Vegan fare is often discredited for lacking heft and flavour. No meat? No cheese? Well, it’s going to taste like cardboard then, isn’t it?
It’s an assumption that gets gleefully bandied about by staunch, defensive carnivores, but it’s not one you can level at plant-based YouTuber Rachel Ama.
Her debut cookbook, Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats, is a compendium of the food she grew up eating, just veganised, without stripping out taste or nutrition.
Think crispy jerk BBQ tacos with plantain and mango salsa, Caribbean jackfruit fritters, coconut turmeric flatbreads, miso-glazed aubergines, curry roasted cauliflower and African peanut stew – the latter of which is a veganised version of one of her mum’s favourite dishes from Sierra Leone.
Rachel said: “African and Caribbean food lends itself really well to being plant-based. Firstly because of the seasonings built into the myriad styles that feature in these cuisines, and also because in a lot of places in Africa and the Caribbean, plant-based eating isn’t [considered] so crazy.”
London-based Rachel also focuses on whole foods, spices and herbs, so don’t expect recipes using substitutes like seitan.
“I just wanted to stick to vegetables that you can get in the supermarket,” she noted.
A post-university trip around South America and the States triggered Rachel’s enthusiasm for cooking but she hasn’t always been vegan.
In fact, she was a self-confessed KFC junkie until a Netflix documentary made her want to go vegan overnight.
She recalled: “Suddenly I was like, ‘Oh, now I’m seeing how the food is ending up on my plate, I don’t want to be a part of it anymore’.”
Aside from cooking, Rachel’s other passion is music, which is why you’ll find song recommendations alongside the recipes.
“For me, cooking with music was just a natural thing to do,” she explained.
“So, if anyone’s a music head like me, it touches on different senses of sound and taste, it brings the whole enjoyment together, and hopefully that will give people a bit more than just cooking.”
Her relaxed approach is reflected in how she hopes to help spread veganism too.
She’s absolutely not militant – any uptake is welcome, whether you’re just intrigued by vegan menu options, been thinking about animal welfare, are considering the health benefits, or feel concerned at the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries.
Her aim is to just encourage more people to incorporate plant-based and vegan meals into their diet, and to do that naturally and not feel pressured or scared.
“Try it, if you love it, you’ve got a staple recipe you can make for your family. That’s the goal,” she said.
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