Listen in or watch our new Ti Ora Tea podcast with The Reckless Foodie Tracey Bennett who shares her tips and tricks for creating delicious vegan dishes that the whole family will enjoy, including how to cook tempeh without it ending up like chunks of rubber in a stir fry!
The self-taught plant-based wholefood chef is passionate about creating, enjoying and sharing delicious and nourishing plant-based food with others.
Her advice to anyone wanting to move to a plant-based diet is to always make sure the fridge is full of a variety of different coloured vegetables and a heavily laden fruit bowl for starters.
“Being Kiwi a lot of us don’t know what a wholegrain diet is, and what does that mean because we are used to be being brought up on lots of meat and dairy, and the three vege approach to eating,” Bennett says. “I think the key to a really delicious plant-based diet that’s affordable and simple is plenty of whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, a fridge full of veggies at all times, and ideally a garden on the go for herbs and leafy greens.”
Slow energy-releasing foods she recommends include brown rice, quinoa, millet. “The latter two are actually seeds but cook like grain and are high in protein,” she says. “There is a real myth out there about how much protein you need as well. You only need about 15 per cent protein for your daily intake. Your legumes, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa and millet are all rich in protein.”
One of the keys to a tasty plant-based diet is learning “to work with the bases” such as tomato paste, curry paste and coconut cream. And, fresh herbs and spices. Some of Bennett’s favourite go tos are garlic, ginger, chilli flakes and fresh basil, coriander, Italian parsley and rosemary.
“I love rosemary on roast vegetables, especially roast potatoes or homemade chips with olive oil and garlic” says Bennett. “Rosemary chopped up super fine is also really nice in a salad, and I also use it chopped finely with sea salt and chilli flakes when I make homemade chocolate.”
And as for tempeh! “Tempeh is so good for us because it is fermented,” says Bennett. “The trick to cooking tempeh is to cut it into really fine strips. My favourite way to cook it is to fry it for three minutes on each side and add a beautiful tamari, ginger and garlic dressing over it while it is cooking in the pan if you don’t have time to marinate it first. You can also marinate it in tamari and maple syrup.”
Some great ways for cooking tempeh that Bennett recommends include:
Tempeh bacon – add liquid smoke and tamari to thin strips of tempeh and fry on both sides.
Vietnamese rice noodle salad – add thin strips of fried marinated tempeh to noodles with loads of thinly sliced colourful vegetables.
Tempeh bolognese – steam the tempeh for 15 minutes and then crumble and mix into a tomato sauce as a mince substitute with onion, garlic, tamari and herbs.
As a working mother of four (and recent grandmother to one) Bennett knows just how important it is to create simple meals that taste fantastic and don’t demand too much of your time. This includes cooking up basic ingredients and then allowing the kids to choose how they want to eat them as well as combining into tasty dishes for the rest of the family.
Building tacos and Buddha bowls are also great for this.
Meals her kids love include homemade nachos, Mexican beans, soft tacos and simple curries including her recipe for Chickpea and Potato Curry.
She says modelling how we eat in front of our kids is also important. “If they see you eating and really enjoying lots of vegetables they will want to eat them too,” says Bennett. “Another trick is to make food fun by making veggie faces. I always have 8 to 10 different vegetables in the fridge and get them to choose five vegetables. Cucumber might be the eyes, tomato a mouth and bean sprouts for hair and before you know it the kids are having fun with the food and forget they are eating veggies.”
Bennett has always enjoyed the creative aspects of cooking like crafting her own dishes from scratch, and also making food look gorgeous too.
She co-founded The Exceptional Health Company with husband Jason Shon Bennett in 2009 based on sheer demand in their community. For almost a decade (until 2017), they offered an online programme called ‘The Life Plan’ for people wanting to improve their health and vitality, overcome illnesses, drop excess weight and extend their longevity. In this partnership, Jason was the researcher, speaker (the ‘why’) and Tracey was the recipe creator and provider (the ‘how to’), creating more than 300 recipes for their programmes and to share with their members. Together, their vision was to educate and inspire people how to eat well, get well and stay well through changes to their diet, lifestyle and environment.
These days, Jason continues to research and speak, while she takes great pleasure in sharing her love of food with others through teaching workshops in her community and sometimes further afield.
She is currently teaching one-day Plant Based Cooking Workshops on a variety of topics like ‘Plant Based Goodness”, ‘Divine, Decadent Desserts’, ‘Raw Treats from Heaven and more. And her biggest passion is leading Fasting & Wellness Retreats with Jason, where together they take people on a three-day journey deep diving into all things health and wellness as well as learning the powerful practice of Fasting.