Healthy Gourmet: Way of the vegan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 11:22am

Although we know some things are bad for us - like hydrogenated fat or too much sugar - there is no scientific agreement that one kind of diet is better than another.

Whatever you like to eat, knowing how to cook it properly makes a big difference to your health. For the next three weeks this column will look at the worlds of vegans, carnivores and piscivores, and provide some tips on how to cook in the healthiest way.

My cousin Simona Ferrante has been a vegan since she discovered a few years ago that she has diabetes. On top of this our family has a history of kidney failure. She did not want to become dependent on medicines, so she started looking for solutions on how to eat healthier.

She was drawn to veganism after reading studies that found that cholesterol from animal-derived products can stay in the body, affecting the liver, intestines and kidneys. As a result Simona has managed to keep her diabetes under control. Her two children, Gabriele, six, and Federico, three, have been on vegan diets since they were born. They have never been vaccinated, nor have they ever had antibiotics. They have never fallen ill.

Simona says you can eat with satisfaction, even with the restrictions of a vegan diet - and you can convince your children to do so too. This is how she does it.

1. Take time to explain to your children why one diet is healthier than another

"They do respond and also get used to what they are given: it becomes a habit to eat legumes and dried fruits every day. Federico's favourite food is zucchini, says Simona. "They don't even reach the table because he eats them before they are served."

2. Look for variety and try new things

"At the start, I knew what I wanted to eat but not how to cook it. So I bought books, searched the net and experimented. Little by little, I learned how to make better choices. Last week I made a chocolate cake with boiled beetroot. The beetroot made the cake moist and soft and provided additional nutrients."

3. Make your dishes interesting

"My children love olives, so I make them focaccia with olives and onions. I use olives instead of cheese when making pizza."

4. Everything can be done at home

"Make stock cubes by processing vegetables with oil and spices. Cook over low heat until it has reduced. Freeze them in an ice-cube tray."

5. Use only fresh ingredients

"Don't even walk down the supermarket aisle where processed and ready-made products are kept. Make mayonnaise at home without eggs by using soya milk, oil, lemon and salt. The biscuits I make contain hazelnuts, flour, oil and fructose, rather than refined sugar."

Create flavours and depth in vegetarian dishes by roasting seeds and nuts, adding the acidity of lemon or vinegar and using fresh chopped herbs and spices. Keep the nutrients by using a pressure cooker and avoid overcooking them. Always beware of dressings.

Italian salad

200 grams dried chickpeas
2 carrots, diced 2 potatoes, diced
200 grams green peas
400ml soya milk
Extra virgin olive oil, salt, juice of one lemon
A handful of capers

  • Soak the chickpeas in cold water overnight, then boil and purée them. Let cool.
  • Boil the carrots, potatoes and green peas until tender. Let them cool.
  • Prepare the mayo by whipping the soya milk, lemon and salt for about one minute. Add the olive oil gradually until it's a suitably creamy consistency.
  • Mix everything together.


Focaccia roll with olives, onions and capers

For the dough:

300 grams flour
170ml lukewarm water
12 grams yeast
Pinch of salt

For the filling: 

1 onion
1 tomato
A handful of capers
100 grams olives
Some thyme
Olive oil

  • Mix all the dough ingredients together with a fork, then knead the dough. Cover the dough and leave it for one hour to rise.
  • While waiting, prepare the filling. Slice the onions and sweat them in a pan over low heat until translucent. Dice the tomato and olives, and add them to the onions with the capers and thyme. Cook for two minutes.
  • Gently spread the dough over parchment paper with the tip of your fingers. Spread the filling on top and roll the dough.
  • Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.

Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti.