This morning, I vowed to myself that these would be my last few days indulging in unhealthy foods before I start my vegan diet. "It's just a grilled cheese sandwich," I said to myself as I prepared to eat my meal.
Tuh! Let's just say that I enjoyed my grilled cheese sandwich, but my body didn't. It tasted like bull crap and shame, and the whole morning I was plagued with an upset stomach, unclear thoughts, and a headache-- a reminder that it's definitely time to change up my diet.
As I started making my grocery list, I wondered how I was going to maintain my vegan diet. Last week when I talked to Karen Civil about going vegan, what I didn't mention was that I had actually gone vegan for several months back in 2012. While I would love to proclaim the greatness of going vegan, I must admit that the last time I tried it, I focused so much on the next meal and how I would maintain my diet that I wasn't mindful of how I felt after eating clean. Not to mention that it seemed expensive. At least that's the biggest complaint that I told myself. But after some calculations, the cost of eliminating dairy, eggs, and meat had actually cut my food budget in half.
Attempting to be a vegan again has been on my mind heavy lately, and this time I wanted to start my journey with a fresh perspective, which is why I'm happy that I had the pleasure of interviewing a chef on how exactly I could maintain a vegan diet.
I spoke to Chef Ahki, a celebrity vegan chef and author of Electric: A Modern Guide to Non-hybrid & Wild Foods, and the woman knows her stuff. Chef Ahki has been praised by Bradley Cooper, Lee Daniels, and Waka Flaka Flame for her insane cooking skills, and she gave me a lot to think about when maintaining a vegan diet that will carry me through for many years. Here are some tips that she shared with me during our interview.
You Have To Dedicate Time & Commitment To Your Vegan Journey
"It will be difficult in the beginning. It was the first couple months for me, but I was able to attach to a support group which helped. My family was not of support. My family ate traditional southern food.
I was also a good cook, and I enjoyed cooking. I was passionate about making this new food taste as good as what I was used to. That is hard to do! I was frying up tofu with cornmeal and Lowrys [seasoned salt]. It was fish fry with the tofu, and a lot of soy products was a major part of my transition before I knew how awful that soy could be. I was eating soy hot dogs, soy chicken nuggets, soy shrimp, soy steak, everything soy. But like I said, having a support group is what made the transition easier.
It took me about three to four years to fully transition. It wasn't some cold turkey, overnight kind of thing, and I know lots of people would like to think that it's that way, or they imagine it that way, and for some people they can just do that. But not for me. I slowly took out the pork, then the chicken, then the fish, you know? I went slow."
Spices From Meat-Based Dishes Can Make Your Meals Delicious
"It's hard to really make something that mimics the exact texture [of meat], but...you can do it through seasoning...[say] if you wanted to do greens and cabbage and black eyed peas, you can use smoked sea salt or smoked paprika. If I cook barbecued tofu, I use liquid smoke, [or] lots of black pepper, onion powder like that to give it that flavor.
[When cooking most of my dishes,] I use a lot of onion powder. I don't really use a lot of garlic, or any really...I love Dulse, which is like a sea vegetable seasoning. I like herbal seasonings like trocomare or herbamare. And I really like coriander. Coriander is like a spice that I think a lot of people sleep on. It's incredible flavor.
Oh, and paprika is wonderful, and I love smoked paprika."
Quinoa, Berries, & Hummus Will Become Staples Of Your Grocery List
"Try chayote...some people call it a Mexican squash. It looks like a pear, it cuts like a potato, it's almost flavorless, honestly. It takes on the flavor of anything you cook it with, so it's just amazing for vegan/vegetarian diets, because it gives you that good texture, like a very filling texture but it's not heavy. And you can put it in anything from salads to stir frys to casseroles...it's just the best vegetable ever.
And vegans love quinoa. I prefer red quinoa. I also have to have berries of every sort. I go out of my way to get blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, I get berries always. I could go on and on with this because my grocery list honestly looks the same every single time...It never gets old, and it's what I eat in various combinations.
Use avocados for your fat. [It] makes you feel full. I [also] keep my hempseeds for protein, I always have sea vegetables as well.
I can tell you some items that are surprisingly vegan, or when I became vegan I was like, "Thank God I can eat something similar to this," and that was hummus. Hummus for vegans is like crack. All vegans eat hummus until they get tired of it. That's what happens."
Try Having Potluck Dinner With Vegan Friends
"I was in Dallas, Texas when I made my transition, and fortunately I attracted a group of girlfriends who were eating that way. And we would potluck, and it was a really nice support group where we could learn from each other on how we could make it tasty for us.
Of course, finding vegan restaurants or places to go to was great, and once we started it kind of took off. So definitely the moment you make that decision, you start shopping at those places, you start frequenting those stores and restaurants, you will attract other people who eats the way you do, and you'll get that support."
Upgrade Your Kitchen
"Definitely upgrade your kitchen first. Because that kitchen will destroy you. If your kitchen is working against you, you're assed out. Because if you walk in there, and there's a microwave on one side, there's a loaf of bread over here, then there's frozen chicken nuggets over there, and cookies...You know, you're going to crash.
Go and just do a sweep of the kitchen, and then make that kitchen absolutely inviting. Pull out the cutting board, pull out that chef's knife, pull out that blender and that food processor, get your freezer bags ready, because you'll need plenty of those for all the veggies and freezer goods, and fruits. Get some Pyrex, get some glass tupperware with lids, cause you're gonna totally need that to store [your foods], and lay all the beautiful foods out so you can see it.
Most foods don't need to be refrigerated, and a lot of people don't know that until they stuff their freezers. But a lot of fresh foods can be left out, and should be left out, like your tomatoes, your onions, your winter squashes, even zucchini and squash to leave a lot of foods out so it makes it inviting..."
Blow Your Whole Grocery Budget At The Store
"Take your grocery budget, find out what that is, go to the market and spend it all. Go to farmer's markets and spend it all so you don't have any options...And you go home and you just crank it out. Get on some blogs, like gochefahki.com, grab a cookbook, like Electric!...and get yourself motivated and inspired by food. That way, you'll be excited."
Meal Prep Is Key For Larger Families
"Meal preparation is important. Can it make or break you? If you have a family of four, it absolutely can. If it's just you, you may be able to wing it depending on where you live. You can hit up a lot of places and eat meat free. There are a lot of [restaurants], even traditional Italian restaurants [where you can] and simply say, "Hey, I love this dish, I love this sauce, but don't add meat. Just cut up a bunch of vegetables, and thank you kindly. You can kind of wing it at restaurants and things like that."
Remind Yourself Of The Health Benefits
"It's really based on principles, and it's based on a lot of self care and preventative care. You got to remind yourself what food is, and what it isn't. And that's what's going to come down to. You've got to remind yourself that you are eating this way so that you do not have to suffer later on. So whether or not you feel like it's taxing on your time and energy, it's expensive, all these things.
You want to pass on health to your children, you don't want to pass on disease. When you're putting food in your mouth, ask yourself, "Is it dead or alive? Is this giving me energy, or is it going to take away my energy? You have to remind yourself of that every time. And keep it fun. Visit some blogs, check out some Pinterest pages, get inspired, check out some new vegetarian restaurants, go to some farmers markets, you have to keep inspired and motivated. It can get boring after awhile![laughs] "
Chef Ahki has some delicious recipes on her Instagram page that will keep your mouth watering. Check out her cookbook “Electric!, A Modern Guide to Non-Hybrid and Wild Foods" on Amazon, visit her website at gochefahki.com, or follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.
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