Miyoko Schinner Shares Vegan Dishes That Can Still Satisfy Any Meat Craving
Her latest release, ‘The Vegan Meat Cookbook,’ includes recipes for Spanish chorizo, bouillabaisse, and beef tamales.
Known best for Miyoko’s Creamery, an expansive line of vegan cheeses and butters, Miyoko Schinner is now adding some new essential reading to her arsenal of vegan cookbooks. The Vegan Meat Cookbook focuses on meal recipes geared toward the use of meat alternatives, both store-bought and substitutes you can make yourself.
With more than three decades of experience in the vegan sphere of cooking and eating, Schinner’s cookbook was deeply shaped by her own upbringing in Japan and the U.S., and cuisines around the world she admired. Readers will explore how vegan dishes can get a similar “meaty” texture and hearty flavor without actually using any animal products. By re-examining vegetables’ roles in cooking and drawing from a selection of meat alternative companies like Abbot’s Butcher, Good Catch, and Tofurky, Schinner lays out accessible recipes for dishes including Spanish chorizo, bouillabaisse, and shiitake pot stickers.
In a recent call with Schinner, she talked about her recipes, her vision for the cookbook, and why you should give meat alternatives a chance.
How did your journey as a vegetarian and now vegan influence the writing of this cookbook?
My experience with eating meat was probably only about five to seven years of my life. I was born in Japan. I came to the United States right before I turned seven. In Japan I did eat meat, but just not very frequently. It just was not a large part of the Japanese diet in the 1950s and early 1960s. I came to the United States in 1964, and my father who was American wanted to make sure that I ate a lot of meat, so I started eating meat about two or three times a day. Then when I was 12 years old, I became a vegetarian. So my exposure to meat, even though it was intense, was very, very short-lived, and yet I wrote a cookbook on vegan meat. I think that's why being a vegetarian for a long time and then turning vegan in my mid-20s gave it a different spin and allowed me to write it from a different perspective. So when I went vegan in my mid-20s, I was a vegetarian who loved rich foods, French and Italian cuisine, and turning vegan meant that I had to figure out how to substitute for all of those rich foods like dairy and eggs.
I know people call you the “queen of vegan cheese.” What inspired you to make a cookbook about meatless dishes?
Well, back in the 1990s, I actually had another company that made alternatives. A lot of people don't know this, but I had a company called Now and Zen and we had four meat alternatives. I had chicken, steak, ribs, and my best-selling product was an UnTurkey, which was a fake turkey alternative that sold mainly in the fourth quarter of the year. We distributed nationwide. So just because I’m better known for cheese, doesn’t mean that I hadn’t played around with meat or plant-based meats earlier in my life. What’s always fascinated me is how do you create meaty dishes? How do you create that center of the plate?
I learned to cook largely by reading cookbooks. When I was a teenager, it was the Time-Life series, The Good Cook. Then in my 20s, I worked my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and many other French and Italian cookbooks to understand what are the techniques involved. There were lots of dishes that I was really fascinated with that I was never able to taste because I was a vegetarian or vegan, such as moussaka. When I traveled in Europe and when I was 20 years old and went to Greece for a month, I saw moussaka everywhere and I never could have a bite of it. I was always curious, what is moussaka or boeuf bourguignon like? These are all dishes that I learned about through reading French cookbooks or Italian cookbooks or Greek cookbooks, and then I tried to understand what makes those dishes special. It’s the cinnamon in moussaka or it’s the slow braising and reduction in the boeuf bourguignon. Then I was able to apply those to vegan meats and cooking methods.
As you addressed in the intro of your cookbook, but some people are really skeptical about meat substitutes and alternatives.
A lot of people do try meat alternatives and some are better than others, and sometimes they say, “I cooked it the same way I cook my regular meat and it didn’t turn out to be the same. It didn't have enough flavor,” or it was too dry or whatever. So, one reason I wrote this book was to show how you can use those in a way where you do get great flavor, because it's not as easy as just throwing it into a pan and sauteing it. A lot of [meat alternatives] really are kind of bland or they don’t have the right flavor, and you really do have to doctor them up, so to speak, with the right seasonings. So, I tried to do that in this book. There are also people that are very skeptical of some of these meat substitutes because many of them are very, very processed. So, I have recipes in here for making your own for those who don’t want to buy the off-the-shelf products and recipes that are less processed, sometimes without gluten or soy, so there’s something in here for everybody.
"We can have those meaty dishes that are full of umami and depth of flavor and are juicy and succulent, but we can make them entirely out of plants."
What do you want people to take away from this cookbook?
I want them to look at meat in a different way. I want them to realize that meat doesn’t have to come from an animal. In fact, we’ve always used language like “the meat of a coconut” or “mushrooms are meaty,” and I want to transform the word “meat” to just the idea of something that you could chew on, like a good argument, a good thought, and I want to shift people’s thoughts away from animals as food. We can have those meaty dishes that are full of umami and depth of flavor and are juicy and succulent, but we can make them entirely out of plants and really reduce the global consumption of meat, which is becoming extremely dangerous for the entire planet.
How have your previous cookbooks influenced the way that you wrote this one or you approached this one?
Some of my books were written early on, and I don’t think I had a particular style or anything like that, but I think my approach to writing all books is to make food as accessible as possible and to provide a range of very, very easy recipes to complex, more difficult ones for the more advanced cook. Over the decades that I’ve been cooking, I’ve found techniques that simplify things. Because I'm like everybody else, I want great food, but I want to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. My recipes in some ways incorporate more shortcuts and take out unnecessary steps that, when I was 20 or 30, I thought were absolutely essential. I would say “accessible elegance” has sort of been my approach, to make things as straightforward and delicious as possible.