The prolific—and omnivorous—author of the New York Times’ “Minimalist” column has written How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, a follow-up to his classic book, How to Cook Everything.
The book is huge; how do you write so many recipes?
It’s been 10 years since How to Cook Everything came out, so with my weekly column alone that’s 500 recipes right there. I don’t want to downplay the enormous work that went into it, but it’s really just about diligence, pressing ahead. Right now I’m revising HTCE for the 10th anniversary edition next fall.
What made you, as a meat-eater, take up this project?
I could see five or six years ago that vegetarian cooking would be increasingly important because of an interesting confluence of health and ethical issues. I figured it was going to accelerate, but what I didn’t know was how fast it would happen. I also didn’t know how important it would be for me personally. I still consider myself an omnivore, but when I look at what I cook for myself, I hardly use meat and fish anymore. And with all the environmental and agricultural changes, meat is going to be scarcer; there’s already less fish. So I think more people are going to eat this way in the future.
What role does travel have in your recipe-gathering?
It’s very important; I certainly could never have done the original HTCE without it. My tastes are eclectic, so when I see a dish that looks interesting, I try it and take back what I like. For this book, for vegetarian food, it’s not quite as important; you see some vegetarian cooking everywhere, but from a strictly vegetarian point of view, not to sound chauvinist, but the U.S. is the best.
What do you consider the best vegetarian cuisine outside the U.S.?
Japanese. Western Europe is the most disappointing, and I think it’s largely because wealthier countries have the most meat. If you go to India, you don’t see most people eating meat in their daily cuisine; vegetarian cooking fits much more naturally with what’s available.
Your recipes are famously home-cook-friendly. How do you test them?
I cook everything myself. There’s no test kitchen—in fact, over the past few years, I’ve been moving a lot, so I’ve had a lot of different, mostly crummy, kitchens, and these recipes were cooked one or two at a time for lunch and dinner. After doing books with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and cooking with him, I have to admit that the influence of chefs has not been insignificant, but I am first and foremost a home cook, and that’s who these recipes are for.