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Interview with Robin Robertson, Author of Vegan Fire & Spice

Win a copy, tomorrow (6/19) at Vegan Drinks!

Win a copy, tomorrow (6/19) at Vegan Drinks!

Robin Robertson is the author of a whopping 17 vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, including The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook, which is one of my favorites, and Vegan Planet, a collection of 400 vegan recipes that is almost as commonplace as tofu in veg homes.

Robertson’s most recent title is Vegan Fire & Spice: 200 Sultry and Savory Global Recipes, the first spicy all vegan cookbook and the first book published by her company, Vegan Heritage Press. The most exciting thing about this book, for me, is that it offers the opportunity to try many of the international dishes that have been off-limits to me in restaurants that only prepared them with meat or dairy. Vegan Fire & Spice is a great resource for folks entertaining omnivores who fear all vegan cooking is bland and think hummus is as international as vegan cuisine gets.

After reviewing Vegan Fire & Spice, I had lots of questions for Robin Robertson. She was kind enough to answer them, as well share a recipe from her book.

SuperVegan: How did you get started as a chef and cookbook author?
Robertson: I always loved cooking but I had originally planned on a career in the arts. One day it clicked for me that cooking was also a wonderful art form, so I decided to pursue cooking professionally. I worked my way up from the bottom in small restaurants and eventually worked as a chef in Charleston, SC. After several years of high-stress 16-hour days, I decided to quit the restaurant business and follow my heart by going vegan. Back then, there wasn’t much creativity going on in vegan and vegetarian cooking—it was all just brown rice and sprouts. I decided to change that by combining what I learned cooking traditional cuisines in mainstream restaurants by making classic meat-based recipes using plant-based ingredients. I always loved
writing, too, so it wasn’t a stretch to start writing cookbooks.

Where do you find inspiration for your recipes?
I find inspiration everywhere, from reminiscing about my mom’s home cooking,
to going to farmer’s markets and seeing the varieties of great vegetables,
to traveling and experiencing different restaurants, and of course I draw on
my restaurant experience as well.

How did you research the very global recipes in Vegan Fire & Spice? Did it involve living a jet-set life?
I wish! No, I don’t have a jet-set life by a long shot. I am fortunate, though, in that I know lots of people from different parts of the world. I always ask my friends about the kinds of food they ate growing up. I have also worked with chefs from different parts of the world, so I learned a lot that way, too. I have done some traveling and enjoy eating in different ethnic restaurants, but most of my research comes from talking to people, reading about different cultures, and my own cooking experience.

Why did you start your own publishing company?
My husband Jon and I decided to start a vegan publishing company to be able to come out with a book where we could design it from top to bottom and retain control over the content. Vegan Fire & Spice was a real labor of love. It’s actually based on an old out-of-print vegetarian book I wrote back in the 90s that I always wanted to re-do as a vegan book. So I eliminated some recipes, updated others to make them vegan, and added a lot of entirely new recipes. My husband has 20 years experience in the publishing industry, so he was in charge of the page lay-out and design and editing.

What projects are you working on now?
Right now I keep busy promoting Vegan Fire & Spice, posting to my blog, and making appearances to do cooking demos. I’m also working on projects for other publishers. The main project I’m in the middle of right now is actually the biggest vegan cookbook ever—it’s called 1000 Vegan Recipes. It will be published by John Wiley & Sons in 2009.

Do you have any advice for home cooks interested in penning a cookbook?
My advice is that whenever you create new recipes, keep accurate notes and
keep them organized. Analyze what’s new and different about your recipes or
cookbook idea so you can develop a marketable concept. Come up with an
outline delineating the chapters and recipes that will go in them. Research
publishers that you think may be a good match for your book and find out what their submission requirements are. That’s it in a nutshell.

Curried Mushrooms (India)
You can add some cooked chickpeas or additional cooked veggies to the creamy
coconut curry sauce and mushrooms. Some good choices are potato, cauliflower, or green beans. Serve over freshly cooked basmati rice.

1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 small fresh or dried chiles, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons organic canola oil
l yellow onion, thinly sliced
l pound white mushrooms, quartered
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

In a blender, combine the coconut milk, ginger, garlic, chiles, coriander,
cumin, turmeric, and 1 cup water and blend until smooth. In a large skillet,
heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until
golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened, 5
minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, the coconut milk mixture, and salt to taste.
Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

Serves 4

Fans of Robin Robertson can meet her at the 34th Annual Vegetarian Summerfest taking place this weekend in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. On Saturday, June 21st, the chef will be doing a cooking demo!

1 Comment

  1. Comment by


    on #

    Thanks for featuring this interview with Robin Robertson. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I bought Vegan Planet so many years ago. I have recently acquired Fire & Spice and really enjoy trying new ethnic recipes with a vegan twist. When I made the curried mushrooms recipe above, I also threw in some fresh baby spinach and cooked it until it was tender. It was great.

    R. Robertson deserves a lot of credit for making vegan cooking more accessible, not only to vegans, but to non-vegans who might not otherwise have knowing that vegan cooking could be so delicious and exotic.