Ask the Chef

Make Staples from Scratch with Miyoko Schinner's The Homemade Vegan Pantry (Recipe)

Miyoko Schinner has created a culinary empire that demonstrates the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Rather than forcefully offering reasons to become a vegan, Schinner primarily caters to omnivores and finds ways to show people how easy it can be to eat cleaner and lighter. A proponent of the homemade food movement, Schinner has made it her life's work to create vegan food that captures the flavor and richness of the world's most popular cuisines. Her dedication is so intense that she even created her own vegan artisan cheese line, Miyoko's Kitchen, after publishing her last cookbook in 2012.

To build upon her approach to more natural eating, Schinner's latest cookbook, The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples, is designed to help you steer clear of over-processed, over-packaged products and simplify your work in the kitchen. Featuring recipes that can either be made in minutes or into large batches to store for several weeks, readers can decrease their trips to the grocery store while learning the science behind creating unique formulas for vegan staples. 

Schinner discusses her method for simplifying vegan cooking, her take on the surplus of processed food, and which food tastes better vegan. 

New Times: How have you simplified vegan cooking?
Miyoko Schinner: My recipes aren't easy but I have little tricks to cut things out that aren't necessary. For example, the recipes for risotto and polenta ask you to mix all the ingredients and put it in the oven. The oven does the cooking for you instead of stirring at the stove. It doesn't need to be fussy. I've seen a lot of vegan recipes that are much more complicated than mine, especially when it comes to measurements. You won't find anything like that in my book. All of the measurements are very clean and even, and the recipes have very few ingredients. The ones that are a little more involved are designed to produce large batches. If you make a large batch of something, you might spend a couple of hours cooking ten pounds of it, but then you have it in your freezer in portion bags so you can cook with it on a regular basis. It just makes life easier. 

This is a staples book. If you made your own tofu or soy milk, it's going to be labor intensive and more time consuming than if you just go to the store and buy it. The results are incomparable, though. Ultimately, I've tried to provide recipes for homemade staples that are very easy to make. 

Why do you think most vegan food is over-processed and over-packaged?
Most food is processed because a lot of people don't cook anymore. There's two different movements. There are people who are cooking more and more, and there are people who are cooking less and less. It's interesting because processed foods are increasing, but there's people who are into the DIY movement where they make all sorts of things — like homemade pantry items to soap, and their own clothing. These are the people who want to live cleaner, simpler lives, and this cookbook is for people like that. I still worked when I was writing the book. I was traveling for lots of speaking engagements, but I didn't need to buy anything because I made all of my staples. If you had three hours on a Sunday afternoon, you could make enough staples to last you for several weeks and have enough food to feed your family. 

Which food tastes better vegan?
Just about everything, but especially dairy products. Dairy alternatives do not have that kind of sensation that coats the back of your throat and gives you that sort of icky feeling. They're cleaner and lighter. So, if you enjoy rich flavors without the after effects, I would say many of these vegan alternatives are better. I have lots of omnivores who buy our cheeses and say they prefer it to the dairy version. 

How did you come up with your vegan cheese?
I've been playing around with vegan cheeses for 20 years. They have just evolved over time. I wrote a book called Artisan Vegan Cheese that came out in 2012. People just kept saying how much they loved my book but that it's such a hassle to make the recipes. That's kind of how it got started. 

Why did you decide to become a vegan?
I have been vegan for almost thirty years, and I started cooking seriously when I became a vegan. I really wanted to capture rich flavors that I had grown accustomed to, and I had to find a way to replicate them. I was quite enamored with French cuisine. I had worked my way through mastering the art of French cooking trying to make all of Julia Child's recipes vegetarian, using lots of dairy and eggs and then when i became a vegan I thought Gee What am I going to do now? and so I set to work. And that is how I sort of the vegan chef. 

Aside from the health benefits of vegan food, what do you think readers will gain from this cookbook?
An appreciation for how the foods we take for granted, are made, and a freedom that if you make your own pantry items, you can actually create a signature pantry item. Often times we think about ketchup and how ketchup just tastes the same. With a few quick strokes of the whisk, you can flavor that ketchup any way you'd like while learning the science behind it. You're putting your signature spin at the base level, so I'm hoping that's what people will walk away with — a better understanding of how these foods are formulated and to be able to create your formulations. 

Glorious Butterless Butter
I once reeled with shock when I saw a French girl spread butter as thick as cheese on her toast—until I tried it. Then I understood. Butter, glorious butter! Not only does it impart incomparable flavor and texture to baked goods and dishes, but on toast—well, it doesn’t get any better. Now for the times when I want a hard butter for flaky croissants, or an unsalted butter for a fluffy buttercream, or a light, whipped one for scones, I make my own non-dairy butter. And then I have to put a lock on it so I don’t eat it all up!
This recipe can be adjusted to suit your taste or purpose. Be sure to check out the variations on the opposite page. Don’t use extra-virgin coconut oil, or it will taste like coconuts.

11/2 cups melted refined coconut oil ?(not extra-virgin coconut oil)
1/2 cup Creamy Soy Milk with No Beany Flavor (page 51), Almond Milk (page 54), Cashew Milk (page 53), or Cashew Cream (page 56), or store-bought nondairy milk
1/4 cup canola, grapeseed, or light olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp liquid lecithin (see sidebar)

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and process at medium speed for about 1 minute. Pour into a container of your choice—something made of silicone is great, as it will pop out easily, but any storage container will do (line it with wax paper first for easy removal). Set it in the refrigerator for a few hours until hard or in the freezer to expedite hardening. This glorious butter substitute will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks or many months in the freezer.

Makes 1 pound (about 2 cups)

Lecithin is an emulsifying agent generally derived from soybeans. It will help mix oil and water and prevent separation. If you can find only lecithin granules, you’ll need ?to use two to four times the amount of the liquid lecithin called for.

Cultured Butter: Replace the nondairy milk with 1/2 cup plain nondairy yogurt, or add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to the nondairy milk.
Really Hard Butter: This is helpful for making puff pastry, croissants, and the like. Increase the coconut oil to 21?2 cups or substitute deodorized cocoa butter for 1?2 cup of the coconut oil.
Whipped Butter: Increase the canola oil by 1 tablespoon and process at high speed in the blender for about 2 minutes to incorporate as much air as possible.
Unsalted Butter: This is often called for in buttercreams and some desserts. Simply omit the salt!

Reprinted from THE HOMEMADE VEGAN PANTRY Copyright © 2015 by Miyoko Schinner. Photographs © 2015 by Eva Kolenko. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Gillian Speiser
Contact: Gillian Speiser