Vegan cooking is often stereotyped as bland and uninteresting, composed mostly of crushed-up chickpeas and flavorless tofu. But according to author John Schlimm, it doesn’t have to be that way. His two most recent cookbooks challenge the ridiculous myths of vegan dishes by offering fun and innovative recipes that even meat-lovers can enjoy.
From plastered party starters to drunken desserts, The Tipsy Vegan (DeCapo Press, Cambridge, Mass.; 164 pages; $17/softcover) lifts readers with 75 boozy recipes that make second helpings impossible to turn down. The obvious twist to these recipes is the alcohol component, adding spirit and energy to otherwise ordinary dishes.
Grilling Vegan Style (DeCapo Press; 240 pages; $20/softcover) inspires readers to add a delicious flame-kissed component to their plant-based favorites. The cookbook includes 125 fired-up recipes, as well as grilling instructions and must-have pantry favorites.
Both of Schlimm’s vegan cookbooks reflect his fun-loving personality. One of his favorite lines, “Either you’re fun or you’re not,” couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to his books. “I really am counting on these books to tell the story of a great party, whether it’s a grilling party or whether it’s a party where all the food is laced with lots of alcohol,” says Schlimm. Well, all righty!
Schlimm frequently creates new challenges for himself by picking out dairy or meat dishes on menus and coming up with ways to transform them into something he can share with his vegan pals. “I think about dishes I loved growing up as a child or loved before I stopped eating meat, and translating those. And making sure they’re the absolute best and most delicious they could be.”
One of the downsides of vegan cooking can be the high expense of the products. Luckily, as vegan diets grow in popularity, products are becoming more affordable. Schlimm’s advice is to avoid processed foods, which can be expensive and less healthy. (This is true of non-vegan foodstuffs as well.) Cooking at home can be a reasonable alternative, made more palatable when shared with friends and family members.
“It’s very important for me that my cookbooks are small-town friendly,” he says, “meaning that my friends and neighbors here as well as my big-city pals can go to pretty much any of their supermarkets and occasionally the liquor store and get whatever they need.”
Surprisingly, it was only a few years ago that Schlimm himself converted to a vegan lifestyle. He grew up in the teensy town of St. Mary’s, Pa., in the heart of hunting country. “Kids even get off the first couple days of deer season so you can imagine what I’m surrounded by here,” Schlimm says. His father even ran a meat-processing business out of their basement.
In addition, Schlimm’s family owns Straub Brewery, one of the oldest breweries in the United States. “Beer, alcohol, and good food literally flow through my veins,” he boasts. But it was his love for animals that led Schlimm to look into a plant-based diet. He finally decided to completely alter his diet after reading Eating Animals (2010, Little Brown & Co.) by Jonathan Safran Foer.
In a passage in Foer’s book, he writes about the mistreatment of Thanksgiving turkeys on factory farms. One line that inspired Schlimm and will always stay with him was how these turkeys were more or less unloved. “No being should ever go through their lives unloved—human or animal,” Schlimm says.
Schlimm’s background growing up and Foer’s inspiring words eventually landed him a spot on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show, where the two shared their vegan lifestyle with the audience. “When I got to say those lines, that no living being, human or animal, should go through this life unloved, and to be able to sit there and say that to millions of my neighbors across this country,” says Schlimm, “that will be probably the most perfect line to ever come out of my mouth. And I am grateful that that was the moment that started this whole amazing ride that I’m able to take all of you along with me on.”
Schlimm’s vegan cookbooks attract an audience across the board and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Whether you’re the most carnivorous meat eater of the bunch or you have been a lifelong vegan or somewhere in between, I want everyone to feel welcome to these cookbooks and I want them to enjoy these cookbooks.”
As for what fans can expect next, Schlimm says you’ll have to stay tuned. In his upcoming projects, he plans to continually break new ground with his recipes. After all, good writing is about always contributing something new to the discussion. Schlimm prides himself in taking his cookbooks where no other vegan cookbooks have gone; he intends to keep doing just that.
Visit his site at johnschlimm.com
Vanilla, I Scream
This recipe is from The Tipsy Vegan.
1/2 cup cream of coconut milk
1 cup soy milk or other nondairy milk
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces silken tofu, cubed and pressed to remove excess water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean (wrap and refrigerate the bean’s other half for another use)
2 to 3 tablespoons vanilla-flavored vodka
Place all the ingredients into a standing blender and blend until thoroughly pureed. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to the freezer and freeze for at least 3 hours.
Southwestern Burgers with Salsa
This recipe is from Grilling Vegan Style.
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked and cooled brown rice
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
10 fresh spinach leaves, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 pinches of kosher salt, or to taste
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
Canola oil, for brushing the patties
6 vegan sourdough buns
In a food processor, combine the beans, rice, garlic powder, sunflower seeds, red bell pepper, spinach, cilantro, kosher salt, cumin and chili powder. Pulse just until the mixture becomes a chunky puree. Heat the grill to medium-high. In quarter-cup increments, form the mixture into patties about ¾-inch thick. Brush the patties all over with the canola oil and grill them using a grilling screen, if desired, for about 10 minutes on each side. Grill them well, but don’t dry them out. Meanwhile, lightly toast the sourdough buns on the grill. Serve the burgers in the toasted sourdough buns, two patties per bun, with a good dollop of salsa in between the patties.