Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nava Atlas, author of the new book Vegan Express, talks with Spice Route

Nava Atlas is the author and illustrator of many books on vegetarian cooking, most recently, Vegan Express, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. Her earlier books, Vegetariana, Vegetarian Celebrations, and Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons are considered classics. Nava has also written scores of articles on healthy cooking with natural foods, which have appeared in Vegetarian Times, Veggie Life, Cooking Light, and numerous other publications.
Her home is in the Hudson Valley region of New York State, where she lives with her husband and two sons.
Today, let's talk with our guest, Nava Atlas author of the new book Vegan Express.

How did you come up with the idea of Vegan Express?

Though I love to cook, I have little time to spend in the kitchen. I know that's ironic for a cookbook author, but I'm a writer and artist with a wide variety of work and activities around these professions, so I've learned to be efficient! I know that I have many, many readers in the same situation. I did a book that was published in1995 called Vegetarian Express, and for the last few years I've wanted to do a vegan version of that concept (though the two books are very different).

Are you a vegan?

Yes. My entire family is vegan. I went vegetarian in high school (that was a long time ago, when even being a vegetarian was considered weird). Years later when I got married, my husband was eager to go vegetarian. We raised our two sons vegetarian from birth; then, when my youngest was ten, he became the first vegan in the family. We all followed suit quickly. That was almost six years ago.

What is your favorite dish/recipe and why?

I honestly couldn't answer that! I've made most of these recipes so many times, many have become favorites. I do have a section in the front where I listed my two favorite recipes from each chapter. I'll bet that if I were to make that list again now, I'd have different favorites altogether.

What recipes will you encourage new vegans to try out first?

They are all easy and adaptable, and I think anyone scanning the book would zero in on recipes that contain their favorite ingredients.

What recipes are closer to having a texture similar to meat for carnivores who might try this book?

Definitely the seitan recipes; no wonder that it's called "wheat meat" in Chinese cuisine. Seitan, which is cooked wheat gluten (so obviously not for those with gluten sensitivity!) has a chewy, meaty texture that makes it perfect as a meat substitute in certain dishes. A couple of examples from the book are the Jerk-Spiced Seitan and Seitan Gyros.

What are some of the 'must try recipes' in your book?

  • Nearly-Instant Thai Coconut Corn Soup
  • Golden Tofu Triangles with Rich Peanut Sauce
  • Jerk-Spiced Seitan
  • Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Olives
  • White Pizza with Sweet Potatoes and Caramelized Onions
  • Our Favorite Chocolate Cake

I also like a lot of the side salads and veggie side dishes that can be made in minutes. I tried, throughout the book to offer dishes that you don't see all over the place. For example, last night I made the Broccoli Salad with Yellow Peppers, Pine Nuts, and Cranberries. Tonight, with a nearly-perfect mango, I'll make the Black Bean, Mango, and Avocado Salad. Sometimes I like to choose an easy yet exciting side dish and build the meal from that, instead of the more common approach of choosing a main dish, then deciding what goes with it.

That said, one of the features I think the readers will enjoy is that all the recipes that are centerpiece-type dishes have menu suggestions on how to complete the meal. Some are pairings with other recipes in the book, others are suggestions for recipe-free accompaniments. The
recipes have nutritional data, too. I think those two features are fairly unique in the field of vegan cookbooks, which is getting rather crowded, but there are SO many good ones out there now!

How do you find the balance between writing the recipes and cooking and other work obligations?

I just never get into the kitchen before 5:00 pm, even when I'm writing a cookbook, and most often, not before 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm. I have it easier than most people in that I work from my home. I've always tried to be mindful that people get home from work tired and they don't want to spend even an hour making a meal. I firmly believe that a great meal can be made in 45 minutes or less, so I try to walk the talk.

What, who motivated you to write this book?

What motivates me are my readers. I've been fortunate to have great feedback on my books. I've been able to connect with readers via my newsletter and blog. Via the internet, authors don't have to feel like they're working in a vacuum any longer. I appreciate the fact that readers want to connect with me.

What advice would you give to other vegan or vegetarian mothers and caregivers raising their kids vegan or vegetarian?

There are so many resources out there for veg/vegan families, not to mention all those great books. I always encourage those who want to raise veg/vegan families. I wish the resources had been there when my kids were young. They were born in 1989 and 1991, and even though that is not so very long ago, we just weren't all wired back then. It started to happen in the mid-90s. I think of all the milk my boys drank and I just cringe. Now, people have information at their fingertips. Great resources on the web for vegetarian families include VegFamily and The Vegetarian Resource Group, among many others. I would also recommend my previous book, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook. That's a good book for both vegetarian and vegan families as the recipes are adaptable. It also gives a lot of encouragement and tips, including tips for picky eaters and things like snacks, school lunches, and all those things you need to make when you're raising a family.

Please visit my web site, In a Vegetarian Kitchen for dozens and dozens of mostly vegan recipes, and lots of cooking tips and nutritional information not only from me but from many guest experts.

We, at Spice Route, will be reviewing Nava Atlas's new book Vegan Express in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more on Nava Atlas.

Enjoy and Happy Cooking!

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