Vegan Mofo Day 3 - which vegan ready-made meals are really quick, easy and delicious?
I would like to apply for a change of title - to not quick, fairly easy, and sometimes delicious. For your reading pleasure, I have been experimenting with vegan ready meals.
I don't normally eat ready meals. I like cooking stuff myself, because a) I like cooking b) readymeals (back in the dim-and-distant omni days when I ate such things) were often grim and c) they were expensive to boot. But still, Vegan MoFo is a good excuse to experiment with new and different cuisines. Even if those cuisines involve a cardboard sleeve and piercing a film cover.
First up in my ready-meal voyage of discovery: Amy's Kitchen's veggie sausage breakfast sandwich. It's a sausage patty and a layer of scrambled tofu housed in a gluten free bun.
Getting the Amy's sarnie from freezer to face is a matter of a couple of minutes in the microwave, or an age in the oven. I have no microwave, and so had to be patient - 40 minutes worth of patient.
After that much waiting, I was pretty light-headed from hunger, so I would have eaten it if it was made of cardboard. Which is a fairly close approximation of the bun. Oh alright, I'm being a bit cheap - after 20 minutes of cooking, it was dried out and a bit crisp and hard though.
The sausage and tofu were more promising, but whoever's in charge of adding the black pepper has a bit of a heavy hand. Still, I'm a sucker for a spicy sausage patty and any avenue of getting scrambled tofu into my face with minimal effort can be no bad thing.
There is, Amy's alleges, some secret sauce involved. I don't want to blow the secret wide open, but I'm pretty sure the sauce is ketchup. There wasn't enough of it either, but you can recreate that authentic Amy's secret experience by just reaching for whatever tomato sauce you have in your fridge.
I'm not sure the breakfast sandwich is worth a 40 minute wait, but I suspect it would fare better microwaved rather than ovened. While this was never going to be the sort of thing I'd normally buy, I'm glad it's out there in the wild - even vegans need microwave breakfast sarnies sometimes!
If the Breakfast Sandwich was something I thought I'd like but ended up disappointed by, Amy's Lasagne was pretty much the opposite.
Microwave lasagne was one of the ready meals that I would keep in the freezer when I was a student, so it seems fitting that I should be revisiting it again as I'm poised to reenter university. Only then I had a microwave, now I have to put it in the oven and wait for 40 minutes. It's not exactly quick, but it is easy.
Is it delicious? I'm happy to report it actually is! The sauce is slightly sweet but not painfully so, and it's not insipid like a lot of microwave lasagnes - you can taste some herbs in there. There's a goodly amount of filling too, lots of spinach and tiny cubes of tofu. I even enjoyed the Daiya, which I'm normally not a fan of - there was just enough to add a little creamy tang, not enough to be cloying. At north of £3, it's not something I'd be eating every day, but I'll definitely be keeping one in the freezer for emergencies.
The next foray into Amy's microwave meals was this rice mac and cheeze. Even looking at the photos below kind of makes me shudder. Sorry Amy's, I like a lot of your food, but this is just not good.
Being a bit of a Daiya skeptic, I approached this rice mac and cheeze with a bit of trepidation but in the interests of fairness, I decided I should try and reaquaint myself with its work.
I wish I hadn't. I wish we'd have left our friendship lapse.
I can't thoroughly express how unpleasant I found eating it. It was the weird funky flavour and the greasy coating it left on my mouth and the strong odour that pervaded the room and clung to my hair for the rest of the day.
I couldn't finish it. I can't think of the last meal I didn't manage to eat in its entirety - I am a greedy beast - but I could only work my way, struggling, through a third of the mac n cheeze before admitting defeat.
Summary: DO. NOT. EAT. THIS. EVER.
After the boke-making mac and cheeze, there was sweet relief in the form of Amy's vegetable korma.
If I were to rank the many curries I enjoy in order of preference, poor old korma would always come at the bottom. It's not that it doesn't taste fine, but I like a bit of heat when I'm eating Indian food. I'm not one of those goons that will only put something in my mouth if it's nudging the ceiling of the Scoville scale, but all the same, I want a little warmth.
That's a long-winded way of saying I wasn't convinced I was going to like the korma.
Yet another time I have to confess myself wrongfooted by Amy's readymeals. This korma was actually rather nice. Not only did it have lots of comforting Asian flavours, it came with lots of cashew-studded rice, and some creamy lentils. (Amy's calls this daal, but daal to me implies red or yellow lentils, rather than the brown that they have here.)
My apologies to your delicate sensibilities for what you're about to see, but I'd been down the pub and decided to cook up the korma when I came back. The lighting was far from good, and my hand far from steady.
The picture really doesn't do it justice - it really was rather tasty, and just the sort of thing a fuzzy-headed returner from the pub can appreciate, not the pile of cat sick it resembles here.
The enchilada was the last of the ready meals that I shovelled down my neck.
I expected good things from the enchilada when the scent of warm corn tortillas started wafting out of the oven. I know, dear US readers, that good enchiladas are your birth right, but for US poor Englishfolk, decent Mexican food is a bit of a rarity. As such, I was surprisingly impressed with the mole those corn tortillas were swimming in, and the mix of corn, beans, and tiny cubes of tofu that they enclosed. (Side note: where does Amy's go to get such tiny, perfectly cuboid bits of tofu? Is there an army of vegan elves with set squares at their disposal? Questions, questions.) I don't know why, but the tiny rectangular herbs on top of the enchiladas tickled me no end. It's a microwaveable meal, but that doesn't men
The sauce, again, was surprisingly good. A red mole of sorts, it was full of flavour and, having downed the enchiladas, I found a little extra bread to sop up what remained. High praise indeed.
And one more final romp through the world of ready meals in the form of the thai red curry.
By now, my microwave meal tolerance was waning. £4 for a curry I could make myself at home for half the price? Still, I pressed on. Enquiring minds need to know about where they can get a meal in a box the size of a modest paperback book.
At this point, I had to capitulate. After warming the meal up in the oven, I was pretty impressed by the way neither the veggies nor the rice were overcooked or dry, and the sauce had a good flavour. I more impressed about the ratio of one to the other: from what I remember of ready meals from my old student days (the last time when microwaves figured in my culinary repertoire), normally the makers try to cut costs by surrounding a few morsels of proteins in gallons of too-sweet sauce. Amy's has adopted the crazy idea of you know, putting a fair amount of vegetables in their vegetable curry. I hope it's a strategy that catches on!
My original plan was to try out lots of vegan ready meals from lots of different companies, but I settled on only eating Amy's ones, chiefly because - I thought - they were the only company out there making loud-and-proud vegan ones.
Only, it seems, they're not that loud-and-proud about the veganness of their ready meals - only half of the meals I tried had the magical word 'vegan' on the box. While you can go to the Amy's website and see all six under the vegan section, you'd have to trust your instincts if you stumbled across them in the store. Why should that be the case? Amy's, show the vegans some love!
So, after trying all five vegan ready meals, am I a convert? Well, I surprised myself by actually enjoying three of the meals, and would probably buy the enchilada and lasagne again, in a pinch. It would have to be a particularly well-remunreated pinch - at nearly £4 a go, I struggle to justify not spending the same money on a load of veggies and some grains or pasta and getting not just one, but several, meals out of it.
That said, I'm glad there are these options out there, proving that vegan ready meals are tastier and healthier than their omni counterparts. Apart from that mac n cheeze, which is an abomination of the highest order.