Chef Daphne Cheng hosts renegade dinner parties at Exh
From Chef Daphne Cheng
While I initially started cutting out meat to control my weight, I ultimately adopted a vegan diet for healthier reasons. I was inspired by The China Study, a book by Cornell professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell that shows how a plant-based diet reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes, and types of cancer.
“Eat your vegetables” may just be the best advice your parents ever gave you. Thankfully, vegetables in all their forms are bursting with flavor, color, and texture, so you’ll never run out of new dishes and cuisines to explore.
As a chef, I focus on celebrating vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds and create dishes that are fun, beautiful, and delicious. It’s not just salad; this is my guide to adopting a lifestyle that will have you feeling (and looking) your best.
Tips for Success
1. Be adventurous!
There are thousands of different fruits and vegetables, make it a game to try them all! Explore your local farmers markets and specialty/ethnic food stores. Don’t be afraid of things you’ve never seen or cooked before. Google is your friend or you can ask me on Twitter. Now is the time to try new things, as you find new favorites to add to your eating repertoire.
2. Play with your food!
Incorporate different textures and flavors to keep things interesting. They say that “variety is the spice of life” for a reason. Using contrasting textures in a dish can elevate it. Add fresh herbs for fresh flavors to enhance your meals. Play with the balance of savory, sweet, acid, bitter, and umami flavors. With infinite possibilities, you’ll never feel deprived.
3. Don’t head straight to the meat substitutes.
There are many mock meat products available, and some of them are quite good, but this robs you of the opportunity to explore and discover a world beyond meat and its imitators. If it helps you make the transition though, by all means, enjoy them! My personal favorites are Gardein and Beyond Meat.
4. Focus on what you can have, rather than on what you can’t.
It’s all about the right, positive mindset. Avoid thinking, “Oh no I can’t have this anymore, I am missing out on so much.” Think instead about the abundance of the plant kingdom. Think about an overflowing plate of delicious vegetables and grains that are satisfying in every way. When you fill up on fiber-rich foods, you will automatically have less room and desire for other less healthy foods.
Tips For Eating Out
As vegetables grow more popular and chefs are beginning to pay more attention to them, it’s becoming easier to get a great plant-based meal anywhere. While some places will still just give you a salad or plate of steamed vegetables and call it a day, many chefs are opening their eyes and treating vegetables with the same respect as meat.
To be courteous and ensure the best dining experience, I’ll usually call ahead and ask if the chef can make something special. Generally, chefs are really open and enjoy the challenge of creating special dishes with enough notice. A good chef should be able to create a delicious plant-based meal just by virtue of being a good chef.
Many cuisines are actually traditionally vegan-friendly or have dishes that can very easily be modified. The safest bets include Indian, Mediterranean, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Ethiopian.
WHAT TO EAT
Nuts and seeds
Sweeteners: coconut sugar, agave, maple syrup, and molasses
Plant based oils and fats: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil
For protein: Quinoa, peas, tofu, edamame, spinach, vegan protein powders and bars (I love the ones from ALOHA)
For iron: Sea vegetables, tofu, and beans
For calcium: Collard greens, calcium-fortified OJ/milk alternatives, and almonds
For vitamin B12: Nutritional yeast
For Omega-3s: Flax, walnuts, chia seeds
Meat (Red meat, white meat, poultry, game, fish/seafood)
Dairy (Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, whey, ice cream)
Tricky hidden animal by-products to look out for: Carmine, casein, lactose, L-cysteine, keratin
Refined sugar (Refined through bone char)
Beer/Wine (May be filtered through animal parts)
Bread (Some dough conditioners come from bird feathers)
Non-dairy creamer/soy cheese (Usually contains casein, a milk protein)
7 Easy Swaps
Knowing what swaps you can make for former diet staples and favorite foods will help maximize success with new diet changes. Here are some easy substitutions:
1. Instead of dairy milk, try almond/soy/coconut/hemp milk.
2. Instead of dairy cheese, try cashew cheese or nutritional yeast.
3. Instead of dairy cream, try coconut cream.
4. Instead of butter, try coconut or olive oil or using sliced avocado with a sprinkle of salt.
5. Instead of meat/eggs, try filling up with grains, sweet potatoes.
6. Instead of bacon, try roasting sliced mushroom in olive oil until crisp.
7. Instead of gelatin, try agar agar (a type of seaweed).
3 Vegan Recipes
A fun alternative to oatmeal, chia pudding has found it’s way into many breakfast bowls. This chia mousse has a luscious mouthfeel with a little chia crunch mixed in. I’ve found that the highest quality of chia seeds come from The Chia Co, with no random bits of twigs or rancid seeds.
Banana Sweet Potato Chia Mousse
Makes 8 servings
1 lb sweet potato, cubed
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp to ¼ cup chia seeds to taste
1 tsp vanilla
(optional) agave to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss sweet potato in olive oil and place on baking sheet in oven. Roast for 25 minutes until fork tender. Remove from heat and let cool.
In blender, mix sweet potato, bananas, coconut milk, vanilla and salt and blend until smooth.
Pour into a large mixing bowl. Slowly add chia seeds while whisking, using less if you prefer smoothness, more if you prefer more substance. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
To serve, feel free to top with your favorite granola and fresh fruit.
Personally, I had a strong dislike for beets until much later in life, but now they’re welcome in my food anytime. I’ve found that adding acid like lemon juice or vinegar enhances the natural sweetness and tames the earthy flavors. Your tastes are constantly changing, so it’s worth giving old enemies a second chance. You never know what you might rediscover!
This beautiful multi-colored soup is enhanced by a lightly spicy salsa featuring an Asian favorite, szechuan chili, which can be found in Asian grocery stores or Amazon.com.
Red and Golden Beet Soup + Szechuan Salsa
Makes 6 servings
2 red beets
2 golden beets
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Rub beets with olive oil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from heat, let cool, and peel. Chop and separate the colors.
In a medium pot, add water, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Pour half into another medium pot. Add one color of beet to each pot.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then puree each color in a blender until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste.
3 tomatoes, quartered
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp szechuan chili paste or more to taste (you can substitute
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
In a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse until it reaches desired texture.
To Serve: Spoon the red beet soup into a bowl, then spoon the golden beet soup over. Take a knife or chopstick and swirl around. Add a spoonful of szechuan salsa and garnish with cilantro.
The key to the most delicious dishes lies in the sauce. In traditional French cuisine, the saucier was second only to the executive and sous chefs. Making sauce well was considered the height of culinary technique, and with good sauce, you can make any food delicious. Here is a version of a classic bechamel sauce: an alfredo that sneaks in more vitamins, flavor, and color.
This powered-up alfredo sauce is savory and full of umami, thanks to the ALOHA Daily Good Greens blend. We used beautiful twists of gemelli pasta, but feel free to use any pasta shape you like, whether it’s a traditional penne or casual macaroni.
Green Alfredo Sauce
2 tbsp rice flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water
½ cup spinach leaves
1 packet ALOHA daily good greens (optional)
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp salt or more to taste
pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat until melted. Add the rice flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the coconut milk with the water in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the oil flour mixture (called roux) 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat.
In a blender, add spinach, daily good greens, vinegar, salt, pepper and the milk mixture. Blend until smooth. Set aside until ready to use.
Homemade Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is the simplest, and richest, plant-based milk you can make. Skip the store-bought versions that are watered down and thickened with fillers. You can taste the difference in the luscious mouthfeel homemade milk offers.
The milk is best if you have a high powered blender, but if you don’t, it will still be delicious, it will just take slightly longer to blend
¾ cup raw cashews
3 cups water
1 pinch salt (optional)
1 tbsp sugar or agave (optional)
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
Blend all ingredients until completely smooth. Chill until ready to use.
Photographed by Morgan Ione Yeager