Every Sunday in January 2021, CAL is inviting you to participate in live zoom cooking sessions with a vegan cook.  

On 10th January, we are thrilled to have Bromley resident Sonia Heaton host a session.  Sonia hosts The Green Plate on Facebook, and here she gives some background on the reasons why she became vegan and what influences her cooking.

I decided to become vegan at the start of Veganuary two years ago having grown increasing concerned at the impact of the livestock industry on our planet. Having made the decision to become vegetarian 33 years ago, the transition was fairly smooth although I did spend a lot of money in a desperate search for decent fake cheese!

When I gave up meat, my mother was horrified and refused to cook separate meals for me. She thought that after a few weeks of fending for myself, having never really had to cook, I would cave in to the temptations of grilled bacon or a Sunday roast. However, as a defiant 14 year old, the more she tried to cajole me in to eating meat, the more I stood my ground! At that time, there were virtually no meat substitutes (apart from dehydrated soy mince which tasted like cardboard) so I had to get creative with pulses and vegetables and that is how I learned to cook.

I am of mixed heritage as my mother is Japanese and my father was English. This meant that I grew up eating Asian food. My mother had moved to England from Japan a year before I was born and to recreate the food she missed from home, the only option at that time was a small Chinese grocery store in Deptford. I used to go shopping with her on Saturday mornings and wonder at all the exotic produce on display. As a result, I grew up eating lots of bean curd as a standard ingredient, often cooked alongside meat rather than as a vegetarian meat substitute.

When I made the decision to become vegan, I initially found it difficult as I had been reliant on dairy for most of what I cooked so I focussed on Asian food which naturally uses very little dairy. I have also been fortunate enough to have travelled, worked and eaten my way around the world. My favourite cuisines are Asian (the food in China, Japan, Korea and Malaysia were absolute highlights for me), and were plant based or easily adaptable without compromising on flavour or satisfaction.

I have loved cooking ever since my mother refused to cook for me and have catered many events, including my own wedding! I decided not to go in to the food business as a career so I am actually a teacher in a secondary school although I have run various cooking clubs with the children. Last year, I started a Facebook group called the Green Plate (named after the green plate my son’s vegetarian meals would be served on at nursery), where I shared my recipes but also invited people to cook plant based food with me in my home. I wanted to encourage people who wanted to eat less meat or those who were struggling for inspiration. I held monthly sessions until the pandemic. I would have 10 or so people come to my house and we would cook a huge multi dish, plant based meal and sit down together to eat.

On 17th January, Sonia will be making vegan gyoza.

I am planning on making a family favourite- gyoza. Gyoza are a Japanese dumpling, traditionally made with pork but I make mine with all sorts of vegetables and sometimes tofu. We will be making mushroom and cabbage gyoza but you can use virtually any vegetables you’d like or substitute half the vegetables for tofu. I chose this dish as it’s really good and also because, although I cook mainly Asian food, I try to use mainly local and seasonal produce to cook with to keep my impact on the environment to a minimum. I then have a selection of seasonings such as soy sauce or fermented beans which are imported but are used minimally to add flavour. It should be possible to buy the ingredients for this dish plastic free, locally and the cooking method is also fairly low impact. My recipe is soy free, nut free and of course dairy free. It does contain gluten I’m afraid. I haven’t had time to work on a gluten free recipe. You will have the option of using soy sauce as a dipping sauce or you could use a sweet chilli sauce (super easy to make yourself) if you are soy free.

Please sign up if you would like to participate in this exciting cooking demo!