To say Isa Chandra Moskowitz is charming would be an understatement. The 35-year-old vegan cookbook author and recent Brooklyn transplant has an easy smile, a gentle East Coast twang, and big expressive eyes that light up when she talks food. Even when she teases me, half joking, about how I make a living (as a food critic) on the death of innocent creatures, it feels good-natured. This is not to say she isn't concerned about the politics or ethics of veganism—she is wholeheartedly committed to both. It's just that she can see vegans and omnivores living side by side. They can even go to potlucks together... as long as it's a vegan potluck.
Moskowitz's recipes have been a part of vegan potlucks since her first cookbook, 2005's Vegan with a Vengeance. She has since produced two other books with writing partner Terry Hope Romero, one of which, a vegan The Joy of Cooking titled Veganomicon, is one of the best-selling vegan cookbooks in the United States. Her cooking magic has been featured in the New York Times and she oversees the popular Post Punk Kitchen website (theppk.com). She's currently working on her fourth book, focused on the pleasures of brunch. That's four books in three years.
"It was all bottled up inside," Moskowitz says, "but if you think about it, it's only a recipe every three days. So it doesn't seem that crazy."
THREE TEASPOONS OF RAIN
Moskowitz's recent move to Portland may go a long way in helping her create more delicious vegan recipes. Though reluctant to leave Brooklyn, she was seduced by Portland's livability, natural beauty, and, of all things, the french fries at Dot's on SE Clinton.
She's also excited about the quality of local ingredients.
"In Brooklyn, I cooked as local as I could, but the farmers' market was one day a week and a lot of times I had to cook out of season. All the food I'm getting [in Portland] is so much better than what I was getting in New York. Here it's definitely been more inspiring for me to cook with more produce and more grains."
"This morning I woke up and went into the backyard and picked a strawberry and ate it and it was warm from the morning sun. What I have now, I couldn't have [in Brooklyn]."
A DASH OF ART
To hear Moskowitz describe it, a cookbook writer is very much an artist. She crafts meals like a painter creating a vivid canvas.
"It can happen in any way," she explains. "Sometimes, you lay in bed at night and suddenly this idea pops into your head and you kinda work with it, letting your thoughts go. And sometimes, it comes from whatever's in your fridge. And sometimes you're watching the Food Network and you say, 'That's a fucking good idea, I'm going to do that.'" Other times, inspiration comes from food history or farmers' markets. Sometimes it's just a craving.
"I'll be craving ginger and horseradish together and I don't know why, I just go try it." The creative process reminds her of learning the guitar, but "the payoff is better... with food."
That payoff will help Moskowitz realize the cruelty-free food future she envisions for society. As she and her co-writer point out in Veganomicon, "Food is in constant flux, traveling all over the world and taking root from one continent to the next." So who's to say today's eggy quiche might not be tomorrow's tofu and cashew quiche? Just think, if vegan Republicans exist (and Moskowitz assures me they do), anything is possible.
She hopes to keep the dialogue open between vegans and omnivores. "That's the hardest part, understanding each other and listening to each other. [Vegans should] listen to the reason why a person isn't vegan. Battering them over the head isn't going to make them vegan. From the omnivore point of view, understand the vegan has already made an ethical choice. It's not a choice to judge you. It's something that person struggled with."
After an hour with Isa Chandra Moskowitz, it's easy to believe that maybe, just maybe, a few awesome recipes and a summer potluck can bring us all together.
SERVE AND ENJOY
Moskowitz shared some great summertime recipes for your own potluck peacemaking. First off, quinoa salad with black beans, from Veganomicon.
"Grain salads are wonderful because the only cooking required are the grains on the stovetop," she explains. "And you can pretty much ignore them and lounge around drinking a mojito until they are ready. Once you've thrown all the ingredients together you have a cool and filling meal that you can snack on throughout the week."
She notes that with every bite of this dish, new flavors emerge: "Mango, scallions, cilantro, red peppers, you never know what you're gonna get." This recipe is also a great formula for using whatever ingredients you might have on hand.
QUINOA SALAD WITH BLACK BEANS
1 mango, peeled and diced small
1 red pepper, seeded and diced as small as you can get it
1 cup chopped scallions
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
1 1/2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed (a 15-ounce can)
A few leaves of lettuce for plating
Combine the mango, red pepper, scallions, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add the red wine vinegar, grapeseed oil, and salt and stir to combine. Add the quinoa and stir until everything is well incorporated. Fold in the black beans.
Moskowitz notes, "You can serve immediately or let it sit for a bit for the flavors to meld. To serve, place a few leaves of lettuce on a plate and scoop some salad onto it." She adds, "It tastes good chilled and even better at room temperature."
The pasta dish, Pasta Della California—named because, "Anything with avocado in it can be called 'California' right?"—was chosen for one of its primary ingredients: arugula. "Here in Portland arugula seems to grow like weeds," she says. "It's a really unfussy recipe that also teaches you how to make a basic garlic and oil pasta, if for some reason you don't already know."
She suggests you choose avocados that are ripe but still firm, and notes that softer avocado can easily be firmed up in the fridge for several hours before slicing.
PASTA DELLA CALIFORNIA
1/2 pound linguine (Moskowitz prefers whole grain)
3 cups broccoli, tops cut into small florettes, stalks sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced (yes 8, that's not a typo!)
1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons lime juice (juice from one lime, depending on the juiciness of your lime)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several dashes fresh black pepper
4 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
2 avocados, peeled and sliced into 1-inch chunks
Bring a large pot of water to boil and prep all your ingredients while the water boils, because this dish comes together in no time. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook as per package directions, usually about 10 minutes. In the last minute of cooking you will be adding the broccoli, so keep that in mind.
Preheat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, lime zest, and red pepper flakes and gently heat, stirring often for about two minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the wine and bring the heat up to reduce the wine, about two minutes. Add the vegetable broth, lime juice, salt, and fresh black pepper and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to simmer and add the arugula.
By this point the pasta should be almost done, so add the broccoli and cook for one more minute. Drain in a colander.
When the arugula is wilted, add the broccoli and pasta to the pan and use a pasta spoon to toss it around for about three minutes, making sure to get everything coated in garlic. Add the avocado and turn the heat off. Gently toss the pasta to incorporate the avocado without smashing it—just until it is warmed through, about a minute. Serve with generous doses of fresh black pepper. There is usually a lot of garlic left in the pan, so be sure to spoon that over your bowls of pasta.
The Rabanada is one of Moskowitz's favorite quick and easy brunch recipes from her upcoming, as of yet untitled, brunch book.
"It's perfect for showcasing summer's succulent strawberries. It's also a good recipe for proving that vegan French toast really isn't all that weird."
She offers this important tip, "Make sure to dust not just the Rabanada, but the plate too, with plenty of the cocoa and cinnamon. That way it soaks into the drippy syrup, and you can sop it up with each forkful." She also suggests using plenty of bananas and seasonal strawberries, "for maximum gumminess." Moskowitz points out that though the dish is quick and easy to prepare, it does require a half hour of soak time. So keep that in mind so your brunch guests don't get too famished before eating.
BANANA RABANADA (Brazilian French Toast)
2 very ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stale baguette, sliced diagonally in 1 inch pieces (Moskowitz says that a three-day-old baguette works well, because it can soak up custard and retain its shape. You can also bake fresh baguette in a 300 degree oven until hard—not toasted—to get the same effect)
Sliced strawberries and bananas to garnish
Blend bananas, almond milk, cornstarch, and vanilla in a blender or food processor, until smooth. Spread out baguette slices on a baking pan in a single layer. Pour on banana mixture and flip to coat. Let sit for 20 minutes, then flip over and soak for 10 minutes more.
Preheat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat (I use cast iron). Spray with cooking spray and cook about half of the soaked bread slices at a time for five to seven minutes on one side and about three minutes on the other. They should be golden to medium brown and flecked with darker spots. Keep warm on a plate covered with tin foil while you cook the second batch.
If not serving immediately, cover and place in a 200-degree oven for up to an hour.
When ready to serve, mix together cocoa powder and cinnamon and use a small sifter to sprinkle generously over each serving. Serve with vegan butter and maple syrup, and top with fresh fruit.