Growing up loving vegetarian food, Tejal Rao was always surprised when people around her, whether in the kitchen of the restaurant where she worked as a cook or writing about food for digital publications, didn’t share her appreciation. for dishes centered on vegetables.
“I love vegetarian cuisine. It’s important to me!” she says enthusiastically in an exclusive interview with Beet.
Now, as the founder of The New York Times weekly newsletter, The Veggie, which sends subscribers inspiration for cooking vegetarian and vegan dishes, Rao always fights to give veg-centric dishes their due.
“I grew up in an immigrant family. My father is Indian and my mother is from East Africa – Kenya, and growing up, very delicious vegetarian food was an integral part of our daily lives:
“Moon dal rice, sautéed vegetables, pickles and yogurt is a dream dinner for me. It’s my comfort food. I wanted to share this with readers.” As a former restaurant cook, Rao cooks a lot of vegetarian dishes at home and she wanted to share that with her readers. So she started writing about it, first as a freelance writer and as an LA food critic for The New York Timesand now, in its weekly newsletter, The Veggie.
“There is a pervasive idea among food writers and in American culture in general that vegetarian food is a renunciation of pleasure or an abandonment of deliciousness and pleasure,” says Rao. “I don’t believe it! For me, this column is a way to prove it wrong.”
The idea for the column was to validate consumers’ growing interest in eating more plant-based meals, Rao explains. “The column shows that we have vegetarian readers and also omnivorous readers interested in eating this way,” she says. The section is dedicated to all readers who wish to eat more vegetables and discover the delights of vegetarian cuisine.
As a cook, writer, and food lover, Rao spent her twenties “running a supper club” out of her Brooklyn apartment, cooking meals for friends. She then got a full-time job as a restaurant critic at The voice of the village.
Speaking of The Veggie, Rao said: “I put my email at the bottom of the newsletter and it’s intimate. I get comments and based on the emails I get I have vegan readers and omnivorous readers who have never cooked with tofu. and want to know what to do. Or those who hope to make cooking with beans more interesting. It’s a range of people. I try to vary the newsletter to meet people where they are.
The Veggie is for “all levels, from new to experienced cooks,” says Rao. “I developed a Beans Marbella home recipe, which I posted as a ‘recipe without recipe’ and received feedback that some people totally understood it and could make it from what I I wrote, but other readers needed the exact measurements. Some people wrote in and said they wanted more details, so we created a real Chicken Marbella Recipe Without Chicken.”
She wants to include everyone in her approach, even “people who are very experienced vegetarian cooks, I want them to feel included too”.
Validate vegetarian cuisine
When The New York Times launched a new vegetarian cooking newsletter, it was a way to embrace people around the world who enjoy eating vegetarian or plant-based, including those who choose to avoid all origin products animal as well as readers willing to wade into the shallow end of a vegetarian approach to dinner.
While the column includes eggs and dairy, the preponderance of recipes focuses on plant-based ingredients, such as roasted squash, beans, rice, corn, and seasonal greens, with flavorings and seasonings without dairy products such as coconut milk, chilli, garlic and curry. . The Veggie lets readers know that they can not only survive, but thrive on plant proteins such as tofu, legumes, pulses and beans.
Rao says she prefers to find recipes and either repost them and explain why she likes them, or she adapts recipes that work for any type of vegetable, so the reader can choose. “It’s almost like one of the first blogs from the 2000s, where I tell people I’m working on a recipe group.”
She loves that readers make her recipes their own and that a dish evolves as each home chef adds their own personal touch. “It’s beautiful when that happens,” she says. Sometimes this can evolve when she wants to make something but doesn’t have the right ingredients, like beans, on hand, so she tries to use substitutions. “Sometimes it can be impossible to follow a recipe as it’s written, which isn’t always possible, so I just try to stick to the basic guidelines.”
Her favorite recipe lately is a very simple vegetable stir-fry. “You can use almost any vegetable and so simple make the same sauce every time as it’s a versatile way to cook whatever’s in season. You mash together dry coconut, dry red chili peppers and cloves of garlic, and you add this mixture to your vegetables and cook them.”
The recipe recently appeared as “Roasted Squash with Coconut, Chili and Garlic”, by Tejal Rao.
Adapt to a planet-friendly way of eating
Rao is at the forefront of a generation that wants to be flexitarian and eat vegetarian and vegan foods on their own terms, for health, the environment, and animal welfare. She is a self-proclaimed omnivore who eats vegetarian, preparing vegetarian comfort food when she is at home.
“I am an omnivore. At home, exclusively vegetarian food. Comfort food is what I love! »
One recipe at a time, she hopes to change people’s perceptions of vegetarian or plant-based cooking. “You’re building a case for it being delicious and convenient. Whether you care about health or your budget, eating plant-based is going to transform local food systems,” she says. If it’s up to her, people will no longer think of vegetarian food as rabbit food, lacking taste and satisfaction, but as the link between “deliciousness and practicality”.
The vegetarian cuisine speaks for itself
“I can’t convince people to like vegetarian food unless it’s because of how delicious the food is. And that’s how powerful it will be,” predicts Rao. “Delicious and convenient recipes are the strongest arguments for vegetarian food. You can try to convince people another way, but it won’t work. Food can make its own case when it’s really good .”
She therefore teaches, as much as cooking, in her section. “When I got my first full-time writing job at The voice of the village 10 years ago, I had this fantasy of a mentor who would take me under his wing and teach me everything he knew about journaling, writing and criticism, and guess what? It never happened,” Rao says, so now she mentors others, not only with her writing, but also with her enthusiasm for plant-based cooking. It’s contagious, and once you start reading The Veggie, you can’t help but want to bake that way.
For other great plant-based trailblazers, check out The Beet’s lifestyle and cultivation articles.