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Nava Atlas, Vegan Holiday Kitchen
Have yourself a happy vegan holiday! This exciting, inviting cookbook by veteran author Nava Atlas brilliantly fills the biggest gap in the vegan repertoire with more than 200 delectable, completely doable recipes for every festive occasion. Atlas, one of the most respected names in vegetarian and vegan cooking, addresses everything from Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas –to celebratory brunches, lunches, dinners, potlucks, and buffets. Such mouthwatering dishes as Coconut Butternut Squash Soup, Green Chili Corn Bread, Hearty Vegetable Pot Pie, delicate Ravioli with Sweet Potatoes and Sage, and Cashew Chocolate Mousse Pie will convince even the most skeptical eater that vegan cooking is well worth celebrating.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. For the next few weeks, I started last week and this week and next week, all we are going to be doing is talking about delicious food. I’m not going to be bringing up any sensitive topics about what we’re doing to the environment or what’s happening with the animals or what’s happening with our health. No, no, no that’s for later. Right now it’s just celebration, we’re in a holiday period and there’s lots of great delicious things to talk about.
I have with me in the studio Nava Atlas who is both an author and illustrator of many well-known vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. including Vegan Express, Vegan Soups, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and The Vegetarian Five Ingredient Gourmet. Her first book was Vegetriana and is now considered a classic in its field. Nava is also a visual artist specializing in limited edition artist books and text driven objects and installations. Her work has been shown nationally in museums, galleries and alternative art spaces, and is part of many Museum and University collections. Learn more about Nava at Vegkitchen.com and NavaAtlasArt.com. She has two grown sons and lives in the Hudson Valley region here in New York with her husband.
Today we are going to talk about Vegan Holiday Kitchen, her newest cookbook. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Nava Atlas: Hi Caryn
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. Okay, we’re sitting here and I’m looking at this gorgeous book. It’s a cookbook combination of some of my favorite colors. It’s a very autumn feeling with the rust and golds. Well, you’re an artist and I always think that food should be not only healthy and delicious but it should be beautiful too.
Nava Atlas: Oh, absolutely I’ve always looked at food as an art medium. I think that if it looks good chances are that it’s going to taste really good.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely, and the great thing about plant foods is that we have a huge palette of colors.
Nava Atlas: And the foods that are the most colorful are usually the most nutritious too.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, she knew what she was doing.
Nava Atlas: So that we will be attracted to the right kinds of food.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. So, holiday times are really stressful. It’s supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, and then everybody freaks because there are gifts buy and so many things, and you’re with family – and that can be a good thing or not such a good thing – there’s a lot of stress but there’s a lot of parties and a lot of food. You put together a great collection. Two hundred (200) recipes in this book to touch not only the current holiday but all year long.
Nava Atlas: When you talked about the colors, kind of autumnal colors, it’s because the publisher wisely choose to launch this book close to Thanksgiving. So we have squashes on the cover and the spine reflects some of the reds and yellows. So from Thanksgiving we go to the all-important Christmas and that holiday season and I have Jewish holidays which include Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover, that’s another real picky when it comes to food. From there we have Easter. I have a whole section for the summer on grilling. That’s a little bit of a whole in the vegan repertoire. Just having one really good resource for all those delicious things you want to grill that don’t include meat is important.
Caryn Hartglass: That is important because when you think about grilling you think about slapping that raw piece of flesh on the barbecue, right?
Nava Atlas: That’s probably how it started but now it’s evolved to making so many wonderful things on the grill including pizza. It’s so delicious, grilled pizza so wonderful. And I have a catchall chapter, which will also be useful during this holiday season on pot lucks, brunches and appetizers.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s back up a little bit. How did you get so smart on vegan food?
Nava Atlas: A lot of it is theory and thanks for the compliment. I’ve been vegetarian since high school. I’ve been vegan for entering my 10th year now. So it was just something as I grow up I had a natural aversion to meat. I was lucky I didn’t have any rhyme or reason for it I just didn’t like looking at it on my plate.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of kids have an aversion to meat.
Nava Atlas: Yes, and then their parents say ‘yes, but you must take that one bite’ if there is a vegetable on my plate wasn’t overcooked I was in heaven. So when I was about 17, or 16, I told my mother I wanted to cook for myself. She said fine because she didn’t think it would last. I said I want to be a vegetarian and she laughed and said let’s see how long that lasts. I started going to health food stores, got my driver’s license, and back then health food stores where not like Whole Foods are today or and traders Trader Joe’s today. They were literally these dusty stores that mainly had brown rice, lentils and probably a lot of expired vitamins – I had a feeling. But I just loved it. I really took to it. And then everybody wanted when I was having. I involved myself with a lot of veg friendly boyfriends and when I got married my husband was thrilled to become a vegetarian. He had wanted to but was not a cook. And he’s the one election inspired me to write my first cookbook Vegetariana, that you mentioned before. I would just concoct things and he would say you have to write this down to you can make it again. After a while I decided to combine the recipes with my visual arts as an illustrator and graphic designer. I put together a very quirky book at a time when there weren’t a billion vegetarian cookbooks out there. So that set me on the path that I didn’t expect quite in my life but it’s been a wonderful day job and I that incredible people like yourself.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a community that’s great.
Nava Atlas: It is a great community. And when everything migrated online that’s when I sent what a wonderful community vegetarian and now the vegan worlds are.
Caryn Hartglass: So you said you went vegan about 10 years ago and you do this with your family?
Nava Atlas: Just like I was the first vegetarian and I was the youngest my youngest son was the first vegan in our family and I am so proud of him. We had taken a field trip to a dairy farm that was beyond organics. I thought maybe if I buy my dairy locally I would feel better about it. So the farmer, with great pride, showed us around. I won’t go into great detail to here but we were all kind of in our own private world and just maybe couple days later he came home from the camp within an uneaten rice cheese sandwich he thought it was cheese. I said why didn’t you eat your sandwich? He said because now I’m a vegan. So like a typical Jewish mother I said ‘can you become a vegan after lunch and besides this isn’t really cheese? So he set the pace for all of us. I guess we were all thinking about it to certain degrees. But I thought if a 10-year-old can do this surely we all can.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny because I became a vegetarian first. I went through the progression of eliminating red meat and chicken and then fish and dairy and eggs. And if I was going to do it all again with everything I know dairy would be the first of everything. But we’ve learned a lot along the way and the whole vegetarian thing – OK I’m encouraging people to reduce any amount of animals that they are eating. It’s great for their health and it’s great for the planet. But I’m an all or nothing kind of person, now looking back on my whole vegetarian period it’s just not here or there. Especially when I think about milk and all the things it’s connected to. I don’t want to get down. This is a happy holiday show analysts talk about all that stuff.
Nava Atlas: I know what you’re talking about. It’s something that we saw when we were on that farm tour, but I hear you and there is a wonderful book coming out now called Whitewash about the dangers dairy.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it’s coming out as a documentary.
Nava Atlas: Oh, excellent.
Caryn Hartglass: Very excited, that’s a great book. I talked to Dr……? Who wrote that? I talked to him on this show. It was great. I learned so much. There’s a lot of stuff about milk and so if you’re listening out there and you’re still loving your cheese and dairy well we’re not going to knock it today, but were going to give you a lot of recipes in this great book to distract you.
Nava Atlas: By the way, I was going to say when people talk to me they say ‘I really could be a vegan but I would miss cheese’. I say try Daiya. It’s amazing, if you melt it on pizza. It’s been a while since I had cheese. If you didn’t tell somebody they wouldn’t know.
Caryn Hartglass: Maybe it’s because I haven’t had cheese in a long time, I’m glad Daiya is out there, but I’m personally not a fan of it. I like making my own nut cheeses and I saw you have some recipes for nut cheeses in your book.
Nava Atlas: Right, I have a couple recipes for homemade type cheeses. Someone shouldn’t make them and think they’re going to taste exactly like dairy cheeses but they have very wonderful flavor in and of themselves. I have a couple options and there for doing them with arger (sp?) which gels then and you actually cut them into slices. And they are really a lot of fun.
Caryn Hartglass: They are a lot of fun. We make big batches of them and make chunks and put them in the freezer and then they’re ready for whenever we want them.
Nava Atlas: I bet you can grate them when they are frozen.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, they grate better when they are frozen.
Nava Atlas: But that brings us to a point, a really important point, about the holidays and feasting, we do want things that are somewhat familiar. There’s something about holidays that makes you want to go back to the past and relive hopefully the happier memories. There are a lot of those sense memories that are involved with food. So what I try to do with this book is to draw from tradition but then add something into them like eggnog becomes ‘vegnog’ and instead of using eggs you use cashew butter and it gives you that rich creamy mouth feel and it’s a lot healthier.
Caryn Hartglass: Praise cashews. They are the most amazing thing. I have a new romance thing going on with cashews. I don’t know but ever since people have been making cashew creams and cashew butters is just an amazing dairy replacement. It’s phenomenal.
Nava Atlas: As you say I think is also that becoming vegan actually it expanded my repertoire rather than contracted it. People also have this misconception that all the things you can’t have. Well, you discover so many things you didn’t bother to look into or didn’t have because you want to expand your repertoire. You really want to go a little bit further afield with the flavors and textures and colors.
Caryn Hartglass: Something I keep telling people, this is one of my ongoing messages over and over and over and that is, get back into the kitchen, find the kitchen and start working it because it’s so important to make our own food for so many reasons. Sure, going out to a restaurant and having prepared food is fine but I think for the most part we if we really want to eat as healthfully as possible we really need to be making our own food or at least make it so that we know what is in it so you can be a little bit more savvy about ordering when you’re in a restaurant. And you talk in your book about holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas where people do tend to make some of their own food for these big celebrations. And I was thinking about that when I read it because even now more and more, especially in Manhattan, people are ordering all that food from restaurants and caterers and Whole Food. You can buy a whole dinner already made and we need to be making our own food.
Nava Atlas: You know being in and around Manhattan it might skew how you see it because I think once you get out of New York City there is lot more for the holidays at least this is the time to cook. So I did choose what I called a stay-at-the-home-and-cook holiday. I know people who have ordered, let say, some the Tofurkey and people ask me well, how do you feel about those? Should we talk about it a little bit?
Caryn Hartglass: Sure, absolutely.
Nava Atlas: That’s something that comes up over and over again. People want to know what how I feel about the fake tofu turkeys (they are not just tofu I guess they have other things in them). But it’s an easy way to identify them. And they say well first of all it’s better than the real thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely
Nava Atlas: The other thing is that again I go back to the fact that people want something familiar something they have really good associations that might have tasted good to them at one point but they just don’t want to buy into that anymore. They don’t want to participate in what goes on with Turkey manufacturing but they do want that sense of familiarity. Well, I say you, know what it’s made of tofu, sometimes gluten, it’s stuffed with grains. Once a year it really can’t be bad, if that’s what you want to put it on your table.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely
Nava Atlas: I’m not going to judge. I’d rather stuffed squash but I also understand why people want to recreate, and also who am I to judge. I’m making a kind of a matzo ball soup that very much recalls my Mother’s chicken soup with matzo balls but there is something about it. And when I first got the photo of it (from Susan Voisin who was the wonderful photographer of this book) both my husband and I looked at that photo and we both immediately thought of our Mom’s and our Mom’s soup.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it looks like the real thing. You know, we are a culture, a species, that is continually evolving and so we take something from our past and we just make things better. So with this Tofurkey thing or the tofu turkey -when I was a kid, my mom likes to say this a lot, when we would go out to restaurants I would frequently order turkey and sometimes I would say to her in a very mature voice ‘Turkeys been very good this year’ because I really liked it. And for a long time on my vegetarian to vegan path I was into the meat analogues and the meat substitutes. Some of the Chinese restaurants had incredible meat substitutes that are scary in their taste and texture and so similar to meat and for a long time I liked making…. I never made a faux turkey on the table for Thanksgiving but I would make a plate of maybe some turkey deli slices and seitan that look like giblets and gravy and put mashed potatoes underneath, because it was a great memory for me. But now I’ve moved on and I’m not into those meat analogues as much. It’s a personal choice but I don’t care, as long as it is plant-based go for it.
Nava Atlas: It’s probably not the healthiest thing in the world, it’s high in salt and ??? (@15:59).
My sons have never tasted meat, ever. But they like, no, I should say they love, the meat substitutes. They have nothing to compare it to so it must taste good if they like them so much, because they both have good pallets, but they like the hardiness of the substitutes.
Caryn Hartglass: The chew, the texture, the meatiness.
Nava Atlas: The ‘meatiness’, exactly. They enjoy them quite a bit and enjoy the kind of restaurants that have the meat substitutes. Again they’re not comparing it to anything and they aren’t trying to re-create something, they like them in and of themselves.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay I want to back up. Your children were raised has vegetarians?
Nava Atlas: Yes, but if I knew what I know today I would never have given them milk. But the Internet has really opened our eyes on so many things.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, still how was it raising kids as vegetarians, because this was what 20 years ago?
Nava Atlas: There was a lot less information but it was it was great because we were lucky because I say we were all on the same plate. I told them when they were little, because I think children don’t get the message that this was an animal, so they get used to something and they start liking it and it’s hard to give up. We said we just don’t want to eat animals. I also told them if you want to try it if we’re out somewhere and you’re curious that’s okay, because I want this to come from their own hearts. They would look at us like we lost our minds. Now you’re telling me this is an animal now you’re saying I can try if I want to. They were never tempted, not for a second.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s just interesting when you give a child who knows so much naturally if you gear them on a path that I think is natural versus what most children are geared to today, which is boxed sugary cereal and soda and all kinds of junk. And when you feed children whole natural plant foods then people are looking at you like you are so extreme.
Nava Atlas: It’s interesting, many of the terms that we use for meat dishes are euphemisms. You don’t say okay were having cow for dinner or bull for dinner or a pig. There are nice names for things like bacon or hamburger. So I think a lot of children probably don’t even make the association and are just used to the taste. And maybe for a lot of people it does taste good. As a child for some reason I didn’t think so but I’m sure that a lot of people find it quite delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s jump in and talk about some of your favorites in here.
Nava Atlas: Well, one of the dishes that has made a big splash for the holiday season, if I can find it, is the shepherd’s pie.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I love that. It’s such a great comfort food. People love mashed potatoes, anything with mashed potatoes.
Nava Atlas: I’m almost there I believe. In the photograph it is so beautiful, big golden potatoes on top and the filling is lintel and mushroom. So that has a real hardiness to it. A lot of people have made it and a lot of people blogged about it. I have it on my website, Vegkitchen.com. and some people write about the variations they have done with it. It seems like a very flexible recipe.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s hardy, it’s filling, it’s got that mashed potato thing that everyone loves and it’s not that difficult to make.
Nava Atlas: Not at all . This probably has one of the longer list of ingredients.
Caryn Hartglass: There is more than five ingredients
Nava Atlas: But my recipes really tend toward the simple. In flipping the page I do like this recipe also called Black Rice with Corn and Cranberries and it almost has a Christmasy look to it.
Caryn Hartglass: There are two things I want to mention here. One is I don’t normally add fruit with my savory foods and every time I have them I love them and I think why don’t I put fruit in with my savory foods. So you have the cranberries here, which is great, and then you have a roasted root vegetables dish with apples in it.
Nava Atlas: Oh, yes. I really like adding little bits of fruit for a contrast and it’s a surprise every time you bite into it.
Caryn Hartglass: And the other thing about all the 200 recipes that are in here, this is not a complicated book. These are all beautiful looking because the colors are so lovely but they are simple dishes to make. Simple and satisfying.
Nava Atlas: They are simple. I don’t have time for complicated dishes. I mean, I’m like everyone else, I write cookbooks, but I pretty much get into the kitchen at 6:00 or 6:30 and I want something doable. Of course, for holidays we are willing and able to put a little more effort into it but at heart I’m a fairly lazy cook and I want things that are straightforward and where the ingredients look like the ingredients and there’s not been a lot of manipulation.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, there’s a lot of partying going on, and a lot of different kinds of parties and one important party food is appetizers and we don’t see a lot of is veg appetizers out there but you have some in the book.
Nava Atlas: Yes, we don’t and I thought that’s another gap to fill just like the grilling section. So I very much enjoyed coming up with ideas for appetizers. And I had two appetizers sections in the book. One is in the Christmas chapter where I have a proposed holiday appetizer buffet. Of course nothing is set in stone, but it’s kind of array of very different things. I have sweet and spicy pecans, which is really almost a no-brainer to make, and garlic and rosemary roasted mushrooms. This is something I really enjoy – carrot and kale strudel. Puffed pastry is not the kind of thing you want for every day but if you can eat it, if you’re not gluten-free, it really dresses everything up. It’s so yummy. This is what we were talking about before – creamy cracked pepper cheez (that’s c-h-e-e-z), and then a hot artichoke and white bean spread. And that one seems also be popular among people who have food blogs. People have talked about that.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s praise the white beans for a minute.
Nava Atlas: Yes, let’s do that.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve got it in some soup recipes. It’s in your wild mushroom soup. White beans are amazing. They are inexpensive and nutritious but you puree them up and it’s like an instant smooth creaminess that you can add anything.
Nava Atlas: The cashew of the bean world. It is, it is so versatile. Again, there’s something about it that is so comforting and acts as a backdrop, substantial and hardy and just so many ways you can flavor it and dress it up.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s not high in fat, although fat from whole food sources is good and we need fat.
Nava Atlas: But beans have almost no fat though.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, yeah, we could have little fat debate here.
Nava Atlas: I’m for little fat, by the way.
Caryn Hartglass: No, I think fat from whole foods sources like ???, seeds, avocado, maybe some coconut, they’re all good. I’m not big on new oils but wholes fats are really important. We only have a few moments left. I want to talk about your new book, which is coming out after this one, about greens and my lead-in here is with fat because when we’re eating dark green vegetables (which have a lot of fat-soluble nutrients in them) we need a little fat in order to absorb those nutrients. So we’ve got to have our fats.
Nava Atlas: A lot of the greens recipe I came up with have a smidgen of olive oil but I’m also not big on adding a lot of oil for food but there’s just something very satisfying about a tiny bit of oil added to veggies. Like when you roast them in the oven you need a little bit of that fat to bring out the sweet flavors and to make them crispy around the edges.
Caryn Hartglass: So, did you said you want to mention anything else about this book or can we talk a little bit about your Green book is coming out.
Nava Atlas: I just wanted to quickly mention that toward the end there is a big list of easy appetizers. And I just like the idea for holidays of having an appetizer and dessert buffet, skip the dinner.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, people really love that. All that finger food and dessert.
Nava Atlas: And I guess a lot of people are getting into what I guess you’d call green cocktails now. How fun is that!? I don’t know a lot about , but I can imagine it would be huge fun with the appetizers.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we just had a bunch of juices and you had great one beet and pineapple and….
Nava Atlas: Beet, pineapple, carrots, there may have been a little bit of apple.
Caryn Hartglass: I would order that in a bar
Nava Atlas: Just put a little shot of vodka in it
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So the picture for the olive bar medley with tofu feta is really beautiful
Nava Atlas: Oh, thanks. Again it can’t get easier than that. You take the tofu and you slice it up, you squeeze as much of the water out of it, you marinate it in lemon juice and a little bit of all of olive oil and oregano. I tell you it looks a lot like feta and combine it with an array of olives and bell peppers that you find in the olive bar at your supermarket and you have kind of fancy appetizer that takes no time to make.
Caryn Hartglass: Really. Good. You’ve got a greens book coming out and I just want to know what was the motivation to do a book all about greens.
Nava Atlas: Because there isn’t one and people are really into it these days. Everybody loves kale. Kale is the new broccoli. People are just …. And it’s almost addictive because it makes you feel so good.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s so much science behind greens and I really believe greens saved my life. There are so many immune system boosting nutrients in dark leafy greens vegetables and they are so important. I can’t wait to see the book. We just did online at Mine on ??? living.com, a new food show called It’s All About Greens and we made four dishes with kale; steamed kale, kale salad, kale smoothie and a green juicy with kale. I want to see more kale out there.
Nava Atlas: Yes, kale, collards, Chinese greens, and mustard greens. Mustard greens, I have to say, were the most pleasant surprise to me because I hadn’t worked with them much before. They are really great combined with something mild like spinach, which I understand is done quite a bit in Indian cuisine. You know when people fix greens they basically sauté them in olive oil and garlic and that’s wonderful but there’s so many things to do with them. So I wanted to explore it more for myself and the fact that again it’s kind of a gap on the market I thought well, I’d like to pursue it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, I’m hoping to see more green varieties in supermarkets. When I go to the Chinese market (because we have Chinatown in Manhattan and Chinatown in Queens) you see these piles of different kinds of greens and I don’t even know what they are. We know more about bok choy, but there’s ??? choy and all these other choys and they all have subtle different flavors and we should have them all, all-time.
Nava Atlas: I go into those a bit as an introduction because again most people don’t have access to them but again I did want to introduce them a little bit. And for market research I actually did go down to Chinatown a couple of times and said ‘what is this?’ And of course I couldn’t understand what the vendor was saying so I thought I’ll figure this out, I’ll just take a picture of this and try to match it to something on the Internet. The versatility of these greens just amazing – raw, cooked, braised, sautéed, stir-fried. I discovered to that in older books about greens they always suggest you to boil collard greens for 20 minutes and then save the pot liqueur. Best way to do collards is to cut them into really really fine ribbons and stir-fry them, it’s just delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things I like to talk about greens, especially around the holiday time, is that people are going to be eating a lot of treats and a lot of rich food and all of that is fine for a celebration, not for everyday food. But you’ve got to have those greens because they come in and clean everything out and they not only provide healthy cell boosting nutrition but they help detox too.
Nava Atlas: We all need more greens in our lives and I hope to provide an easy way to do those. The book is going to be called Wild About Greens. My editor came up with that title and I thought it was great.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m wild about greens. Nava I thank you for joining me on Its All About Food and I was so excited when I saw your Vegan Holiday Kitchen book in Macy’s last week.
Nava Atlas: Yes, I was very excited about that.
Caryn Hartglass: I hope you sell so many of the books because everybody needs a vegan holiday cookbook.
Nava Atlas: Well thank you. That was a real clue that Vegan has gone mainstream .
Caryn Hartglass: That’s vegkitchen.com, right? There’s hundreds of recipes there.
Nava Atlas: Yes, by me and others from the Vegan community.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you very much. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Will be back in a minute more delicious food.
Transcribed by Rebecca Wingard, 7/30/2013