Salad Samurai: Interview with Vegan Author Terry Hope Romero
If you're into vegetarian or vegan food, or a foodie who loves awesome cookbooks and recipes presented with fun and flair, then you know the name Terry Hope Romero. She co-authored what many people consider the "bible" of vegan food, Veganomicon, as well as a host of vegan baking books, all with Isa Chandra Moskowitz. She has also written books on international and Latin vegan cooking on her own. This woman embodies just about everything that's right with vegan cooking. And now, she has turned her eyes toward addressing a wrong: what the world has done to salads.
Her latest book, Salad Samurai, is about giving this dish its due, rescuing it from the image of a few pieces of wilted lettuce or "spring mix" and uninspired veggies, all doused with dressing. These are salads for palates longing for more. I was utterly delighted when Terry said she'd speak with me about this absolutely fabulous book. Here, her trademark humor and love of food are more than evident. Enjoy!
My husband loves singing The Simpsons' line, "You don't win friends with salad!" Have you heard that one, too? In the book's introduction, you acknowledge the salad's "sucktastic" rep. How did such an awesome meal idea end up in such a sorry state?
Haha oh yes, I’ve had plenty of no-salad-o no-friendo commentary, but almost always followed with “but I could make friends with THESE salads”.
I’m no salad historian, but my best guess is that in our very meat-centric, processed-foods lovin’ culture a plate of raw vegetables could never make many waves on the dinner table. And who could blame people when for years salad has been resigned to basically iceberg lettuce, pink plastic tomatoes and bottled ranch dressing?
And when you make a decision to stop eating meat (and/or all animal products) this sad salad is a thousand times more frustrating. Besides making recipes for everyone, this is also my personal voyage of reclaiming salad. I want easy meals full of veggies and variety, so salad is the natural choice!
Why did you decide to organize the recipes into the four seasons?
We all have likely heard by now the importance of cooking with local, seasonal produce! But beyond that super important point, I also wanted to drive home that salad can be enjoyed all year round, not just in the summer. Autumn salads feature some of my favorite produce (Brussels sprouts, winter squash) and hearty winter salads are a welcome break from months of heavy rich food.
How long did it take you to develop these recipes?
Oh, working on cookbooks means you’re always working on recipes. Maybe a year, maybe less? With publishing deadlines you get a little bit of wiggle room occasionally but you’re always on some kind of schedule to deliver.
In just a couple of perfect paragraphs, you explain how to pack a Mason jar salad, and you also explain in the book how to prep salads days in advance. Is a good salad really the ultimate make-ahead meal?
I think it is! It takes a little bit of planning and discipline (chopping veggies in advance when you come home from shopping for example), but the payoff for quick salad fixes the next few days is so worth it. And I find if I eat a salad for lunch, I don’t really worry much about catching up on healthy eating later in the day.
As you note in the book, most of the ingredients in the book will be familiar to readers. However, which ingredients do you think will pleasantly surprise non-vegans?
Braised tempeh, sweet n’ crunchy roasted nuts, and everyone’s favorite homemade crunchy-fatty flakes of “bacon” made from coconut!
This is a question related to allergies. Cashews are often the base of vegan dressings that have a creamy texture. For people with tree nut allergies, is there a good substitute for cashews in the recipes that call for them? Can you remove certain nut toppings from recipes without messing with the flavor profile too much, as well?
You can substitute silken tofu (not the water packed kind) for the cashew base: Just reduce the total amount of liquid in the dressing recipes. I don’t know, I eat nuts like crazy but sure, a lot of the recipes should be fine without the toppings. Try it out and let me know!
You introduce recipes for salad toppings and dressings before you move into the salad recipes themselves. It's a great setup, because I could practically taste certain toppings, like the Ginger Beer Tofu, Red-Hot Saucy Tofu, Pickled Red Grapes and Massaged Red Onions before I ever read a full recipe. Was your hope that people could anticipate the upcoming flavor profiles after reading about their individual elements?
I suppose I always think of cookbooks as a “mix and match” guidebook instead of “you must follow everything to the letter OR ELSE”. I’m all about playing with recipes and trying out unconventional combinations. So yes, I figured a glimpse into toppings would free up users of the book to try out simple recipes as they like before committing to an entire recipe.
What salads in the book would you say are most representative of each season? Which salads are you eating lots of now in summer?
Summer: BBQ Tempeh n’ Dilly Slaw Bowl
Spring: Strawberry Spinach Salad with Orange Poppyseed Dressing
Fall: Grilled Miso Apples & Brussels Sprouts Salad
Winter: Tempeh Reubenesque Salad
I’m always eating kale salads, but I’m looking forward to making more collard greens wraps too!
You acknowledge that non-vegans are most likely reading this cookbook. Do you have a significant following among people with all types of diets - omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc? In general, do you think people are interested in eating better, healthier food?
Yes, all kinds check out my recipes, including many sworn omnivores. Almost all of these recipes are easily adapted to gluten-free diets too, as there are tons of GF alternatives for bread, tamari, etc. And yes, while we have so many options for decadent foods these days, people are also persistently interested in eating better. They’re going to always want cronuts, but after enough of those they’ll eventually turn to a salad.
And you say in the book that you'll probably need bigger bowls to eat these salads. How big?
Swimming pool size. Kidding! I mean more like a 1 quart size bowl at least. Think large pasta bowl, instead of those little cereal-style breakfast bowls.
Where can people find you and your recipes, online?
Find me at veganlatina.com! Or if you can stand my additional chatter about hardcore punk music, coffee, and Kickstarter, then follow me on Twitter @terryhope or Instagram terryhope.
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