Vegan version of crispy chicken

extra crispy tofu vegan chicken plantbased pantry

When people find out that I’m mostly vegan, the first thing they want to know is if I miss meat. If you’d asked me that in the early days, I would have said yes. It’s possible to miss something while being determined not to have it, and that process is actually not as bad as you think it will be. It’s a bit like when you give up sugar or alcohol for a detox – of course you miss it, but you’re not thinking about it every second of the day and counting down the moments until you can sink your teeth into a donut.

Despite initially missing the smell and texture of crispy chicken on the braai, I found that as the months went on, it was no longer a thing. In fact the smell of meat, while still pleasant, didn’t make me want to rush over and feast on it. Over Christmas we had an alternative menu with one meat dish, one veg dish and one vegan dish. I ate the veg and vegan dishes, but I decided to test myself with the meat dish. It’s not that I was considering going back to eating meat, it’s more that I wanted to know how it would feel. So I had a taste – and then another. It was an odd experience. I didn’t not like it, but I also didn’t enjoy it the way I used to.

I found I couldn’t separate the ethics of eating meat – for me it has always been about kindness to animals and what they go through when they are killed for our consumption – from the experience of enjoying the taste. It’s a mental shift that I didn’t necessarily expect, but it’s a very visceral one. I always thought that maybe one day I would eat chicken again because I wanted to, perhaps just one more time (I am 90% vegan and that’s mainly because I haven’t given up the occasional sushi dinner, but I also believe that no one can be 100% vegan all of the time. There are times when you’re going to consume animal products for any number of reasons – but that’s a whole other topic that I’ll address in another post). After testing myself on two different meat dishes over the holidays, I can safely that I won’t be eating that chicken.

I don’t believe that our bodies crave meat. I do however believe that we crave salt, spice, texture and flavour. My dad raises a point that I find interesting and sometimes a little amusing when we discuss veganism. He says that if he went vegan (he is a hearty meat eater) he wouldn’t want to eat the substitutes on the market, because why eat something that’s a shadow of the real thing – rather just eat vegetables and grains etc the way nature intended. Clearly my dad has never had a craving for crispy coating that he hasn’t been able to satisfy!

One of the ways that vegans enjoy their meals is by adding the flavour and texture that we previously enjoyed with meat. The photo above is of super crispy tofu which Mark made as a topping for a Thai veg stir fry. It is double dipped in soya milk and coated with a homemade spicy breadcrumb mix. Does it taste like chicken? Of course not. Does it have the same texture as crispy chicken strips and satisfy all our cravings for spicy crunchiness? Yes, it most certainly does!

The more we practice, the easier we find we can make all the dishes we used to enjoy in a vegan version. I may never eat chicken again, but I don’t for a moment feel like I’m missing out.

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