I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gena of Choosing Raw, a woman whom I admire greatly for her strength, her knowledge and her passion for veganism.
What prompted you to start working on your cookbook, ‘Choosing Raw’? Do you see yourself working on more cookbooks or perhaps something in the digital sphere like an app?
The book is really an extension of my blog. Each time I sit down to write Choosing Raw, I’m hoping to demonstrate that a wholesome vegan diet can be satisfying, abundant, and delicious. I’m hoping to clear up some of the big myths and misconceptions surrounding raw food, and show folks that raw recipes can be easy, accessible, and fun. And I’m trying to inspire anyone who has struggled with body image to make peace with food.
It was a joy to carry these goals over to the book format, because it gave me a little more space and depth to develop them. It also gave me a chance to do a few things I’ve never done before, like create 21 days of comprehensive meal plans, and develop some fun new recipes!
I think future writing projects would probably be more in print, rather than something digital; I’m not 100% sure what I’d do with an app! And I’m definitely most comfortable in writing. But anything is possible. For now, I’m just enjoying this book, and taking the future one day at a time 🙂
You mentioned that you grew up in a Greek American home, did your family approve of your diet and vegan lifestyle? What was the most difficult aspect of your vegan diet and lifestyle for your family to grasp or accept?
If my Grandmother had been conscious of my going vegan, I think it would have been a battle, to be sure. Giving up red meat alone was a bit controversial, and I can’t say that she (my Yaya) ever really “got it.” But my Mom has been 100% supportive, and she’s embraced my lifestyle wholesale. She has seen me through a lot of struggles with food, and I think she’s happy so long as I’m happy, healthy, and at peace with food.
What was the most enjoyable part of working on your cookbook and what was the biggest challenge you encountered?
Writing the nutrition chapters was by far my favorite part of the process; I love nutrition nitty-gritty, and it was fun to put it on paper, to craft a comprehensive resource. Recipe testing was the hardest part! Things didn’t always go as planned, and I’m used to being less precise with my cooking than you have to be for a print publication. Still, it was a good challenge, and I think it made me a stronger cook.
Is it just taste that appeals to you or the creative process involved in cooking?
Creative process for sure. Cooking is probably my favorite creative outlet. I love the taste, of course–I’m a foodie, through and through–but conceptualizing recipes is also a thrill.
What was the first Greek dish that you sought to adapt and master as a vegan recipe?
Avgolemono (Greek Easter soup with lemon)! And it was a total success. I was thrilled. Eggs are a huge part of the traditional recipe, but I managed to create something very authentic without them.
There are so many wonderful and nutritious recipes in the book. Which recipe did you find yourself making the most? What inspired you to compile these wonderful recipes?
The heat free lentil and walnut tacos are now a staple in my kitchen. They’re quick, easy, nutritious, and flavorful. I also really love the quinoa breakfast pudding, the spicy cilantro vinaigrette, and the Mediterranean cauliflower rice. I didn’t expect to like developing desserts so much–I’ve usually more into savory food than sweet–but it was a great creative challenge, and the fig bars and blueberry cheesecake are now absolute favorites.
We are curious to know where you usually eat at. What are a few of your favorite vegan or raw vegan eateries from around the world?
I’m blessed to live in NYC, where amazing restaurants abound! My favorites: Pure Food and Wine, Angelica Kitchen, Candle 79 and Candle Cafe, Beyond Sushi. On the West Coast, Gracias Madre, Cafe Gratitude, Millenium, Real Food Daily. In Philly, Vedge. (Amazing.) In the DC area, Great Sage. I could go on and on and on!
When traveling, one of the things we always bring is our favorite Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler, which is handy for peeling fruit as well as other uses. Is there any little tool, trick or handy device you always pack?
I pack a julienne peeler! It’s awesome for quick and easy zucchini noodles.
When traveling, one of the hardest parts of arriving somewhere new is the first day and that uncertainty about where you’re going to find that first meal and what food will be available. When you travel, are there any sort of emergency snacks you typically pack?
Definitely! I travel with a ton of snack bars, packets of almond butter, and — when it’s short term travel — fresh fruit and carrot sticks. I also like to pack nutritional yeast, in case I do cooking while I travel. Cause it makes everything better. 🙂 I usually use Happy Cow to help find local spots, too, or Yelp.
What did you make for lunch or dinner today?
Lunch: kale, kelp noodles, cabbage, carrots, hemp seeds, carrot-orange-miso dressing with seared sesame tempeh.
Dinner tonight: Israeli couscous salad, leftover cream of tomato soup. Yum!