As a new feature on The Beet, Elysabeth Alfano interviews notable plant-based personalities each week to bring you inspiring stories that inform and inspire you on your plant-based journey. Here, she interviewed Chef AJ, as a follow up to The Beet's story covering Chef AJ’s original weight loss strategy that helped her lose 100 pounds on a plant-based diet, by cutting out the oil.

Want easy tips to keep it light and healthy at home? Chef AJ lost 100 pounds by following a diet approach that is basically the opposite of keto: cutting out oil, relying on plant-based whole foods like potatoes, and filling high-fiber foods that offer high-nutrients per calorie. She said then that she followed the approach of Doctor John McDougall, an advocate of low-fat, high starch diet, and well-known diet book author of The Starch Solution. Dr. McDougall gave Chef AJ early advice that changed her life: "The fat you eat is the fat you wear."

Now over a year later, Chef AJ has had no problem keeping the weight off. To find out exactly how the energetic 60-year old keeps it light and healthy in her plant-based kitchen, Alfano checked in with Chef AJ, who has shared her top five tips for saving calories, money and time in the plant-based kitchen. In true Chef AJ fashion, they’re ingenious!

Keep It Light Tip 1. Water is Free

Chef AJ: Water is free. If your recipes are really flavorful enough, and I believe many of mine are, the store-bought broth is expensive, and you’ve got the waste of the packaging, you’ve got to think of the environment. So, what I say is you can use water for almost every place you use broth. You can also make your own broth from scraps. It’s so easy to do that in your instant pot and instead of paying up to four dollars a carton, it’s free!

EA: Water and mushrooms make mushroom broth and it’s even better, to tell you the truth.

Chef AJ: Mushroom powder to get that flavor.

EA: Mushroom powder, oh, what a great tip!

Keep It Light Tip 2. Measure Out Your Recipes in Advance

Chef AJ: Measure stuff in advance and by that I mean: We love my Cauliflower Bisque recipe, we eat it every week. So instead of measuring all the spices every time I make it, every time a spice jar gets empty I wash it in the dishwasher, (then fill it will all the dry ingredients/spices for the recipe) and put a little piece of tape to label it.  So, this one says “cauliflower bisque” and then I’ll do maybe 6 or 7 or as many jars as I have and so then when I make the different recipes I don’t have to measure it every single time. It’s done for me!

Keep It Light Tip 3. Flavored vinegar. More, Please!

Chef AJ: These are so versatile especially for somebody that is either avoiding oil, salt, or both because these are SOS-free. Any sugar in these is from the grapes and it’s naturally occurring. If you don’t feel like making a stir fry sauce, [vinegar comes in] flavors like curry, teriyaki, garlic. This is such potent stuff. Use a couple of tablespoons of these. You know, the sweet flavors like the lemon and the peach can be used to make Italian soda without sugar. I actually have two or three videos on my YouTube page just cooking with vinegar. They’re so versatile, they’re time-savers and they’re just absolutely delicious.

Keep It Light Tip 4. Bag it!

Chef AJ: My tip is to get a potato bag [which you can buy for microwaving potatoes fast]. Now, if you have a microwave in your hotel room, you can very quickly microwave a potato or sweet potato. These are great for tortillas, too, to keep them warm, and if you’re traveling for taking a little snack with you instead of stopping at Wendy's, you've got your baked potato here. If I’m batch cooking it’s one thing, but let’s say I’m making a recipe like a curry dish and it calls for one or two potatoes. I don’t want to sit there for an hour and turn on the oven, especially living in the desert. So, these little potato bags (for microwaving potatoes) can be great.

Keep It Light Tip 5. Instant pot, baby!

Chef AJ: An instant pot electric pressure cooker! A can of beans is great, but they can be a dollar, two dollars, three dollars, but with the instant pot, you can cook [dry] beans in ten minutes, if you soak them, and grains and artichokes in seven minutes, and corn on the cob in three minutes, and steel-cut oats in five minutes.

If you’re like me and you have a dog, you can just throw in all of your ingredients (in the instant pot) for dinner, take a bubble bath, take your dog for a walk, you come back and dinner’s ready. That’s really how I cook and it’s hard [to admit] because I did go to culinary school, but I didn’t know about a pressure cooker then. Now I would just say “save your money” because it’s all I use—my pressure cooker and my rice cooker and my air fryer.


For the full interview, click hereElysabeth Alfano is a plant-based expert for mainstream media, breaking down the plant-based health, food, business and environmental news for the general public on radio and TV.

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