Taking the fear factor out of vegan cooking

Taking the fear factor out of vegan cooking

Only 10 percent of Americans really like to cook, according to a 2017 study published in the Harvard Business Review, which means 90 percent of people hate it or refuse to cook altogether. This comes as no surprise given the number of personal friends and family members who fall into the latter category (hi, mom, sorry for outing you).

For the longest time, I counted myself in this majority, but mainly it was because I didn’t know how. And, I also used to think that delicious food = tedious recipes + hours in the kitchen, which I now know is false.

One of the most common excuses I hear about trying plant-based diets and recipes is: “I don’t have time.” Plantbased cooking—like any cooking—can be quick and easy (and incredibly delicious), but it takes a little self-education before it’s effortless. With the added bonus that plantbased eating is health-promoting, good for the planet and life-saving for animals, what’s not to love? Here are some tips to get you in the kitchen and dispel the myths that cooking can’t, as organizing guru Marie Kondo would say, spark joy (no matter how busy you are).

 

 

START WHERE YOU ARE

Is your kitchen a barren wasteland—with mismatched chipped plates and a cornucopia of bent cutlery and pots without lids? That was my kitchen when I was a very poor 20-something drowning in student loan debt and when I first started, slowly, learning to cook.

If you know you need a kitchen utensil upgrade, I cannot recommend highly enough The Wirecutter (www.thewirecutter.com), which is a free online resource for finding “the best for most people.”

The items include things like pots and pans, knives, immersion blenders and so much more. The site is curated by a team of journalists, scientists and researchers. I have found this site to be invaluable for practically everything in the home, and it’s a home chef’s best friend.  

 

TAKE A FREE ONLINE CLASS

On YouTube, I have successfully learned how: 1. to repair the computer board of my washing machine (which saved me hundreds of dollars on a repair person); 2. to unclog my shower drain and make a plumbing snake out of coat hangers; and 3. prepare the most sublime chocolate mousse with sugar content that comes only from medjool dates. To wit, YouTube is a magical wonderland, and there are inspirational cooking classes for every imaginable taste and skill level.

Some of my favorite channels are geared towards the novice cook who wants to make exciting and fairly quick plant-based meals. Here are a few worth checking out (all of which are free):

The Sexy Vegan – Don’t worry: The title is tongue-and-cheek and the resident dad and chef is Brian L. Patton, whose sense of humor and down-to-earth manner make this channel as entertaining as it is informative.

The Buddhist Chef – This channel is run by Jean-Philippe, a Canadian who is a bonafide chef. His easy-to-follow recipes are inspired by his favorite dishes from the restaurants he’s worked in.

Hot for Food– The brainchild of Lauren Toyota, there is a reason this channel has half a million subscribers: The food is amazing, and it is quite diverse in terms of recipes, with a little something for everyone. There are even videos for how to tackle an entire holiday, vegan-style, like Thanksgiving.

Sweet Potato Soul– Jenne Claiborne is the genius behind this cooking show, which goes above and beyond the recipe-offering call of duty by making videos about nearly every aspect of vegan living. Her delicious recipes—which are just perfect—have been featured in the New York Times and many other prominent publications.

 

FACEBOOK ISN’T ONLY FOR YOUR UNCLE’S DELUSIONAL POLITICAL RANTS

I freely admit that I don’t love Facebook mainly because I don’t understand the concept of being “friends” with people you don’t remember from high school or people you do actually know who might “talk” to you on the internet but would ignore you if they saw you on the street.

But I digress.

When it comes to plant-based cooking and recipes, Facebook is a veritable smorgasbord of delicious recipes and supportive people who want to help you on your cooking journey.

Easily, I have two favorite pages—both of which have been around for a long time and deserve their popularity: Vegan Dad and Fat Free Vegan. Vegan Dad is run by a full-time college professor and father of three who also happens to be an outstanding cook. Some of his recipes are involved and for special occasions only, but mostly he focuses on—because he’s a busy parent himself—recipes that are approachable and doable in real life.

Fat Free Vegan is a little bit of a misnomer because the recipes are not technically fat-free; rather, they’re oil-free, and Susan Voisin, who creates the recipes, does not skimp on truly exciting flavors for her recipes that are intended to be health-promoting and sumptuous.

The bold flavors belie the fact that oil is nowhere to be found. Also, both these Facebook pages are filled with kind and supportive community members—a true rarity these days for the social media platform.

 

COOKBOOKS FOR BEGINNERS

None of us has been immune to the rage-inducing experience of making a recipe for the first time—you’re right in the middle of it—when you realize there’s an ingredient on the list that does not actually appear in the recipe. This is basically the story of all my emotional breakdowns in the last two decades. Sadly, I have learned that 1. a lot of great chefs don’t know how to write recipes and 2. there is a DIRE shortage of proofreaders, and someone needs to do something about it.

A cookbook is only as good as its recipes— which should be 100 percent accurate, offer the right amount of detail (without assuming we’re brain dead) and produce a 100 percent consistent result, when followed exactly. Amazingly, this is rarer than one would think.

Here are three outstanding cookbooks:

Dining with Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine by Priscilla Feral. Yes, my boss wrote this cookbook, but let me tell you this: Feral knows how to write a recipe, and the cookbook is filled with real-life, just-got-home-fromwork-and-I-am-starving-and-exhausted meal ideas that are easy, delicious, and don’t require hours of time.

America’s Test Kitchen: Vegan for Everybody. Whether you’re a fan of the PBS cooking show or not, the recipes in this book are modern, innovative, interesting and extremely tasty. I have personally made almost every recipe in this cookbook—which is very rare for me—because they are that good.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz has written a lot of cookbooks, but Isa Does It, in my opinion, is her very best effort; the food is very accessible, easy to make, and produces bold flavors that make you want to return to this cookbook again and again. Also, Moskowitz does a great job of giving little tips and tricks to make cooking easier and inspire confidence in the home chef.

 

REMEMBER THE BLOGGERS!

We’ve all balanced our laptop over the stove—trying to make a complicated recipe we found on the internet while simultaneously praying our computer doesn’t fall into giant vat of pasta water boiling ominously beneath it. Right? Or is that just me?

My cooking skills have come 99 percent from the internet—all the way back to prehistoric times when everyone had a blog and people actually spent time subscribing to the random musings of complete strangers. Well, the random stranger I was addicted to was a vegan chef who owned a meal delivery service in New York City, and would post the most amazing meal ideas for free on the internet. And sometimes, the recipe would be so good I’d make the same meal for, like, three days in a row because I could not get enough. And some of those recipes I still make 20 years later.

But blogs are disappearing faster than sane politicians (because everyone wants a cookbook deal), so it’s surprising that there are even a few remaining gems. My favorite cooking website, period, is Minimalist Baker, brought to us by Dana Shultz. The concept sounds gimmicky—10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. But I promise you that these recipes are the real deal. This is the website I visit when I say, “I hate everything” and “I am so sick of eating __________.” Which is to say, when I have a bad attitude about food and cooking, this website is guaranteed to turn that proverbial frown upside down. Go to the website, right now, and make her “naturally sweetened chocolate mousse,” because it’s life-changing. So is everything else. minimalistbaker.com

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

Very recently a friend told me I was a “great cook,” which of course is not true, but I was so elated to hear it—mainly because I burned a cake that I baked for someone’s baby’s birthday party that same day. It did occur to me, though, at that very moment that I used to be a truly terrible cook who didn’t even enjoy the process of ruining food.

Ultimately how I turned my life around was very simple: I just started cooking. Just get in the kitchen and cook. Yes, you, too, will burn a cake, now and then, but eventually your cakes will be perfect (99 percent of the time) and eventually you will prefer your own food to most any restaurants’ meals. Like any other skill, it just takes practice.

Development Director Dustin Rhodes is in charge of fundraising for Friends of Animals and is a contributing writer for Action Line. He resides in Asheville, North Carolina — a progressive, animal-loving community in the Blue Ridge mountains.