Join Us As We Talk To Plant-Based Advocate, Mira Weiner

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

Mira Weiner is an entrepreneur, food consultant and plant-based advocate. Mira is passionate about conscious living, plant-based nourishment and holistic healing. She’s a networker, creative cook and country pumpkin who hopes to inspire people to eat more plants which is better for the planet, animals and our bodies. Mira is an original creative and loves recreating her favourite meals and treats that heal instead of hurt. Her recipes are free from gluten, dairy and refined sugar with alternatives for oil-free, nut-free and grain-free too.

Can you tell us a bit about how you found your way to this new journey/lifestyle, i.e. what led you here?

I have been blessed to be vegetarian since the womb, both my parents are vegetarian, and my beautiful mother was vegetarian when she was pregnant with me too. So, I am one of the rare veggie humans who has never eaten fish, chicken or meat. However, I was a big dairy lover, and it was definitely the most challenging to give up for me. Dairy is addictive and I think it’s often the last hurdle for many people who struggle to go dairy-free.

Mira WeinerAs a vegetarian, I always thought I ate predominantly healthy but looking back I was eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and dairy. I was obsessed with feta cheese, I ordered an extra portion with every restaurant meal and never thought I could live without it.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with extreme burn out and severe adrenal fatigue which led to intense anxiety and panic attacks. It was during this time that I was forced to re-access my life and embark on a new healing journey.

For me, it was a big wakeup call and I started with vegan keto for 6 months before transitioning to a whole-foods plant-based lifestyle. Going gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free was incredibly beneficial for both my physical and mental health and overall wellbeing.

SA is so traditionally a meat-eating culture, how do see this evolving and why is it important?

Growing up in South Africa and more specifically a small town in the middle of nowhere was definitely challenging. Chicken was viewed a vegetable in many of my neighbour’s homes and I was always the weird kid at school with interesting plant-based lunches of things like soba noodles, tofu and vegetables when all I wanted was a ‘normal’ sandwich, haha. I dream about those delicious lunches now. Seeing the plant-based movement become an unstoppable and growing trend has been incredible.

I truly believe that eating more plants is better for your body, animals and the planet. There is definitely a collective consciousness that is shifting towards a life of kindness and compassion.

I think a combination of the current pandemic has really forced us to slow down and reflect on our lives as well as David Attenborough’s recent documentary, A Life on Our Planet. Which really brought home the devastating effects and environmental destruction that we have had on our planet, ecosystem and the lives of all beings.

During the lockdown, we saw how popular home food delivery became and the access to organic seasonal produce that could be delivered straight to your door during the stricter lockdown levels. Sadly, our food production has changed so much and chemically grown food has overtaken naturally grown food causing great destruction to our soil health, water systems and overall wellbeing.

Supporting locally grown organic farms means that the quality of food is not only better for our health but also the health of the planet with the added bonus of supporting the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and families.

It has been amazing to see how fast the trend has spread globally and especially in South Africa, where more and more food chains, supermarkets and restaurants are including plant-based options on their menus. Plant-based living really is for everyone regardless of socio-economic status or background, it is possible to live simply and affordably without buying all the fake meats and expensive substitutes. Demand creates change and collectively we have the power to inspire change through what we choose to support through our everyday purchases. It is these small changes that will create big impacts.

Why is this message of plant-based nutrition so important to you?

I have used a combination of plant-based nourishment and holistic therapies to kickstart my healing journey and I truly believe in the saying by Hippocrates –

“let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.”

We can change the world through our kitchens, little kitchens and big kitchens across the globe. If we can individually and collectively open our awareness, shift our consciousness and raise our vibration then together we have the power to change the world; one meal at a time, one bite at a time and one kitchen at a time. I am extremely passionate about inspiring people to eat more plants but also about the rise of whole foods – as we become more aware of what we fuel our bodies with and the vital role that food plays in not only our health but also our healing. I enjoy creating in the free-from food space focused on allergy-friendly foods that are free from gluten, toxic oils, GMO foods, refined sugars, preservatives and artificial flavourings. I love recreating my favourite meals that heal instead of heart and showcasing how food can be truly nourishing and nutritious but also most importantly – DELICIOUS.

What are some of your favourite gateway or transitional dishes that can help someone introduce more plant-based meals into their diets?

I think for many people, going plant-based is a total mindset shift if you have grown up with a meal consisting of meat with a side of starch and some vegetables. Often people simply stop eating meat and just eat the starch and vegetables which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and is difficult to sustain. There is such an abundance of different foods available and it’s important to make sure that you are getting the right nutrition for your body as we are all unique and different.

Mira Weiner
Mira Weiner

You have to change the way you see a meal and how you visualize your plate. I like to think of the plate being – ½ vegetables, ¼ whole grains, ¼ plant-based protein and then a healthy fat in the form of a sauce or dressing.

Plants are phenomenal and, in the plant-based eating space we can basically recreate anything.

There is such a wide variety of vegetables, fungi, fruits, legumes, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, flowers, spices, sea vegetables and more available to play with, create from and enjoy. It really is an unending adventure into creativity. Some of my personal favourite, quick and easy meals include stir-fries, broth bowls, pasta, frittatas, bakes, soups, burgers, pizzas, wholesome sarmies, hearty salad bowls and buddha bowls to name a few.

What changes have you noticed in yourself and your wellbeing through this journey so far?

The most important lesson that I have learnt, is that each of us are unique individuals and different things work for different people at different times in their life. I will always support kindness over cruelty, but I am personally a big advocate for whole-food plant-based living because it has saved my life by improving my physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

From gut health, energy levels and sleep quality to blood sugar levels, hormonal support and weight loss as well as a massive shift in my mental health – eating a plant-based diet has had incredible healing benefits for me.

There is a lot of talk about plant-based diets vs veganism, some think that they are one in the same but they are in fact, slightly different, what is your take on this?

I love this question! As mentioned previously, I will always support kindness over cruelty. Personally, I am a big fan of buying, creating with and enjoying real food that is natural, not processed and chemical-free. There is a huge link and scientific research between chronic illnesses, auto-immune diseases, cancers and mental health disorders amongst other illnesses that are caused by the food we consume. Food can either harm us or heal us. Food should be fuel that is energizing, not toxic or disease-causing.

Vegan food is focused on all things cruelty-free for living beings but is often overly processed and filled with toxic oils, sugars, preservatives, artificial flavourings and genetically modified foods.

Whereas whole-food plant-based living is focused on nutrition that will not only help the environment and animals but that can prevent, control and even reverse many chronic illnesses and diseases.

Nutrition and lifestyle are one of the most important factors in health and wellbeing. High vibrational and high-quality foods can reverse the revolution of food science that has created an epidemic of chronic disease.

What’s the most important part of your journey/experience that you want people to take away? Find your why?

Find your personal reason for doing this as it will help keep you motivated and so that you can enjoy this process or new journey. There are incredible benefits to living a plant-based lifestyle, start now where you are with what you have.

Keep things simple in the beginning by making small manageable changes such as swapping animal-based dairy to plant-based alternatives, incorporating #MeatFreeMondays into your week and then 3x #MeatFreeMeals into your week until you start having full plant-based days. I hope to inspire people to eat more plants and to prioritize their health by making time for their wellness now before they are forced to make time for their illness later like I was.

Mira Weiner – Recipe Inspiration

I’ve been in love with pasta since I can remember my first food memory. It was and will always be my absolute favourite foodie love affair. Pasta lover for life, YES! When I was a little kid I used to cook up a storm for friends and family. I often took pots of food across the road to feed the neighbours.

My mom worked from home and would look down out of her office window to see me at the age of about 10, leading kids much younger than me across the road carrying half her kitchen with us, haha. On the menu was usually some kind of pasta dish, salad and dessert.

Yes, pasta is easy to make, I had a couple of things I could whip up at a young age but because I loved pasta so much then and even more so now it was always my go-to for a quick meal. I honestly believe I was an Italian in my previous life, I could eat pasta or noodles for breakfast, lunch and supper.

This recipe is an ode to one of my first bosses, Kurt and Andre. When I was fresh out of high school, I worked at their fine dining restaurant in my hometown and it was an extremely popular spot for locals and international tourists.

One of the dishes that they made was a chicken and mushroom campagnola which they would also do as a vegetarian alternative and leave the chicken out. It was one of my favourite dishes at the restaurant – packed with dairy-based cream, white wine and wheat pasta. So in honour of this foodie memory and many lessons learnt working for my crazy, dynamic and talented bosses, I have re-created this beautiful dish as a vegan alternative as well as being dairy, gluten and alcohol-free.

A little note on apple cider vinegar with ‘the Mother’: Organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar is the most beneficial apple cider vinegar from a health perspective. The ‘mother’ refers to the yeast and bacteria that is formed during the fermentation process. Buying apple cider vinegar that includes the mother means that the little strands inside the bottle (parts of the ‘mother’) have the protein, enzymes and gut-friendly bacteria that you want from using apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has nutritional benefits for blood sugar levels, digestion and heart health.

Mira’s Plant-Based Creamy Vegan Mushroom Campagnola

Mira WeinerMushroom Campagnola: styling by Christi Wasserman  and photography by Samantha Lowe

Serves: 2 hungry humans or 4 small portions
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 tbsp cultured cashew butter or extra virgin olive oil
250g mushrooms, sliced (portabello or large brown mushrooms work well)
300g gluten-free pasta of choice – measurement is dried weight
1-1,5 cups full fat coconut milk
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar with ‘the mother’
½ cup cashew nuts, soaked overnight or minimum of 4 hours
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tsp dried vegetable stock (my favourite pantry staple from Mary Ann’s) – alternatively you could also sub garlic powder, onion powder and herb salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp pure maple syrup or light agave nectar
1 tbsp jalapeno relish (optional)
Generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper to taste

To serve:
Roughly chopped toasted cashew nuts

Method

Cook pasta according to packet instructions.

In a large saucepan, heat the cultured cashew butter or olive oil on medium heat. Once hot add the mushrooms. Fry for a few minutes and then add the dried vegetable stock and fresh rosemary. Cook until the mushrooms are crispy and the pan is dry. Add the apple cider vinegar to the pan and let it cook out. This is called deglazing – it adds immense flavour to the dish. Wine is often used to deglaze a pan but apple cider vinegar is my secret hack for this dish. The vinegar will basically cook out but infuse the tangy flavour into the mushrooms.

In a blender, combine the cashew nuts, coconut milk (1 cup), onion powder, garlic powder, maple syrup or light agave nectar, jalapeno relish, salt and black pepper together and blend until smooth and creamy. If the mixture is very thick, thin out with the additional ½ cup of coconut milk.

Pour the creamy cashew and coconut sauce into the mushroom mix and gently stir through, allow to cook for 5-7 minutes on low heat until the sauce is nicely thickened. Add the cooked pasta into the sauce mix and combine well. Serve with roughly chopped toasted cashew nuts. Enjoy!

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