Carla Sammut switched to a vegan diet (no dairy or meat products, only plant foods) after watching a documentary on SBS about the effect of food chemicals in our bodies. She started a blog to share her journey to a healthier and endlessly delicious new lifestyle. In her own words, "My vision for [my blog] Easy As Vegan Pie is to show the world that vegan food can be quick, delicious and easily accessible. I don’t believe in processed foods or fake meats. I believe in real food, and I try to cook each ingredient as close to its natural state."
By
April Smallwood

2 May 2012 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Carla Sammut switched to a vegan diet (no dairy or meat products, only plant foods) after watching a documentary on SBS about the effect of food chemicals in our bodies. She started a blog to share her journey to a healthier and endlessly delicious new lifestyle. In her own words, "My vision for [my blog] Easy As Vegan Pie is to show the world that vegan food can be quick, delicious and easily accessible. I don’t believe in processed foods or fake meats. I believe in real food, and I try to cook each ingredient as close to its natural state."

Here, Carla shares her tips for "veganising" your favourite dishes, eating for your health, and how to handle the inevitable protein question from skeptical omnivores.

Give us a rundown of what’s inside a typical vegan’s pantry.
I guess, firstly, there's no such thing as a "typical" vegan. Vegans can run from 100 per cent raw vegan to 100 per cent junk food vegan, and everything in between. For me, I'd say I lean more on the "macrobiotic" side of things, so have a huge selection of whole foods, grains, nuts and beans. I think what people would find most interesting is that the range of condiments and sauces for any vegan is massive; I have nine different kinds of vinegar alone.

What’s your favourite way to prepare tofu?
Tofu is so versatile! It can be sweet or savoury, depending on which kind you use. I list all the different ways they can be used here on tofu wtf?, but I would have to say my favourite way is in my caramelised onion and cauliflower tart. People just go crazy for this tart. Anything that makes someone go, "wow" makes me smile (and it’s insanely delicious!).

Many have various reasons for committing to a meat-free, no-dairy diet, such as animal rights, environmental concerns, health, etc. When you made the decision in 2001, what was your main motivation?
My main motivation was my health. I had been a sickly person my whole life, with asthma, colds, hayfever, allergies and rashes. In 2001, I watched a documentary on SBS about the effect chemicals are having on people – this was a huge wake-up call, helping me understand what goes in comes out. Couple that with the mad cow disease outbreak that happened that year, and also being diagnosed with lactose intolerance at the same time, I went vegan to see if it would make a difference and my allergies slowly disappeared over the next year. That was enough for me to understand the health benefits of going vegan. I became a much happier person almost instantly; this made me realise the benefits of living a compassionate life.

How have non-vegan friends responded to your dishes? Have you converted anyone? Or inspired them to use more vegies in their cooking?
Everyone loves my cooking (or at least they pretend to!). I don’t believe in pushing my beliefs on anyone. I believe in the Gandhi quote, 'Be the change you want to see in the world". In this respect, through teaching, my website, and having people over for meals, slowly a few of my friends have become vegan and quite a few have become vegetarian. All of my friends have their own strong beliefs on many topics; if they choose to eat meat it’s from a place that is well thought out and I respect that.

Tell us about your cooking classes. Do meat-eaters also attend and what kinds of dishes do you prepare?
Cooking classes are my joy! I have designed my cooking class for meat eaters; for people who are looking to incorporate more vegies and different ingredients into their cooking. A vegan diet encompasses so much. Dairy intolerance, egg allergies, kosher – so many people fall into these categories and it’s hard for them to find cooking classes to go to. At least half of attendees are meat eaters looking to become healthier, the other half are interested in a vegan diet or reducing their cholesterol (a vegan diet has no cholesterol). I designed the cooking class as an introduction to tofu and vegan cooking, to cover the basics so you can go home and "veganise" all your favourite dishes easily. The class is also gluten free (on request), so it can cater to everyone.

Would you say there is a growing vegan movement/community right now in Melbourne? For you, what are the benefits of this?
Melbourne has a huge vegetarian/vegan community and it's growing all the time. People here are so interested in food, too – I know a lot of people who are omnivorous, but their favourite restaurants are vegetarian. There’s very few places I’ve been in the world where veganism is as accepted and accommodated for. It’s really great; the benefits, as you can imagine, is I can pretty much eat anywhere. I always get a rude shock when I go other places, can’t find food easily and have to go back to the bad old days of carrying around protein bars and planning each meal in advance.

What’s your advice to someone who’s curious to give veganism a go?
Be gentle with yourself and do it slowly! Habits are hard to change. It’s also a steep learning curve with cooking techniques and ingredients. Vegan cooking is a cuisine, just like French or Italian, you wouldn’t be able to whip up a four-course French meal straight away – apply that logic to veganism. Be patient and stick with it, eliminating something each month. Your palate changes quite quickly, so those cheese cravings will go away within a couple of months. Some people advise going "cold tofu", and if you think you can do it, definitely go for it!

What’s the No.1 question you get asked about your diet? What’s your response?
It’s the dreaded, 'But how do you get your protein?" one. I’m a pretty patient person, but this one can make me cross. Vegans, on the whole, are very educated on nutrition, which I can’t really say for a lot of the omnis (omnivores) who have quizzed me extensively. I explain that protein is in so many things – beans, tofu, tempeh and nuts being my primary source. When you go vegan, you just have to get used to people quizzing you endlessly; you learn quickly who is trying to wind you up and who is genuinely interested.

What’s an easy vegan salad you make regularly? Can you share with us how to make it?

Well, most salad is vegan! My favourite at the moment is brown rice salad. It's quick, easy and nutritious. I work full time and study part time, so anything I can throw together is my favourite right now.

Brown rice salad recipe

1 cup brown rice, cooked (yields about 2 cups)
1 tin brown lentils, rinsed
1 tin butter beans (or chickpeas), rinsed
1/4 cup sultanas
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
Small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, diced finely
1 tbsp of shredded seaweed
1/4 small Spanish onion, finely diced
Pinch of salt

The method is simply to combine the ingredients! I finish it in many ways, sometimes just with sesame or olive oil. Other times with kecap manis. At the moment, I am sprinkling with Maldon smoked sea salt and lemon olive oil. It's amazing.

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