My Favourite Vegan Aussie Cookbook Author (+ Tofu Saag!)

After talking to Leigh over the interwebs for some time, I recently met her at Greenfest in Brisbane, Australia, where she was giving cooking demonstrations! So here she is as My Favourite Vegan Aussie Cookbook Author!

… You are Australian? Just checking!

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Leigh cooking!

Yup, definitely Australian.  Queensland born, even (Toowoomba).

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on my second cookbook, currently with the working title of Wrapped in Pastry – it’s a set of recipes using shortcrust, puff and filo pastry to create pies, tarts and rolls that are vegan, mostly soy free and can be made gluten free.  I am publishing through aduki independent press, who also published my first cookbook Vegan Indulgence.

I think my favourite recipes so far out of this new book are Creamy Chickpea, Leek and Mushroom Pies, Party Sausage Rolls, Cherry Strudel and Lemon and Passionfruit Tart. Though my brother in law, who is doing the photographs, loves the Hummus and Roast Vegetable Tart, and my testers seem to en masse adore the Peanut Butter Caramel Blueberry Pie! (Ed. note: OH MY. Glargh.)

Are vegan cookbooks and classes a successful form of activism?

I guess it depends upon your definition of success.  With the cooking classes, I think one of the biggest successes is that they are usually fully booked out.  I’ve had at least one student tell me that she’d transitioned from vegetarian to vegan because of the cooking class and the recipes provided.  I also had a workmate who attended one of my classes as part of his transitioning from omni to vegan.

With the cookbooks, for me the main success has been the testing of the recipes on my workmates!! It’s great to provide dishes, especially sweets, that are vegan and have omni workmates respond so positively to them.

I think that cooking classes and cookbooks are a great positive form of vegan activism because they can be non-confrontational, they don’t ask people to make the switch immediately, but they provide an emotional centre to the concept of veganism – food is so intrinsically tied to our emotions, which is why so many omnis are so resistant to veg*nism, because it strikes an emotional chord.  This emotional centre can lead people to thinking more closely about what they consume and why.

Also they show, again and again, that vegan food is inventive, tasty, fresh, fun, easy and definitely not boring!

What sort of people attend your cooking classes and vegan cookbooks?

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Vegan birthday cake!

What I’ve loved most about running my cooking classes is that a great range of people come along – from vegans to omnis, teens to grandmothers, couples, people with dairy intolerances and other allergies, hippies, yuppies, people who’ve never cooked, people who always cook….

Everyone who comes along has different reasons for doing the classes and takes different things away from it, but I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from students that they’re still using recipes and techniques from the classes months and even years later.

I’m not so sure about who buys vegan cookbooks, but I’d say it’s much the same range of people – with the rise of lactose intolerance and other allergies, lots of people are looking for alternative sources of recipes.

And, obviously, all of my family and friends, vegan or not, have bought my cookbook icon biggrin My Favourite Vegan Aussie Cookbook Author (+ Tofu Saag!)

Any exciting new foods you’ve discovered as a vegan?

Well, nooch, of course.

I think that the main thing I’ve gotten over the years I’ve been vegan is a renewed appreciation of legumes.  There are so many legumes available and so many different used you can put them to, and they’re so packed full of nutritional goodness!! My idea of a heavenly meal is a salad of chickpeas, steamed broccoli, lemon, chilli, Braggs and sesame oil. Possibly sprinkled with nooch.

The favourite meal that I’ve come to is vegan macnnotcheese – I love making this meal in all of its different permuations: nut based sauce, nooch based sauce, miso based sauce, white bean based sauce, vegan cheez based sauce, with chili on the side, with peas or tofu, covered in breadcrumbs… (Ed. note: SO MANY options! Sheesh! Veganism = abundance!)

Ingredients wise, I’m thinking Braggs, cashews, gluten free flours, quinoa….

And finally, cuisine wise, Latin food has been much more inspiring since I stopped slathering it in cheese and sour cream (blech).

What inspired you to go vegan? And stay vegan!

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Very tasty vegan curry

I don’t think that I had a moment of clarity that inspired me to go vegan.  I was vegetarian and I moved back to Sydney after five years away.  Back in Sydney, I spent a lot of time with friends of mine and they were a vegan couple.  We would make dinner one night every weekend and I eventually realised that being vegan was the right thing for me. So I went vegan.

However, over the years of being vegan I’ve gained more insight into why being vegan is important, and I’ve begun reading more literature about animal rights and animal liberation, and the vegan movement, and I find that both horribly depressing (because some humans can really suck) and incredibly inspiring.

Other ways I retain inspiration is to see those vegans around me doing amazing work – writing, blogging, cooking, freeing animals, fighting whalers, running animal shelters, demonstrating for animal rights… It is immensely inspiring about being part of a movement that is wholly based in love and a desire for a positive and ethical world for all beings.

Would you be a culinary artist if you didn’t go vegan?

I definitely don’t think that I’d be writing cookbooks or running cooking classes if I wasn’t vegan.  My interest in food, my cookery skills, and my desire to share food and recipes and techniques with others increased exponentially after becoming vegan – probably because once you become vegan, so many people comment on how boring/lacking in protein/dull/difficult etc being vegan must be.

I became overwhelmed with the need to shout from the rooftops ‘Oh hell no!! Being vegan is awesome!”, and was lucky enough to find a community college willing to support the classes, and to stumble across an Australian veg*n publisher willing to publish my recipes.

One of your favourite recipes, please!

I love Indian feasts, lots of flavoursome easy vegetable and legume curries, breads and scented basmati rice.

This is a recipe that I adapted from ones that usually use paneer – replacing paneer with firm tofu is a fairly obvious choice, but I think it’s the spicy spinach sauce that makes the dish.  Serve with steamed basmati rice – for something a little different, cook the rice in vegetable stock and drop in a stick of cinnamon and some lightly crushed cardamom pods.

You can stir through a little tahini at the end instead of finishing with the Nuttelex.

Tofu Saag

  • Nut Free
  • Gluten Free
  • Preparation & Cooking Time: 40 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6

Saag or Sag is a spinach and/or mustard leaf-based curry dish eaten in India and Pakistan with bread such as roti, naan or rice. Saag can be made from spinach, mustard leaves, or other greens, along with added spices and sometimes other ingredients such as paneer. On some menus, this dish is also referred to as saagwala. Saag/Sag however can be a catch-all term for various green-leaved dishes. Sag Aloo (potato) is a common dish in Western Indian restaurants and take-aways.

The traditional addition of cubes of paneer – home made cottage cheese – has been replaced with cubes of fried firm tofu.  Quartered mushrooms or chopped steamed potato (aloo) could also be used.

½ cup onion, roughly chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1 large red chilli, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cup tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 packets frozen spinach
1 teaspoon Nuttelex
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups extra firm tofu
6 whole cardamom pods
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 to 2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Nuttelex

Place the onion, ginger, chilli, garlic and tomatoes into a food processor and process into a paste (or pound into a paste using a mortar and pestle or chop finely).  Set to one side.

Cook the frozen spinach as per the packet instructions – steam with a little water and a teaspoon of Nuttelex  until completely thawed.  Set to one side.

Place a deep sided frying pan over a high heat and pour in the ½ cup vegetable oil.

Cut the extra firm tofu into 1cm square cubes.  When the oil is ready – a piece of tofu place into the centre begins bubbling and cooking immediately – deep fry the tofu in batches, removing from the oil when the edges begin to go golden.  Drain on paper towel.  When the tofu is all fried, remove the frying pan from the heat, and remove any floating or burned bits left in the oil.

When the oil has cooled, pour into a heatproof container.  Of this oil, pour back into the frying pan ¼ cup.

Heat over a medium high heat.  Add the cardamom pods and fry until the oil becomes fragrant.  Remove the cardamom pods from the oil.  Add the onion/ginger/chilli/garlic/tomato paste and fry for 2 minutes.

Add the dry spices – coriander, cumin, cinnamon – and stir through.  Add the spinach and 1cup of water and cook for 15 minutes, adding more water as required.  The sauce should be not too liquidy.

Remove from the heat and blend with a stick blender until smooth and bright green.  Stir in the salt, 2 tablespoons Nuttelex,, and fried tofu, and place back on the heat for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

What would you like to see more of in the vegan community?

I’d like to hear from vegans living in remote areas or young vegans living with omni families, or vegans living in places like the Nederlands or Scandinavia, and how they cope with the restrictions, and what sort of activism they get involved in.

Would be great to see a piece about the internet community of vegans – I think it’s such a boon to such a small community to have somewhere where our voice sounds loudly.

And lastly I’d like to add: go vegan! It’s fun, healthy, ethical, fulfilling, life saving and the most positive step anyone can make with their lives. Plus vegans are really hot.

Hell yes. We are all really, really, ridiculously good-looking.

And how awesome is saag? I love it. Green = life. icon smile My Favourite Vegan Aussie Cookbook Author (+ Tofu Saag!)

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