Meatless Monday: Joe Yonan Says, "Eat Your Vegetables"

Joe Yonan isn't so much anti-meat as he is pro-vegetable. "I love vegetables," says the Washington Post Food and Travel editor and author of the new cookbook, "Eat Your Vegetables." "I don't think I would have done this if all I was doing was creating a cookbook against meat."

By "this," Yonan refers to outing himself as a vegetarian earlier this year. "I certainly got a lot of reaction and buzz," he says with no small amount of diplomacy. "Mostly positive -- people thinking it was ballsy and respected it and people who either eat vegetarian or try to eat less meat thought it was cool."

While health was a factor in his decision to go meatless, it wasn't a conscious choice. It happened, he says, organically, over time, not as the result of pressure or proselytizing. That came afterwards.

Some vegans gave Yonan grief for including eggs and dairy in his life and in his book. Some meat-loving readers "questioned my credibility as a food editor -- that could be really insulting." Not to mention misguided. Under Yonan's leadership, the Post has earned two James Beard Foundation Awards for the best newspaper food section in America.

The way Yonan sees it, what you eat is like who you have sex with. "These decisions are very personal," he says. "I always react badly when I feel like people are zealots. It makes me want to run the other way." He might as well be wearing track shoes, then. High-fat, low-carb, Atkins, Paleo, 5:2 diet, vegan, juicing, gluten-free, "farm-to-table, bacon on everything," as food editor, he's seen it all. Amid the noise and controversy, Yonan felt something was getting lost -- food. "I didn't want the role of vegetables to get short shrift," he says. That's where "Eat Your Vegetables" comes in.

With its doable, delicious recipes, it coaxes you to prepare and eat real food, even the vegetables he's noticed people resist -- eggplant, Brussels sprouts, kale and beets. "Beets are one of my favorite vegetables ever, but people who had them canned when they were kids still think they're slimy and gross. People have been scarred by vegetables," he says. "It's sad."

As with Yonan's previous cookbook, "Serve Yourself" and his "Cooking for One" column, most "Eat Your Vegetables" recipes are scaled down, serving enough for you and maybe a few select friends, but they're in no ways meager. In Yonan's hands, a single peach can become a warm, spiced crisp, a grilled cheese sandwich gets the makeover it's always yearned for with a dollop of kimchi. "I like spicy, I like sour and I'm a volume eater," he says. "I don't like to eat delicate little small portions of things. I want a decent amount of it."

Yonan, who has a pedigree from culinary school, finds cooking to be both a pleasure and a priority. "Making the decision about what you eat and where it comes from and how you prepare it happens to be more important to me than what one supposedly 'Real Housewife' said to the other," he says.

Rather than arguing about the politics of food, Yonan prefers to focus on the pleasure of it, of sourcing, preparing and eating vegetables. With his cookbook, it's easier than you think. "If you have vegetables in season and they're relatively fresh they're cooked relatively simply," he says, "they taste great."

Grilled Kimcheese

Reprinted with permission from "Eat Your Vegetables" by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

2 slices multigrain sandwich bread
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup cabbage kimchi (page 163) or spicy store-bought kimchi, drained and chopped
1/4 to 1/2 small Asian pear, cored and thinly sliced
Sriracha (optional)

Brush the bread slices with oil on one side. Layer the bare (non-oiled) side of one slice with cheese, kimchi, and pear slices. Drizzle with a little Sriracha if you want the sandwich to be particularly spicy. Top with the other bread slice, un-oiled side facing in, and press with your hand to flatten.

Set a medium skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, then lay the sandwich in the pan and cook, pressing with a spatula from time to time, until the underside is golden brown and the cheese starts to melt. Repeat on the other side, transfer to a plate, and eat.