A few months ago, a friend shared an announcement that came as a bit of a surprise. He was becoming a vegan. *Gasp….vegan?! After the initial shock wore off I did what every compassionate friend would do. I said it doesn’t change anything. You’re still the same person and I will always love you.

I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek here. You know what they say about vegans – they talk about it as much as people who do Crossfit. Now, the fact that he’s a bodybuilder had me completely skeptical about how he would manage getting a balanced diet to fuel the physical demands of training. Admittedly I don’t know a lot about veganism or vegan cooking but I wanted to find out more.

Personally, I’ve always subscribed to the ‘everything in moderation’ philosophy and my biggest hesitation going full veggie is getting enough protein. Can you really pack in protein by replacing the ubiquitous boneless skinless chicken breast with nuts, seeds and beans? According to the converted – apparently so. Legumes like fresh soybeans, peanuts and beans (and their dried counterparts, known as pulses) are packed with protein and fibre and have less fat than animal protein. I’m always open to trying something new and have since started planning for 2 – 3 meatless days during the week. I’ll still include things like eggs and honey, but I do feel lighter and healthier on those days. Maybe there’s something to this after all?

Following a plant-based diet was predicted as one of the biggest food trends in Canada for 2018 and from what I can see, became a reality. The signs have been pointing in this direction for some time as we’re generally interested in healthier alternatives; and for anyone dedicated to veganism the reasons can go beyond that, whether it’s a concern for animals, the environment or food allergies. According to a study by Dalhousie University 32% of Canadians are committed to some form of plant-based food routine, and the revised Health Canada Food Guide due out this year – the first major update in a decade – is expected to lean toward recommendations for more of a plant-based diet:

“What is needed is a shift towards a high proportion of plant-based foods, without necessarily excluding animal foods altogether. Animal foods such as eggs, fish and other seafood, poultry, lean red meats such game meats, lower fat milk and yogurt, as well as cheeses lower in sodium and fat are nutritious ‘everyday’ foods. Some of these protein-rich foods can be high in sodium (e.g., salted nuts), sugars (e.g., sweetened yogurt) or saturated fat (e.g., some meats and many cheeses) and should be limited.”

Plant-based restaurants are also popping up in abundance. Planta in Toronto is a new favourite spot featuring elevated vegetarian and vegan dishes like their “Crab” Cakes (the quotations are intentional per their menu, not sarcasm) made from hearts of palm, spinach and coconut milk. Truthfully you would never know the crab is missing – the flavour and texture are identical to the maritime original!

Committing to a full-time all vegetable diet can be life changing for some and I know I don’t have the discipline to do so, but completely agree that adding more plant-derived meals into the routine is important and rewarding. It comes down to finding the right combination that’s right for your body and lifestyle. If anything, it’s a good challenge for the home chef to think differently in the kitchen!

Inspired by my friend’s newfound healthy direction, this leafy green spinach salad gets a protein boost from grilled tofu and pumpkin seeds, in a spicy sesame lime dressing. I added honey for a touch of sweetness so while it’s not exactly vegan, it’s a good start in the right direction.

TIP: Using a combination of sesame oil and a flavourless oil like grapeseed or canola for the dressing gives it some body but with a balanced flavour. I tried using sesame oil alone and found it was a bit overpowering for the subtle flavours of the grilled tofu and sweet potato.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • 200 g extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup roasted sweet potato, cooked and cooled
  • 2 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • Pinch dried chili flakes
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp grapeseed oil
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp miso paste

Method

  1. Place the spinach, sweet potato and pumpkin seeds in a large salad bowl and set aside
  2. Slice tofu into ½-inch slices. Brush lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In a grill pan, cook 2 – 3 minutes per side over medium-high heat. Set aside to cool to room temperature while you make the dressing
  3. For the dressing, whisk all remaining ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Miso paste is very salty so you won’t need to add any salt to this dressing
  4. Slice the grilled and cooled tofu into cubes and add to the rest of the salad ingredients. Toss the salad with 3 – 4 tablespoons of dressing or to your liking

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