The last time we checked in with Nava Atlas she was Wild About Greens. Today she is plant powered and living the good life, promoting her newest book, Plant Power, which celebrates the bounty of natural foods and teaches everyone—from committed vegans to those who just want more plants in their diet—how to implement a plant-based diet. We love Nava’s practical plant-powered lessons as she shares approachable, joyful ideas that invite readers to accompany her on this delicious journey.
Today Nava joins us at the Oldways Table with a plant-ﬁlled plate of goodies to share with all of you!
OLDWAYS: Plant Power is your eleventh cookbook. How do you think your cooking has evolved over the years and what can readers expect from this latest book?
NAVA: Is it my eleventh? I thought it was my twelfth or fourteenth … honestly, I’ve lost track, what with all the revised editions and such. But no matter what number, it adds up to a lot of recipes!
The main evolution is having gone from vegetarian to vegan. I also went through phases, especially when my kids were growing up, when I was much more willing to use shortcuts, like prepared BBQ sauce, peanut sauce, salad dressings, and such, so I could focus more on prepping veggies and other hands-on ingredients. And I still heartily approve of that, so long as the convenient products are all-natural and not loaded with added sugars or fats. Now, I give myself as well as readers of Plant Power the option of making these kinds of ﬂavor-enhancing add-ons from scratch, or not.
Since I’ve been a busy working mom (my kids are grown now and live in Brooklyn, like all young people their age) I understand how challenging it is to get a good meal on the table each and every day. So I wrote Plant Power with that in mind. It’s not just for those who want to go vegan, but anyone who wants to enjoy a more plant-based diet, and do so easily and enjoyably. In addition to recipes, there are make-ahead tips, strategies, ideas for creating full meals, ways to make leftovers more exciting, and lots more.
OLDWAYS: In the book you share your own personal journey to a plant-based lifestyle and how early on you were met with some resistance. What advice can you oﬀer to others who may experience similar resistance from friends and family?
NAVA: My advice is always to be armed with great food and credible info. I’ve rarely gone on the oﬀensive, but if someone wants to challenge you, or to simply understand what the plant-based diet and/or vegan lifestyle entails, know whereof you speak! You don’t have to give lectures, but be familiar with the basics of the health, ethical, and environmental beneﬁts, so you can enlighten in a positive way.
If you know you’re going to be the only vegan at a family dinner, for example, always oﬀer to bring a great main dish, and if you’re ambitious, a dessert as well. The best way to win skeptics over is with delicious food. And make sure to bring plenty, because almost invariably, people are curious and want to try what we plant-based eaters are having.
OLDWAYS: What are some common mistakes people make when they decide to start eating a vegetarian or vegan diet and how can they avoid these mistakes?
NAVA: A common mistake is to assume that because you’re going vegan, you’re necessarily eating healthier. Just like any regimen, a plant-based diet can be good and adequate, or inadequate. You need not be a nutrition expert to adopt this way of eating, but do know a few basics, like what your protein sources are (not because this is a concern, but because everyone is going to ask you; trust me on that one!); and be aware that you’ll need to ﬁnd a good way to supplement vitamin B12.
I’ve heard from many younger people who want to go vegetarian or vegan for the right reasons, but then admit that they’re picky eaters who don’t particularly like vegetables. Sometimes it’s a matter of retraining the palate, and trying new ways of preparation. Personally, I think it would be a sad plant-based diet without lots of veggies.
There’s also the danger of falling into a rut, just as with any kind of diet, and then getting discouraged because meals get boring. In Plant Power, I talk about approaching meal planning with the same enthusiasm one brings to going out to eat. Finally, I don’t want people to make the mistake of thinking of the plant-based diet as one of deprivation or substitution. It’s a cuisine that has come into its own, and most people who make the commitment ﬁnd that their palate and meal options expand rather than contract.
OLDWAYS: You do a fantastic job of debunking myths pertaining to plant-based diets. Can you talk to us about some of the biggest misconceptions of plant-based eating?
NAVA: We already touched on the protein question; the myth is that it’s diﬃcult to get suﬃcient protein on a plant-based diet. It’s a question that comes up all the time. The reality is that if one has a varied diet and is getting enough calories, you’re very likely to be consuming suﬃcient protein. Of course, allowances need to be made for pregnant and lactating women, very active athletes, and those who are healing from injuries.
Similar to the concern about whether a plant-based diet will be one of deprivation, is the myth that it’s a boring and restrictive diet. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that’s amply borne out not only by Plant Power, but the hundreds of vegan cookbooks and websites that have burst onto the scene. On the other hand, some people worry that they’ll have to use strange and exotic products. You can, of course, but that’s not a requirement. I focus on ingredients that are just plain food — vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, beans … and all the myriad ways to make them delicious.
Another myth is that you’ll be hungry all the time on the plant-based diet. This concern seems prevalent by those who haven’t yet tried it, and are pre-worried that they won’t feel satisﬁed. I point to hearty dishes that people are already familiar with — chili, stews, casseroles, even mac and cheese. These can all be made in plant-based versions that are just as ﬁlling as their meaty or high-fat counterparts, but much healthier.
OLDWAYS: We all agree that having a well-stocked pantry is key to cooking wholesome meals. What are a few items that are always on the shelves in your plant-powered pantry?
NAVA: My pantry is always stocked with a variety of whole grains, though quinoa seems to be my go-to grain most often; also a variety of canned beans, because I’m usually too busy or lazy to cook them from scratch. I consider potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic pantry items, because they’re kept at room temperature, and those are always on hand.
Nuts and dried fruits are in the pantry to be used in moderation, not only due to the fat content of the former and the sugar content of the latter, but the cost. I’m a fan of seeds, too, so sunﬂower, sesame, and hemp are staples. I like pumpkin seeds, too, but can’t always ﬁnd them.
Going back to the convenient shortcuts we spoke of before, good-quality marinara sauce and salsa are always on hand. I do make them from scratch, but only when the garden is bursting with tomatoes. Otherwise, as I say in the book, I let Paul Newman make them for me so I have more time to prep veggies!
OLDWAYS: Your book includes more than 150 recipes – might we share one of these delicious dishes with our readers?
NAVA: Sure, let’s give your readers a ﬁlling one for the cold season ahead.
Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup
A longtime favorite in our family of broccoli enthusiasts, this soup gets a thick, creamy base from pureed white beans or tofu. The addition of green peas at the end of cooking time brightens the color and heightens the ﬂavor of the soup.
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or 3 tablespoons vegetable broth or water
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
32-ounce carton low-sodium vegetable broth or 4 cups water mixed with 2 to 3 teaspoons salt-free all-purpose seasoning blend (such as Frontier or Mrs. Dash)
5 to 6 cups coarsely chopped broccoli ﬂorets and peeled stems
2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
One 15- to 16-ounce can great northern beans or cannellini, drained and rinsed, or one 12.3-ounce package ﬁrm silken tofu
1 cup unsweetened rice milk or other unsweetened nondairy milk, plus more as needed
To ﬁnish the soup:
2 cups ﬁnely chopped broccoli ﬂorets
½ cup chopped fresh dill or parsley, or a combination, plus more for garnish
Juice of ½ lemon, or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil, broth, or water in a soup pot and add the onion. Sauté over medium heat until translucent, then add the garlic if desired. Continue to sauté until the onion is golden.
Add the broth and broccoli. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the broccoli is tender but not overcooked, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the beans or tofu and half the green peas. Continue to cook just until everything is nicely heated through.
The easiest way to puree this soup is to simply insert an immersion blender into the pot and puree until it’s as smooth as you’d like it to be. You can also leave it a bit chunky. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer the mixture to a regular blender and puree (don’t overprocess!), then transfer back to the soup pot. Add enough nondairy milk to give the soup a medium-thick consistency.
To ﬁnish the soup, add the remaining green peas, the ﬁnely chopped broccoli ﬂorets, the chopped herbs, and the lemon juice. Stir together, then season with salt and pepper. Cook over very low heat for 5 minutes longer, or until the ﬁnely chopped broccoli ﬂorets are tender-crisp, then serve.
Recipe from Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes by Nava Atlas. ©2014, published by HarperOne, reprinted by permission. Photos by Hannah Kaminsky.