We are so excited about our interview today! We here at Engine 2 absolutely love “Fat Free Vegan Kitchen” and today Susan answers some of your questions and shares with us some of her tips and tricks for making fabulous tasting and plant-strong food!
How did you get into plant-strong cooking and recipe making?
I switched from vegetarian to low-fat vegan in 1994 after reading The McDougall Program. I’d been a vegetarian for 6 years and had continued to gain weight, so I decided to give a low-fat vegan diet a try for a month. At the end of that month, I “celebrated” my weight-loss with a cheese pizza–and was sick for 3 days. I realized that something that could make me feel so bad had no business being in my body and decided right then to learn how to cook delicious food without dairy and oil so that I would never feel like I was missing out on something. And it worked: All my celebrations since then have been plant-strong, and all I’m missing out on is doctor’s bills and ill health!
What fears did you have going into learning how to cook/bake this way?
It was the early 90’s when I started, and I lived in a small town, so the biggest hurdle was finding ingredients. Back then, there was no soymilk in the grocery store–I had to drive an hour to a health food store to get it. In a way, that was good because I had to make a lot of my foods myself, so I wasn’t eating a lot of processed meatless burgers and oily dairy-free cheese. I think my biggest concern was what would I make for breakfast without eggs (I was a quiche and omelet lover), so I was glad to discover tofu scrambles and steel-cut oats. Today I make quiches and omelets with tofu and never even think about eggs.
Any funny kitchen fails?
I once tried to make cinnamon rolls from a regular recipe, replacing the eggs and butter with substitutes. They came out flat and hard and inedible. My daughter and her friend called them “Cinnamon Splats” and used them as hockey pucks!
What advice do you have for people JUST starting out cooking and baking this way?
Follow recipes until you get the hang of cooking this way, but once you get a feel for it, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you’re working with fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s really hard to mess up too badly. And if you’re stuck for what to make for dinner, keep it simple: some beans and rice and a vegetable or salad is all you need for a nutritious meal in a hurry, so keep a variety of canned beans in your pantry and a head of broccoli in your fridge at all times.
Janine asked: I am confused about how much soy, how little soy to have in diet. Plant strong going good; 30+ days into it…..just viewed FOK – amazing info! everyone should be required to watch it.
I treat soy like any other plant-based food: it’s okay to include it in your diet, but just don’t make it, or any other one food, the basis of your diet. It’s best to eat a varied diet of many different beans, grains, and vegetables. So I have tofu a couple of times a week, but not every day. And I use soymilk in cooking but don’t chug whole glasses of it. To my mind, the best soy to use is the least processed, so I use more edamame (fresh or frozen green soybeans) and little to no TVP (very processed textured soy protein found in meat substitutes).
Penny asked: If oils are not good, just where do you derive your main source of fats from?
It’s surprising, but all plant-based foods have some fat, even if it’s just trace amounts. For some people that’s enough, but I also include a limited amount of nuts and seeds in my diet. I would much rather sprinkle walnuts on my salad than add an oily dressing, though sometimes I skip the walnuts and have a cashew-based dressing. And I love cooking with flax and chia seeds, which both contain high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids; a tablespoon in on a salad provide enough Omega 3’s for the entire day.
Jeannine asked: What are the top five kitchen utensils / gadgets for a plant strong person just starting out?
Here’s my list of tools I couldn’t do without:
1) A salad spinner. I just spent a weekend without one and didn’t realize until then how much I count on mine to get my greens dry. A wet salad is a limp salad! And all that extra water dilutes your delicious fat-free dressing.
2) A blender. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the high-end supercharged blenders, though they certainly have their advantages, but a good blender that will make smooth sauces and dressings is essential. If you’re going to be making nut-based sauces read a lot of reviews before you buy to see how well the blender handles these tasks.
3) Good non-stick cookware, including silicone bake ware. I know some people avoid non-stick skillets, but I rely on mine to keep half my meal from sticking to the pan. My current favorite pans are made by Berndes, but there are other good brands out there. Look for something that is heavy so it doesn’t warp and with a non-stick coating that doesn’t chip easily. If you avoid non-stick cookware, a seasoned cast-iron skillet is essential.
4) A food processor. You may be able to get along without a food processor if you have a high-powered blender for making things like hummus, but I find it invaluable for chopping large amounts of vegetables, shredding potatoes, beets, carrots, and zucchini, and mixing burgers and lasagna filling.
5) A sharp knife and a cutting board: these, along with the salad spinner, are the tools I use every day.
Stephanie asked: Do I need any supplements?
I’m not a nutritionist, but the one supplement that I believe is essential is B12. It’s hard to know if you’re deficient until it’s too late and you’re already showing symptoms. People can have trouble absorbing B12 and not know it, so it’s best to play it safe and take a supplement regularly (this goes for everyone over 50, even meat eaters). The sub-lingual tablets that you place under the tongue are better absorbed than the kind you swallow, and they’re pleasant tasting so even kids like them.
Heidi asked: How to convert kids. Especially ones who do not enjoy many vegetables and can you do this without using soy protein and if so how. My youngest has an intolerance to soy. I have just started the diet and will slowly move my children and husband (hopefully) to it.
I get asked this a lot, and it’s the toughest question for me to answer because I raised my daughter vegan from birth and never had to convert her. I would probably start slowly, by introducing new foods and asking them to try them. At the same time, I would try to find acceptable plant-based substitutes for some of their favorite foods; dishes like spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza are easy to make meat-free, though the soy intolerance makes it a little difficult to use packaged substitutes. But you can make some fantastic child-friendly meat substitutes using wheat gluten. Check out a blog called Vegan Dad for some great ideas.
Drew asked: What hearty, savory, satisfying food should I eat when I’m craving something with a mother and a face?
Where can people find you on the web?
My blog is where I post my own recipes: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com. I also answer people’s questions and post what I’m eating or cooking on my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/FatFreeVegan. And finally, my website, which is a collection of recipes from lots of different contributors is www.fatfreevegan.com.
We want to thank Susan for taking the time to share with us and to teach us how to make great tasting plant-strong food!
Do you have a favorite FFVK recipe? Please share it in the comments!