Vegan cook Aine Carlin on how to reduce meat and dairy from your diet

Closer speaks to Vegan cook Aine Carlin on her new book 'Keep it Vegan' and how to maintain a meat-free, plant-based diet


by Fiona Day |
Published on

When did you start discovering new vegan dishes?

I was lucky enough to be living in the States when I first became vegan. For me the US remains the epicentre of vegan cuisine so that's where I discovered how incredible vegan food can be. I remember going to 'Karen's Cooked' in Chicago for the first time and being totally blown away by the food ... that's when the cogs started whirring and I decided to get creative in my own kitchen. Now the Internet is flooded with incredible ideas but I still try to keep my recipes as straightforward as possible without compromising on taste.

Aine's red lentil and spinach lasagne
Aine's red lentil and spinach lasagne

What are the best ingredients to replace meat and dairy products with?

I honestly don't think about 'replacements' that much ... I simply eat a whole foods, plant based diet and occasionally sample faux meat/dairy products such as Linda McCartney sausages or Violife cheese (this is one of the best vegan cheeses on the market, in my opinion). I also like to create my own cheeses using cashews - there's a lovely 'Balsamic and Black Pepper Cashew Cheese' in the book that always goes down well at dinner parties. I don't think of tofu as being a replacement for anything either - in Asia, it's an ingredient in its own right and was never intended to be a substitute for meat. In saying that, there are some exciting developments happening right now in regard to meat substitutes - keep an eye out for a brand called 'Beyond Meat'.

What are the most questions you get asked as a vegan cook?

The questions I get asked most often aren't necessarily to do with cooking but more focused on lifestyle ... People wonder what I miss most and are also curious to know how difficult it is to be a vegan, especially when eating out. To answer the first question, I really miss very little, if anything at all. I try to make sure there are a variety of textures in my dishes, as I know that is often an issue for people transitioning and I'm also very keen on providing layers of flavour so that any would-be cravings are satiated. Eating out is actually easier than you might think too ... don't be afraid to ask questions and you'd be surprised how accommodating restaurants can be. My standard fallbacks though are places like Pizza Express (they have an awesome vegan pizza on their menu) and Cafe Nero for coffee (they even had a vegan mince pie at Christmas time).

Can those who read the book add meat and dairy to recipes easily?

I suppose they could but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, as it probably would disrupt the balance of flavours. Omnivores were at the forefront of my mind when I was writing the book and I've taken into consideration those textural needs and desires. In fact, the response from meat and dairy consumers regarding the recipes has been overwhelmingly positive ... I think some people have even surprised themselves. What I would say is, try it without meat and dairy first before deciding whether it needs it.

Aine's hole mole black bean chilli

What is your personal favourite recipe?

That's a hard one because it actually changes all the time. The 'Macaro-no Cheese' is a perennial fav, as are the 'Indian Spiced Tacos'. But I've currently rediscovered the 'Sweet 'n' Sour Marinated Tofu', which I've been making a lot again recently. As for sweets - you can't beat my 'Fudgy Brownies'... they are seriously lush.

What sort of health benefits do you believe people can enjoy on a vegan diet?

For me, veganism has given me the tools to 'own my body' and therefore be able to finely tune it. I know what it needs and I also know when I've been slacking off on the whole foods or consuming a bit too much sugar because I'm much more in sync with my system. Physically, I have better control of my weight, as well as having shinier hair, stronger nails and clearer skin. I also sleep more soundly, sweat less and my general mood is much more elevated due to my diet. In all honesty, going vegan was probably the best decision I ever made.

Check out these six amazing recipes from Aine's book, Keep It Vegan, which is out now!

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