You don’t have to give up your favourite food just because you’re watching your diet. Raja Jesrina Arshad, founder of wellness website PurelyB, gives her take on how Asian food can be healthy and tasty at the same time.
Who: Raja Jesrina Arshad, 35, founder of online health and wellness platform PurelyB.
The site, which features recipes as well as stories about nutrition, health and mindfulness, has a following in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.
Why did you start PurelyB?
I wanted to create a community to inspire and educate people who are seeking healthy lifestyles. There was no platform that was specifically targeted at those who live in Asia who want to learn more about how to live healthily.
In Asia, there was also a lack of awareness of what it means to be healthy and eat healthy. The perception was that eating healthy meant boring, bland food such as salads and that you could not enjoy local street food, and that is not true.
If you want local food, you can make healthier versions using natural ingredients without comprising on the taste. The website offers a range of healthy recipes with local flavours.
Can you share some of your healthy takes on local food?
I make nasi lemak with quinoa and quinoa goreng with chilli and vegetables. I also use liquid aminos or tamari as a substitute for soya sauce, as these sauces do not contain gluten. Instead of vegetable or sunflower oil, I opt for coconut oil, which is known to improve digestion and promote heart health.
What is your food philosophy?
I think it is good to understand what you are eating. If you are dining out, ask what is in the dish. Even though I am allergic to wheat, dairy, eggs, gluten and shellfish, it is not difficult for me to dine out because I find out what is in the dishes before I order them.
It is good to observe how your body reacts to certain types of foods. After I cut out certain foods, my rashes, migraines and constipation disappeared.
What ingredients are always in your pantry?
Raw cacao powder and cacao nibs, cashew nuts, walnuts and almonds, and apple cider vinegar, which I use in salad dressings.
I also make sure I have coconut oil, some form of noodles such as gluten-free pasta, as well as tropical fruit and superfood powders such as spirulina and maca for my breakfast smoothies.
What goes into your breakfast smoothie?
Spirulina, spinach or whatever leafy vegetable I have in the fridge, raw cacao powder, banana, apple and organic coconut milk. I make and drink it on the go. It gives me the perfect energy boost to start the day.
Do you have a sweet tooth?
Oh, yes. I love peanut butter. I used to bake quite a bit too and would try any recipe I found interesting. I would also bake anything I was craving such as chocolate chip cookies.
I especially loved peanut chocolate fudge with a biscuit base, as well as fruit tarts, trifle and creme brulee. But these days, because of my food intolerances, I don’t eat these things as much. So, for dessert, I often indulge in home-made peanut butter fudge and vegan ice cream.
What is your go-to dessert recipe?
I have chocolate cravings every now and then. So, when I do, I make a raw dark chocolate peanut butter brownie with coconut oil, dates, coconut nectar or honey (if you need some extra sweetness), yeast extract, raw cacao powder, hazelnuts and organic peanut butter made with only peanuts.
It is easy – everything goes into the food processor and you blend it until you get a thick paste. Spread it into a pan and leave it to set in the fridge. Or just eat the paste.
What is your secret indulgence?
French fries. Fries can be healthy if you bake them. At home, I make fries with potatoes and sweet potatoes. I also make spinach and kale chips. These are the perfect snack foods when you get the munchies.
Where are your favourite haunts in Singapore?
Kitchen by Food Rebel in Stanley Street is great because it serves hormone-free meats and has a good range of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options. I like that it infuses local flavours into its dishes.
A version of this article first appeared on www.straitstimes.com.