Plant food basics Building a strong foundation

Why plants?

Eating mostly plants is not a radical food choice. Many cultures around the world who for centuries have never relied heavily on consuming the quantities of meat and dairy that we westerners do have instead lived very well on mostly plants in their diets. The wide range of plant based recipes these cultures offer is fantastic! I hope to share some of them with you in September.

How many of us have had or still have a heavy reliance upon meat and dairy in our meals? Going without is bound to cause some panic amongst some cooks out there. What on earth do vegans and vegetarians eat? It’s not a measure of your skill to not know how to cook without them. It is however an ideal opportunity right now to learn how to cook without them.

Sadly just because you might choose to avoid animal products does not necessarily mean choosing to eat mostly plants is a good food choice either. The current Vegan trend risks becoming a smokescreen for the GE industry. Think fake meats and fake dairy. Fake meat seems to be largely dependent upon GE technology, and the ultra processed dairy free alternatives appear to rely on industrial scale production of plant crops like soy, pea and corn. What’s wrong with GE? We don’t know, that’s the problem! These plant foods are also ultra refined and processed. The main argument, rightly so, supporting this move for fake animal products is the industries awareness of mounting opposition to the unsustainability of industrial scale animal agriculture. Plus the old adage that we humans need protein, animal protein in particular. Many cultures have lived for many centuries consuming far less meat and dairy. Their sources of protein aside from a heavy reliance on vegetables have come from other plant based sources like the grains, legumes, ferments, algae with the occasional fish and meat when necessary for optional health usually during sickness. In fact too much animal protein seems to be the precursor to many diseases in our culture. Plant protein in a whole food diet can sustain and nourish most of us adequately. We have lost a lot of knowledge about those skills which enable us to make wise food decisions. Many vegan condiments and fast food alternatives offer very little in terms of nutritional value and sustainable production practices. The irony is that the production of these vegan foods may actually support the very same food industries which made you want to be a Vegan in the first place, if you are remotely mindful of these harmful industrial factors at all. So understanding the difference between good plant foods and highly refined, industry processed plant foods is important. A Vegan diet is not a good plant based diet unless it is capable of guaranteeing us the most healthy and tasty of whole foods. Whole foods is the key point here. The more refined the food is, the less whole. Plant based recipes using natural whole foods which are not denatured, have the opportunity of taking our cooking with them to another level!

So join me in the cooking classes to do just that! There is no greater time than right now to choose to live on a plant based diet or to choose to eat more plant based foods. There is also a middle road. No need to be too zealous. Don’t make eating more plants a diet, make it a lifestyle! The transition from animal to plant need not be difficult. Thanks to the universal local food movement we have an ever increasing abundance of good food at hand. We can eat a high protein plant based diet without the animal, without the supplements. We can eat whole foods that are free from refined sugars and artificial ingredients and toxins. We can feed out body like we love it and we can do the same to the planet. It’s simply a matter of choosing to. So with organic and locally grown good quality fruits and veges, access to good international ingredients online and in shop, local markets with seasonal and fresh foods, your shift to a plant based diet has never been easier! The time is perfect to take that next step in making the good plant based diet part of your every day, or maybe as a first step just to learn how to accommodate ‘that vegan’ guest in your house.

The word diet in itself is problematic. It implies a temporary quick fix remedial action. Really when I say diet I mean as in our food choices long term. It’s about our lifestyle. A good diet will go so much further than just our bodies. It’s affects our mood, attitudes and actions. Instead of a reliance on the processed we can choose the whole. Who knows maybe with a cleaner, more nutritious more delicious diet of foods our local communities might benefit too! Imagine if demand for whole foods led to the conversion of dairy farms into well irrigated protein rich crops or orchards and owners of lifestyle blocks could sustainably grow food for their local markets. What we eat really could effect how we can live.

So that’s the blog out the way! Over the coming months I will suggest some basic foundations that make up the transition to eating more plants. These are essentially steps you can take to make cooking with plants easy. Learning how to replace the animal in your recipe starts with these foundations.

Foundation 1: Start with the basics. Practical and easy recipes that rely on plants can come undone if you have to resort to processed ingredients from the shop. So to make those recipes work in the way you intend them to, it helps to set up the basics first. This page is all about Stock. You can use a good stock for a myriad of recipes, not just soup.

Winter is a great time to enjoy Soups! Soups are easily digested, and a clean way to eat food. They warm and they nourish you. You can use practically any vegetable!


Basic Vegetable Stock, Miso Stock and Dtom yam - hot sour stock

Here are three different stock recipes. It’s easy to buy a vegetable stock, but some brands have wheat of some kind added and heaps too much salt. So when I do succumb to laziness I would buy from Piko, the Rapunzel stock kind in tab or loose form. But generally the bought kind simply is not as good as your home made job. Homemade stock is essential for making a memorable soup, pilaf, noodle dish, bowl food, sauce. It also keeps in the fridge for a good week easy, or if you make a large batch you can freeze it. It’s a great way of using up the leftover veges you will be eating heaps of! The numbers of veges are a rough guide depending upon how much stock you want to make. The Miso Stock that follows is one I use when a ‘richer’ stock is necessary, like when you make a delicious Vegan Pho! (to share with you in one of the cooking sessions). The Miso stock is like a beef stock in its depth of flavour so it’s very versatile too. The Dtom Yam is a hot sour Thai in origin stock. This would be my all time favourite of the three stocks.

Vegetable Stock:

2 Onions, chopped and skins too

2 stalks of preferably organic celery with the leaves (non organic celery is often sprayed with pesticide and considering its mostly water I would try and avoid any sprayed ) alternatively add 1 tsp of celery seed

2 carrots chopped with skin on if organic

1 tsp of salt

1 tsp of peppercorns whole

1 leek or and 1 chopped potato (potato helps make a thicker stock)

Herbs: chopped parsley and 2 fresh bay leaves

Add the veges to 2 litres of water and let it simmer away for 20 minutes and then lower simmer for another 20.

You can also add crushed garlic if you like and basil too if you have any seasonal

Strain the cooked veges and store the stock in a good sized clean jar ready to use. Keep it refrigerated, you may adjust the seasoning. You can use this stock as a base for any vege soup of your choosing. Enjoy!


Miso Stock: Miso is an wonderful ingredient I use often.

Some people have concern over Soy based products and sometimes with good reason. I avoid GE Soy and you might be shocked to discover that many processed ‘foods’ contain GE Soy. Some folks are concerned about the Thyroid link with soy. The author of a well read wholefood book springs to mind, but I tend to differ in opinion on the soy issue. Naturally grown not GE Soy is has been consumed for centuries in many Asian cultures with little known ill effect. In fact Chinese Culture called Miso “Beef’. It is a cooling food and rich in lecithin ‘brain food’. It is also a concentrated form of essential fatty acids including Omega 3. Soy beans contain more protein than milk and without the saturated fat or cholesterol. Miso is a fermented form of soy bean and more easily digested. Other soy ferments are Tempeh, Soy sauce and Natto. 100gr of Miso has around 15gr of protein compared with 100gr Beef meat having 17-21. Miso also contains the essential B12. Soy milk is very processed and therefore denatured, as are many other soy formulas. So Soy is not the best of milks for regular consumption. I use Organic soy in the occasional sauce recipe when I really don’t want cows milk, goats milk or a weak nut milk. The whole form of soy is the more nutritious form but can be a brute to digest in this form. Urban Hippy are a Nelson based food business and last time I heard were using Nelson grown Soy beans to make a fanstastic Miso. You can use Miso like Marmite, eat it straight, replace all beef stock with it, it goes well with mushrooms, potato, as a coating on pumpkin. Basically a great hearty winter food. Purchase online or from Piko Wholefoods. Here is a very versatile Miso Stock:

2 onions chopped (preferably brown)

Garlic crushed optional

2 Tbsp of Miso - best kind Urban Hippy,purchase on line or from Piko Wholefoods

1 packet of dried Shiitake Mushrooms (you can usually purchase these from the supermarket in the ‘international section. Or alternatively 1 cup of chopped fresh brown mushrooms or 1 cup of Oyster mushrooms from local market stallholders at Ohoka.

Splash or 1/4 cup of Tamari (Wheat free soy sauce)

Splash or 1/4 cup of Rice vinegar

Pinch of or leaves of oregano or basil and salt and sprinkle of peppercorns

5 cups of water

Simmer 20 minutes and then gentle simmer another 20.

Strain into a clean jar or container. You can keep the mushrooms for use in a meal.

Store in refrigerator for up to a week.


Dtom Yam - Hot Sour Stock

This version is my take on the classic Thai Hot Sour Soup. Obviously I made this plant based as opposed to the classic meat and fish recipe. But if you feel you really need to add one or other of these animal ingredients then I would suggest a firm white fish like Warehou purchased from your local fish shop. But do try this recipe without, and see how you like it! Using the fresh plants and herbs is vital to this soup as it is in every soup. The whole idea is have something clean and tasty to eat. There is really no excuse in not sourcing fresh lemongrass, lime, kaffir lime leaves, chilli when in season. I pull my hair out when Thai restaurants don’t dish up these basic and essential ingredients! We, and many other growers at markets grow these plants - so hunt around and experience the taste of real Thai. Or better still grow your own, it is possible down here in the South Island.

4 cups of water


1 cup of tomato puree or fresh chopped equivalent

1 cup of chopped mushrooms, Shiitake are best, or oyster mushrooms or dried mushrooms.

Tamarind puree (you can purchase this puree from Asian Grocery’s and sometimes better supermarkets) It’s a pureed bean and essential tangy addition to this stock.

Heat the above ingredients.

In a mortar crush: 1 large clove of garlic (opt), 1 large knob of fresh ginger, 1 stalk of lemongrass and cut up the grassy bits, 1 red long chilli with seeds if you like it gutsy and hot, 4 kaffir limes leaves

Place a sieve strainer onto the top of the simmering liquid and add the contents of the mortar into this sieve including the grassy bits of lemongrass. The mix should sit in the soup liquid but you want to keep it separate so you don’t end up with bits in the soup later.

Add 2 fresh limes squeezed and 1 splash of tamari into the stock.

2 Tbs of ground Nori. I think ground nori or any kind of micro algae seaweed goes where Fish Sauce would normally. It’s salty and kind of reminiscent of the ocean like a good Fish Sauce is. You can keep your ground seaweed in a jar in the fridge. Vital ingredient for many Asian inspired recipes.

Taste and season according to your preference.

Once its has simmered away nicely and the smashed ingredients are all pale and soft you know the stock is ready.

To make a real meal of it, while the soup is cooking you can cook up 2 cups of brown rice and once cooked you add this to the soup. You can add at this point any additional ingredients like a piece of fish raw if you feel you need to, or just chopped veges like kumara, carrot, beans. You can add noodles or tofu. Pan frying or tempeh tofu added to the soup really makes it something else! Yum.

Add fresh asian greens last just before serving. Sprinkle with fresh chopped coriander.

(You will not escape Brown Rice in my cooking classes. This is the superfood for good health.)

Foundation Recipe 2 next month!

Ohoka Farmers Market