What should pubs serve? There are loads of options!

  • Apfelschorle. Common in Germany, this is apple juice mixed with fizzy mineral water. I had this in Germany and I noticed what a good drop-in replacement it is for beer. It's nowhere near as sweet as fruit juice, and has some of the same refreshing fizzy clarity of lager. Obvs it's nowhere near the same as lager but still a great drink for when you don't want to drink.

  • Iced tea. Even if it's simply bottles of Lipton Ice that'd be OK. But, as is common in some parts of the USA, it'd be great to brew up a nice big vat of fresh iced tea each day, especially on hot days. Tea is very very cheap to brew up so pubs should be able to do a good markup on it.

  • Club Mate. It's a sort of not-too-sweet soft drink made from "mate" and allegedly popularised by the Chaos Computer Club or something. Just like the other suggestions, it's got a beer-like bitterness and is unsweet enough that you can drink it in pints.

  • Kombucha? The Guardian seems to think it's starting to be served

  • Alcohol-free beer...! well OK this is obvious enough - most alcohol-free beers taste a bit odd, of course. My favourites are Brewdog's "Nanny State" and Claustenhaler's alcohol-free lager, the latter being very convincing German lager. ... But then, now that I've written down the arguments in favour of apfelschorle and iced tea, I'm starting to wonder why we're buying more of these expensive alcohol-free beers. Maybe we're missing a trick.

What strikes me is that the branded bottled options are of course the ones that get promotional effort, yet almost all pubs could easily set up with home made iced tea or home made apfleschorle with very little overhead.

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What do vegetarians really eat?

I seem to know more and more vegetarians. (The official stats say it's growing and growing in the UK, so it's no surprise.) Me too. And for some reason, I was wondering, what does everyone tend to eat, on an ordinary weekday evening meal? Although it's nice to share recipes and maybe even food photos, that's a completely different thing from the mid-week everyday cooking.

So what do people have on a normal Wednesday...? Well. I asked them all. This Wednesday. Here are the answers I got:

  • "Lemon and spinach risotto"
  • "Pasta with courgettes, toasted pine nuts and goats cheese. Then I had some strawberries and blueberries. Then I had a pepsi max and some Milka because I'm a fatty!"
  • "Golden beets + lettuce in lemon vinaigrette, cauliflower rice, grenaille potatoes, olive oil-based chocolate cake"
  • "Soba noodles"
  • "Runner bean and aubergine Keralan curry"
  • "Pad thai! Home made. No fish sauce. Ridiculously delicious."
  • "Burrito"

  • "Cereal (sorry! my bad!)"

  • "Phoned in a curry :)"
  • "Pizza with my vegan cheese"
  • "Veg casserole and dumplings"
  • "Griddled halloumi, fried red onion, coucous and salad"
  • "One-pot gnocchi with halloumi, peppers, courgete, leeks and tomatoes & side salad"
  • "Quorn chicken & leek pie, roast potatoes, peas & sweetcorn"
  • "Veggie moussaka made with Quorn mince and aubergine"

  • "Homemade patatas bravas with salsa and sour cream and tomato & cucumber slad with croutons"

  • "Okonomiyaki"
  • "Soup made from beans, tomatoes, carrots, swede, and broccoli (read: contents of the veg drawer)"
  • "Cheddar cheese sandwich, using sourdough spelt bread, rocket and cucumber,with a small amount of mayo"
  • "Thai green curry (quorn and general veg) and soba noodles on the side because I had no rice"
  • "Skyr with musli (too busy to cook)"
  • "Thai takeout over riced cauliflower instead of rice"
  • "Lentil lasagne and spinach salad"

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm niiiiiiiiiiiice. That all sounds lovely.

Have we learnt anything? Well, Quorn gets a decent showing (I notice that because I'm not into it myself), pops up 3 times versus halloumi's 2. At a rough guess, approx half of the meals rely on cheese. I kinda think I rely too much on cheese for veggie cookery. But there's a pretty good spread in the types of protein and the types of carbs people have in their meals. Anyway. It all sounds very nice.

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Fake meat around the world

I've always thought fake meat was a bit silly. When I recently starting eating more veggy food I promised myself I wouldn't have to eat Quorn pieces, those fake chicken pieces that taste bland and (unlike chicken) don't respond to cooking. They don't caramelise, they don't get melty tender, they just warm up. If you like cooking, you're much better off cooking some actual veg.

So it's a shock to be saying that some of the best meals I've had in 2017 have been fake meat. It seems the veggie world is just stepping up and stepping up. I've been lucky enough to travel for work and here are some amazing things I ate (mostly paid from my own pocket, BTW):

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In Beijing, there was this braised fish dish, an extravagant centrepiece to a meal. A big pot of braised Chinese vegetables, and at the centre a mock fish steak. I don't know what it was made of but it had been slashed across the upper surface (like you would do with meat to get flavours in) and that upper surface was grilled and caramelised, while the lower part in the braising sauce was meltingly tender.

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In Sweden, I got off the train in Lund and within a few minutes my eyes lighted on a kebab shop (Lunda Kitchen) with a massive list of things labelled "vegan": burgers, kebabs, pepperoni pizzas... My host actually said that he thought "vegan" probably didn't mean the same thing as it did in English. Anyway it does. Their vegan doner kebab was just ace: just meaty and spicy enough, all the trimmings as usual.

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In Germany, I had this literally unbelievable vegan schnitzel (at Max Pett, Munich). It wasn't just that it had the taste of a breaded steak "Wiener art", but also the structure, the resistance and texture you expect when you cut into an actual schnitzel. The only reason I didn't grab the serving staff and double-check whether it was veggie or not was that I was in a very definitely vegan restaurant.

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In France the seitan bourgignon was a great idea but the execution wasn't ideal. However we had excellent seaweed "tartare" and artichoke "rillettes", both of which captured specific je-ne-sais-quoi tastes of the traditional dishes they were paying tribute to. These were in various Paris vegan bistros.


In India... I didn't have any fake meat at all. I had some amazing dishes, since they've a massive history of veggie cuisine of their own, but it doesn't centre around fake meat.

Back in London? Yes there's plenty of good food around, such as vegan doner kebab or cheezburger from "Vx". But... the veggie version of a roast beef Sunday lunch? I haven't seen it yet...

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Vegan mozarella cheese for pizza

Excited today to get a delivery of the new mail-order vegan cheese from my friend's new London cheezmakery, Black Arts Vegan! It came beautifully packed, see:

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Their first cheese is a vegan mozarella. We unpacked the cheese and had a taste - yes, a good clear taste like standard mozarella. But they've worked on getting it right so it goes melty and gooey, and browns nicely in the oven. So let's try it on a pizza!

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It really does come into its own on the pizza - the lovely warm melted mozarella consistency is great, and it's easy to forget that it's plant-based and not dairy. Magic :)

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My climatarian diet

I was shocked - and frankly, really sceptical - to realise that eating meat was one of the biggest climate impacts I was having. On the flip side, that's a good thing, because it's one of the easiest things to change on our own, without upending society. Easier than rerouting the air travel industry! I've been doing it for a couple of years now and hey - it's actually been surprisingly easy and enjoyable.

Yes meat-eating really is an important factor in climate change: see e.g. this recent letter from scientists to the world - but see also the great book "How Bad Are Bananas" for a nice readable intro. For even more detail this 2014 paper and this 2013 paper both quantify the emissions of different diets.

The great thing is you don't have to be totally vegetarian, and you don't have to be an absolutist. Don't set yourself a goal that's way too far out of reach. Don't set yourself up for failure.

So, my climatarian diet. here's how it works:

  1. Don't eat any more beef or lamb, or other ruminants. Those are by far the most climate-changing animals to eat (basically because of all the methane they produce... on top of the impacts of all the crops you need to feed them up, etc).

Actually, that rule is the only rule that I follow as an absolute. Avoid other meat as far as possible, but don't worry too much if you end up having some chicken/pork/etc now and again. The impact of chicken/pork/etc is not to be ignored but it's much less than beef, and I find I've not really wanted much meat since I shifted my eating habits a bit.

More tips:

  1. Seafood (and various fish) is a good CO2-friendly source of protein and vitamins etc for someone who isn't eating meat, so do go for those. Especially seafood, oily fish. (Though it's hard to be sure which fish is better/worse - see e.g. this article about how much fuel it takes to get different fish out of the sea. Farmed fish must be easier right?)
  2. Try not to eat too much cheese, but again don't worry too much.
  3. When people ask, it's easiest just to say "vegetarian" - they usually know how to feed you then :)

I never thought I'd be able to give up on beef (steaks, roasts, burgers) but the weirdest thing is, within a couple of months I just had no inclination towards it. Funny how these seemingly unchangeable things can change.

If CO2 is what you care about then you might end up preferring battery-farmed animals rather than free-range, because if you think about it battery-farming is all about efficiency, and typically uses less resources per animal (it also restricts animal movements) - however, I'm saying this not to justify it but to point out that maybe you don't want to have just a one-track mind.

Vegans have an even better CO2 footprint than vegetarians or almost-ish-vegetarians like me. Vegan food is getting better and better but I don't think I'm going to be ready to set the bar that high for myself, not for the foreseeable. Still, sampling vegan now and again is also worth doing.

Is this plan the ideal one? Of course not. The biggest problem, CO2-wise, is cheese, since personally I just don't know how to cut that out when I'm already cutting out meat etc - it's just a step too far for me. The book "How Bad Are Bananas" points out that a kilogram of cheese often has a CO2 footprint higher than that of some meats. Yet vegetarians who eat cheese still contribute one-third less CO2 than meat-eaters [source], because of course they don't eat a whole cheese steak every day!

You don't have to be perfect - you just have to be a bit better. Give it a go?

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Food I found in India

I just spent a couple of weeks in northern India (to attend IBAC). Did I have some great food? Of course I did.

No fancy gastro stuff, just tried the local cuisine. Funny thing is, as an English person and living in East London for more than a decade, I already knew plenty about the food! Or at least I knew more than the other international delegates did. The Indian names, the difference between naan and chapatti and poori, for example, or what's a palak paneer.

Credit's got to go to Sarab Sethi for showing me his favourite street food when we were in downtown Haridwar - aloo tiki, which is fried potatoes and yogurt with sweet and savoury sauces. Kind of like an Indian equivalent of chips with mayo+ketchup, maybe... or maybe that doesn't do it justice! And thanks Phil for the photo:

In the north India region, two staples of the local cuisine seem to be dhal makhani (buttery thick lentils) and paneer (cheese) curry, which we were served often. To be honest, though, those are very rich, too much to eat every day. On quite a few days I went for a lovely dosa instead - a crispy curry-filled pancake, which is from south India originally, and also not an everyday meal but I do like it.

I did have some top dishes locally though. At a dhaba (a roadside caff) we had some excellent-tasting chana (chickpeas) - no idea how they were flavoured so well but they were. The curried brinjal (okra) dishes were good too, nice and fresh-tasting.

In Delhi (at the start of the trip) I found a well-reputed eatery called Khaki di Hatti. They do massive naan breads - seriously massive, I recommend you agree to order the "baby" one when they suggest it! - and I had a great spinach kofte dish there. It was kofte ("meatballs", you might say, though vegetarian in this case) made of breadcrumbs and who-knows-what-else, in a lovely savoury spinach sauce.

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Eating veggie is easy in this region, since so many people are veggie. But then so is eating non-veggie. Lots of places are "pure veg" and in most other places it's really clearly labelled.

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Best veggieburgers in East London

Veggieburgers have come a long way - and London's vegetarian scene has quite a lot going on in the burger department! - so I wanted to try a few of them. I particuarly wanted to work out, for my own cooking, what's a good strategy for making a veggieburger that is hearty …

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The best vegetarian recipes of 2016

I've been cooking vegetarian in 2016. It's about climate change: meat-eating is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it's something we can change. So here I'm sharing some of the best veggie recipes I found this year. Most of them are not too complex, the point is everyday …

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Vegetarian food in Paris

While in Paris briefly (on my way somewhere else), I decided to go only to vegetarian restaurants. This helps to narrow down the list!

The curiously-named Sense.eat is an Italian veggy restaurant right in the centre of town, just a touch south of the river. Friendly and efficient atmosphere …

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Vegetarian armoury: things you might need

I've been cooking more and more vegetarian food this year. It's better for the climate and why not. You don't have to give anything up, in my opinion - you don't ned to go full veggy, just go in that direction.

So, to mark World Vegetarian Day here are my secrets …

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Food in the Bavarian Forest

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Bacup test kitchen July update

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Getting better at vegetarian food

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Mushy peas three-way showdown

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How to cook the perfect Lancashire hotpot

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The invention of cooking

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Best places to eat in Cambridge

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South Woodford: the nom review

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Cambridge sushi review

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Ale in Dartmoor and Devon

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