On good vegan recipes

December 16, 2019

Most vegan recipes that you find are bad. In two ways: the food they try to make is bad, and the recipe layouts are bad.

The food being bad is, I think, a result of the content commodification of places like YouTube and Facebook that are usually linked to vegan websites. In order to pump out content, the current wave of popular vegan recipe-makers often go to publish before they’ve spent enough time on it, or even in some cases publishing while they’re only making it for the first time. This has led to the vast majority of recipes available being terrible, and annoying formats such as “what I eat in a day” style videos. For instance, if you were to search for good Seitan recipes, you would find far more results than you could ever process. Usually, one recipe that the writer will say is great. I have not been able to find a resource that in detail explains what different effects recipes have (e.g. altering water content, oil content, non-flour solids, water temperature, cooking time). Maybe that resource exists, but it is too hard to find under the torrent of bad information.

While this affects the entire online food environment, the vegan world is still plagued by the hippy health aesthetic. It’s impossible to tell for a lot of vegan channels whether they’re doing things because they work or because they fit the aesthetic. It also makes things really annoying to use. Sometimes though, good recipes (e.g. this one seitan recipe) do come out but they’re hard to find under the other trash.

The rest of the food world has seen a boom in the way good recipes are produced. Test kitchens are becoming ever more popular and the way things are presented is becoming more refined, focussing more on good explanation (see the rise of YouTube chefs like Binging with Babish and Adam Ragusea). However, there has been no such movement in the vegan world. Fortunately, we can still cash in on these improvements. Serious Eats has in the past produced many vegan recipes on an annual basis which it has made available through its resource the vegan experience. Further, that website and others have a focus on technique that can be applied to other areas. For example, America’s Test Kitchen video series on science-led technique that really improves cooking of mushrooms and cauliflower.

Generally, until we see more of a shift to this style that is dedicated to vegan cooking, the best you can really do is follow websites and channels such as these and try to learn what you can that will be useful.

The second qualm I have with recipes is their terrible physical layout. As much as I love Serious Eats, their recipes are hard to use, even on a phone (you shouldn’t have to scroll away from your step at any point). Including instructions on the ingredients list just makes things confusing. They do this because in developing recipes, usually all prep is done before the actual cooking. In home kitchens, people don’t usually have a ton of tiny bowls hanging around to hold everything and people are more focussed on saving time. This can be optimised easily while developing a recipe. For instance, compare Serious Eats’ channa masala with mine. I’ll tell you to cut the onions when it’s time to cut the onions.