Veganism Isn’t Restrictive in Bryant Terry’s Abundant "Vegetable Kingdom"

Ruth Gebreyesus, KQED
February 22, 2020

Vegetables reign supreme in Bryant Terry’s world. In his new cookbook, Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes, the James Beard Award-winning chef and author presents a collection of 150 recipes in which vegetables are the unabashed stars of the table, not the paltry side dishes. 

Terry’s latest cookbook comes six years after his critically acclaimed Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed. “I very intentionally pulled back from book writing and overburdening myself with projects because I wanted to be as present as possible with my children,” explains the father of two. In the introduction to Vegetable Kingdom, Terry writes that his daughters, ages five and eight, inspired the book and were among his dishes’ first tasters. 

“One of the litmus tests for the recipes was if they liked it,” he says. “Kids are brutally honest.”

The world of vegetables can be intimidatingly vast, yet Terry’s book lays it out in an accessible way alongside his takes on marinades, sauces and spice blends influenced by American Southern, Caribbean, sub-Saharan African and Asian cuisines. Terry credits his daughter’s gardening class for the approachable architecture of the book, which categorizes recipes by which part of the plant the central ingredient comes from. Starting with seeds such as beans and corns, recipes grow into bulbs (fennel, leeks and the like), then into stems (asparagus and such), flowers (broccoli and its floreted cousins), fruits (squashes and peppers), leaves (greens of every kind) and back down to fungus, tubers and roots. 

“When I was composing the recipes, I was mindful of the fact that there’ll be a diversity of readers,” he says noting that his audience has varying degrees of comfort in the kitchen. To that end, he’s included a couple of beginner-level recipes in each section. (“If you could boil a pot of water, you can make this recipe,” he says.) These are interspersed with more elaborate meals fit for dinner parties and leisurely, late weekend lunches.

Terry continues his tradition of marrying music and food in his newest book by pairing recipes with a playlist of songs—Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over the Rainbow” for roasted Okinawan sweet potatoes,  “Stay Flo” from Solange for a mashed kabocha spread and “Big Rings” from Drake and Future for a beans, buns and broccoli recipe.

Growing up in Memphis and visiting his family’s farms in nearby Mississippi, Terry’s love of vegetables is decades deep. “As a child, I was fully immersed in the vegetable kingdom because my family has agrarian roots,” he says. 

“They brought with them the values and traditions and [a] true understanding of the importance of growing one’s own food,” he adds, reminiscing about the urban garden that occupied much of the yard of his childhood home. 

Watching his grandfather not just grow food, but prepare it to feed his family, was also a transformative experience that’s stayed with Terry. In raising his own children, the vegan chef and his non-vegan wife try their best to model similarly healthy behaviors. “I don’t eat animal products and my wife does eat some animal products. It’s always been this negotiation and we met somewhere in the middle,” he says adding that his children have dairy and eggs once in a while. “When parents try to force something on kids or be dogmatic, it can often push them away and go in the opposite direction so I’ve been mindful of that.” 

Though there’s plenty of age-appropriate lessons about the benefits of eating local, vegetable-centric and organic food, Terry is certain lasting lessons start with what’s on the plate: “What resonates with everyone is delicious food.” 

Catch Bryant Terry this Saturday, February 22, at 11:30 am at his book talk and cooking demo at the CUESA Classroom at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and at various other book events for Vegetable Kingdom in the coming weeks, or tune into our Facebook page for the livestream.

This story was originally posted on KQED Food.

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