Bárbara Vela created Upála Tea & Desserts in Quito to break away from the stereotypes that surround vegan food: that “it’s just salad”, “it tastes bad”, “it’s weird”… And as her venture flourished, Bárbara little by little changed her lifestyle completely. She stopped eating meat and discovered the art of plant-based food (disclaimer: it’s not the same as traditional vegan cuisine).
‘Plant-based’ is characterized by the way you deal with substitution ingredients: it’s not simply a matter of making “meat” out of lentils or beans, but putting together the correct combination of vegetables to get more than just the taste, but the nutritional protein requirements as well. This led Barbara to learn about nutrition, about how to take advantage of every ingredient. And some of her recipes have become true odes to diversity.
“There are basic substitutes that suddenly become central —and flavorful— ingredients…” In baking, for example, we are used to including milk, flour, butter and eggs in all of our recipes. As a vegan cook, Barbara explores dozens of possibilities: almond and coconut milk; cocoa butter, avocado; banana, even applesauce; chia to replace eggs and when you add the gluten-free component, you have gluten-free oatmeal, coconut, quinoa, amaranth… due to this great variety of ingredients, a dessert is no longer sinful, but highly nutritious.
While she figures out the ideal formulas to recreate recipes, a new awareness surges when seeking out local and organic products and producers who can guarantee the source of everything she uses. Any missing ingredient, or sudden discovery of a new, unusual ingredient, impacts the way she cooks: “I put my dish together with the ingredients I have,” she says.
From this point on, thinking up an environmentally-friendly diet seems simple. The diversity of ingredients itself is central to conceiving a diet less dependent on unsustainable products. We only use a very small percentage (less than 1%) of the crops humanity has domesticated throughout history; and giving forgotten ingredients a chance, breaks the demand chains for monoculture produce. ‘Environmentally-friendly’ agriculture respects the consumer in the same way that Barbara respects a ‘conscious’ recipe and measures the value of every ingredient. New paradigms for new culinary trends…