Whether you're running out of Veganuary recipe ideas or planning on making the switch permanent, Leah Vanderveldt's First-time Vegan is the perfect guide to transitioning to a plant-based diet while still ticking all those nutritional boxes. We spoke to Leah to find out more about vegan cooking and how you can adjust your eating habits for a healthier diet and a happier planet...
Hi Leah, what first drew you to exploring a plant-based diet?
I’ve always loved vegetables and I really found myself naturally cooking my meals based around them when I started to teach myself how to cook. When the book Vegan Before Six by Mark Bittman came out, I decided to take on that as a challenge and now it’s become the way I cook most often without really thinking about it.
What are your thoughts on flexitarianism?
I’m all for it! That’s actually the closest to how I eat now. I’m heavily plant-based but no foods are off limits to me. Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for your individual body and mental health. I’ve had issues with restricting my food in the past, so for me, the healthiest option is to allow myself a bit of everything. But as a big plant lover, I skew vegan.
What advice do you have for a first-time vegan unsure they’ll make it past Veganuary?
Let it be fun and go easy on yourself. Experiment with classic flavours you know you love and try to substitute vegetables or plant-based proteins for the meat portions. I love BBQ and hot sauces so things like chickpeas, grilled or roasted vegetables, and tofu are a treat with those favorite flavours. If you’re out at a restaurant, look to the sides and starters - some of the best meals I’ve had have been made from a collection of 2 or 3 veggie sides. And if you slip up, it doesn’t ruin anything, just start again with the next meal - there’s always another meal!
What are your favourite vegan dishes?
My go-to vegan breakfast is either a smoothie bowl with granola or avocado toast (bonus points if there’s everything bagel seasoning) - I love getting a serving or two of vegetables first thing. Lunch: I’m all about a salad with sweet potato falafel or a big bowl of vegetable soup — pumpkin coconut and leek, cauliflower and lentil soup are in heavy rotation right now. Sometimes I'll serve them with a side of savory toast. For dinner I love a substantial stew or curry like red lentil dahl or chickpea "tikka" masala.
What’s the best thing about vegan cooking?
Trying new things and being kinder to the earth. I think branching out and trying new ways of eating and approaching food can be interesting, fun, and delicious. And most importantly, I think if we all start eating more vegan meals we can help contribute to a more positive future for the planet.