Santa Barbara-based chef Dayna McLeod has been cooking gourmet vegan meals for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Bill Clinton and Oprah for years and was most recently featured as a contestant on ABC's cooking competition The Taste. More than 60 of her recipes fill vegan author Kathy Freston's New York Times bestselling book, The Lean, and are sure to leave you questioning your own dietary leanings. She loves helping busy parents adopt healthy, plant-based recipes into their family's routine and has a few easy tips for the vegan-curious among us.
An interview with vegan chef Dayna McLeod on how to ease into a healthy, vegan diet.
How do you advise a family to test drive a vegan lifestyle?
Chef Dayna^I always suggest starting with just one day a week. Try a "meatless Monday" and see how it goes. It you try to change everything at once, it won't work, but one day or even one vegan meal per week can be exposure. Make it a gradual change and remember that every meal is one step to a healthier lifestyle.
What are the key grocery items to omit and replace?
CD^Again, I would start slowly and just replace one staple item like milk or yogurt. There are so many tasty alternatives (like soy yogurts, almond and coconut milks). It may take a year to completely cut out dairy, but in the end, you won't miss it.
What's your go-to after school snack for your own daughter?
CD^She loves chocolate coconut ice cream! She doesn't get to eat it every day, but it's a favorite treat just like any other kid. And it's important to remember that being vegan doesn't mean being weird or different. There are plenty of alternatives.
Do you have a favorite meal that delights meat lovers?
CD^Absolutely! My black bean burgers. I feed these to meat lovers all the time and they are quickly won over! You can't beat the hearty and fresh flavors in these. (See recipe below)
How can I still wow my family with a celebratory dessert that still tastes indulgent?
CD^Whip up a batch of my chocolate mousse and your family will never guess the secondary ingredient is tofu! (See recipe below)
And finally, what surprised you most about your experience being a contestant on The Taste?
CD^Hands down, the best part of being on The Taste was the friendships and connections I made. I met all these amazing chefs and we learned so much from each other, and we continue to share ideas and lean on one another. I feel like I have this great chef support system — a network of 50 people who I can call upon. I'm really close with Diane, who came in second place, and we all email each other when we have questions about recipes.
Brazilian Black Bean Patties
- 1/2 cup tomatillo salsa (or salsa of your choice)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained
- 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and cubed (I used peaches and it was awesome!)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
- 1 small green chili pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup tomatillo salsa
- 2 teaspoons light agave nectar
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 avocado, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a food processor, mix the salsa, cumin, coriander, parsley, chili powder and black beans. Blitz the mixture until it is very smooth. Transfer the bean mixture from the food processor and put it into a large mixing bowl. With a spatula, fold in the green onions, 1 cup breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. The mix should be evenly combined.
- Shape the mixture into 8 even patties. In a shallow container, pour in the remaining breadcrumbs and dredge each patty. Transfer the patties to a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix together the mangoes, peppers, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, salsa and agave in a small bowl. Chill until serving time.
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Fry each patty for 3 minutes on each side. Be careful not to let the patties burn. Transfer the patties to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil.
- Keep the patties warm on a baking sheet in the oven until ready to serve (no longer than 15 minutes).
- Just before plating, dice the avocado and toss with the salsa to combine.
- Serve 2 patties on each plate and spoon the mango salsa over the top of each one. Serve immediately.
Vegan Chocolate Mousse
By Dayna McLeod (featured in the book The Lean by Kathy Freston)
- 12 ounces silken tofu
- 1 bar high quality chocolate of your choice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- Melt chocolate over a double boiler, stirring constantly. In a food processor or blender, combine tofu, chocolate, vanilla and agave and blend. Occasionally scrape the sides and blend for 2 minutes. Transfer mousse to a serving container of your choice and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Garnish with fruit or zest of your choice.