TERRY HOPE ROMERO IS A MULTI-MEDIA MAVEN, who has been cutting into the mainstream with her unique style of vegan cuisine for years. I will never forget how back in 2010, when I was art directing an issue of the very mainstream and very popular women’s magazine Latina, the editors chose to open the entire Food section with a profile on Terry and one of her recipes. The pull quote from they selected from her read, “Latin food has heart, soul and sabor. And vegan food is friendly to your body and the planet, and compassionate towards animals. Philosophically, the two are a great match.” I was floored. Juggling multiple media outlets is nothing new to Terry. In 2003, she co-hosted the lively DIY-style cooking show Post Punk Kitchen with her vegan partner-in-crime Isa Chandra Moskowitz. The 6-episode show led to the now-hugely popular site, and a vibrant cook book co-authoring career between the two women— long-time friends since their punk scene days. Some of their biggest hits include the vegan cooking bible Veganomicon and the baking must-have Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
In 2010, Terry released her own book, Viva Vegan!, arguably changing the landscape of Latin cooking. Refreshingly humble and reluctant to toot her own horn, she did admit to me when I spoke to her recently that she gets letters from readers like, “Thank you for doing this, I miss eating this food” and “I’m going to give this to my Mom, so she can make healthier choices.” Her latest book Vegan Eats World deliciously answered the question, What if the world was vegan? with countless globally-inspired recipes. (If you’re in New York, be sure to catch her on May 15 at The James Beard House, reading from this very book). And as if all this wasn’t impactful enough, she has also been on your television— co-starring in the first season of Vegan Mashup, along with vegan chef stars Toni Fiore and Miyoko Schinner, airing weekly on the Create public television channel. I spoke to Terry on the eve of the show’s season finale (tune in May 8th at 8:30am and 2:30pm), and she was kind enough to share one of her recipes.
SCRAMBLED TOFU BREAKFAST BANH MI
This hearty bahn mi filling of golden scrambled tofu packed in a toasted baguette is too good to eat only for breakfasts, eat them up for casual weeknight meals too. You could always just use carrot and cilantro for garnish, but for really amazing sandwiches make the Daikon and Carrot Star Anise pickles!
Makes 4 eight inch, overstuffed sandwiches
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
¾ cup thinly sliced shallots
4 scallions, white and green parts divided and sliced very thin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and mince
1 pound firm or extra firm tofu, drained
½ cup vegetable broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably Thai thin soy sauce ) or tamari
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder, any variety
For the sandwiches:
4 six to eight inch crusty sandwich rolls or sliced from 2 baguettes
+ Vegan mayonnaise
+ Cilantro springs
+ Thin slices of ripe tomato
+ Paper thin slices of red radish or matchsticks of daikon or jicama
+ Asian garlic chili sauce (such as Sriracha or sambal oelek)
+ Daikon, carrots and jalapeño peppers sliced into thin slivers
1. Heat a wok or cast iron skillet until nearly smoking, then sauté mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of oil until tender and browned, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from wok, wipe down the surface and add remaining oil. Add the shallots and stir-fry until golden, about 4 minutes, then add white parts of scallion and garlic and stir fry for 1 minute. Crumble in tofu, add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Whisk together vegetable broth, soy sauce, lime juice, coriander, white pepper, and curry powder and pour over tofu. Use a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir fry tofu until all of the liquid has been absorbed and tofu is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Tofu should be moist, but not wet. Add the green tops of the scallions, fry for another minute and remove from the heat.
2. Slice rolls in half and toast if desired. Spread insides with mayo and distribute the tofu evenly on the sandwiches. Top each sandwich with cilantro, tomato, radish, chili sauce, and daikon pickles if using. Eat immediately but over a plate…these are messy goodness.
Huge congrats on the show! Is it important that people, particularly vegans, know how to cook?
Thank you! Absolutely. Vegan food has changed tremendously over the past twenty years. It’s escaping some of the stereotypes of it not being creative, or it being boring, or that it’s limited. I keep talking about the need to cook. Americans probably cook way less than people do in other parts of the world. Showing that vegan food can be made at home that is fun, easy, delicious and interesting for everybody— is very important.
And that’s why a show like this is so relevant.
People love to see shows about food. That’s what’s super current about [Vegan Mashup]. People want to see food and how it’s made and how it’s done. So that’s just sort of the approach of the show. It is still very grassroots. This is not some giant TV cable station or network type craziness. This is really about people kind of doing it for themselves.
Which definitely makes cooking feel less intimidating! You’re known for hardly using any vegan meats or cheeses in your recipes and focusing on whole foods. That said, can you share any recent products discoveries that have gotten you excited?
Oh there’s this cheese made in Switzerland called Vegusto. It’s the best vegan cheese product I’ve had anywhere. It’s incredible because it stinks. I miss stinky cheese! This stuff is very flavorful, very tangy, very smelly. And you can only get it in some parts of Europe. And I brought back a bunch of it back. I’m going to make some grilled cheese, it’ll be fun. But when it comes to writing recipes and publishing cookbooks, I don’t tell people to buy products like that. Even in my baking books, I don’t use egg replacer.
What do you use instead?
It could be bananas or it could be tapioca flour. It’s all circumstantial with what kind of flavor you’re trying to make. I emphasize natural foods. I always tell people, especially more over the years— you could have made this food with stuff you find in the supermarket. You don’t have to go out and buy some exotic weird ingredient, unless you’re doing international cooking. [And if you are], then learn how to use lemon grass, it’s not about buying a certain kind of vegan mayonnaise. Of course, those products can be great in drawing people in who normally don’t eat vegan foods. They certainly have a place, and I’m even doing some product development. I’ve been approached by a tofu company to develop recipes for the Latin-American market.
Exciting! Speaking of the Latin-American market, your cooking is definitely helping to shift paradigms. What has been the response from the Latin community?
I actually grew up in New England, but my family is from Venezuela. I’ve been living in New York City for almost twenty years. My family were not a fan of me becoming vegetarian. So I’m used to the struggle. I also don’t use it as an excuse. “When people say, “it’s a cultural thing, I have to eat meat.” I don’t buy it. I get messages from people, saying “thank you for doing this because I miss eating this food” or “I’m going to give this to my Mom, so she can make healthier choices.”
That’s amazing, and definitely highlights that cooking can in fact be a form of advocacy and activism. We actually just talked to a few activists about working hard and avoiding burnout. What’s your take on that?
It’s really important to try to find balance and do things that actually make you happy, that don’t necessarily feel like a big obligation in your life. That’s where I see people burn out and go crazy—when they don’t leave space in their life that’s purely enjoyable or pleasurable. I have a lot of hobbies in addition to cooking and vegan stuff. I’m really immersed in geek culture. I play a lot of video games, I go to game conventions, I read comic books. Stuff like that. Which is a separate world from “I’m gonna do vegan stuff all the time and just hang out with vegans.” You need to diversify your life.
Another thing that I see when people burn out is that they isolate themselves somehow. It’s important to stay connected with other people: your family, your friends, whoever. Just make sure that you are connected to other human beings in your daily and weekly activities.
Cooking is actually a relaxing activity for me. After ten hours, I’m tired. But on a daily basis, cooking for an hour or two at home— that’s relaxing. I travel a lot. I visit a lot of friends— here, in Europe, wherever I can. If I’m visiting somebody, I start preparing dinner. They’re like “you don’t have to do that, I’ll do that!” and I’m like “no, I actually want to do this. This helps me relax.” (laughs)
So cooking is not only your livelihood, but is also a profound source of joy and well-being for you. When did you know you loved cooking?
Really early. I think I was cooking since I was eleven, twelve years old. Maybe even before that. I found food interesting. I loved reading cookbooks, I loved reading cooking magazines, and my parents let me play around. I think a lot of kids, when you give them the opportunity— really love cooking. They love seeing the textures of vegetables and fruits. When they get a little older, a lot of kids love to bake. If you have kids, you want them to gain an appreciation for food. Let them cook with you, absolutely!
Essentials any aspiring chef or home cook should have in their kitchen?
I think everyone should have a really great knife. Don’t chop vegetables with a little skinny steak knife that you took from your mom’s cabinet. Invest in a really good knife. You don’t have to get a two hundred dollar one. You can get a really good chef’s knife that will last you years and years with a little sharpening and care. Believe it or not, I love the salad spinner, and I use it to wash every kind of vegetable. An emersion blender too— it’s a cheap thing that you can use to make sauces and soups and salad dressing really fast without a problem.
That’s awesome! And what can we look forward to on Vegan Mashup in the future?
We’re hoping to have all three of us together in the same space because Miyoko is in San Francisco. So getting us on the same coast, in the same kitchen— is a dream. And who knows? We might go on location somewhere, get out of the kitchen maybe…
Tune in to Vegan Mashup on:
Written by Julie Gueraseva
Photographs courtesy of Terry Hope Romero