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Chef Cooks Up Soulful Thanksgiving ... Vegan Style


Well, if you're looking to have a vegan Thanksgiving, what takes the place of the turkey? Before you run out and buy tofurkey, we decided to ask Chef Bryant Terry what's going to be on his Thanksgiving table. Bryant calls himself an eco-chef and food justice activist. He's author of the books, �Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen� and �Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African-American Cuisine.� Bryant Terry joins us from Berkeley, California. Welcome to you.

Mr. BRYANT TERRY (Chef and Author): Thank you for having me on.

LUDDEN: Okay, vegan Thanksgiving. You're kind of taking the main dish off the table there. So let's start there. What replaces the bird?

Mr. TERRY: Well, I think, you know, we're in a culture where so often people think there has to be some meat product at the center of the table. And I'm not saying that people should get rid of the bird. If, you know, it's a tradition that people have in their families, I invite that, but I do think it's important that there be a number of delicious, sumptuous options for those that choose not to eat the Thanksgiving turkey.

And so often I've been to celebrations where I'm only left with, I don't know, some bland mashed potatoes and some iceberg lettuce. So, I have been in the habit of bringing a lot of delicious sides to make sure that I and the other people who choose not to eat the bird are well-fed.

LUDDEN: Okay. Well, I have one such side sitting in front of me here. Do you want to tell us about - first of all what is this seitan?

Mr. TERRY: Seitan is wheat gluten that is often used kind of as a meat substitute. And generally I don't use a lot of the kind of like meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh and seitan. I just would rather stick with a big pot of beans or other forms of getting protein.

But for this one, you know, one of the dishes I loved growing up when I was an omnivore was smothered pork chops. And I wanted to try to replicate that as much as I could. So I tested it out just to give it a try, and it was so sumptuous and delicious that I had to put it in my latest book.

LUDDEN: So we have here - it's smothered seitan medallions in a mixed mushroom gravy? How do you make that?

Mr. TERRY: Well, you know, I have to say most of the recipes in my latest book are very simple. If you could boil a pot of water, you can make these. This one, it takes some time, because this slow food, you know, slow cooking. A lot of people talk about slow food and they think about Western Europe. But there are lots of slow foods traditionally in African-American cuisine.

So the stock is homemade, take fresh mushrooms and we're going to just make a fresh mushroom stock, and then from there the gravy. And pretty much once the stock and the gravy are made, it's just about letting the seitan simmer in that for about 30 minutes and you got your meal.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, if it's Thanksgiving and maybe we do have a turkey in the oven, we've got all day for this dish. Now, you're in California. I'm here in Washington. So in order for me to taste these recipes that you're telling us about, we have called on NPR's producer Jack Zahora who has been cooking up a storm today. Hi there, Jack.

JACK ZAHORA: Yes, I am. Hi, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thanks so much for efforts here, and can we taste the smothered seitan medallions?

ZAHORA: Sure. I'm just going to put the seitan actually over rice, which I think Bryant has in his cookbook and here you go.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

ZAHORA: Get you the fork here.

LUDDEN: Any thoughts on cooking this?

ZAHORA: Well, you know, he talks about slow food and this was for those who are going to make it a little slow. I mean this probably took me the longest of anything I've made. And it actually opened up my world to cooking in making the stock. Because usually I just take one of those little cubes that you find in the grocery store and throw it into the soup, or throw it into my risotto or whatever. And this is the first time I actually made my own mushroom stock, or I believe you call it the shroom stock and that was the best thing about it. I cannot get enough of that.

LUDDEN: Mmm. You know, it's really good, mmm, and this is very, I can feel this is - you can make this, sorry, I'm speaking with my food in my mouth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: You can make this a main dish. It's going to be quite filling, I can tell, yeah?

Mr. TERRY: Oh, it is. That's going to be the main dish on my Thanksgiving table this year. And I'll be visiting my fiancee's parents. I think they might have a turkey, but for us vegetarians sitting there, we'll be eating the seitan medallions.

LUDDEN: Hmm. That was really nice. So I see this is a nice - got a nice sauce to it. We've got the rice here. I see a basket of biscuits. Is this where sopping up some of this seitan sauce comes in here?

Mr. TERRY: Sopping is, I don't know, it's a sport in Tennessee where I grew up, or just generally in the South. So if you're gonna have a gravy-based dish, you have to have some biscuits on the side so you can sop some things up. So these sweet cornmeal coconut butter drop biscuits, you know, they're great. It's kind of, I use agave nectar...

LUDDEN: It smells so good. It smells really great.

Mr. TERRY: I'll let you try it. And tell me what you think.

LUDDEN: That's really nice. So you were saying you have what kind of a nectar?

Mr. TERRY: Oh, so I use agave nectar which is a - it's I guess kind of a health supportive sweetener. It's low glycemic so those who might be, you know, dealing with type-2 diabetes, it's one of the best sweeteners, because it doesn't give you an insulin spike. And it's just very mild and really delicious. And it goes well with those biscuits.

LUDDEN: You call for raw organic sugar and rice milk. Is this part of being an eco-chef? I mean, do you have to use organic ingredients here?

Mr. TERRY: Well, I always encourage people to use local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients for a number of reasons. You know, we can talk about the ecological benefits to the animals. But one of the reasons I encourage people to use seasonal ingredients and local ingredients most often is because of the flavor. I mean, when you use something that's harvested that day that comes from either your front or backyard garden or, you know, a farm that's 50 or 100 miles outside the city, it's going to be so much more flavorful and delicious than something that's been shipped across the globe or shipped across the country and sitting in warehouses for weeks and then refrigerated.

But I always encourage people to modify my recipes. You know, I'd like to think that my recipes aren't proprietary. My publisher might disagree. But I want people to feel free to make them their own. And if one wants to use whole milk instead of rice milk, by all means do so. If one wanted to use white sugar instead of raw organic sugar, you know, go ahead. I'm just presenting the most health-supportive recipes as possible, and then inviting people to make them their own.

LUDDEN: And you know, these biscuits, they're - really the consistency is wonderful. Jack, did you - how was it cooking it? I can imagine getting your biscuit just right might be hard.

ZAHORA: It was actually really easy and what I did for this since I actually took all the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder and I mixed it all together last night and put it into a bowl. And I took all the wet ingredients and put it into another bowl, brought it here to NPR and then just mixed it all together here, then threw it in the oven.

The only problem I had with it was finding some of the ingredients for it. I'm glad he said we could substitute, because that was my biggest question, like things like cocoa butter. I've never used it before. I've never even heard of it before. I went to the local grocery store and I couldn't find it. I had to go to a couple of places in order to find it.

Mr. TERRY: The recipe calls for chilled coconut butter and it, you know, in the book I explained, and I should have put that on the recipe, Jack. But you know, coconut butter is simply coconut oil that has, you know, just kind of like sat, and a good way to take coconut oil and make it coconut butter is put it in the refrigerator so that it can harden. You know, most health food stores carry it. Increasingly, more conventional grocery stores are carrying it but a lot of times, you might have to go on a treasure hunt to find coconut oil. But there are more studies that shows coconut oil is a heart-healthy fat and they are encouraging, you know, the use of it, in moderation certainly.

LUDDEN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE and I'm Jennifer Ludden. Eco-chef Bryant Terry is here sharing his recipes for a vegan Thanksgiving. So Bryant, I don't know about you but in my household the perpetual problem is that the dinner, though delicious, is never done when we plan for it to be done. So you've got to keep your hungry guests happy. Can we talk about some vegan appies?

Mr. TERRY: I like to have snacks always on hand for when people arrive early. For this Thanksgiving, I'm going to be making my double maple-coated pecans. And, you know, growing up pecans were always readily available because my paternal grandfather had a huge pecan tree in his front yard. So I decided to take this childhood favorite and make a sweet, simple snack out of it. So for the double maple-coated pecans it's simply - we're using maple sugar and maple syrup. That's the double maple.

LUDDEN: Double!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TERRY: And, you know, a lot of times, maple sugar might not be readily accessible so I encourage people to substitute whatever is available. If you have some raw organic cane sugar use that.

LUDDEN: Is brown sugar okay?

Brown sugar could work but, yeah, toss it in a little extra virgin olive oil, then the sugar, then the maple syrup and let them cool for about 15 minutes and you got a tasty healthy snack.

LUDDEN: And Jack has made it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZAHORA: Here it is. You want to try one?


ZAHORA: Here you go.

LUDDEN: That's nice, Jack.

Mr. TERRY: What do you think, Jack.

ZAHORA: Oh, man, this is great and this is easy. I think the nicest part of serving something that you just won't throw out there is that it's also like that cooking and the biggest problem I had with it was not eating all of them before I got to work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: He's very nice to share.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: All right, Bryant, we have one last item here. I take it this is something best had when the relatives have all gone, the kids are in bed and you can finally put your feet up.

Mr. TERRY: Yeah, this is the end of the night. This has been a crazy couple of days entertaining all these people and I just want to indulge in the cinnamon applejack toddy. I'm a big fan of toddies and also a big fan of the 1970 sitcom �Sanford and Son.�

LUDDEN: Uh-huh.

Mr. TERRY: Fred Sanford, one of his favorite alcoholic beverages was applejack.

(Soundbite of TV show, �Sanford and Son�)

Mr. REDD FOXX (Actor): (As Fred Sanford) Listen to me. Excuse me, son, you want some applejack.

Mr. DEMOND WILSON (Actor): (As Lamont Sanford) No, I don't want no applejack.

Mr. FOXX: (As Fred Sanford) You better put applejack on the grocery list. And get some mineral oil and Pluto Water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: (As Lamont Sanford) Why do you need all that stuff for?

Mr. FOXX: (As Fred Sanford) Well, that applejack makes me sleep and the other stuff make me get up.

Mr. TERRY: I decided to just play with that and make this simple toddy, which is a shot of applejack - which is an apple-based brandy, and one can use any brandy that is available.

LUDDEN: I think, Jack, you've got - tell us what you've got here.

ZAHORA: Well, I'm going to play bartender for a second. So I've got some cups of water that are hot with the cinnamon stick and I've got some of the applejack brandy. I'm just gonna put a little shot in here.

Mr. TERRY: So you actually got the applejack.

ZAHORA: Oh, yeah.

Mr. TERRY: Okay. I'm impressed, Jack.

ZAHORA: We got a little bit of the juices, we'll throw in here.

LUDDEN: Tell us about this, Bryant.

Mr. TERRY: Just a little teaspoon of apple juice, just enough to give it a little oomph and then some lemon juice for a little acid. Agave nectar or whatever sweetener you have on hand and then garnish it with a Granny Smith apple just for some, you know, beautiful aesthetics. But the most important is the brandy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: We've got here. Cheers, Jack.

ZAHORA: Cheers, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Cheers with plastic cups.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: So Bryant, that's all the food we've got here, but tell us what else might be on your table this Thanksgiving.

Mr. TERRY: Well, one of my favorite things to make for Thanksgiving dinner, especially when I'm visiting other people's houses for the evening is my apple cranberry sauce. And growing up, I have to admit, we ate that disgusting canned cranberry sauce. And, you know, I think a lot of people actually have that. And the thing about making homemade cranberry sauce is it's so simple. I mean, most grocery stores actually carry cranberries around Thanksgiving with the expectation that some people will make them. I just encourage people to get some of those fresh cranberries, some apples and you can use a little orange juice and it's very simple. Boiling it, bringing it down to low for 10 minutes and then letting it cool off and you have some delicious homemade applesauce. I make this stuff all year around in fact.

LUDDEN: Who needs Thanksgiving?

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Bryant Terry is a chef and the author of the book �Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African-American Cuisine.� Thank you so much.

Mr. TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

LUDDEN: And Jack Zahora, NPR producer, thanks for your good cooking today.

ZAHORA: Oh, my pleasure.

Mr. TERRY: Thanks, Jack.

LUDDEN: And that's our program for today. I'm Jennifer Ludden and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
Jack Zahora