Television viewers who know Mayim Bialik only from her 1990s sitcom “Blossom,” or her current Emmy-nominated role on “The Big Bang Theory,” may be surprised to discover that the 38-year-old actress also has a PhD in neuroscience, is a self-proclaimed “modern feminist woman who loves cooking,” and has written a vegan cookbook. Even as a teen television star, Bialik was drawn to the kitchen. “Both of my grandmothers are from Eastern Europe, so I grew up with a tradition of cooking,” she says. “I had a very domestic mother who raised me to be a very domestic girl. I always grew up cooking and baking and helping my mom.”
Bialik’s latest project in the kitchen is a collection of family-friendly recipes called “Mayim’s Vegan Table,” written with Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician and faculty member of the UCLA Medical School. The recipes, which range from everyday fare such as black bean and quinoa tacos to treats like dark-chocolate peanut butter pie, are inspired by the food Bialik prepares for her sons, ages 8 and 5. She has been vegan since the birth of the eldest, vegetarian since she was 19. She shares vegan variations on traditional Jewish fare on the parenting website Kveller.com, where she also blogs about raising her sons, whom she refers to as “Firstborn” and “Little Man.”
Q. Why did you decide to add cookbook author to an already busy schedule?
A. I often share recipes that I’ve veganized on Kveller, so there was a lot of interest. I’m an actual mom and these are the things I cook, so it wasn’t hard getting the recipes together. I’m an efficient worker and writer. I get up early to work. I stay up late to work.
Q. You and your coauthor address vegan nutrition in the book. Debunk some misconceptions.
A. One of the primary jokes and criticism about veganism is that it’s not healthy. If you only eat French fries and an apple everyday, for example, that’s not healthy. But the notion that it’s incredibly difficult to get all the nutrients you need and all the protein and calcium is simply not true. I’m a neuroscientist and Jay is a pediatrician. We talk a lot about nutrition and the larger image of veganism in the book.
Q. What’s your approach to cooking for your family?
A. We eat pretty simply. Everyone should learn to appreciate the taste of fruits and vegetables without sauces and oil and butter added to them. It’s a great and easy thing and it’s an inexpensive way to feed your kids. A lot of the recipes, especially the comfort food recipes like mac and cheese or casseroles, are things I make once in a while, especially if they include processed products. My goal is really to do things easily. I’m not a very complicated cook at all. Unless my kids are with me in the kitchen, it’s time away from them.
Q. What are some of the worries you hear from parents raising vegan kids?
A. I think people are worried about the stigma — that you’ll have that weird kid who’s afraid of food, doesn’t eat anything at parties, and cowers in the corner. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of food. I think introducing them to the variety of reasons that we make these choices is helpful. There are some vegans whose kids don’t eat any processed sugar. I’m not that mom. If we go to a birthday party and they can’t have the cupcakes at the party, I’ll make sure they have a cupcake waiting for them at home. Or they can take it with them. I don’t want them to think of themselves as isolated in their eating. Even at 5 and 8, kids are pretty sophisticated. They understand it’s the way we eat. We don’t like eating animals, that’s all.
Q. Of your traditional Jewish recipes, what are your kids’ favorites?
A. Kids love latkes. If you take potatoes and onions and fry them in oil, everyone is happy. Usually it’s bound with egg, but I use an egg replacer. And I use matzo meal rather than flour. The jelly doughnuts that I have in there are kind of labor-intensive, but they are amazing. I think the neat thing about Jewish desserts is that they’re not always super-duper sweet.
Q. Your Halloween Candy Bark recipe suggests using kosher candy. Why is that?
A. Because dairy and meat are separated in kosher communities, there are often a lot more choices that also happen to be vegan. Kosher chocolate candy can’t be dairy. I go to the kosher candy store and buy everything that imitates everybody’s favorite dairy candy bars and use them in the bark.Interview was condensed and edited. Michael Floreak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.