As a new vegan it can feel overwhelming to suddenly change the way you think about cooking. All your life you are taught that you need eggs for this, butter for that, milk for something else. Family recipes get passed down to you and they are usually filled with animal products, you have no idea what you can replace them with in a vegan diet. What do you do now? My experience is that most new vegans think the easiest choice is to run to the nearest health food store and scan the shelves, amazed and frankly intimidated by all these new products, 'vegan frozen cheesecake? I'll take it!' you say to yourself, trying to ignore the price tag and the fact that it doesn't quite look like the cheesecake your aunty Betty used to make you every year for your birthday.
However, being vegan doesn't mean that you have to spend 3 times as much as you used to do on food. It's just about re-learning ways to cook your favourite dishes. There are vegan replacements for just about everything you can imagine. Once you get into using the alternatives, being vegan becomes much easier.
Thomas Olsen and Jane Johansen are both vegan food bloggers that have a massive presence throughout Scandinavia. Thomas writes as Veganmannen, his blog detailing his life as a vegan, gorgeous vegan recipes, and all the great things he does for animal rights, working for Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge. He is also a TV chef and has been on God Morgen Norge making vegan christmas food. Jane’s blog Veganmisjonen is widely regarded as one of the best vegan recipe blogs around. Her recipes always look delicious and they are easy to make with 'normal' ingredients you would find in any supermarket.
For the past few years they have been working together organising cooking classes for new and well seasoned vegans (food puns anyone?) as well as anyone else who is looking to eat less meat and more vegetables; helping them learn little tricks and vegan food magic to make life simpler. We were lucky enough to be invited to their 'Introduction to Vegan Food' cooking course at Studio Lilleborg on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I can't think of a nicer way to spend the weekend than having fun in a posh kitchen surrounded by people with similar interests and getting to taste lots of great dishes that you can go home and recreate for yourself afterwards.
Studio Lilleborg is a beautiful venue, a renovated mill in a quiet little apartment complex near Torshov and backing onto the Akerselva river. It is used primarily as a food photography studio so the whole place is decked out with fancy camera lights and a gorgeous kitchen with a baby blue Smeg fridge which I would sell my left arm for. We were among the last to arrive and saw the class was completely full, many of the attendees milling around drinking coffee, chatting and curiously glancing over to all the chopping, slicing and food prep that Thomas and Jane were doing before the beginning of the class.
We were all given a booklet which had a guide of all the recipes we were about to learn and instructions for us to make them at home. I was quite surprised as I flicked through: many of the recipes which I imagined would be difficult were super easy and you only needed a blender and a few ingredients to whizz them together. A lot of the recipes used the same stuff too, I thought this was very practical and clever, as you would only need to do one shopping trip in order to make basically all 14 of the recipes in the guide.
Jane and Thomas introduced themselves and talked a little bit about vegan cooking and then Thomas offered out party orderves which consisted of vegan violife smoked cheese and grapes. (You can get Violife at Sunkost Gunerius and Røtter - find them by using the Vegan Oslo app!) I was surprised to hear that most of the people in attendance were not actually vegan but very interested in vegan cooking or becoming vegan. It is so great when events like this can inspire non vegans to come along. Thomas and Jane are really a great inspiration in their approach to veganism. They make it accessible and, dare we say it, cool.
The first part of the course was concerning breakfast food and making vegan 'pålegg'. Jane began making black bean pâté with pepper, which was so fantastic for me, as before I went vegan I used to love liver pâté. This black bean pate can be made in a batch, and kept in the fridge for 5 days, you can even freeze it so it's very handy for vegans that don't have very much time or money to spend on lunches whilst they're working. It's fast to make, you just pop it all in a blender! It's also super healthy, as the beans are full of protein and Jane pointed out that tahini has way more calcium than milk. Jane will touch on more details like this and premiere many new recipes in her first book which will be released this summer! Follow her on facebook for more details about her upcoming book release.
After this, Thomas began making his tofu scramble with salsa: a perfect breakfast for those of you who miss scrambled eggs or want a protein boost in the morning. This dish is also low in fat! Jane began making a delicious almond and walnut butter that was spiced with cinnamon and then Thomas finished off the breakfast section of the cooking class with tofubacon (more commonly known as facon); a favourite amongst vegans, many meat eaters will laugh at the concept of this… until they try it!
There were plenty of questions from the group, especially regarding the equipment that Jane and Thomas use. We were recommended by Jane to invest in a good food processor, she mentioned brands like Kendall and Bosch. Thomas exclaimed cheerfully that you can get a pretty good one for 500 kr, when people started to look worried about the price. When asked which ones they use personally, Jane told us that she just invested in a real expensive Magimix. I have heard many great things about Magimix before, I think its great for professionals, maybe a bit extravagant for lazy girl like me.
We sat out in the sunshine and ate all our yummy breakfast foods whilst Thomas and Jane prepared for the next part of the class. It was such a gorgeous day and many of the people living in the neighbourhood were out with their kids playing on the grass. I got to chat with a few people who use the Vegan Oslo app and ask them for feedback and then I managed to quickly check out Det Andre Teatret, the cute cafe next door. They have a vegan option every day on their menu and are very knowledgeable about veganism. I have yet to try their food, but will consider adding them to the Vegan Oslo app if you guys want me to. Everyone outside was in such good spirits, they were all talking about how they couldn't wait to go home and try making vegan pålegg themselves.
We went back inside and sat down to learn more recipes. I was really excited to learn how to cook Janes 'Karrikaker med dill'. They were kind of like little tofu burgers, packed with curry, beans, red onion, garlic and ... porridge oats! I had never thought of using porridge oats in such a way before, I couldn't wait to try it out myself. I also learnt that my years of making sweet potato fries and becoming frustrated that they were too sweaty were now over as all I need to stop that happening is cornflour. We then made the most delicious aioli I’ve ever had in my life, all from simple ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen cupboards right now.
Thomas made a ridiculously good nut milk from raw nuts that had been soaked overnight. I had heard about people making this before, but just never seen it in real life. For some reason, seeing Thomas do it, and seeing that it was no trouble at all for him made me get over my fears about making it myself. I can't wait to try it some time. You can buy nuts quite cheaply from various independent supermarkets in Grønland.
They made lots of other great stuff like lentil soup, chocolate pudding, quinoa salad and oven baked tomatoes. When they were done, we all sat down for a big dinner together. I met some cool people at the dinner table, a nice doctor that was looking into veganism for his health and just to expand his cooking abilities, and a lady who works for womens rights in Africa. I also met some other people who have never cooked anything vegan before and they were almost bursting with excitement to try these recipes at home.
It was such a lovely day and I would really recommend coming to one of their future classes. Thomas mentioned that the next one will be summer food themed and there will be a strong emphasis on vegan BBQ food! Yum! Follow him on facebook to be the first to know when the next class is. He is also planning a vegan holiday to the US this year. For the first time ever you can now get the opportunity to go on a unique vegan journey to USA and Canada and Thomas will be the tour guide! Read more details about this here.
After everyone else had gone home, we helped Jane and Thomas clear away all the dishes and then we enjoyed a nice glass of wine and talked about ways we can all help to make veganism accessible. As Thomas said at the start of the class 'Vegansk mat er for alle' (Vegan food is for everyone) and it's really true. It's for us, for our families, for a better society and of course for the animals.