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Why the Author of Our Vegan Cookbook Doesn't Like Veggie Burgers

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled New Veganism content to bring you the next in our "Meet Our Contributors" series—Food52's version of show and tell. We're asking some of the voices behind your favorite columns to share a recipe that represents them (and explain why). 

Today, Gena Hamshaw, Food52's cashew queen and avocado addict, explains her love for vegan bowls, kale, and horror movies—and reveals a surprising dislike for veggie burgers.

Tell us about this recipe—what about it makes it you?
I hesitated to share this recipe because I figured it might be too simple. I thought that perhaps I ought to choose a more cohesive and elaborate vegan dish instead—some reinvention of a classic, or something that featured a technique that is unique to plant-based cooking. But since the point of this post is to capture my culinary sensibility, I had to go with a bowl.

Vegans love bowls. We just do. I recently went to a vegan bloggers’ conference, and there was an entire lunch spread titled “Vegans Love Bowls.” Maybe they’re just an easy vehicle for all of the staples in plant-based cooking: different types of vegetables, grains, legumes, maybe a sprinkle of nuts or a bit of seared tempeh or baked tofu. Maybe it’s an excuse to have a smorgasbord of beloved ingredients in one meal, a way to avoid having to pick and choose between one’s favorite things. Maybe it’s all just an elaborate way to showcase sauce—because the magical, crucial, transformative ingredient in any bowl is the sauce you smother it with. 

All of the components of a great grain bowl: quinoa, crunchy chickpeas, roasted vegetables, and, of course, a creamy, spicy sauce.

This bowl is an assembly of my favorite things: roasted seasonal vegetables, quinoa, crispy toasted chickpeas, greens, and a killer sauce. It channels some of my personal heritage (I’m half Greek) and displays a lot of my favorite spices, including smoked paprika and cumin. It may seem like a fair amount of work for a humble bowl meal, but the best part of bowl-making is that you can prepare enough of the individual components to assure that you’ll have leftovers. Make extra chickpeas and sprinkle them over a salad. Double up the quinoa and use your leftovers in quinoa breakfast porridge. Roast extra veggies and toss them into a pasta bowl tomorrow night. 

As for the harissa tahini sauce…well, just try not to polish it off with a spoon. 

What is your desert island food (practicalities aside)?
Whole grains, for sure. I could live off of porridges, grain bowls, and grain salads. One of my favorite summertime foods is a hot bowl of brown rice with cold chopped tomatoes, salt, and a squeeze of lemon. Whole grains make me feel grounded and nourished: It’s not hard for me to understand why they’re the foundation of so many diets around the world. When I was writing Food52 Vegan, one of my goals was to feature whole grains in a variety of ways, from soaked muesli to quinoa chili to millet and vegetable tagine. The variety of whole grain cooking is really endless, and the results are so satisfying.

What is your fruit or vegetable spirit animal?
I’m going for it: kale. I know it’s kind of cliché, but sorry not sorry. My first recipe for the New Veganism column was a kale salad and I chose it because I could (and mostly do) eat some form of kale every single day. Kale appears at least five times in the sixty recipes presented in Food52 Vegan (in stew, in kale chips, in salad), and I unabashedly loved every single chance I had to showcase it.

What's one food you pretend to like but secretly hate?
Easy: veggie burgers. They’re sort of a vegan staple food, and I get it, I really do. What’s more exciting to a vegan home cook than the chance to reclaim a classic meat dish? 

Truthfully, though, I hate making veggie burgers. The texture is really hard to get right—one little misstep, and they easily become either too crumbly or too dense—and they tend to demand a lot of work for a finished product that’s fairly one-note. I think I also developed a resentment of them early in my vegan years, when a ho-hum veggie burger was often the only vegan/vegetarian offering on so many restaurant menus. Beyond all of this, my instinct as a vegan cook is rarely to try to approximate traditional meat dishes: I don’t mind the challenge, but I’d rather try to find new ways to highlight plant-based ingredients.


Still, I haven’t allowed my anti-veggie burger bias to keep me from making a good number of them. I made quinoa zucchini burgers as one of my very first New Veganism recipes, and they are great: summery, flavorful. That recipe appears in Food52 Vegan, except we rightly retitled them “cakes,” because they’re smaller and more delicate than most burgers. I’m also proud of the mushroom, pecan, and lentil burgers in the book, which really are the “meatiest” and most umami-rich vegan burgers I’ve made. I doubt it’ll ever occur to me to make veggie burgers when I’m cooking for myself, but if they help to make other people rethink what’s possible with plant-based ingredients, then I’m all for it.

Does Gena love bowls? We'll let you be the judge of that.

What's something that someone wouldn't know about you from reading your column?
I’m obsessed with horror movies. I’ve seen a shocking number of them, and not only the artsy ones, like Suspira, or the ones that have been deemed “classics,” like Night of the Living Dead. I’ve seen most of the film industry’s offering of trashy horror flicks from the last decade. Given that my entire lifestyle is oriented around nonviolence, it’s a little incongruous. 


Could you also tell us about your hometown?
I’m a New Yorker, born and raised. My only stint away from New York City was the three-and-a-half year period I spent in Washington, D.C., doing a post-bacc degree. The right-hand photo above is a snapshot of the Upper West Side, which is the neighborhood where I’ve spent nearly thirty years (not including my time in Washington). It’s the closest thing I’ve got to a backyard. 

Mediterranean Vegetable Bowls with Quinoa, Toasted Chickpeas, and Harissa Tahini

Serves 4

For the bowls:

1 medium eggplant
2 large zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups cooked chickpeas (or 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to season
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
1 cup dry quinoa
6 cups tightly packed, washed greens of choice (arugula, baby spinach, baby kale, mizuna, and/or mesclun would all be great)

For the harissa tahini sauce:

1/2 cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon harissa paste or powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water

See the full recipe (and sanve and print it) here.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Quinoa, Vegetable, Vegan, Gena Hamshaw