• Nadia Holmes is a vegan home cook who creates incredible Italian dishes with plant-based ingredients. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
When home cook Nadia Holmes moved into her own place, she embraced a vegan lifestyle - and she's never looked back.
Melissa Leong

6 Aug 2018 - 11:39 AM  UPDATED 10 Jan 2019 - 2:13 PM

The tempeh-tofu-lentils stereotype of veganism has been smashed thanks to the groundswell of high-calibre cooks turning out food that’s entirely complete, without meat, from Melbourne-based restaurant Smith & Daughters and Sydney’s Alibi from chef Matthew Kenney to home cooks like Nadia Holmes, who cook up a storm in The Chef’s Line Season 2 Italian week.

A blogger and passionate home cook, Holmes grew up in a proudly Italian family where food is life. “For most of my childhood, I wanted to be a vegetarian, but my parents chalked it up to being a phase. That being said, meat was rarely the star of the show. And if you look at particularly a lot of southern-Italian cuisine, so many dishes are ‘accidentally vegan’, or can be made vegan very easily,” she says. “When I’ve travelled to the south [of Italy] over the years, I’ve been so excited by the dishes that showcased the beauty of vegetables. The tomatoes! The perfection of simple dishes like spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil), has been that way for centuries, and contain no animal products!” she adds.

"If you look at particularly a lot of southern-Italian cuisine, so many dishes are ‘accidentally vegan’, or can be made vegan very easily."

Given that southern Italian pasta-making doesn’t incorporate the richness of egg yolks like they do in the north, even the basic hero of Italian cuisine – pasta – is vegan. While veganism is usually linked to ethical choices in food, Nadia doesn’t consider it a life sentence that sacrifices the best that food has to offer. “I am first and foremost Italian. That means good food is just part of life. When I moved out of home, I thought ‘I want to try this vegan thing’. I became more independent with my cooking and I think that choosing to go vegan has ultimately made me a better and more creative cook. I probably wouldn’t have been on The Chefs’ Line if I hadn’t made that choice!”

How do her family feel about Nadia’s food choices now? “It took a while for my nonna to realise that cooking vegan doesn’t mean picking out the meat at the end,” she laughs. “I remember my 21st birthday. I was newly vegan and wanted to have a party that celebrated that, too. Without thinking, Mum made this amazing pasta… with a cream sauce and bacon. I was horrified! But they’re great now, mum makes amazing pesto without cheese (or adds it at the end), and there are so many amazing substitutes you can make to classic dishes so you don’t sacrifice the spirit.” Holmes says easy ingredient swaps include tofu for ricotta and crushed walnuts for when you need a meaty texture in dishes like meatballs. And her top vegan staple ingredients? Salt, good olive oil and tomatoes. The backbone of a great Italian cook is vegan? Yep, it certainly is.

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Follow Nadia Holmes on Instagram @the_road_not_taken_vegan.

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs’ Line premieres Monday 6 August, 6pm weeknights, on SBS followed by an encore screening at 9.30pm on SBS Food Network. Episodes will be available after broadcast via SBS On DemandJoin the conversation #TheChefsLine on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood  and Twitter @SBS_Food. Check out sbs.com.au/thechefsline for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more! 

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