A Passion for Plant Based Food (just in Time for Christmas): Interview with Therese Elgquist

The perfect dessert for the festive season: Cinnamon fried winter apples with nutty crumble
photo by Fanny Hansson

 
She is one of the foremost voices of modern, plant based home cooking. Therese Elgquist is a food creator, food stylist and cookbook author and her simple and approachable yet creative and hearty recipes inspire people to eat better and wiser, to love healthy food and cooking, because, in order to be fully nourished by our food, we must take pleasure in it.

I embraced conscious eating a long time ago, but since my recently switching to a complete non-meat (and almost entirely non-animal diet), after having only occasionally eaten only organic non-red meat and fish for more than twenty years, Therese’s plant-forward food website, Plant based by Thess, has become one of my go-to sources for cooking inspiration, even more so than before. Every new recipe discovered that I want to try out becomes one of the day’s pleasures and it’s a great reminder how, with food, too, less is more.

Because, for me, simple, fresh and healthy really does taste best. And Therese is one of those amazing persons who continue to teach me every day that, no matter what you want or need to cut out, it’s incredible how the seemingly more limited resources can feed your imagination. But also that you should always cherish the moment – that small and meaningful moment of preparing food with love and care, by your own hand, and sharing it with the people you love. Because food is not only the best medicine, but it’s also about wholesome and togetherness and about returning to the simpler aspects of life and to what makes you happy.

I have recently talked to Therese about her food philosophy, about the importance of nourishing both your body and soul and about her dream dinner guest. In our interview, she also shares a few favourite holiday recipes (which will certainly be part of my family’s holiday menu) and the latest good movies she’s seen. That’s all I could ask for, just in time for Christmas.
 
 

”I’ve never felt so free and at ease
as when I started to live without all my rules.”

 
 

Therese Elgquist photographed by Fanny Hansson

 
Since when have you been nurturing your passion for food and where did you learn to cook?
I’ve been working with food for almost 4 years now. It started with an internship at one of the biggest food magazines in Sweden, after which I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do: Share my plant based passion and food philosophy in every way possible. I’ve always been cooking. Growing up in a family where food is love and to gather around food was something we did daily, cooking came naturally.

What sparked your interest in healthy food and plant-forward cooking? Is there anything in particular that has influenced your view of self-nourishment or self-care? What is your philosophy on food and living well?
Plant based food is so very creative – and as a creative person I found that cooking with plants was yet another way for me to get a creative outlet! I’ve always been pretty health conscious, coming from a home where most foods were made from natural ingredients. During quite a few years I suffered from different eating disorders and over exercising; that was a time when I was eating an extremely strict diet and lots of foods where “strictly prohibited”. Today my philosophy on living well has to do both with nourishing your body with nourishing food, instead of living by rules, to practice self care and self love + taking time to rest and be a free person. I’ve never felt so free and at ease as when I started to live without all my rules. Also, my philosophy is all about adding as much greens to your food as possible, both because it does your body (gut and mind) good, but also because it’s DELICIOUS and, more often than not, makes the planet happier.

Have you had any challenges along the way, any set-backs, since you started out down this road? If so, how did you overcome those?
To be honest, some days it feels really scary to go this road. To create my own business, follow my dream and feeling comfortable I’m on the right path. Sometimes a few days can pass without much at all happening – and then I think “okay, that was it. Is was fun while it lasted”. Especially in the beginning, I had to deal with this feeling quite often, but then, as the years have passed by, I’ve learned that those feelings will come every now and then – probably for all people. And that I can watch them, not letting them affect me in a bad way but rather see them as fuel. And then again I remember how much I love to do what I do, how much it gives me and how happy I am to get the chance to inspire and share my philosophy to so many people.
 

A hearty seasonal salad: Roasted butternut squash and parsnip salad
photo by Agnes Maltesdotter

 
What’s the difference between animal and plant-based protein? Are there plant-based foods that are complete protein sources on their own? What should a vegan pay special attention to when it comes to their daily dietary intake?
Both animal and plant based protein are made up by amino acids in different combinations; the difference is that in animal protein you’ll find enough of the essential amino acid which we need to get from our food in one type of protein (for example, in one piece of fish). In general, this is not the case when it comes to plant based protein – though it is easily solved by combining different kinds of plant protein throughout the day! ​​Buckwheat (editor’s note: here is a great buckwheat snack), hemp seeds and soy are a few sources of complete plant based protein. The most important thing is to eat a wide range of different veggies, legumes, seeds, nuts, leaf greens and cereals. And to eat enough! As unrefined plant based food generally contains less calories than, for example, animal products, you’ll need to eat more to reach your daily intake goals. It’s when you eat as much calories as your body needs that the protein can serve as building rocks to repair and build up all the cells in your body and other things we want the protein to do in our bodies.

Can you tell me the five plants with the highest protein content?
Nuts, seeds, legumes and cereals have a great protein content, for example:
Soy (plain beans/tofu/tempeh)
Hemp seeds
Lentils
Quinoa
Cacao (!)

How much attention do you pay to the fruit/legumes/veggies/grains/nuts proportions in your daily menu? And how do you approach each meal? What’s the most important meal of the day for you?
To be honest, I’ve never weighed my food or though about the proportions that much at all. I make sure to fill my plate with a wide range of plant based stuff and eat until I’m full and that works very well! I find all meals to be equally important! I love my breakky as much as I really need my proper lunch and afternoon snack. Also, I love rounding up the day with a nice and light meal at home.

What’s your go-to snack?
Bliss balls or smoothies.

Your recipes are so approachable, yet creative and educational. What is your process when it comes to recipe development?
Thanks! I often start with one or a couple of plats that I want to create the dish out of. Then I add bits and pieces to create a complete dish – both when it comes to nutrition and textures/flavours! I let the seasons, what I’m craving at the moment and what I have at home guide me!
 

White bean dip with mushrooms and herb pesto | photo by Fanny Hansson

 
 

”My grandmother would be my dream dinner guest.
Also, I’d love to invite Jamie Oliver for a plant based feast.”

 
 
Do you have a favourite food memory?
Actually, I don’t think so, I don’t have a particular one that comes to mind. But what I do know is that my most precious food memories have to do more with where, with whom and in which context I’ve enjoyed the meal – rather than exactly what I ate. Of course I’ve had lots of great experiences with fantastic food, but the most memorable food memories would be the times I’ve enjoyed food cooked with loved ones served during picnics, family Friday dinners, breakfast at a beach somewhere, etc.

What are the ingredients you can not live without? And is there anything in particular you are looking forward to incorporating into your recipes this cold season?
Nutbutters! I have lots of different kinds at home. Love them! Plus whole nuts and seeds, too. Also, I love all types of brassica.

What is the one thing you can not start the day without? Do you drink coffee and in what form? If not, what is your drink of choice in the morning?
Hm, nothing really, think I’m quite flexible even though I like waking up with my routines. I really like to start the day with a workout or just a walk. I don’t drink coffee, and I never have since I don’t like the taste. But I love my cup of tea or some days I have a golden oat latte!

Are there any particular supplements, herbs, or tinctures/tonics that you take regularly and find to be helpful with your energy level and general wellness?
I like matcha and maca for my hot drinks. Then I take B12 supplements (that’s basically the only thing that is hard to get from an all plant based diet) and also vitamin D supplements during the dark period of the year as we don’t see the sun enough here in the north to get the amount we need from the sun. From time to time I also take Dong Quai, a Chinese herb that is supposed to be balancing for the hormone system.
 

Berry smoothies and coconut chia bowl with granola | photo by Therese Elgquist

 
What is your idea of beauty?
Both internal and external – but I think I see the two as different kinds of beauty! Internal beauty is what lies beneath what you first see when meeting a person. It’s the inner beauty that really touches me when meeting someone I like being around. With that being said, as well as paintings/views/things can be beautiful to watch I’d say that the external view of a human – in say a photo – could also be beautiful to watch – even if you wouldn’t know anything about that person’s inner beauty.

Do you have any beauty tips you’ve found to be especially useful throughout the years?
Have enough sleep! Also, eat nourishing food and find the beauty products that work for you and your skin. For example, I like using natural oils for my face, and not just creams.

Do you consider plant-based eating to be the single most important change you’ve made to your routine or lifestyle in terms of wellness? What is your advice to someone starting out on the same path?
Starting to eat plant based food wasn’t really a big change for me – it’s been a transition going on during the last 10 years or so! So it’s hard to see any particular change, I just know that I feel very good, satisfied and happy with eating a plant based diet!

​My advice would be to maybe read a bit about plant based food. Find a cookbook that resonates with you, it could be good to know your basic ingredients, etc., when starting to cook plant based food. I’ve written two cook books: The New Green Protein (available in Swedish, Dutch, French, Norwegian and German – the last 4 with different titles) and The New Green Salad (available in Swedish and next year also in Dutch). Start by exploring new ways to cook with the veggies you’re used to. Then, when you feel comfortable with a bunch of new recipes, you can start to incorporate new veggies in the dishes. Without even thinking about it, you’ll soon have a whole new knowledge about the plant based world – and planning for and cooking plant based food will be easy peasy.

Speaking of your cook books, I have to admit that, as much as I enjoy your recipes on your website, I’ve always found leafing through a cook book to be a different, special kind of thing. And I would love to have one of your books on my kitchen shelf. Will they be available in English sometime in the future?
I really hope they will be in the future! I’m happy that you like my recipes, and I agree on the cook books being a special thing. Love cook books myself.
 

Pumpkin and coconut soup with rocket and roasted pumpkin seeds | photo by Therese Elgquist

 
Living well is not just about the nourishment of food. What else do you do on a daily basis to feel and look your best?
Being active! I’ve just found the love in CrossFit – it’s SO much fun! I spend as much time as I can at the crossFit box, and then I run in between the workouts. Then I walk almost everywhere, standing up most of the days – if not in the kitchen when cooking also when I’m at my office writing articles, recipes, etc. Also, I’m starting most mornings with 10-20 minutes of meditation and my self care beauty routine. Other than that, I make sure to nourish myself with the company of people that I love, resting as much as I need and SLEEPING! I love sleeping!

What’s your special go-to recipe for the holiday season?
Filling a baking tray with seasonal veggies (pumpkin, kale, carrots, brussels sprouts) which I roast in the oven until soft and slightly crisp around the edges – yet al dente. Then I’d toss it all with some cooked cereals – for example cooked naked oats or sorghum – and a mustard vinaigrette. I’d add some toasted seeds for crunch, and some dried apricots for sweetness. Then I’d mix a saffron hummus with Swedish yellow peas to go with the hearty salad. And maybe I’d also make a quick kale pesto!

What about the dessert? Would you mind sharing a perfectly healthy treat that tastes every bit (and bite) indulgent for the up-coming holidays?
Of course – I’d love to share a bunch! Starting with the perfect Christmas breakky: my saffron scones with coconut yoghurt! On my website you’ll find more seasonal recipes (ed. note: like cinnamon fried winter apples with nutty crumble or these almond and apricot bliss balls with winter spices ).
 

Therese’s Christmas breakfast of choice: Saffron scones with coconut yoghurt
photo by Jonny Lindh

 
 

”Don’t take life too seriously. Do what makes you happy.
Be kind, loving and unpretentious.”

 
 
Tell me a favourite family Christmas tradition:
The days before Christmas our family spends together walking in the old parts of the town, visiting Christmas markets, having lunch and just spending time together. The day before Christmas we spend at home, cooking great food, write Christmas cards, listening to Christmas music and having lots of “fika”. I really love those days!

What is your favourite thing to do in Gothenburg and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
Just hang out, chill and live; spend time by the water, in the woods, have a fika at a cosy café and cook dinner at home. My family and friends would be the one thing I’d miss most if living abroad!

Your dream dinner guest is:
I always say my grandmother when I get this question, as I’ve never met her because she passed away when my dad was young. I would find it interesting to meet a person who had such an impact on my dad – and furthermore on myself! I’m really into understanding how people work, and what affects us to become who we are, etc. So, it would be great to meet her.

Also, I’d love to invite Jamie Oliver for a plant based feast. (ed.note: I’d love to hear how that goes!)

Words you live by:
Don’t take life too seriously. Do what makes you happy. Be kind, loving and unpretentious.

I am a cinephile and I have to ask: is there any particular film you keep coming back to, one that has influenced you creatively, personally or both?
Interesting question! I actually don’t see that many films, mostly because I find it hard to be still for that long time. Going to the cinema works, but I hardly watch films at home. The films I do like though, and the ones that affect me, would be the films that are based on a true story. Films about a person and their life, especially films where you get to follow the person for some time. I like to see films which make my mind wander off to experience that particular place or time for a couple of hours. Then, I’ll always love a beautiful love story, and films with music that resonates with me!

Then what’s the latest movie that you’ve watched at the cinema and loved?
I saw Bohemian Rhapsody just a week ago and really liked it. Also, a few weeks ago I saw A Star Is Born – liked that one very much as well!

I loved A Star Is Born very much, too, but haven’t had the chance to see Bohemian Rhapsody yet. One last question now: What makes you happy at the end of the day?
To be with the people that I love and make me feel happy. Talking, cooking and sharing thoughts on life – or the last movie we saw!
 

The New Green Protein cookbook | photo by Therese Elgquist

 
 

Plant based By Thess | Instagram: @plantbasedbythess

 

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