Today UNC Press publicity director Gina Mahalek chats with Jennifer Brulé, author of The New Vegetarian South: 105 Inspired Dishes for Everyone.
In her enlightening cookbook, chef Brulé brings southern-style food together with plant-based approaches to eating. Her down-to-earth style and 105 recipes will immediately appeal to vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters alike. These dishes are also a boon for those who simply love southern food and want to learn more about options for flexitarian eating. Brulé deliciously demystifies meat substitutes and flavors up familiar vegetables. Imagine vegetarian barbecue: Brulé’s recipe for spicing, saucing, and oven-roasting jackfruit offers a robustly tasty alternative to pulled pork. Tofu is the perfect base for crispy Southern Fried Buttermilk Nuggets, and cauliflower beautifully fills in for shrimp in a Cajun-inspired étouffee.
The New Vegetarian South is available now in both print and ebook editions.
Gina Mahalek: Your book, The New Vegetarian South, is dedicated to recreating traditional southern dishes vegetarian-style. Did you find it difficult to transition some of the South’s trademark recipes into ones that are meatless? If so, what was most challenging?
Jennifer Brulé: Some dishes easily lent themselves to becoming vegetarian or vegan; Buttermilk Fried Tofu Nuggets, for instance, works beautifully. However, the idea of transitioning some dishes to be plant-based was daunting. Brunswick Stew is a great example—it’s known for all the different meats involved, from chicken, to pork, to beef to squirrel. How does one turn meat stew into a vegetarian dish while keeping it delicious? But, as I said, it was merely the idea that was daunting. Using texturized vegetable protein (TVP) and lots of layers of flavors resulted in a satiating, mouthwatering recipe.
GM: Did your professional background as a classically trained chef provide you with much of your knowledge on vegetarian alternatives for meaty dishes, or did you gain insight from recipe experimentation and creation?
JB: Being a classically trained chef helped, for sure, but more than anything it’s my unquenchable thirst for food knowledge that informed me about meat alternatives. I am a student of food and cooking, constantly curious about ingredients. I research and study food every day. Having two vegetarian daughters, of course has made me quite deliberate in finding, and working with, meat alternatives.
GM: What was the main reason you decided to adopt a more plant-based diet?
JB: Two things: my aforementioned children (one of whom became vegetarian when she was five years old), but also my love of animals. It seems stranger and stranger to me that we, as a society, eat living beings. That said, I’m a sucker for a properly fried piece of chicken. But, I figure if can eat plant-based meals most of the time and indulge in eating critters only occasionally, I’m headed in the right direction.
GM: Was the process of reducing your meat intake difficult?
JB: No, it truly wasn’t. If you think about it, a wonderful cheese pizza is vegetarian. A bowl filled with hearty grains, grilled slaw, pickled pink onions, roasted black beans and a creamy lemon-tahini dressing (like the ones we serve at my restaurant, Davidson Ice House) tastes AMAZING and happens to be vegan. I honestly think that it’s mostly a mental game, a perception that it’s not a meal without meat in the center of the plate. With some creativity, it’s EASY to eat a primarily plant-based diet.