Calum Harris On His Debut Cookbook The 20 Minute Vegan

By Charlie Colville

11 months ago

'I want to make a good bit of food that just so happens to be vegan'

Vegan cooking is in its golden era right now, with restaurants opening up all over the UK and chefs serving up plant-based cuisine that would turn the heads of even the most avid meat-eaters. But there’s still a little bit of uncertainty when it comes to making vegan dishes at home. ‘I think people assume vegan food is too expensive, not nutritious and not quick to make,’ says Calum Harris, the internet’s resident (and quite possibly favourite) vegan home cook. ‘If only there was a cookbook to solve that, eh?’ We sat down with Calum to chat about the recent release of his debut cookbook The 20 Minute Vegan, what it’s like being a full-time creator and the oven vs air fryer debate. 

Calum Harris On The 20 Minute Vegan

Calum Harris

Calum Harris (Photo by Haarala Hamilton)

Hi Calum, thanks for joining us today! How are things going with you?

Hello hello. Thank you for having me more like! Things are great – nice and busy, basically.

For those that don’t know, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure, the short story is I’m a 24-year-old bloke called Calum. I’ve been cooking recipes for around four years now, and uploading what I make onto social media, including Instagram and TikTok. My aim has always been to make cooking simple, and work to what people can actually do, as opposed to what looks fancy.

Off the back of that, I ended up on TV cooking in a competition show hosted by Jamie Oliver (my Tele Dad, I like to call him), and wrote a cookbook called The 20-Minute Vegan – and as you might have gathered by that last sentence, yes, I’m vegan. But I’m not gonna preach to you, I just want to make a good bit of food that just so happens to be vegan.


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You released your first cookbook this year, The 20 Minute Vegan. What can you tell us about it?

I mean luckily, it does what it says on the tin (or, in this case, book). It’s a go-to book for those wanting to cook vegan for the first time, with recipes that can be made in 20 minutes, are actually easy to cook and are healthy too. And to top it off, everything used in the book can be found in your local supermarket, so there’s no faffing about trying to get weird ingredients in several supermarkets.

Do you have any favourite recipes from the book?

This is like when your mum or dad is asked who their favourite child is. They feel bad for answering but they do have a favourite. Mine are the Butter “Chicken” (well actually tofu) Curry, the Proper Peasto Pasta and the Bossman Mushroom Kebabs. I love proper meals, ones that you crave after a long day when you get home or a night out if you’re into that.

The 20 Minute Vegan recently became a UK bestseller – what was your reaction when you found out?

That was nuts. For me, I’m well aware that social media numbers are different to real life numbers. There are chefs that have come before me that couldn’t make that jump successfully into books, and there’s some that have absolutely smashed it out the park. For me, as much as I had an advantage with my following, I wanted to write a great book, first and foremost. One that people could pick up if they didn’t know me, and enjoy reading and cooking from.

It was genuinely the biggest relief seeing that come into fruition, considering this is my debut cookbook. And I was over the moon to see it actually make its way onto the charts.


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You’ve built a very loyal social following in just a few years (we actually found you through Instagram). What’s your relationship with social media like and how did you get into content creation?

I just love art, really, wherever it ends up coming from. That sounds quite snobby I’m aware, but I love watching content on social media, films, reading and especially music. So for me, I just wanted to create content. When I went vegan in 2018, I noticed a lack of younger presence in the cooking scene, especially from a vegan’s perspective. So I thought I’d give it a go, and see how far I could go. I didn’t think any of this and the way it’s happened would occur. At all. And you don’t really.

Which goes onto my relationship with social media. That’s like a skill that you get 1mm better at each day of dealing with. I’ve had years of dealing with anxious feelings if a post gets zero likes, if a post doesn’t perform well or if a negative comment comes in. I think what has helped the most is realizing that no matter what stage you’re at in your career, we’re all giving it a go and we’re all pretty much clueless. The more I think about that, the easier it becomes to create something I’m truly happy with, rather than pleasing the platforms I’m on.

And what’s it like seeing your followers making your dishes?

It’s the best feeling in the world. And one I don’t want people to think I take for granted. I am starting to get to a point where I physically cannot share every recreation of a recipe, which is insane that we’re at this level, but it’s also something I want people to feel like they’re being seen by me when they cook something of mine and share it. So if you’re reading this, and you cooked a recipe of mine, yes. I saw it. I loved it.


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When did you first become interested in food?

It started when I was around 15. I wasn’t overweight but I wasn’t comfortable with my weight, so I decided to set myself the goal of losing a little bit. For me, the answer didn’t rely purely on the gym; I started to find that what we put into our bodies was the biggest factor in healthy and sustainable weight loss. So people like Jamie Oliver and Joe Wicks definitely helped on that path to inspire me and teach me how to cook.

Who would be your dream person to cook for?

Oh, Harry Styles. Harry Styles. Too much pressure to cook for a chef. Next question.

What are your top three tips for anyone getting into cooking?

  1. Have fun with it. Cooking is a therapeutic thing for me, and I believe others can feel that way to by not thinking too deeply, and just getting stuck in.
  2. Work to your skillset. I’m a home cook, not a chef. So I try and make cooking as easy as can be, with minimal equipment. When I started cooking for the first time, I worked on dishes that I could make in one pan and that were quick.
  3. Make something you actually want to eat. Easy, right? Don’t spend hours making some slow cooked stew that you have no idea if you’ll like. Make a burger, a stir fry, a bowl of pasta, a salad. Why not?


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Vegan food has become a lot more mainstream in the last decade – do you think there are any lingering misconceptions surrounding it?

I do. People don’t like two things; being told what to do, and doing things that put them out of their way. I’m trying to do neither. And focus on making that process of vegan cooking easy for anybody to do, vegan or not.

I also think people assume vegan food is too expensive, not nutritious and not quick to make. If only there was a cookbook to solve that, eh? (I’m sorry that was shameless self promotion.)

My final point is that – and this is sticking up for the non-vegans for one – is that us vegans need to stop making shock-value dishes. There are great meat and dairy alternatives out there to make like-for-like dishes to the counterpart, but I think our focus is to make new dishes, that are beautiful with bold flavour, that just so happen to be vegan.

Any vegan restaurants you’d recommend in the UK?

My go-to is a Middle Eastern called Bubala in Soho. Unreal veggie and vegan food, including the smoothest hummus about and charred mushroom skewers that I cannot ever replicate as good as they do it. I’m also a fan of Club Mexicana, they’ve got a few around London, as well as Tofu Vegan, which makes delicious Asian food.

Does sustainability ever influence your cooking?

Sustainability does influence my cooking; I’m trying to use up ingredients that won’t get used fully for one recipe I’m creating, and I’ll often use it for something that I don’t end up filming. I’m also buying a lot less, and aiming to buy ingredients in season, because it does genuinely taste different. I didn’t think it mattered at first, but trust me. It does.


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Top three ingredients of all time?

  1. Miso paste – I love umami hints of flavour in my dishes. Meat would take care of that, but I don’t wanna hurt a cow’s feelings by eating that, so I use miso paste to recreate that same depth of flavour. It works wonders in all kinds of cuisines.
  2. Lime – They have saved dishes for me by bringing freshness and a bit of sourness to them. Add a squeeze of lime juice to the top of your chilli, to finish of your noodles or as a base to roast your veggies with.
  3. Salt – People need to understand: seasoning your food is the key to making excellent food, especially vegan food. Salt is your saviour, and also helps to change the behaviour of certain ingredients. Like for example, if you have sliced tomatoes for a sandwich or salad, by salting them before adding them in, you draw out any excess water from the tomatoes, making a more intense tomatoey flavour and also stopping your sandwiches from going soggy. You’re welcome, that’ll be £5 for that tip.

What’s in your fridge right now?

A lot of tofu, oat milk, a bag of carrots for some reason, gochujang, miso paste, a Brita jug because I’m a water snob, a load of bottled sauces, limes, a half eaten packet of rocket and some grapes. I’ve just eaten some of those grapes.

Quite a controversial debate here… air fryer or oven?

I am a purist, and a loyal babe, so I’ll always choose an oven. I do think that an air-fryer is technically a small oven, but it is a cool little piece of kit and it can make dishes quicker than an oven can. It all depends on if you have the kitchen counter space and the budget to get one, and if you have both, make sure you actually use it. (My book doesn’t rely on an air-fryer to make any of the recipes just to help your decision with that.)


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Do you have any pet hates in the kitchen?

People who don’t season their food. So much so it is worth saying it twice. I’m also a messy cook, so I feel like people will have a pet hate of me when I cook for them. However it really feels rigid and robotic to tidy as you go. As much as it makes sense, and yes it’s great, I don’t want to multitask, let me cook!

And finally, how do you think we can live a life in balance?

Don’t walk on stilts. A joke for you there.

Serious answer, enjoy everything that’s present to you. Don’t dwell on where you need to be, don’t think back on what you’ve done. Just take a step every day, and make small minor changes to create the life you want. Part of that process includes not beating yourself up if you slip and make a mistake. Humans are flawed, just move on. That’s really the ethos you should try and engrain in my opinion to actually feel a sense of balance.

Find Calum | @calumharris on Instagram | @calumharris_ on TikTok

The 20 Minute Vegan by Calum Harris

You can pick up a copy of The 20 Minute Vegan now at various bookshops across the UK, see the list of retailers here

Featured image: Calum Harris (Photo by Haarala Hamilton)