Vegan and gluten-free food with a Filipino touch

Regina Layug Rosero
Vegan and gluten-free food with a Filipino touch
Pumpkin risotto, cheesy broccoli soup, vegan Pad Thai – eating vegan and gluten-free doesn't necessarily have to be difficult

Let’s face it: it’s hard to find good food for those with special diets. So-called vegetarian dishes are served with sahog (ingredients) of pork or shrimp. How exactly can the gluten-intolerant survive when soy sauce is a staple of every dinner table? If you’re vegan, you’ll have to swear off patis for life.

Yet people choose these diets, and for various reasons: weight loss, religious obligations, health scares. Whatever the motivation, these diets and lifestyles are becoming mainstream: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, fruitarian, gluten-free, macrobiotic, ovo-lacto. Each lifestyle has its own perspectives about health, ethics and food preparation.

But what’s the price tag on these diets? The prevailing mindset is that healthy living–and healthy diets – aren’t cheap. Jertie’s Kitchen begs to differ. At a recent workshop in Sugarleaf Makati, sisters Jaclyn and Jertie Abergas demonstrated how a vegan and gluten-free diet can be cheap and easy.

The “Eating Greens Made Easy” workshop was the first in the “Green Guide to Eating Right” workshop series, co-organized by Sugarleaf Makati and Jertie’s Kitchen.

GO TEAM. Jaclyn and Jertie eat a purely plant-based diet. Photo by Regina Rosero

Life-saving choices

Jaclyn is vegan. That doesn’t just mean no animal products like chicken, beef, pork or even fish, but also no animal-derived products, eggs, cow’s or goat milk, cheese, fish sauce or bagoong.

In 2010, Jaclyn was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and on her way towards becoming diabetic. Her doctor prescribed a lifestyle change.

Over the next two years, she ate less meat and more fruits and vegetables, and considered herself a flexitarian (mostly vegetarian but occasionally consuming meat). When a friend brought her to a Korean barbecue restaurant, Jaclyn found that the heaping plates of meat completely turned her off. She couldn’t even eat lechon. From flexitarian she went ovo-vegetarian (vegetarian but consuming eggs). Now, for ethical and environmental reasons, she is a vegan.

Jertie found out that she was gluten-intolerant only a few years ago. Through Jertie’s Kitchen, she’s trying to increase awareness about gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.

Unless one sees that an item is expressly labeled “gluten-free,” someone who’s gluten-intolerant should avoid beer, most baked goods like breads and cakes, pastas and many processed foods like potato chips and luncheon meat. Gluten-related disorders include wheat allergies and celiac disease.

Jertie’s Kitchen develops gluten-free versions of popular pastries and dishes, so that she and other gluten-intolerant folk don’t have to miss out. When Jaclyn decided on her lifestyle, she asked chef Jertie to look into vegan recipes as well. The sisters call this “veganizing” – developing vegan versions of popular food.

GOOD FOR YOU. Pad Thai made vegan and gluten-free. Photo by Regina Rosero

Now, Jaclyn says her health has significantly improved. “I lost about 40 pounds over the course of one year. My blood sugar is normal.” And her PCOS symptoms are all under control. It is health benefits like these that Jaclyn and Jertie hope to share with others, not only through the foods they make and sell, but also through workshops and health coaching.

PUMPKIN RISOTTO. Originally a North Italian dish, this pumpkin risotto features Pinoy ingredients: sigarilyas, kalabasa, gata and malunggay. Photo by Regina Rosero

Vegan and gluten-free, Pinoy-style

Though the recipes featured in the workshop were not Filipino recipes, most of the ingredients used were local and easy to find at the local grocery or palengke. And all the equipment you need is a Pinoy kitchen staple: the humble rice cooker. If you have a blender too, even better.

Take for instance the pumpkin risotto. Jertie’s Kitchen took this Italian dish and not only veganized it, but Filipinized it too, with kalabasa, sigarilyas, malunggay and coconut milk! All the ingredients were sautéed, mixed and boiled in a single rice cooker, and the tasty results were served up to the workshop participants.

Another recipe prepared in the rice cooker was cheesy broccoli soup. Make it vegan with non-dairy milk, like coconut milk, and make it gluten-free and cheesy with nutritional yeast, found in health food stores. You can puree the soup in a blender, making it chunky or smooth, depending on your preference.

DESSERT IS SERVED. You wouldn’t think this yummy dessert contains tofu and rolled oats. Photo by Regina Rosero

In that blender you can make dessert too. Jaclyn and Jertie capped the workshop with a fruit muesli chocolate mousse. Most dark chocolate is vegan, but how can you make mousse without milk? Use silken tofu and soy or nut milk, both available in most groceries. If you hadn’t seen the individual ingredients, you probably wouldn’t know you were eating vegan, gluten-free dessert.

Of course, what’s a healthy food workshop without a green smoothie? Instead of spinach or kale, try camote tops and frozen saba with pineapple and fresh basil leaves.

The cost of veganizing

Jaclyn says the recipes featured at the workshop cost an average of P120 per serving. “Our stuff is usually between P80 to P150 per serving. It’s the brown rice that brings the price up.”

In their own home, Jaclyn spends about P500 to 800 a week on groceries, to feed herself, her sister and whoever in their household feels like having vegetables. How does she keep to that budget?

  • Get what’s in season.
  • No canned or frozen stuff.
  • You have to buy fresh, so buy weekly.
  • Cook with herbs and spices—dried or fresh—instead of premade sauces and seasonings.
TIME TO EAT. Desserts can be vegan and gluten-free too. Photo courtesy of Jertie's Kitchen

For the gluten-free groceries, you may have to spend a bit more. And shopping might take a bit more time, as you’ll have to review the ingredients of every single food item, or seek out the gluten-free label. It’s extra effort, but necessary if your body just isn’t equipped to process gluten.

So what’s not to like about affordable meals made from locally-available produce, in a simple rice cooker? Maybe special diets can work here after all.

The next workshop in the series is “Noche Buena Vegan Feast,” scheduled for November 22 at Sugarleaf Makati. For more information contact Sugarleaf Organic Market and Café, located at G-2F MEDICard Lifestyle Center, 51 Paseo de Roxas corner Senator Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati. For details, call (02) 812 7323. 

Like most writers, Regina Layug Rosero wears many hats: researcher, project manager, public speaker, editor. Various projects and employers have brought her around the world of fashion, advocacy, biotechnology, social media, geek culture, population and development, robotics, comic books and myriad other topics. What drives her through these roles and worlds is an insatiable curiosity, and an instinct to share these stories with others.

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