Secrets of the Ultimate Vegan Cookbook

Host Liane Hanson speaks with vegan chefs Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, hosts of the TV cooking show The Post Punk Kitchen. The pair have authored a new book, Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The terms veganomicon and vegangelical share the root word vegan. Vegans are people who don't eat meat, dairy or eggs. But if your idea of a vegan meal is tofu, sprouts and soy milk, you haven't been introduced to Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Their idea of tasty vegan food includes asparagus and lemongrass risotto, eggplant, potato, tiramisu, cupcakes and...

Ms. ISA CHANDRA MOSKOWITZ (Co-author, "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook"): And the moussaka cream, which is pine nuts and tofu.

Ms. TERRY HOPE ROMERO (Co-author, "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook"): Silken tofu and maybe a couple of other things. And when you bake it, and it comes out - it looks like this gorgeous béchamel cream…

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Well, you have brown, so nicely.

Ms. ROMERO: People look at it and they thought it was fake cheese. And I'm like, no, we don't do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Moskowitz and Romero have written several best-selling vegan cookbooks. They're latest is called "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook."

The two met in the mid-1990s outside of Dive Bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They were both in the punk scene, where Romero says food was major part of the culture.

Ms. ROMERO: Look, at anytime you can have a band on your living room floor from Ohio or some place. And, you know, let's make something to eat, you know…

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: And making best friends in one day, like…

Ms. ROMERO: Right.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: That's what happened, like, you met somebody over the weekend -they were your best friend by Monday.

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah, yeah. And we're hanging out all the time.

HANSEN: What were some of bands that ended up spending time on your living room floor?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Oh, where to begin?

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: And probably no one anybody's ever heard off, like, the most famous one I can think of is Oi Polloi, which are Scottish punk rock band that are vegan and they're still around.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ROMERO: We drove them around our van to Canada.

HANSEN: But this also sounds like this is food with attitude.

Ms. ROMERO: Yes and it is certainly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Right. We really actually tried to be accessible and not have, quote, unquote, "attitude."

Ms. ROMERO: Right.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: So our Web site actually says vegan food without attitude because it's not so much about judging you and, you know, it's more about experimenting and eating.

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah. I think that's part, like, of the - what we call post punk. Like we take this, I guess, the more accessible parts of it. Like you do want to call, like, get up and do it yourself as opposed to waiting…

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: That's right.

Ms. ROMERO: …for someone else to make it for you kind of aspect.

HANSEN: Why does the word vegan scare people?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Does it scare you?

HANSEN: No, not really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: I think because it's an ethical choice and that it sounds like a moral judgment to people. And it also sounds like depravation to people.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. Terry, would you agree?

Ms. ROMERO: Ah, yeah. It's also a funny word, you know, it sounds like a religion or a planet or just something that doesn't sound like a normal part of life.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. Why - I mean, from experience, why does so much vegan food tastes so awful?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Let's see. I think it might be because people don't necessarily get a culinary degree and then decided to go vegan, so they've made this choice and then, you know, have to learn how to cook.

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah. I think it's a lot of times, people kind of feel that, okay, I've made this decision for one reason or another and I have to use these ingredients and this serves almost setting themselves up for, like, for less. For, like, I'm going now accept less in my food and what it can be.

HANSEN: You mean by, you know, just sticking with tofu and tempeh and those muffins that taste like, you know, prison loaf.

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Right. Yeah, but not actually learning how to cook right and thinking…

Ms. ROMERO: Because I love tofu.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yeah, I do too, and it really has a lot of special characteristics and qualities that come out right when you learn how to actually prepare it correctly.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. Isa, you actually recommend, if I'm not mistaken, that if someone wants to begin cooking vegan, don't worry about these ingredients, like tempeh, for example, but learn how to cook vegetables.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Right, exactly. That was kind of the basis for Veganomicon.

Ms. ROMERO: Absolutely.

HANSEN: And so what - how - what do you teach people about cooking vegetables?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Well just the basic methods, like, just how to cook the most flavor out of them, and that vegetables do actually have flavor. A lot of us grew up with canned or frozen vegetables that seriously lack flavor. But to eat fresh and…

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: …and seasonally…

Ms. ROMERO: Go to your farmer's market.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Exactly.

HANSEN: I imagine you also encourage people to be adventurous, I mean, try those vegetables perhaps you hadn't heard of before.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yeah, exactly, especially now with the farmer's market. We have such a variety of plant-based food to choose from.

Ms. ROMERO: Right. Get a purple cauliflower.

HANSEN: Yes.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Absolutely.

HANSEN: Or those cauliflowers that looked like they got…

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: The Romanescos.

HANSEN: Yes, they look like Madonna's bra.

Ms. ROMERO: The fractal.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: The joining of math and vegetables.

HANSEN: Yeah. So perfect. When you are concocting recipes, do you veganize existing recipes?

Ms. ROMERO: Occasionally. Like we have, say, picatta or the moussaka - things -we're going to try to reinvent the wheel.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yeah, I mean, it's - there's a lot of great food out there that can easily be translated to, you know, vegan standards just by removing the meat and it can become something new and exciting even from there. And it's also good for - to mix what people like and are familiar with, you know, it's like sort of a springboard.

HANSEN: What do you use in this - particularly the baking recipes, what do you use in them to replace butter and eggs?

Ms. ROMERO: Believe it or not, it's not that difficult. We use a lot of - we use soy milk as sort of the basis for not only the milk but it also replaces a lot of the liquids. We mostly rely on vegetable oils like canola and safflower. And a lot of leavening just happens with baking powder and baking soda like normal stuff, normal supermarket items.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yeah.

HANSEN: What's the thing do - you add a vinegar, it is a soy milk or something because it looks…

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yes, yes, yes.

HANSEN: Tell us what that does?

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah. Well, that's sort of a like an old-fashioned…

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: …Depression era.

Ms. ROMERO: It really is. It's kind of amazing. They made all these great cakes in that era when, I guess, there was a big scarcity in eggs. And you create a chemical reaction at first with the acidity of the vinegar curdles the proteins in the soy milk and then later on when we combine that with dry ingredients like baking - like including baking powder, baking soda, you get this explosion where you'll get a lot of carbon dioxide generated and that creates leavening.

HANSEN: So what does the title of your book, Veganomicon, mean?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Well if we were to break it down into the Latin, it means that the big book of vegan law, but we don't take ourselves that seriously.

Ms. ROMERO: Oh, no. It's kind of a joke like we we're - we look like kind of nerdy things like nerdy movies and nerdy culture. And a lot of our friends, you know, like we like to joke about this stuff.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Yeah.

HANSEN: Do you still cook for punk bands?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Sometimes.

Ms. ROMERO: Yeah. There's a group called The Shondes, which are Yiddish punk rock, girl band, and you know, made (unintelligible) for one of their shows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Like Terry and Isa, The Shondes are from Brooklyn. Their new album, "The Red Sea," will be release Tuesday. Terry and Isa have a public access cooking shows "Post Punk Kitchen" which is now on hiatus.

If you are able to catch a few installments when it was broadcast in New York online then you remember one of Isa's favorite party tricks.

How did you learn to play the guitar with oven mitts?

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Well, actually it's just a matter of editing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: So I can play the guitar and then, you know, I just, you know, use the oven mitt and then we edit some good before it's over. Many years of school and now we've ruined the illusion.

HANSEN: We'll keep it a secret, just, you know, you, me and all 3 million other people.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: All right.

Ms. ROMERO: All right.

HANSEN: Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero are the authors of "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook."

Thanks, both of you.

Ms. MOSKOWITZ: Thank you.

Ms. ROMERO: Thank you.

HANSEN: You can find some of Terry and Isa's vegan recipes on "The Post Punk Kitchen's" Web site, that's bppk.com.

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