Vegan cooking is all the rage, and Canada is lucky to have so many plant-based role models leading the way. We chatted with Vancouver's own Susan Pratt, whose vegan-cooking site includes recipes that are fun, simple and delicious for the entire family, about all things plant-based in the kitchen! Read to the end to snag her recipe for Vegan Lemon Meringue Parfait. —Noa Nichol
Hi Susan! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
My name is Susan Pratt, and I live in beautiful North Vancouver, B.C., with my husband Randy, two-year-old daughter Carrington and cat, Mabel. I have a deep love for nature, animals, our planet, my 12-year-old Warmblood horse named Greystoke (we like to call him Mr. Grey!) and cooking! Cooking for my friends and family is one of my favourite passions. I love having the opportunity to share my vegan recipes so that others can create beautiful memories, too.
To clear up the confusion: is plant-based the same as vegan, or ...?
When I began my vegan journey, I didn’t know there was a difference between plant-based and vegan! Veganism and plant-based eating are different in that plant-based eating is a diet and more health-based, whereas veganism is a lifestyle and more ethics-based. According to Forks Over Knives, a plant-based diet is centred around fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes. It excludes meat (including chicken and fish), eggs and all dairy while minimizing highly refined foods such as oil, bleached flour and refined sugar. Vegans abstain from all animal foods, and animal-derived products—no meat, dairy, eggs or even honey. This diet may include processed foods like faux meats and cheeses, bleached flours, refined sugars and oil. A plant-based diet is centred around body health and well-being while veganism is for animal rights and causing no harm.
How did your vegan journey begin, and where has it taken you?
I became vegan into my adult years after personally educating myself on deforestation, over-fishing, ocean plastics and inhumane treatment of farm animals. At times, it can feel overwhelming! What can one single person do to affect change? Then, something sparked in me. I felt a need to make a difference, and that started with my number 1 passion, food! My husband and I decided to try eating vegan for one month. After that month, the change in our bodies was drastic: more energy, less brain fog, better sleep, better digestion, less water retention, weight loss. We feel so good we’ve never gone back! Eating plant-based has ignited my love of cooking, creativity and passion for healthy eating. I love working with fresh, colourful ingredients that I know will nourish my family and me.
For you, is being vegan bigger than what you eat? If so, why and how?
How we eat our food, what we choose to eat and how we prepare our meals are all questions that I have explored extensively. The more I learned, the more I realized that I have an impact on not just my own choices but my family’s and the environment. I have a deep love of animals, nature and life. Eating animals is not in alignment with that love. I was in Austria and saw they had a horse on the menu. My heart sank to think that people were eating these glorious, majestic animals that I loved so fiercely. Then I thought about how I was eating cows, pigs and chickens. Just as horses were normal to eat in Austria, these animals were deemed normal to eat in my culture. We do not need to kill animals for protein. Eating animals harms our bodies. Processed meats are classified and a Group 1 carcinogen! This can lead to causes such as cancer. The environmental impact is staggering, too; the animal protein industry is the third-largest source of greenhouse gases. Change won’t happen overnight, but I can make a difference by what I choose to purchase and put on my plate.
Your top tips for going vegan, please!
Many people make the switch overnight as I did, but it’s not for everyone. If a sudden shift sounds difficult for you, try a gradual approach. Try eating a plant-based breakfast every day for a week, then add lunch the next and dinner the following week. Or try eating plant-based on the weekdays until you’re ready to go 100 per cent. Some ways you can make it easier for yourself are: planning your recipes ahead of time; keeping your pantry and kitchen well stocked with healthy foods; batch cooking grains and roasted vegetables; pre-cutting your vegetables for an easy and fast salad, bowl or snack; and investing in cooking equipment like a high-speed blender, food processor, non-stick pots and pans, graters and a good chef’s knife. Be open-minded and gentle with yourself. If you slip and have a burger, it doesn’t mean you have to quit. Trust me, your tastes will change. You will start enjoying subtle flavours as your taste and your gut bio changes with the plant-based eating. Craig McDougall, assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, offers this advice: “Add around 1,000 calories of legumes, whole grains and starchy vegetables to your everyday routine. These starchy foods keep you full and satisfied, so you’ll naturally eat less of the animal products and processed foods that are making you sick.”
Cooking vegan: any tricks/tips/advice?
Yes! Have your recipe and ingredients ready when you cook, this makes the task less daunting. Remember, vegetables can be the star of your dish. They are not always a side dish. Cook what’s in season to ensure fruits and vegetables are fresh and full of flavour. Use flavour boosters like nutritional yeast, tamari, soya sauce, miso, liquid smoke, spices, fresh herbs a good-quality salt. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with fresh ingredients and buy in bulk to save money. Try different cooking techniques like roasting, blanching, steaming and barbecuing. Experiment with seasonings, spices and sauces. And, most of all, have fun! Cook with music playing and remember to smile!
Can any recipe be made vegan?
Most can, yes! Flavours and textures can be replicated. You will see daily alternatives like soy and cashews as well as meat alternatives like tofu, soy and seitan.
You're a mom! Your babe's fave vegan thing to eat?
My vegan cheese sauce! She loves it on pasta, veggies, toast, in quesadillas and on her fingers! She is quite an adventurous eater. She loves olives, artichokes, curries, bean and all types of fruit.
What about your hubby? His fave dish that you make?
He says his favourite dishes are: Beyond Meat Beef Wellington, Miso-Glazed Eggplant and Sweet and Sour Tofu.
And now you: if you were stuck on a desert island and could only bring one veggie with you, what would it be?
Only one? Not fair! OK, sweet potatoes! They are so versatile and full of nutrients!
Recipe: Lemon Meringue Parfait
This parfait is the perfect pre-spring treat! Not only is it delicious all together but its layers can be used for multiple dishes. A traditional meringue uses egg to create a fluffy whip but this recipe uses a surprise ingredient.
10 vegan graham crackers (I used Kinnikinnick, which is also gluten-free)
For the meringue:
1 cup aquafaba (liquid from a can of unsalted chickpeas)
3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
For the lemon curd:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup plant milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp turmeric
For the meringue, in a large mixing bowl with the whisk attachment, add the 1 cup of aquafaba, 3/4 cups powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Beat on the highest setting until the meringue begins to thicken, approximately 4 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape the sides and then beat for another 4 to 6 minutes or until it forms stiff peaks. Depending on the aquafaba it can take 15 minutes or more for it to turn to the meringue. For the lemon curd, in a small pot whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. This step is important to ensure there are no lumps in the curd. Mix in the plant milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and turmeric and turn the heat onto medium. Whisk continuously until curd thickens (about 5 minutes). Once thickened remove from heat and pour into a container to cool. The curd will thicken more as it cools. To assemble your parfait, place graham crackers in a plastic bag and using a rolling pin or heavy object crush into tiny pieces. Fill glass serving containers with 1/3 graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 lemon curd and top with meringue. Using a kitchen torch, toast the meringue until golden brown.