Ever thought of going full vegan, but you were too intimidated by the process? The whole rigmarole of revamping the pantry, scouring ingredient lists, and radically changing the way you cook can feel overwhelming. But for food blogger Christina Collie of BabeMadeBlog.com, transitioning into a vegan diet can be fun, engaging, and full of culinary surprises. Half Jamaican and half American, Collie grew up on decadent pasta dishes and Caribbean-style curries. Now as a vegan (and a recent law grad), she finds creative and easy ways to have her cake and eat it too — incorporating these delicious flavors into her healthy vegan lifestyle.
We spoke more with Collie about her own vegan journey, from her favorite recipes, to the special vegan ingredients that even sway her meat-loving family.
When did you first become passionate about cooking? I definitely became more interested in food as an adult. As a kid I had very little interest creating food, even when I moved out of my parents’ house. When I was 19, I would do a lot of frozen dinners, or pita sandwiches. All very easy things that didn’t require cooking. It wasn’t until I became vegan in 2015 that I didn’t have that luxury anymore. And it sparked my interest in food, because I started following recipes and finding dishes that were amazing and also vegan. That kept me going. Every day was about creating something new that tasted delicious.
Why did you decide to turn vegan? It’s started as a health thing. Back in 2015, I had just finished my first year of law school, and I wasn’t particularly healthy. I started watching food documentaries on Netflix. They really discuss in detail the food industry and the effects of eating animal products on your body. Slowly but surely I cut down my intake. First it was vegetarian for a month. Then I noticed I was going a couple of days without eating any animal products. No cheese or eggs. Then eventually I became one hundred percent vegan.
Was there one vegan dish that convinced you to transition completely? Like yes, I can do this! The first thing I made following a vegan recipe were these raw vegan brownies, using dates, syrup and nuts. Everything goes into a food processor and they were just incredible! I couldn’t believe I made something so simple and so quickly that tasted so good. Even though I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, that was the first thing I made that made me realize yes, I could probably do this.
What do you enjoy most about cooking vegan? Making things that taste good! If I want to make tacos, I think, oh, I can do mushrooms, quinoa and make a vegan sour cream to put on top. I get to create something in my head, And that first bite is the greatest thing I enjoy about cooking.
What vegan meals do you enjoy cooking for your family now? Do they have any favorites? Apparently my curry is really good. It’s the thing that gets the most compliments. I do a sweet potato and lentil curry, or some cauliflower curry. With some rice, that’s probably my staple dish in the family.
Has anyone in your family become vegan as well? Overall, no. Not completely vegan. But they have made a few changes. I try to convince them through my food. Just last weekend I went over to my mom’s house and made my pancakes and breakfast sandwiches for my sister and my mom. When they tasted it, they had a big “aha” moment. They’ve started buying vegan ingredients for themselves. My sister now buys the vegan mayo because she can’t tell the difference, and it’s a little lighter calorie-wise. Even my dad. He’s Jamaican and not at all into the vegan thing, but since trying some of my dishes, he has cut down on his meat intake.
What vegan swap-outs do you use when cooking Caribbean dishes? Like for your curries? There are these soya chunks that I didn’t know existed until two years ago. We went to Jamaica over the summer and I had curry soya chunks, and it almost has the same consistency as something like goat. It has a toothsome meat texture. I tried to duplicate it at home. It wasn’t as good as the one I had in Jamaica. But that is a swap-out I use for curry. The texture is really satisfying.
Which Caribbean dishes do you find lend themselves well to vegan cooking? I would say curry is probably the best thing to adapt. It’s satiated that Caribbean tooth of mine. I also found Caribbean vegetables in general are great. I love making plantains. Breadfruit is really good. Those are things you can enjoy that you don’t have to modify or change.
What dish do you wish was vegan? Oxtail! Without even thinking about it. My stepmom makes in my opinion the best oxtail. but she can’t veganized it. Although all the other ingredients are vegan, except for the oxtail itself. But I haven’t been able to duplicate that oxtail flavor and texture.
What advice would you give someone thinking about becoming vegan? My biggest advice is to take your time and not be so hard on yourself. It’s easy to make mistakes, especially when you go out to eat. Because sometimes the server in the restaurant doesn’t know what vegan exactly is. Or at the beginning there might be something that you’re craving, you feel like you need to have it. My biggest thing is to take your time with it. Maybe start doing one or two days a week. Then slowly adjust yourself to it, so you don’t have to think twice about it. That’s why recipes were so important for me when I was transitioning.
Recipe Fire Round:
Favorite vegan appetizer? My tofu nacho cheese sauce that I make. That one is my absolute favorite. It’s easy to make. And I can mix it with vegetables for a broccoli cheese sauce.
Favorite vegan weeknight dinner? Probably pasta. I can make that in less than 15 minutes. And no matter what pasta you do, it’s super satisfying and delicious
Favorite vegan dessert of yours? Coconut ice cream. I use full fat coconut milk or cream. You mix in your preferred sweetener and flavorings, like strawberry. You put it into a ice cream maker and just freeze it. It’s amazing.
Favorite vegan party food? Cauliflower wings! Those are my absolute favorite. Beer-batter or panko-encrusted. I’m actually working on a recipe for jerk cauliflower wings too.
Favorite vegan date night meal of yours? Macaroni and cheese. When I think decadence I think really cheesy, hot macaroni and cheese with the crust on top. It’s my favorite thing to have on a night like that.
Favorite (and most surprising) vegan revamp? Probably pizza. Even before going vegan, the idea of non-meat and non-dairy pizza just seemed really weird to me. I eventually found some vegan cheese brands I liked, like Earth Grown Mozzarella Shreds (found exclusively at Aldi) and Miyoko’s Mozzarella Cheese. It was surprisingly good.