Five-star veg

Herald Sun - - TASTE - > CON­TIN­UED PAGE 26

ANEW YEAR, a new res­o­lu­tion to “eat bet­ter”.

And for an in­creas­ing num­ber of Aus­tralians, that means giv­ing up eat­ing meat.

But, like with so many things promised when the clock chimed 12 a fort­night ago, once we’re back to work and the kids back at school it’s so easy for good in­ten­tions to fall by the way­side in day-to-day life.

Chef To­bie Put­tock spent the first 20 years of his ca­reer butcher­ing, cook­ing and eat­ing ev­ery type of an­i­mal in restau­rants around the world but now eats a pre­dom­i­nantly plant-based diet. He has one key piece of ad­vice for those look­ing to swap snags for cele­riac and lamb for legumes.

“If you say, next week we’re go­ing ve­gan and chuck out all your an­i­mal prod­ucts you’re doomed to fail,” he says. “Just start re­plac­ing one thing at a time.”

He says sum­mer is a great time to start ex­per­i­ment­ing with go­ing meat free.

“I would say one to two nights, go meat free, cook a main veg­etable — whole roasted cau­li­flower with romesco sauce, say. You could add a small bit of meat to the side, if you need, be­fore leav­ing it out all to­gether,” he says.

To help the home cook in cre­at­ing these veg­etable-based dishes, To­bie has writ­ten his fifth cook­book Su­per­Nat­u­ral that he says “just hap­pens to be ve­gan”.

“The idea was to cre­ate an ac­ces­si­ble ap­proach to us­ing veg­eta­bles. I didn’t want to do a ve­gan book for ve­gans. It’s not about ‘meat is bad, eat a ve­gan diet’ but more like, here’s some in­ter­est­ing ways to eat veg­gies.”

It’s a grow­ing move­ment — peo­ple who are con­sciously eat­ing less meat but don’t com­pletely omit it from their diet. This semi-veg­e­tar­i­an­ism is known as a flex­i­tar­ian diet that peo­ple usu­ally adopt for en­vi­ron­men­tal and sus­tain­abil­ity rea­sons — though it really just means eat­ing mainly veg­eta­bles.

“I still eat meat — I just eat a hell of a lot less than I used to,” To­bie says. “We know if we re­duce the amount of meat we eat it’s bet­ter for us. There are cer­tain can­cers ve­gans just don’t get — so it’s bet­ter for our health,” he says.

“Be­com­ing a full ve­gan is no mean feat, but imag­ine how much dif­fer­ence it would make if ev­ery­one just ate a bit less meat and dairy.”

While many fall into an al­lor-noth­ing ap­proach, To­bie says to­day’s Mil­len­ni­als put no pres­sure on them­selves to eat a wholly plant-based diet. “They’ll hap­pily eat a mush­room burger then on a Sat­ur­day night have a minute steak with gor­gonzola sauce.”


To­bie Put­tock says the first step to chang­ing our think­ing around ve­g­an­ism is to look at veg­eta­bles in their nat­u­ral state and work up from there.

“All this pro­duce is so beau­ti­ful, why can’t we change the men­tal­ity of how we cook ve­gan food a bit?” he says. “Why can’t we cook beet­root like a piece of meat, and have sides along with that?

“Veg­e­tar­ian prod­ucts at the su­per­mar­ket look like sci­ence ex­per­i­ments with all the num­bers on the back, mim­ick­ing meat — there are no veg­eta­bles even in there. And ve­gan books (at the time) were all about that hippie food, piles of dal, piles of rice, that sort of thing.”

To­bie says he’s no­ticed a change in the past year with how veg­eta­bles are ap­proached by home cooks and pro­fes­sional chefs alike.

“When you get the likes of Rene (Redzepi) of Noma get­ting on board, you know things are chang­ing,” To­bie says.

“He said some­thing that really gelled with me. ‘The veg­etable menu at Noma was by far the hard­est thing they’ve ever tack­led, but that he’s had a taste of the fu­ture by do­ing it.” Spices are ev­ery­thing to veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan cook­ing, To­bie says. “They are your best friend and will al­low you to make sim­ple dishes with just a few in­gre­di­ents that are in­cred­i­bly lay­ered and com­plex in flavour,” he says.

Some of the main­stays in the Put­tocks’ pantry are car­damom, chilli flakes, ground cin­na­mon, co­rian­der seeds, cumin, fen­nel, pa­prika and whole nut­meg.

“You need to get your head around herbs and spices with this type of food, oth­er­wise it can be bor­ing. That’s really im­por­tant,” he says.


While fresh is best when it comes to dress­ing dishes with herbs, un­less you are cut­ting what you need from the gar­den, there’ll of­ten be left­overs that will be wasted. To­bie rec­om­mends lay­ing out those ex­cess leaves on a tray lined with bak­ing paper then leav­ing in a warm part of the kitchen to dry out. “You can then keep them in zip-lock bags or crush them and store in jars to be used through the bases of sauces for added flavour,” he says.

The herbs ev­ery­one should grow at home in­clude basil, co­rian­der, dill, mint, both curly and flat leaf pars­ley and tar­ragon.


“You can, of course, use dried beans of all va­ri­eties but, to be hon­est I al­most al­ways use canned at home,” To­bie says. “You’ve got to make it easy for peo­ple, and canned beans are ready to rock in sec­onds and don’t need to be soaked overnight.”


To­bie says the best way to cre­ate sat­is­fy­ing veg­etable dishes is to “hero one in­gre­di­ents and then build the plate around that”. Roasted beet­root, for ex­am­ple. “Now look at the flavours that go with that. Horse­rad­ish goes well. Then, cavolo nero goes well with horse­rad­ish,” he says. “Now you have the ba­sis for a great main dish.”


Veg­eta­bles To­bie sug­gests putting on ro­ta­tion on the din­ner ta­ble are cele­riac, which you can roast whole, cab­bage, and cau­li­flower — ei­ther roasted whole or cut into “steaks” and grilled.

“Pump­kin has re­placed roast lamb in our house. Slice it, stuff if full of bread, dried fruits and nuts and roast it really slowly. It’s fan­tas­tic,” he says.

“If you show enough love to any veg­etable you can trans­form it into some­thing that’s worth cham­pi­oning in the mid­dle of the plate.”

Nuts are an in­te­gral part of mak­ing meat­free dishes sat­is­fy­ing and fill­ing. Toby says lin­seeds, pepi­tas (pump­kin seeds), poppy seeds and sun­flower seeds are great to have at hand, along with al­monds, pis­ta­chios, pecans and wal­nuts. These can be used to bol­ster sal­ads and en­liven roasted veg­eta­bles, adding tex­ture along with the min­er­als, vi­ta­mins, iron and pro­tein you’d usu­ally re­ceive in your diet from eat­ing meat.


Hemp seeds — which have been legally sold as a food prod­uct for the past year — are a nutri­tional pow­er­house, To­bie says, along with be­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, pest-re­sis­tant crop. “Hemp is a com­plete pro­tein, con­tain­ing all nine es­sen­tial amino acids and is high in fi­bre, vi­ta­min E and min­er­als, as well as hav­ing a rare op­ti­mum ra­tio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids,” he says.


To­bie reck­ons freekeh (pro­nounced free-kah) is a great grain to use for build­ing sal­ads as it is both flavour­some and nu­tri­tious — low GI, low fat, a good source of pro­tein, iron, cal­cium and zinc.

“Freekeh can pro­vide greater sati­ety after eat­ing than other grains due to its high fi­bre lev­els — twice as much as quinoa and three times as much as brown rice,” To­bie says.


Turmeric is a ver­sa­tile spice that’s long been used in Ayurvedic medicine for its an­tiox­i­dant and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, To­bie says. Re­cent stud­ies sug­gest com­bin­ing turmeric with black pep­per in­creases the ben­e­fits of both spices.

“That’s why it’s great to com­bine the two in recipes such as the scram­bled chick­peas (see recipe),” he says.

writes Dan Stock

To­bie Put­tock plants the seed for easy meat-free meals, 23


To­bie Put­tock at Prahran mar­ket.

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