When a lifelong foodie turns vegetarian, and then vegan (for the sake of health and environment), what's a guy to do?
Tal Ronnen wasn't putting up with so-so food. No, no. He went to culinary school to continue along his gourmet way, working in vegan restaurants in the U.S.
"We were a foodie family in New York. I was using chopsticks at three years old and was exposed to every kind of cuisine," he says. "As a vegetarian, I felt left out."
Last year, he wrote The Conscious Cook, a vegan cookbook, and it was on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks.
He was more pleased, however, when the cookbook was named one of the top 10 cookbooks of the year by Epicurious.com,
alongside books by culinary greats like Thomas Keller and Marcus Samuelsson.
Vegetarian and vegan cooking, he says, has mostly been about home cooking.
"By applying traditional French techniques, I was able to come up with recipes even meat-eaters like," says Ronnen, who now lives in L.A. and Vancouver (where he works as a consultant to gardein, a vegan food product company).
It wasn't long before Oprah called, asking him to cook for her during a 21-day cleanse (which she blogged about). He was impressed with the grand dame of daytime TV and loved working for her.
"She does a lot of big things, connects with a lot of people, does a lot of charitable work," he gleaned during his three weeks in her life.
"For three weeks, I, a person who seldom eats eggs, obsessed over not being able to have an omelette," Oprah wrote in her blog.
"I craved cheese daily. But I also had some surprisingly delicious meals without a trace of flesh. Or dairy. I knew it was a new day when I heard myself asking for seconds on a jicama salad."
When his cookbook came out, he cooked with Oprah on her show. "It was nerve-racking," he says. "But she's so good at making people feel comfortable."
He's cooked for a lot of celebrities, he says, but signs non-disclosures with most.
He catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's wedding, which took
place at their house.
"They're just really two beautiful, generous people I loved working with," he says. The stars are both vegans.
He helped Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders) open a vegan restaurant in Ohio; and he catered a party for Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post at the Democratic National Convention last year, and created the first vegan menu served at a U.S. Senate function.
On Tuesday, Ronnen will be in Vancouver, signing cookbooks and promoting the frozen gardein line of products at Whole Foods Market on Cambie Street from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
He says he teamed with Yves Potvin of gardein because he loves the products. (He made a gardein "chicken" scaloppine with shiitake sake sauce, braised pea shoots and crispy udon noodle cakes as one course at DeGeneres' wedding.)
"Yves revolutionized the meat-alternative industry," Ronnen says.
"This is something you can cook with. It's not all soy. He's created complete proteins with pea, wheat and ancient grains."
He says vegan dishes tend to be low-fat or non-fat.
"I've taken the opposite approach. I've learned fat equals flavour and I use good, healthy fats."
He says vegetarianism is at a tipping point of going big, for health and environmental reasons.
"The UN secretary-general has said one of the best things people can do for global warming is go on a vegetarian diet. The Michigan governor has started meat-free Mondays. In Belgium, some cities are doing meat-free
"We really can't eat and grow food the way we have been without causing harm to our health and environment," he says.
"And eating vegetarian doesn't have to mean sandwiches with hummus and alfalfa sprouts."
And that is what he's out to prove.
Tal Ronnen ivited sme gest chefs to share some of their vegan recipes in The Conscious Chef. This is from Dave Anderson of Madeleine Bistro in L.A. He once put it on a seven-course Valentine's menu and had Ronnen come to his rescue in putting together the labour-intensive dish the night before.
2 pounds mixed beets (red, gold, candy-striped)
1½ cups filtered water
2 tablespoons agar-agar flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup gold beet scraps (from above)
½ cup Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon light agave nectar
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For Balsamic Glaze
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups spring greens mix
Beet Mosaic: Place beets in a large saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beets are fork tender. Remove and let cool to room temperature. Peel the beets, then square them off and cut into small, even strips. Repeat with the gold and candy-striped beets (these two can be cooked together). Reserve the trimmings from the gold beets for the vinaigrette.
Oil the inside of a 5¾ by 3¼-inch loaf pan and line it with plastic wrap. Combine the filtered water and the agar-agar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the agaragar is completely melted, 5 to 10 minutes.
With a pastry brush, brush the bottom of the loaf pan with the agaragar mixture. Dip a red beet strip in the agar-agar mixture and place it in the corner of the pan. Dip another strip and place it behind the first. It will take a few strips to make a row and you may need to cut strips to fit. Repeat with strips of gold beet, making a row next to the red beet one. Continue alternating colours until you have made a complete layer. Season with salt and pepper and brush agar-agar over the layer so that any cracks are filled in.
Continue building layers of alternating colours until the loaf pan is full. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place a 3-to 4-pound weight on top of the pan and chill for at least 8 hours.
Remove the mosaic from the pan and plastic wrap and carefully cut into 10 even slices. Place the slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Balsamic glaze: Place the vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 10 minutes. Pour into a container and chill until ready to serve.
To assemble: Place a slice of the beet mosaic in the centre of each serving plate. Toss the spring greens in a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and add some of the vinaigrette to taste. Place a small mound of green salad at 12 o'clock on each plate. Drizzle the outer edge of the plate with vinaigrette and balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
This is chef Tal Ronnen’s contemporary take on ravioli in his cookbook The Conscious Cook. You don’t have to roll, cut, crimp and fuss. Fold the dough over once and that’s it. The see-through pasta dough shows parsley sandwiched between layers.
Pasta dough: 4 ounces silken tofu
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red palm oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups semolina flour, plus more for dusting
Arugula Pesto: ¼ cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups coarsely chopped arugula, stems included
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of ground cayenne
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Filling: 8 ounces firm tofu, pressed well in towel to remove most of moisture
1½ teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes
½ teaspoon dried granulated onion
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup thick Cashew Cream (see recipe below)
1½ teaspoons white miso paste
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To assemble: 10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Pasta dough: Place tofu, olive oil, red palm oil, 2 tablespoons cold water and salt in a food processor process on high for 1 minute.
Gradually add the flour, ½ cup at a time to the tofu mixture and pulse to combine, adding more water if necessary to make a smooth dough. Once combined, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Arugula Pesto: Place all of the pesto ingredients except the oil in a food processor and pulse several times. Continue to blend as you slowly pour in the oil in a thin stream.
Filling: Place all of the filling ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has the texture of ricotta cheese.
Assembling the ravioli: Divide the pasta dough into quarters and roll one piece through a pasta machine to the thinnest setting, cutting the sheet in half crosswise if necessary to keep it manageable. Repeat with second piece of dough. (Save the remaining dough for another use.)
Place the two rolled sheets of dough next to each other on a lightly floured surface. Lay parsley leaves randomly over one sheet. Cover with the other sheet of dough, gently press the sheets together, then run the dough through the machine again on the thinnest setting. Place the sheet back on the floured surface and cut it crosswise to make 5-inch squares.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until it floats, about 3 minutes. Drain.
Heat the filling for a few minutes in a microwave oven or in saucepan over medium heat until warmed through.
Working quickly but carefully so that you don’t burn your fingers, set the pasta pieces out on a clean, stick-free surface. Place 2 tablespoons of the filling in the middle of each piece of pasta, then fold in half to make free-form imperfect, not totally sealed ravioli.
Divide the ravioli among serving plates and top with a spoonful or two of the arugula pesto. Serve immediately.
Cashew Cream: Rinse 2 cups whole raw cashews (not pieces, as they can be dry) under cold water.
Put cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Drain and rinse under cold water. Place in blender with enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. Strain through fine-mesh sieve unless using professional high-speed blender. (Makes about 2¼ cups thick cashew cream. Reduce quantities for smaller requirements.)
Makes 4 servings of ravioli.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun