When Mollie Katzen published “Moosewood Cookbook” in 1974, it brought vegetarianism to a far wider audience. Almost four decades later, Katzen is checking in on those plant-food lovers and issuing new dishes with “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation,” out this month. “The new generation part is kind of a double meaning for me personally, which is that it’s a new generation of my own cooking, because my cooking has evolved. It’s kind of a lighter, more playful, more modular approach to vegetarian cuisine,” says Katzen, 62, who lives in Berkeley, Calif. “But also the new generation part for me is literal because there’s a whole new generation of people coming up who are very interested in eating healthy and plant-based foods.” On Sept. 19, Katzen will be appearing at Northeastern University (www.nudining.com/calendar) and Wellesley Books (www.wellesleybooksmith-shop.com/event) and on
Sept. 20 at Harvard Book Store (www.harvard.com/events).
Q. Speaking of that new generation of vegetarians, what’s changed in the perception of vegetarianism since you wrote “Moosewood Cookbook”?
It’s ceasing to be this kind of sideline, exclusive club where you go over to the fringes and make a lifestyle statement. I think originally it was a statement against meat. But now for a lot of people, they would just like to eat more plant food or occasional meals that are vegetable-based, but without having to declare a whole new lifestyle. The way I like to see it is that it’s not so much a way of defining themselves but defining what they’re eating. People that go strict vegetarian — who want only a plant-based
diet — are still there, but there are many more people that are interested in plant-based food at least some of the time.
Q. How has your own cooking changed?
A. My cooking has actually lightened up or gotten a lot simpler. There’s a handful of old recipes in the book that I retooled but largely it reflects the way I cook now. One example is, say, a pasta dish that once upon a time would have been mostly pasta with maybe a little bit of vegetables tossed in the end. I now have a much greater ratio of vegetables to the pasta. I call it a flip. I’ll keep the same seasonings, the same garlic, the same olive oil, and maybe some cheese, but instead of peppering it with vegetables, I’ll sort of pepper the vegetables with pasta and flip it around.
Q. This may go against your desire to shed labels, but did you try to add more options for vegans or did that just naturally happen?
A. One of the things I want to do with this book is give a basic template, a basic really wonderful plate of food. Another change from my earlier cooking is once upon a time, when I was trying to sell the notion of a meatless meal, I’d have, like, a casserole replacing the central hunk of meat. But now I’m more modular. I’ll make a simpler set of maybe a trio of dishes, a light green dish, a light orange vegetable dish, and there will be an arrangement on the plate that can be added onto. There’s somewhat of a DIY element. The basic plate, 60 percent of the time, is vegan and what can be added or not could even be meat. If you’re sitting down at the table with someone who eats vegan, someone who might want a little meat, they all have the same basic vegetable-based plate. I like that idea because I’m really trying to get people away from all the different labels that divide people at the table. I feel like we’re divided enough out in the world.
Q. What’s your overall goal at this point in your career?
A. I want to get rid of the separation that we all have in our heads that has healthy eating that’s good for you on one side and on the other side is delicious, sinful food. And the notion that if we want to eat healthy it has to be dutiful and miserable, but if we want to enjoy our food and have it be sensual and have chocolate in it and have olive oil and garlic, that it’s got to be on the other side of the wall. You don’t have to choose between good for you and good tasting, it’s just plain good. I want to make food inclusive so people don’t have to feel like they either have to declare their identity as someone who eats meat or doesn’t eat meat. I really just want to have everyone relax and have thorough enjoyment of both cooking and eating.
Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at email@example.com.