Sasha Gill: The student finding vegan ways to create her favourite Asian dishes

13th Feb 19 | Lifestyle

Being plant-based doesn't mean you can't eat pad Thai and 'butter chicken'. By Ella Walker.

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There are many reasons why you might prefer to not throw yourself into a vegan lifestyle.

Perhaps you can’t face a world without cheese, or know that boiled eggs and soldiers, or bacon sandwiches make you far too happy to consider giving them up. The stumbling block might be beef burgers, or pepperoni pizza, or your nan’s roast chicken on Sundays.

However, thanks to Sasha Gill – author of new cookbook Jackfruit And Blue Ginger – at least missing your favourite foods from the cuisines of China, Japan, India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia wouldn’t be a problem you’d need to contend with.

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Singapore-born Gill, 22, a medicine student at Oxford University, has made it her mission to conjure up vegan alternatives to her Asian favourites – from Japanese yaki soba and nasi lemak (a traditional Malaysian breakfast), to Thai massaman curry and satay chicken (inspired by the ‘satay man’ who would cycle down her street in Singapore and cook fresh satay to order, on a grill on his bike).

As a teenager, Gill had played with the idea of going vegetarian, but then made the wholesale switch to veganism when she moved to start boarding school in the UK.

“It was a good moment, a good opportunity,” she says of making the change, as at home she hadn’t wanted to “inconvenience my family” by demanding separate meat-free dinner options. Now, almost six years into veganism, her parents don’t mind at all – and “in fact, I do most of the cooking when I go home,” notes Gill.

That’s not to say that facing a plant-based diet wasn’t something of an adjustment for her to begin with. Although, perhaps more extreme was going from the wildly colourful, cultural mingling and myriad cuisines represented and eaten in Singapore, to Britain’s somewhat duller offering.

“It was a bit of a shock,” Gill concedes, but adds there were some unexpected benefits too. “I went mad buying fruit – it’s so expensive in Singapore, but it’s much more affordable here.”

As a student, affordability is undoubtedly an element of Gill’s recipes, and she’s adamant that “you really can be vegan on a budget”. Considering, also, that her food blogging (at thesashadiaries.com) and photography career took off from the cramped basement room of a student house, one that didn’t really have any windows or natural light (“I had to buy these huge photographer’s lights”), and this was on top of a tough, all-hours medical degree, she’s adept at stretching ingredients and making the most of what little time you’ve got.

But even she doesn’t always have time to indulge in her fluffy peanut pancakes (“They’re like peanut clouds”) or teriyaki tofu, and will happily try packaged vegan substitutes and products. “There’s much more availability now,” Gill muses. “I find it interesting seeing what my non-vegan friends think of them, but normally I can do without, or I make my own versions.”

She’s definitely noticed a change in peoples’ reactions towards veganism too. “People don’t panic so much when they ask me for dinner, and tend to just serve vegan food for everyone. It’s not really a problem.”

And for those who do need a nudge towards appreciating the potential deliciousness of plant-based dinners, the dish she finds most satisfying to feed people doesn’t involve jackfruit at all – despite its top billing in the book title. It’s her vegan ‘butter chicken’…

“I love giving that to people, because it doesn’t have butter or chicken in it!” The joy is in the surprise that it’s still totally delicious.

Jackfruit And Blue Ginger: Asian Favourites Made Vegan by Sasha Gill is published by Murdoch Books, priced £18.99. Available now.

© Press Association 2019

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