Ana Rusu started life as a dedicated cheese lover. But after experiencing migraines in her teens, she decided to try out a vegan diet. The migraines stopped, she fell in love with a new way of eating and began a journey of exciting gastronomic discovery.

Inspired by the new recipes she came across, Ana became passionate about all things foodie and vegan. “I challenged myself to create delicious and diverse food using only plant-based ingredients,” she tells us, “I crafted all kinds of new recipes, trying to recreate particular flavours, textures and memories. I became obsessed with pairing ingredients and cooking techniques.”

Ana worked as a vegan dessert chef in London before returning to Romania, hoping to contribute to the contemporary food scene closer to home. She now runs a vegan catering business – Wild Forest – in Bucharest. And also works as a food photographer, stylist and recipe developer.

A lot of Ana’s cooking knowledge comes from her grandmother. And ingredients too. The vegetables she gets from her grandmother’s garden can’t be beaten. “Even at the farmer’s market, where I shop regularly, I still can’t find the same quality,” says Ana. “And every winter, she sends me huge amounts of home-pickled vegetables…She ferments the veggies with local ground salt and her unique spice mixes, which are so over the top!”

But it’s not just Romanian ingredients and cuisine that inform Ana’s culinary style. Her food takes inspiration from all around the world. “I think experiencing and learning about diverse cultures inspires me the most…I love Korean food, Italian, Indian…” And sometimes it’ll just be a new ingredient she comes across or something she’s read that leads her to develop a new recipe.

So what tips does Ana have for budding vegan chefs? “Vegan cooking isn't that much different to traditional cooking,” she says, “I think seasoning, combining ingredients and good execution of cooking techniques are the 'secrets' to any delicious food.” The most important thing to remember, she stresses, is not to take it too seriously. It’s all about having fun and enjoying food. “If you find it hard or uncomfortable to manage a vegan lifestyle, that’s ok. What makes us healthier physically and spiritually is finding our own balance.”

Here Ana shares a few of her defining recipes – the food that she makes week in, week out – a perfect vegan starter kit:

The Smoothie

“Green smoothies are my favourites. And they’re really easy to make.

“Take a banana, a cup of coconut water, a spoonful of fresh coconut milk and a little spinach. Throw these into a blender with a drop of vanilla extract and a squeeze of lemon juice (to lighten up the flavours). And voila! The best green smoothie ever, made in no time at all.”

The Speedy Lunch

“A big bowl of salad always fills me up at lunchtime. I love adding millet, quinoa or lentils to a mix of green leaves. Then adding a nut butter dressing. A sweet, acidic dressing with some tahini is also my idea of heaven!

“One of my favourite recipes – my “lazy Sunday salad” – uses a dressing of tahini, lemon juice, water, fresh ginger and agave nectar. I drizzle it over a mix of lettuce, spinach, red cabbage, cooked lentils, Brussel sprouts and red rice. Then a few chopped hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds really make the salad sing.”

The Sweet Treat

“I can’t live without chocolate! I love to make my own bars of tempered chocolate, sweetened with coconut sugar. Sometimes I add caramelised hazelnuts and sea salt flakes – it’s the best! But my chocolate truffles are the first thing that cross my mind when I crave something sweet.

“Blend one cup of raw hazelnuts until buttery. Then add ½ cup agave nectar, ½ cup of plant based milk, ½ cup of coconut oil, ¼ cup of cacao powder, a few drops of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. When everything is combined, freeze the chocolate mix for a few hours before forming into balls. Put them on a tray and coat with a melted mix of raw chocolate, cacao butter and cacao powder. And a few crushed hazelnuts look great as decoration!”

The Winter Warmer

“I love vegetable minestrone in the winter. I add chillies to make it really hot and, if I have enough time, I love to bake my own sourdough bread, which is a wonderful accompaniment.

“Another favourite is a creamy polenta dish. I saute chopped leeks and Brussel sprouts, then add paprika and black pepper. I then add chopped parsley before serving over the polenta. A roasted almond garnish is a delicious addition too!”