Viva Vegetariana

Fledgling vegans are spoiled for choice, without ever realizing it. Beyond the obvious conveniences of readily available meatless meals in both restaurants and grocery stores, newbies might not know that the entire cookbook section has been turned upside down in the past decade. In fact, that distinct lack of vegan baking books is what motivated me to write My Sweet Vegan to begin with.

Compared to Nava Atlas, however, I was still late to the party. Truly a pioneer in the culinary world, activism, literature, and art, Vegetariana first hit bookshelves in 1984, before I was even born. It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come since then, thanks in no small part to such bold moves. Now, 37 years later, Nava’s premier work encompassing recipes, food lore, and imaginative illustrations has been reborn for a whole new generation of compassionate cooks.


Reprinted with permission from Vegetariana by Nava Atlas

While I’ve often flippantly declared that I could never use a cookbook without photos, Vegetariana has made me eat those words, along with a wide assortment of sweet and savory delights. Nava brings these recipes to life with her incredibly artful drawings and stories, giving them even greater presence on the page than a mere snapshot could allow.

These recipes have truly stood the test of time. Tested and tasted again and again, over the course of nearly four decades, they’ve been polished like diamonds, each one a culinary jewel. I’ve had the great fortune of working with Nava for a mere quarter of this book’s lifetime and can easily attest to this fact. Not once have I hit a single dud through the course of our collaborations.

Given such extensive experience with Nava’s work, it’s hard to pick even a dozen favorites from the bunch. Tofu Rancheros make eggs obsolete in this upgraded Tex-Mex standard. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, there’s no time I would ever turn down a heaping helping.

Sweet & Sour Cabbage Soup could soothe the soul better than any scrawny chicken. Tangy and tart, sweet and soft, every spoonful is bright, full of vibrant flavors the belie such a simple preparation. Humble, affordable, and accessible ingredients are transformed into exquisite creations with minimal effort.

Speaking of fast favorites, Quinoa Sloppy Joe or Taco Filling is the all-purpose meatless stuffing for any lonely bun, bread, or tortilla you’ve got on hand. Made for one or an unexpected hoard of visitors, it scales easily, keeps beautifully, and reheats like a champ.


Reprinted with permission from Vegetariana by Nava Atlas

Prepare to add a whole new collection of instant hits to your standard recipe arsenal. Nava Atlas has been so generous to kick-start that inspiration by giving away three copies of Vegetariana to those hungry for comfort food, and food for thought.

To enter, leave me a comment below about your favorite go-to recipe. What’s the dish that you’ve made a hundred times, and could easily make a hundred times more? Don’t forget to come back and fill out the entry form to log your submission, and unlock a number of additional methods to rack up extra entries.

Vegetariana: A Rich Harvest of Wit, Lore, and Recipes by Nava Atlas

Black Magic

Halloween is not just a one day event for me. Decorations go up in early September, regardless of lingering summery weather or unspoken rules of neighborhood conduct. By this time, while everyone else is finally getting into the spirit, I’ve already been rocking my skeleton shirt in public for well over a month. Don’t forget the little pumpkin I’ve been walking, clad from paws to nose in bright orange jack-o-lantern attire.

Other people might celebrate the holiday with an enchantingly festive meal on the 31st, but why wait until the witching hour to create some magic in the kitchen? A good example is this ghoulish version of mac and cheese that’s become a daily staple around here during the past few weeks.

Black as night, homemade pasta takes on a ghastly ashen hue thanks to a touch of natural witchcraft… Also known as edible coconut charcoal. Just a touch is enough to tint a whole pound of pasta without leaving a trace of off-flavors, yielding a stunning visual impact without sacrificing taste. Plated atop rich cheese sauce bolstered by creamy pumpkin puree, the stark color contrast is bright and bold enough to get anyone into a mischievous mood.

What are you waiting for? The time is ripe to get down with your witches. Invite your besties over and treat them to a wickedly good meal.

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Better Than Butterfinger

Gather ’round and don’t be scared now. Conventional candy bars do have many frightful ingredients, reading like a chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong. Tempting with bewitching spells cast from sugar and corn syrup, even the strongest hero have occasionally fallen for their evil tricks. It’s time we beat those monsters back once and for all.

Butterfingers were original unleashed upon the world almost one hundred years ago and continue haunting hapless shoppers at checkout stands to this day. Escape from that dangerous trap because back in the safety of your home, we can make a real treat together.

Resoundingly crunchy, crisp throughout, and packed with deeply toasted nutty flavor, this recipe is more than just a resurrection of a past favorite, but a complete revival and revamp. Cloaked in devilishly dark chocolate, these rich, intense flavors would utterly slay the old phantom.

Originally featured in my now defunct eBook Wicked Treats, it seemed a same to let this gem meet such an timely end. If there’s only one treat you plan on making for Halloween, make it this one!

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The Good Forager

Mushroom foraging is not for beginners. Pluck the wrong cap and you could be taking your life into your hands. No matter how innocuous, one incorrect identification could be downright deadly. Great risks yield little payoff, especially when you consider the fact that shiitake, arguably the greatest prize for sheer umami content, will never cross your path.


Photo courtesy of Sugimoto

Shiitake are native to Southeast Asia where they do grow wild, but these days are largely recognized as a cultivated mushroom. Although there are no definitive written records, there’s a good chance shiitake had been growing naturally in Takachiho-go, at the foot of Mt. Sobo over 10,000 years ago, when broadleaf forests spread across Japan.


Photo courtesy of Sugimoto

Today, Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms grow on sweet sap oak logs in the forest. Completely exposed to the elements, the growers use a 1,000-year-old Japanese approach to nurturing sustainable tree logs, fostering an environment as close to those original conditions know to produce the best tasting and textured Shiitake.

Larger agribusinesses cannot grow the same quality shiitake. Families living deep in the mountains grow Sugimoto shiitake in harmony with nature, without the dangers associated with traditional foraging. In each forest micro-climate, it is essential to fine-tune the variable factors of nature, exposure to the rain, wind, and the sunlight through the trees, with the work and working hours changing according to the weather. These are hard-earned skills beyond the grasp of business people, thinking only of time cards and profits. Truly a labor of love, over 600 independent growers can elevate the act of foraging to an art form.

In the spirit of shepherd’s pie, forager’s pie is what I’d like to think the skillful shiitake grower might enjoy with their harvests. Earthy, bright herbs like thyme and rosemary sing in concert to further accentuate those aromatic woodsy base notes. Instead of ground beef or lamb, chopped shiitake mushrooms add an incredibly meaty bite and umami flavor, possibly even surpassing the original in sheer depth of flavor. Gently browned tempeh boosts the protein to incredible heights, without spiking the fat content or adding any cholesterol, of course.

Crowned with rich, buttery mashed potatoes, everything comes together quickly in a single skillet, making advanced preparation, transportation, and even cleanup a breeze. This one-pan meal is casual and comforting enough for an easy weeknight dinner, yet made with such luxurious flavors that it would a suitable centerpiece for a holiday feast.

For a satisfying meatless entree that’s wildly delicious, you don’t need to go scrounging around for the key ingredient. Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms are now available on Kroger.com, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and their own website. Now that’s my kind of fool-proof foraging.

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