Monday, October 17, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Zsu Dever...

Zsuzsanna “Zsu” Dever is a mother, longtime vegan, popular blogger, prolific recipe developer and author published by the wonderful Vegan Heritage Press. With an inventive new cookbook out that explores many applications of that magical ingredient we once called “bean water” and poured down the drain, Aquafaba: Sweet & Savory Vegan Recipes Made Egg-Free with the Magic of Bean Water, Zsu shows again why she is vegan tour de force. With gorgeous, fun and enticing recipes and abundant photos, Zsu’s new cookbook puts the fab in aquafaba, demystifying this new egg replacement and creating a lot of lovely food in the process, including things that haven't been so easily found in the vegan world, like nougat, lemon meringue pie and challah bread, as well as a good measure of tantalizing savory recipes. (I will have a review up next week on Suffice it to say that Zsu is another example of a creative talent who is helping to shift people into the vegan world by using her passion, dedication and considerable skills. I am thrilled that we could highlight Zsu as a Vegan Foodie this week.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

That’s very sweet of you to say so! My family has been in the restaurant business for over 500 years. Although I grew up in a restaurant-setting myself, I was determined not to follow down that path. My dad was a chef and my mom worked front of house, so I had great foodie influences. They cooked homey, delicious foods that people came from all over to enjoy. Sadly, none was vegetarian let alone vegan, but the pride and ownership of cooking delicious food was installed in me early on. When we went vegan about 16 years ago, I realized that we couldn’t stay that way unless either my husband or I learned to cook vegan – and cook it well. It just so happened that I was the logical volunteer.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

My book is full of childhood Hungarian favorites. At home we cooked more plant-based, because most cultures historically have (except the US and even they habituated toward heavily meat-based eating only in the last 80 or so years), so those meals I share in my books, but the ones that were meat-centered I have given the vegan makeover. Those include stuffed cabbage, schnitzel, and my very favorite, Brasoi – fried potatoes and meat in a heavy garlic sauce. My children enjoy Hungarian favorites to this day and have learned to make them themselves.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

Wow. That is tough! We’ve traveled all over the US because my husband is a computer consultant, so we have had our fair share of amazing food. I love spicy food so I’ll go with Pad Prik King, but I have to say that I cannot so easily discriminate and say it is the best meal I’ve ever had. The world is full of amazing vegan dishes; one has to only look. Pad Prik King is a pretty simple Thai dish made with plenty of red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves. It has vegetables such as green beans and red bell peppers and tofu, although the whole thing can be made with just vegetables. The vegetables are sautéed in the curry paste and it is seasoned with tamari and lime leaves. Of course, it had to appear in one of my books!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I would make it for my mom and I would make her stuffed cabbage. She always loved stuffed cabbage and even after she was diagnosed with cancer, she never stopped eating animals. We had just become vegan and my vegan “skills” were non-existent. If I could make her a favorite meal that was animal-free, perhaps she would see that vegan foods are delicious and healthy and, just maybe, she would forgo all the suffering she continued to contribute to even in her last days. In turn, she might have been able to stay with us a little bit longer.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I think becoming vegan is a journey, one that goes through many transitions. Unless people adopt veganism for health reasons and start out as either raw or whole food, plant-based, there is a learning curve. As far as I’m concerned it is equally challenging to jump straight into WFPB or raw, but then at least the person knows what to expect in terms of flavor. By a journey, I mean that the taste buds go through transition. People who become vegan for ethical, environmental or moral reasons (or believe that veganism is itself healthy just by virtue of avoiding animal products), typically start with plant-based meats such as Gardein or Beyond Meat, but then they don’t take the time to season their vegetables and grains. Season your food because once you go vegan you are automatically cutting out processed meats and cheeses, which are full of sodium. If you go to the extent of not seasoning your food thinking you need to cut salt out of your diet as well, you are basically shocking your taste buds into bland-ville. Food just won’t taste like anything and you will blame the vegan food instead of blaming your lack of seasoning. Once your taste buds have adjusted to the reduced sodium from the cutting of processed meats and cheeses then you can further lower your sodium in your cooking, but don’t do it prematurely.

Secondly, learn to properly cook with tofu and learn to make a great seitan.

Thirdly, learn to cook vegetables. Roast it, braise it, sauté it, steam it, etc. Just learn to cook with it because there are thousands of different kinds of vegetables. Sample them all.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

Aquafaba for one and yogurt for another. I love making homemade yogurt and using it in all kinds of recipes, from cheese to dressing to cakes and bread.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Hungarian (of course!), Ethiopian, Mexican and Korean. At the moment. Oops, is that four?

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

My biggest inspiration has always been and always will be the animals. To that end, Robin Robertson, Bryanna Clark Grogan, Tamasin Noyes, PETA, PCRM, Peter Singer and Erik Marcus have all paved the way.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Boy, I don’t know how to pick just one. If I did it would have to be veganism itself. Whether people become vegan for their health, for the animals or the planet, it just makes the most sense for all involved. We should have a vegan world because that is the surest way to become in touch with other beings who are invisible if we continue to consume them. Once that connection is made, it is easier to make other connections regarding our abuse of animals for other reasons. At least that is my hope. Sadly, many people who become plant-based for one reason or another, either fall back to eating animals or never make that connection.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

To me, veganism is the ultimate way to live your life, to benefit you and all those around you. We have just a few degrees of separation from any other being on this earth and veganism is the only way to live that respects all those who we touch, whether directly or indirectly. Veganism has to be the future or, as a society, we are doomed to be without one. 

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