THE BEYOND MEAT BEYOND BURGER – BEYOND FAST FOOD. BEYOND TAKEAWAY. IN YOUR KITCHEN

Hi, Pathetically

I remember when Beyond Meat first launched the Beyond Burger in the U.K. Before mega-chains like Honest Burgers, Byron and BrewDog were serving them on tap the patties were meant to be available at Tesco stores across London. I looked for them. A lot. Months apart. At several jumbo stores. But I never found any*.

So Beyond Burgers became a novelty. A mysterious treat I enjoyed at dreamy joints like Halo Burger, Vurger and Co., and most recently, Neat Burger. Until I found a pack of two in Whole Foods, Piccadilly Circus’ frozen vegetarian section and kicked down that vegan fourth wall, with added Follow Your Heart Pepper Jack cheese slices and SGAIA’S Streaky Mheat Rashers. Burger night would never be the same again.

I couldn’t believe it. In my own kitchen. The packaging looked so unassuming. Like I’d bought any old Vivera, Linda McCartney, supermarket brand “soy protein” burgers. Not Beyond Burgers. Not the real, “bleeding-vegan” deal.

“Made from plants. Soy free. Gluten free.” So what is it? Pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil and refined coconut oil. Mostly. Plus “two percent” or less experimental vegan science like bamboo cellulose, vegetable glycerine and methylcellulose (and a bunch of extracts, acids and other things you’d probably rather not know too much about).

Still, in moderation, Beyond Burgers are meant to be healthier than processed beef. And of course, ethically and environmentally there’s no comparison. If meat is murder (and it is), Beyond Meat is a life saver. Interestingly, although they’re processed, some nutritionists don’t even classify the patties as junk food. Either way, one thing I’ve never had is the vegan meat sweats.

Just like any regular beef burger, you have to know what you’re doing when it comes to cooking Beyond Burgers. You can’t just throw them on the pan, poke them around a bit and hope for the best. Just ask Honest Burgers. There’s an art to a good Beyond Burger.

Hi, Pathetically

As someone who liked his burgers medium to well-done, I like to cook my vegan burgers more or less the same. And even then, there’s an art. Between overcooking and drying it out and cooking it just right, so it’s not bloody but it’s still juicy and full of flavour. And let me tell you, I nailed it.

Just before serving I fried up my vegan rashers, laid my cheese slices on my patties under the grill and dressed my bun with lettuce, vegan mayo, sriracha mayo, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Then I popped the melted cheese-topped patties on the lettuce side of the buns, crossed two bacon strips over them and neatly positioned the sauce side of the bun on top. I was in vegan burger heaven. Not quite Halo Burger good. But way better than Honest Burgers. So a winning start, really…

* looks like the burgers are available from Tesco online. But who buys groceries online, right?

SGAIA’S STREAKY MHEAT RASHERS – ALL OF THE SIZZLE. NONE OF THE GRISTLE.

Hi, Pathetically

I used to think it was weird that vegans and vegetarians were so into “fake” meat. Now I get it. It’s how we were raised. It’s comforting. It’s convenient. The unshakeable evolution of the human fast food diet. And besides, nobody gives up bacon because they don’t like the taste. We do it because it’s cruel, it’s unhealthy and it’s killing the planet.

I have tried a few meat, dairy and egg-free bacon alternatives since I went vegan. And unsurprisingly, some of them taste like dry, “hickory flavoured” cardboard. But there is hope for plant-based foodies craving that perfect, juicy, smokey bacon taste on burgers, pancakes and scrambled tofu.

Of course, The Full Nelson’s homemade crispy tofu bacon is a vegan junk food dream. But so far, my favourite DIY supermarket option is This Isn’t Bacon. Followed by Upton’s Naturals, which is thinner and drier than I’d like and does need seasoning.

Then I stumbled across a bag of SGAIA’s Vegan Meats Streaky Mheat Rashers in Whole Foods, Piccadilly Circus. And straight away, I was intrigued.

They really do look the part. The uncooked rashers are “juicier” and more bacon-like than Upton’s, and even This Isn’t Bacon. And when you pop them in a hot pan with a splash of oil, the sizzles, crackles and smells are perfect. Close enough to trigger the feels, yet different enough to not smell like actual dead flesh cooking – which now grosses me out, a lot.

I tried the rashers in toasted cheese and bacon sandwiches and on burgers, and I’m definitely hooked. They’re crispy, chewy and bacon-thick. The taste’s fantastic as well. Salty. Smokey. With a hint of sweet maple – thanks to the combination of beech wood liquid smoke, molasses and maple syrup. Next time I think I’ll cook up a vegan carbonara. Mmm…

PULLED OUMPH! & OUMPH! KEBAB SPICED – DELICIOUS SOYA “MEAT” CHUNKS STRAIGHT OUT OF THE KEBAB SHOP

Hi, Pathetically

No one I ask has ever heard of Oumph! It’s like some kind of hush-hush full-time vegan secret that just seemed to appear one day. First there was BBQ Pulled Oumph! Then came Oumph! Kebab Spiced. And now there’s a new Oumph! Burger, which I haven’t tried yet. So people are obviously buying the stuff.

The “meat” itself is pretty damn convincing – especially for frozen, pulled supermarket soya pieces. The taste and texture reminds me of What the Pitta’s amazing vegan kebab “meat.” Or at least a frozen, DIY version. But still… believe me, that’s high praise indeed.

I’ve tried both versions of the Swedish company’s pulled soya meat. In wraps with homemade hummus. On loaded rosemary fries with Garlic Aioli Vegenaise and sriracha. With roast potatoes. Rice. And roasted vegetables. And Oumph! never disappoints. It’s simple. It’s delicious. And it’s easy to dress up and enjoy.

ONE PLANET PIZZA THREE CHEEZLY MARGHERITA – THE STICKIEST, CHEESIEST FROZEN VEGAN PIZZA IN TOWN

Hi, Pathetically

Public service announcement. If you live anywhere near New Cross and Deptford, you have to try the new Embas Express Supermarket in New Cross Road. It’s a vegan goldmine loaded with rare gems. The range is incredible. I’ve found everything from Follow Your Heart Bleu Cheese Dressing to Sgaia’s Vegan Mheat Steaks. And finally, I found it. One Planet Pizza.

The independent, partly crowd-funded company’s range of frozen vegan pizzas has been on my hit list since I saw them at Vegan Life Live 2019, Alexandra Palace. I didn’t get to try a slice then, because the queue was too long. But it looked and smelled amazing. So imagine the excited little vegan dance I did in my head when I found the whole damn range in an obscure, independent, express supermarket in New Cross Road.

I decided to keep it simple and go for the Three Cheezly Margherita. That’s the one I remember from the expo. And straight away, it had one up on my regular Kirsty’s Classic Margherita – and every other frozen pizza I’ve ever tasted. Because it’s the only one I’ve had that comes with basil leaves already on it. Ready to go. Just pop it in the oven.

Like a lot of vegan margheritas the cheese topping is sticky and gooey. But the three cheese combo makes it thicker and tastier than usual. The texture’s better as well. And the tomato sauce is richer and more flavourful. It’s a quality frozen pizza. So it’s no surprise that One Planet Pizza won Best Vegan Ready Meal at Vegfest 2018.

Interestingly, when I saw One Planet Pizza at Vegan Life Live, the Norwich-based company used Bute Island Sheese on their pizzas. Nowadays, however, they’ve swapped to VBites’ Cheezly alternative. Not sure why. Also, if you don’t live near a magical Embas Express, One Planet Pizza is available from Ocado and hundreds of independent stores across the U.K.

ASDA FLATBREAD VEGAN VEGGIE FEAST – TASTY CHILLED PIZZA, WITH CHEESE (AND NO FALAFEL)

asda flatbread vegan pizza
Hi, Pathetically

When you step back and think about it, the (very recent) increase in convenient, supermarket vegan options is actually pretty staggering. When I went vegan, not that long ago, frozen pizzas were cheeseless, and came with toppings like falafel, onion and artichoke. Chilled? Forget about it.

But times have changed. Again and again. And interestingly, Asda seems to be going through a kind of low-key vegan awakening, in terms of expanding its range. There’s a new line of meat-free frozen nuggets. Frozen popcorn “chicken.” Meat-free burger patties. And this exciting new chilled vegan flatbread pizza.

First of all. The shape. It’s ridiculous. Did anyone at Asda even try slicing one of these things with a pizza cutter before they okayed its production? Reinventing pizza is fine. Go right ahead. But why fuck with the shape? Come on. Charge 20p more and make the damn thing round, right?

Redeemingly, the pizza tastes great. It’s a good-quality, cheap, ready made snack. The tomato sauce is rich. The vegan mozzarella’s perfectly cheesy. The stonebaked base is thin and crispy. And the mixed grilled peppers and garlic mushrooms are subtle and complimentary. I’ll definitely buy it again. And no doubt complain about the shape. Again.

SQUEAKY BEAN’S NUT-FREE SATAY KIEV – QUICK AND EASY, TASTY (VEGAN) NIGHTS IN

squeaky bean vegan satay kiev
Hi, Pathetically

If you’re in the mood for something quick and easy, and don’t mind soya, wheat and scary sounding additives like maltodextrin, Squeaky Bean Veg’s nut-free vegan satay kievs are a tasty – and very convincing – chicken alternative.

The texture’s perfect. Just like the schnitzels I remember growing up. Especially if you cook them a bit longer than recommended, hit grill towards the end and crisp them up in a splash of olive oil – or melt a cheeky slice of Violife cheddar on top. And when you hit the middle it’s like a savoury, vegan-chicken doughnut, filled with sweet, nut-free satay sauce.

squeaky bean vegan satay kiev
Hi, Pathetically

I’ve eaten them on pasta. With vegan mac ‘n cheese. In burgers, with cheese and other fancy toppings. With bubble and squeak and a side of “meaty” Marmite gravy… Their role in lunch or dinner’s totally up to you. But one thing they consistently don’t do, is disappoint.

FRY’S ARTISAN SMOKED HOT DOGS – GUILT-FREE (AND DELICIOUS) VEGAN SUMMER BBQS AWAIT

fry family food company smoked vegan artisan hot dogs
Hi, Pathetically

These take me back. To a simpler, or perhaps more complicated time. When I’d drop a couple of chilled viennas in a pot of boiling water, slice up some hotdog rolls, squirt them with mustard and ketchup and eat them watching Seinfeld in my boxers. Now, thanks to the Fry Family Food Company’s new Vegan Artisan Smoked Hot Dogs, I can relive those dreary salad days with a bit more sophistication. And trousers.

The hotdogs are “naturally smoked” in a classic wood smoker and they taste legit. They’re smoky and light with a perfect hot dog texture. Like the “high-end” version of the real thing, only without those repressed pangs of denial-of-origin. Instead, these sausages are mostly soy and wheat vegetable protein and your regular concoction of flavourings and thickeners. So more processed treat than everyday eat.

To make sure my dogs lived up to their “Artisan” billing I added last night’s homemade chimichurri and a mix of leftover baked panko crumbs and Corn Flakes for added crunch. And needless to say, Seinfeld has never been enjoyed over hot dogs as sophisticated as these.

So far I’ve only found the Fry’s range in larger Sainsbury’s stores. But if you’re in the mood for an easy, tasty vegan hot dog, or on your way to a summer BBQ, you can’t go wrong with a pack of Frys Vegan Artisan Smoked Hot Dogs.