Written by John Schlimm
I was raised the son of a butcher in Western Pennsylvania—cradle of the hunting and meat-eating culture.
As a child, I worked in my dad’s seasonal meat-processing business, trying my hand at skinning deer, cutting meat, making sausage and even tanning hides—none of which played out so well, especially when you’re about nose level with the table. Eventually, I was relegated to the front desk where I wrote down what the hunters wanted done with their deer, and the occasional bear or elk. That was my first official paid writing gig, at about $3 an hour.
Thirty years later and after penning several cookbooks (including a wild game cookbook), I sat on the set of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, looked into the camera and into the eyes of millions of my neighbors across the country, and publicly came out as a pro-meatless/veggie-loving foodie with a renewed purpose.
I was on the show with Jonathan Safran Foer, whose book Eating Animals provided the ultimate light-bulb moment for me to fully transition to a plant-based lifestyle. On page 266, in writing about Thanksgiving turkeys and the horrendous abuse they endure on factory farms, Jonathan concludes how these birds (and indeed all factory farm animals) go through life “unloved.” It was that one word—unloved—that did it for me. I circled it, I highlighted it, I seared it into my mind. Looking into Ellen’s cameras that day, I said, “No living being, human or animal, should ever go through this life unloved.”
Today, the word “vegan” is still mysterious, and even scary, to some people—akin to screaming, “The Martians are coming!” But I’m doing my best to change that misperception by creating vegan cookbooks filled with recipes that are easy, delicious and accessible. AND FUN!
[Read: 5 Reasons to Love Going Vegan]
Since I’m a 5th-generation member of one of the oldest brewing families in the U.S.—the Straub Brewery in St. Marys, PA—and wrote the largest beer cookbook in the world, it was a no-brainer that my first plant-based cookbook would be The Tipsy Vegan, a collection of food recipes infused with liquor, wine and beer. From the start of this new chapter in my life, I declared that my vegan cookbooks would be “Parties in a Book” to which everyone is invited. Whether you’re a new or lifelong vegan/vegetarian, leaning in occasionally, veggie-curious or simply a lover of good food and good times, you always have an invite to my party.
This also meant breaking through stereotypes—like boring, blah, radical, weird, unhealthy, judgmental, tasteless—that often follow us vegans to the dinner table and beyond. Therefore, Grilling Vegan Style, The Cheesy Vegan, and The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Happy Hour cookbooks soon followed. As did appearances at VegFests and hosting charity events across the country, and lots of selfies with rescue animals.
And, my keynote address on Capitol Hill titled “Embrace Compassion, Change the World” where I told the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association: “By being part of this amazing Veggie Caucus, each of you is showing the world that compassion is not limited to a political party or ideology, and that even in the most powerful place on the planet, compassion is a priority, and it matters.”
I even got to play guest bartender on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live. All to further convey to the world that fun, food, and compassion go hand-in-hand.
On my watch, you won’t find strange ingredients that you can only source in some obscure health food store. Nor are there time-consuming instructions. There’s no fun in any of that.
Eating vegan-style with me is simple and spirited—fruits, vegetables, seasonings and more in an infinite, ever-joyous revelry. I’m talking “Carousing Cucumber Rounds with Rummy Hummus,” “Bruschetta on a Bender,” “Jalapeno Popcorn,” “Tattooed Watermelon Salad,” “Grilled Peaches with Raspberry Sauce,” “Swiss Meets French Onion Soup,” “Spaghetti Squash with Browned Buttery Nutmeg Sauce,” “Dance to the Beet Sliders,” “Cheesecake Party Parfaits,” and, of course, a few inspired cocktails along the way.
At my vegan table, the motto is pretty straightforward: Life is meant to be a celebration! So come one, come all. Pull up a chair and get ready to party.
Please enjoy these recipes from my newest cookbook, The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Happy Hour.
Alehouse Agave & Chipotle Mixed Nuts
Made from the same plant used to create tequila (!!!), sweet agave nectar and spicy chipotlepowder get these nuts seasoned and ready for some serious fun with a few rounds of a moderately hoppy Pilsner, toasty Vienna Lager or a good old-fashioned Amber Lager.
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried chipotle powder
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ cups pecans, almonds, unsalted peanuts, and/or walnuts
- ¾ cup Wheat Chex or Chex Mix
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ¾ teaspoon seasoned salt, such as Lawry’s
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the agave, chipotle powder, and cinnamon in a medium-size skillet and heat the mixture over low heat until it’s warmed through. Add the nuts of your choice, and stir to coat evenly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the nuts and Wheat Chex in a single layer on the sheet. Bake until the nuts are fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once. Allow the nuts to cool slightly for 1 to 2 minutes.
Combine the brown sugar and seasoned salt in a medium-size bowl. Add the warm nuts and Chex, and toss to coat evenly. Spread out the nuts on a sheet of waxed paper, and let them dry completely. Once dry, store the nuts in an airtight container for up to a week. Yields 2 ¼ cups.
Fruit Salad Salsa
The beauty of this chunky fruit salad salsa is that it can be a totally new dish every time you makeit if you mix up the fruit you use or choose fruit that is in season and available at your local farmers market or roadside stand. The fruity sweetness is balanced with a fresh jalapeno and green onions, and topped off with a complementary Fruit Beer, Kölsch, or American Wheat Ale.
- 2 to 3 cups fruit mixture of your choice, such as mango, peach, pineapple, clementine, orange, nectarine, strawberries, or papaya, chopped into ½ – inch pieces
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced, or more to taste
- 4 green onions, white and light green parts diced
- Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until ready to use (the sooner, the better). Yields about 2 ½ cups.
Eggplant & Portobello Pasta with Almond Parmesan
Class up pasta night by adding sautéed eggplant and Portobello to your penne pasta, along with a nice dose and pairing of a slightly toasty Vienna Lager, mellow Golden Ale, or classic American Wheat Ale.
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 to 6 Portobello mushroom caps, gills scraped, sliced into bite-size pieces
- 1 medium white eggplant, peeled and diced
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup beer of your choice, preferably the same beer you’re pairing with the dish
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1 pound penne pasta, cooked according to the manufacturer’s directions and kept warm
- 4 to 5 cups Homemade Parmesan Almond (recipe below)
Heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the mushroom pieces and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the eggplant, and season with the salt and pepper. Stir often and cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until the eggplant cubes become tender. Add the beer and rosemary, bringing the mixture to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the peas and simmer the mixture, covered, for 2 minutes. Stir in the pasta, cooking for approximately 30 seconds, or until the pasta is warmed through. Yields 6 to 8 servings.
Garnish each serving with the Homemade Parmesan Almond:
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 5 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor.
- Pulse until the ingredients form crumbs the size of a half-grain of rice or baby peas.
- The cheese will keep in a tightly covered container, refrigerated, for 3 to 4 days.
- Yields about 1 1/4 cups
Listen to this Green Divas Foodie-Philes radio segment! JL Fields talks about her new book, Vegan Pressure Cooking, and if you were wary of pressure cooking because of some of the horror stories, get over it. There are new pressure cookers that are safe and you can do SO much with them.