World vegan day – let’s explore

Today, 1st Nov is World vegan day, open any newspaper, turn on the radio or TV and odds on you’ll hear it mentioned. In fact it is Vegan month for the whole of November go a good time to learn more.

Veganism and the trend for reducing animal based products is on the rise, but it is nothing new. The vegan movement was started in 1944 and became a registered charity in 1979.

Being a vegan involves adopting a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and honey – (basically any food that come from anything with a face). Veganism is considered extreme and even odd by many in our Western society, however in some cultures it is the mainstream diet and as a diet choice it is proven to give the most health benefits. The ultimate test of this being the number of top athletes that have switched their diets:

  • Heavy weight boxer David Haye
  • Tennis stars the Williams sisters
  • International rugby player Anthony Mullally
  • NBA players with John Salley (leading the charge as a long time vegan)
  • F1 champ Lewis Hamilton
  • US Ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek
  • Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. The list goes on…

So what does this mean to an ethical omnivore and where do the paths cross? Being ethical in our consumption choices spans all diet choices including a vegan diet. Any shift towards adopting a plant based diet, be that 100%, 90%, 50% will give you positive payback in your health, well being and your impact in the world. The aim of ethical omnivore is to link the dietary worlds and give people choice.

It is very difficult to wake up one day and say ‘right I am giving up xyz’ you don’t have to swing from eating meat or fish everyday to becoming a fully fledged vegan overnight. Experimenting, learning to cook new dishes, deciding what you enjoy, researching into the real benefits and information behind the choices is what worked in making any dietary shift.

You don’t have to pick a sides, you can venture into the world of plant based one dish at a time. I have been blown away how much I enjoy the variety of food we now eat and dare I say there is a certain smugness knowing you’ve eaten 10 of your 5 a day.

If you feel like embracing World vegan day today is the day. I’ve posted lots of recipes under the heading FOOD / RECIPES /Plant based and Vegan. Try Spud’s shepherdless pie or Spaghetti Puy-ognese.

V to victory! – the ethical omnivore.

“Fancy some bamboo shoots for dinner darling?”

Chocolate cake – vegan – really yum!

As part of my adventures into ethical food I experiment by cooking all dishes without using any animal products so I can offer alternative recipes for people trying to cut down, vegetarians and vegans.
I’ve been looking for cake recipes that don’t use butter or eggs. It is easy to make deserts without butter, but sponge cake didn’t prove so easy until I found this recipe. I enjoy a bit of baking and I love eating cake so I wasn’t going to compromise, but now I’ve tried it I can honestly say it is top of my list of cake recipes. The best news is that it is also low fat!
Image result for dark chocolate sponge cake recipes
INGREDIENTS:
  • 200 grams plain flour, sifted
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (reduce sugar to taste, I used 100 grams)
  • 75 grams pure cocoa or cacao powder, sifted
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 450 ml non dairy milk – (I used Oatly oat milk, other milk alternatives will work).
  • 2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:

  • I like to add fruit to cake, for this recipe soft fruit works well, e.g. 200 grams of raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries etc. Use either fresh or frozen. If frozen defrost first and drain off excessive liquid.
  • everyone loves chocolate chunks, reduce sugar by the amount of chocolate you add. If cooking as a vegan recipe check the chocolate doesn’t contain milk.
  • Chopped nuts, give added texture and interest. Use a nut that complements other ingredients used.
  • the recipe is suitable for vegans, but you can add eggs. Use two eggs to replace 100ml of milk.
INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking powder.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients, milk, vegetable oil, (eggs if using) and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  5. (Optional – Add nuts or/and chocolate chunks if using).
  6. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 22 cm (8 inch) cake tin.
  7. (Optional – after cooking for 10 mins, add the fruit to the top of the batter, gently push in, this will help it from sinking to the bottom)
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cool the moist chocolate cake on a wire rack.
  10. Eat, enjoy, yum!

Woah – meet quinoa!

Hard to spell or pronounce (Keen-wa not Kin-oo-ah, as Mr Ethivore keeps telling me), It is all the rage so I decided to investigate. What I found out is fascinating. It was one of those things I had in the back of the cupboard; another grain to eat instead of rice, but now I know more, it will be moved to the front.

Quinoa might be new to us but it a staple food in many areas of South American and especially the Andes where it has been grown and eaten to thousands of years.

We tend to think of it as a grain, but it’s not it’s a seed. It is in the same family as spinach, beets and chard. The leaves are edible too but the bit we eat is the seed. The United Nations, FAO made 2013 ‘International year of Quinoa’ to promote it’s importance as a food crop.

Why is it good for you?

It is celebrated for being of the most nutritionally rich food on the planet, compared with both plant and animal sources. Quinoa is a complete protein food, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food. This is also true of the soya bean (edamame). Making them a perfect source of plant based protein. In the debate around the best source of protein, quinoa and soya win over meat with their added benefit of also reducing cholesterol whilst meat proteins can increase it. It is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.

It is easy to digest and good source of calcium, phosphorus, copper, folate, zinc and iron, rich in vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin E. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium which relaxes blood vessels so provide cardio vascular health. Protects against breast cancer and acts as anti oxidant.

Quinoa has many qualities that make it a weight loss friendly food. It is high in protein and fiber, and has a relatively low glycemic index value.

Cooking with quinoa

There are reported to be around 120 varieties of the quinoa plant. We typically eat three types, white, red and black. White being the most common. Red quinoa is more often used in meals like salads since it tends to hold its shape better after cooking. Black quinoa has an “earthier and sweeter” taste. You can also find quinoa flakes and flour which are great for baking. Quinoa is also gluten free so a great alternative to wheat flours.

You can buy dried, raw or pre cooked quinoa. Before cooking the dried version give it a good rinse in cold water, the seeds are coated in a compound that is quite bitter. Follow the instructions on the packet. Typically, add it to the pan with 2-3 times the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins, the water should absorb, the quinoa turns translucent and the little ‘tails’ uncurl when it is ready.

Because quinoa has a fairly neutral taste it is good to use in both sweet or savoury. It makes a nice porridge cooked in 50/50 apple juice and water or milk. You can also cook in stock to give it more flavour if you are eating it as a savoury side dish. Once cooked it can be cooled and stored in the fridge for several days.

The pre cooked version is usually open and serve. They often add oil so it is slightly higher in fat, but handy to have in store and good to check in a salad or when making a quick lunch.

I wouldn’t bother with quinoa mixed with other grains as a source of quinoa, it is a bit of a sales gimmick really, they are often very high in the other product e.g. rice 90%, quinoa 10%.

Is all quinoa the same?

No. The main exporters of the quinoa in the word are Bolivia, Peru and Chile. It is also now being grown in UAE, EU, Canada, basically anywhere it will grow, now over 50 countries!

The champagne equivalent of quinoa is grown in Bolivia; Quinua Real or Royal Quinoa it is grown in the same way the Incas have for thousands of years. It is organic and traditionally grown, harvested and prepared. Soil preparation is fully manual, it’s fertilized with llama dung and pests are controlled using extracts of indigenous plants. Sounds good to me!

Quinoa is big business and where there is big business there are ethical challenges. Reports that the Western demand of quinoa caused a sharp price increase and meant local people could no longer afford it, have been balanced in recent years with reports of improved economic conditions for farmers and communities. Buying Fairtrade or organic approved products is a way to ensure you are supporting an ethical choice.

Waitrose Duchy Organic British Quinoa

Parting thoughts, as quinoa is grown in the UK and the prices even for the organic version are similar, it seems like a good choice, considering Airmiles, ethical issues and supporting UK farmers.

Long and short is we should add quinoa in our diet because it is easy to grow, highly nutritive, medicinally important, economical and versatile food.

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What is a ‘plant powered diet’?

A whole food plant based diet, or plant powered diet (PP) is exactly that. It is preparing dishes from whole foods that grow naturally from the earth – soil, sun, rain. The food chain starts with plants, that is where all food energy and nutrition originates. By moving to a plant based diet you are simply getting closer to the original source of food energy.

  1. Producers – plants, create all food energy
  2. Consumers primary – herbivores, eat plants
  3. Consumers secondary – omnivores, eat both plants and herbivores
  4. Consumers tertiary – carnivores, eat herbivores and omnivores
  5. Consumers quaternary – carnivores, eat other carnivores and have no natural predators

Learning to enjoy a whole food plant based diet (PP) and recognising all of the benefits is like throwing a good bowling ball and knocking down the majority of pins, maybe all of them! A plant based diet is the healthiest, most sustainable, affordable diet we can eat.

There are lots of organisations and diets available in this arena. I favour a whole food plant based diet rather than meat replacement products as I avoid eating highly processed foods. I found the easiest one to follow is Michael Greger’s daily dozen checklist, see this video clip:

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-daily-dozen-checklist

I have made a chart and check list to help keep track Daily dozen. As with everything, moderation and variety is the key. Saying broccoli is good for you doesn’t mean eat only broccoli it is all about eating a variety of foods.

And the question most of us ask: ‘Can I get everything I need from a plant based diet?’ The answer is: Yes you can get everything you need from a plant based diet. In fact it is the best way to get everything you need!

And the next question: ‘what about the taste, is plant food bland?’ You are in for a great surprise. You might have picked up from reading this blog that I love food and I plan my day around it. I can personally reassure you that all the food I eat is delicious. There is a wealth of food, flavours and dishes to discover and once you do you’ll never go back. There are an estimated 20,000 species of edible plants so plenty to try!

When we look at food choices and concerns, we tend to focus on one thing at a time; meat or non meat, processed or non processed foods, good or bad fats, too much sugar, too much salt, eat ‘5-A-Day’. A whole-food plant based diet isn’t another one to add to the list, it is the one, it means you get rid of the list.

The focus is not on cutting things out or being restrictive. You focus on what you should eat, increasing your intake of foods that give you all the nutrition you need and will thrive on. Focusing on a plant based diet and then choosing to add fats, meat, sugar, fish, processed foods, dairy, salt etc. gives you the freedom to enjoy a healthy, flexible diet, include only the best versions of animal products and enjoy extras like chocolate, crisps etc as a treat. You’ll find the more you change you diet the less you will crave or want to eat unhealthy foods, but it is good to know you have choice so you don’t freak out or lack the motivation to try.

In summary: Plants means:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Berries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Herbs, spices
  • Legumes (bean, pulses, peas)

Whole foods means:

  • Prepared food or eating a whole product or close to it, e.g. A whole apple rather than apple juice
  • Minimal processing only, for purpose of preserving, e.g. dried beans, fruits, herbs etc.
  • Intact nutrition e.g. wholewheat bread or pasta, brown rice etc.
  • Maximum nutrition, preparing food to maximise nutritional value, e.g. cooking techniques, eating raw foods.
  • Preparing food without added sugar, fats or salt.

* You will recognise some of those terms from the post about Ultra processed foods.

Parting thoughts, how far you go with the diet is your choice. Some people will make it 100%, which is recommended for maximum health benefits, but any shift you make will give you benefits. The key message here is that once you have learnt how to enjoy a PB diet and feel confident you better understand nutrition and unpick certain food myths for example read https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77 and https://wp.me/p7RDjy-6h the easier it is to make ethical food choices.

Don’t take me word for it, Google ‘plant based athlete’ for some inspiration, from Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams, David Haye, Scott Jurek, Rich Roll to name but just a few.

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Spaghetti Puy-ognese

A delicious veg based alternative to beef Bolognese. All dishes that are traditionally made with meat mince can be made with pulses; shepherds or cottage pie (try https://wp.me/p7RDjy-52), chilli (try https://wp.me/p7RDjy-fk) . A very healthy dish, great to aid weight loss, by reducing fat and calories, whilst increasing nutrients and fibre. Pulses are super cheap so it is also a good way to improve you diet and watch your budget.

I prefer to make large batches of such dishes and freeze extra portions so this recipe makes around 6-8 servings. I used dried lentils, but you can also use the pre cooked canned or packet versions. Ingredients are marked as bold text:

  • Cook the lentils:
    • 500g dried Puy lentils – follow the instructions on the packet, e.g. soak in cold water for at least 20 mins, I leave mine longer and refresh the water a couple of times. Finally drain the water and rinse.
    • Cover with fresh water and bring to the boil, follow instructions on the packet, typically 40 mins.
    • Drain and rinse, set aside.
  • To make the sauce:
    • heat a pan, medium heat, add a splash of apple juice (use oil if you prefer).
    • Finely chop a large onion and add to the pan, sweat for 4-5 mins.
    • Crush and chop 4 cloves of garlic add them to the pan and sweat for a further 1-2 mins.
    • Finely chop 2 large carrots, 1 medium sweet potato (optional) and dice 3-4 large tomatoes add to the pan, with enough water to keep it wet (use a can of tinned tomatoes if easier).
    • Cover and cook on high heat for 5-10 mins.
    • Add cooked lentils.
    • Add a generous sprinkle (3-4 pinches or to taste) of italian style herbs – basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary bay. Use dried or fresh.
    • Add approx 400ml tomato passata.
    • Optional for extra flavour – add 100g finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes or 30g paste and or a glass of red wine.
    • Add salt and pepper to taste or leave for people to add themselves. Remember most stocks have salt so air on side of caution.
    • Add veg stock, just enough to cover the mixture, put the lid on and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
    • Simmer for at least 30 mins. Check to make sure it doesn’t stick or dry out, add more stock if needed. Past the 30 mins continue to cook for as long as you want, depending on how soft you want the veg to be. The longer you cook the more the flavours will mature.
  • Serve: 
    • Serve with pasta and / or garlic bread.
    • If you are making the dish as a plant based dish or for vegans use dried pasta as fresh pasta often contains egg.
    • For healthy option serve as it is as a complete dish without pasta, or with a green salad or cooked greens such as broccoli, Swiss chard, kale.
    • Once cooked you can leave it and reheat later. It will keep for around 5 days in the fridge and freezes very well.