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.
DO THE CAN CAN
“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.”
WE CAN BE HEROES
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.
GO FULL TURM
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.
Tobie Puttock plants the seed for easy meat-free meals, 23
Tobie Puttock at Prahran market.