When Robin Robertson first released “Vegan Planet” in 2003, “vegan” was miles away from the culinary buzzword it is today. So forgive her for thinking her cookbook was just a little ahead of the curve. “Yeah, that is what I thought,” says the author, 60, slightly amused. “I always thought it was going to be the new vegetarian. I saw the shift taking place and it was just about the rest of the world catching up. Now, of course, vegan is a household word. So it was time to come out with a revised edition of ‘Vegan Planet’ because things have changed a lot in the last 10 years.” That book, just released, features more than 425 recipes, 35 of which are completely new and 15 that are totally retooled.
Q. How have mainstream attitudes toward veganism changed since you first published your book more than a decade ago?
A. I think people are a lot more aware of food and ingredients and what goes in their body. They care a lot more about things. They’re just more educated, I think. They’re realizing that dairy isn’t all that good for them and they’re seeing that there’s great alternatives to dairy and cheese and eggs and I think it’s just kind of a logical next step. Once they realize meat isn’t that great for them, they realize dairy isn’t too because it’s kind of two sides of the same coin.
Q. What do you say to people who aren’t interested in veganism?
A. I try to get them to look at it from a different perspective. It’s like any habit. When you try to get somebody who’s smoking three packs a day to quit but they enjoy it, you can’t just say, “But it’s not good for you.” They have to want to. You have to give them alternatives and realize it is a habit. So the way I think it’s best to get people to understand it is to say, “Well, you know food is food and as long as it tastes good, why does it matter if it comes from an animal or a plant?” I have people tell me all the time, “Wow, if I had food like this all the time, I could go vegan,” and that’s why I write my cookbooks. You can have this kind of food all the time. You can cook it for yourself.
Q. What tweaks did you make for this new edition?
A. The main thing I’ve noticed over the years is there have been a lot of great new popular ingredients, you know, like how kale has taken over the world. Back when I first wrote it, most people didn’t know what kale was. So I wanted to add some kale recipes and I wanted to do a little bit more with making homemade vegan cheese sauce and vegan sausage. There really wasn’t that much of that going on then and I wanted to show how easy that is to do. I wanted to be more acceptable to everybody wherever they’re at in their diet and a lot of people are now using less oil, less soy, less gluten, so I updated some of the recipes to be that way. I also totally reduced any processed ingredients or made them optional, so they can all be whole foods if that’s what you want to do. And I basically just streamlined some of the recipes, made them easier to do. I took out some of the old recipes that seemed a little redundant or didn’t stand the test of time and added new recipes such as walnut-crusted artichoke hearts and piccata-style cauliflower steaks. It’s a more readable book and easier to use, I think.
Q. One thing that has also changed in the last decade is that there are so many vegan books out now. What makes this one special?
A. Well, it has my 30 years of experience behind it. It also is a very comprehensive book, which a lot of books aren’t. They might do a few appetizers then get into a couple main dishes and maybe have some desserts and a few soups. This book does it all, it gives you homemade bread and homemade pasta and it goes into the world of beans. It has a whole chapter on pasta and a whole chapter on baked dishes and a whole chapter on stuffed foods and a whole pizza chapter. They’re like mini books in the 20 chapters. It’s really quite a big book and it’s really quite comprehensive.
Q. What do you want the legacy of your work to be?
A. People have called “Vegan Planet” a “vegan bible” or a vegan “Joy of Cooking” and I think that those are apt descriptions. I’m hearing from people who have the original and it’s covered with soy sauce from being well used, but I’m also speaking to the new generation of vegan cooks. And it’s for everybody, not just vegans. There’s a lot of really nice recipes that anybody who wants to reduce their meat intake would enjoy.
Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.