Photo by Matt Lever; Design by Grace Han for Thrillist;
Known mostly for Miyoko’s dairy, a huge range of vegan cheeses and butters, Miyoko Schinner is now adding essential new reads to her arsenal of vegan cookbooks. The vegan meat cookbook focuses on meal recipes that focus on using meat substitutes, both store bought and alternatives you can make yourself.
With over three decades of experience in the vegan cooking and food realm, Schinner’s cookbook has been deeply shaped by his own upbringing in Japan and the United States, and by cuisines around the world. she admired. Readers will discover how vegan dishes can achieve a similar ‘meaty’ texture and hearty flavor without using animal products. By re-examining the role of vegetables in cooking and drawing on a selection of alternative companies to meat such as the abbot’s butcher, Good catch, and Tofurky, Schinner features accessible recipes for dishes such as Spanish chorizo, bouillabaisse, and shiitake pot stickers.
On a recent call with Schinner, she spoke about her recipes, her take on the cookbook, and why you should give meat substitutes a chance.
How did your journey as a vegetarian and now a vegan influence the writing of this cookbook?
My experience with meat consumption probably only lasted five to seven years of my life. I was born in Japan. I arrived in the United States just before I was seven. In Japan, I ate meat, but not very often. It just wasn’t a big part of the Japanese diet in the 1950s and early 1960s. I came to the United States in 1964, and my dad who was American wanted to make sure I ate plenty of it. meat, so I started eating meat about two or three times a day. Then at the age of 12, I became a vegetarian. So my exposure to meat, even though it was intense, was very, very short-lived, and yet I wrote a cookbook on vegan meat. I think that’s why being a vegetarian for a long time and then going vegan in your mid-20s made it look different and allowed me to write it from a different angle. So when I went vegan in my mid-20s I was a vegetarian who loved rich foods, French and Italian cuisine, and going vegan meant I had to find a way to replace all those rich foods like dairy. and eggs.
I know people call you the ‘queen of vegan cheese‘. What inspired you to make a cookbook on meatless dishes?
Well, in the 1990s I actually had another company that made alternatives. A lot of people don’t know this, but I had a business called Now and Zen and we had four meat alternatives. I had chicken, steak, ribs and my top selling product was an UnTurkey, which was a bogus alternative to turkey that sold mostly in the fourth quarter of the year. We have distributed all over the country. So, just because I’m better known for cheese doesn’t mean that I hadn’t played with meat or plant-based meats earlier in my life. What has always fascinated me is how do you create meat dishes? How do you create this center of the plate?
I learned to cook largely from reading cookbooks. When I was a teenager, it was the Time-Life series, The good cook. Then in my 20s, I worked my way through Mastering the art of French cuisine and many other French and Italian cookbooks to understand the techniques involved. There were a lot of dishes that really fascinated me and that I was never able to taste because I was vegetarian or vegan , like moussaka. When I traveled to Europe and when I was 20 and went to Greece for a month, I saw moussaka everywhere and never got to eat a bite of it. I’ve always been curious, what does moussaka or beef bourguignon look like? These are all dishes that I learned from reading French or Italian or Greek cookbooks and then tried to figure out what makes these dishes special. It’s the cinnamon in the moussaka or it’s the braising and slow reduction of the beef bourguignon. Then I was able to apply them to meats and vegan cooking methods.
As you mentioned in the introduction to your cookbook, some people are really skeptical about meat substitutes and alternatives.
Lots of people try meat substitutes and some are better than others, and sometimes they say, “I cooked it the same way I cook my regular meat and it turned out that it was. not the same. It didn’t have enough flavor, ”or it was too dry or whatever. So one of the reasons I wrote this book was to show how you can use them in a way where you get great flavor because it’s not as easy as just tossing it in a pot. and blow it up. A lot of [meat alternatives] are really a bit bland or don’t have the right flavor, and you really need to touch them up, so to speak, with the right seasonings. So I tried to do it in this book. There are also people who are very skeptical of some of these meat substitutes because many of them are very, very processed. So I have recipes here to make your own for those who don’t want to buy store-bought products and recipes that are less processed, sometimes gluten and soy free, so there is something here for everyone.
“We can have these meat dishes that are full of umami and depth of flavor and that are juicy and succulent, but we can make them entirely from plants.”
What do you want people to take away from this cookbook?
I want them to see meat in a different way. I want them to realize that meat doesn’t have to come from an animal. In fact, we’ve always used language like “the meat of a coconut” or “mushrooms are fleshy”, and I want to turn the word “meat” into an idea of something you could chew on, like a good argument, good thought, and I want to distract people’s thoughts from animals as food. We can have these meat dishes full of umami and depth of flavor, juicy and succulent, but we can make them entirely from plants and actually reduce the global consumption of meat, which is becoming extremely dangerous for the entire planet.
How did your previous cookbooks influence the way you wrote this or approached this one?
Some of my books were written very early on, and I don’t think I had a particular style or anything like that, but I think my approach to writing all the books is to make the food as accessible as possible and to provide a very range, recipes very easy to complex, more difficult for the more advanced cook. Over the decades that I cook, I have found techniques that make things easier. Because I’m like everyone else, I want great food, but I want to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. My recipes incorporate in some ways more shortcuts and remove unnecessary steps that at the age of 20 or 30 I thought were absolutely essential. I would say “accessible elegance” has kind of been my approach, to make things as simple and delicious as possible.
Kristen Adaway is a writer for Thrillist. Am here @kristenadaway.