Written by Melanie May
Christina Leopold is the talented recipe developer, content creator and photographer behind the popular Addicted to Dates Instagram account and blog. The vegan cook creates the most wonderful plant-based recipes including scrumptious ‘veganized’ versions of classic desserts.
Her recipes show that you don’t have to limit yourself when you are a vegan and that you can easily adapt dishes to make them more ethical. You don’t have to sacrifice taste either, and her recipes attest to this. Just wait till you try her Cookie Dough Caramel Bars which are vegan, no-bake, and full of flavour.
We caught up with Christina to find out how she got interested in baking, tips for following her recipes and the versatility of aquafaba.
Take us back to the beginning. How did you get started or interesting in baking?
Since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with flavours, in particular desserts. Growing up I loved to help my Mom with preparing food for special occasions and at Christmas, I would be put in charge of creating the dessert. Usually, the dessert would end up as a medley of 3 or 4 different recipes as I found it difficult to settle on just one flavour, it was more like a sweet tasting menu! I went on to study for a bachelors degree in culinary arts at CIT.
When and why did you decide to become Vegan?
I became vegan in 2015 after learning about how animals are used in the industry. I was already vegetarian since a few years before that when I started to really think about where or who food came from. But until then I had never considered how I was still supporting other industries in which animals were commodified.
What was the hardest part of switching to a vegan diet?
In the beginning, I didn’t know anyone else who was vegan, and living in a rural part of Cork there weren’t too many conventional options available back a few years ago! So that was a bit of a challenge haha! But after I started learning more about the ethics behind veganism, it became much easier to keep up the changes in my lifestyle.
It just took a little bit of research, a little more effort cooking from scratch at the beginning and I quickly started to figure out all the different ingredients I could use to create plant-based versions of dishes I used to love. Apart from the diet element, there were other areas in my life that I changed such as avoiding animal-tested beauty products, leather and wool. But with time it became easier and just like second nature.
What was the easier or most surprising part of switching to a vegan diet?
It really opened up a new world of possibilities. I started to look at ingredients based on their properties (protein, carbs etc), rather than just repeating the same meals that I had all my life. It was also surprising to think about all the foods that are already naturally vegan by default – which made it a lot less daunting to find options in supermarkets, etc.
What is your favourite thing to bake?
Hmm, I would say chocolate chip peanut butter cookies. They are probably the easiest cookie recipe to make, but so delicious and versatile.
What were you doing before the pandemic?
I just started working for myself full-time before the pandemic hit. I was wrapping up the manuscript for my first cookbook!
What lessons have you learned over the last year during the restrictions?
To not take family for granted, and to try and prioritise time to rest and not work all the time!
What are you currently working on?
A brand new website for Addicted to Dates, and it’s coming real soon!
What are your top baking tips for people following your recipes at home?
- Read the recipe in full before getting prepped.
- Measure out your ingredients before you get started.
- Follow measurements and instructions to a T, especially when dealing with baked goods, frostings, etc.
What three ingredients do you always have at home?
Oat milk, aquafaba (tinned chickpeas) and chocolate!
If we were to snoop in your cupboards or fridge what guilty pleasure or quirky things might we find?
I’m not sure if it’s still considered quirky but aquafaba is an absolute revelation in vegan baking. It behaves a lot like egg white and can be substituted in for many things like meringue, cookies and brownies.
Himalayan black salt or “Kala namak” is another one that basically tastes like eggs and can be added to scrambled tofu, etc. I was never a big egg fan but I always have some at home when cooking for my partner or family.
Where can people get their hands on your fantastic recipes?