In a world of meh, Alan Roettinger goes for extraordinary. "I want to make extraordinary food accessible to the average person." It's not about the Food Network, it's not about the Cordon Bleu and "it's not that difficult," says the author of the new cookbook "Extraoardinary Vegan." "It's about attention and love."
Roettinger's spent most of his career as private chef to the famous and fabulous (including a vegan president). "I was out to impress everybody," he admits. "Now I'm focusing on helping the average person impress themselves, on inspiring people to cook and eat at home," all with plant-based panache.
Based in Colorado, Roettinger grew up in Mexico City eating American fare with his American parents. He quickly realized "American food is pretty drab." As a kid, he preferred hanging out in the kitchen with the Mexican staff, eating chili rellenos and "stuff that wakes up your palate. Mexican food is extremely vibrant, there's no way around it." He was born with a passion for bold flavors. The vegan part happened five years ago, when Roettinger's high cholesterol got his doctor talking statins. Roettinger, who'd been a happy omnivore all his life, countered with a pledge to go vegan.
A self-taught chef, Roettinger already knew how to make anything taste delicious, and as a private chef, he'd been used to accommodating his (often demanding) clients' different diets and food preferences. Cooking vegan came easily and the payoff was dramatic. His cholesterol dropped, along with his weight; his energy and mental clarity soared. But for flavor-obsessed Roettinger, the benefit went way beyond how he felt. "When I went vegan, I realized all the variety of flavor, all the depth of flavor comes from plants. Meat and dairy dulls your palate. Now my palate is cleaner. I appreciate more."
The bold flavors and spice-splashed recipes in "Extraordinary Vegan" will make you appreciate more, too, and Roettinger's tips, from introducing a new ingredient like pomegranate molasses to showing a different way to chop vegetables, help take dishes to the extraoardinary level. "It doesn't have to be haute cuisine," he says, "it's about quality, about making the stuff you can afford taste excellent."
Roettinger, whose cookbook creds also include "Speed Vegan" has a not-so-hidden agenda behind coaxing you into the kitchen. "The ability to make something good to eat, is a fundamental life skill." Doesn't sound fun? Roettinger begs to differ. "I'm a joy advocate." For absolute beginners, he suggests starting by making a dish you already like, "something that inspires joy. Put some time and energy into it. Food goes down best when it's taken in gratitude. It's easier to be grateful when it tastes really good, when it's a feast."
It's not only good for you, it's good for humanity. "The more you eat things that are truly good for you, that thrill and awaken something in you, that food is making you better, making you the best human you can possibly be." Extraordinary.
Shaved Brussels Sprout Slaw
from Alan Roettinger's "Extraordinary Vegan" © 2013. Reprinted with permission from Book Publishing Company.
This is one outrageously delectable hot-sweet-sour-pungent-creamy tangle of crunchiness and color.
4 cups Brussels sprouts
1/4 head red cabbage, cored and very thinly sliced
1 large carrot, finely shredded
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup flax oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons raw cashew butter or almond butter
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Peel off any wilted or discolored leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Beginning with the top, slice the Brussels sprouts as thinly as possible (a mandoline made quick, easy work of this), discarding the stem end.
Put the Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Add the red cabbage and carrot and fluff with your fingers until the vegetables are thoroughly mixed.
In a small bowl, mix the lime juice, flax oil, vinegar, cashew butter, miso, tamari, garlic, sriracha, and ginger in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and well combined. Pour over the vegetables and toss well.
Serve at once.
Makes 4 servings.