This summer we're looking to cater for the rising demand for vegan-friendly options by adding some great new products to our existing frozen plant-based range.
I’ve been a product development chef at Asda for the last four years and it's been fascinating to see the growing popularity of a plant-based diet, as illustrated by the record number of people taking part in Veganuary this year.
I've previously worked in restaurants and catering as a chef and then before that I was front of house, so I’ve been fortunate enough to work pretty much every job role in the food service industry. I’m a qualified chef and working in the development team really gives me the scope to push the boundaries on food and what the capabilities of food are.
We want to create products that are inclusive – it’s one of our business pillars. So it was important to me that we could create products that are not only great tasting, affordable and of great quality but also inclusive to anyone who wants to try something different, eat less meat or people who have made a dietary or lifestyle choice. We’ll always try and make sure we’re developing these products with our customers in mind.
Last year I took part in a seven-day vegan challenge to gain understanding and insights about our customers who are wanting to eat more plant-based foods.
It’s really helped in the way that we've developed our ranges since, not only for me but our product development managers as well. I help to provide the inspiration for some of these products, and the real work and elbow grease is done by our product managers who are so fantastic at taking these trends and translating them into products that are accessible and relatable for our customers.
I think it’s really important that we do continue to work on plant-based cuisine. It's intrinsically healthy at the end of the day and the nice thing is, it’s naturally fresh, vibrant and colourful.
Our product developments managers, like Sarah Denyer, are behind some of the great plant-based products available this summer. They take my inspiration and run with it to create the products you see on your shelves. Sarah's worked so hard with the team to create some delicious summer products that are suitable for those following a vegan plant-based diet.
First up are the vegan Red Pepper and Sweet Potato Sausages. They're such versatile sausages that are packed full of flavour and ideal for the BBQ, not only because they’re bright, vibrant and fresh but also because they’re a lovely healthier option to have on your grill.
They’re also great in an English breakfast, or you can throw them into an Italian stew with some potatoes, yellow peppers, olives and fresh basil for a delicious meal on a rainy day. It's one of my favourites! For one of our showcases we created a plant-based sausage roll and served it with a chipotle beetroot ketchup and do you know what, it was absolutely fantastic!
I think our new plant-based Cheese and Red Onion Quarter Pounders will be a real hit during the summer. They’re thick, juicy burgers made entirely with plant-based ingredients and a cheese alternative. The best way to enjoy these is in the traditional way with a nice crusty bun with some relish, gherkins, tomato slices, onion rings and lettuce.
This is a really good one for the BBQ as you don’t feel like you’re compromising, which is key for our development teams here – we don’t want our customers to feel like they’re missing out. Even if you’re not looking for that plant-based option, we want you to be able to see this on the shelves and think to yourself “you know what, I’m going to try that!”
The nice thing about these products is that they’re not only fantastic on the BBQ, but when those rainy showers do come closing in they can go straight into the oven and you’re going to get the same great fresh flavours from the oven as you would from the BBQ. So many people who have tried this range have come back to me and said: "Do you know what, that’s just really tasty!"
Another of our product development managers James Waters has been working on some fantastic cheese alternatives too that are perfect for topping your plant-based burgers. James was behind our Free From Mature Cheddar Alternative which has been award winning two years in a row. I use it at our media shows and I tend to really rave about that one! We've also got a delicious Free From Garlic & Chive Cheddar Alternative, a Free From Grated Mozzarella Alternative and our lovely Free From Garlic & Herb Soft Cheese Alternative. In the run up to Christmas he’s also working on some new flavours that will be perfect for your cheese board, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for those!
It can be quite difficult to cater for different diets at BBQs, but it is possible! My top tips would be to make sure you’ve got separate chopping boards and utilise different ends of the grill – or pop your plant-based items on the grill first and get them cooked and ready to go for your guests before adding on the burgers and sausages for meat eaters.
Planning ahead is always going to be your greatest tool when it comes to catering for both meat eaters and none meat eaters. When I was doing large catering units I would always make sure to plan out my day so that I was doing my low-risk recipes and ingredients first and then move on to the higher risk items.
I grew up in South Africa and our traditional "braai" is very much an all-day thing – there’s no rushing behind it. Unfortunately here in the UK it is very weather dependent so everyone wants to get out as quickly as possible and get the food ready as quickly as possible before the weather takes a turn, but in South Africa it’s very much a laid back and lengthy occurrence.
It's nice to just slow it down and enjoy it a little more. Barbecueing isn’t just about the food, it’s about spending time with family and friends and just enjoying that moment in time.
One of my first jobs as a youngster was working at a spa, and every Saturday and Sunday morning I’d wheel out the big braai and cook the Boerewors Rolls – our traditional South African sausage in a roll. I’ve always maintained the same style of outdoor cooking ever since I was a youngster.
When you’re cooking with wood or coals the key to it is to let it burn down – you want your coals to be grey glowing red on the inside. My top tip is that if you can hold your hand about 30cm above the coals and count to 10 before it starts to almost burn your hand then that’s a good temperature. It’s representative of if you were to turn your gas hob on and switch it to a middle setting and hold your hand 30cm away too – that’s what we call a middle to high setting. Please be careful though if you try this technique – and don't let you hand get any closer than 30cm.
Never cook on flames. Just because there are flames in your BBQ doesn’t mean it’s ready to cook – you want that constant hot surface. If you’ve got flames roaring from your BBQ you’ve got such an erratic temperature that you risk charring up the outside of your burgers while the inside is still raw.
Maintaining your fire is really important too, making sure to build up your coals at one end of the BBQ until they’re ready and then dragging them across the rest of the grill to maintain a good constant heat. For me this was all second nature growing up as a boy in South Africa – and that’s how I maintain outdoor cooking here.
You can find our great vegetarian and vegan BBQ ranges in selected stores and online now. Our new plant-based sausages and burgers will be available from 1st July.