Artist, photographer, studio founder and author all make for a pretty impressive list of jobs but when they all centre around food, well, us greedy lot at The Handbook are even more impressed. That’s exactly how Sara Kiyo Popowa’s CV reads – oh, and did we mention she’s a bonafide Instagram influencer with a whopping 105K followers too?
Sara, also known as @shisodelicious on the ‘gram, is known for her multicultural cooking prowess and dedication to a sustainable and plant-based lifestyle. She makes food sing through her stunning photographs and inspires with new and exciting ways to bring natural, seasonal ingredients together to make mouthwatering dishes. As well as writing An Opinionated Guide to Vegan London and Bento Power: Brilliantly Balanced Lunchbox Recipes, she’s also the founder of The Food Studio and has recently teamed up with Samsung KX to bring cook-along sessions to conscious foodies. Here, she shares her tips, all 23 of them, on how to make choosing a plant-based diet easier and tastier.
Take enjoyment and pleasure in the beauty, textures and flavour of natural and whole ingredients. Use your sense of taste and smell… have fun discovering just how much tastier seasonal and locally grown veggies are. Seek out your local farmers’ markets and independent shops who source their produce locally.
Order a weekly veg box
Veg boxes use mostly crops grown in this country. Using any of those regularly for say a year, you will get a good feel for what is truly in season.
Be mindful of waste
There are lots of great tools out there for limiting food waste. For example; the Samsung Family Hub Fridge tracks what food you have in your fridge and records the dates to ensure you use everything up before it goes bad.
Do your research
Do some research on which foods and ingredients have come from a long way away and use less of them. Look for those grown closer to home, in Europe at the very least.
Cook from scratch
Cooking from scratch makes it easier to eat seasonally and locally as you are using a smaller number of ingredients, and you are in control of which ones you choose.
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Make it look good
Take enjoyment in making food look beautiful on the plate, even if it’s just for yourself.
Follow the five colour rule.
Use the ancient Japanese principle of having five colours in each meal: white, black, red, green and yellow. That way meals are both nutritionally and visually balanced.
I boost my diet with nutritionally and flavour-dense ingredients like seaweeds, hemp seed, cold-pressed oils and fermented foods like kimchi and miso.
Keep it simple
I like to keep my everyday diet simple but add fun ‘extras’ when I feel like it – like eating out and buying yummy foods I wouldn’t necessarily make myself.
Be wary of meat substitutes
Meat substitutes have their place, especially for those wanting to eat less meat, but they can be highly processed. I personally don’t eat them regularly but enjoy them as an occasional treat, especially when eating out or making comfort meals that remind me of childhood. I love a good vegan sausage or using soy mince in a moussaka the way my granddad used to make it.
Look to cuisines that are heavily plant-based
Historically, eating meat was banned for hundreds of years because of Buddhism, so there are many highly developed techniques, dishes and ingredients that are completely plant-based. Traditional soy products like miso, tamari and sesame oil are all outstanding for adding loads of flavour to plant-based foods.
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern
Geographically and historically these are areas with an abundance of crops and long growing seasons (unlike Sweden where I grew up), and so there are lots of dishes and ingredients based on plants. Think of all the bean and vegetable dishes, preserved crops like olives, all the amazing oils, sesame and nuts.
Don’t forget your herbs and spices
I love using sturdy rosemary, bay leaf and black pepper – they go with everything European-ish, especially tomato-based dishes.
I love different types of chillies – there are no rules for them in my kitchen. I love adding them to Mexican Ancho, to my hummus and sprinkling smoky Korean gochujang over everything and anything – it has a lovely red colour too.
Buy good salt
Invest in a really good quality, natural salt. It’s a must!
Have some semi-ready foods on hand in the fridge and freezer that can quickly be turned into meals. I’m a bit of a night owl and will often have a big tray of root veg roasting or a pot of beans bubbling away whilst working on my laptop. Then I’ll have a few days’ worth of bits that just need dressing or whizzing up and some greens or fresh veg added, with splashes of condiments and nutrient-dense ingredients like hemp seed or miso, sometimes with a sliver of sourdough bread.
Grow your own
To have homegrown herbs and vegetables at your fingerstips instantly allows you to experiment with flavours. It’s now easier than ever to grow your own. For example; the mini hydroponic gardens, controlled via Samsung SmartThings, mean you don’t have to lift a finger, until your produce is ready to be picked.
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Don’t forget your supplements
On a plant-based diet you have to supplement B12. For any protein I may be lacking, I eat a good amount of hulled hemp seeds at breakfast (they’re 1/3 protein, along with lots of good fats), plus pulses for pretty much all my evening meals.
A common misconception is that we humans need LOADS of protein (and that it needs to be animal-based). We don’t – I exercise a fair amount and feel totally healthy (and rather muscly in places).
Stick with it
Transitioning to a plant-based diet takes time for your body to adapt and reap the benefits. It’s essential to give your gut enough time to get used to the whole foods that your body eventually will thrive on and develop a new flora that is really good at dealing with your new diet.
Try to stay off the vegan junk/processed food during this time and only have it occasionally after. I’ve been mostly vegetarian since my early twenties, vegan at times and for the past five years, moved towards a fully plant-based diet. I won’t lie, the first few months of eating fully plant-based, my digestion struggled. This was partly because it had to deal with the larger volumes of food I needed to feel fulfilled, and on top of that all those beans, nuts and tofu…! But I persevered and after a few months my gut had settled. We now have a very harmonious relationship, probably better than we ever have.
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Don’t fill up on starchy carbs
Skip the grains, potato or pasta and let the beans alone be a double-whammy of protein and carbs that will really fill you up. Fill the rest of your plate with leafy greens, maybe some starchy seasonal veg (like squash) and some nutrient dense deliciousness like tahini, miso, mushrooms and cold-pressed oils.
Make easy dairy swaps
Milks and yogurts are easy to replace now, and for anywhere you’d use butter, just use a really delicious extra virgin olive oil, maybe with a little salt added. I was never crazy about cheese, but I know many people struggle with replacing that. Well, if you think what cheese is, it’s comforting, fatty, umami-rich and often salty, so you’ll just have to find ingredients which have those same properties and combine some of them. Realise that your connection to cheese is very emotional. Find something else that you adore that can fill that hole. Use white miso and nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavour and don’t scrimp on adding a good-quality oil. If you want a special treat there are loads of amazing vegan cheeses constantly being launched by artisanal and small-scale makers.
Start the day right
Start your day with oats, hemp and coffee. I love oats and hemp, both are local crops and so versatile – I use them in anything from creamy overnight oats to pancakes and banana bread. Coffee has obviously travelled a bit further to get to my breakfast table, but I choose the most ethical kind I can afford and savour each drop. I regularly have a creamy oat, date, hemp and coffee smoothie for breakfast – super filling and really gets me going.
Stick to the no-single-use plastic snack rule
If I’m snacking in-between meals, I apply a no-single use plastic pack rule, which rules out a lot of stuff that’s not really going to give me (or the planet) sustained energy.
For me the main thing is to eat really satisfying, nourishing meals, and that way I have less need to snack. At meal-times, I try to fill myself up with an honest amount of food, a variety of flavours and good quality ingredients. I find that by having some sweet element to a savoury meal I don’t often crave sweets after. Dried figs are great for this as they are less sweet than other dried fruit and because they have all those tiny seeds they keep you fuller for longer.