Sam Murphy is the creative genius behind the wildly popular Instagram account So Beautifully Real. In honor of the release of her first vegan cookbook, Beautifully Real Food, Sam joins me for an interview in which she talks about why she went vegan, her passion for creating and sharing deilicious plant-based food and most importantly, her desire to do so in the most authentic and real way possible.
[left: vegan BBQ pulled “pork” sliders. right: raspberry white chocolate slice. Full recipes below]
[interview – part one]
KJ: For those who don’t know you yet, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
SAM: Well – I’m Sam! *waves* Originally from the South Island of New Zealand, but now residing in Melbourne, Australia. I’m 24 years old and live by the beach with my partner, creating cakes by day and cooking more delicious vegan food by night. I am passionate about all things food, art and fitness related and enjoy dreaming about the many cats I wish to adopt.
KJ: When and why did you go vegan?
SAM: I went vegan around 3 years ago (2013/2014). I spent a few years immersed in the fitness industry prior to being vegan as a sponsored athlete and fitness model competitor. At the time, I thrived off a diet of chicken, fish, eggs and whey protein – however, not long after my competition, I rebounded and my relationship with food took a turn for the worst. My digestion, mental and physical health were all suffering. As I was searching the internet for a solution (yes, I was one of those people that googled their symptoms), I found a few YouTube videos about veganism. Initially, I was drawn to veganism for superficial reasons – being sold on the promise that I could eat as many potatoes as I wanted and become lean. It sounded all too good to be true, hence I gave it a shot. Much to my despair, I didn’t become super lean, however the trade off was that I began to feel amazing – I felt more energized, positive and creative. Following that, I spent a few months dabbling with various ways of eating vegan. (I’ve been raw vegan, 80/10/10, raw till four – you name it!) However, I found I reached my ‘happy place’ when I dropped the labels and just focussed on eating vegetables in all of their glory – no strings attached. It’s been a whirl wind journey ever since, but stumbling into the realm of veganism on accident was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
“I found I reached my ‘happy place’ when I dropped the labels and just focussed on eating vegetables in all of their glory – no strings attached.”
[image: some of Sam’s amazing vegan cheesecake creations]
KJ: Can you tell us about your new book? How did it come about and what was the creation process like?
SAM: I was approached by my (now) publishing team early last year, with the proposal of turning my creations into a cookbook. It was actually very uncanny and surreal timing. I’d just finished a sacred cacao ceremony facilitated by a good friend of mine, and during the meditation I asked for guidance surrounding my career as I was feeling a little lost and in need of direction. After the ceremony, I checked my phone – and there was the email. I thought it was a joke at first and another lot of spam email, but as I continued reading the lovely message from my Editor, Oli, I realised – that yes – somebody wanted to give me the chance to write a cookbook. It was one of those very rare moments where everything kind of stood still for a moment and I felt a huge nod from the universe. I burst into tears, laughing, crying – right on the spot and I’m pretty sure people thought I was crazy. I ran home to share the news with my partner, whom funnily enough days before I was talking with about the idea of writing a book. We had jokingly discussed how hard it would be to get a book deal… and well, here I was, holding one in my hand!
Writing the book is a whole other story in itself – I’d never written a book before and had no idea where to even start. Throughout the process, there were many frustrations and tears – Trying to shoot a whole cookbook in my tiny apartment kitchen proved challenging, but I’m so proud of the result and hope that you all love it. The book has over 100, indulgent vegan meals – I want to help people change the way they view food, and hopefully inspire people to be a little more courageous in the kitchen and not be afraid or intimidated by cooking with plants.
KJ: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to veganism?
SAM: That we only eat rabbit food! Honestly, I remember years ago when I first heard of the term ‘vegan’ – my carnivorous self laughed at the idea and wondered what the heck do they even eat! Well, now I know what they eat and it’s definitely not rabbit food! Creating delicious vegan food is my favourite thing to do – all day, every day. My main mission in life is to show people that anything – and I mean anything – can be ‘veganized’. Another misconception is based around the idea that there is this ‘perfect’ way of eating vegan. There are a LOT of different ways of eating vegan, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. I fell into the trap of believing that certain ways of eating vegan (ie, cutting out fats completely) made me superior. Well, in my honest opinion, it doesn’t and I feel that a more balanced approached of eating plant based needs to be voiced. It’s vital that as a vegan you focus on eating ALL food groups, otherwise you run the risk of being deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.
“My main mission in life is to show people that anything – and I mean anything – can be ‘veganized’.”
KJ: You’re known for your extra creative and often unusual creations (think sushi burger), how did you first become interested in cooking and creating art out of food?
SAM: Haha! The darn Sushi Burger. I’ve always been an artist. Growing up in high school I studied graphic design, painting and did a lot of sketching. I love working with my hands, so I think this creative blood seems to transfer to my food ‘art’. I also have a very active brain, I have thousands of ideas swimming around at once. And sometimes, out of the depths of my imagination, some idea will light up – and I tend to act on them straight away and listen to my intuition, so when the vegan Sushi Burger idea came into sight I went and made it straight away. My partner thought it was a ridiculous idea, I mean hey, it kind of was – but I knew it was a ridiculously good idea and that was all that I cared about! Haha.
KJ: You’re also known for being an advocate for authenticity and being open, honest and real on social media. Can you define what that means to you and why you think it’s so important to spread that message, especially online?
SAM: I have struggled with food, body image and other self esteem issues for a majority of my childhood and teen years. I remember stumbling across blogs and articles from people who shared their honest thoughts about their journeys and struggles with similar things, and it was always so helpful to know that I was not alone. By learning to accept that it was okay to just be ‘okay’, I was able to delve into deeper levels of understand and healing. I wanted (and still want) to give that back to people, hence I have shared a lot of my journey on social media. People thrive off honesty, and I think there needs to be more of it on social media as opposed to just a ‘highlights reel’.
“By learning to accept that it was okay to just be ‘okay’, I was able to delve into deeper levels of understand and healing.”
[BBQ pulled “pork” sliders]
1x 560g Can of Young Green Jackfruit in brine/water
1 brown onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp peanut oil
3 tbsp BBQ sauce
1-2 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp molasses
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp smoked paprika
125ml vegetable stock
salt & pepper to taste
For the cashew mayo;
120g (1 cup) cashews, soaked for 3-6 hours
175ml (2/3 cup) soy milk
60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 tbsp maple syrup or coconut nectar
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt, to taste
water if needed
2 cups shredded carrot, cabbage and onion
3-4 buns of choice
fried onions (optional)
Prep the cashew mayo by blending the ingredients in a high speed blender for a few minutes until no lumps remain.
Mix together the shredded carrots, cabbage and onions and the cashew mayo in a small bowl until well coated. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Drain and rinse the jackfruit. Slice or pull off the hard ‘core’ centre of the chunks of jackfruit, leaving only the sinewy edges.
In a large frying pan, fry the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the jackfruit, BBQ sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, onion powder, spices and a few tbsp of the vegetable stock to prevent it sticking to the pan.
Simmer this over a medium-high heat and using a fork being to gently pull the jackfruit until it shreds.
Slowly add the rest of the vegetable stock and keep stirring. Don’t pull the jackfruit TOO much as it could become a little sloppy, you still want it slightly chunky!
Cover with a lid and simmer on a low heat for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Warm the buns up in a pan, oven or microwave. To assemble, slice a bun in half and layer the base with the coleslaw mix. Spoon the ‘pulled jackfruit’ on top and finish with fried onions (optional) and the top of the bun. Enjoy!
[interview – part two]
KJ: You’re originally from New Zealand, what was your favorite dish growing up and how would you veganize it?
SAM: I was addicted to Mince and Cheese pies growing up. Pies from New Zealand are something else. It’s like.. this little pie, filled with savoury beef mince and then a layer of melted cheese. Topped with a flakey pie crust. I used to pull the top off of the pie and dip fries into it. (Disgusting, I know) – but, obviously now as a vegan I’d rather not eat all the mince and cheese. BUT – if I were to veganize it, I’d do a similar style with a vegan pie crust. Fill it with textured vegetable protein (it’s basically like mince) – flavour it in a delicious gravy and then top with some vegan cheese. Yeah. That’s what I’d do.
KJ: Can you walk us through what you typically eat in a day?
SAM: My eating habits are very habitual. I go through 3-4 month phases, where I’ll eat the same thing everyday because I love it so much, then I end up getting sick of it and move onto the next obsession. Currently I’m all about Zucchinis. 5 months ago it was Sweet Potatoes, now it’s Zucchinis. I love making noodles, grilling them, roasting them, grating it into my oats (I know, I’m weird!) I’m not a big ‘snacker’, and even though I create cakes all day I have a pretty much non existent sweet tooth (It’s a blessing in disguise!). I eat around 3 large meals a day – so breakfast usually consists of Oats, Berries, Almond Butter (I bathe in the stuff), Coconut Yoghurt, Vegan Protein Powder, Flaxseed and Soymilk. Lunch will generally be a giant salad with a source of vegan protein (Tofu, Tempeh, Chickpeas, Seitan) and some healthy fats (Avocado, Tahini, Seeds). Dinner is usually a giant stir-fry – full of mushrooms, onion, garlic, tofu or homemade seitan and veggies all tossed through a satay sauce of some sort. I eat quite healthy – It leaves me feeling my best and optimises my performance in the gym! I workout regularly, so I eat a decent amount of plant based protein, lots of healthy fats and wholegrains/legumes.
KJ: What are you most passionate about?
SAM: Food. I think it goes without saying. I literally think about food all day. What I’m eating, What I’m going to make for dinner, What I’m going to make my partner for his work lunches, What cakes I’m going to make, What I’m eating (Did I say that?), What I’m going to make for the blog. Yeah, it doesn’t stop – but it’s okay, I feel to be great at something you need to be a little obsessed.
KJ: Who inspires you?
SAM: I definitely couldn’t pin it down to one person – but the community on Instagram inspires me greatly! Everyone is so talented, and it’s always pushing me to try new things and expand my creative horizons to create visually enticing content (and food!)
KJ: The number one piece of advice you would give to new vegans or those interested in going vegan? SAM: Don’t be intimidated! And be open to trying new things in the kitchen. When I first heard of the term ‘vegan’ – I scoffed at the idea. I thought they were hippies, and I thought it was stupid. But now – I honestly couldn’t imagine going back! It took a bit of getting used to the ‘not so common’ ingredients, but it’s all about experimenting and learning substitutions – once you have sound knowledge of what to substitute eggs, dairy and meat with in your meals, a whole new culinary world opens up! There are endless options. Being a little courageous has been the best thing, and I’ve learnt the most by working with the ingredients first hand.
KJ: Your favorite quote?
SAM: “If you don’t change, then you don’t grow. And if you aren’t growing, are you really living?” – I’m not sure where I heard this, but it is the one quote I always remember and comes back to me. Keep changing, keep growing!
[raspberry white chocolate slice]
For the base;
130g (1 cup) raw almonds
75g (1 cup) coconut flakes
1/2 tsp salt
240g or 12 large pitted Medjool dates
300g (2 1/2 cups) raw cashes, soaked for 3-6 hours
190ml (3/4 cup) coconut milk
125ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup or rice malt syrup
125ml (1/2 cup) water
2 tsp pure vanilla extract with seeds
80ml (1/3 cup) melted coconut oil
80ml (1/3 cup) melted cacao butter
100g (1 cup) frozen raspberries
To make the base simply pulse the almonds, coconut flakes & salt in a food processor until a fine meal forms. Add the days and process again until it begins to stick together into a dough. Press into a lined 10x20cm (4×8 inch) loaf tin and freeze.
Drain and rinse the cashews. Blend them with the coconut milk, maple syrup, water and vanilla in a high speed blender until no lumps remain. Keep blending and slowly add the cacao butter & coconut oil
Pour over the base. Disperse frozen raspberries evenly throughout the slice and then smooth the top.
Freeze the whole slice for 3-4 hours or ideally overnight until fully frozen.
To serve, allow the slice to defrost for at least 15 minutes before cutting with a hot, wet knife.
Keep stored in a sealed container in the freezer and simply defrost slices prior to consuming.