Plant-Based Myths and How I Get Over Them
I grew up on a farm in Mpumalanga, where chicken was often classified as a vegetable, so the first time I became aware of the concept, vegan, I admit that I didn’t think it would be more than a passing trend. A decade later, and perhaps owing to the growing global need for eating more responsibly and to look after ourselves better, I suddenly find myself not only considering a plant-based lifestyle, but embracing it. No, I haven’t gone the Full Monty (yet), but when confronted with the idea of meat-free Mondays, for instance, I thought, why just one day a week? Why not four days? It’s do-able. And after just over a month of following a flexitarian diet of more plant-based food, I feel lighter, more energetic, and just healthier on the whole.
But starting out, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer infobesity of it all. There’s A LOT of opinion out there, and it seems like every second foodie is hopping aboard the vegan gravy train these days, which means switching to a plant-based diet gets super complicated super quickly. Take it from me, it doesn’t need to be. Plant-based food is as old as time itself. So, in wading through the endless library of plant-based advice, let me dispel a few myths I stumbled upon.
MYTH NO 1 – GOODBYE RICH ‘N CREAMY
Just because it didn’t come from a cow, a goat or a sheep doesn’t mean you have to kiss your ryk en lekker days goodbye… or say to yourself, I’ll save this plant-based thing for the spring. No one wants to while away a winter eating rabbit food. The plant-based world is full of creamy goodness.
Avos take centre stage in the dairy-free cream department, so make the most of them in season (March to September in South Africa) by pulping the flesh into a paste and using it in everything from smoothies to pastas and potato salads. Cashews were a revelation to me! If you soak them overnight and blend them with water the next day, you’ve got an incredible-tasting cream sauce that you can use like any dairy cream, but I find it lends itself best to desserts. On the savoury side, cannellini beans are a great Mediterranean staple. Drained from a can, mix in some lemon juice, water, yeast and finely-chopped garlic and blend until you get a smooth, creamy sauce that you can use in a range of pastas. Coconut milk, of course, adds a great Asian flair and is just perfect for curries. And then, don’t overlook the humble spud. Apart from potato milk gaining popularity, potatoes give any liquid a creamy consistency, whether it’s a vegetable broth or a plant-based milk.
MYTH NO 2 – GOODBYE TASTY
I find myself particularly confused by the idea that a plant-based diet should be lacking in the flavour department. Yes, meat comes with all those juicy amino fatty acids, but for the rest I’d say most of the flavour we find in food comes from vegetables, herbs, spices or seasoning – all of which are plant-based except for salt. My solution? Have a flavour checklist…
When tasting a dish and you feel it needs a certain something, ask yourself whether it’s salt, fat, acid or sweetness, and take it from there. No matter what your level, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out. Needs salt? Careful of iodated salt, it’s super high in sodium. Rather opt for flaky, course or kosher salt. Not creamy enough? Refer to Myth No 1. Not sharp enough? Lemon usually does the trick, but there’s also an array of vinegars at your disposal. Lacking on the sweet side? Skip the sugar and take another look at sweet spices, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. It only takes about three weeks to reset your inner sweet meter.
MYTH NO 3 – GOODBYE ME TIME
Okay, I’ll admit, this is a big one. Making any kind of lifestyle switch for the betterment of your health will involve more cooking from scratch, but you knew that, right? One of my biggest concerns over the years when it came to “vegan” food was all the processed stuff. I’m not here for that. Instead, I reconnected with my love for food and cooking by spending more time in the kitchen. Make an event of it by inviting the whole family to join in or see this as your time to be with your own thoughts. Who cares if you’ve got Bridgerton going in the corner on your phone?
Apart from the usual kitchen hacks, like cracking the skin of a garlic for easy peeling, having the right tools makes life so much easier – and gets the job done a lot quicker. Most of these items will no doubt be in your kitchen already, but it couldn’t hurt do to a quick run-through of your inventory.
- A spatula and (more than one) wooden spoon. There’s a reason why I’ve put these at the top of the list.
- A good can opener. When you find one, cherish it. They’re rare.
- An all-purpose frying pan, a saucepan and a medium (or larger) pot. Goes without saying.
- A sharp utility knife. Invest in a good one. Also known as a chef’s knife. It’s the most versatile – not too big, not too small. It’s like having Goldilocks over for dinner.
- Mixing bowls. Three different sizes work well, so look for a set.
- About three cutting boards. You’ll be julienning in no time.
- A measuring spoon and cup set for those more precise recipes.
- A vegetable peeler that’s easy to use.
- A blender. Making creams will be your next big skill.
- A food processor. You can manage without it, but it chops things up at a speed no chef ever could. We’ve tried.