Although I’ve been a fan of Masterchef since Loyd Grossman presented the show in its primary-coloured-cornered olden days, it’s rare for me to remember any of the contestants. Jackie Kearney, however, is one I remember because, as far as I was aware at the time, she was the first vegetarian cook to be on Masterchef and, not only that, she was the first vegetarian chef to get to the finals in the show. (I also remember Jackie because, despite being vegetarian, she cooked meat on the show, which I thought was a shame but I suppose she couldn’t just sit out the rounds where they had to cook badgers’ eyeballs with prawn brain jus or whatever weirdo things they make them cook on there).
Since getting to the Masterchef finals in 2011, Jackie has held pop-up dining events, set up a vegetarian fine-dining club, pursued her Asian street food venture in her trailer, Barbarella, and wrote the bestselling Vegan Street Food cookbook which she has recently followed up with My Vegan Travels, which takes inspiration from all over the world.
This collection of 75 vegan recipes starts with a few basic recipes such as vegan mayonnaise, cashew cream, ‘ricotta’ cheese and almond milk, before plunging into the main recipes which are categorised under:
- No Place Like Home – recipes include My Big Fat Veggie Cottage Pie, Cauliflower Mac ‘n’ Jack, and Tempeh ‘Bacon’, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich
- European Summers – recipes include Tempura Courgette Flowers, Socca Pizza, and Baked Aubergine Fries with BBQ Dip
- Asian Comfort – recipes include Punjabi Pie and Gravy, Beetroot and Watercress Samosas, and Bombay Vegetable Sandwich
- Americana – recipes include Korean-style Cauliflower Wings, Big Beet Burger with Beer-Battered Pickles, and Marinara Vegball Sub
My Vegan Travels is laced with beautiful photos by Clare Winfield, and Jackie gives clear instructions for each recipe. Be warned though – this isn’t a ‘dinner on the table in 15 minutes’ type of cookbook – the recipes have long lists of ingredients but most of these are herbs, spices, flour, etc., i.e. stuff you’ll have in your cupboard anyway. For example, the Cauliflower Mac ‘n’ Jack I made has 19 ingredients but all I had to buy was the cauliflower (which I ended up throwing away – but more about that in a bit).
I haven’t mentioned desserts but this is purely because desserts aren’t my thing and I haven’t taken much notice of them. They are there though at the end of each chapter. What I was interested in was making something that didn’t look too time-consuming or that was going to use too many saucepans (I moved house recently and along with having the smallest kitchen in the world, I currently have probably the smallest collection of saucepans – just two of them. This will be rectified soon.)
As mentioned a few lines above, I made the Cauliflower Mac ‘n’ Jack and although I’d already planned to ditch the ‘Jack’ bit, what with it being Jack Daniels and me not being a fan of having alcohol in food, I also had to ditch the ‘Cauliflower’ bit as, when I chopped my cauliflower in half, a caterpillar dropped out and, while I have no problem with caterpillars hitching a ride on my cauliflower (does that sound as dodgy to you as it does to me?), I must admit seeing its poo all over it put me off eating it and it went into the bin (the caterpillar-poo-covered cauliflower – not the caterpillar; that went into the garden).
Still, the resulting vegan macaroni cheese was far better than I’d expected it to be. Not that I mistrusted Jackie’s recipe development skills but because I’d attempted a vegan pasta sauce a few weeks ago and that was so disappointingly boring and bland, it went in the bin (and it wasn’t even covered in caterpillar poo). This vegan mac and cheese, however, was gorgeous. It was thick and creamy and cheesy and I’d even go as far as to say it tastes pretty much like a regular dairy one. I’d halved the original recipe and had half of that for my dinner but I had to restrain myself from finishing off the whole lot, it was that good.
Please don’t be put off by my photos of the mac and cheese – I wouldn’t usually post photos this bad and they certainly don’t do the food justice; I’m just posting them to show that I did actually make it. You can see what it should look like in the other photo further up the page.
My Vegan Travels by Jackie Kearney is published by Ryland, Peters and Small, with a RRP of £16.99 (you can get it for less on Amazon). Ryland, Peters and Small sent me a copy to review but all opinions (and caterpillar-poo-based disasters) are my own. Affiliate links are included in this post.