Protein. In the last couple of years this has become a buzz word in our society, with brands using it as a selling point, and people basing their meals on that particular food group, however despite the importance of having plenty of protein in our diets, there are other elements on the plate that have been overlooked, and are crucial for a truly balanced diet.
Vegan or not, we all should eat more vegetables, and consider what we put on our plates, both for our personal well being, as well as the planet”s. I’m sure that you all remember from your science lessons what a balanced plate should look like: equal amounts of carbohydrates and vegetables small proportions of meat, dairy and sugar. However, recent updates in the dietary guidelines have shown that nearly half of our plate should consist of fruit and vegetables, next it should be complex carbohydrates from whole grains, and equal quantities of meat and dairy (or alternatives) as the updated Eatwell Guide suggests.
In many recent studies, bowel cancer, as well as other cancers, have been linked to high meat consumption, which in the UK averages at 86g per day for men, with exceeds the recommended 70g (NDNS report). The guide suggests that “Beans, peas, and lentils (which are all types of pulses) are good alternatives to meat”, there is a huge emphasis on eating more plant-based products in order to reduce environmental impact; The Carbon Trust assessment said that compared to the previous Eatwell Guide, these food choices will decrease the environmental damage.
So, how do I build a substantial and wholesome vegan plate? The answer is simple: I keep it varied and colourful. The more colours and textures we eat, the more vitamins and minerals we consume and can explore more delicious flavours; being vegan can be incredibly fun and super exciting, and despite many misconceptions, very easy to achieve.
Every plate or bowl that I build, I always begin with a base of greens; this is a leaky and simple way of including extra veggies in your day and is a solid start to creating a meal. Feel free to choose your favourite salad mix, shredded cabbage, or massaged / stir-fried kale, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice to bring out the flavours. In this bowl, I have chosen to use a mix of Calvo Nero and kale, which I pan fried for a couple of mins.
Society has caused most of us to develop an irrational fear of carbohydrates, with magazines shouting that they ‘make you gain weight’ and celebrities showcasing the ‘low carb diet’, it is no wonder that we have (nearly) fallen out of love with our beloved bread. The truth is that carbs are the human bodies main source of energy – think of it as the most efficient fuel, but with extra benefits such as fiber, protein, and minerals from wholegrain products and starchy vegetables. I love choosing quinoa, which is high in protein; pearl barley, which has an incredible texture; brown pasta and rice, which carry favour wonderfully; and finally, potatoes and root vegetables, which I love roasting with free herbs and seasoning. In this bowl, I have chosen beets which are incredibly tasty at this time of year, and as a bonus often come plastic-free, as well as a slice of spelt sourdough bread, because let’s be honest, nothing beats a fresh warm slice of sourdough!
I’m sure that for many of you hear the word ‘protein’ creates an image of a bulky man drinking strange powders that somehow turn into liquids, in one of those weirdly shaped bottle things; well its time to change that association. When I hear the word, I think of an incredible food group that aids my bodies growth and repair: from beans and pulses, tofu and soy, to nuts, seeds, and grains; it is plainly all delicious and versatile, making your meals different each time! Here I have chosen a mix of kidney beans and chickpeas, which I soaked and boiled, and then peeled the chickpeas to make them more easily digestible, after high I coated them in cumin, paprika, and chili.
In many people’s dictionaries those two words are completely juxtaposed, and most of us fail to understand that fats are a vital part of our diet as they aid the uptake of minerals and help prevent cholesterol from developing. As in most cases of forbidden foods, it it the media’s and diet culture’s faults for planting this toxic seed in our brains, making us perceive food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I always try to add fats to my meals not only for their health benefits but also because they help carry flavour! For this bowl I cooked my veggies in olive oil, added sliced avocado, and used peanut butter in the dressing; feel free to experiment with toasted nuts and seeds, different oils, nut butter in dressings, and by adding avocados to your plate.
It’s all good eating a huge plate of vegetables, but if you don’t like how they taste, then the food is neither enjoyable nor sustainable (you wouldn’t last long on bland raw kale). In every kitchen, and especially a plant-based one, flavour is incredibly important, as it can make veggies exciting and enjoyable, which intern means that you are more likely to continue the vegan lifestyle without it feeling like a ‘sacrifice’. Here are my top tips for punchy and flavoursome vegetables and plants:
- Season at every stage of cooking. I can’t stress just how important this is, if you add salt and pepper to your dish continually each time you add other ingredients you won’t lose the flavour, and it will allow the veggies to soften and release their natural juices, and the juicier the dish, the yummier it will be. Make sure not to go overboard with the seasoning, as no one wants to be eating something tasting like the ocean. For example, you may fry some onions, which you season; then you add some carrots and celery, also seasoned, then you add your tomatoes along with more seasoning… you get the idea right?
- Don’t be afraid of spices! They are just as important as the basic salt and pepper; spices add incredible flavour profiles and help create depth in dishes that can transform the whole meal into a decadent experience, and to many peoples surprises, they also have anti-inflammatory properties! My favourites include smoked paprika because it adds a real richness; cumin, which has an earthy warm flavour; coriander, as it gives a fresh note; chili or chipotle, because I love the heat; and spice mixes such as Moroccan za’atar, or Chinese five spice, due to their convenience!
- Include all flavour profiles. For the uninitiated, there are five main flavours: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. most people are familiar with the first 4, but are unaware of the importance of the fifth; umami it is a cross between salty, sweet and smokey flavours, if you have ever tried miso or soy sauce, then those are the kinds of flavours that fall into the umami category. When cooking, it is crucial to incorporate all of the favours in order to balance out a meal, lets take a tomato sauce as an example: tomatoes are naturally sour, to balance this you would need to add a sweetener, and to balance the sweetness some spice, however, the bitter and umami flavours are missing, through adding some soy sauce and fenugreek or mustard seeds the dish becomes balanced, and altogether is more cohesive and harmonious, full of deep flavours and enjoyment.