I didn’t know that there is no sustainable way of fishing for shrimp/prawn (the two words are used interchangeably by many people although shrimp live mainly in salt water and prawn in fresh) until I went to Costa Rica and spoke to the marine biologists who were working on the M/V Sharkwater. It was harsh to hear about the commercial fishing method, which involved dragging a weighted net along the ocean bed and catching everything in its path (or destroying it, in the case of reef). It’s such a bad way of fishing that only 4%, or less, of a shrimp trawlers catch is actually shrimp, the rest is other animals (turtles, dolphins, fish, etc) that die in the nets and are thrown back into the sea.
After hearing that, if I wasn’t already vegan then the first course of action for me would be obvious. Give up eating shrimp and prawn. But I am vegan so I already don’t eat any seafood at all.
The easy way forward, then, would be to stand back and say, hey, it’s you meat eaters that are to blame here, y’all got to sort this out among you. Stop eating unsustainable food, stop funding these trawlers with your purchases, and start funding fishermen who are doing the right thing.
But mainly I’m writing this for my friends and family so I don’t want to just walk away, not when I have quite a good knowledge of cooking and how to make cruelty free, sustainable food.
Those close to me said they’d be happy to try new foods, but they enjoyed fish, and shrimp, so they didn’t want to give it up. They reminded me of spoilt young kids, sitting in their high-chairs, banging unsustainable plastic spoons onto unsustainable plastic trays and bowls and shouting “But I want my shrimp!”
Kind of like when grown adults saying something like ‘Ooh, I’d love to be vegetarian and get away from all that dairy farm cruelty, heart disease and other health problems, but I could never give up cheese…”
You just want to say, have a listen to yourself, do you really think life is all about you?
But hey, I’m trying to take a more gentle line these days, trying to play the game in a softer manner. This isn’t about me getting a kick out of acting superior or being a smartass, it’s about the animals and the environment, and I have to do the best I can for their sake. So the sarcasm and disdain which comes so naturally to one born into my circumstances and part of England has to take a back seat, replaced instead by something far more useful, which is…
A vegan version of shrimp cocktail (we call it prawn cocktail in the UK, it's the same thing though) and prawn curry.
I knew I had to create something that was simple to make so people new to vegan cooking could get on with it. It’s not easy to learn how to cook properly after you’ve spent your life eating meat and seafood in the manner of the western world, which encourages you to salt and sweeten everything to such an extent that your taste buds become a shadow of what they can be, and your visits to the spice rack are way too infrequent. So here’s what I came up with.
Take Note; And this is important. Many veggie replacement meat or fish recipes try to entice you into making them by saying they’ll taste the same as meat or fish. Then you make them and find that’s not true at all, and there begins, or continues, the erosion of trust that is tearing our societies apart.
These recipes don’t taste like prawn, I won't claim that, but they are tasty alternatives that are near to the prawn eating experience, so I hope you’ll give them a try and phase shrimp/prawn out of your diet as a result.
The main attraction with this dish is the sauce and the appearance. Get those 2 things right and it hardly matters what replaces the shrimp. I tried 3 different fillings. They were:
Cannellini beans (these are also sold as white kidney beans) and small pieces of raw cauliflower.
The stalks from mushrooms.
Pieces of seitan, that I made myself with a sushi/seaweed seasoning.
I did a blind taste test on a couple of friends and they both said, they’re all different and they’re all good, why don’t you mix them together and instead of having a single texture you can have 4. So I did just that, and it was a cool result. If you've no experience of making seitan no problem, leave it out, just use the mushrooms, beans and cauliflower instead. Or if you can think of another veggie substitute, then throw that in instead.
2 tbsp Veganaise (that’s mayo, but without the cruelty). You can also use regular, thick mayo if you can’t find it
1.5 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp lemon juice (the type you get from a bottle is fine, fresh is better). Don't put too much of this in, it will make the sauce too runny. If you'd like to play around with ingredients here, you may want to sub the lemon juice for white wine vinegar
2 splashes veggie Worcestershire sauce
2 drops of Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix it all up, stir in the filling, line a cocktail glass - or bowl - with lettuce, spoon the mix on top of the leaves and sprinkle with optional toppings. Serve with a lemon wedge on the side.
Or serve at a picnic, as I did, with fresh bread...
...or as a platter with pita and other spreads/toppings.
If after mixing all the sauce ingredients together you find you need to add more heat, add more Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco, and if you need a different sort of heat, you can try adding some horseradish sauce.
If you want more of a seafood flavour, add some crumbled nori seaweed or sushi seasoning.
If you’d like it to look pinker, add a little more ketchup.
Top the dish with cut chives and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper to make it look even more special.
Now, I understand it might be a hassle to get veggie mayo and Worcestershire sauce or to even think about buying something you never bought before, but welcome to the new world. The easy way that you’ve been following has filled the oceans with plastic and our hearts with an acceptance of cruelty, and driven many species - including our own - to a dangerous place. Extinction, for us all, is a very real prospect. To dig us out of this hole will take work and part of that work begins at the supermarket. Spend more time learning about food and shopping for it, and pay a little more for quality, sustainable ingredients. That’s the future, if you want there to be a future.
Next blog post I’ll move onto the coconut prawn curry.