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Tamari Greens, Miso Yams: Chef Gives Vegans Multicultural Flavor

Veganism has long been thought of as a bland, fringe diet typically associated with hippies or trend-setting Hollywood types. But chef Bryant Terry is trying to chip away at that stereotype.

In his 2009 book, Vegan Soul Kitchen, Terry took the meat and dairy out of a food tradition generally known for its pork, fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits and egg custard pies. His latest book, The Inspired Vegan, delivers instructions for getting the most out of a vegan meal, along with a soundtrack to listen to while you're doing it. He joins NPR's Renee Montagne to discuss his style of vegan fusion cooking and to share some decidedly delicious vegan recipes for the holidays.


Interview Highlights

On the historical origins of vegan soul food

"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, legumes such as butter beans and black-eyed peas. 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."

On the budding Afro-Asian food genre

"This Candied Sweet Potatoes recipe is 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. So this candied sweet potato is kind of a staple dish in African-American cuisine, especially during the holidays, and I decided to kind of give it an Asian twist by adding tamari and miso, which are two staples in Japanese cooking."

On his family's diet

"When my wife and I met she was actually a vegan, and then she got pregnant. We often joke that she turned into a cavewoman because she started eating all types of — she was eating everything, chicken and beef. And my wife continues to eat chicken and some eggs and fish, so, you know, it's a compromise. 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."

On the African-American tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's

"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. You eat it on New Year's, and it's supposed to usher in a very prosperous and abundant year."


Black-Eyed Peas in Garlic-Ginger-Braised Mustard Greens

4-6 servings

Black-Eyed Peas

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, sorted, soaked overnight, drained, and rinsed
1 (3-inch) piece kombu
Coarse sea salt

Mustard Greens

Coarse sea salt
1 1/2 pounds mustard greens, ribs removed and composted, leaves coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Vegetable Stock
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons tamari sauce, or more to taste
Quick-Pickled Mustard Greens

Making the black-eyed peas

In a medium-size saucepan over high heat, combine the black-eyed peas with the kombu and enough water to cover them by 4 inches. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, just until tender, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Drain the beans in a colander, reserving 2 cups of cooking liquid. Set the beans and liquid aside.

Making the mustard greens

In a medium-size saucepan over high heat, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the greens and boil, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes, until softened. Drain in a colander, and set aside.

In a large sauté pan or a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the olive oil, onion, ginger, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sauté, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved greens and stir to incorporate.

Stir in the vegetable stock, the reserved black-eyed peas, and the reserved bean liquid. Raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, 30-45 minutes. Stir in the sesame seeds, season with tamari sauce to taste, and serve along with a whopping dollop of Quick-Pickled Mustard Greens to add some heat and tang.

Excerpted from The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry. Copyright 2012 by Bryant Terry. Excerpted by permission of Da Capo Lifelong Books.


Molasses, Miso, and Maple Candied Sweet Potatoes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Soundtrack: "Revolution" by Nina Simone from Protest Anthology

Book: Conversations in Maine: Exploring our Nation's Future by James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes or garnet yams, peeled and cut into 1/2–inch rounds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon tamari or shoyu
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 heaping tablespoon white or yellow miso
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons filtered water

Preheat the oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil.

Spread the sweet potatoes on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 50 minutes, turning over with a fork after 25 minutes.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and lower the heat to 375°F.

Place the cinnamon stick at the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish, and add the sweet potatoes in layers. Set aside.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the molasses, tamari, maple syrup, miso, orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, water, and the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil. Pour over the sweet potatoes.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, thoroughly basting the sweet potatoes every 10 minutes.

Excerpted from The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry. Copyright 2012 by Bryant Terry. Excerpted by permission of Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Champagne.

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.

(LAUGHTER)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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