We’ve been keeping tabs on the astonishing number of new books coming along that extoll the virtues of a plant-based diet. As part of the Vegetarian Resource Network, we’ve started to connect with the cooks behind some of the newest books. Let us introduce you to some of our favorite plant-powered cooks through these Q&A iinterviews, excerpted from our Oldways Table blog.

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Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Diet
(The Experiment, July 2012)

For several decades, Oldways has promoted the health benefits behind traditional diets, which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. So we eagerly awaited the release of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today, by Sharon Palmer, RD. Sharon merges her passions for writing and food in her trusted and nationally recognized voice, which has brought us hundreds of feature stories about nutrition in the LA Times, Today’s Dietitian, and a host of other publications. As the editor of the award-winning health newsletter, Environmental Nutrition, she has tackled a host of important issues including local and organic foods, eco-friendly culinary practices, sustainability, and food security.

Interview with Sharon Palmer, author of the Plant-Powered Diet

OLDWAYS: The message that we should all eat more plants seems to be everywhere today. Can you talk a little bit about what is fueling this growing interest?


SHARON: The evidence is overwhelming: A plant-based diet promotes a plethora of health benefits that range from reducing rates of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes to promoting a healthy weight, living longer, and functioning better. In addition, it is becoming more clear that our “meat loving” society is not sustainable for our planet. Animal foods require a great deal of resources to bring to market, compared with plant foods. And people are more concerned about humane practices in modern animal agriculture. All of these issues are feeding into today’s soaring interest in plant-based eating.


OLDWAYS: Is there any way to estimate how many people are changing their eating patterns to include at least one meatless meal per week?


SHARON: In my work as a registered dietitian and journalist, I speak to many people who are interested in eating more plant-based meals. In fact, The Vegetarian Resource Group, which analyzed data from a nationwide cross section of 1,010 adults (aged 18 and over), found that 16 percent of respondents reported that they eat vegetarian meals (no meat, fish, seafood, or poultry) more than half of the time, and 17% stated that they eat many vegetarian meals, but less than half the time. Thus, one-third of the population is eating vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time—in addition to the number of vegetarians in the country.


OLDWAYS: What are the most common misconceptions about plant-based diets?


SHARON: Most people are fearful that you can’t meet your nutritional needs while following a plant-based diet, in particular protein. You can thank the high-protein diet movement for tricking people into thinking that they need so much protein. Actually, our bodies need a modest supply of protein. The Institute of Medicine set the amount at .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 54 grams. You can get that amount of protein in plant foods. All plant foods—except refined oil and sugars and alcohol—contain measurable amounts of protein. Some are protein superstars, such as beans, lentils, peas, soy, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and even some veggies, such as green leafy vegetables and broccoli. I offer people many solutions in my book to help them get enough protein in their diets.
 


 

 

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Jeanne Lemlin, Simply Satisfying
(The Experiment, November 2012)

Fourteen years ago, Jeanne Lemlin  wrote Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, focusing on  easy ways and great tips for working more vegetables and better flavors into family meals.  She went on to write four more cookbooks, and win a James Beard Award for one, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.  And this year she has come out with a new book, Simply Satisfying.

 

Interview with Jeanne Lemlin, author of Simply Satisfying

OLDWAYS: Tell us how this new book came about, and its relationship to your other books.


JEANNE: I received a call from the editor of the Experiment publishing company after he discovered my first book, Vegetarian Pleasures, in a second hand bookstore and fell in love with it.  He knew it had gone out of print a number of years ago and asked me if I would like to update it and reissue it.  Since I frequently get letters from fans asking me where they can purchase my first book, I knew that it would be a smart move to give it a second incarnation.  The original edition is in a menu format, and we decided to reorganize the book into traditional chapters: appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, etc.  We have many more confident cooks in this country now, and I think they like to create their own menus, although some guidance is given with menu suggestions at the end of the book.  I have also updated many recipes by making them quicker and lower in fat, and I have added new ones.  Simply Satisfying has a completely different feel to it and is much easier to use.  Adding photos has been a bonus and makes the food look very inviting.


OLDWAYS: Your bio mentions that you’ve been a vegetarian since you were 15. Can you share a few comments about what influenced you and what has kept you on this path?

JEANNE: Since my teenage years I have not felt comfortable with the killing of animals for food when there is so much available in the plant kingdom for sustenance. It would be different if we needed meat because of a shortage of healthy foods; I would then accept going higher on the food chain for survival. But since there are so many wonderful plant foods and dairy products, it just seems wrong to make animals needlessly suffer for our sake. Once I learned about factory farming and slaughterhouses, there was no turning back. Health issues regarding meat are also a concern of mine, but that has always been a secondary issue (and a wonderful bonus).


OLDWAYS: This is an exciting time for people who love vegetables.  Thinking back to your early days as a vegetarian, what are some of the biggest changes you see today in terms of available foods and general interest?


JEANNE: What a transformation over the past twenty years! Going to the supermarket used to be so depressing because the produce section was small and unappealing. I also used to have to travel to five different stores each week to get all the ingredients I needed. It is so much easier now to shop in one or two places and come home with all I need. That’s important to me because I know that if busy people have to search for ingredients, they’ll lose interest in cooking and go back to convenience foods. I really like to create recipes for busy cooks because I know what a godsend it can be to have great recipes that are easy to prepare.


OLDWAYS: Your new book is filled with terrific trips. Can you share your advice on washing greens?


JEANNE: To me, the salad spinner is an indispensable kitchen tool. I love that it dries greens so efficiently. But most people use it incorrectly. If you pile the greens in the basket and then rinse them under water, the sand can remain trapped. You should put the greens in the bottom tub and fill it with water, swish them around, and let the sand or dirt fall to the bottom. You then need to pick up the greens and put them in the basket, and dump out the dirty water. They are now ready to be spun dry. That method produces very clean leafy greens.
 


 

 

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Michael Natkin, Herbivoracious
(Harvard Common Press, May 2012)

Michael grew up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s where vegetarian food wasn’t exactly a big thing. But when his mom became sick with breast cancer, she was trying a macrobiotic diet and so he started learning how to cook that to support her. His girlfriend at the time was vegetarian as well. So he literally went from omnivore to lacto-ovo vegetarian overnight. He currently lives in Seattle.

Interview with Michael Natkin, author of Herbivoracious

OLDWAYS: Have you noticed a growth in all things vegetarian in Seattle over the past two years? Can you give us some examples?


MICHAEL: I think the exciting thing these days is that delicious vegetarian dishes are more commonly found on good restaurant menus at all price points. Chefs are putting real effort into these offerings, not just putting together all the side dishes from the meat plates, or making a sad pasta in a beurre blanc. For example, if we go to Canlis, which is one of the best and most upscale restaurants in the city, I can have a multi-course vegetarian tasting menu that is beautiful, original, and thoughtful. At the other end of the spectrum, I can hit Po Dog and have a fantastic Field Roast sausage in place of the meat on any of their delicious dogs.


OLDWAYS:  What advice would you give to a carnivore who wants to get more plant foods into his or her daily meals?

MICHAEL: I would just say to start gradually. Try to eat one or two meatless meals a week, or even just increase the amount of vegetables and grains and lower the amount of meat in meals you already love. The best thing you can do is become comfortable cooking cuisines other than standard “American food” —many other countries have styles of cooking that use less meat without compromising flavor, because they don’t focus on a big roast or chop in the middle of the plate.


OLDWAYS: Can you share with us a few techniques you’ve learned along the way that you wish you’d mastered earlier?


MICHAEL: I think the basics that every cook should work on to improve their cooking are knife skills, seasoning, and control of heat. I’ve been cooking seriously now for almost thirty years and I’m constantly trying to improve on those basics. As far as new techniques, I’m working now at ChefSteps.com where we are teaching people to cook sous vide—and there is no doubt that gaining full control over temperature is improving my cooking.


 

 

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Mindy Fox, Salads: Beyond the Bowl
(Kyle Books, April 2012)

We were thrilled to recently get our hands on Salads: Beyond the Bowl, cookbook author Mindy Fox’s latest collection of gorgeous and delicious recipes. The Food Editor for La Cucina Italiana magazine, Mindy is a former Saveur staffer, a seasoned author — Salads: Beyond the Bowl is her second solo title, and she has co-authored cookbooks with beloved chefs Sara Jenkins and Karen DeMasco — food writer, stylist, and editor. Her books have won accolades from respected tastemakers such as NPR, and Bon Appétit, Food & Wine and The London Times magazines, to name a few.

Salads: Beyond the Bowl will resonate with those who love the title dish and anyone interested in incorporating more vegetables into their diets. Guaranteed, after paging through Fox’s extraordinary salads, you will never think of “salad” quite the same way again!

Interview with Mindy Fox, author of Salads: Beyond the Bowl

OLDWAYS: Your vision of salads extends to including vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, pasta, potatoes, herbs, and cheese.  Why do you think many of us have trouble getting past the lettuce and tomatoes when it comes to making salad?

MINDY: The way to incorporate more salad into your life—and great salad at that—is to consider a wide array of ingredients, then to go small by using just a few elements that work well together, texturally and flavor-wise. How do you know what to do? By experimenting and playing with ingredients that taste good to you. There isn’t just one right way to make a great salad, and the combinations are nearly endless. Most ingredients that we use all the time can used to make an amazing salad. And it’s helpful not only to think broadly about ingredients for salad making, but also about cuisines. Salads can be French, Italian, Louisianan (really!), Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and so on—these cultures all do wonders with raw and cooked vegetables and meats for salads. Which also brings up the fact that veggies in salads can be raw, cooked, or some of each. So, it’s about opening up your mind to the many possibilities that are right there for the taking. It’s helpful to spend time at farmer’s markets and visiting ethnic grocery shops. I get huge weekly inspiration by looking at both shelf stable and fresh ingredients, and watching what comes as the seasons change.


OLDWAYS: You call for cheese in a number of your salads. What can non-dairy eaters or vegans use as substitutes to approximate the range of flavor or texture in those recipes?


MINDY: If you prefer to omit cheeses or meats or fish from my salads, that’s absolutely fine, especially when the protein is one of several ingredients (versus a two- or three-ingredient salad that might rely more on the animal protein for flavor balance)—the recipes that incorporate animal proteins are flexible (and there are many vegan and vegetarian choices, too). Try the recipes without the proteins, if desired, just like that. I’m not a fan of vegan cheese and meat substitutes. To me they don’t taste terrific and I want all of my ingredients to really shine. Chopping a good salty or smoky nut can be a nice sub for cheeses (because cheese often adds a little salt factor)—and you get a good texture bonus as well.


 

 

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Susie Middleton, The Fresh & Green Table
(Chronicle Books, June 2012)

Susie has been a published writer since the sixth grade! Her years of experience have taken her down many food paths (culinary school, restaurant work, magazine writer, blogger—to name a few) and including growing and selling her own fruits and vegetables. We love her positive pro-veggie approach to cooking. Her books cast vegetables in a starring role, and the newest title The Fresh & Green Table, enthusiastically presents vegetables as the main dish in any meal. 

 

Interview with Susie Middleton, author of The Fresh & Green Table

OLDWAYS:  Your cookbook title kind of points to the fact that you ‘like’ vegetables. Can you tell us how you got so hooked on vegetables? When did this love affair begin?


SUSIE:  I grew up in a food-obsessed family, though I was a picky eater and we ate what most suburban folks ate during the winters (well, maybe a little better than that, since my mom was channeling Julia Child!). But come summertime, when we were on the coast of Delaware, we picked wild beach plums, grew beans and beefsteak tomatoes in our back yard, and headed out to Knapp’s farmstand every afternoon for fresh picked ‘Silver Queen’ corn, the most amazingly juicy white peaches, ripe cantaloupe, and pole lima beans. Those fresh veggies really resonated with me and planted the seed. But it wasn’t until much later, after I went to culinary school, that I started to play around with veggies. I realized they offered me an incredible amount of creativity as a cook.

During my time at Fine Cooking magazine, I began to write vegetable technique articles that turned out to be really popular, so I realized that people were hungry for great ways to make veggies tasty for everyone at the table. So I knew when I wrote my first book, Fast, Fresh & Green, that it would have to be a collection of great ways to cook veggies. Since I concentrated on side dishes in that book, it seemed only natural to scooch veggies to the center of the plate for my next book!


OLDWAYS:  Your perspective that meat and other animal-based proteins need to play more of a supporting role at dinner is one that is becoming more widely recognized. (This is something that truly excites us here at Oldways.)  For those who may be a bit resistant to this idea, what might you tell them, from your own experience, that could influence their thinking?


SUSIE:  Since I am not a vegetarian (and I have a meat-and-potatoes man on my hands!) I am very sensitive to the fact that folks are used to having a good portion of meat on the plate. My idea is, why not just make that meat portion a bit smaller and let the veggies star? So I think the first way to wrap your head around this idea is to think of it as a slight portion switch.

Secondly, for veggie-centered main dishes, I focus on familiar and delicious types of dishes that everyone loves (carnivores and vegetarians alike) as a great way to introduce the veggies. In The Fresh and Green Table, I have main-dish salads, soups, chili, pasta, pizzas, tarts, grain dishes, sautés—all the kinds of things that folks love, just with more veggies in them.

Thirdly, if you’re the cook in the family, you’ll be thrilled to know that veggies actually offer you a lot more creativity than meat. There are dozens of different types of veggies to choose from, but only a few basic meats we all eat. I take those veggies and show you how to cook and flavor them and how to incorporate them into a satisfying meal.


OLDWAYS:  If you could suggest a few key tips to get people cooking more vegetables, what would be your best advice to create veggie-tastic dishes?


SUSIE:  It’s true that my recipes are very detailed—I’ve been told that the secrets to success lie there (and that my recipes work well)! I give you all kinds of hints and tips—what to look for when something is properly cooked, how something smells…I want to hand over the keys to success, because I have so much fun cooking veggies and want you to as well. So be sure to read the recipes all the way through before you start to cook!

Also, in addition to the simple techniques I show you in every recipe, I use a basic flavor pantry that I call on to boost a dish out of the ordinary: fresh lemons and limes for zest and juice; a few different vinegars; aromatics like garlic, ginger, and shallots; good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and Dijon mustard; plenty of fresh herbs, and a few Asian condiments that are available at the grocery store. Often I’ll just combine two of these things, like fresh mint and ginger, lemon zest and garlic, or balsamic vinegar and orange juice, to give veggies a lift.


OLDWAYS:  We know you must have some great tricks of the trade that made you think, “Oh my gosh, how did I ever live without knowing this?!”  Can you share one or two of your favorite tips with our readers?


SUSIE:  I love tips! When I do book signings I always do a tip demo as well. Things like: I use an ordinary tablespoon to peel the skin off fresh ginger; I slice a tiny bit off the bottom of a potato to stabilize it before slicing it across;  I use a bread knife to slice tomatoes cleanly; I always toast nuts before using them in recipes for a much deeper flavor.


 

Find more Vegetarian and plant-based cookbooks at the Oldways bookstore.