Vegan Life meets...
Rachel Ama is well-known for her vibrant, soulful, plant-powered cooking. Here, she talks to Vegan Life about the significance of growing your own food and why more people should try it
With a successful cookbook under her belt and another released this month, Rachel Ama is one to watch for out-of-this-world vegan recipes. Hailing from London, the passionate chef also loves sharing food reviews and beauty tips and tricks across her YouTube and Instagram platforms. We talk to the new mum about her latest book, vegan motherhood and her involvement in plant-based food brand Linda McCartney's exciting Grow Your Own Initiative.
Hi, Rachel! When and why did you fall in love with cooking?
I went travelling around South America and road-tripped The States - I ate such a variety of food and flavours that when I came back, I was suddenly obsessed with cooking the food I fell in love with when I was on my travels. And then when I went vegan, I had an entire new enthusiasm and love for cooking delicious food.
Why did you first become vegan?
I went vegan about seven years ago. I've always been an animal lover and once I fully understood the entire journey these animals go through to end up on my plate, I went vegan the next day.
How would you describe your cooking style?
Food of my heart, soul and heritage.
If you're hosting dinner for a dubious omnivore, what do you cook?
Cajun beer battered oyster mushrooms - in my book, they're amazing. Deep fried flavourful oyster mushrooms that are crisp, meaty, hearty and shockingly vegan to a dubious omnivore.
What advice do you have for time-poor home cooks?
Read my new book, ha! It's called One Pot: Three Ways. Cook one big pot of vegan food on a Sunday; could be a curry, a stew, a roast. Make enough for leftovers and enjoy them over the next few days. Keep it the same if you are insanely busy or add something simple and fresh to it to slightly switch it up the next day. It's how I naturally cook and eat, especially when I'm busy and it seriously saves me time and keeps my taste buds happy. Aside from this, I always think it's handy having some plant-based goodies stashed in the fridge or freezer and Linda McCartney's have some great options for those moments.
Congrats on becoming a mum! How did you find following a vegan lifestyle while pregnant?
Thank you! It felt really normal and natural to me. Luckily, all my cravings were juicy fruits and cake. It's fair to say I made a lot of vegan cake. One of my favourites was marble cake, which is in my new book, and my friend would drop off fresh coconuts and mangoes to my house - it was amazing! Fresh coconut water straight out the coconut in the summer while pregnant was incredible.
What advice do you have for vegan mums-to-be?
I always found it quite funny that while I was pregnant, the foods I was told to avoid during pregnancy were from meat, fish and dairy food groups, yet there is so much scepticism about being vegan and pregnant. So, tuck into your nutritious full-bodied plant-based flavourful meals and enjoy the journey. My motherhood has been my greatest honour.
Tell us about your involvement in Linda McCartney's Grow Your Own initiative.
I've teamed up with Linda McCartney's, who have launched their Grow Your Own With Linda's Initiative in celebration of their 30th anniversary, and I'm helping to show people that they can use fresh produce to create simple, nutritious and delicious fresh recipes at home. The initiative is all about making access to growing your own fruit and veg more widely available. As part of the project, Linda McCartney's has created six new urban growing spaces across the UK, and the Linda McCartney's Grow Your Own Guide - is a year-long fruit and vegetable growing guide designed for beginner urban gardeners with little space, and little previous knowledge of gardening. You can access the guide for free via Linda McCartney's website. It's been really exciting to be involved in the project and I really like the emphasis on working with fresh produce to create meals at home. After all, there's nothing more delicious than homegrown fruit and veg!
Why is the project important?
I wish I had learnt how to grow my own veg when I was younger. Growing up in a city like London, you can become quite disconnected with when your food is grown and where it comes from; you often just see the packaged version in the supermarket. I think it's incredibly exciting to have a hub, like the Linda McCartney's growing plot in Brixton, where people - especially young people - can learn about fresh produce, the health benefits, environmental benefits and see full circle what they're growing, cooking and fuelling their body with. It's a beautiful, thoughtful full circle.
Can people lacking garden space still grow their own produce?
Absolutely! Gardens can be hard to come by especially in big cities, I always recommend window ledges, they're so, so good especially for fresh herbs for your everyday cooking. You'll save on pennies, add a freshness to your food and save on waste - buying packets can be so excessive. The Linda McCartney's Grow Your Own Guide, found on their website, suggests loads of innovative ways to grow things even if you have little or no outside space.
We love your cookbook, Vegan Eats. What's your favourite recipe to cook from it?
Probably, African Peanut Stew - its hearty, flavourful, filling with delicious wholefoods.
Do you have any more cookbooks in the pipeline?
Yes, my new cookbook, One Pot: Three Ways, Save Time With Versatile Vibrant Recipes. I wanted to create a book that made vegan eating easier! This is how I cook, and this is how I save time. In this book, I show you how to make a feast in one pot, save leftovers and refresh them over the next few days. My mission was to eliminate that feeling after a long day when you come home and think 'Argh, I don't know what to make for dinner' or 'I don't have much time', whilst of course, keeping it flavourful. I'm really excited about it, coming this August 2021.
Rachel Ama' s Lemon Balm Curry with Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Chicken Pieces
As part of the Grow Your Own initiative to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Linda McCartney Foods, Rachel Ama has whipped up a delicious recipe with herbs and veg you can grow at home.
What is the Grow Your Own initiative?
Linda McCartney's pioneering and delicious new initiative aims to get everyone growing, and the brand know the biggest pay-off of growing your own veg is eating it afterwards! So, they've teamed up with the dancing, cooking, power-house of vegan inspiration, Rachel Ama, who is offering her culinary creativity to show you an utterly delicious and absolutely meat-free dish with your home-grown veg.
How does Rachel use homegrown veg in the recipe?
Rachel's recipe takes inspiration from the community garden created by Linda McCartney's in partnership with Urban Growth that is providing a much-needed growing space for the local people in Brixton, London.
Using ingredients that are easy to grow indoors and on your windowsill, Rachel's Lemon Balm Curry with Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Chicken Pieces is a versatile and accessible recipe that proves we're all able to grow and cook with just a little know-how.
For the paste:
• 5 cloves of garlic
• 4 shallots
• Thumb of fresh ginger
• Handful of lemon balm stalks
• 1 birds eye chilli, seeds removed For the curry:
• 1 tbsp coconut oil
• 2 tsp mild curry powder
• ½ tsp ground coriander
• ½ tsp turmeric
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 400ml (13.5 fl oz) full fat coconut milk
• ½ stock cube
• 2 medium carrots
• 200g (7 oz) long stem broccoli
• 200g (7 oz) Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Chicken Pieces
• 100g (3.5 oz) mangetout
• Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
• Handful of lemon balm
• Wild rice, to serve
1. Place the paste ingredients into a pestle and mortar or a blender and blitz into a coarse paste.
2. Heat the coconut oil in a pan on medium heat.
3. Add the paste, mild curry powder, ground turmeric and ground coriander and cook on a medium-to-low heat, stirring occasionally for 7 minutes.
4. Add a splash of water or additional coconut oil to loosen if the paste starts to stick to the pan.
5. Next, add the carrots, soy sauce, full fat coconut milk and stock mix to combine then add in carrots.
6. Cook on a low simmer for about 20 minutes until carrots have slightly softened but still have a slight bite. Then mix in long stem broccoli and cook for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
7. In a separate pan, cook the Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Chicken Pieces until golden, following package instructions.
8. Toss in the Vegetarian Chicken Pieces and mangetout, stir and cook for 2 minutes.
9. Using your hands, tear the lemon balm leaves, releasing their aroma, into small pieces and sprinkle into the curry.
10. Lastly, squeeze with fresh lemon juice and season to taste with salt.
11. Serve with a handful of fresh coriander and wild rice.