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Mistry solved! Talking vegan and vegetarian diets with Masterchef finalist, Daksha Mistry

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

What a fab morning! I’ve been speaking to Daksha Mistry (a MasterChef finalist and our guest chef for March) about the trend towards vegetarian and indeed vegan diets.

I personally try to be a ‘flexitarian’. This means I eat a little of everything in moderation, with ‘Meat Free Mondays’ as a rule. But what struck me from talking to Daksha was that vegetables can be a food of choice all year round, as they are in the Gujarat area of India that inspires her cooking.

So what did I learn?

Preparation is key This is a lesson that’s so easy to forget. Simply prepping our vegetables for our Nepalese dumplings (“momos”), was a brilliant reminder of the importance of getting organised ahead of time. With the prep done you can get on with a recipe without stopping and starting!

Chopped vs crushed garlic Did you know there’s a big difference between chopped and crushed garlic? Chopped garlic is fine for some recipes, such as a pasta sauce. But when you crush garlic (and there’s no need for a garlic press, just use the flat of your knife), you release the essential oils, resulting in a stronger flavour. You can also purée the garlic. 

In Asian cooking, especially Indian cuisine, it's common practice to use minced or puréed garlic. Cooking with Daksha, we actually grated the garlic clove and then roughly chopped it, dialling up the flavour further!

At the other end of the spectrum, you don’t chop or crush at all. An uncut garlic bulb retains more of its sulphur compounds, thus adding a subtle and slightly sweet garlic flavour to dishes. And definitely try putting whole garlic cloves in a roasting tin with the meat as it can help you create a wonderful sauce.

Ways to peel ginger

I learnt a new skill recently about peeling ginger using the back of a spoon. It’s so efficient, with so much less waste! Daksha of course prepares it this way…

The healthy benefits of White Mooli (Daikon Radish)

White Mooli is a mild-flavoured winter radish usually characterised by fast growing leaves. It resembles a large white plump carrot and is popular in Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisines. Daikon can be cut into small strips and stir fried, boiled, pickled or eaten raw. When eaten raw it serves as a diuretic and is a decongestant but be sure to immerse it in water until you are ready to serve it as this prevents it from oxidizing.

White Mooli is chock full of vitamin A,C, E, B6 and other minerals, so can give your body an immunity boost. It is also high in antioxidants and anthocyanins, making it good for your heart. Radishes can even help keep blood pressure under control by aiding the sodium-potassium balance in the body. This anti-hypertensive property is the reason why everybody should eat mooli in the winter, when higher blood pressure is the norm!

Vegetarian or vegan?

Vegetarian food can easily be turned into vegan by avoiding the dairy. For example, we filled our momos using paneer, but tofu works too. You’ll find it in many Oriental supermarkets.

With Veganuary now such a big thing, Daksha and I chatted about how eating vegan is now much easier. The choice of produce and ingredients has exploded, and so many more people are buying into the health and environmental benefits of the diet. So it’s a feel good factor in two ways.

Plant based meat substitutes

One of the latest trends is towards replacing the look and feel of meat using plant-based foods.

Daksha told me she really doesn’t agree with processed plant based foods when so many natural choices are available. Your diet can be perfectly balanced without meat or processed foods. And before you scream ‘protein!’ bear in mind that lentils have more of it than most meats.

A final word

Like many food lovers, I struggle with giving up all meat. But I have made a conscious decision to go for quality over quantity. If we have chicken, for example, I’ll buy free range and we eat a little less. For me, it’s all about making wiser, more sustainable choices. And, if I’m honest, I love cheese and eggs too much to give them up!

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