Author Interviews


With the New Year's holiday promising another evening of excess...



MONTAGNE: Yes, yes of course. But also lots of hors d'ouevres - cheese, deviled eggs, bacon-wrapped shrimp.

GREENE: Which got us thinking about a kind of diet that is far more green.

MONTAGNE: A plant-based diet that excludes animal products - meat, chicken, fish, dairy, even honey from bees. Veganism is becoming more mainstream and among its best known advocates is chef Bryant Terry. He also fights for access to fresh, seasonal food in low income African-American neighborhoods. Like those near him in Oakland, California.

His newest cookbook is called "The Inspired Vegan." Good morning.

BRYANT TERRY: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start this conversation with a simple question I think many people might ask. Why vegan?

TERRY: I think a lot of people, when they talk about vegan diets the focus is on what's not being eaten. And I'm more focused on just the diverse varieties of fruits and vegetables and legumes. And I'm not here to tell anyone how they should eat, but I do think that people need to understand the benefits of having a plant-based diet and understand the detriment that having a diet that is heavy in meat can have on one's health and wellbeing.

MONTAGNE: Well, you set for yourself an extra challenge, I think, in your earlier cookbook "Vegan Soul Kitchen." As the title suggests, you were tackling a food tradition - that would be soul food - generally thought of as involving fried chicken, pork, buttermilk biscuits, egg custard pies. And you in fact took a lot of those cultural foods and transformed them.

TERRY: Well, you know, so often, I mean, obviously, when people hear vegan and soul food, they think that it's oxymoronic - how diametrically opposed can those things be? But for me, my goal with the book was really helping to refocus people's attentions on the origins of African-American cuisine.

And when we move past the kind of comfort foods and looked at the kind of daily diet that many African-Americans in generations past would enjoy, it is replete with these nutrient-dense leafy greens - collards, mustards, turnips, dandelion greens. These are the nutrient-rich foods that any dietitian or nutritionist would say we all should be eating. So I really wanted to help paint a more diverse and complex picture of African-American cuisine.

MONTAGNE: One thing about both these cookbooks - the food is exciting to eat. It isn't, like, all brown rice and steamed vegetables. We have asked one our producers and an editor to cook up molasses miso and maple candied sweet potatoes, or yams. And it's yams today.

TERRY: So, yeah. This molasses sweet potatoes recipe is actually one of the dishes that is part of this emerging kind of food genre that my wife and I have been cultivating, which is Afro-Asian cuisine. My wife is Chinese-American and we like to bring together our different cultural food ways.

And so this candied sweet potatoes is kind of a staple dish in African-American cuisine, especially during the holidays, and I decided to give it an Asian twist by adding tamari and miso, which are two staples in Japanese cooking. And I decided to take it a step further by creating a combination of molasses, which is this thick, viscous syrup that has this robust bittersweet flavor, and the thing is molasses is very nutrient-rich.

You know, it's high in iron and calcium and a lot of trace minerals. And so combining the molasses with the tamari, which is a wheat-free soy sauce, maple syrup and then a little miso and orange juice and lemon juice and then simply basting the sweet potatoes that have been roasted, well, you tell me. What do you think? I'm not going to even put words in your mouth.

MONTAGNE: I think it's great. I think the roasting probably also brought out a little of the sugar in the yams.

TERRY: Yes. It certainly brings out some of the natural sweetness and gives the sweet potatoes a little kind of crisp edge.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's get to the other dish: black eyed peas in garlic ginger braised mustard greens with sesame seeds and tamari. Tell us about this recipe. And use it also as a way of breaking down how the average person would get all the ingredients in your black eyed peas.

TERRY: The great thing about black eyes peas as, you know, a staple in African-American cooking is that one can typically find them in most conventional grocery stores. So with the greens I often talk about the need for us to grow food, you know, if at all possible.

If we have green space at home, to plant a garden. And with mustard greens, it's such an easy green to grow. I've never priced out this particular dish but I think with the core ingredients this is probably a $5 dish. But it's just one of those dishes that I think looks interesting and, one might argue, exotic, but its' really simple and inexpensive. And frankly, I think it's just darned tasty.

MONTAGNE: You know, in the book, in the forward to the book "The Inspired Vegan" you say that you were writing it at a time when your wife was pregnant with your daughter. And that your daughter was the inspiration. Are you raising her as a very small child on a diet that does not include any animal products?

TERRY: That's a great question. You know, the interesting thing - when my wife and I met, she was actually a vegan, and then when she got pregnant we often joke that she turned into a cavewoman because she started eating all types of...

MONTAGNE: Started craving Bacon.


TERRY: She was eating everything, chicken and beef. And my wife continues to eat chicken and some eggs and fish. So it's a compromise. You know, our daughter does have a mostly plant-based diet, but she eats eggs and sometimes she has fish maybe a couple times a week. So, you know, we think this is the best diet for her, and at a certain point, she'll be able to make the decision about what kind of diet she wants to continue having.

MONTAGNE: Having just tasted these black eyed peas, it reminds me that in the South - and you are from the South, from Tennessee - eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day brings good luck, I guess prosperity. I mean, all good things.

TERRY: Oh, yeah.

MONTAGNE: Will you be eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day?

TERRY: I will be eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day. You know, Hoppin' John is a dish that is traditionally eaten by African-Americans on New Year's Day and the lore is that the black-eyed peas actually represent copper or pennies.

And so along with that, one typically will have a green dish such as collards, mustards, turnips, chard, kale or cabbage, and the leafy green dish actually represents money. And then with that, one might have some cornbread, which represents gold. So this is just like one of those things that you eat it on New Year's, and it's supposed to usher in a very prosperous and abundant year.

MONTAGNE: Bryant Terry, it's been a pleasure to talk with you.

TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

MONTAGNE: And Happy New Year.

TERRY: Happy New Year to you too.

MONTAGNE: Bryant Terry's newest book is "The Inspired Vegan." This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

GREENE: And I'm David Greene.


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