Tracey Bennett aka "The Reckless Foodie" is a plant-based wholefood chef who, together with her husband Jason Shon Bennett, runs wellness and fasting retreats. The retreats aim to reset attendees' health and wellbeing, with three days of time-out out from normal life with like- minded others. They have at least nine planned for 2021, spanning the country. Tracey also teaches plant-based cooking classes in her home kitchen in west Auckland and does plant-based catering for special events and gatherings. Plus, she has a first cookbook imminent. She takes time out of her schedule to let Be Well take a sneak peek into her pantry...
I live in... Swanson, just off Scenic Drive, and close to our beloved local west coast gem, Bethell's Beach. My kitchen the hub of our home. A lot happens there; it's the social heart of our household and it is a lovely, large space where much creativity and feasting happens.
To turn it into a dream kitchen... don't get me started! It is somewhat dated so I would love to give it a total makeover to make it modern and fresh with some lovely features, such as tiles, awesome drawers and hangers for my most-used pots and pans. As well as lots of plants and shelves for my many cookbooks.
What I always have lurking the fridge... is nutritional yeast flakes, sauerkraut, a few chutneys, apple cider vinegar, an open soy milk, sparkly water, remaining veges, tofu, maybe some tempeh, red and yellow Thai curry paste, miso paste, a jar of tahini, fresh ginger root, a couple of containers of leftovers, and maybe a bottle of kombucha, if I was lucky.
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My pantry staples... are brown rice because it is a high-fibre, slow-burning wholegrain that is nutrient-rich and full of goodness. Jumbo oats for the same reason. Quinoa, millet, sorghum and buckwheat because they are amazing high-protein seeds that cook up like a wholegrain and are highly nutritious, versatile and super-tasty. Split red lentils and whole brown lentils as they make amazing dahls and curries and are a great protein source. Every kind of bean — cannellini, red kidney, black beans — because they are super-tasty in all kinds of Mexican and plant-based dishes and are another great protein source. Chickpeas for the same reason. Tinned tomatoes because I use them every week and couldn't live without them. Tamari (a natural soy sauce) — an absolute staple for me, great for flavouring tofu and veges as well as using in many dinner dishes, stir-fries and dressings. Gluten-free pasta for those times when the Italian food craving needs to be satisfied. A selection of raw nuts and seeds as they are so highly nutritious and a great provider of daily essential fatty acids. Dates to make raw treats and bliss balls. Raw cashews to make incredible raw cheezecakes and cheezy sauces and substitutes. Savoury yeast flakes because it is every "cheese lover's" saviour when eating dairy free. I could go on and on, but perhaps I better stop there.
My favourite ingredient is... garlic comes to mind as I use it so much — always fresh of course. And herbs and spices; I can't do without my beloved Indian spice tin. I also have a love affair with avocados — they make the best chocolate mousse and of course are delish in salads, on wholegrain or sourdough bread and a good guacamole is always a full-body yes.
If friends or family dropped by unannounced I would throw together... a simple yet delicious curry with toasted cashews, fresh coriander and a dollop of coconut yoghurt, served with turmeric spiked brown rice or rice and quinoa. Or a lentil spaghetti bolognese served with a walnut parmesan and green salad. Or a Thai curry with loads of veges and chickpeas or tofu served on coconut rice with fresh coriander. Or baked spicy tofu with rice and a big crunchy colourful salad. These are a few off the top of my head – why? Because they have broad appeal and can be whipped up in about 30 mins or so. I cook most nights and days. Cooking is like therapy to me and making food for people is a way I show my love.
A kitchen gadget everyone should own... I think a Nutribullet is an amazing addition to any kitchen as you can make super- healthy green smoothies on the regular and it also grinds up nuts and seeds and makes great dips in a jiffy. Super-useful for a plant-based kitchen.
The biggest pearl of wisdom I can offer to anyone looking to do more plant-based cooking or eat more healthily is... be prepared and set up your environment for success. By this I mean go through your pantry and fridge and get rid of the stuff you know is not serving you or your health. And get a whole lot of staples that mean you can whip up something simple, healthy and yummy on any given day. To have a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, focus on having plenty of fruits, veges, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes in your diet. And to take it next level, make sure you are having a seasonal combination of cooked, soaked, raw, fermented and sprouted foods in your repertoire. If you take this approach, you can be confident that you will get all the nutrients, protein and goodness that you need and more from what you eat. I'm all about enjoying everything I eat and eating for health, pleasure and longevity.
Follow Tracey on Facebook and Instagram @Therecklessfoodie and find out more about the wellness retreats at Jasonshonbennett. co.nz/wellness-retreats.