The Plant Based Yogi’s guide to healthy living

Matt Spewak, a Princeton native known as the Plant Based Yogi, underwent a transformation after shifting the way he ate. Now, eating solely plant-based foods for six years, Spewak is a vegan chef and culinary student who shares his recipe to a healthful and well-researched lifestyle with others.

As part of the Taste of the Market Series, coordinated by the Princeton Farmers’ Market and Princeton Public Library, Spewak set up his kitchen in the library’s community room and filled it with the kind of aromas only earth – and a great chef – can provide.

Toasted walnuts wafted together with basil leaves, local and handpicked, as Spewak exposed each one’s scent with a slice of his knife. Lentils sautéed in organic vegetable broth filled the air-conditioned room with warmth. Lime zest awakened the senses.

Spewak crafted three unique plates, all made from fruits – vegetables and nuts – of the earth. First on the menu was a fresh salad, an ode to the Mediterranean, which included ingredients such as cucumber, tomato, red onion, a splash of lemon and tofu.

Next, Spewak prepared some green tacos, the base of which was a walnut and lentil “meat” that could make any steak lover salivate. This was topped  with red peppers, onions, mashed pea and sundried tomato guacamole and a vegan sour cream that, despite its high-nutritional value, tasted far from plant-based. All the taco fillings were then placed into the shell – a leaf from a plush head of butter lettuce grown nearby.

“I think it gives people an edge,” Spewak said of plant-based eating – proceeding to share the story of Rich Roll, an ultra-marathon athlete considered one of the most “fit” men in the world who turned to plant-based eating after keeling over on the steps at 40.

Spewak’s demeanor was calm, optimistic and cultivated. He seems to have an effortless understanding of practice and accompanies his cooking demonstrations with anecdotes and tips for plant-based eating.

Some of Spewak’s tips for the health inspired are:

• ”The more color a dish has, the more nutrients there are. Plants get their nutrients from their pigments.”

• ”Slow and low – an acidic, bitter flavor is released when browning onions. (When sautéing) throw in the highest water vegetables first, such as zucchini.”

• ”Herbs are a superfood. It’s not just goji berries and acai. Kale is a great superfood, any leafy green. Most all plants are, really.”

• ”I don’t cook with oil, and people are usually shocked when they hear this. There is a lot of research that shows oil is not actually heart healthy and causes inflammation. Instead of using olive oil, which is about 1,000 olives in one bottle, why not just use the whole olive. I love finding whole food alternatives.”

Spewak’s last dish was a foodie bowl – an easy way to impact your meal with a ton of flavor and an endless list of variations. Spewak, since it followed tacos, gave his bowl a Mexican twist, adding some beans and spices. This yogi’s secret bowl formula is to always start your bowl with a grain –  at the start of his week, Spewak makes a big pot of rice, quinoa, barley or other grain to keep handy in the fridge, Next, he rounds up any vegetables he has and needs to use up and tosses it in. This one has some onions, kale, sweet basil, zucchini, mixed wild rice and beans.

“You are such an inspiration,” Princeton resident Andrea McLaughlin told Spewak. “This so admirable on so many levels – what an awesome presentation.”

While Spewak always considered himself a healthy eater, it wasn’t until he integrated yoga into his life that he realized a plant-based diet was his ideal feeling of health.

“In addition to yoga, my father passed away from a heart attack. He was really young, he was a musician, he seemed healthy. I wondered, ‘what was it?’ Eating vegan has treated me very well. I have so much energy, I feel younger than I did at half my age, I rarely get sick,” Spewak said. “Some cardiologists have found that eating this way not only prevents heart disease, it reverses it. It’s a complete paradigm shift.”

To fill your feed and your belly with an array of colorful recipes and wholesome facts, follow Spewak’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @plantbasedyogi.

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida