Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interview with Happy Herbivore Cookbook Author Lindsay Nixon

In January I bought The Happy Herbivore Cookbook after trying many recipes from the Happy Herbivore blog (I still make the smoothies nearly daily--try the Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie!). The recipes are all low-fat or fat-free and focus on healthy ingredients (for example, no white flour or refined sugar is used). I've loved so many of the recipes, and, as a bonus, all of them use simple ingredients and are quick and easy to make. Lindsay Nixon, author of the cookbook and blog who I met at a book signing, took a few minutes to answer some questions about her first cookbook, a second one she's working on, and vegan cooking in general. And she shares a recipe too!Biography
Lindsay S. Nixon is a rising star in the culinary world, praised for her ability to use everyday ingredients to create healthy, low fat recipes that taste just as delicious as they are nutritious. Lindsay's recipes have been featured in Vegetarian Times, Women's Health Magazine and on The Huffington Post. Lindsay is also a consulting chef at La Samanna, a luxury resort and four-star restaurant in the French West Indies. You can learn more about Lindsay and sample some of her recipes at

What's your favorite recipe from the first Happy Herbivore cookbook?

I have a lot of favorites that I circle between. Up until yesterday I was a glutton for the nacho cheese sauce, but I made the nutty spread this morning and am back to worshiping it. A few weeks ago I'd have said cornbread, or queso, or the portobello steaks. There are a lot that I'm crazy for.

Your cookbook was a huge success and quickly sold out. Did that surprise you?

Yeah, it really did. Obviously, I was hoping that it would do well, but I never expected it to sell out! Or sell out as fast as it did. It sucks that we're out of books -- but it's a good problem to have and more are on their way.

Do you think part of that is an indication that more people are open to eating vegan, more people are vegan, or more people want to eat low-fat and fat-free healthy meals?

The Herbies (my fans) deserve a lot of credit because its been a lot of word-of-mouth--people telling their friends about the book, blogging and tweeting about it. Though, if I'm being totally honest, I also have to give a nod to Oprah. The day my book released was the day of her vegan episode (purely coincidence), and by sheer luck, Amazon also bundled my cookbook with Veganist for a few hours, which gave me some incidental sales. (I sold double that week compared to other weeks). I also think veganism is a hot topic right now, and people are generally trying to eat healthier. Of course when I wrote the book a year ago I had no idea this would be the climate, but I feel very lucky and very fortunate.

What's the most popular recipe on the Happy Herbivore blog?

It's always changing--for the longest time it was the Chickpea Tacos and then the Red Lentil Dal. And then the Black Bean Brownies took over by storm and reigned king for a long time, but lately the Carrot Cake Cupcakes and Chocolate Zucchini Muffins seem to be steeling the show.

Which Happy Herbivore recipe would you recommend to omnivores new (and perhaps hesitant) to vegan eating?

I always suggest starting with an inherently vegan for newcomers dish--like a stir-fry, instead of something that emulates meat or cheese. I have an "omni-friendly" icon in the cookbook that's helpful, but I find the nachos and portobello steaks are popular with skeptics.

Which Happy Herbivore recipe would you recommend to anyone who wants a healthy, balanced meal but doesn't like cooking and has little time?

Teriyaki Chickpeas, which are both on the blog and in the book. 5 minutes and you're fed.

You're working on a second cookbook now. What are you most excited about for this next cookbook, and what can readers expect?

I'm exploring a lot of new cuisines with this new book. I had a lot of "American" food in the last one with a touch of Indian and Ethiopian thrown in, but in this book, so far, I have Cajun, Moroccan, Caribbean, lots of Mexican, more Indian, more American too, but I'm really trying to bring in a lot of variety and give it a worldly flair.

I'm still hashing out my exact vision with the book, I'm only 60 recipes in, but I like where it's going.

What's the most important cooking skill or technique you've learned?

Hold the blade, not the handle, on a chef's knife.

What's your all-time favorite vegan dish?
Mashed potatoes with gravy. LOTS of gravy.

Is there any non-vegan food that you miss eating and can't find a good substitute for?

I've yet to find something that there isn't a suitable substitute for, either made commercially or something I can recreate myself. Vegan substitutes have really come a long way in recent years and I think we're in for some really exciting products in the coming years.

I've been fortunate that I've never had cravings, or nostalgia, for foods I've given up (mind over matter).

Are there any other vegan chefs and/or cookbooks that inspire you?

I'm friends with Alicia Simpson and Mark Reinfeld. I wouldn't say they inspire me, necessarily, but I certainly have a lot of respect for them and love their cookbooks.

Jaime Oliver is probably the one chef I'm inspired by, even though he's an omnivore. I like his "let me show you how to make fresh healthy meals" attitude. He's all about being healthy and that's so refreshing. Most chefs (vegan or otherwise) tend to focus purely on the flavor, with little regard for overall nutrition. Take Paula Deen, for example, I'm sure her food is tasty, but everything has a stick of butter in it.

Many of us vegans face difficult situations at holidays and other functions when our families and friends make meat- and dairy-heavy meals. Do you also face that, and what advice can you give to us?

I'm very lucky that my family and friends are very supportive and enjoy (or are at least open to trying) vegan food, so there is always plenty of it, even if [my husband] Scott and I are the only vegans. It wasn't always that way, but over the years we've found compromise. This summer, for example, my cousin realized she could make her famous pineapple dessert vegan by using margarine instead of butter, and she did it, knowing I'd be in attendance. I felt really loved and appreciated.

Thanks, Lindsay, and thanks for sharing this recipe!
Black Bean Burgers (makes 3) - I love a good and quick meal, and this burger fits the bill perfectly.
  • 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 c fresh cilantro, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
  • whole-wheat breadcrumbs or instant oats
  • whole-wheat buns
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper and set aside. Pulse beans in a food processor until mashed well or alternatively, mash with a fork. Transfer to a mixing bowl and combine with cilantro and spices. Add breadcrumbs or oats as necessary until the mixture can be handled and isn't terribly sticky, about 1/4 c. If after 1/4 c. it's still too sticky, refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes. Shape mixture into 3 patties. Lightly spray with cooking spray (optional) and bake 7 minutes. Flip and re-spray (optional) and bake another 7 to 10 minutes until thoroughly warm and crisp on the outside. Serve immediately. Because there is no oil, these patties dry out if you let them sit.

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