Before Christina Culver became vegan, the 30-year-old co-owner of Culver City Salads says she battled low energy levels, excess weight, and adult acne. Five years ago, when she switched to a plant-based diet, she was surprised by how positively her body reacted.
“I don’t think I could operate the way I do if I didn’t eat as healthy as I do,” she tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at her West End apartment. “I get it; I used to eat cheese, and I know how delicious it is. I’m not immune to that, but the idea of eating cheese and what it does to my stomach? It’s not worth it.”
Culver now substitutes vegan cheeses—such as Daiya tapioca-based cheese and cashew-based cheese—for those made from dairy. She says that she still eats pizza and does not feel deprived.
“The thing with [being] vegan is you have to think outside the box,” she says, crediting her tight-knit circle of vegan friends for helping her stay on track. “I’ve got a good support group. There’s always someone to eat food with and get excited about weird vegan things.”
Growing up on the North Shore, Culver worked at a hair salon, produced her own clothing line, and was a nail artist before launching Culver City Salads in 2012. While she has no formal culinary training, Culver hosted vegan dinners and delivered lunchbox salads to friends long before deciding to start her business, which includes a lunch-delivery service and food truck that specializes in healthy vegan and gluten-free salads.
“For people to be able to come to a truck where you don’t really have to think about it and can just order everything, I think that’s really refreshing,” she says. “It’s cool because I think, realistically, a lot of people don’t listen to their bodies and eat things they probably shouldn’t. You see people that look so unhealthy and you think, ‘You could probably just change your diet not even by that much and feel so much better.’ ”
While her business is best known for its cold salads, the warm, hearty vegan rice bowls are popular over the winter. Culver also makes them at home. She uses whatever fresh ingredients she has on hand and tops them with miso gravy or a spicy peanut-lime sauce (as in the recipe below). Shredded carrots and sprouts gives the dish texture, and sauerkraut and pickled ginger add flavour.
At home, Culver pairs her rice bowls with any beer from 33 Acres Brewing Company.
Christina Culver’s vegan rice bowl with spicy peanut lime sauce
2 cups (500 mL) brown rice, washed
1 medium potato, scrubbed and cubed
1 cup (250 mL) green beans, ends trimmed, and cut in half
1 cup (250 mL) cooked chickpeas
1 cup (250 mL) chopped kale, ribs removed
1 cup (250 mL) chopped Swiss chard, ribs removed
1 cup (250 mL) arugula
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
½ zucchini, shredded
1 small beet, scrubbed, peeled, and shredded
1 cup (250 mL) alfalfa sprouts
1 cup (250 mL) sauerkraut, drained
¼ cup (60 mL) pickled ginger
Sesame seeds for garnish
1 sheet nori, cut into confetti
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
Spicy peanut-lime sauce (see recipe below)
- In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring rice and 4 cups (1 L) of water to boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer for about 45 minutes. When rice is cooked, let stand 5 minutes, covered. Fluff with fork, and keep warm.
- Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. Add potato and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until fork-tender. Drain and set aside.
- Using the same pot, bring another pot of water to a boil. Add green beans and blanch for 2 minutes, or until beans turn a vibrant green. Place Swiss chard, kale, and arugula in a strainer or colander before draining green beans over top to wilt greens slightly.
- Divide greens between 4 bowls and place rice on top. Add other vegetables. Garnish with sauerkraut, ginger, sesame seeds, nori, and avocado. Drizzle on peanut-lime sauce.
Spicy peanut-lime sauce
1 tsp (5 mL) sambal oelek
1 tsp (5 mL) grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp (30 mL) sesame oil
¼ cup (60 mL) natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp (30 mL) coconut sugar, or granulated sugar
3 Tbsp (45 mL) lime juice
2 Tbsp (30 mL) soy sauce, or gluten-free soy sauce
2 tsp (10 mL) water
- Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
Yield: 4 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.