Real tasty

In a tug-of-war relationship with food and fitness for many years, blogger Sam Murphy is the first to admit her initial foray into veganism wasn't a healthy one.

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The 24-year-old, who hails from New Zealand, had anorexia as a teenager, and initially, switching to veganism proved another means of controlling her eating and introducing new restrictions.

"I was raw vegan for a while, and I was so obsessed with eating only raw foods in their natural state," explains Murphy. "I can see how easy it is to slip into that, because essentially it's addictive, you become obsessed with it. It's a control thing.

"If you've got something in your life that you feel a bit out of control with, a lot of us will turn to food and control that. I know I do."

After moving to Melbourne, where she still lives and works in a vegan cafe, Murphy slowly began to change her habits and rebuild a healthier relationship with nourishing her body, reintroducing the full gamut of vegan-friendly foods (and actually cooking them), opening up about her experiences in her blog (sobeautifullyreal.com) and, eventually, shaking off her staunchly-held views of 'good' and 'bad' foods.

"Having spent so many years having a very strict food rule list, I still catch myself out having those pre-conceived ideas about what is good and bad," she admits. "It really restricts you creatively, but it also restricts your enjoyment for food. The challenge for me and for others is to break down barriers and just enjoy food as food, and obviously the important thing is keeping it within the realm of being dairy-free and cruelty-free.

"I don't see any reason why you should have to label something good or bad; it should just be real food."

Although she still has bad days, reflecting on her recovery, Murphy says: "I got to a point where my survival instincts kicked in. Something clicks, and you realise you definitely don't want to live your life that way, and it's that drive to keep striving for more but also to be really patient and really forgiving and loving towards yourself, and to know that you're going to have ups and downs.

"As soon as I removed the expectation that recovery was going to be this consistent uphill on a progressive scale, it relaxed me a little bit more," she adds. "I'm able to deal with those moments that aren't so great, which I still have - I'm human."

Her debut cookbook, Beautifully Real Food - a gorgeous, colourful collection of mouthwatering vegan dishes - is clearly the work of somebody who now celebrates the joy of food.

She's keen not to preach about veganism though, especially since, as a former meat-eater, she recalls finding the concept very alien.

"When I first heard of vegans, I thought it was the weirdest thing in the world. I was like, 'What the hell do those people eat? It's like eating grass!'" she says with a laugh.

"It's different. People are very set in their ways and I was too, and I suppose it's more about educating, just trying it out. I don't expect everyone in the world to go vegan, but if they could just try a meal that is vegan, possibly not knowing that it is vegan first, that would be ideal, so they go in with a very open mind.

"The more people we can get on board, the better," says Murphy. "I try not to push my views on people; I just welcome them in like 'Hey, I'll cook you some food and see if you like it!'"

Tempted to see if you'd like it? Here are three recipes from Beautifully Real Food to try at home...

TURMERIC BAKED BEANS, POTATO HASH & SAUTEED GREENS

For the potato hash:

3 medium-large potatoes, peeled and chopped

1tbsp vegan butter

For the baked beans:

2tsp coconut oil

1 red onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 × 400g can haricot beans, rinsed and drained

1tsp ground turmeric

1tsp ground cumin

1/4tsp ground nutmeg

1tbsp coconut sugar (available from Tesco or Ocado)

1-2tsp vegetable bouillon or paste

125ml tomato puree

1/2 a 400g can chopped tomatoes

1tbsp coconut cream

Salt and pepper, to taste

Sauteed greens and mushrooms, to serve

Prepare the hash by chopping the potatoes and boiling until tender. Remove from heat and rinse in water.

In a non-stick frying pan, simply fry the potatoes with the vegan butter over a medium heat until the potatoes are slightly crispy and broken up.

For the baked beans, heat up the coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan and saute the onion and garlic until fragrant and browned.

Add the beans, spices, coconut sugar, vegetable bouillon, tomato puree and canned tomatoes. Simmer for five to six minutes over a medium heat.

Add the coconut cream and stir in. Remove from the heat and serve. Season to taste and serve with sauteed greens and mushrooms.

LOADED VEGAN HOT DOGS

For the sweet chilli sauce:

1-2tsp hot sauce or chilli paste

2tbsp reduced-salt tomato puree

2-3tbsp maple syrup

1tsp garlic powder

1tsp onion powder

1/2tsp salt

Water to thin, if necessary

For the cheesy mustard mayo:

1tsp Dijon mustard

1tbsp tahini

1tbsp maple syrup

2tsp nutritional yeast

1tsp onion powder

3-4tbsp hot water (to reach your desired consistency)

1/8tsp salt

For the hot dogs:

2-3 vegan sausages

1/2 red onion, sliced

1-2tbsp oil, for frying

2-3 hot dog buns

Salt and pepper, to taste

Sesame seeds

Prepare the sauces by mixing each separately in a bowl and storing in resealable plastic bags. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, fry the vegan sausages and red onion in a little oil until the sausages are browned and crispy on all sides and the onions are crispy. Drain on a paper towel.

Warm the buns in the oven or microwave.

To assemble the hot dogs, cut a slice down the centre of the hot dog bun with a bread knife (ensure you do not cut all the way through). To apply the sauces, simply slice a small corner off the resealable plastic bags with scissors and squeeze as you would with a piping bag.

Spread a thin layer of sweet chilli sauce inside the bun and then insert the vegan sausage. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Top with onion, salt and pepper and finish with a drizzle of both the sweet chilli sauce and cheesy mustard mayo.

COOKIES & CREAM SMOOTHIE

For the 'cookie' pieces:

65g almonds

2tbsp cacao powder (available from health food shops and Amazon)

20g desiccated coconut

115g Medjool dates, pitted

For the creamy smoothie:

2 frozen bananas, broken into chunks

125ml coconut cream

250ml almond milk

2tsp vanilla bean powder (available from Amazon and

2tbsp maple syrup or rice malt syrup

Firstly, you want to prepare your cookie pieces by pulsing the almonds, cacao powder and coconut in a high-speed blender or food processor until a fine meal forms. Add the dates last and pulse until it begins to stick together. Set aside in a bowl.

To make the smoothie, simply blend the bananas, coconut cream, almond milk, vanilla and maple syrup in a high-speed blender until creamy. Adjust the liquid as needed.

Break the cookie pieces into small chunks and add to the blender again. Pulse the smoothie a few times to break the pieces up a little more.

Pour into your favourite glass jar and serve at once.

Beautifully Real Food: Guilt-Free, Meat-Free Recipes To Indulge In by Sam Murphy is published by Blink Publishing on February 23, priced £16.99

THREE OF THE BEST... Dairy-free alternatives

Sainsbury's Deliciously FreeFrom Cheddar-Style Coconut Based Alternative To Cheese, £2.30 for 200g (Sainsbury's)

Nush Almond Milk Yoghurt Peach Melba, £1.95 for 125g (Ocado)

Tesco Almond Unsweetened Milk, £1.40 for 1L (Tesco)