Tag Archive for: Vegan

Seven years separate your latest book, Healthy Vegan Street Food, from Vegan Street Food (and amazingly it’s over a decade since your statement breakthrough on MasterChef). How has the profile of plant-based cuisine changed in that time?

The landscape has changed so much I hardly recognise it any more!  Plant-based food has become incredibly politicised through the growth in veganism. Which has been both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, there exists quite a hard and sometimes judgemental line about a strict vegan lifestyle but also the increase in the number of people, all people but especially omnivores, eating plant-based food. With the wide availability of products, it’s such a big shift in how people eat. I think people (esp. the younger generations) have embraced this more flexitarian approach to eating and it’s definitely a good thing for them and the planet. Like anything in life there also appears to be a polar opposite response too, that’s quite hardline from dedicated carnivores. As a former sociologist I find all that quite interesting.

How important to the growth of veganism is the kind of South Asian food you promote?

I think we should all be incredibly grateful to the cuisines across Asia because there’s so much more function, health and respect in their cooking overall. South Asian food is more evolved from accessibility and seasonality, rather than relying on Dutch hot houses or globally shipped foods. And, of course, it has many ancient cultural and religious practices that have informed and shaped how people eat. We have so much to learn from Asian cultures in terms of plant-based food. Vegan mock meat was essentially invented in China by the Han dynasty over 500 years ago. 

The new book is no rehash. Hardly a duplicate recipe in there. Even the travel element is updated. The emphasis is on that word healthy, all aspects of which you explore. Is that growing awareness the main difference?

I think the book reflects both my own journey and also what’s going on around us – that people are more interested in wellness and health now. Although I grew up in a family that was always quite healthy, I think we just know so much more now. Having the opportunity to travel has taught me a lot from other countries approaches to health and wellness. Functional medicine is huge in the US. Sadly it’s quite hard to access that kind of healthcare here in UK. And even those who do have access pay a high price for that.

But I’ve always been interested in wellbeing and health. I worked for the NHS as a researcher in evidence-based practice for 18 years before MasterChef. After I became unwell due to an autoimmune disease I began studying nutrition and developing my expertise in creating healthier food (that’s still amazing to eat).

What are your major healthy eating tips?

Mostly plant-based whole food most of the time. The whole food part is important. If you’re eating vegan ready made crap from the supermarket then you’re going to feel like crap. 

My main tips are firstly making some time for prep. Having real food prepped makes it a lot easier to eat healthier while leading busy lives. Number one for me is batch cooking. You can also prepare one meal while prepping some things for other meals. So I always make at least one sauce (such as a simmered tomato sauce) that I can use in two or three dishes. I usually make this while making another meal such as batch cooking a stew, soup or dal. Something that’s protein-packed, with mushrooms or tofu/tempeh plus lots of fresh veggies. I always have cooked rice in the fridge, as cooled, cooked rice has a much lower glucose curve – and is the easiest thing to stir-fry with fresh veggies. Make it black or red rice and you’ve seriously raised the antioxidant and fibre game! Black rice is also higher in protein and rich in anthocyanin – the same thing that makes blueberries so blue (and good for us).

I always take prepped food when I’m on the go as well because we tend to eat more rubbish when we’re caught out hungry out of the house. I don’t eat gluten, so instead of grabbing a sandwich I’ll have homemade energy bars in my bag – there’s a fab recipe or two in Healthy Vegan Street Food. Or I often post recipes on my Instagram for healthy snacks and treats.

I also try to eat seasonally and locally where possible – apart from my spice emporium at home. Now I’m living in Italy it’s easier to eat like this as it’s simply how their markets and produce are run. Imported goods are super expensive.

How big a part has your own auto-immune problem played in this?

It’s played a big part really. I was always pretty healthy until my 40s. Being a former researcher I became laser focused on finding answers. But what I’ve learned, like any good researcher, is I have a lot more questions. Social media would have us believe we can cure ourselves of all kinds of diseases but I think this is unfair at best and dangerous at its worst.  It can make you feel like you’ve failed if you don’t get better. But the truth is, you can only make the best of your own situation. There are no cure all easy answers sadly. We can keep ourselves in the best shape possible, so we are in the best place to handle whatever comes at us, physically or mentally. That’s all we can do.

What are your feeling about the rash of vegan ready meals?

It worries me a lot. On the one hand, as I mentioned before, it’s drawn more people into eating plant-based. And to be fair, if they’re choosing a ready made vegan lasagne over a readymade meat lasagne, then at least it’s a small change. But we have to compare like with like, and ready made food is not great for us and should not be the main part of our diet. We need to eat whole foods, mostly plants, fresh and raw foods, fermented foods, healthy proteins and fats, this is true whatever our dietary choices and even more so as we age.

This is what I wanted Healthy Vegan Street Food to be about – healthy real food that’s more balanced and considered when it comes to nutrition. It’s a focus on making sure someone whose diet is primarily plant-based, would be getting most of the nutrients they need. If someone is solely vegan then you will always need to supplement a little. But to eat well for most of the time, the food has to be delicious and that’s what I wanted to create. So it’s possible to have treats and snacks as well as gourmet banquets, that are flavour-packed but also satisfying. 

How important is a plant-based cuisine in the fight against global warming?

We know that the commercial production of food impacts climate change in quite drastic ways. Obviously capitalism is, well capitalising, on the whole plant-based market. As it is too with the wellness industry. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to take better care of the planet and ourselves. And while it’s just a small thing, I feel that creating exciting, healthy and delicious things to eat made of plants is a pretty good place to start. 

Tell us about your current location in Italy – a far remove both from Chorlton, where you lived, and your Far East adventures.

We moved to Italy just before Brexit. Then the pandemic hit, which slowed our project plans down immensely – as it did for everyone. We moved here to Liguria to create a business that was more aligned to a healthier way of life. We have been building a retreat in the coastal mountains. Nothing complicated or any nutri-nonsense. Just simple principles of Move Well, Breath Well and Eat Well. Looking at the evidence base, these simple principles can give us the longer, healthier and happier life we all hope for. So yoga and hiking, cold water swimming and biodynamic breathwork (think Wim Hof) and together with delicious food and plant forward cookery lessons.

Your ‘Winter Reset’ programme is about to launch. Tell me about the aims of your Wellness Italy project.

This is our first opening for the retreat, so it’s a bit of a soft launch before next year. Our aim is to test the programme before we open the glamping site in the spring. This Winter Reset retreat is focused on yoga and breathwork, with accommodation in the village rather than camping on this occasion. 

We have some incredible teachers coming to support our guests. I actually met one person at a retreat in Thailand and have done some work with her since. I knew I wanted her to be part of the programme as a teacher. We hope next year that we can offer affordable retreat places for people who really need the opportunity. 

I’m well aware that it can be an elitist type of holiday. But we’re aiming to make it something more accessible. Everyone deserves to feel healthier and happier, not just those who can afford it. So we hope to start a Pay It Forward scheme eventually to create a place for someone in need to come for free. I’m also very excited about finally getting to cook for people again. And with small intimate groups too, more like a healthy supper club. And if I get the chance, sneak into the yoga class at the back before I have to get back in the kitchen!

Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read. 

Don’t miss Jackie’s showstopping recipe for Nasi Campur featured on my website.

‘Winter Reset’ runs from December 8-12 at Jackie’s Italian base of Pieve di Teco, high in the Ligurian mountains.  To find out more email mywellnessitaly@gmail.com .

Back in the day most folk’s first encounter with Indonesian food was probably via a Rijstaffel in Amsterdam or any Dutch city, an all-you-can eat buffet, at heart a colonial legacy. At its centre would be mounds of cooked rice – the Nasi of Nasi Goreng fame, that now ubiquitous fried rice dish, often featuring chicken or prawns.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of rice and farmer must make offerings of the sacred grain at harvest time to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility. This can involve eve trekking to the top of a volcano, of which there are many.

In her fascinating new book, Healthy Vegan Street Food (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Jackie Kearney makes rice the centrepiece of her own Indonesian/Malaysian-influenced showstopper, but it consists of just three or four plant-based elements and the rice is the more nutritious black variety. 

Healthy eating is at the core of the Masterchef legend’s fresh batch of recipes – without sacrificing flavour. As proof let me introduce you, in this exclusive extract, to her recipe for Simple Nasi Campur: Tempeh brittle, purple potato curry and coconut kale stir-fry.

“Indonesia’s answer to India’s thali. This selection plate means ‘mixed rice’, simply a plate of rice with three or four different dishes. It’s a generic term used across Indonesia and Malaysia. Nasi padang is a type of nasi campur, originating from the city of Padang in West Sumatra, where the mixed rice plate was served as a huge banquet alongside multiple curries made with meat, fish and vegetables, plus spicy sambals, peanuts and eggs.

“The Dutch colonialists adored this Minangkabau banqueting, which they called ‘rijstaffel’ or ‘rice-table’. Rijstaffel restaurants are incredibly popular throughout the Netherlands, and a closer foodie experience for most Europeans. Go hungry and be prepared for 15–20 dishes to be laid around the table.

“This recipe is a simplified little taste of nasi campur to make at home. The moreish tempeh brittle recipe uses a significant amount of (unrefined) sugars, so the portion should be a very small part of the whole platter, or give this a miss if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake and simply fry some soy-marinated tempeh instead. The kale stir-fry and simple curry are super-quick to prepare. You could also add other Indonesian elements like loaded cassava fries, manadu ‘woku’ curry or Indonesian corn ‘ribs’, if you want to create a larger rijstaffel.”


250g tempeh; 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1-cm/½ -in thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons), or use 1 tsp ginger paste;  2 tbsp coconut sugar; 1 tbsp date syrup, or use pure maple syrup or unrefined coconut sugar; 3 tbsp soy sauce; large pinch of salt. Baking sheet, lined with parchment. Serves 6.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. Cut the tempeh into 6 mm/¼ in thick slices, then slice into 1 cm/½ in wide small pieces (the length will be the width of your tempeh block).

Place a wide frying pan over high heat with 1 tbsp of the oil. When the oil is very hot, add the tempeh pieces. Fry for 8–10 minutes until crispy and brown on all sides. Remove and place on paper towels to drain.

In the same pan, add another teaspoon of oil and add the ginger. Turn down heat to low and cook gently for 2 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients (except the tempeh). Bring the mixture to a low simmer until a thick syrup starts to form, then add the tempeh pieces. Mix well to coat all the pieces and fry gently until the liquid is reduced and sticky.

Lay the pieces onto the lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until crispy and nicely browned. Remove and set aside to cool. The pieces will then become more brittle and crunchy.


1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil, or use culinary coconut oil or good-quality vegetable oil; 7–8 curry leaves; 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced; 3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced; ½ tsp ground turmeric; 7.5-10-cm/3-4-in cinnamon stick; 250–300g bunch or 200g bag of kale, thick stems removed and thinly sliced; 75g desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes; 2 green chillies, chopped; ½-1 tsp salt, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime (about ½ tbsp). Serves 6.

Place a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the oil and then add the curry leaves, frying for 20–30 seconds. Now add the onion, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon. Turn down the heat to medium–low, and gently stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the onions are softened and the garlic is golden brown.

Add the kale and turn up the heat to medium–high. Stir-fry for 8-10 minutes until the kale starts to soften, depending on how crunchy you prefer your kale. Drain the desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut and squeeze out any excess water. Add the coconut and chillies to the pan, mix well and cook for 1 minute more.

Season with salt and remove from the heat. Add the lime juice and mix well. Serve immediately.


½ tbsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1 large brown onion, finely chopped; 2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped, or use 2 tsp garlic paste; 4-8 small red chillies, to taste; ¼ tsp chilli powder; 1 tsp ground cumin; 1 tbsp ground coriander; 400g can plum tomatoes; 250 g purple potatoes, peeled and cubed, or use new potatoes; 

250g firm tofu, cubed (and lightly baked if you prefer); ½-1 tsp salt, to taste. Serves 6.

Place a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add the chillies and ground spices. Add the tomatoes (and juices) plus 3½ tbsp water, then squash the tomatoes to a pulp. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.

Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth. Return the pan to high heat and add the potatoes. Place a lid on the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer the potatoes for 20-25 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Add the tofu pieces. Season with salt and add a little more water if needed. This curry can be reheated when needed.


Cooked black rice; 3–4 tbsp sambal balado; 3-4 tbsp red-skinned peanuts, lightly toasted, or use cashew nuts; freshly chopped coriander; rice crackers.

To serve the nasi campur individually, place some cooked black rice in the centre of a plate (or on a banana leaf if you like). Add a large spoonful of each of the dishes around the outside, plus a spoonful of sambal balado (or hot chilli sambal) and a spoonful of toasted red skinned peanuts. Sprinkle the potato curry with a little fresh coriander and add a few rice crackers, if you like. Indonesian rice crackers are fried, so I prefer to serve with baked Vietnamese-style crackers for a healthier option.

SAMBAL BALADO:  This Indonesian chilli and tomato condiment is a cornerstone of Indonesian food. Buy in or follow this recipe, which will make 250ml. 10-12 large dried red chillies, to taste, soaked in boiling water for 15-20 minutes; 2-6 Thai chillies (optional); 1 small red onion, roughly chopped; 3 fat garlic cloves; 1 large tomato, halved and deseeded; ¼ tbsp culinary/unflavoured coconut oil; 2-3 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves (optional); ½ tsp date syrup (or maple syrup/unrefined coconut sugar); ½-1 tsp salt,, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of one lime;. 

Drain the soaked chillies and add to a blender or food processor along with fresh chillies (if using), onion, garlic and tomato. Blitz to a rough pulp, then add to a small pan with the coconut oil. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the lime leaves, date syrup and salt, and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes until the liquid reduces. Add the lime juice, mix well and taste. Adjust the seasoning, adding more date syrup or salt, if needed. Store in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read. 

Check out my recent interview with Jackie.

Old chestnuts are less an ingredient more a verbal crutch but I can forgive Fergus Henderson for dredging up his riposte to the smugness of plant-based proselytisers: “How do you tell someone is a vegan? Answer: They tell you.”

Nigella Lawson shares the great man’s charm and forthrightness. She has just ruffled a few feathers – if feathers are allowed in the equation – by admitting to a newspaper she “doesn’t see the point” in being vegan after she essayed the lifestyle choice for two weeks.

While loving vegetables and respecting the views of those who eat a plant-based diet, she won’t be giving up meat again any time soon.

In her opinion humans should eat meat as the “have the teeth for meat”, while conceding we all should cut down excessive intake. It was the eggs she missed the most during her trial run. With me it would be the cheese. Have you ever sampled vegan cheese? As unpleasant as many of the meat and fish substitutes flooding the market.

The 61-year old telly icon, whose latest book Cook Eat Repeat is her best since her debut How To Eat, said she is unsure how such a diet can be better for you due to “intensive factory-making”, preferring to eat ‘proper food’.

Proper food? If I were to pay a belated individual visit to Escape to Freight Island, self-styled “axis of incredible food, drink, music and immersive entertainment, hidden in plain sight at Manchester’s Depot Mayfield” the dining option I’d arrow in on would be Baratxuri’s wood-fired oven for a Galician Xuleton steak, grilled by the maestro Joe Botham.

No one’s going to ask him to provide the scran to celebrate World Vegan Day at Freight Island on Tuesday, November 2. That honour goes to their Depot neighbours, Mi & Pho, who will be collaborating with Pomona Island, easily the best beer choice across the venue. This fully vegan food and beer pairing will take place at the Urban Market on Tuesday, November 2 (6.30pm-10pm) and feature six fresh and healthy Vietnamese dishes paired carefully with six beers.

Expect Spring Rolls, Hot & Sour Soup, Steam Bao Bun, Pad Thai Tofu, Vietnamese Curry Tofu, and a surprise dessert to be announced on the day. Drink pairings from Pomona Island include Factotum, a pale ale; Discotheque a Go-Go, a double dry-hopped pale ale with Zappa, Mosaic, Simcoe, Vic Secret; Pomona lager; Stacks of Green Paper, a strawberry and raspberry sour with grains of paradise; and Boogie Chillen’, a double dry-hopped IPA with Citra, Idaho 7, Sorachi Ace and Galaxy. Book here.

Forget Seitan, Quorn and industrial ready meals, this is the kind of food (and beer) that rocks my plant-based boat. Mi & Pho, both here and at their original South Manchester restaurant, offer fish and meat dishes but vegan is an essential component of Vietnamese cuisine… and across the rest of South East Asia. 

It’s no surprise that the latest food and drink residency at the evolving residential ‘neighbourhood’ KAMPUS, just a 10 minute walk from Freight Island, has gone to Altrincham Market favourite, Bánh Vì. Until the end of November, Thursday to Sunday, co-founders Harry Yarwood and Jess King will be serving a vegan version of Vietnam’s benchmark sandwich, the bánh mì, along with other non-meat treats from that country.

Harry? Jess? Am I hearing cries of ‘cultural appropriation’? Rubbish. The baguette that’s the basis of a bánh mì springs from French colonial heritage – further proof that food is a cultural melting pot.

Remember recently when the hateful Mail and Express drummed up a storm in a rice bowl over Manchester-born Pippa Middlehurst, winner of Britain’s Best Home Cook’, daring to write about dumplings and noodles? More sneaky woke bashing on their part. Check out my appreciation of her essential new book.

Which brings us to arguably Britain’s most influential cookery book writer, Jackie Kearney, aka the Hungry Gecko (as Pippa is Pippy Eats). The Masterchef star’s seminal first book, Vegan Street Food (Ryland Peters, £16.99), is one of the most thumbed through on my shelves. Its recipes stem from culinary adventures with her young family across Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. The initial plan wasn’t for a vegan-centric account. It just evolved that way thanks sheer weight of approachable meat/fish/dairy free recipes.

Only last weekend, buoyed by the presence of two South East Asian grocery stores in Hebden Bridge down the road, I recreated her Hungry Gecko Jackfruit Jungle Curry – a riot of lemongrass, galangal, turmeric root, tamarind, kaffir lime leaves and much more, served with a coconut milk-infused yellow rice. After a spring roll starter

A less complicated dish is Jackie’s Laos-style Roasted Pumpkin, Coconut and Chilli Soup,  a picture of which she has just posted on Facebook. Once of  Chorlton, she is now based in Liguria. I told you the world is a melting pot. If you are fancying a switch to a plant-based diet, or even becoming more flexitarian, start with this. Vegan doesn’t have to mean bland.

Jackie Kearney’s Laos-style Roasted Pumpkin, Coconut & Chilli Soup 

2tbsp vegetable oil; one small pumpkin nor squash, deseeded and cubed; 2-4 large red chillies, trimmed; 1 litre veg stock; 800ml coconut milk; 2tsp salt; 2-3 almond or any vegan cream.

Preheat the oven to 220C (Gas 7). Drizzle the oil onto a baking sheet. Put the pumpkin on the sheet and toss to coat in the oil. Roast for 20-30 minutes until it begins to brown and soften. Put the chillies on the baking sheet for the last 8-10 minutes and roast until they begin to blacken.

Put the stock in a large pan and add one litre of water and the roasted vegetables. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the coconut milk. Return to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Using a food processor or stick blender, blend the soup until smooth and creamy. Season with salt to taste. Divide the soup into serving bowls and finish each with a swirl of almond cream.