When it comes to veganism, Whole Foods ain’t playing around. And the Piccadilly Circus superstore is a proper plant-based day out. I walk the aisles in a daze. Picking up gourmet supermarket gold like Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten, Follow Your Heart Garlic Aioli Vegenaise, Cocofina Coconut Aminos and Crosstown Doughnuts to go.
Predictably, the store’s on-the-go vegan food is just as lavish, decadent, and most importantly, imaginative. Instead of chickpea flatbreads and onion bhajis I found a dreamy-sounding smoky bacon maple tempeh, tomato, guacamole and cheeze option on a ciabatta roll. And I think I might have just discovered my new favourite sandwich.
If you haven’t tried tempeh yet, do it. It’s like tofu, only meatier. And when it’s smoked, glazed in maple syrup and served up like bacon – with melted vegan cheese and guacamole – oh man. It’s like a little soy based, Indonesian vegan dream. And the fact that the sandwich is hot is a massive novelty as well. What a treat.
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.
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?
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.
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…