As a vegetarian for five years and a vegan for over a year, I can confidently say that it has changed my life for the better. One of the biggest factors in my vegan transition was making my own food at home. If you’re keen to give plant-based cooking a try, here are some tips on venturing beyond the salads.
Stay fresh, stay colourful!
Choose fresh, local, organic produce whenever possible. Organic produce will have a higher concentration of nutrients and taste compared to non-organic. The more processed a food is, the higher the probability of preservatives, colourings, flavourings, and other additives that your body won’t benefit from or may even react badly to over time. If I had the option of cooking my own beans over buying a can, I would certainly cook them myself.
Also, keep your grocery basket as colourful as possible! Vegans love to #EatTheRainbow because each colour is attributed to different vitamins, minerals and powerful cancer-fighting antioxidants. So keep your choice of fruits and veggies as diverse as you can.
Overcooking can rob your produce of their nutrients, so cook for a longer time over a smaller fire, don’t boil until soft unless you are making soup, and blanch whenever you can. Even better, eat raw!
Protein? No Problem
Protein alternatives to meat are abundant and bio-available (easily absorbed by your body) in nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes like beans, lentils and soy. For athletes and fitness enthusiasts, you can supplement your diet with plant-based protein powders.
But protein is also in things you wouldn’t expect, like avocados and potatoes. I’ve discovered on my plant-based journey that a proper diet relies on a synergy. As long as you keep your ingredient options as varied and unrefined as possible, chances are high that your minimal protein requirements will be fulfilled, maybe without you even realising.
I also suspect that a lot of us consume more protein than we need. I can safely guess that I’m eating 20-30% less protein since I switched to a plant-based lifestyle, and I’m in the healthiest, fittest chapter of my life. So read up on plant-based protein options, have fun incorporating them into your meals, and don’t stress!
Dairy and Egg Alternatives
Milk alternatives include soy milk, rice milk, oat milk and nut milks like almond and cashew. Except for soy, a lot of these can be expensive in Malaysia, so I tend to make my own nut milks from scratch. Look it up on Youtube!
I also love incorporating fresh coconut milk into my cooking. I don’t think it’s unhealthy unless I go overboard with it, but that goes for everything else!
Nutritional yeast lends a cheesy flavour to my pizzas, burgers and popcorn.
For eggs, I like to ‘scramble’ my tofu in cooking. For baking, I replace eggs with with flaxseed, chia seed, psyllium husk, or applesauce.
Since you are already trying a new approach to cooking, you might as well try out things you’ve never tried eating before. They could boost the nutritional content of your food as well. I had never heard of things like Maca, Amaranth or Textured Soy Protein before going vegan. Now they are some of my cupboard staples.
Resources for vegan cooking ideas and ingredients are widely available online. There are also beautifully-designed cookbooks available in local bookstores. I relied heavily on books and the internet when I first started out in vegan cooking, and I still turn to them when I need some inspiration. My favourite food blogs are the Minimalist Baker (http://minimalistbaker.com/), Oh She Glows (http://ohsheglows.com/), and Chocolate Covered Katie (http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/).
Don’t give up!
My husband has taught me this quote: “Patience is the highest practice.” If a meal ends up burnt, tasteless, or just plain weird, it doesn’t mean that vegan cooking is not for you. It’s just a first step in a new exciting culinary journey.
Vegan cooking itself is a completely different craft from conventional meat-based cooking, so give yourself credit for being brave enough to give it a go, and allow yourself time to get better. I’ve got five years of bad cooking under my belt and I still make mistakes today, but determination has led me to creating some amazing recipes.
Positivity is one of the most important ingredients in any vegan dish. I get asked a lot, if I feel if I’m losing out from eating meat. If I ever thought so, my attitude to cooking would have made a nose dive ages ago. I’ve always believed that I am, instead, gaining something in life… Not just a new hobby, but also a new healthy body and mind from the food I make. That way, the passion to keep learning about vegan cooking never wanes, and when I’m cooking in a good mood, my food, believe it or not, does taste better.
Davina Goh is an Emcee, Performer, Writer and VoiceOver artiste. She went to Shaolin School just because she could. Her interests include animal welfare, voluntary simplicity, fitness, vegan cooking and travel. Follow Davina on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and @davinagoh on Instagram.
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