Fourteen years ago, a colleague handed me a copy of Jeanne Lemlin’s Simple Vegetarian Pleasures. I took it home and pretty much cooked my way through it. There were plenty of vegetarian recipes to be had back then, but a lot of them were lackluster. Jeanne opened my eyes to countless and easy ways I could work more vegetables and better ﬂavors into my family’s meals. I loved the tone of her book and her great cooking tips. And more times than I can count, I watched my kids and their friends devour things I’d made using her recipes.
Jeanne went on to write four more cookbooks, and win a James Beard Award for one, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. I was delighted to see that she has come out with a new book, Simply Satisfying. I caught up with Jeanne a few weeks ago as she was preparing for the book’s launch.
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.
OLDWAYS: We’re heading into Thanksgiving, a time when people tend to think about vegetables. What will be on your dinner table for this holiday?
JEANNE: I love all the side dishes that ﬁll the Thanksgiving table, but I also want a centerpiece. I make a Walnut Loaf with Burgundy Sauce that is in my new book, Simply Satisfying, and it is one of my all-time favorite recipes. It is reminiscent of a traditional meatloaf, and it makes fabulous sandwiches the next day when topped with Russian dressing, leftover stuﬃng, and a spoonful of cranberry sauce. I also look forward to the Turnip Gratin because it melts in your mouth and is a deﬁnitely a special-occasion dish in that the grated turnip cooks in heavy cream!
OLDWAYS: And thinking about Thanksgiving, can you share a recipe from your book that you think is especially appropriate for the holiday?
JEANNE: I’d love to. Here’s that Walnut Loaf.
Walnut Loaf with Burgundy Sauce
¾ pound sliced whole wheat bread (about 14 slices)
¾ pound (about 2¾ cups) walnuts
4 large onions, minced
1 bunch parsley, minced (about 2 cups minced)
1 green pepper, minced
1 celery rib, minced
3 eggs, beaten
1½ teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons oil
1 (16-ounce) can tomatoes, chopped and drained
1 bunch parsley for garnish
7 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons ﬂour
½ cup red Burgundy wine, or other dry red wine
⅓ cup tamari soy sauce
3½ cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat the broiler. Lay the slices of bread on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler on both sides until golden. Cool, then grind into bread crumbs in a blender or food processor. Put the bread crumbs in a large bowl.
2. Reduce the oven setting to 375°F. Grind the walnuts in the blender or food processor as you did the bread. Add to the bread crumb bowl and mix well.
3. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the parsley garnish and mix well.
4. Generously butter a 1½-quart loaf pan and spoon the mixture into it. Press it in ﬁrmly and smooth over the top. Cover with foil. May be prepared to this point up to 24 hours in advance and chilled.
5. Place the loaf pan in a larger pan or baking dish and ﬁll with enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake for 2 hours. Let the loaf sit on a wire rack for 10 minutes before unmolding.
6. To unmold, carefully slide a knife around the loaf to loosen it from the pan. Lay a serving platter on top of the loaf pan and invert. Garnish the loaf with parsley sprigs around the platter. Serve sliced, with Burgundy Sauce.
To Make Burgundy Sauce:
1. In a medium saucepan melt 6 tablespoons of the butter, then add the ﬂour and whisk until smooth. Cook this roux over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
2. Add the wine, soy sauce, vegetable stock, and pepper, and whisk to blend. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened and fragrant. Just before serving add the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir until melted. Do not boil again. Serve in a sauceboat.