Vegan Tales on New Zealand

Kia Ora: Part 5

Posted on 28 March 2012

Exciting new products: ways to make vegan meals easy and delicious …

… the diary of a South African vegan living in New Zealand

26 March 2012

I have just come back from a large organic shop, which is in fact a vegetarian organic shop (called: Harvest Wholefoods) across the harbour bridge from where I live. After an absence of nearly 3 months overseas to India I was over the moon to discover some new products in the store to lay my hands on.

Many of these products are available in South Africa, which I loaded up by the basketful on one of my regular trips to South Africa to visit my family. Several of these products have lots of culinary uses beyond the “spreading on bread” or “quick glass of milk to drink”. Below are some of my favourite products and how I use them:

Sweet potato with tofu (instead of haloumi cheese off the menu) - photo by Laurinda ErasmusMilks: apart from the usual soy, nut and rice milks (and their various flavours), I saw oat milk and hemp milk. I’ve tried the quinoa milk before but was not too crazy about the taste. The soy milk that is my absolute favourite is the one imported from Australia, called Vitasoy: made from GM-free soybeans, it’s organic and sweetened with pear juice and contains no unpronounceable chemicals. This soy milk is thick, like double cream so I use it in making custards (blend with a small piece of banana or mango), ‘ice-creams’ (blend with silken tofu or an extra big helping of your favourite nut butter, then add fruit in season) or you can sour the soy milk slightly with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to make sour creams and yoghurt to serve with savoury dishes. To make cultured yoghurt and nut cheese, add the contents of about 5 probiotic capsules (I’ll write an article about how to make this safely in a later post).

Hemp seed: Unfortunately, still sitting on the bottom shelf in my cupboard because I had a bad experience with hemp milk and did not like the taste. Now I bought the crushed seeds and thought I’ll give it another try. Hemp seed is very high in protein and omega 3. One can scatter the crushed seeds over salads and blend with water to make your own hemp milk. Since the lovely, creamy white shelled hemp seeds are not available in New Zealand, the whole seed pod is crushed (so it’s dark green in the packet) and sold as animal feed! Anyway, I plan to blend a few tablespoons of this with water to make a basis for a green smoothie; and any left-overs, I’ll use in a salad dressing blended with lots of fresh basil to thicken it.

Chocolate: Raw cacao nibs (blend these with a banana and a nut milk in a liquidizer for a wickedly delicious smoothie), cacao butter (a wonderful natural lotion for your skin, but also great to make your raw chocolates absolutely from scratch) and unsweetened Dutch dark chocolate powder from roasted cacao beans (blend the powder with avocado, water, dash of balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon or two of maple syrup for a silky smooth luscious chocolate mousse).

Syrups: Move over maple and agave syrup – new items are now apple, pear, date, yacon syrups and coconut nectar. These are all slightly tart as well as sweet, so they give desserts an extra layer of flavour. I use very little sweetener, so what I use has to really count! The yacon and coconut ones are low GI as well. I use the syrups in Japanese dishes, in baking and to give a hint of sweetness in my kale chips.

Nut butters: ABC butter (which stands for blended almond, brazil and cashew nuts), sunflower seed and sesame seed butter, coconut butter (where the coconut meat and water were slowly blended together with a stone grinder in order not to heat the mixture, creating a silky smooth delicate butter) and pistachio butter. I have since experimented with how to make ‘Nutella’ – by grinding toasted hazelnuts together with dates and dark chocolate powder – delicious! – because the ‘real’ product in the organic shops was prohibitively expensive and too sweet.

Soy products: Tofu has come a long way. The gorgeous tofu product range from South Africa called Fry’s is now also available here. The sausages, patties and nuggets have fantastic flavour, texture and look very appealing. These are great for people transitioning to a vegan diet. I discovered also some lovely smoked tofu sausages made in Germany and vacuum-packed which I keep in the cupboard for when we are invited to a BBQ or going on a multi-day hike or cycle ride.

Drinks: The day the organic shops started to stock coconut water I’ve been buying them by the crateful. I always buy the box of 24 (300 ml) bottles for NZ$ 90 (about R560). Apart from being a marvellous thirst quencher (replaces one’s electrolytes after heavy exercise), I use the water to make my own rejuvelac and kefir. In the cooldrink line, I now and then buy pure cherry, blueberry and pomegranate juices. I don’t drink juice anymore as such, but it’s always great to have a small bottle of these juices at hand to make interesting vinaigrettes, to use in pancakes or thickened with agar-agar to make your own healthy jellies.

Condiments: Japanese mirin, umeboshi vinegar, ponzu sauce, miso pastes in white, red and brown (I use the white, slightly sweet paste in sweet baking and making delectable mayonnaises; the red one is good for making your own stock for soups and stews, and the brown highly fermented miso I use as a beef stock replacer mixed with Rooibos tea for when I make bean casserole dishes), coconut aminos (use it like soy sauce, but containing no soy, it’s fermented and tapped from coconut trees without harming the trees – much like harvesting maple syrup).

Oils: Apart from the host of very high quality olive oils produced both in South Africa and New Zealand, there are just as delicious other oils such as avocado, hemp, macadamia, walnut (delicious in muffins), hazelnut (perfect in any chocolate baking), pumpkin seed, sesame seed and for a bit of a splurge, pistachio oil for drizzling over a special salad.

Superfoods: This is going to be my next post, but see if you can find these at organic shops: maca, lucuma, mesquite, camu camu and açai. They are high in calcium, iron and protein. I also love my 100% vanilla powder and pomegranate powders which I use in power smoothies, desserts and my morning ‘yoghurts’. Irish moss is a wonderful product that one makes into a paste with water. This is handy for making desserts set, making raw ‘cheese cakes’ and making divine fermented nut ‘cheeses’.

Raw foods: I’m quite excited about all the wonderful raw vegan foods available on the market. One product that is utterly amazing is the range of freeze-dried whole and powdered fruits. I’ve tried the whole raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, lychee and the mango powder. They give an incredible boost in flavour added to muffins, blended into smoothies, sprinkled over vegan ‘cheesecakes’ or crunched over desserts. The flavour is intense and nearly lifts you from your seat!

Having said all this, many of these products are expensive and have a lot of food miles behind them. It pays to buy local and the produce in season. I like to buy a special ingredient now and then, sometimes out of curiosity to see how many dishes I can make with it. I also derive great pleasure from making my own fruit spreads (‘jams’) without sugar; my own nut butters, nut milks and nut cheese; soy milk (tofu is next on the “to do” list) and rice milk; nut flours (from soaked, dehydrated nuts and seeds), energy bars, vegan biscuits and sweets.

So support your local organic shops: they’re doing a great job sourcing the best available ingredients from suppliers they trust. Often these shops have notice boards where one can find out information about upcoming health-related events; yoga and pilates classes; cooking lessons; tips on gardening and ideas for creating your own vegetable patches.

Next article: a more in-depth discussion on ‘superfoods’ on how to use them in recipes.
Benessere: well being, a book by Laurinda Erasmus

Article by Laurinda Erasmus, author of BENESSERE well-beingOpens in a new window: vegan & sugar-free eating for a healthy life-style. Quinoa Publishing.

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Kia Ora: Part 4

Posted on 15 February 2012

Restaurants and eating out …

… the diary of a South African vegan living in New Zealand

11 February 2012

Going out to dinner remains a special occasion – whether it’s for a family celebration, a get-together with close friends or a business meal with work mates. Restaurants are going to be especially busy as we approach St. Valentine’s Day.

Sweet potato with tofu (instead of haloumi cheese off the menu) - photo by Laurinda ErasmusHowever, for most vegans the suggestion of a restaurant meal is received with trepidation: questions start circling one’s mind of “Will there be something for me to eat?”, to even: “Am I going to be seen as the fussy, difficult one?”, or worse: “Is it going to be a repeat of last time when everyone stressed as I sent the waitress back and forth to the kitchen?”  Yes, we all probably had such experiences!

As someone who eats out a fair amount, most specifically when I travel overseas (I spent about 4-5 months every year abroad travelling, learning and writing), I came up with a plan of action for eating out. This made me far more relaxed and enjoy the experience as one should. Eating out these days can be expensive, so you want to feel it was forth it.

The best (and least stressful for you, your guests and the chefs) is to phone ahead and make the booking yourself: either ask to speak to the chef or make sure the person you speak to make a note of the fact that you are vegan (and understands what it means). In this way the chef has time to think up a dish to make for you. I usually make the initial booking about a week before the event, then 2 days beforehand I phone again to confirm both the booking and the vegan request.

The second best thing I do when I know where we’re going to, is to look up the restaurant’s website and study the menu. Bearing in mind that the internet menu could differ slightly from the one being handed to you in the restaurant, this still gives you a good idea of what the chef is capable of doing and the chef’s style of preparing food. You will also notice any seasonality reflected in the menu items, how wide a range of inspiration from around the world the head chef draws his ideas from and notice any flexibilities around the dishes. Make a special note of the side dishes: you may have to fall back to this list if all else fails.

Thus armed, you can now calmly tell the server at the table that you are vegan. Also list the food groups you don’t eat, since you don’t want room for misunderstandings. If the server does not immediately suggest that the chef is able to make up a vegan dish for you, it is up to you to make the suggestion: say you are happy to have separate items from all over the menu (and point them out) to be compiled as a plate for you. Again, ask the preparation method for those items to make sure they don’t contain butter or cream sauces (for instance: ask that mushrooms are fried in olive oil; make sure there is no butter or yoghurt in dips ands sauces; make sure no butter is poured over stir-fried or grilled vegetable dishes; beware of risottos which are sometimes made with butter, even if you do ask that the cheese is omitted in the final stage of preparation, etc.)

However, many times one has no idea where you’re going to eat out. Either other people are doing the reservations, or, as it often happens in my experience when I’m overseas, going to a restaurant as an unplanned event depending on where one ends up at the end of the day.  

Knowing this, I’ve learned over the years to come prepared. I would order a plain salad (I ask for no cheese, and no mayonnaise dressing); a stir-fried vegetable or grilled Mediterranean vegetable dish, and then toss over the food my little bag of goodies I brought with. This would usually be my protein in the form of sprouted lentils, mung beans or chickpeas (so even if you are spending the afternoon or even the whole day walking in an overseas city the sprouted legumes will keep outside a fridge, and just keep on growing!), or nuts and seeds (usually that I soaked overnight to remove the enzyme inhibitors and then placed in the sun or unsealed in the hotel refrigerator to dry out; but at home I use my dehydrator), or I’ll bring along a store-bought (best place to find these is at organic shops), vacuum packed seitan (vegetable wheat) or tofu sausage.

Vegan dish from a Spanish restaurant - photo by Laurinda ErasmusThe photo here shows a lovely plate of food that I enjoyed at a Spanish restaurant that specialises in seafood: the chef came out to speak to me and talked me through ingredients he had in the kitchen. I got served a chickpea and steamed vegetable stack, olives, avocado, tomatoes, olive oil and sourdough bread.

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Benessere: well being, a book by Laurinda Erasmus

Article by Laurinda Erasmus, author of BENESSERE well-beingOpens in a new window: vegan & sugar-free eating for a healthy life-style. Quinoa Publishing.

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Kia Ora: Part 3

Posted on 4 October 2011

Rugby world Cup fever …

… the diary of a South African vegan living in New Zealand

4 October 2011

Rugby fever is running high in New Zealand, so I thought I’ll write an extra post about the excitement. Although most of the attention is in Auckland – being the biggest city it also has the financial weight to have a number of large stadiums – the whole country is abuzz.

The crowds are sometimes surprisingly large. One reporter noted the block of South Africans when SA played against Namibia; a conservative estimate reckoned about 35,000 South Africans are living on the North Shore alone, which is less than 8 minutes’ drive away from the stadium where that match was held, North Harbour stadium.

Auckland Harbour, New Zealand - photo by Laurinda ErasmusEven the small towns pulled out all the plugs to welcome the rugby teams, international visitors and local supporters alike. Unfortunately no matches could be held in Christchurch, with the uncertainty of any more earthquake shocks. Accommodations, cafés and restaurants were stretched to their limits in the smaller towns, while parking could be a headache in Auckland if one ventures in for an evening at the theatre! Public transport (buses, trains and even the ferries) made it easy for spectators to get to the matches on time.


Most cars proudly exhibit the team(s) they support. Why I say teams, is that this is a country consisting of mostly immigrants, so families would attach their original home country flag to their car windows (little flags attached to the back windows) and sometimes their new adopted country as well. Large flags could be seen attached to houses’ or apartments’ balconies and a neighbour near us would hoist 2 flags on the same pole, representing the 2 countries that are playing a match that day.

Something that was very successful was the Fan Walk. Thousands of people would dress up in the colours of their country (even with hair sprays, painted faces and body suits) and do the nearly 4 km guided walk through the city. Interesting buildings, historical sites and events would be pointed out. The large number of attending walkers behaved well, and were in very high spirits as the crowd formed groups walking, singing and dancing along.

Meals along Fan Walk

One can do the fan walk in stretches, resting and reposing along the way either on park benches enjoying a take-away snack or having a quick bite at a café. There are a number of very good vegan cafés and take-aways available. Near the waterfront for instance, are a number of ethnic eateries where one can sit down and enjoy the views over the water and the yachts: many of these places offer small meals (ideally to share around the table), so one doesn’t feel too heavy and full for the walk ahead (which has some steep parts).

Near the city centre are some neat take-away salad bars with a range of mixed salads, grilled vegetable salads and also juice bars. Just a few blocks from Mount Eden Stadium is a chocolatier that even has 3 choices of filled vegan chocolates on offer. He proudly states that he also doesn’t add extra sugar with the original couveture. The fan walk raises the spirits, is a great place to make friends and you don’t even have to bring a torchlight: the clocks changed to summertime so it’s light until well after the rugby matches start!

Next posting: Organic supermarkets and special superfoods.
Benessere: well being, a book by Laurinda Erasmus

Article by Laurinda Erasmus, author of BENESSERE well-beingOpens in a new window: vegan & sugar-free eating for a healthy life-style. Quinoa Publishing.

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Kia Ora: Part 2

Posted on 24 September 2011

Vegan Events, Exhibitions and Societies …

… the diary of a South African vegan living in New Zealand

22 September 2011

The socialising aspect of being vegan could be a posting by itself, but often vegans find themselves as the only members in their families following this diet. Feeling isolated, left out or even sometimes ostracised could cause feelings of loneliness or even bring on doubts about one’s chosen life-style path.

Auckland Harbour, New Zealand - photo by Laurinda ErasmusHowever, a few laughs and a gentle nudging to try some vegan dishes make everyone relax around the dinner table. There are in Auckland and other cities in New Zealand vegan societies where one can let your hair down completely!


The Vegan Society of AoteroaOpens in a new window have a pot-luck every second month and the Raw Vegan Meet-upOpens in a new window have their pot-luck once a month. At both occasions one brings a dish with a description of it and attach a list with the main ingredients.

Dinner is then enjoyed in a fun, relaxing environment with lots of chatting, swopping out recipes and general networking. The locations are either at a dedicated hall; or sometimes held at a vegan café or even in a huge park in the summer months. I love the outdoors events, since the sun only sets around 9 o’clock in the summer. Sometimes there is a speaker about the vegan life-style; how to bring peacefulness into your life; how to live mindfully etc.

The Slow Food organisation of Auckland and Waitakere may sometimes offer a vegetarian, or sometimes completely vegan event. For instance, in May this year there was a Japanese cooking class (it was a fun hands-on cooking class where 5 of the 7 dishes were vegan, so the 4 in our vegan cooking group just ‘veganized’ the other dishes in order to join in); and in September this year an 8 course menu was on offer as a formal sit-down meal, called ‘Tofu Zukushi’Opens in a new window. Both Japanese events were held in Silverdale, 15 minutes’ drive north of Auckland.

The New Zealand Vegetarian SocietyOpens in a new window also offers events such as group visits to restaurants (I see from the details given that the meals turned out to be vegan and not vegetarian, but always rather ask), or watching a health-related movie together.


There are some exciting exhibitions in New Zealand throughout the year, held mainly in the big cities (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch). Every second year there is a vegan and vegetarian exhibition held at the show grounds (a one-day affair with about 50 exhibitors (including myself) with books, foods, cafés, speakers and food demonstrations. General food shows on the calendar are: Taste of Auckland (very few vegan choices, but ask that some of the dishes to be made vegan); and The Food Show (Auckland), where there is a good array of vegan foods available, as well as interesting teas from about 5 stands; olive and other oils; 100% juices such as pomegranate, blueberry, coconut water etc., Indian foods where there are vegan choices; spices and condiments; fresh herbs and organic foods; tofu and mock meats.

Another food exhibition where I also have a stand every year is at the Gluten-free & Allergy Show also held at the show grounds (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch). It is held over 2 days, with a large number of exhibitors: the well-known organic shops; tofu products; nut, rice and soy milks; vegan chocolates and other healthy snacks (energy bars, sweets, toasted chickpeas, etc.); gluten-free cereals; sprouts etc.

The Green Living & Eco Show held at the race course in Auckland (2 days), have some exciting vegan stands: vegan cookbooks; cold-pressed oils and alcohol-free extracts; raw vegan foods; various raw cafés and cooking demos; nuts and seeds to buy; coconut products; organic tea and coffee etc. and the SPCA and environmental groups.


The above societies have newsletters and magazines with further info on products and health related issues. The Vegan magazine (from the Vegan Society Aoteroa): follow the ‘media’Opens in a new window link on their website and click on V Magazine – Issues. The Raw Vegan Society has an informative newsletter, called Rawie. There are raw vegan recipes, organic gardening and social meetings (café meet-ups, cooking demos, talks), listed under ‘events’.

In a subsequent article I will also talk about bookshops and where to get quality vegan and health orientated books.

Interestingly, other societies and groups in New Zealand that either promote a vegan diet or who are vegans themselves, are: The multiple-sclerosis Society, Greenpeace, SPCA anti-cruelty teams and Seventh Day Adventists.

Next posting: New Zealand rugby world cup fever.
Benessere: well being, a book by Laurinda Erasmus

Article by Laurinda Erasmus, author of BENESSERE well-beingOpens in a new window: vegan & sugar-free eating for a healthy life-style. Quinoa Publishing.

Posted in Category  Vegan Tales on New Zealand  /   Comments Off on Kia Ora: Part 2
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Kia Ora: Part 1

Posted on 5 September 2011

The land of milk and honey …

… the diary of a South African vegan living in New Zealand

5 September 2011

I’m an ex-South African (from Pretoria) who moved to New Zealand 13 years ago – the land of milk and honey, literally.

Auckland Harbour, New Zealand - photo by Laurinda ErasmusA huge proportion of New Zealand’s exports rely on the primary sector (milk and milk products, meat, wool and, yes, honey too!). In fact, the dairy industry has become so profitable that many sheep farmers have now switched to cows.

Most dairy farmers in New Zealand belong to Fonterra, the huge dairy company co-operatively owned by 11 000 farmers (95% of the country’s farmers) supplying over 14 billion litres of milk each year. Fonterra also puts millions of dollars into advertisement campaigns to push its dairy products.

By some incredibly clever marketing, New Zealand broke into the Japanese market (most Japanese don’t like cheese, but by making it chocolate flavoured, the products are now flying off the shelves) and the Chinese market (where, ironically, most of the population is lactose intolerant and more than 30% of those have a dairy allergy!!)

The huge meat-eating culture here, as is in South Africa, Australia, Canada and the USA is ingrained into society (by habit; ease of getting food from supermarkets, restaurants, take-aways and social gatherings; traditional way of eating and lack of knowledge of protein sources). There used to be very little tolerance towards anyone wishing to eat differently.

Against this background, living in a country that not only relies heavily on the animal kingdom for food and clothing, any vegan requests were met with either a blank stare or slight bewilderment (at best) or one was simply denied alternative meal choices (at worst). I often had to walk out of restaurants.

This was 8 years ago when I had a long, hard look at my life-style and diet after yet another family member died of heart disease in South Africa. On one side of my family EVERYONE for the past 5 generations had and has diabetes type 2; on the other side of the family, high blood pressure, strokes and cancer run in a few generations. Both sides of the family, male and female, have heart disease (and 3 members have had their heart operations already).

Not wanting to go any of those scary disease routes – all of which can be fully preventable – I educated myself on alternative diets by reading, researching, going to seminars, attending vegan cooking courses and talking to vegetarians and vegans. I inevitably ended up at the vegan diet which is the most healthy way to eat for our bodies and the most sensible way of obtaining our food for the sake of our planet.

Things have slowly but surely started to change about 5 years ago, and suddenly in the last 2 years a number of vegan (or with vegan choices) restaurants, cafés and delis have opened up. To be vegan is thankfully not strange anymore; asking for vegan choices is now met with a list of dishes to choose from (or a willingness to change dishes). People are not shy anymore and whisper they are vegan – in fact, many establishments are proud to offer plant-based meals and dishes that are clearly labelled VEGAN, and not just vegetarian anymore.

I’ll be writing regular postings about being a vegan in Auckland (specifically) or New Zealand (in general). There are societies, clubs, exhibitions and events to attend. The supermarkets, organic stores and delis that made it easy for us vegans I will list. I will also talk about restaurants, cafés and food stores that are vegan-friendly; the wonderful farmers’ markets, and where to buy vegan home and personal products. There are also a handful of vegan and raw vegan cooking schools and lessons to attend, vegan bookshops and even vegan chocolates to buy!

Benessere: well being, a book by Laurinda Erasmus


Next posting: Vegan events, exhibitions and societies.

Article by Laurinda Erasmus, author of BENESSERE well-beingOpens in a new window: vegan & sugar-free eating for a healthy life-style. Quinoa Publishing.

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