Rachel Ama on vegan centrepieces, batch cooking and getting creative

LIFE has changed “drastically” for food writer Rachel Ama. Alongside things becoming “very stay at home” – as they have for all of us – she also became a mum during the last year.

“I’m so much busier. I didn’t know!” she says with a laugh. “When I’d hear talk from mums about how tired they were, I don’t think I really understood it until I became her. And now I’m like, ‘Wow’.”

This new reality, and the impact on the London-based writer’s cooking, has “followed straight through in my book – it’s just making big food, lots of it, and making it last.”

The new cookbook in question is One Pot: Three Ways, in which Ama presents a main dish or “centrepiece” and then gives you three ways to eat it. Take her sticky cauliflower bites served with rice and sesame seeds, for instance: make a batch and it can then be transformed into a crunchy salad on day two, and into Chinese style pancakes with cucumber on day three.

Ama realised the concept is a response both to the busyness of mum-life, and to a question she is constantly asked: how do you maintain being vegan? Her answer? “I make a big pot of food.”

It was an ideal way of cooking during that “crazy state of new motherhood”, she remembers, “when I was super lazy, I could just literally eat that the same way for the next couple of days. Or I could refresh it with some herbs or add some potatoes, or turn my Caribbean curry into patties to be fun and make something different.”

It’s a pattern also carried over from Ama’s meat-eating days, when the leftovers from a roast chicken on a Sunday would be rolled through the week – as sandwiches, or rustled up into a brand new dinner with some new sides. Now, she makes a big vegan dish “the centrepiece that the chicken used to be.”

“I like to think this way of batch cooking is way more delicious,” says Ama, who recommends using up all your odds and ends in your centrepiece dishes too. “It can create a routine of people getting used to eating what they have. And planning a little bit, not too much, because no one wants a rigid plan. I don’t anyway – but just planning a little bit, and the more thought that goes into that, the less you run to a supermarket and are like, ‘I’m gonna buy everything because I’m starving right now and I need dinner!’

“Whereas if I’ve come home from work, I’ve got the big feast in the [fridge already]. I’m just gonna cook up some rice to go with it. That for me is a lot easier,” she adds.

Ama’s plant-based recipes also feed into and reflect the impact the pandemic has had on how we cook – the constraints and demands we’ve all had to learn to manage. “When life became pretty crazy, there was limited supply of food available,” she recalls. “But there was opportunity to be more creative in how to make food last.

“Even if people weren’t aware of how beneficial [a plant-based diet] can be for environmental impact, because of the state of everything, everyone had to learn to make food last a bit longer,” she continues, and it also meant working with what’s available. “It’s really exciting to see people cooking more seasonal food with seasonal ingredients.”

Since her debut cookbook, Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats in 2019, she says the landscape of vegan food, and the conversations around it, have shifted quite a bit. “Everyone’s more happy to incorporate plant-based meals, whether vegan or not,” she muses. “When I did my first book, it was still very much, ‘Oh, don’t you think veganism is a trend?’ Or [people would say], ‘It’s just trying to lose weight’, or all these other crazy trend accusations and it was still a bit taboo and a bit unusual and there [were] questions about flavour.”

Now, she says, “it’s become such a staple in everyone’s life, whether they’re vegan every day, or a couple days a week, people just say, ‘I don’t want to have meat or fish’. It’s become more of a norm.” It’s quite a turnaround in a very short space of time, buy Ama is hopeful she can help people “be excited to see what they can create with legumes” and actually sustain plant-based eating, so you are “full, and meeting your taste buds’ happy places.”

Admittedly, Ama still has friends who approach vegan foods “like, ‘Oh, really?’ But I’m like, ‘Hey, hey, wake up!’ It’s so much more normal now,” she says with a laugh. “And it’s really cool.”

Most people have “moved forward” with the idea that plant-based foods are interesting and fun to eat, she says, and it’s being reflected in the amount of space vegetables are increasingly taking up in supermarkets, and the “sky high” availability of plant-based dairy alternatives. People, she says, “do want to have a vegan meal for flavour, not just nutrition or anything else – they just want to eat some good food.”

One Pot: Three Ways by Rachel Ama is published by Hodder and Stoughton on August 26, priced £22. Photography by Henry Jay Kamara.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992