Though Our Hen House’s blog is not a foodie blog per se, we do strongly recognize the importance of bringing vegan food to the masses as a way to create social change. Mariann likes to say that the single most important thing you can do to help animals is to provide delicious vegan food. With that in mind, from time to time, we like to talk to a vegan chef who is using their talent in the kitchen as a way to advocate for animals through cruelty-free, compassionate cuisine. Falling into that category is the dynamite chef and author, Christine Waltermyer, who founded and runs the Natural Kitchen Cooking School, located in Princeton, NJ.
We are big fans of Christine’s work, and got the full story of how she founded her school when we chatted with her last year on our podcast. In addition to recognizing the importance of making delicious vegan food so that people who are not yet enlightened to the yumminess of a vegan diet can become awakened to all its glory, what we love about Christine is that, by founding the Natural Kitchen Cooking School, she started her own animal-friendly business. One might call that “for-profit activism.”
She’s doing all kinds of good things there in the Garden State. In her copious free time (ha), Christine managed to write a recipe book, The Natural Vegan Kitchen, which I bought for my mom for this past Mother’s Day. I must admit that my gift was not entirely selfless; I leafed through the pages before passing it on, and tried out a few of the scrumptious recipes myself. Mom didn’t seem to mind that there was a little avocado smear on a few of the pages. I can personally attest that Christine’s recipes are absolutely heavenly, as well as accessible and wholesome.
Christine agreed to talk to us all about her new cookbook, and how she incorporates animal advocacy into her work. She even shares one of her favorite summer-friendly recipes with us. And keep reading, because at the bottom of this post you’ll see how you can win your very own copy of The Natural Vegan Kitchen.
Our Hen House: What was your vision for your new cookbook, The Natural Vegan Kitchen?
Christine Waltermyer: I wanted The Natural Vegan Kitchen to make plant based cuisine doable, nourishing and delicious for both beginners and folks more familiar with vegan cooking. I have a love affair with whole, natural and unprocessed ingredients, and want to share that passion to help people feel fantastic on a vegan diet!
OHH: How do you use your cooking school, and now your book, as an extension of your animal advocacy?
CW: I think one of the main reasons people shy away from going vegan is that they mistakenly think they will be sacrificing taste. So my form of animal advocacy is to show people how delicious vegan cuisine can be. I love nothing more than giving out food samples in a cooking class and seeing someone experiencing that ah-ha moment of “Hmm…this is really good. I think I could eat like this.”
OHH: When you were on our podcast, you told us about the plans for this book, which was at that point still just a glimmer in your eye! I remember you mentioned that you were not planning on having the word “vegan” in the title, but your publisher was insistent that it be there. Can you tell us more about that, and what your publisher’s rationale was?
CW: Yes, I loved being on your podcast! At the time when my publisher and I were talking about possible titles for the cookbook, I was very excited to hear that the term “vegan” had become the hot buzzword. It was getting many more hits online than just “vegetarian.” I’m really happy that we went with it. Book Publishing Company has been incredible to work with!
OHH: One thing I appreciate about your recipes is that you center them around whole foods, as opposed to making them heavy with seitan and fake meats. Though I love fake meat, I have recently rekindled my own love affair with vegetables! Tell us a bit about your decision to focus so much of your cooking on healthy, whole foods.
CW: Thanks Jasmin! Yeah, as yummy as the fake meat tastes (and I do include some seitan in The Natural Vegan Kitchen) it can be hard for some people to digest. So I decided to focus on foods that are whole, real and minimally processed since I think this is the healthiest way to eat. I know I began my journey as a junk food vegan and felt lousy. So I hope that people reading my book will learn from my mistakes and enjoy wholesome, balanced meals that will keep them super healthy and energized!
OHH: Is The Natural Vegan Kitchen accessible to non-cooks?
CW: Absolutely! This is a great book for beginners and non-cooks because the recipes are simple and easy to follow. We have a glossary in the back that defines many of the ingredients used throughout the book that might be new to some people.
OHH: What about non-vegans? Do you hope that this book will land in the hands of the veg-curious, and ultimately enlighten them to the deliciousness of cruelty-free cuisine?
CW: That would be wonderful! I love reaching non-vegans & the veg-curious, and many people who take my classes and Chef Training Program are in that category. The way I see it, even if people are not totally vegan, if they at least begin to reduce their meat consumption it still saves animals’ lives and planetary resources. A gradual approach in a supportive atmosphere seems to work well for a lot of people I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve had many students announce that they will never go vegan, and through some kind of magical osmosis, they announce one day that they’ve gone vegan — without me trying to convince them of it! I always try to meet people where they are and educate them in a compassionate way. Food seduction is where it’s at for me!
OHH: For our readers who might be toying with the idea of creating a vegan cookbook of their own, is there any advice you have to offer?
CW: Keep a journal and write down all of your best culinary creations. If you’re an intuitive chef who doesn’t like to measure (like me!), this will be a challenge, but well worth the effort. Also, when it comes to finding a publisher and writing the book proposal and query letter, I recommend hiring an experienced cookbook coach to guide you through the process. I found Robin Robertson, the goddess of vegan cookbooks, to be an invaluable resource for me. I could not have done it without her guidance.
OHH: When it comes to food as activism – meaning, anything from hosting vegan feed-ins to encouraging vegan options in school cafeterias to writing letters to the editor in response to food articles – do you find that there is one particular route that is most effective? Or is it different strokes for different folks? Does any kind of food activism speak to you loudest?
CW: I always find a direct sensory experience of delicious vegan food to be a powerful tool for activism. Of course, sending in yummy recipes to newspapers is a great idea too, but cooking for people is powerful. You can’t believe the success I’ve had with feeding folks killer vegan chocolate chip cookies! I’m a fan of short sound bites, so as someone is sinking their teeth into some yummy morsel I’ve made, I’ll say “So you really can have your cake and eat it too. Everyone wins with this way of eating. You’ll feel and look better, it saves animals’ lives and it’s better for the planet.” I love presenting veganism in a really positive way, making it upbeat and all about decadence and fun. That’s just what feels right for me.
OHH: Is there a recipe from your book that you can share with our readers?
CW: Here’s a nice one for the hot summer months. You don’t have to cook a thing, just wrap and roll!
Basil Summer Rolls (gluten free)
Makes 4 rolls
Delight your guests with these beautiful, delicious rolls. They look especially lovely sliced on a diagonal and arranged on a party platter.
2/3 cup unsweetened creamy peanut butter
3 1/2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari
2 tablespoons gluten-free brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed (1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon crushed red 8 pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup water
8 rice paper rounds (8 inches in diameter)
1 cup sliced ready-made baked marinated tofu
1 cup whole fresh basil or mint leaves
1 cup seeded and sliced cucumber
To make the sauce, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, tamari, syrup, ginger, garlic, and optional red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Gradually add the water, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
To make the rolls, fill a shallow bowl or pan with warm water. Soak 2 rice paper rounds in the warm water for 30 to 60 seconds, until pliable. Remove from the water and put on a plate. Use 2 rice paper rounds for each wrapper, as this will help to prevent them from tearing. Place a few strips of the tofu, a few basil leaves, and a few slices of cucumber in the center of each wrapper. Top with a few teaspoons of the Peanut Sauce. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper over the filling, and then roll the wrapper tightly around the filling. Fold in the sides midway and then continue rolling. Transfer the roll to a plate and cover with dampened paper towels (to keep the rice paper from drying out). Make 3 more rolls in the same manner. Slice the finished rolls in half on a diagonal. Serve with the remaining Peanut Sauce for dipping.
Note: Basil Summer Rolls can be made 6 hours in advance. Wrap them in dampened paper towels (to keep them from drying out), put them in a storage container, and refrigerate. Slice the rolls just before serving.
Per roll: calories: 444, protein: 24 g, fat: 24 g, carbohydrate: 33 g, fiber: 3 g, sodium: 847 mg
Want a chance to win a copy of The Natural Vegan Kitchen by Christine Waltermyer? Comment below and tell us what your favorite kind of food activism is. This can include anything from vegan feed-ins, to writing letters to the editor in response to food-related articles, to making delicious vegan cupcakes for your office and sharing them, to anything else that uses vegan food as a way to change hearts and minds. You must submit your answer by midnight EST on July 4, 2011. One lucky winner will be randomly selected using a number generator. Only one entry per person please.