Turn over a new leaf
While at uni, Niomi Smart, 24, author of Eat Smart (£20, HarperCollins), decided her life was heading in the wrong direction. Firstly, she was studying law and had come to realise, as a career, it wasn’t for her. Secondly, years of eating lots of junk food was beginning to take its toll on her health.
‘Being a student, I wasn’t eating as well as I could have been,’ she says, ‘It was a case of lots of pizzas and ice cream with my flatmates most nights. By the time I graduated, I felt groggy.
‘I kept hearing about plant-based diets so I did my research and spoke to people I already knew who were eating in this way and they seemed to absolutely love it and raved about all the benefits,’ she says.
‘I thought I’d do it myself for just a couple of days, but I continued. A month later, my energy levels were through the roof. My hair, skin, nails, everything was improving. That was two and a half years ago.’
A VEGAN VENTURE?
While in many ways, Niomi took up what we might think of as a vegan diet, she hesitates before using the word. ‘I feel the word “vegan” has such a stigma attached to it,’ she says. ‘People immediately frown because they think you’re going to be this preachy person. Besides, I do eat honey so technically I’m not vegan.’
And the recipes in Eat Smart are a long way from a lettuce leaf and a handful of nuts.
In the book’s ‘What to eat in a day’ section, Saturday’s suggestion consists of a full English breakfast for brunch, oat cakes with strawberry chia jam in the afternoon, squashetti and ‘meatballs’ for dinner and a supper treat of orange spiced cookies – all of it plant-based.
Still, Niomi insists she’s not out to convert everyone. ‘What works for me, eating this way every single day, may not work for everyone, but the ingredients I use are good. So even if people incorporate the diet a few times a week, that would be perfect.’
CAULIFLOWER ‘STEAK’ WITH CHIMICHURRI
You’re probably thinking it’s ridiculous calling this a steak, but when thickly sliced, cauliflower can be transformed into lots of things. It can be a great replacement for meat. The best accompaniment for this is my garlicky, herby chimichurri sauce which originates from Argentina.
• 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
• 6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
• ½-1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped
• 1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
• 1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves chopped
• 4tsp dried oregano
• 125ml (½ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
• 4tbsp apple cider vinegar
• Juice of 1 lime
• Pink Himalayan salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 large cauliflowers
• 1tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4.
2. To make the chimichurri sauce, simply place the shallots, garlic cloves, chilli, all the herbs, oil, cider vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper in a blender and blitz to a rough paste, adding extra oil or water if needed.
3. Remove the outer leaves of the cauliflower and slice lengthways into 1cm thick slices. Try to cut at least four whole steaks from each cauliflower, enough for two each.
4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Once hot, fry the cauliflower steaks for 1 minute on each side – you will need to do this in batches.
5. Transfer onto a baking tray and rub about 8tbsp of the chimichurri sauce over all the slices on each side. Cook in the hot oven for 25 minutes, or until cooked through, turning halfway.
6. Serve after spooning the remaining chimichurri sauce on top.
Tip… Grate any pieces of cauliflower that have fallen off the slices and use for cauliflower rice. Simply grate any large chunks and dry fry until lightly browned.
MUSHROOM MISO HOT POT
A regular appearance on menus at Japanese restaurants, this hot pot of rice comes with a variety of vegetables. I wanted to create a similar one that’s easy to make at home with wholesome ingredients.
• 1 litre of water
• 5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
• Garlic cloves, peeled
• 5 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
• Pink Himalayan salt or sea salt and ground black pepper
• 300g brown short-grain rice
• 150g mixed mushrooms, chopped
• 1 leek, trimmed, sliced and rinsed
• 1tbsp miso paste
• 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
• 1tbsp tamari
• 1tsp coconut sugar
• ½ x 400g packet firm tofu, cut into small cubes
• 1tsp coconut oil
• Enokitake mushrooms, to serve
• Spring onion, sliced, to serve
1. Make the mushroom stock by bringing 1 litre water to the boil with the ginger, garlic, mushrooms and a pinch of salt and black pepper, then simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Add the rice, bring to the boil, stir in the mushrooms and leek and simmer for 25 minutes, until cooked. Halfway through, stir in the miso paste, chilli, tamari and coconut sugar.
3. While the rice is cooking, put the tofu on a chopping board, place another chopping board on top and place a heavy pan or plate on top to press the tofu down to remove excess water. Leave for 20 minutes.
4. Drain any liquid, pat the tofu dry and cut into cubes.
5. Fry the tofu in the coconut oil in a frying pan over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes until golden.
6. Once the rice is cooked, stir the tofu into the rice and serve in bowls, with the raw enokitake mushrooms and sliced spring onions on top.
ROASTED PEPPER + ONION PESTO TART
When I’m busy I often find it hard to make lunch from scratch, so I sometimes make this the night before, knowing I have something nutritious, filling and tasty ready.
• 2 red onions, cut into 8 wedges
• 3 red or yellow peppers, deseeded and sliced
• Olive oil
• Small sweet potato, peeled
• 150g spelt flour
• 150g wholewheat flour
• Pink Himalayan salt or sea salt
• 60ml olive oil
For the Brazil nut pesto
• Garlic cloves, peeled 225g
• Large handfuls of basil leaves
• 3 large handfuls of spinach
• 3tbsp apple cider vinegar
• 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
• 225g unsalted raw Brazil nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. Place the onion and pepper slices in a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for 40 minutes until cooked through, tossing occasionally.
2. For the base, chop the sweet potato into chunks and steam for 15 minutes – allow to cool.
3. Mix together the flours and a pinch of salt, then stir in the olive oil and 60ml of water. Mash the sweet potato and use your hands to combine the mixture.
4. Roll out the dough to cover the base of a shallow baking tin. Roll it over the tin and press the outer edges. Add greaseproof paper, weighed down with baking beans, and blind bake for 15 minutes.
5. Make the pesto by adding all the pesto ingredients, except the Brazil nuts, to a food processor and blending until smooth.
6. Remove the paper and baking beans after 15 minutes, then return the tart case to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and generously spread the pesto on top of the base. Add the roasted veg, chop and sprinkle over the Brazil nuts and bake for a further 5 minutes. Serve hot or cold.
WHEN TIME IS AGAINST YOU
Vegan products to satisfy your needs
Merchant Gourmet Red & White Quinoa
To misquote Harry Hill: ‘I like quinoa. And I like rice. But which is better? Fuse them together to make a nutritious base for any meal.’ This is low in saturated fat and free from colourings.
Soupologie Spinach & Kale with Garlic
Spinach and kale are very much the Morecambe and Wise of the vegan world: they’re supergreens packed with vitamin A. This soup’s full of natural ingredients. £3.35, planetorganic.com
Great Food Aromatic Moroccan Kofta
This kofta is a sweet and spicy blend of chunky chickpeas, pumpkin, sultanas, herbs, spices and red chilli to make for a lip-smacking, is-this-really-vegetarian treat. It’s baked, too. £3, sainsburys.co.uk