I didn't do my weekly Vegan interview last week and I apologize. I will hopefully redeem myself with this next interview from a young girl living in a not so Vegan friendly environment. How she does it is beyond me, but she has the will and compassion to succeed in her beliefs. Ksenia was just about to move to begin college but was kind enough to fill out my questionnaire and email it back before her great departure. I wish you all of the best Ksenia, you are a bright woman, not to mention highly talented and I see no end to your success.
Location: Cunit (Barcelona, Spain)
Website: Tales of a Spoon
How long have you been Vegan?
For almost three years (since December 2007)
What made you decide to go Vegan?
I had the idea in my head for years. I ate meat and fish, but sometimes I couldn't avoid thinking that what I had in front of me was before alive and breathing. I bought tofu once and while I was looking for a recipe, I accidentally found a photo of a slaughterhouse. It shocked me so much that I almost cried: it was worse than a horror movie. I started to look for information and two days later I decided I didn't want to be part of all that cruelty. I gave up all animal products overnight.
How do you feel health wise with this diet choice?
I never felt better in my life. My mother was afraid I would lose weight because I was skinny, but I gained more than 10 kg since then. For me that is a good thing because I really needed it. I have been a runner since I was ten (as a hobby though, not professionally) and I've been in a volleyball team for five years, so sport is an important part of my life and I immediately notice when a diet is working for me or not: veganism does.
Are you open about your Veganism?
I never hide it and I don't understand why I should. It's true that in some situations you just don't feel like shouting it too loud. I try to not be too annoying with the animal suffering part because people tend to go on the defensive because they don't want to feel guilty: truth can be uncomfortable. But I don't miss the opportunity to talk about my decision if I have the opportunity and somebody asks.
If so, are you involved in any activism i.e. protests, leafleting etc…
At this moment not because I live 40 km from Barcelona, not in Barcelona city, where all that things take place. I'd like to participate, but while I was in school it was just impossible. But I am moving to Barcelona in a few days to start college, so maybe it will change! Anyway, I have been in a demonstration against bullfighting (which by the way, was officially banned in Catalonia some weeks ago) and I met more vegan and vegetarian people for the first time there. I still see from time to time with some of them.
What do your family, friends, co-workers think about your diet? When I first told my mother about my decision, she even cried. She said I'd finish in the hospital! But I suppose she just needed time and see that it really wasn't dangerous. Now she is the first who worries if I have all I need in the pantry and even began to drink soy milk herself. My father still don't understand how I can live without animal products, but resigned himself because he understood I'd not change my mind. But it doesn't bother me because it's the normal reaction. Most of people don't understand my decision. At the beginning they thought it was some kind of teenager's rebellion. Now they just think I'm crazy, but as my father my friends just avoid the topic.
What advice would you give those interested in becoming Vegan?
If you are sure about your decision, don't let anybody change your mind. Unless you have a really vegan friendly environment (which wasn't my case), you will have to face a lack of understanding and uncomfortable situations. It doesn't have to discourage you: people around you need time too. I'm not in favor of the vegans/the rest of the world separation, but meeting people who have a similar point of view really helps. Look for people like you in your town, join a forum, participate in vegan blogs or create one yourself....but do something!
Would you eat at Mc Donald’s if they carried a Vegan burger?
I don't think so. I'm sure they would use the same frying pans and oil for the vegan and non-vegan burgers, but that wouldn't be the main reason. When I think about Mc Donald's, I think about the meat industry and the cruelty behind it. It would go against my ideals. A vegan burger for them it's only a business opportunity.
Do you have a Vegan celebrity that you find particularly dashing?
I don't care too much about celebrities (vegan or not), so it's a difficult question.
Do you have a favorite Vegan blog or website that you follow?
One of the first vegan blog I found was FatFree Vegan Kitchen and Vegan Yum Yum. I still look for recipes and inspiration in both of them, but not as much as I used to due the lack of time. Have Cake, Will Travel! is one of my favorites too. Heidi's 101 cookbooks is a vegetarian blog, but most of her recipes are easy to veganize.
What is your least favorite question that you are asked about your diet?
“But if you don't eat meat....what do eat then??” I have been asked that so many times that I'm tired of answering: do you only eat meat and fish? There are so many other foods! The difference is that for you it's a side dish; for me not. But I try to be always polite and answer patiently, even when people think that eating fish (or just not eating chicken) means being vegetarian.
What is your favorite dish?
I don't think I could chose one favorite dish, especially because it changes depending on the season, the weather or even my mood: soups and stews during winter, green smoothies and salads during summer.
What do you typically eat at Thanksgiving?
Since I am not American, I don't celebrate it. But I don't think I'd make some faux turkey or something similar. I'm completely happy with my beans stews, steamed veggies, marinated tofu or whatever: I don't need them to taste like meat (which is what some vegans want)
Please share your favorite Vegan recipe.
Bufff! There are many, but a stew called Gypsy Pot will be always one of them. I hardly ever repeat recipe, but this is an exception: chickpeas, pumpkin, potatoes, pears and a “sofrito” I even eat it in summer, cold!
Gypsy Pot recipe (Olla gitana)
You will find as many versions of gypsy pot as food blogs on the net, so it’s a matter of trying and finding the version you like the most. The recipe of the food blog where I saw it for the first time, is slightly different from that. The first times, I used green beans as it was told, but one they I was run out of them, so I didn’t add beans. And I loved the result. I changed the white potatoes for sweet potatoes, as well. Elena’s recipe didn’t use carrot, but I saw that all the other recipes use carrots. I tried to add them once too (the Traveler’s Lunchbox Gypsy Pot recipe), but I didn’t like the result either.
Sofrito is translated by the Oxford dictionary as "tomato, onion, etc. fried lightly in oil" (what in fact, is) but it doesn’t have a name in English. Is used as a base for most of the Spanish and Catalan dishes (for example, paella, fideuà….)
Serves: 4-6 depending if a main course or a side dish.
-3 cups of cooked chickpeas (although you can add a little more or a little less)
-2 medium sweet potatoes
-2 cups of roughly chopped pumpkin
-2 medium pears
-a handful of green beans *optional* I didn’t use them. If using, add them along with the pumpkin and the pears.
-stock or water to cover
-1 red bell pepper
-2 medium tomatoes
-3 tablespoons of tomato paste
-3 cloves garlic
-1 tablespoon of oil
-1/2- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (depending on your taste)
-1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
-a few saffron threats
1. If using non canned chickpeas, soak them the night before and cook until tender (about 1 1/2 hour)
2. Put the chickpeas in a pot with the stock or water. It must just cover it. Chop the sweet potatoes in cubes and add them. Bring it to boil and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the sofrito. Put the olive oil in a sauce pan, and when it’s hot add the chopped onion, cook for a few minutes, and add all the other vegetables (the red bell pepper and the tomatoes) finely chopped. The tomatoes must be peeled. Add the tomato past too. Cook on a low heat for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring from time to time to don’t burn it. A few minutes before finishing, add the cumin, the Spanish paprika and the saffron threats.
4. After 10 minutes, add to the pot with chickpeas the other ingredients: the pumpkin in cubes, the pear in quarters (although if you don’t like the chunks too big, you can cut in smaller pieces) and the raisins. Cook on low heat another 10 or 15 minutes.
5. After that 15 minutes, add the sofrito to the pot with chickpeas and cook 5 minutes to leave the flavors develop. If it’s too watery, you can puree one cup of the strew with a blender and return it to the pot. In that case, simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
6. Serve very hot, with a couple of slices of lemon and ground almond on top.